Some years ago we got in touch with Reflexive Entertainment because of their brick-busting game, Ricochet. Meanwhile they developed Zax and Star Trek: Away Team, and currently they are working on an RPG. In our interview we asked Ion Hardie, Lead Designer and Co-Producer of the game and Dan Ruskin, the Game Designer about this new game, Lionheart.
PC Dome: When did you start the development of Lionheart, and how many people are currently working on it?
I.H.: The original story was started in September of 2001. Since then, the project has included the talent of about 20-25 people, including some people from Black Isle. Currently, there are about 15 people working on the project, and we are mostly working on bugs.
PC Dome: Where did the idea of the world of the game come from? Is it based - at least loosely - on a book or movie experience, or was it a fully independent idea?
I.H.: The wonderful thing about it was that it was completely original. We didn’t have to worry about sticking with any set story or set of rules, other than the boundaries of working with modified Earth history. Black Isle was very supportive of the idea from the beginning, and contributed considerable time and effort in hatching the idea from its roots to what it is today. Our lead writer, Eric Dallaire, did a lot of work in researching history, mythology and the like to make our “history” as interesting as possible.
PC Dome: In a nutshell, could you please tell us the story of Lionheart?
D.R.: During the Third Crusade, at the siege of Acre, a traitorous advisor betrays King Richard and instigates the Disjunction. The Disjunction is a divergent break within history, which briefly tore the fabric of reality and allowed for magical spirits to be released into the world. You play a character that is a descendant of Richard the Lionhearted, and you enter the world some 400 years after a pivotal event in Earth’s history. As the events of this alternate history unfold before you, you must decide which path your character takes and which factions you will ally with. Each of your choices will have both immediate and long-term implications as your actions take you through the world of Lionheart.
PC Dome: Lionheart's story takes place in an imaginary 16th century filled with magic. How much will the game go into fantasy, and how much will it keep of the 'real' 16th century?
D.R.: As a result of the Disjunction, history as we know it has been drastically altered. The game begins in Nueva Barcelona, a city rebuilt upon the ruins of Barcelona. Spain is preparing to release the Spanish Armada on England, who refuse to give up the right to use heretical magic. The Inquisition maintains a stronghold over much of Europe in its pursuit and eradication of magic and magical beings. Throughout the game, you will encounter parallels to real history and meet historical characters like DaVinci, Galileo, and Cervantes. Because of the Disjunction, some things feel familiar, but many other elements of the world have been changed by the disruptive introduction of magic in Earth’s past.
PC Dome: Black Isle gave you the SPECIAL rules for the game, was it a hard
job to integrate the system of the post-apocalyptic Fallout series' rules into a fantasy game?
D.R.: Actually, the way the rules are set up allowed us to integrate magic and other fantasy elements quite easily. The primary things that have changed in SPECIAL are that it's been updated to play out in real-time and we've added magic into the system. Fans of the Fallout series will not see a Skill like Science, since it didn't seem practical. Instead they will see things like Necromancy and Summoning skills. Magic will be divided into three classes: thought, divine, and tribal. Within each of these classes is a skill tree of specific spells. As you gain skill points by leveling, you can improve the power of a certain spell by adding skill points to a certain branch within that magic class. By placing skill points into these branches of spells, you’ll be able to access other spells within the magic class, since many of the more powerful spells have skill rank requirements. To cast magic, you will need to spend mana. Unlike other fantasy RPGs, mana is not based on intelligence, since your spirit generates your magic power and intelligence is already very powerful within the SPECIAL system. We use other statistics, such as charisma and perception, to determine your mana statistics.
PC Dome: What will be the purpose of the team mates? Can we control them as
in Baldur's Gate, will they have their own personality and own will, or - as in Fallout - we won't have direct control on them, and will only give help in the beginning?
I.H.: Team mates, or companions as we call them in Lionheart, can be indirectly controlled. This means that while you can tell them to stay close and follow you, stay where they are at, and so on, you do not give them direct commands. (i.e. walk right here). However, many of these companions have their own goals and objectives. You can take them with you to accomplish quests and the like, but some of them only hang around until they want to leave. They have agendas that, once they are met or you have proven that you are not going to assist them by taking them way off course, they go their own way. Companions serve multiple purposes. I think the best ones help me out on quests, and give me secret access to areas that I wouldn’t have without them.
PC Dome: Will sub-missions be connected to our companions?
I.H.: Oh yeah. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t get into details, but trust me, you will miss some really cool parts of the game if you don’t take NPC’s up on offers of going along with you.
PC Dome: How long gameplay time are you planning? How much of it will be the
I.H.: The average should be around 30 to 40 hours. If the player takes all the side quests, the playtime will be longer. We believe the side quests will be interesting and involving and that people will spend the extra time to do them right. Besides, we figure nobody will want to miss out on all the cool loot.
PC Dome: In Fallout we could choose between being good or evil, will we have
the same possibility in Lionheart? If yes, then will be any difference in being good or not?
I.H.: Yes, there are good and evil choices as you play the game, though I think we have done it more subtly throughout the game than Fallout did. Some merchants will give you better or worse prices, some NPC’s are more skittish around you, and so on. And what good would being evil be if the end of the game wasn’t different to match?
PC Dome: What kind of magical items can we expect in the game? (And how
many of them?)
D.R.: There will be a ton of magically enhanced weapons and items in the game. A random generator creates equipment based on the level of your character so that when you are awarded a magic item, you get something good. In addition to these randomly generated items, there are unique, specifically designed items that have unique histories, names, and abilities. There are slots on the character for the head, body, feet, hands, wrists, waist, as well as slots for various types of jewelry and adornments.
The “power” of many items is also increased in potency as you get stronger in the game, meaning that there is (potentially) a ring of fire resistance that has an even higher percentage resistance in another chest a few dungeons away.
Because of the random nature of our generator, and the possibility of magic items carrying up to 3 magic additions, there are literally tens of thousands of items that can be created. You can get amulets that increase your chance to destroy undead, weapons that not only do damage but steal health from the attacker, shields that send damage back to the attacker and deflect acid strikes, boots that give you special abilities with undead, and so on.
PC Dome: Why did you choose to use a 2D engine instead of a 3D one?
I.H.: For an RPG, 2D still makes a lot of sense. The top-down perspective lends itself to 2D, and our artists really like the creative freedom that they have in creating images without having to worry about poly counts. The Cathedral in Barcelona would be a pale shell of what it currently is if they had to worry about that sort of thing. As far as 3D advantages go, our proprietary Velocity engine addresses some of them. While our rendering engine is 2D in presentation, we use 3D characters and convert them in real-time to 2D so we can anti-alias them and make them look great. This cuts down on animation information, and allows for more monsters in a given area, and so on.
PC Dome: Could you tell us some interesting new feature of the game (maybe
one that wasn't mentioned before about it :)?
D.R.: One nice feature in our game is the way we handle the Sneak skill. You actually get experience by successfully sneaking past enemies that would otherwise attack you if they knew you were there. So as you sneak by, you will see your experience going up the longer you spend near the enemy. By sneaking alone, you can get up to 75% of the experience that killing the enemy would have produced.
PC Dome: After Lionheart, are you planning to create an expansion, or you'll
most likely begin another new project?
I.H.: Actually, we can’t talk about our next game yet. Very hush-hush.
PC Dome: What's the currently planned release date of the game? In which
development phase are you at the moment?
I.H.: We are in the late stages of bug fixing. While the designers are fixing mostly typographical and minor scripting problems, the programmers are having fun with multiplayer bugs. There are still some things I want to touch up to get it ready to ship, but other than that, the single player game is almost done.
As far as release goes, I think Black Isle has it pegged for a Third Quarter release (early Fall).
PC Dome: Thanks for your answers, we wish you all the best for the remaining time of the development.