Deathfire interview – A chat with Guido Henkel
Today I have the great pleasure to introduce Guido Henkel. Many of you may not recognize the name, but what if I told you that this man (who, by the way, not only dabbles as a game designer but also as a composer and novelist) was behind legendary titles like the original Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny, Fallout 2, Neverwinter Nights and even Planescape: Torment?
It is with such lofty credentials that he decided, along with his team (G3 Studios), to create a cRPG called Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore, currently on a Kickstarter campaign.
First of all, thank you for being here. Can you tell us briefly about Deathfire and yourself?
“Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” is a party-based single-player role-playing game that really hearkens back to the roots of traditional computer roleplaying. With turn-based combat and a deep character trait system, we are essentially trying to recreate the feel of a traditional tabletop pen&paper role-playing session, just the way we did during the Golden Era of cRPGS in the 90s, as opposed to the open world approach that most modern-day RPGs take.
And who better to build such a traditionally inspired game than the guys who built those classics in the first place, right?
The “Deathfire” team consists of a group of industry veterans – most of us have been in the industry making RPGs for 20 years or more – including a number of core members of the original “Realms of Arkania” team. But over the years, members of our group were also part of the development teams of games such as the “Divine Divinity” series, the “Sacred” series, “Gothic 3” and others, and I myself was the producer of “Planescape: Torment,” among many others. As you can see, we are accumulating a lot of experience in our team, especially in the role-playing genre.
Why did you decide to go back and do another cRPG now?
I think it was simply time. I’ve been doing a lot of mobile games over the past ten years, and though they are fun, because of their fairly small size, you find yourself working on a new game very quickly. In that way it became a bit repetitive and lost its luster, and eventually the desire grew inside of me to tackle a larger project again. Naturally, a role-playing game was the immediate choice.
What can you tell us about the world and lore of Deathfire? Is it standard high-fantasy or did you apply any twists to make it unique?
The setting may appear to be a standard high fantasy world at first glance, but there’s a lot more to it. As soon as the player starts the game, he will realize that things are not always what you’d expect. There are going to be some big surprises throughout the story, but I don’t really want to spoil it, because I believe, part of the fun playing “Deathfire” will be to unravel the mysteries of the story for yourself and let yourself be surprised by the events and turns as they unfold.
I will just say this. There is a good reason why we selected a Nethermancer as the antagonist in the game, instead of, say, a Necromancer, who would also have had the ability to raise the dead. The big difference, however, is that the Nethermancer has the ability to cross dimensions, with death being only one of them… I shall leave the rest to your own imagination for now.
Will the majority of the game take place in dungeons, or are there more varied environments including towns and forests?
The game offers a variety of environments. Dungeons are certainly a part of that, but we also have a good number of outdoor environments, which will help create a setting that is one of a true role-playing game and not simply a dungeon crawler.
In the video that we have on Kickstarter you can already see one of the outdoor areas. While it still is early work-in-progress, it already shows that we are planning to have truly detailed environments throughout.
On the Kickstarter campaign page, you mentioned that party characters interact with each other. Is it possible for the player to upset them so much that they decided to leave for good, and if so what happens then?
That could indeed happen. We have a core technology that we call the Psycho Engine. It keeps track of the things that are going on in the game world and the characters. It’s almost like character telemetry, in that we protocol actions and reactions, and then use the information, combined with each character’s personal traits to create responses from it. It’s a complex AI system that works in different layers, from very basic decision-making all the way to simulating emotions.
This way we can, for example, simulate two characters getting on each others‘ nerves, and escalate the situation to the point that a real fight breaks out between them. As a result of that it can very well happen that one of them will leave the party.
Fortunately for the player, there will be plenty of people around and he can try to recruit someone else. Hopefully someone who fits into the group dynamics of the party a little better.
What does “Interactive game world” exactly mean in Deathfire? We hear this all the time, and yet usually it’s a little more than PR. Can you be more specific?
The idea is that, with the help of the Psycho Engine, characters will also react to their environment, and thus influence the development of the story, and what’s more, the actions of characters can change the course of events in the world.
Imagine, for example, that on your way to a dungeon, your group meets a group of undead monsters, but a number of the party members are refusing to fight them, because they are afraid of the Touch of Death, or because they knew some of the undead in their previous, human life, or for some other reason.
So the player decides to take a different route, circumventing the undead creatures, and ends up at the destination dungeon after a detour.
Meanwhile, unchallenged and unhindered, the undead monsters continued on and happened to come across a village where they wiped out the entire population, and what’s worse, turned them into the walking dead as well. As if that is not enough, they actually killed one of the player’s party members, who was waiting there for the return of his companions while recuperating from his own close call with death.
That is what we mean when we talk about an interactive game world. A world, in which actions have reactions and consequences that go beyond a simple canned response. A world where you can’t just run around and win the game, no matter what. In this game you can severely screw things up.
A very important feature in a CRPG is undoubtedly the dialogue system, and you declared to have something so “cool and intelligent” that we’ll be in awe about it. What’s so special about it, then?
Most RPG dialogue systems are multiple-choice-based, and too many of them are set up in such a way that no matter which selection you pick, eventually you will get the necessary information that allows you to move on. Just click long enough, and the answer will come to you. It is not very exciting and as a result it is not very surprising that most players look upon dialogue as a tedium in many games; a game mechanic that doesn’t really work.
Instead, we decided to make sure the player gets invested in the dialogue. By going back to a keyword-based dialogue system, not too dissimilar to the one we had in the “Realms of Arkania” games for example, we will make sure that the player will have to stay on top of things. We are trying to create something that follows the natural flow of a conversation, something where *you* have to figure out what is important about what’s been said, and what is not. We’re not putting prepared words in the player’s mouth, directly hinting at the direction the conversation should take. Instead, we will make it the player’s responsibility to reason with the person he’s talking to. Our hope is to get the player engaged more in the events unfolding around him this way, creating a stronger attachment.
You have decided for a first-person view, and you’re using the Unity engine. This seems to bode well for the chances of a console release on PlayStation 4 and/or Xbox one – are you thinking about it?
No, console releases are not on our mind at all at this time. Consoles require a very different approach design-wise, and we do not want to meddle with or water down the design at this point. We are focusing on the desktop versions where the player has access to a mouse and a keyboard. In addition, it is also a matter of the budget, of course. We simply have no funds allocated for those kinds of ports at this time.
Once the game is finished, we may consider other platforms, including mobile versions, but it is nothing we concern ourselves with at this time.
Thanks for your time!