Last Friday, RPGamer held a discussion session with Andrew Brown from THQ and Andrew Brechin from H20 about their upcoming Nintendo 64 RPG "Aidyn Chronicles: the First Mage," which is due out this Summer. Below is the transcript from that chat for you to enjoy.
[Doug Hill] Ahh, seems it is time to begin. Let's start by having our two guests introduce themselves. :)
[Andrew Brown] I guess I'll go first. My name is Andrew Brown, and I'm the associate producer at THQ for Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage
[Andrew Brechin] I'm Andrew Brechin, and I am an assistant designer and level editor at H2O, the developer.
[Doug Hill] On behalf of RPGamer, I'd like to thank you two for granting us this discussion time. :)
[Andrew Brown] No problem - and thanks to everyone for being here.
[Doug Hill] Let's get to the questions. :)
[Andrew Brechin] Okay.
[Doug Hill] What made you decide to go with such a traditional fantasy style when we seem to be in an era filled with futuristic sci-fi non-traditional RPGs?
[Andrew Brown] Ummm...personal preference? :) Seriously, though, a lot of us grew up with the early Final Fantasy games and also played D&D, that sort of thing. I like FFVII and VIII, but we really felt like we wanted to go back to a more medieval feel. I think a lot of players out there feel similarly, if I recall the results of an RPGamer poll correctly. We got a lot of inspiration from authors like Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Weis/Hickman, and R.A. Salvatore so it just seemed to make a lot of sense.
[Andrew Brechin] A lot of the reason, I think, was that because we were doing some things that were unusual for a fantasy RPG, we wanted to start in familiar territory.
[Doug Hill] You have stated that there are at least ten playable characters in Aidyn Chronicles, yet your list only shows nine. Any chance you can tell us anything about the tenth character, or is that a surprise? Or are there more than ten?
[Andrew Brown] Well, actually we have a total of thirteen playable characters. We wanted to release information gradually, especially since we were still evaluating how some characters would fit into the story. Alaron, your main character, is always in your party, because the story is really his, but the other twelve are found throughout the game and can be added or dropped by player choice.
[Andrew Brechin] The ones not on the list are found later in the game, I think, if memory serves, your list is missing Sholeh and Dougal...
[Andrew Brown] Yes.
[Doug Hill] The players determine when a character is added or dropped? Will that affect the storyline in any way?
[Andrew Brown] Yes, to a degree. We have dialog for all characters throughout the game, so if you play through the game with different characters - including adding or dropping them at various points - you get different information. At the same time, there is still one main story. We felt that to make a great dramatic plot, we needed to concentrate on a single storyline. But the different characters will make the game a different experience depending on which ones you pick.
[Andrew Brechin] Especially in combat. They've all got a different basic skillset and are more or less suited to different skill choices. But they've all got their own substories too.
[Doug Hill] Will you use cut-scenes or something similar to help tell the story?
[Andrew Brown] Yes - since this is Nintendo 64, we don't have any prerendered cut scenes like FFVII and VIII, but we have tons of in-engine scenes, using the same character models that you see in the game. What we CAN do that's different from, say, Final Fantasy is move our camera around during the scenes.
[Andrew Brechin] I'm sitting right behind the guy who's making some of the cutscenes, and I'm blown away by what he's able to do without all that fancy prerendered jazz.
[Andrew Brown] When you use prerendered backgrounds like FF, you're limited to what you can do with camera angles, but we have a fully 3D world, which means you can zoom and pan and really make the scenes look like a movie. It's going to be a really different experience, I think, because so few RPGs have really taken advantage of a full 3D environment.
[Doug Hill] How would you describe the difference between the game with and without the expansion pack?
[Andrew Brown] There are currently two options planned for the 4MB pack. One will be a hires mode like you see in a lot of 4MB-enhanced titles. The other option will be 32-bit color textures, which basically means the texture in the game will look really smooth and polished. The player will be able to choose between the two using a menu option.
[Doug Hill] Combat has been described as a mix of action and turn-based combat, which is rather unusual. Can you possibly shed some light on what this means?
[Andrew Brechin] Well... It's pretty much solidly turn-based... though it's fairly fast-paced... (sometimes PR gets things wrong :) We don't have any of those five-minute long spell animations like in FFVII and VIII. In PR's favour, I will say that our turn-based combat does tend to get the adrenaline flowing more than some turn-based systems I've played. :)
[Doug Hill] How would you describe a typical battle then?
[Andrew Brechin] Well, first you meet a monster. You see them first on the "trek mode" screen. You or the monster may choose to initiate combat, and we drop both parties into the "battle arena". That's a smaller 3D set where the fight takes place. Each player and each monster goes in turn, moving and attacking and casting spells. Turns and movement rate are determined by dexterity, a little like in Champions... so your dextrous characters are faster and move more frequently... although in order to keep a high DX, you can't wear much armour. So your light fast characters are running all over the place, and your tanks are sort of grinding across the battlefield. Meanwhile there are spells and arrows whizzing back and forth. You can keep a tight formation, or break out and skirmish... depending on your party composition and who you're fighting. It's a little like a small-scale miniatures battle.
[Doug Hill] Since, parties will consist of up to four characters, have you considered including a way for multiple people to participate in battle?
[Andrew Brown] Yes, actually. If I recall correctly, some of the 16-bit FF series allowed a second player to control characters during battles. That was the inspiration for what we tried to do, but as it turned out, programming that feature took time away from the single player game. We thought long and hard about it and decided that most players would be playing single-player, so it just made more sense to concentrate on the single-player version instead, but I was really sorry to see it go.
[Doug Hill] Will the random weather system and day/night cycle affect gameplay in any way?
[Andrew Brechin] Yes... especially in combat. All characters in the game are either "Solar" or "Lunar" aspected... which sort of means whether their "biorhythms" are tied to the sun or to the moon. Solar aspected characters function best in daylight, and Lunar ones under a full moon. It doesn't necessarily mean Good or Evil... some of the PCs are Solar, and some Lunar. This affects most aspects of combat, including hit probability, spell success, etc. Also, weather affects the chance to hit in combat - especially at range. On a rainy, foggy day, you won't be able to hit anything with your bow - you'll need to wade in and slug it out at close range. But weather doesn't affect spells much - so archers aren't as effective against wizards as they are on a clear day. And of course lighting affects combat. There are light and darkness spells that help you alter things in your favour.
[Doug Hill] How would a player go about improving his character? Is it a standard leveling system or something different?
[Andrew Brechin] Well, as you defeat monsters and complete story goals you get experience points. Your character goes up in "level" automatically, but you have to choose which skills and statistics and spells to improve. Level gives a small overall bonus to just about everything you do, but skills are more important. So you can take Alaron, for example, and pour all his experience into fighting skills, or magic skills, or other skills, or a mix.
[Andrew Brown] We also want there to be bonuses for things that you actually use. In other words, your weapons skills will be weighted towards the weapons you use most. You can still pick and choose, but you get more advantages from specializing. Also, regarding the combat system in general, if you're familiar with Parasite Eve, you'll have an idea of what our combat system is like. Only instead of just controlling one player, you control four, in a turn-based scenario. Each time your character gets a turn, you can move the character around wherever you want, and then take actions when you've positioned your character properly. You can hide, take the high ground - there's lots of stuff that effects combat.
[Doug Hill] Approximately how long do you think it would take to beat Aidyn Chronicles? Also, how difficult would you say the game is? Many RPG players have been craving a more challenging game.
[Andrew Brown] As far as game length, it's a tough question. We have a massive amount of dialog, lots of characters and NPCs, and our world geometry is HUGE! We probably have a game world approximately Zelda-sized. So we're hoping for at least 40 hours and maybe quite a bit more.
[Andrew Brechin] As far as difficulty, I've been working on the combat system for months, and there are still battles I have a hard time beating. They aren't impossible... but there are fights that you're going to have to come back to several times to win, and that's going to add to the play time, too. Plus we have some sub-quests that you can do, that will add to your characters' overall power and experience, but they're risky, and take time.
[Doug Hill] How will players learn magic?
[Andrew Brechin] From magic trainers, or from scrolls. Characters can spend their experience points to acquire spells and to improve their proficiency with specific spells, so you can choose the spells your characters learn. Some of the spells are more useful in combat and some more useful out of combat, so that's an important part of the overall strategy. Also we have wands and similar items that let your character cast additional spells, usually with a specific number of charges. Once in a while you'll stumble upon magical knowledge "for free", but even then you'll usually only acquire it at a basic level and still need to spend experience to get good at it.
[Andrew Brown] There are a ton of spells, too.
* Andrew Brechin grins wickedly.
[Andrew Brown] And they have lots of different effects - they aren't all "Fireball." There are Haste effects and other character enhancements that, if used properly can be just as powerful as the standard offensive spells.
[Andrew Brechin] Right, there are shield spells, counterspells, dispels, controls, stat gains and drains, paralysis... there's a whole interlocking set of spell tactics.
[Doug Hill] Any idea when Aidyn Chronicles will be hitting store shelves?
[Andrew Brown] Ummm...when it's done? Just kidding. Right now, we are saying Summer 2000. My guess is that it will be later in the summer rather than earlier. We'll release more info as it becomes available.
[Doug Hill] How far along would you say the game is right now?
[Andrew Brown] We are pre-Alpha, which in plain English means "everything is almost in the game even if it doesn't quite work". You can walk around almost everywhere, but lots of details and characters aren't ready yet.
* Andrew Brechin grins wearily from his development station.
[Andrew Brown] Combat does work, as does dialog, and the environment looks amazingly cool. But we're still putting together the nuts and bolts.
[Doug Hill] So, has there been any talk of a sequel yet?
* Andrew Brown looks around to see if anyone's watching
[Andrew Brown] Would we love to do a sequel if Aidyn Chronicles is successful? Absolutely!
[Andrew Brechin] sequel?
* Andrew Brechin looks around innocently, whistling...
[Andrew Brown] But right now we really have to concentrate on getting this one to be the best it can be.
[Andrew Brechin] Every game has a big box marked "FOR THE SEQUEL" where you put everything that the development crew couldn't fit in THIS game.
[Andrew Brown] Trust me, this is a dream come true - to be able to design (or help design) an RPG from the ground up.
* Andrew Brechin nods agreement.
[Andrew Brown] We're all really passionate about the game and we really want it to be great and for players everywhere to enjoy it. And if we do a sequel, it won't be on Nintendo 64.
[Doug Hill] Oh?
[Andrew Brown] Not that it's a bad platform at all. It's worked out really well.
[Andrew Brechin] N64 can do some cool things.
[Andrew Brown] But we'd take at least a year, maybe two to do a sequel, and in that amount of time, the marketplace will be on Dreamcast, PS2 or Dolphin.
[Doug Hill] Or X-Box..?
[Andrew Brown] What X-Box? :) Yeah, maybe.
[Andrew Brechin] It would be fun to develop a sequel for PC, even, but it's soooo nice to be able to develop for a nice consistent console hardware platform...
[Doug Hill] I'm guessing it's too early to start guessing which platform any future RPG projects would be on.
[Andrew Brown] Absolutely too early. If I could, I may as well address Quest 64 briefly. Simply put, I wasn't there for that game.
[Andrew Brechin] Me neither.
[Andrew Brown] It's a whole new development team, new design, etc. There is NO connection between the two games. 'Nuff said.
[Doug Hill] Who is the composer of the music?
[Andrew Brown] There are actually two sound designers working on the game. They did the music for the recent PC game Homeworld. I don't actually know their names...sorry! I still need to meet them. :(
[Andrew Brechin] I've met one of them - Steve - he's doing some interesting stuff. As yet I've only heard the roughs, but I really like it... there's a variety of "world music" sounds and some influences I don't recognize, but music isn't really my area.
[Doug Hill] Do you know of any plans for a soundtrack to be sold separately?
[Andrew Brown] Well, what we've heard already is very good stuff, but I'm not sure the market for game soundtracks in the US is strong enough that I could convince anyone at THQ to release a soundtrack. I'm hoping that fact will change over the next few years, actually - obviously they're a huge deal in Japan, but for right now, probably not.
[Doug Hill] Will the game be released outside of North America?
[Andrew Brown] We're still in the process of evaluating that. It depends on the strength of the overseas markets. Converting the game for Europe would be relatively easy, but I don't think there's any chance of a release elsewhere.
[Doug Hill] How would you compare Aidyn Chronicles with some of the more successful RPGs on the Playstation, like Final Fantasy 7 and 8, and Lunar?
[Andrew Brechin] Well, for starters, it's got a more Western-fantasy sense... rather than the anime-esque attitudes of the FF series. The combat system is completely different. The overall feel of the game and characters is a lot closer to a tabletop, paper-and-pencil game than to the anime demigods of the FF games. Which is not to diss the FF games... but we wanted to do something different. You won't see any "9999" going up over the heads of characters in AC:TFM. :)
[Andrew Brown] As for me, I started out with the first Final Fantasy on 8-bit NES. It was my favorite game on the platform. Square does amazing work and I think their games are great. I haven't played Lunar yet, but it is definitely on my list, but what's the point of trying to copy the style of another game? Like Andrew Brechin said, we wanted to take a different approach. For one thing, we have a full 3D world, which makes our game look a lot different and IMHO better. No knock on 2D RPGs, but going 3D gives you some cool stuff that you can do. Our world feels huge and expansive as you walk through it, which really immerses you in the game. I think our combat system is a lot more innovative than the ones in Final Fantasy.
[Andrew Brechin] Plus you can see the monsters as you approach them instead of suddenly finding yourself in battle. You can move the camera around a fair bit, too.
[Andrew Brown] Yeah, so there's a lot of differences that I hope people are going to say "wow that's cool".
[Doug Hill] What do you think of the current trend of online RPGs? It seems everywhere you look companies are announcing a brand new massively-multiplayer online RPG.
[Andrew Brown] Well, I'll tell you this much. I'm married, so I don't dare let myself play Everquest. :) I don't think m-m RPGs will eliminate single-player RPGs, though, because a good RPG is about a great story, and it's hard to tell a great story with a m-m RPG. You can do lots of great stuff online, don't get me wrong, and in the future it's going to be even bigger, but I think there's still going to be a place for the good old-fashioned single player RPG as well.
[Andrew Brechin] They're two separate sorts of gaming. You get a sense of community in online RPGs that the single player ones will never reach. Well, not until we've got some kinda cyberpunk AI thing going. :) But you just can't do the same kind of story things in massive multiplayer games. I've MUDded a lot, and played a bit of online stuff, and it's fun to go questing with your friends... but I've never seen an online RPG where I felt like it was progressing TOWARD something... Imagine an online RPG that let you play one of the Fellowship of the Ring, for example, on the quest to defeat Sauron, but I don't see anything like that in development right now.
[Doug Hill] This will be our last question for the evening. Many of our readers are asking what kind of theme the storyline will have. Many recent RPGs have focused more on love and romance, while others have had themes like freedom and the pursuit of knowledge.
[Andrew Brown] Well, here's what I think. The story is actually pretty personal, in the sense that's it's really about Alaron himself. This is actually an RPG where you AREN'T saving the world. The story is about Alaron's self-discovery, finding out his own true nature and potential. There is love involved, yes, and a choice to make, but I wouldn't say it's the focus of the story, necessarily. We have a lot of humor in the game, and a lot of tragedy, too. People will die. I can guarantee it. In the end, it's about the characters and their own journeys and how they relate to Alaron.
[Andrew Brechin] Which is not to say that there's not a lot of swords-and-sorcery heroics going on. There are climactic battles, and desperate charges, and mighty beings wielding mighty powers. So you get the one theme - Alaron's self-discovery - running through the whole fantasy heroics story, and all the other characters' subplots weaving through both...
[Doug Hill] I would once again like to thank Andrew Brown from THQ and Andrew Brechin from H2O for joining us this evening and staying far beyond what was originally set. This has been very, very informative, and I sincerely cannot wait for this game to come out.
[Andrew Brechin] Thank you!
[Andrew Brown] Yes, thanks again to all who sat through our self-important blabbing :)
[Andrew Brechin] And you're welcome. :)
[Andrew Brown] If you want more info on the game, keep checking RPGamer.com, and also our official THQ web site at THQ.com. Thanks. 'Night all.
[Andrew Brechin] We're certainly all excited about it. :) Goodnight!
*** Andrew Brown has left #thq
*** Andrew Brechin has left #thq