Lionheart – interview and new screenshots!

No doubt about it, Lionheart is the most expected RPG of this year. That`s why we have prepared an interview with Ion Hardie, Lionheart´s Lead Designer and Co-Producer. Topics include game´s story, unique world, SPECIAL system, NPCs, characters` creation and much more. There are also two exclusive screenshots included!
Lionheart – interview and new screenshots!

Doupe: First of all, please introduce yourself and tell us what is your role in the development of Lionheart.

Ion Hardie: My name is Ion Hardie, and I am the Lead Designer and Co-Producer for Lionheart. This means that I live in my office. I do schedules, make crazy design decisions that I then have to convince others to implement, make and script levels and still try to keep it all real and possible within our milestone requirements.

Doupe: Black Isle Studios have released many of really good RPG games like ID2, Baldur´s Gate 1 & 2 and so on. What is the inspiration behind Lionheart? Where and when came into existence the idea of making a new game?

I.H.: Last year Black Isle and Reflexive agreed to create an RPG using the SPECIAL system. Many ideas were pitched back and forth from both sides and, in the beginning, it was agreed that our historical game placement was going to be more "generally European" and less specific when relating to people and places. As the design phase continued, the lure of altering and relating to more specific events in history won out. Doing extensive backstory research led us to many fascinating events in history, such as the real Battle of Acre during the crusades in which Richard the Lionhearted put 3000 people to death. From there, history has been our guide. A bunch of the twists and turns in the story can be attributed to finding real events or people and altering them to fit our story and gameplay needs. The introduction of magic with our alternate history literally gives us unlimited fertile material to work with.

 

Doupe: How many people are working on Lionheart? And how long have you been working on it already?

I.H.: Currently, we have a development team of 15 people. We have been working on the game, from early concept phases, since October of 2001. Of course, we had an existing, proprietary, isometric engine to start developing the game on, so that helped out immensely.

Doupe: Although Lionheart will take place on Earth in the time of middle ages you have decided to use an alternative history. Could you describe it to our readers? How will it differ from the "true" history?

I.H.: Lionheart is an RPG that is set within a historically altered Earth, circa 1588. When we were hashing the original concepts out, we pooled what we thought we knew about the timeline, including the Spanish Inquisition, the Spanish Armada, etc. together and came up with the bare bones of the story. During the historical research phase, we were able to really flesh out the design with actual events that occurred in human history and altering them to get our new divergent timeline. There is a divergent "break" with history that occurred in 1192 during the Battle of Acre in which Richard the Lionhearted inadvertently caused the Disjunction, a ritual that briefly tore the fabric of reality and let loose magic into the world. Chaos reigned, and spirits of light and darkness were spread to the four corners of the Earth. As you would expect, many historical events were severely altered because of this. The game starts some 400 years later in Nueva Barcelona, a city rebuilt upon the ruins of Barcelona.  Spain is ready to unleash the Spanish Armada against England, England is occupying much of Northern France, and the Inquisition has a strong foothold in much of Europe in its quest to eradicate magic and magical beings. 

Doupe: How large is the game´s world and how many parts does it have? What interesting places will players visit?

I.H.: Rest assured that there are plenty of things to keep you busy as you make your journey through the game. In general, the player will start off in Spain, and go up through France and beyond. During the initial design of the game, we wanted to provide a European flavor to different locales and settings that we were visiting. Even though the Disjunction blasted apart many things in Europe, and all over the world, we wanted to make it seem like the player was actually there in a rebuilt section of the country. So, there will certainly be familiar elements from the 16th Century, however they may not appear quite as we remember them. Remember, the destruction occurred 400 years before the current timeline in the game, so the inhabitants of this alternate history have had a chance to rebuild many parts of the country, as is evidenced by Nueva Barcelona which rests on old Barcelona.

Doupe: Could you tell us something more about the story of your game? Will players walk alone throughout Lionheart?

I.H.: You play a character that is a descendant of Richard the Lionhearted, and you enter the world of Lionheart some 400 years after Richard causes 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. As a descendent of King Richard, you have inherited a legacy from him, passed down for many generations, a power he obtained during the Disjunction. 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. You will meet up with literally hundreds of NPCs, so while you will walk alone at times, you will also spend a great deal of the game with other characters that join you.

 

Doupe: What about NPCs? As we know, the player will not control any other character - how will he cooperate with friendly characters? How many enemies will players meet in Lionheart? Could you give us any sample of a typical monster?

I.H.: There are a fair number of NPCs that could be either opponents or allies depending on how you play your character. The current list for unique NPCs is over 100, and that list contains monsters, monster variations, special NPCs, and more general townsfolk. Other interesting NPCs you might meet along the way are Leonardo Da Vinci, Galilelo Galilei, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian philosopher, and Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish author. As far as monsters, there will be a mixture of creatures from European mythology, although slightly different because of the effects of the Disjunction. For instance, in and around the city of Nueva Barcelona, there is a pack of lycanthropes, were-creatures doomed to prey on humans. These were-creatures have melded into the political atmosphere of the city and have become a faction within Nueva Barcelona.

Doupe: Lionheart will use the SPECIAL system. Players could have seen it in the post-apocalyptic games Fallout 1 & 2. How does it work?

I.H.: The SPECIAL system is a system of statistics and rules that allow for classless open-ended character development. Characters in the system have Race, Attributes, Skills, Traits, and Perks. Race affects your starting statistics and may give you some special abilities, race specific Traits, and/or race specific Perks. The Attributes are used to make various skill check roles and to determine other derived statistics. (Attributes are also where the name SPECIAL comes from: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck).

At the heart of the system are skills. Skills are measured in points and can go anywhere from 0 to 300; these numbers are used in conjunction with other modifiers to determine whether or not you do something successfully in the game. Since there are no classes, you primarily define a character by what sort of skills you want that character to get better at. So if you have been working on a melee character, and then decide you would like to start working on your Tribal Magic skills, you can. You define the character however you want, you decide how you want them to get better and how much you want them to get better.

Traits and Perks essentially liven things up a bit. You can pick Traits for your character at the beginning of the game, and they have both positive and negative aspects to them. Perks are received at a specified rate throughout the game and have only positive effects, allowing the player to mold their character in a unique way.

Doupe: SPECIAL system was created for turn-based games and sci-fi environment. What kind of modifications have you made? In what way will the magic and the battle system be represented?

I.H.: The SPECIAL system is an extremely robust and adaptable system. We took the system, converted it to real time and built in the inclusion of magic. As an example of how this worked, the concept of Action Points will be preserved, so agility is still very important. However, Action Points will be converted into a real-time formula that relates to the character`s overall speed. In general, the more Action Points you have the faster your character will move and the faster your attacks will be. Also, we are replacing guns with bows and crossbows, so many formulas are modified to take this into account.

 

Magic is by far the largest of the changes, but again the SPECIAL system is very adaptable. We simply added Magic spells into the Skill advancement section with other non-magical skills like Stealth and Barter so that balancing them against each other has been easier.

Doupe: How many spells will there be in Lionheart? Did you create any own deliciousness?

I.H.: Lionheart`s magic system is a bit different from traditional fantasy RPGs. We have 57 different spells in the game (19 in each discipline), and each one gets better as more skill points are spent on the different branches they are in. When the Disjunction briefly tore the fabric of reality, it unleashed spirits and powerful beings from various planes. On Earth, these spirits have no power alone, causing them to seek out suitable host vessels. Upon character creation, you will be able to choose what type of spirit you would like to host: Elemental, Bestial and Demonic. Magic will be a skill-based system divided into three classes of magic: thought, divine, and tribal. Within each class, there will be a skill tree of the specific spells you will be able to cast. As you level and thereby gain skill points, you can improve the power of certain spells by adding skill points to the corresponding branch within that magic class. Placing skill points into the branches of spells will increase the power of spells, and allow you to access more powerful spells further on in that spell branch.

Doupe: What could you tell us about the races? What are theirs advantages and disadvantages?

I.H.: Each of the races has different starting statistics and they have some race-specific perks and traits that you can acquire along the way. Sylvants, for example, are among the most magical of the races. They are descendents of parents with magical spirits, usually elementals, so they possess unique physical traits such as metallic colored hair or skin. The Demokins are tainted with a fiendish ancestry and often display tell-tale physical traits such as pointed ears or sharp teeth, but they are often clever enough to blend in very well with pureblood humans. The Feralkins display obvious signs of a magic ancestry passed down from some bestial spirit. They very feral features, pointed teeth, and clawed hands which easily gives them away in a crowd. We added these new races to give players a chance to further differentiate and personalize their characters. Without spoiling too much with specific disadvantages, we also created races to allow NPCs to react differently depending on your choice of race. For instance, you will have a more difficult time speaking with the Inquisition if you are not a pureblood human. Other NPC characters have their own likes and dislikes regarding the races, so choosing your character race is important. As with skills an attributes, it is important for the player to balance the disadvantages with the inherent unique advantages each race presents.

Doupe: How many perks, skills and traits will Lionheart include? How will player earn new points, used to increase his skills? Could you tell us some example of Lionheart`s weapons?

I.H.: There are 22 different skills for the player to spend their points on. The Perks list has something like 60 Perks on it, which vary from fairly benign to powerful and highly restricted. The current Traits design has 15 Traits, again with varying levels. The player earns skill points when they advance a level. The number of skill points received is a derived attribute based on Intelligence, plain and simple.

 

As far as weapons go, a really exciting side benefit of moving to real time combat is the ability to add the dynamic of how the size of a weapon might affect speed and damage. Take for example a small sword, which is fast to wield, but does less damage. As far as specific types of weapons go, we have Battle Axes, War Hammers, Scimitars, Long Swords, Short Swords, Two-Handed Swords, Maces, Clubs, Morning Stars and more. There are differing magic abilities that can also be placed on these in various combinations, randomly or directly by designers.

Doupe: How many quests will there be in the game? Please tell us some example of a typical player´s task…

I.H.: Currently there are over one hundred quests in the game, many with varied sub-quests to complete. Some of these quests will shape the path you travel, while others are simply side-quests designed to add flavor and give the player cooler items and more gold. Early on, you are faced with a decision to align your character with one of the main factions, a decision that will lead you down one of three very different paths. This choice dictates many of the quests that are available to you for the early part of the game. In general we are trying to stay away from mailbox quests and really focusing on providing the player with a variety of different ways to complete the quest. Where possible, we will have a dialogue, a combat, a sneaky, and/or a magic way to solve a quest.

An example might be to rescue someone from the Inquistion chambers. The Inquisition don`t take kindly to that sort of behavior, so there are different things the player will have to do to accomplish this. Convincing the Jailor to simply let you in is difficult, but you can also sneak through the chambers, either fighting your way through the other prisoners that attack, or sneaking your way down to where the prisoner is located.

Doupe: Will there be different ends based on what quests or decisions players have made during the game course?

I.H.: There will indeed be different endings to the game. It is possible to play through via a good, neutral and evil path. There will be countless opportunities and choices presented to the player that will allow them complete control of their own destiny. In addition to the choices themselves, the repercussions of the various decisions made will have an impact on how the game unfolds. We do have somewhat of an overall story and path that the character explores, but there are different reasons to do different things. 

Doupe: How long will the average gameplay time be?

I.H.: We believe 40 hours is a pretty good average, though that number could increase if the player decides to take every single side quest that comes along...

 

Doupe: Lionheart will use the Reflexive Velocity engine. What new features does it offer compared with the engine used in ID2 and other games from Black Isle Studios?

I.H.: The Velocity Engine is a robust proprietary Reflexive gaming engine that has been used in previous gaming titles including Zax: the Alien Hunter and Star Trek: Away Team.  We are using it for Lionheart as an isometric engine to render 2D backgrounds while real-time converting 3D models into 2D images. This allows us to maintain anti-aliasing with our 3D characters and allows for 3D characters to be blended perfectly into every scene. The engine has the added benefit of affording us extensive amount of equipment changes.  The Velocity Engine also gives us the power to modify the ground in real-time, making lava or acid literally chase you through a given level. If you had a chance to play Zax, you most likely were shocked to find yourself in the position of having lava eat the very ground beneath your feet. If you were lucky enough to avoid that horrifying experience, consider yourself warned as you explore the worlds of Lionheart. 

Doupe: What multiplayer modes can we expect to see?

I.H.: Lionheart has a great cooperative multiplayer component, which will allow up to four players to go through the single player story cooperatively. When you go through the game as a single player, you may have a handful of NPCs join and depart from you, but you won`t spend the entire game surrounded by an entourage. In multiplayer, you can start the game with 4 characters, changing the game quite a bit as the diversity of the individual characters will work together as a team.

Doupe: Will Lionheart be accessible to people who haven`t played any other RPG games yet or is it going to be a hardcore RPG game?

I.H.: I think that we have been able to create a great blend that will make the game accesible for new comers to the genre, but will still appeal to the hardcore RPG gamer. Make no mistake...this is an RPG. Using the SPECIAL system has allowed us to put total control of the character creation and development into the hands of the gamer. As an example, we have pre-generated characters that the player can just choose and go on their way. We also allow for people to micro manage the creation process, fiddling with character numbers to their hearts content.

Doupe: At what development phase is your game right now? And when do you plan to release it? Do you have any idea of the system requirements?

I.H.: We are putting the finishing touches on the game and it should be completed in the very near future. As far as actual release dates, that`s up to our publisher. I think the official word is Quarter 2 of this year. We have also really worked hard to make system requirements as low as possible for a game with these sorts of awesome visuals. We still have optimizations to do, and are currently figuring out some bottlenecks to further decrease our system requirements. Lionheart is running smoothly on our P3 750`s with 128 Megs of RAM, but we are working to lower that spec.

 

Doupe: And the final question. Could you in brief list all the inovations that will Lionheart offer, especially compared with Black Isle´s previous games like Icewind Dale 1 & 2 or Baldur´s Gate 1 & 2?

I.H.: Keeping in mind that I liked every single one of those games, and that I though BG2 was one of the best RPG`s ever made, I think that Graphics are at the top of the list. The visuals on the screen are just plain beautiful. Every single thing is anti-aliased and a lot of time has been spent on making the world a sight to behold. The story itself is a different twist, in that it is based on real Earth history. It is very cool to interact with historical characters, and put yourself into some of the historical situations that we have in the game. I also think our magic system is robust and gives a lot of feedback to the player when the spell gets better. In your Spell Description, the description of the spell actually changes as the spell changes. You spend points in a spell, and the description of the spell is modifed to reflect the different range, the new abilities, etc. I`m not talking quick bullet points or anything. I mean the written out description of the spell. This may not sound cool just reading it here, but wait until you see it in the game. I think it`s awesome. This may not be everything, but I don`t want to sound like I am ripping on those titles. I think the Infinity Engine, the engine behind those titles, deserves some kind of frickin` award for what it did for the gaming community as a whole.

Doupe: Thank you for your time, I wish you good luck in the development! Is there anything else you would like to tell to our readers?

I.H.: Thanks for your well wishes! RPG`s are the most time, love and labor intensive type of games that I have ever worked on by far, and that`s saying a lot. I guess my last thought would be to tell everyone that we`re really working as hard as we can to deliver what we think is going to be a really exciting title. We have great story in a unique world, there are tons of quests, plenty of items and spells, many facets to character advancement, sharp graphics, great sound, etc. I see Lionheart as an complete role-playing package which should get any gamer fired up to play it.

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