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Kult: Heretic Kingdoms interview

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Kult: Heretic Kingdoms interview

Codex Interview - posted by Ausir on Thu 29 July 2004, 13:09:18

Tags: 3D People; Kult: Heretic Kingdoms

Our interview with Peter Nagy (Lead Artist) and Jan Turan (Lead Programmer) of 3D People, plus Chris Bateman (Game Designer/Script Writer) and Richard Boon (Story Designer/Script Editor) from International Hobo about their cRPG title, Kult: Heretic Kingdoms

  • Peter: The Heretic Kingdoms look and feel different to the usual fantasy world : and the further into the game that player goes, the more obvious this becomes. Story-wise, god is dead, religion is outlawed, and the Inquisition — the player is an Inquisitor — has absolute power. Many people are poor and weak, but a few notable people, specifically the Scarred, have access to potentially limitless power. It's hard to explain, but so many of the details of Kult separate its background from those of other games. We're not trying to create something completely new, by any means — we love fantasy stories and art, and games — but we wanted our world to be individual and recognisable. To be worth the time and effort it takes to explore it.

This interview is with Peter Nagy (Lead Artist) and Jan Turan (Lead Programmer) of 3D People, plus Chris Bateman (Game Designer/Script Writer) and Richard Boon (Story Designer/Script Editor) from International Hobo.

1. Tell us a bit about 3D People. How did you form up? What are your experiences with previous games?

Peter: In 1999, myself and 3DP designer Michal were colleagues in a graphics studio. Wanting a change, and being interested in computer games, we thought to set up our own development company. There are not too many developers in Slovakia, so to work in games, we had to go our own way. In 2000 we found our lead programmer, Jan, and shortly afterwards began to discuss financial terms with our German partners, which allowed us to actually begin work on the project that is now Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, pull the rest of the team together, establish the office (in Kosice, the second largest city in Slovakia), and so forth. It was the end of 2001 before we really were able to begin in earnest, however.

This will make it sounds as though Kult has been in development for so long, but the project has changed so much as we learned how to professionally make games. This has strengthened the team, in that we have been in bad places together, and we have had to work so hard to get to where we are. So it was good experience in that sense.

We contacted International Hobo, who redesigned and scripted certain elements of the game — mechanical design, story background, characters and so on – late in 2003, and since then things have moved very fast, as the completely new mechanical systems and story have been implemented into the world we had previously built for the game.

Jan: This is our first game. As such, we are very happy to attract the attention of game fans. We don't want this to be our last game! There is so much we want to do — we have learned so much from this project — and we hope that people will enjoy playing Kult, and will appreciate that we have tried to create a game that is a little different, that presents some new ideas as well as addictive RPG play.

2. What made you decide to do Kult? What previous games influenced you?

Jan: I think the biggest influences were probably Fallout and the old Interplay RPG games like Eye of the Beholder. Also more recent games like Icewind Dale. There's much more that we'd like to do with a sequel or follow up game that hasn't been possible with this one because it's our first major project, so I think perhaps that some of these influences will come out more in future games.

3. Tell us about the world of Kult. I there anything that makes it different from typical fantasy settings? Are multiple races available, or do you play only humans?

Richard: The player plays a human character. One of the aspects of the game that hardcore RPG fans will like least is that we've constrained them to a single character; But this is a narrative-oriented RPG, and that character's identity is vital to the story. It will be interesting to see if players who go into the game thinking that this is a limitation, will come out having barely noticed it, for all the other exciting stuff that's going on in there.

Jan: We wanted something different from our game world, both visually and in terms of the story background. So, we do not have orcs and elves. Nor do we have some steampunk or fantasy/sci-fi hybrid world, some gimmicked world. We have a solid, believable fantasy creation, populated by believable characters with various individual and racial goals.

Peter: The Heretic Kingdoms look and feel different to the usual fantasy world — and the further into the game that player goes, the more obvious this becomes. Story-wise, god is dead, religion is outlawed, and the Inquisition — the player is an Inquisitor — has absolute power. Many people are poor and weak, but a few notable people, specifically the Scarred, have access to potentially limitless power. It's hard to explain, but so many of the details of Kult separate its background from those of other games. We're not trying to create something completely new, by any means — we love fantasy stories and art, and games — but we wanted our world to be individual and recognisable. To be worth the time and effort it takes to explore it.

4. In previous interviews you said that there's going to be a lot of NPC interaction. Tell us more about it. Do you use dialogue trees or another dialogue system? Do NPCs have day/night routines?

Jan: The dialogue engine uses a question based structure. The player chooses a question to ask, or statement to make, and they get a reply. We wanted the engine to allow for immersive character interaction, but we were keen not to constrain the player into talking about every little thing, just in case it is relevant to the game spine. Nor do the NPCs have AI, as this complicates development immeasurably, and is not of any great aid to gameplay. It can be fun working out where a character is, but if being unable to find them hinders game progress, where is the fun in that? We made a compromise which focuses gameplay and simplifies development, and we are happy with the results.

Richard: In terms of how the NPC interactions work: we have a certain amount of classic RPG NPC stuff, they ask you to do something, you do it, their state moves on and now they're useful for something else; but also, we have narrative-based progression in terms of allies who take an interest in the player character, the various members of the secret societies warring for control, and so forth.

The story is written is such a way that many of the details, those unnecessary to a core understanding of the story, are available but not presented to the player: by talking to people, the player should be able to work out the depths of what's going on for themselves, if they like that sort of thing. That's where the subtlety comes in.

5. Can you give us details on your character system? Is it class based or skills based? How many stats and skills does it have?

Chris: Because of the time constraints on the project, we had to stick with a simple set up, so you are assigned a character. However, it's up to you to decide how you want to develop her. There are basically four stats — Melee, Ranged, Magic and Speed. How you choose to advance these four stats will determine if you develop the character into a full fledged mage, a warrior, a warrior-mage and so forth.

Rather than skills, the game has a system based upon Attunements. Every item in the game has an essential nature, which the player attunes to by using the equipment. This unlocks new Attunements which are like abilities, skills and spells rolled into one – there about a hundred of them, and they interact with each other to create a wide variety of interesting combinations.

You can change your selected Attunements every time you camp, so you can actually set up strategic of tactical skillsets to deal with different situations. For instance, if you are going up against foes who are strong in Melee, you'll find blocking may be a problem. So, you can select Outclass Attunements, plus Stunning attacks, to overcome their natural strengths. You're eschewing magic, so Way of the Warrior and Might Attunements could also be used to enhance your criticals: so when you do hit them, they go down hard.

Or, if you are more magically inclined, you might look at it from a different perspective. Your foes are mainly armed with Slashing weapons; so you could give yourself an Undinal Form (which grants protection from this kind of attack). That would mean choosing Water Element, so you'd then select which Water spell Attunements you had, and any other Water effects you'd like to use to enhance yourself, such as Freezing Fog which slows the enemy attacks.

This degree of customisation is the core of the gameplay, and once players get into it, it's a lot of fun.

6. How big is the game's world? How many locations can we expect? How is the travel between locations handled?

Richard: The world is big, but travel is handled via a map, so the scale; it's not an epic, in the sense of spending hours just crossing the world. It's more focused, allowing the story to progress without any dead time. We have around fifty location maps, some larger than others; there's plenty to see and do. It's a pretty game all the way through, and some of the locations there's an impressive sense of scale, they really are nice to look at.

7. How is experience and advancement handled? Do you get experience from completing quests or just from kills? What happens when you advance?

Richard: There is a traditional exponential experience system incorporated: you kill things and complete quests to gain experience, pretty standard; but the Attunement system creates a dual-tiered advancement system. Leveling up via experience increases character hit-points and stats, plus increases the number of Attunement slots available, and does some other stuff like increase the time the character can spend in the Dreamwold, and so forth.

But equipment is far more important in Kult than in comparable Western RPGs: for a start, Attunements are unlocked from items. And the quality of item has a big effect on its functionality; a high level warrior with a tiny bodkin can be beaten by a low level character with a high quality sword, for instance. Though, you know, not necessarily easily.

So, though leveling up does occur, the player is also required to keep a very keen eye on their Attunement set-up; and to do this, they'll have to use many different weapons and items; so just standing on the spot killing things isn't the best way to self-improve. Exploration is vital, and the acquisition of new equipment will, in almost every case, provide new game options.

8. Is the game party-based? Are there any joinable NPCs? If so, how much control does the player have over them?

Peter: The game isn't party based. Though there is interaction with NPCs, they don't exactly join the player party (although you do team up with some characters at certain points in the story). This was a conscious decision made early in the project lifetime, to avoid getting overly complex. We wanted to keep to a core set of systems, and chose those we felt best provided for gameplay.

We understand that party-RPG play is very popular, and it is something we would like to provide for in future games. However, there is no point creating systems for features which aren't used to their fullest potential. Many RPG games of this style treat party play as nothing more that a four-unit RTS game. This is fun, but if we are to do this type of game, we want more from it.

9. Combat is real time in Kult. What's been done to make this a satisfying experience? What are some of the more interesting things that can be done in combat?

Chris: The first thing that's been done to the combat is that it's been kept manageably simple: most of the strategy is coming in how you set up your Attunements, not in making micromanagement decisions on the fly. However, the Attunements you have active depend on the weapon you have equipped: so you can, for instance, have a focus (a spell casting tool) and a sword in your quick slots and switch between two configurations of Attunements by just changing weapons.

Some of the things I've most enjoyed in combat have involved Attunement configurations. For instance, a certain configuration allows you to reflect damage that you block onto the attacker, and have a chance of killing foes instantly on a critical. With this set up, I was able to engage a Shaman at range and kill him without firing a shot: I blocked his thunderbolt, reflected the damage onto him and that damage killed him instantly. Very satisfying.

Also, I like using the Dreamworld tactically. You can switch between it more or less at will, and only magical creatures appear in the Dreamworld. So, for instance, if you are set upon by a huge pack of Sura warriors with a Talon Demon fighting with them, you can slip into the Dreamworld (where only the Talon Demon exists), defeat that in single combat, then return to the realworld and scatter the Sura with impunity. Much easier than fighting them all at once.

You have to watch out though: I have on more than one occasional smugly slipped away from a band of Taymurian warriors into the Dreamworld, only to find myself surrounded by a pack of Soulravens who were even more of a threat than the one I left behind in the real world!

10.In the past, you've said the game will have moral choices. Can you give an example of an immoral action and a consequence of that action?

Richard: You work for a certain gentleman. He wants a rival eliminated. His rival will double the money if you turn the tables on your employer. What do you do?

You meet a man you suspect to be a double agent. But he is useful to you in a number of ways. Do you turn him in to the authorities, losing the advantages he gives you, or let him proceed in his nefarious dealings?

A young man dreams of being a mighty warrior, but is unsuited to the role. Do you let him follow his dreams into the jaws of death? Do you discourage him? If so, how hard? And do you take into account that his father is a political force to be reckoned with?

This is the first outing for this dialogue engine, and we know that much more can be done with it. The first time out, it's unwise to push things too far, especially in the computer games industry where deadlines rule. But these concepts can be taken much, much further.

11. How interactive the game is? What objects can I interact with? Are any skills involved in interaction with things such as locks and traps?

Peter: It is difficult to answer such a question! how interactive is a game? I believe you mean, how interactive are the environments? The environments in Kult are not very interactive. Our goal was to create a combat-oriented RPG with a strong story. We would have liked to have added feature upon feature, but all projects are limited in many ways. So we chose to concentrate upon the core features and systems. As a result, though there are switches and keys and so forth, and chests to open and corpses to loot, the environments themselves are mostly static.

Richard: We have implemented no skills beyond combat in this game; well, that's not precisely true! but I mean that there are no stats or skills for diplomacy, thieving, and so forth. Other games do this, and it can be tremendous fun. However, this is a combat and narrative-driven game.

We consider it better to deliver a game which does what it does extremely well, than a game which tries to do everything and fails. How many RPGs disappoint players by offering skills, then failing to present situations within which those skills are of use?

Jan: We would love to do an expanded skills system, and use some of the innovative techniques developed for Kult in a wider context, but that will have to wait for a future project.

12. How does Attunement work? How long does it take to become attuned? Is it something that progresses naturally through the course of the game or do you purchase ways towards it during level ups?

Chris: It really doesn't take long to unlock an Attunement. If you change your equipment often, you'll be getting new Attunements several times an hour — well, assuming you're fighting. They don't unlock while you're just chatting to people.

How many Attunements you unlock depend on how versatile a player you are — if you specialise with magic, you might get through the game with just a dozen or so Attunements, for instance. Personally, I like the versatility — specialisation is for insects, after all — so I spend a lot of time unlocking lots of different Attunements, and then looking for strong combinations of Attunements.

I'm really looking forward to hearing about the different combinations of Attunements that the players of the game will discover once they start getting into the Attunement system.

13. How is the magic system handled? Can share any features of your magic system with us?

Chris: It uses the Attunement system — certain Attunements are Elemental Focus Attunements which correspond to spells. So, for instance, if at the start of the game you decide to take a Fire Focus, your first Focus Attunement will be a Fireball spell. Later, you will acquire new Focuses; you can use Focuses of different Elements to expand your range of spells, or you can still with your preferred Element and concentrate on acquiring all the spells of that Element.

There are no Magic Points — instead, mages cannot cast the same spell in succession. A simple spell, like Fireball, recharges quickly and can be cast frequently. A more complex and devastating spell (like Inferno, which sets fire to every foe on screen) takes a long time to recharge.

If you are a warrior-mage, you might choose to start combat with your Focus, fire off your most powerful spells, then switch to a weapon while you wait for your magic to recharge. Or, if you prefer to be a true Mage, you can pack multiple Focuses, and switch between different elements, unleashing powerful magic in quick succession.

Both strategies will work — it's just up to you to find the right selection of Attunements and equipment to make it work for you.

This is very much where the core gameplay lies — we give you the toolkit, you find the ways to express the type of character you want to play

Ok, that's it for now. Thanks for the interview, all the best with RPG Codex and don't be shy in letting us know what you think!

More information about Kult Heretic Kingdoms can be found here:

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