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Mercenary's menu Interview

Arcanum





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(06.05.2000)

[TIM] - Timothy Cain (Troika Games)
[Yurg] - Yuri Bushin (Freelancer)

[Yurg] Tim, tell about yourself. You are a legendary person in the gaming industry. But not all young gamers are aware of you gaming achievements :) How did you start your career, what projects have you been working at and how did you get to Arcanum?

[TIM] I actually started in the game industry in 1982 (!) while in high school in Viriginia. I worked on Grand Slam Bridge by Cybron Software, developing it for Electronic Arts. For the trivia buffs out there, don't bother looking for my name in the credits. I went off to college and they didn't credit me. Welcome to the game industry, Mr. Cain. :)

I moved out to California to do graduate studies in AI, but I left school in 1992 to work for Interplay. I worked on the Bard's Tale Construction Set, and then a business sim called Rags to Riches, all while biting my nails watching another programmer work on Lord of the Rings. I then helped out with programming on a variety of projects, like Star Trek and Stonekeep, until the opportunity to work on my own CRPG arose. This opportunity evolved into the CRPG known to the world as Fallout. After the success of that game, I struck out on my own and started a company with some friends, and together we made Arcanum.

[Yurg] Question to the point - on the core of the game. Do we know primordially what would we face: whom to fight with, whom to save; or that is a social RPG where there is no main bad guy but a world where we have to live?

[TIM] I like open-ended games, where you can go anywhere you want, basically exploring and fighting and meeting people. But open-endedness can get stale and seem purposeless after a while, unlike a story-driven game which provides a direction for you to follow. Of course, a pure story-driven game can feel quite linear and constraining though.

Arcanum combines the best of both types of games. It has a huge continuous world to explore, where you are free to travel wherever you like, with any kind of character you want to make. But there is a storyline to follow, if you choose. It is an engaging story, full of intrigue and mystery, but we do NOT force you to follow it. The Arcanum world is filled with side quests that have nothing to do with the main storyline, and they a great way to gain experience and advance your character, even if you aren't advancing the plot.

[Yurg] To what extent Arcanum is not a linear game? Can you give a descriptive example to show non-linearity (of its storyline and gameplay)?

[TIM] Well, ignoring the vast number of non story quests, the main storyline quests can be solved in a variety of ways. You can talk your way through a situation, or fight your way through, or simply sneak past it. You can use magic or technology or both or neither, and depending on how you solve some quests, futures ones may change or disappear entirely. Eventually our main storyline branches depending entirely on your own actions, and each branch leads in a different direction. And finally the end game ties it all together, but it will vary for each player, depending on what you did along the way.

[Yurg] How free can the gamer feel in Arcanum? For example, can I complete the game alone, without an companions? If that is impossible, then to what extent are they controllable? It comes to my mind - NPC in Fallout were a true headache.

[TIM] We have made sure the game can be completed by any character you want to make. You can be charismatic and have lots of followers if you wish, or you can go it alone. We paid extra attention to playing really really stupid characters too, since they often have limited dialog choices.

We have improved NPC control and AI in Arcanum. You can easily barter with them and contol exactly what weapons and armor they use, and in combat, you can control who they attack, and even have them back off and not attack at all. You can even have them temporarily leave the party and wait somewhere for you, so that you can do quests that would be difficult to finish with them. For example, some thieving quests are easier to solo, since one person prowling is harder to detect than a group of five.

[Yurg] Please, tell about the interaction with the outward things. Is it possible that one action of ours to spoil our progress in absolutely different part of the world? And how quick do the NPC find out about our actions? For example, in Ultima Online information by way of rumors gradually spreads around the world.

[TIM] Most reputations in Arcanum tend to be local, as in you are hated or loved by everyone in a particular town or part of the town or subgroup of the town. We do have a few global reputations, that affect a lot of people, but these are for really impressive events. And remember, the telegraph has been invented in Arcanum, so newspapers can and will print stories about your most famous deeds, in case you are wondering how everone knows about them. In fact, you can buy these papers at newsstands in the game. It is REALLY fun to read about some heist that you pulled off the night before in the morning's paper.

[Yurg] Arcanum is one of the few games that combine both systems of fighting - Turn-Based and Real-Time. Please, tell how have you been working at the game: on the principle that the game is Turn-Based and Real-Time is addition or vice versa? And what mode do you prefer yourself and why?

[TIM] We have planned for both modes since day one. They are both based on the Speed score of the character, which is based on the Dexterity stat. Basically, the higher your speed, the faster you can attack. In real-time mode, this means you literally animate faster than your opponent and thus get in more strikes. In turn-based mode, you get more action points to spend, which amounts to the same thing - more attacks per turn.

When we started the game, turn-based was my favorite. Then I slowly won over to the real-time mode, and now I only switch to turn-based when things get really hairy and I need extremely good tactics to win the fight. Then I tap the space bar, which toggles turn-based mode, and I start issuing orders to my followers. Turn-based control sometimes means the difference between life and death, because it gives you more control as the player.

[Yurg] Please, tell how do you solve the problem of magical and technological stuff compatibility? Can the magical stuff resist the technological one and vice versa?

[TIM] Yes, both types resist the other. You can straddle the line, but magic items work better when you have a higher magical aptitude, and tech items work best for people with high technological aptitude (or at least, they don't critically fail like they do in the hands of magic users). And the target's aptitude affects you too. It is easier to use a gun on a fellow technologist than on a mage, and a wand can fail to affect a technologist but work on a mage.

Worst case scenerios: a mage firing a gun at a mage, or a techie using a wand on a techie. The items work at reduced power and/or can critically fail.

[Yurg] What is necessary to create new machine, any mechanical stuff?

[TIM] As a technologist in Arcanum, you learn schematics, which show how to combine items in the world into new technological marvels that are available nowhere in the world. Technologist players are the ultimate scavengers, hunting around for springs and metal ores and all kinds of components, so that they cam build their gizmos and gadgets. It is really quite fun and has a totally different feel from magic.

[Yurg] How can new spells be discovered and what is needed for that?

[TIM] There are no "found" spells as opposed to "learned" spells, but there are scrolls of spells that are not available for learning. They are one-use scrolls, however.

[Yurg] Are there limits for development of any skill and how exactly are they limited?

[TIM] Your skills are limited by your stats. If you want to become good at Melee, you need to have a high Dexterity. If you want to be good at Haggling, you need a high Willpower. Each skill has a base stat that limits its advancement.

There is also training for each skill, that improves the skill while not necessarily improving your success with the skill. For example, if you raise your Bow skill, you get better at hitting your target. But if you receive training in Bow, you can learn to fire two arrows at once, so you do more damage to your target. Every skill has three levels of training, each with its own bonus to the skill.

[Yurg] Please, tell about system of main character generation. What parameters can be set, in general, what can we make him?

[TIM] In a nutshell, you can buy basic stats, skills, spells, and tech degrees. There are 8 basic stats: 4 physical ones (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Beauty) and 4 mental ones (Intelligence, Willpower, Perception, and Charisma). They each control certain derived stats (like Speed for Dexterity or Reaction for Beauty). Two derived stats, hit points (based on Strength) and fatigue (based on Constitution), can also be bought up separately from their base stat.

Skills come in 4 categories, each with four skills. The categories are Combat (with the skills Melee, Bow, Throwing, and Dodge), Thieving (with Prowling, Backstab, Pick Pocketing and Spot Traps), Social (with Healing, Gambling, Haggling and Persuasion), and Tech (with Firearms, Repair, Pick Locks and Disarm Traps).

Spells come in 16 colleges, each with 5 spells. Within a college, each spell must be bought in order (so spell 2 is a prerequisite for spell 3), and higher spells demand a higher Willpower to cast it.

Tech degrees come in 8 disciplines, each with 7 degrees. As with spells, each degree in a discipline is a prerequisite for the subsequent degree, but higher degrees require higher Intelligence to understand them. So techies tend to be smart, while mages tend to be strong-willed.

Everything costs 1 character point to raise 1 rank (you gain character points when you go up a level). Also, buying spells raise your Magical Aptitude and buying tech skills and degrees raise your Technological Aptitude.

You can also select backgrounds, which are little stories about your character's history that also adjust your starting abilities.

[Yurg] That would be interested to discuss races of Arcanum world. Tell about orcs, goblins, gnomes, elves and other God's creatures. What makes them different except sprites? Did you base on classical fantasy creatures or on ones of legends?

[TIM] We took the Tolkienesque races (dwarves, elves, orcs, etc) and figured out what would happen to them in a 19th century environment. Each race has its inherent bonuses and penalties, so depending on what kind of character you want to make, a particular race may stand out. For example, elves make good mages but terrible technologists.

[Yurg] Fantasy worlds, as a rule, do not do without gods and other creatures of hereafter. Are there gods or another existential power in Arcanum?

[TIM] Yes, there are gods in Arcanum, and you can be the subject of their blessings (and their curses) depending on what you do. Religion also plays a big part in Arcanum, in terms of quests and the main story.

[Yurg] How the gamer travel in the world? Like in Fallout - movement between locations happens on the world map?

[TIM] There are locations in Arcanum, but the world is continuous. You can travel to any part of it and see what is there. You can use the world map to travel quickly, or you can actually walk from one point to another in the isometric view. It's slower but you get to see the sights. We encourage people to explore off the beaten paths in Arcanum. You never know what you may find...

[Yurg] Do you allow in Arcanum for a possibility to play it after "happy end"?

[TIM] Our single-player game ends when the main story line is completed. You get a long slide show that shows the results of your actions upon the people and future of Arcanum. But the multiplayer module can be played forever, and since we ship with the editing tools, you are free to make and share your own modules. The fun of playing Arcanum doesn't have to end when the single player game does.

[Yurg] Please, tell about multiplayer game. How does it run (on separate maps or it is possible to complete all the game) and what does attract you in it?

[TIM] The multiplayer game uses different modules from the single player game. Since you cannot perform world map travel in multiplayer mode (since time is compressed, what would you do if one player traveled and the other did not?), you will need to make smaller maps for multiplayer use.

I like our multiplayer. It is like tabletop gaming; you and a few friends playing a module together. It is fun to use strategy to take down a powerful opponent that you could not do singly. And some character types that are hard to play solo (the low combat, high heal character) are great in multiplayer games. Since you use your own computer as the server, you don't need to worry about hacking either. If someone brings in an illegal character, you just boot him off and ban him.

[Yurg] Tim, is there a possibility in the game to export the main character in the Arcanum probable sequel? And are there limits for character's development in this part of the game?

[TIM] We are considering a sequel where you can bring your character from Arcanum 1. We limit your level to 50 (although testers are finishing the game well before that level), but in the sequel we can raise that limit.

[Yurg] What happens if created by us character perishes? Will that be the end of Arcanum game, or there will be a possibility to resurrect him by the power of the companions' magic?

[TIM] If you die in single player and one of your followers has the Resurrect spell (or an item that can do it), he will try to bring you back to life. If he cannot do it in 10 seconds or so, the game fades out and you are dead.

In multiplayer, you can lie around dead waiting for the other players to Resurrect you (there is no time limit for them) or you can make a new character.

[Yurg] Tim, tell about humor in the game. About such funny stuff as a two-headed cow in Fallout (that many gamers appreciated). Are there much enough of hidden humor and Easter Eggs in Arcanum?

[TIM] We have lots of humor in the game, and given the nature of a continuous world, it was easy for us to hide several fun places out in the wilderness. There might be caves, ruins, or whole dungeons waiting out there for the intrepid adventure to discover.

[Yurg] It comes to my mind that once in summer on the question concerning your plans after Arcanum you answered that most likely you are going to work at Arcanum 2. Are the plans still the same?

[TIM] Yes.

[Yurg] Tim, did you think on the creation of the Arcanum Online? And how do you think it can be perspective?

[TIM] We thought about it. The infrastructure needed to run such a beast is huge. You need lots of servers and bandwidth, and lots of people to make zones and quests and NPC's. That requires a bigger company than we plan to make Troika. But you never know.

[Yurg] And the last question. When would we be able to get news on your new projects? :)

[TIM] Heh, right now my head is buried in the code for Arcanum 1, looking for bugs and balancing the game. I won't know anything about the next project for a few months. But as you can tell, I love talking, so there is no doubt I will chat about it at length to whoever wants to hear about it. :)

[Yurg] We do wish you and Arcanum a big portion of luck!

[TIM] Thanks!



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