[Sergey] - Sergey Orlovsky (Nival Interactive)
[Yurg] - Yuri Bushin (Freelancer)
Sergey, please tell about EL team. How long are you working together, what projects you've done before this one?
[Sergey] The team core has been formed on April 1999 - it was the time when the work on this project started. During initial few months all the development has been carried out on paper only by very small group of people who previously done two projects, Allods: The Seal of Mystery and Allods 2: The Master of Souls. The development of game itself, graphics and code, has started on September 1999. For a half of year we were looking for new gifted artists and programmers since the most part of Nival team was busy making the Evil Islands. Now the team consists of 20 people, mostly artists, modeling and texture specialists.
[Yurg] Could you please disclose the game name backgrounds? What is, or, to be more exact, who are the Etherlords?
[Sergey] The universe of the game is somewhat alike ours, with one essential difference: everything there is consisting of ether (the term actively used by medieval alchemists to denote some omnipresent and vivifying magical energy). Ether is the basis of everything; it gives miraculous faculties to all the inhabitants of this world. Ether is not homogeneous: it is splinted in four different flows and produces the creatures with unique characteristics - so there four races appeared in the game universe, according to the number of ether kinds. Each race has own master, Lord of race, and intelligent beings born from ether are obeying him. Therefore the game version for Western market was called Etherlords, the Lords of Ether. The Russian game name, Demiurges, is the exact reflection of race Lords essence. The word "demiurge" in ancient Greek philosophy means "the creator of the world". "Demiurge" is not a god in religious interpretation, but rather "master" with unlimited creative potential, able to create, in particular, living creatures. While they are not almighty gods, the Lords (and so the players) are nevertheless controlling the life of this world.
[Yurg] Before discussing the details, please describe the EL in general. What is behind the terms "strategy", "tactics" and "RPG" in this project?
[Sergey] Etherlords is the game of turn-based strategy genre. The fundamentally new decision that will, in our opinion, enrich this quite conservative genre with unexpected and alluring opportunities, is the combination of collectible card board game principle in combat system and traditional strategic resource control. The game process in Etherlords has strict division into strategic and tactical components. Your strategy task is the creation and development of optimal spell set for your heroes. The point is that your single weapon in Etherlords world is magic. A single character's spell-book may contain no more than 15 spells so the efficiency of their combined work will greatly affect your chances to succeed. In order to gain the access to new spells, you have to conquer and protect new territories with strategically important structures and resources. The tactical component of the game is magical duels when your opponents are the heroes of enemy races or monsters defending the objects you require. Your goal is to use the set of spells to defeat the enemy. The RPG element is the option to develop your characters. With the growth of experience gained in combats or through the use of special structures, your character is reaching new levels. New level gives you a number of advantages: option to select new skill or improve the one already existing, improvement of basic character stats and higher chance to apply the unique ability in combat.
[Yurg] Tell about the game plot. Why should we fight someone, who is the main villain and what disaster should we prevent to save the world?
[Sergey] I won't discuss the game plot details before the game release, or the playing will seem boring to you later. But I can say there will be no classical villain character to fight.
At the beginning of the game you can select one of two alternative plot lines. Each of them is the set of the missions where you are playing for two allied races, taking the part of two race Lords in turns. Your opponents are two remaining races, and the prize for victorious alliance is the absolute power to rule the world, personified by the figure of some mythical White Lord. According to legends, the parade of four stars emitting four ether flows is the sign of the time of changes, when the total power can be taken by one of race Lords. Is there any real White Lord, and if so, will he fight the winner - is unclear question for the Lords of all four races. The single thing known for sure - "there can be only one", and recent allies will become enemies.
[Yurg] Why have you selected the turn-based system?
[Sergey] Turn-based strategy is settled genre, there were no fundamental innovation for a long time. So it is open area for genre experiments :) Second, turn-based strategy gives you a time to think over each turn, therefore providing you with the freedom to develop quite complex individual combat tactics - the most attractive aspect for us, players. Besides, many of us love to play the magical collectible card games like MTG - most fascinating universe with the unique tactical options and wide area for designers imagination, which still has no worthy computer analogues. The turn-based strategy is the most convenient genre for it.
[Yurg] Indispensable attribute of any strategy is the world where the game events unfold. In HMM it is large plain map, in X-Com - rotating Earth globe. What is EL world like, how large is it and how is it constructed?
[Sergey] The Etherlords world is the universe where everything is built of ether. The constantly shifting flows of this magical energy create the worlds of Ether Universe, including the one where the game taking place - the Lords world. It is similar to spiral galaxy like ours, consisting of four ether flows, "emitted" by four stars - red, blue, green and black.
[Yurg] How large are the battlefields and what forces can player control?
[Sergey] The battlefields, or tactical screens, have a fixed size enough to accommodate the armies of two battling heroes. Depending on the realm where your hero is now, the battle takes place on one of four tactical screens. Strategy map sizes may vary. The largest is 240x240 tiles.
Your only weapon is magic so your army is inside the character's spell-book. At the beginning of each turn your hero gains the access to several spells randomly selected from spell-book, - no more than six of them. At the beginning of next turn, one or few more spells will be added to them. Using these spells, the hero may summon the creatures of his race to attack enemy hero or block the attacks of enemy monsters. Besides the power and toughness values, monsters usually have special abilities. There are more than 120 monsters in the game; each of them has a unique appearance. Your hero may control up to 10 monsters simultaneously. You can also harm the enemy or gain different advantages in the battle by using direct influence spells producing various effects.
[Yurg] The convenience of camera control is important for 3D games. How is it controlled in EL?
[Sergey] We have implemented free 3D camera on strategy screen, with zooming range from 50 to 5 meters and rotating option. It is controlled from the keyboard or mouse.
On strategy combat screen you can select the manual control mode for the free camera, or the automatic mode. In automatic mode the camera will zoom to the most interesting moments of duel by own choice.
[Yurg] How much linear is the game, and how the plot line unfolds? Is the game mission-based, or allows free traveling over the world?
[Sergey] As I already said, you can choose between two plotlines, or campaigns, playing for two allied races. Each campaign is linear but has completely different mission sets, i.e. there no common missions you can play in different style on the side of different races. Each mission takes place on a separate map and its background is linked with missions playable for other races. The sets of spells, and therefore combat tactics of each race are unique, so the game styles are cardinally different for each campaign. There are totally 14 missions in the game.
[Yurg] Will there be Heroes in the game; is it possible to "equip" them? Generally, how unique the combat units and what skills and abilities do they have?
[Sergey] There are 64 types of heroes in the game. You can "summon" unlimited number of heroes anytime, however the support of each hero takes some amount of magical energy generated by different sources over the map. You cannot equip the Etherlords characters - it is simply not necessary, since the hero himself takes no direct part in combat, he just forwards his "servants" to fight the enemy. Besides the spell-book, the hero may carry the artifacts providing the unique spells. The death of hero causes no fatal effects to the game at whole; you can summon the other one anytime, and pretty quickly brings him to the necessary level using the resources and structures on conquered territory. Your hero has several basic stats, e.g. distance he can travel per turn, or health, or some unique ability or specialization randomly "triggers" during the combat. For example, your hero can resurrect the creature he controls without spending any magical energy. As I mentioned above, after reaching the next level, you can assign a new skill to your hero or improve the one he already has. The chance to apply the unique skill of the hero and his basic stats are being improved as well.
[Yurg] Most strategies have the resources and some system to control them. What are the resources of EL - usual gold, mana and ore?
[Sergey] No, there are no such universal exchange resources like gold or ore in the game. Etherlords have 8 resources in total. 7 of them are usual accruable resources you can spend to upgrade the conquered structures, purchase new spells and runes required for spell application in combat. The eighths resource, ether, cannot be accumulated, i.e. you are controlling a fixed amount of ether per day even if you haven't used it up a day before. It is necessary to cover heroes' upkeep and produce special global enchantments. Each race heroes may use all the types of resources but the spells of different races require higher amounts of some certain resource types.
[Yurg] Please tell about the magic system in EL. What is the tree of spells like, how large is it? Should we do some "research" to invent new spells?
[Sergey] There are about 300 spells generally in the game; each race has more than 70 unique spells. You can also use the artifacts containing the spells unavailable to all races in any other way, and also the global enchantments affecting the stats of own and enemy heroes or even the game events at whole. Besides the magical creature summoning spells, there are also enchantments and sorcery. The effect of enchantment may last for some time. Enchantments allow the hero to strengthen own creature and weaken enemy's one. They can be dispelled only with special spells or unique abilities of some creatures. The sorcery has an immediate effect, and the range of application of such spells is huge. For example, sorcery allows dealing direct damage to enemy or his creatures. You don't have to carry out any scientific research in the true sense of the word - you can buy the spells in specially designed structures. Your success depends on how good the spells you selected are amplifying each other. Let me show it on the example. The game, like MTG, has the conception of "graveyard". The creatures fallen on battlefield do not leaving the game forever, but comes to graveyard instead. The race of Chaots has the creatures able to clear dead creatures out of any hero's graveyard. From other hand, there is the spell allowing dealing as much damage to hero as many creatures are currently present in his graveyard. This spell has one drawback - it deals the same effect to its controller. When purchasing such a spell, it makes sense for hero to think about getting some creature able to sweep his own graveyard of dead creatures - so the spell will affect only the enemy hero.
[Yurg] New spell creation is a separate topic of discussion. What is required here and how the process of new spell creation goes on? Will it be the system of base magic powers combining like in Magic and Mayhem?
[Sergey] The hero can buy new spell in a shop spending the corresponding amount of resources. So he gains the "knowledge" of this spell and a single rune allowing trying this spell in a combat. To use the spell many times, you need to buy more proper runes and later replenish their stock from time to time. Each spell used in combat takes a certain amount of magical energy. This amount cannot be accumulated so any energy unused on this turn will be lost. However the amount of energy available at the beginning of each next turns slightly grows, and the higher hero's level, the faster this growth happens.
[Yurg] How large the EL bestiary?
[Sergey] There are more than 160 monsters in the game, and all of them are very different, both in appearance and abilities. So, the monsters serving the race of Synthets are combining the features of organic and inorganic beings; Vital's creatures are similar to forest animals and insects. Chaots are controlling the barbaric tribes of orcs and goblins, and Cynets has different flying magical creatures, e.g. dragons.
[Yurg] How you designing the game characters appearance? I haven't seen such unusual creatures before. Do they have any prototypes in mythology?
[Sergey] The search of own graphics style is one of most complex tasks. All the more, the genre of fantasy sets own limitations: the characters should be original but recognizable; we cannot step aside from genre canons too far. The Synthet race creatures are farthest from fantasy stereotypes, and they are the favorite creations of our artists. I doubt they have any direct prototypes, but the sources of inspirations were different, up to Giger's works. How hard is the process? Judge for yourself: each character takes more than a work month for team consisting of 4-5 people, from the sketch to final animation.
[Yurg] Are you planning to support multiplayer? If so, in what modes?
[Sergey] Yes, we are planning it. Moreover, from the very beginning of the game development, we tried to take into account the multiplayer features as much as possible, and we are doing our best to ensure it will be convenient and interesting. We are going to include 10 multiplayer maps to the game release. Up to 8 people can play on single map through the LAN or Internet using a peer-to-peer technology, i.e. directly: the players will connect to each other and run the game. In future we will implement the rating system and also will be holding tournaments for the players.
[Yurg] Will there be a demo version or open beta testing, and what is the planned date of final release?
[Sergey] The game release is planned for 4th quarter of 2001. The demo is to be available by the early fall this year, and open beta testing starts as early as the first half of summer. And we have just completed the internal beta version; the game will take shelves by the end of 2001.
[Yurg] Thank you very much for your answers!
[Sergey] Thank you!