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Interview With Ken Troop - Lead Designer

Reed Hubbard Posted:
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For the past three decades, Dungeons & Dragons has been synonymous with fantasy role playing gaming. Many current gamers cut their role playing teeth on a 20-sided die, and most of those who don't remember a time before computer games still defer to D&D as the seminal RPG.

All current fantasy-themed MMORPGs owe a debt to Dungeons & Dragons and the gaming genre it sired. This begs the question as to why there is not a current massively multiplayer incarnation of D&D. Fortunately, Turbine Entertainment is prepared to answer that charge with its upcoming title, Dungeons & Dragons Online. In conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, the team at Turbine is working to create a MMORPG worthy of the D&D legacy.

We had the opportunity to speak with Turbine's Ken Troop, Lead Designer for Dungeons & Dragons Online. Ken provided us a unique insight into the planning and development of this highly anticipated title.

MMORPG.com: Given the history of Dungeons & Dragons, from both a pen and paper and a computer game perspective, how do you view the task before you? Do you approach the making of a Dungeons & Dragons game with caution and respect, taking care not to sully the game's reputation, or do you see it as a robust world full of opportunity, freeing you to a greater level of creativity and invention?
Ken Troop:

Honestly, it's a bit of both. Dungeons & Dragons is the 30-year old granddaddy of role-playing games, and it features a constantly-evolving ruleset that has always managed to stay relevant.

On the other hand, no one's done a massively-multiplayer version of D&D in the last 10 years, and we've made it clear from the beginning that not all of the PnP rules are going to work well in a real-time MMORPG format, so we have a clean slate in some regards.

With these things in mind, we're approaching the conversion with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. What this means is that we're using the PnP rules as a baseline, and then making tweaks and edits as necessary. So far, it's worked out really well.

MMORPG.com: From the Gold Box games to more recent releases from BioWare and Black Isle Studios, Dungeons & Dragons has a rich computer gaming tradition. Are there any ideas or concepts from these prior Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs you want to make certain you include in Dungeons & Dragons Online?
Ken Troop:

Oh boy. Here are some of our favorites, off of the top of my head:

  • The original Pool of Radiance for ushering in the modern era of D&D CRPGs.
  • Eye of the Beholder for capturing the tension and atmosphere of the classic dungeon crawl.
  • The original Neverwinter Nights (on AOL) for being the first-ever online D&D game.
  • Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II for reviving the entire genre.
  • Planescape:Torment for having possibly the best writing and story of any D&D game to date.
  • Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance for capturing the spirit of D&D in a console action game.
  • Bioware's Neverwinter Nights for creating a thriving, dedicated online community.
  • Temple of Elemental Evil for converting a truly classic module, and providing an almost letter-perfect conversion of the 3.5e rules.
We're probably forgetting some, but there you go.

MMORPG.COM: Many MMORPG players lament that few titles have captured the soul of pen and paper (PnP) gaming. How close to the PnP experience do you want Dungeons & Dragons Online to be?
Ken Troop:

We've known from day one that we're not doing a straight conversion of the PnP rules, but our number one goal is to capture, as you put it, the "soul" of PnP Dungeons & Dragons. In a nutshell, we interpret this as getting together with a group of your friends and sharing thrilling, memorable adventures.

And we're still trying to keep the rules as close to PnP as possible - we really want a player to be able to take their in-game character's stats and bring it into a PnP game with little or no adjustment.

MMORPG.COM: What advantages are afforded the development team by setting the game in Eberron, particularly Xen'drik?
Ken Troop:

The world of Eberron comes with a tremendous amount of built-in lore and history. Wizards of the Coast really did an amazing job here - even though the Eberron Campaign Setting was only released a few months ago, it already feels like a living, breathing world. It would have taken a lot of time for us to create a setting this detailed from scratch.

The fact that our game takes place on the continent of Xen'drik is icing on the cake. Xen'drik is only mentioned in passing in the Eberron Campaign Setting, but it's an important place, and Wizards has given us an enormous amount of flexibility in developing this corner of Eberron.

So we've really ended up with the best of both worlds - a virtual blank slate in a fully realized campaign setting. We couldn't be happier with the way this has turned out.

MMORPG.COM: Designing the look of one's character has long been an important part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience. Explain the degree of latitude and detail a player will be allowed in designing his avatar.
Ken Troop: We can't give a lot of detail on this right now, but suffice it to say that there will be plenty of customization options for avatars of all available races, classes, and genders.
MMORPG.COM: What classes and races will be available to players at launch? Are there plans to eventually include all races and classes? Are there any races or classes that players definitely won't see in Dungeons & Dragons Online?
Ken Troop:

We've announced humans, elves, halflings, dwarves, and warforged as playable races; and fighters, paladins, barbarians, rangers, clerics, bards, rogues, sorcerers, and wizards as playable classes.

Monks and druids, the two remaining base classes, will be implemented at some point after launch. We also want to get the remaining races from the Player's Handbook and Eberron Campaign Setting into the game - that would be half-elves, half-orcs, gnomes, changelings, kalashtar, and shifters, for those of you keeping score at home - but we don't have any firm plans for them. Same thing goes for Eberron's artificer class.

It's a long list, but nothing has been ruled out at this point.

MMORPG.COM: Will both skills and feats be implemented? What about multiclassing?
Ken Troop:

We're putting all kinds of feats and skills in the game. Not everything from the PHB and Eberron Campaign Setting will make the cut, and some things will work slightly differently, but you'll see most of your favorites. We'll get into specifics as we get closer to launch.

Multiclassing is definitely in. We don't intend to deviate significantly from the PnP implementation.

MMORPG.COM: Dungeons & Dragons Online will employ instanced environments. Is the plan to implement instancing exclusively in combat/questing areas, or will we see some static areas where multiple parties may encounter each other during their adventures?
Ken Troop: Most if not all of our adventure content will take place in instanced areas - there are just so many cool things that our engine allows us to do with private areas, and our level and quest designers are really having a real blast creating them. It's certainly possible that we'll have a few static adventure areas in the game, but it's not our focus right now, and it's not guaranteed.
MMORPG.COM: Will the actions of players have a real and lasting impact on the environment (aside from affecting attitudes of other players)? For example, will "notorious" players receive a cooler reception from merchants?
Ken Troop:

Players' actions will definitely have an effect on their world - we want people to feel like they're playing a living, breathing D&D campaign as much as possible. NPCs will remember what you've done, and the paths that open up to your character will be dependent on what they've done in the past.

When your character takes on a quest, one of the driving reasons should be to advance the storyline and see what comes next. Sure, you'll get experience and loot, but we want these to be the consequences of your actions, not the motivators.

MMORPG.COM: Is there anything in Dungeons & Dragons Online for the player who enjoys solo adventuring?
Ken Troop:

There's going to be plenty of stuff for the solo player to do, particularly at the lower levels, but the quickest path to advancement will always be grouping.

However, we are aware of the fact that many gamers have busy lives, and may have trouble logging in for more than an hour or so at a time. We have some solutions designed for these players that aren't solo play, but that also don't require them to spend precious minutes looking for a party. We'll be talking about this more in the coming months.

MMORPG.COM: The stated plan is to keep server populations smaller and more intimate. What do you consider the ideal number of players for a Dungeons & Dragons Online server? Will server population be limited?
Ken Troop:

We're currently shying away from giving hard numbers on our sever populations. The key point here is that we want our game to have a real community feel, and we think that large servers can be detrimental to this goal. The flipside of this is that we don't want our servers to be so small that they feel like a ghost town during non-peak hours - we realize that a server that feels underpopulated is arguably worse than an overcrowded one.

We want to find the happy medium, but we probably won't have enough data to do that until well into beta.

MMORPG.COM: Turbine is currently developing both Dungeons & Dragons Online and Middle-Earth Online. Will the games employ any similar technologies (e.g. game engines) or are the projects completely separate and discrete?
Ken Troop:

From a technical perspective, both DDO and MEO share a significant amount of code "under the hood." This includes things that are transparent to the end-user, such as server and network code.

From a player's perspective, DDO and MEO will be completely different. We're taking pains to ensure that each game has its own distinct art, content, interface, and overall game experience. This is very important to us.

We would like to thank Ken and all the good people at Turbine Entertainment who worked with us on this interview. For more information on Dungeons & Dragons Online, visit the official website at http://www.ddo.com. You may visit Turbine Entertainment's website at http://www.turbinegames.com.


Reed Hubbard