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Interview with Stieg Hedlund, Lead Designer

Dana Massey Posted:
Interviews 0

Dana Massey asks Stieg Hedlund, Lead Designer a few questions about their upcoming Roman-themed MMORPG Gods and Heroes. This article also features 5 exclusive screen shots and an exclusive video.

MMORPG.com: The first thing I noticed when I looked at Gods & Heroes was the realistic looking combat. Can you tell us a bit about the technology that supports this? In addition, how scalable will this be? It looks great one-on-one, but what about three-on-one, etc.?

It will be very scalable. From the beginning we knew we wanted a combat system that would work for lots of different types of combat engagements from gladiatorial one-on-one to a band of stalwarts surrounding a massive Cyclops, to large scale battles.

Our combat animation count is well over a thousand. If you do a quick count in most other games in the category you'll get a pretty good idea of some of the immediate differences. The system is complex and deep and entirely scalable, and by no means an easy undertaking, but we hope to provide the most visually satisfying combat experience in any online game to date.

MMORPG.com: Looks are not everything. What about the combat system (excluding for the moment NPC allies) will be more interesting than the average MMORPG?

That's absolutely right. In fact, we didn't set out to make a nice-looking combat system, instead we wanted to make one that was engaging and provided real interaction, and the visuals grew out of that. To answer simply: tactics, strategy, planning, clever and judicious use of abilities and absolutely no eating sandwiches while engaged in warfare.

MMORPG.com: The NPC allies system sounds extremely interesting. Can you give us a practical example of how an average battle in this system would play out from a player perspective?

With what we are doing there will be far fewer average battles than there will be interesting or dynamic battles. In almost all MMORPG combat, there is basically one, or maybe two, types of strategies: tanks taunts, everyone attack one target (if there is a healer hit it first), use AOEs at will, rinse and repeat, or if you have a chanter; chanter mezzes, tank taunts, everyone attacks one target (if there is a healer hit it first), do not use AOEs, rinse and repeat.

Imagine if your enemies used similar tactics on you, or better yet if they tried to thwart your tactics. Imagine not actually knowing how every single battle will play out before you enter into it, and organizing formations attached to strategies for not only you and your set of allies, but for an entire group of PCs and all of their allies. Now add into that the ability for the game to alter hostile situations based on your group's composition, numbers and tactics, and you'll get the idea of what we're doing.

At the same time, that doesn't mean that combat will have to always be complex. We think we've got some pretty ingenious systems and settings and defaults, that will cater to whatever type of gamer dives in.

MMORPG.com: Are you worried that the ability to hire NPCs to join your party will marginalize the need for players to play together and limit socialization?

Nope, just the opposite. We'll get the best of both worlds here. Solo play in other MMOs is relegated to killing single enemies within your level range, or groups of enemies far below your level. We'll be able to shake things up and have far more interesting solo play and completely new and innovative group play. Soldiers or minions are not substitutions for a full-fledged PC of a similar class, instead we think you'll see an especially large payoff and attraction for groups made up of only 2 or 3 player characters who will be able to undertake the diverse and complex gameplay normally reserved for full groups in standard MMOs. In other ways, having minions available to you is going to reduce some of the dependencies on finding specific classes to group with. How many times have we all sat around for hours in a group sending out the occasional "group of 5 lf healer, pst!" While having a couple of minion healers might not be exactly the same experience as having a PC healer with you, you can certainly see how many more options and avenues will be available to the player.

MMORPG.com: Gods & Heroes relies extremely heavily on instanced content. On the other end of the spectrum, what types of content will exist that take advantage of the online aspects of the game?

I've been looking through other MMOs and I've been asking myself that very question, but in relation to them: "what content DO any of these games provide that relates specifically to the online aspects of the game?" Truth be told, I can't really pin down any. Besides being able to show off your L337 gear, which we all know we love to do, there are the obvious ones, guilds, auction houses, chat channels, access to a large base of people with whom to group or raid with, but at the end of the day, when it comes to combat and questing, other groups just get in the way in the often crammed public zones. Very few people spend there time raving about the quests and conquests they've had in publicly contested territory, with one exception: faction based RvR raids. The rest of the "oh my god that was so much fun" sentiments tend to come from the private castles and dungeons, or the quests where all the named mobs were spawned for the quester instead of camped. So to sum up both of those, the borders of Rome are only as strong as those who currently protect it, and G & H is rife with complex, hidden, private, special areas just waiting for you to explore.

MMORPG.com: What steps have you taken to ensure that the generated areas look and feel good?

We're actually not generating areas, everything is hand crafted.

MMORPG.com: Your webpage mentions a host of human enemies for players to fight. One that caught my eye was Pirates, which obviously implies naval combat. What are your plans for seafaring and naval combat?

Well, we're not going to have PC-controlled naval vessels at launch, that could easily be a game in itself, but we do have a large amount of content relating to the pirates. These aren't the parrot and jolly-roger ones most people think of, but historically these groups, both in around towns, as well as at sea, were a major threat to Roman expansion and survival.

MMORPG.com: History is a passion of mine. Any time a game is made in a historical setting a balance must be struck between realism and fun. How much will things like the city of Rome take from the actual historical city, as it existed in 300 B.C.?

More than you would think is possible for an MMORPG. We are taking a rather large amount of time to stay true to the historical settings and atmosphere wherever possible, without sacrificing gameplay. However, at the same time, functional and historical "licenses" must be taken to not only make things playable, but fun. For example, almost all of the mythological creatures depicted in epic and classical literature have already been killed by Hellenic heroes, so we certainly couldn't stay true to that fiction, because we are pretty sure you'd rather kill Medusa then here an orator tell you about her death.

MMORPG.com: What prompted you to choose to set the game in the Republic, rather than the more pop-culture-friendly imperial period?

There are a number of reasons for this. Certainly one of the most compelling is that this is a tumultuous time for Rome. By no means has it been assured of its longevity, while at the same time it isn't just some backwoods village—its central city is huge and bustling with cultures from all over the world. The roads from the city of Rome to its furthest outposts are paved, but by no means safe, and Rome's borders are teeming with cultures poised and ready to strike at anything and everything related to Rome. That makes for good multiplayer gaming.

MMORPG.com: Your website mentions a class-based game. Can you run us through the basics of character progression?

Each of the character classes has a rich selection of treed feats, as well as skills and god powers that can be learned. As you progress, you will be able to make choices to customize your character and as a result, your play experience. The feats you choose essentially allow you to create a subclass focused on one or another of the main feat groups, although you can additionally create a hybrid that selects feats from different groups. God powers sit above this system and create very different characters even within a subclass.

MMORPG.com: Your website lists rogues as a possible class. Can you tell us a bit more about them?

The Latin lexicon is rich with words describing the moral gray area that is this class' milieu: the ones that are best known (though their meaning has been altered slightly through zoological use) are things like predator, raptor, and feline. This class serves Rome as the others do, but sometimes the methods used are difficult to fathom.

MMORPG.com: What steps did you take to ensure that Gods & Heroes is accessible to two frequently neglected groups: casual and solo players?

I think we've covered solo players pretty well in previous answers, though there is far more to be revealed about them, and I think catering to casual players is a pretty in-depth gameplay discussion. But at the top level, one of the things that really discourages casual gamers is the need to spend huge amounts of time where you aren't getting to the heart of gameplay, be it camping or running to the ends of the earth just to start playing. We think you'll see that we've done away with both of those, so problem one solved. Problem two tends to be that friends play for very different amounts of time over the life of the game, such that people end up outleveling the very people they are the most interested in playing with. Therefore we have an extremely user friendly "mentoring/sidekick" system to account for that problem.

MMORPG.com: Assuming Gods & Heroes features an "end-game", what will be waiting for players who reach the pinnacle of your game?

We've always had a problem with the idea that you need to grind to the highest level before the real fun starts, so throughout the game there will be many opportunities for players to set their own goals and pursue the types of gameplay that interest them the most. This very definitely extends to an "endgame" for players of the highest levels.

MMORPG.com: To close, pretending you have only a moment of a prospective players' time, what would you tell them about your game?

Roman history and myth provide a rich and extremely interesting setting for our game, and we really intend to do that justice to a very high degree, but we also want to go beyond that: We offer this game equally to those of you who are looking for something more out of your MMO experience, as well as those who have been interested in the genre but haven't seen anything that made you want to take the plunge yet.

We would like to thank Stieg for taking the time to answer our prying questions. Make sure to swing by our new Gods & Heroes boards and post your questions for the developers. As a special bonus - we welcome you to enjoy the exclusive video footage they have provided us with this interview below!

Bonus Cyclops Combat Video!

MMORPG.com members can download a cool new video showing in-game combet with a cyclops!

Click here to download now!


Dana Massey