Steven Peeler is a veteran of the gaming industry who one day said "fuck it", said goodbye to free hookers, blow, and other employee benefits of Ritual Entertainment, and started his own indie studio, which has already released two games and is working on the third one.
* * *1. You seem to be very comfortable in that action RPG niche. Why action RPGs? What attracted you to this genre and kept you from making a story-driven RPG, for example?
Well for one, I like action RPGs and there are a lot of new features I think we can bring to this particular subgenre. I do like other genres and subgenres though. I also think both of our first two games work better as real-time action games. Depths of Peril’s warring covenants, raids, and dynamic world is exciting and tense in a real-time setting. Too much story would slow down the pace. Kivi’s Underworld was much more of a story driven RPG than DoP was, but considering we went with a very casual feel, too much story would have impacted that approach. Both could be done and would still probably be cool with a more story driven approach, but they would be very different games.2. What are your thoughts on the action RPG market? Ever since Diablo came out, the industry was pumping out one action RPG after another. Yet few games managed to come close to the bar set by Blizzard. How do you explain it?
It’s really hard to top a game with a clone unless your game is significantly better. Considering that both Diablo games were done extremely well (in my opinion), that’s just not likely to happen. You don’t take on the king of the hill on their own turf. You find a different and hopefully better hill.3. How and where do you see the genre evolving? I tried Torchlight yesterday and it's basically Diablo 2 - the formula is exactly the same. It's a good formula, but I doubt it would stay the same for long. If you were to guess, what should we expect in the next 5 years?
Evolve? Really? Diablo 2 came out in 2000 and this particular subgenre hasn’t really changed any since then. Why expect anything different? In reality, I expect the genre to move forward again when some indie company (hopefully us) releases something that is different enough and gets a huge amount of word of mouth to make an impact to the industry… or Diablo 3 comes out. Except us indies, it’s like the entire genre is waiting to see what Blizzard does next so then they can clone that.4. You tried to tweak the formula by adding rival factions in Depths of Peril and going casual in Kivi's Underworld. How did that work?
I think the factions in Depths of Peril worked out really well. They add some strategic gameplay that works with the dynamic world in Depths of Peril. I also think that it went over pretty well with our audience.
The casual approach in Kivi’s Underworld was cool. I don’t think it has had as much of an impact as DoP though. Part of that is our specific audience wants more hardcore action RPGs though.5. It's a very, very competitive market. How do you plan to stay afloat and grow?
My philosophy is to create games that are different so we don’t compete with anyone head on. I try to let everyone else making RPGs compete with Blizzard and Bioware. We will also hopefully expand to more platforms in the future.6. Recently you said "One of these days I do hope to do a turn-based game though." Do explain. Where did this sentiment come from and why?
It’s simple, I enjoy turn based games and I feel like we don’t have enough of them being created anymore. The other reason is that some things just work better in a turn-based game. A game with really deep combat mechanics with a full party of characters that each have very different, specialized skill sets just works better with turns.In 5 years Soldak Entertainment released 2.5 action RPGs and has just announced Din's Curse. Let's talk about the new game.
7. I'll be honest. When I started reading the announcement, my first reaction was "Another action RPG! Why, Steven, WHY?!" Then I read that the game features a dynamic, living world with dynamic quests and my interest went way, way up. So, is it fair to say that the dynamic world is the main feature there? Tell us about it. The format is a small essay.
The dynamic world is definitely one of the main features and many of the other big features like the randomness and choices works hand and hand with the dynamic world. You will never play the same game twice. Not only will each game start differently but even if they some how managed to start the same they would quickly diverge. This is caused by your actions, your inactions, NPCs’ actions, and even monsters’ actions. What you do and what you don’t do is very important. Let me give you a good example to illustrate how this works.
You just found out that there is an uprising of Nagas in the dungeon, but you’re currently busy with something else. Soon they find a leader named Salir. You don’t care about some Naga named Salir. However, Salir sends some raiders to town and they take Kata hostage and a ransom is being asked for. Can you rescue the Kata? Should you just pay the ransom? If you refuse the ransom, can you rescue her in time? She will die if you cannot save her. Let’s say that you refuse the ransom and Salir manages to kill Kata. What if that was the town’s apothecary? I hope the original reason why you were too busy to deal with the uprising was not finding supplies for the apothecary to use to cure a plague. That would be a bit difficult now.
Depths of Peril does some of this, but we are pushing this a lot further in Din’s Curse.8. The second interesting feature is the hybrid class. The player can either pick a "normal" class with THREE specialties, which is a norm these days, or go with a hybrid class, which is, basically, "pick any TWO specialties you want" option. The increased customization benefits are obvious, but trading 2 specialties designed exclusively for my "base" class for 1 "nice to have" specialty sounds like it does a better job at restricting the player than at offering more freedom. So, why do you think it's a good idea? Can you give us some detailed examples illustrating why one is sometimes better than two?
You are basically giving up two similar specialties to gain one new specialty that is completely different. This really depends on what kind of character you want to play. If you want to play a character that uses lots of weapons and armor and can stand toe to toe with his enemies, you want to play a warrior and there is no point of playing a hybrid. If you want to play a tank like character with some good ranged skills though, what you want is some kind of warrior/ranger hybrid. If you want some pets but also want to pick locks and disarm traps you want a conjuror/rogue hybrid. Basically even our class selection has choice and consequences.9. The press-release boldly claims that "your choices truly impact the game". Care to elaborate and give this very demanding audience some examples? I'm a big fan of choices & consequences, but I'm not sure how well this concept fits the action genre.
I have tried to build this game as much as possible to give you meaningful choices. Here are some examples.
Just simply going down another level in the dungeon is a big choice. Each level down the monsters and traps get harder so it is simply more dangerous. This isn’t surprising or anything; however you have no instant gate and can’t abuse the save/resume system to get back into town. The farther into a dungeon level you adventure, the farther you are from the last gate to home (well until you find the next gate). This gets even more interesting if you are playing a hardcore character.
Let me give you a good quest example also. The town leaders have found out that Azrael seems to be planning something. You don’t know what he is planning, but a Death Knight probably isn’t planning a tea party. You really do have to decide if dealing with Azrael is important to do now or if you have better things to do at the moment. Sometimes like in this example you don’t have too much information to work with. In this particular example, Azrael is planning on raiding the town. If you don’t kill him, he will send his minions into town for a quick raid and he will probably keep raiding the town till the town is dead or he is. Considering NPCs can die, this is very dangerous for you. Completing quests for dead NPCs doesn’t work very well. It’s also hard to sell and buy items from dead vendors.
Even a simple chest presents a potentially difficult choice. Each chest tells you what kind of trap you think is protecting it and what the chance you are correct is. Both of these are based on your character’s perception. Some traps are pretty nasty like the pit trap. So if you find a chest that you think has a pit trap on it and you are already deeper in the dungeon than you feel comfortable, will you open the chest and risk getting dropped to a lower level?10. The game promises traditional "explore dungeons and slay monsters" action, which requires no explanation. It also promises uprisings to quell, back-stabbing traitors to flush, instigating renegades to kill, and wars to end, which requires a thorough explanation with numerous examples.
Ok, I’ll use your examples.
Uprisings are usually a symptom of some other problem (a boss, a war, etc), but can be dangerous by themselves. I mean really, what do you expect to happen when you have a large gathering of Orcs? Sooner or later they are going to declare war on the Torvas, raid the town, find a leader to make themselves even more dangerous, or do something else to occupy their time.
Not all NPCs are who they say they are. Some random person in town might ask you to find a valuable item from the dungeon. Most of the time they are good natured people as you would expect that simply aren’t hero material and aren’t going to go wandering into a dungeon full of monsters. Sometimes they will betray you though, for example, by sending you into an ambush. The good news, assuming you live, is that human towns tend to deal harshly with traitors. They often send heroes to kill them (and pay well).
Another example of betrayal is you are asked to bring back a valuable item, the NPC turns renegade, and uses that very item against you or the town. If not dealt with, they might persuade more people into turning renegade or even pay groups of monsters to attack the town.
As for wars, wars can be good and bad. A war against the town is obviously bad and needs to be dealt with quickly, but what about a war between monsters? Do you care about the Furies and Chaos Lords warring with each other? If a way to stop the war comes about will you take it? If it looks like there are negotiations to end the war, will you kill the negotiators to keep the war raging on?
These types of things, the dynamic world, and your choices actually mattering, all intertwine a lot.
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Thank you for your time, Steven. Good luck with Din's Curse.