WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Tim Ramage, and I'm executive producer at D3 Publisher of America.
WP: Puzzle Quest 2 is a true sequel to Puzzle Quest versus a spin-off of Galactrix, correct?
TR: Yes, with Puzzle Quest 2, we're going back and providing a true sequel to Puzzle Quest 1. With Galactrix, it was more of a spin-off in the Puzzle Quest world. This time, with Puzzle Quest 2, we're bringing everything that was epic in Puzzle Quest 1 to life in Puzzle Quest 2, with a new type of adventure. It's more of a dungeon crawler type of adventure where players essentially get a chance to explore the world from a closer point of view. It's a single world where you, as an adventurer, stumble upon this town of Verloren, which is cursed by this magic that has overtaken a nearby castle. You are there to solve the mystery.
WP: When you say "true sequel," is it a stand-alone story, or is the main adventurer in Puzzle Quest 2 supposed to be the same adventurer who saved the day in the original Puzzle Quest?
TR: Actually, with Puzzle Quest 2, it's a new story and new adventure. When we say "true sequel," we mean the game itself, the gameplay mechanics — everything is a true refinement of what players experienced in Puzzle Quest 1.
WP: When we played the demo, we noticed that you've gone back to the original board movement, where gravity goes down, unlike everything moving to the center in Galactrix. We did notice a few other changes. Now there are five mana slots instead of four, and you also have a glove icon. What can you tell us about the glove?
TR: With Puzzle Quest 2, we've added the ability to use weapons and shields. The glove gem, which we call the gauntlet gem, contributes to being able to use those weapons, or those shields, by matching three or more of that gem on the board, which then contributes action points. Each weapon has a minimum number of action points required to be able to use. It adds a new level of strategy to the classic Puzzle Quest board and gives the player more options to customize not only their character but also their gameplay style.
WP: When you say that you can "customize" the actual characters, how far can you go with it? Isn't there a worry that it'll take focus away from the puzzle itself if you're worrying about combat instead of beating the board?
TR: I think one of the goals that we wanted to achieve was streamline the role-playing experience. We went back and looked at Puzzle Quest 1 and realized that the core of that experience, more than anything else, was being on the puzzle board, so we want the player to be on the puzzle board, experiencing their character through the puzzle board as much as possible. To that end, we streamlined the elements in which you customize your character to keep it a very straightforward set of elements, such as attributes, equipping spells, and also the weapons, shields and armor. We felt that you can still get a very meaningful role-playing experience out of that set of elements, but we really want you to experience the unique features of those elements during battle. Spending more time on the puzzle board and fighting enemies more often ultimately allow you to truly appreciate what you've done with your character.
WP: I also noticed in the demo that Puzzle Quest 2 doesn't just have puzzles during fighting. You've got a few challenges. We know that one of the complaints about Puzzle Quest: Galactrix was the hacking challenges, where you had a limited amount of time. Are we going to see some more of that, or have you changed things up for Puzzle Quest 2?
TR: With many games in particular, again, we've gone back to keeping it simple and also making sure that the player isn't penalized for not moving fast enough on the board. With Galactrix, there were challenges that were time-based. We went back to turn-based as opposed to time-based. We have a bash-the-door minigames where you have to match gems to create door gems, and then you match door gems to take health away from the door, eventually bashing it. Instead of putting a time limit on it, we went back to limiting the number of turns with which to accomplish these goals. Our minigames are definitely aimed more toward allowing the player to spend as much time as possible as they want analyzing the board and analyzing their moves and perhaps finding the quickest way to solve the minigame puzzle through analysis as opposed to sheer pressure of time.
WP: In terms of the world, you're again sticking with a 2-D world, but you moved it into an isometric 3-D view, but all the graphics are fixed from a 2-D perspective. They're a lot richer than they were in the first game, and there's a lot more detail. How much more work went into creating the visuals of Puzzle Quest 2 than you did in Puzzle Quest 1 or Puzzle Quest: Galactrix?
TR: Once Infinite Interactive decided that they wanted to create a dungeon crawler vibe, they knew that part of that challenge was you have to create these immersive environments, whether that is a town or a series of rooms in a dungeon. You have a level of art that you have to achieve in order to make that world feel fun, feel believable, and also be visually appealing. Instead of creating a massive world map with a number of kingdoms, focusing on the town of Verloren and then the castle and dungeons and the levels below that, to some extent, helped us cut down on the scope so that the game isn't as big from a world perspective, which allowed us to create more details in these dungeons, rooms and the world. At the same time, it allowed us to create more variety in terms of the enemies you face within the dungeons. Within the game, you face up to 80 different enemies throughout. Through that, we've also sprinkled some really cool, epic boss battles. I think we kind of split the difference between scope and variety, and I think we came out with a visually rich-looking game that has a lot of variety in the gameplay.
WP: Speaking of visuals, there is a very heavy 3-D focus in today's gaming landscape. Is it unusual to be working with Infinite Interactive and focusing so heavily on a game that uses rich 2-D graphics in a 3-D world?
TR: The unusual part was actually that they had a lot of passion about doing this, to the point where we said, "Look, you guys don't have to go so far over the top. We're perfectly happy if we deliver an awesome game and we don't go crazy on the visuals." From that standpoint, it's always good when the developers like pushing themselves. In this case, it's a complete departure from what they've done with Puzzle Quest 1 and Galactrix, so we trusted them to execute on it. We're excited about it. This turned out very well.
WP: Talking about moving around in the world, you're fixed here. Even though the world is very detailed, you can't free roam. Why the decision to make it point-to-point or node-to-node rather than just letting the character freely wander around the world?
TR: I think the choice we made in terms of navigating the world comes back to making sure that the player is on the puzzle board as much as possible. We created a world you can explore, not freely, but by traveling via nodes from point to point and then branching your paths off at the appropriate times. I think we give the player the freedom to experience the world without giving them the freedom to get lost in the world. At the end of the day, it goes back to making sure that the puzzle board experience is, first and foremost, rewarding and exciting and fun to play every time and making sure that the player gets that experience as much as possible within reason.
WP: What about the casual players? To use an example, my mom loves Bejeweled, and she saw the original Puzzle Quest and gave it a try, but the RPG bits kind of pushed her off. She never really got into it. Have you done anything to streamline Puzzle Quest 2 so that the more casual users who are coming from that Bejeweled background can hop into it without getting confused by the role-playing aspects that the hardcore gamers enjoy?
TR: One of our primary goals was to make sure that the casual player who enjoyed Puzzle Quest the first time, that we expanded that audience and introduced more people to this unique blend of RPG and puzzle. To that end, we spent more time creating puzzle boards that are rich visually as well as from an audio standpoint so that the rewards are just as exciting as when you're playing Bejeweled or Bejeweled Blitz.
At the same time, we set it up so that the player who's not necessarily interested in leveling up their characters or getting into the nuances of the spells and weapons really doesn't have to spend a whole lot of time making those decisions. When that option comes up, you can essentially push a button. It equips a weapon, the first weapon you have that will do damage, which will be fine. It equips the first spell you get. You don't have to mess around with the spells much if you don't want to. You essentially tailor your experience, and I think that ultimately will help the player who's kind of RPG-phobic to say, "Great! I can just jump on the board and go."
You also have an Instant Action option in the main menu. In single-player, you can choose to just play on the puzzle board. It's a random enemy with your character and an appropriate level of hit points that match the enemy, and it's just nothing but playing the puzzle board, and you can play that over and over again.
The minigames are also unlocked up front, so if you're tired of going through and trying to unlock the minigames, you can just go to the front-end menu and play the minigames on their own. I think we've made a lot of conscious choices to make the game and puzzle board accessible to the casual player without forcing them down the path of having to be an RPG gamer or convert, so to speak.
WP: Now, obviously, being on Xbox Live means you've got a great distribution network for Live Arcade, but there's still a good chunk of players who aren't hooked up on Live, for whatever reason. Now that you have Puzzle Quest, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix and Puzzle Quest 2, has D3 put any thought into releasing a Puzzle Quest compilation disc, similar to how some publishers have released their XBLA games on single retail discs?
TR: Yeah, I'd be lying if I said that we haven't kicked that idea around. Obviously, nothing has been announced and it's still to be determined, but it's a natural step. Once Puzzle Quest 2 comes out, and if it's as successful as we're hoping and thinking it's going to be, I would love to see a library of Puzzle Quest games all in one box. I think that would just be outstanding. The treasure chest, so to speak, of Puzzle Quest games would be a natural. To be determined, but it's definitely something that we've kicked around at the office.
WP: Along the same lines, you're showing us the Xbox 360, DS and PC versions. Does that mean that the PSN version isn't coming, or has it just not been announced?
TR: The XBLA, DS and PC are the three officially announced SKUs. Puzzle Quest has a history of staggering releases based on popularity and demand. I would just say that you can expect future announcements.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
TR: I think we've brought the same Puzzle Quest experience to XBLA, DS and PC. Whichever platform you decide to buy or decide to play on, you're going to get an awesome, epic experience that mirrors the other. You can't go wrong with getting them all!
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Puzzle Quest 2 a game that's worth playing?
TR: Going back to the roots of Puzzle Quest 1 and refining the board and refining the experience are going to make Puzzle Quest 2 an even better experience than Puzzle Quest 1.
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