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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2005

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'Dragonshard' Developer Interview

by Rainier on July 12, 2005 @ 1:02 a.m. PDT

Lead your warriors underground, to thrilling RPG-style dungeon campaigns that affect the myriad maneuvers above. Control armies of haunting power from another time, another plane, another bloodline, in this innovative fantasy experience from the legendary worlds of Dungeon & Dragons.

The DM: What one element sets this game apart from other RTS titles?

Liquid: I would say the one defining element that sets the game apart is the Dungeons. We have these wonderfully huge underworlds full of gold, items, quests, traps, monsters, and Boss Monsters that really helps solidify that D&D flavor and provide a really fun place to gather two of the most important resources (gold and experience).

The dungeons are one of the things I’m most proud of because I think they’ve turned out even better than anyone anticipated through the hard work of the whole team.

The DM: Of all the RTS games that have been released on store shelves, which game is Dragonshard most similar to and why?

Liquid: That is a difficult question to answer because we’ve tried to make Dragonshard common in the places all successful RTS have in common (interesting units, well balanced, lots of options for strategy), but innovates in areas where we felt we could. Most great RTS games have buildings, and so does Dragonshard, although we handled it in a unique way with the building nexus- where you build on a nexus grid and when you build it has a lot of importance on your units.

So it isn’t all that similar to other RTS games with building, but it isn’t really all that different, either. Does that make sense? I hope so, haha.

The DM: Will the game ship with the capability of creating custom hot keys?

Liquid: You can set your own hotkeys, yes.

The DM: What happens if all your hero-led parties get wiped out by a trap or monsters? Does the game end or ...?

Liquid: Yes. And a dragon flies on screen and laughs at you. I’m joking, of course. It would be pretty difficult to have a whole party wiped out by a trap (I’ve not seen it yet, and I’ve helped make the game!). If you still have your town, you can build more units and re-summon your Champion.

The DM: Are Heroic characters built in single player mode able to be bought into multiplayer?

Liquid: We are going to try. I can’t say that we will, as it depends on time and the multiplayer platform support, but I’d love to have that.

The DM: What is the highest attainable level for heroic characters?

Liquid: Champions, the “heroic” characters, don’t level. It may sound odd to hear that, but if we were going to make them level they would have to start off “weaker” and get “stronger” otherwise there is no point to leveling, right? And we didn’t want to start them off weak at all...we wanted them to be bad asses that help command the strategy of putting together your army. So from the start (when you get them, not from the start of the game) they are “level 20” and can do really powerful things.

However- captains (the normal units) do level and get all sorts of cool new spells and abilities (and those get better as they level, as well!). Right now the number is set to level 5, but that is subject to change to what feels best in multi-player. We don’t want it to take too long for a player to feel their captains getting powerful (having to level 20 times would seem to do this), and we don’t want it to be meaningless to level.

The DM: How many single player campaigns/scenarios are there in the game?

Liquid:There are two campaigns with 7 chapters each...but let me warn you- some of these things are so packed with quests that it is taking me over two hours to beat all of one of them. And that doesn’t count the special rewards quests that you can go back and replay for more rewards points to buy special items. There is a lot of game there.

The DM: How much involvement does the creator of Eberron, Keith Baker have in the development of Dragonshard?

Liquid: Keith Baker has provided us with our initial story line and some main characters, as well as the world of Eberron as the foundation for the world we move in. So captains like the Warforged and Artificers are direct from his world of Eberron.

The DM: What are some of the more recognizable D&D units in the game?

Liquid: Well, for the monsters there are mind flayers, driders, beholders, umber hulks, minotaurs, bugbears, ettins, lizard folk, dragons, hydras, gelatinous cubes, and more! If you include the player units you add rangers, elemental drakes, sorcerers, clerics, paladins, rogues, archons, fighters, and...that is all from the top of my head...but I’m sure there are many more.

The DM: What D&D ! rule set is Dragonshard based off of and why?

Liquid: The direct answer is that it is based on D&D 3.5. However, I want to point out that the game is an RTS with RPG elements, and it uses D&D 3.5 as source material, rather than a rules base. It isn’t a turn based game with rounds or days to refresh spells and abilities. We had to take concepts like that and apply them to a Real-Time setting for Dragonshard, while still making it feel like D&D.

The DM: How customizable are characters in the game?

Liquid: They are customizable to about as far as a degree as we felt we could take it and still be a balanced RTS game. The Champions can earn new items and even a few new weapons that all add new abilities or stats in the single player. These can have some pretty drastic effects (such as a chance to freeze a unit in ice or even allowing a super high health regeneration).

The DM: What RPG elements are included in Dragonshard?

Liquid: There are lots of RPG elements that would commonly be found in D&D RPG style games - heavy storylines, tons of quests (including branching quests), uncovering lore about the world, the ability to choose what side of a faction you want to help or hurt, and leveling up your units to make them better by earning experience.

The Dm: What differences in multiplayer will there be from conventional RTS games?

Liquid: There are lots of differences. Every unit can gather resources, for examples. Some of the resources are found mainly in the dungeon- the underworld of the multiplayer map. The player has a town grid that uses the nexus system to build buildings and train units, rather than a normal system where buildings are put down anywhere.
I think one of the largest differences is that players have to fight over the resources, so the game encourages combat from the get-go. Also the complete lack of a tech tree- you can build any unit at any time. This helps ease up a lot of the decision making for the player- it isn’t difficult to throw in a whole new mix of units on the battlefield.

The DM: What past experiences have Liquid brought into the development of Dragonshard?

Liquid: Liquid has made Lord of the Ring: War of the Ring and Battle Realms (as well as Battle Realms: Winter of the Wolf). The people here at Liquid, however, have helped develop all sorts of games, From Command & Conquer, C&C Red Alert, the Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic series, The Hulk, the Madden series, Shrek 2, and lots of others.

The DM: What kind of research has gone into the planning and development of Dragonshard?

Liquid: Not too much, actually. We started out making a Dating Simulator.

I’m being silly, of course. Tons of research has gone into the planning and development, from tech features like physics and normal mapping, to all sorts of D&D books as reference material for art and gameplay elements. On top of all of that we work with Wizards of the Coast (the people who own and operate D&D) and draw from their vast knowledge-base of all things Dungeon & Dragons.

The DM: Are there many avid pen and paper D&D players at Liquid Entertainment?

Liquid: Yes, there is at least one regular, ongoing D&D campaign at Liquid almost all of the time. Several people have been playing D&D here since the late 70’s / early 80’s, which should give some good representation of the hardcore fans here.

The DM: Does terrain play a part as a strategic element in battle?

Liquid: Naturally, as some terrain is impassable, and some elements will block vision, and higher ground grants advantages. Also, the underworld is a huge new type of terrain, with buildings and passages that provide choke points and enable you to establish defensive positions. Also, there are Places of Power on maps that you will want to control, as they provide your army with benefits.

The DM: Are all the D&D classes available in Dragonshard?

Liquid: Most of them are represented with captains and soldiers, yes. I think the only one that didn’t manage to get in as a player character was the bard class. And that is mostly because a bard is an “all-in-one” character in D&D that performs all sorts of roles. In an RTS, where units need to have solid roles and counters in order for combat outcomes to be clear, a unit that is “jack-of-all-trades” doesn’t really fit in. There are NPC bards, however, so we still managed to get them in the game.

The DM: Will there be elements of siege? (ie catapults, battering rams, etc.)

Liquid: To some degree, but it isn’t a castle siege based game. Dragonshard towns have strong walls and defensive towers that the player must take out before they can destroy the buildings inside. These walls can also be improved as the game progresses. Thus, to conquer your enemy's town, you will need units that are strong against walls and towers.

The DM: How precise will unit control be? (ie formations, stances, etc.)

Liquid: I assume you are just asking if we have formations and stances. Captains can rally soldiers to themselves to form squads, and those squads will move in formation. We don’t have stances in Dragonshard- it felt too complicated in a real-time environment.

The DM: Are there a variety of victory conditions in single player and multiplayer?

Liquid: Each single player chapter is custom as far as its victory conditions, so there is a large variety. Multiplayer has four different victory conditions that can be individually turned on or off for a multiplayer game.

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