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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Arkane Studios

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'Dark Messiah of Might and Magic' Developer Q&A

by Rainier on Sept. 9, 2005 @ 12:11 a.m. PDT

In Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, players will be introduced to the world of Ashan, the new setting for all future Might & Magic games. Ashan is a dark and unforgiving world, scarred by a bloody history and threatened by an apocalyptic prophecy: the Dark Messiah.

Q : First of all, could you introduce yourselves and give us some of your professional background?

RWG : I am Romain de Waubert de Genlis, Ubisoft Producer of Dark Messiah. I most recently worked on Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2. Being a big fan of the Might and Magic games, and having spent way to many sleepless nights playing them, when Ubisoft granted me both the opportunity to develop a new game within that universe, and to work with Raphael, I jumped on board before they gave that opportunity to someone else.

RC : I’m Raphael Colantonio, Arkane Studios Game Director of Dark Messiah. I’ve been in the game industry for 12 years and worked for various companies including EA. I founded Arkane Studios in 1999 and acted as CEO and Game Director for Arx Fatalis. My passion is game design. I’m fascinated by immersive first-person games in general and I’m always keen on taking the next crazy creative challenge in this genre.

Q : How would you present us the concept behind Dark Messiah of Might & Magic in a few words?

RWG : If you were to live an adventure in a heroic fantasy universe filled with combat, how would you want to experience it? The answer to that question is the core of what’s going into the making of Dark Messiah.

If we were to start fresh in such a universe, it is obvious that we would all have different sensibilities on who we would want to be and how would you defeat your enemies. Would you rather use your muscles or your magic or your mind? In Dark Messiah, you all start the same but no one will live the same experience, no one will end up the same.

The first-person point of view also helps us to create a more impressive and, to a certain extent, a more immersive experience. In first person, you can’t see these monsters lurking in the shadow behind you, and when you stand at a dragon’s feet, only then will you realize what it means to be five stories tall.

Q : For this game, you are using the Source engine from Valve. Could you explain why you decided to use this engine? To what extend does it answer your development objectives?

RC : Back in 2003, we were building our own engine. During a game show, we ran into a few folks from Valve who had played and liked our first game (Arx Fatalis). We checked out the Valve booth at E3, saw their amazing demo and realized that the Source Engine was providing absolutely everything we wanted and more. We decided to start talking with them about a license. Valve was very enthusiastic about giving us access to Source at an early stage, even before they would officially license it, which was great because it was just the engine we needed. Being the second generation of one of the most proven engines for first person action games, Source featured all of what we were looking for: super realistic rendering, stunning physics integration, solid multiplayer architecture and great flexibility for quickly prototyping crazy new features.

RWG : For me it is reassuring to work with a team like Arkane that does not have to focus on building an engine from scratch–with all the technical challenges which that entails–but, instead, can dedicate all the creative energy on making great gameplay.

Very early on we were able to discuss the prototyping of some specific gameplay elements, instead of having to spend most of our development time in hoping that ultimately “it will work.”

Q : What is the level of your collaboration with Valve?

RC : I like to think that our collaboration with Valve goes beyond a simple license deal. We share the same passion for games. We play each other’s games. Our team regulary spends time at Valve’s offices where we have "hands on" sessions and showcase our latest features for Dark Messiah. It’s good for us to see and hear their reactions. We get consulting from some of the smartest guys in the industry and we really appreciate this.

Q : Could you introduce the universe and storyline of Dark Messiah?

RWG : In Dark Messiah, you are Sareth, apprentice to a powerful wizard. He has raised you for a single purpose, training you in the arts of magic and war. At the beginning of the game you are given an ancient artifact and ordered to carry it to a friend of your master.

It seems like a simple task…but of course, yours will be a sinuous journey, filled with unexpected encounters and revelations, and upon your quest, looms the shadow of the Dark Messiah…

Q : How did you come up with this scenario? What was the original idea behind it?

RC : It’s a constant team effort between Ubisoft and Arkane, and it goes through many iterations. Arkane Studios was more focused on the story details and narrative elements that would drive Dark Messiah's level design. Ubisoft played a more overarching role: Erwan Le Breton and Richard Dansky worked a lot on the Might and Magic universe and background that we share with Heroes of Might and Magic franchise. They also provided consulting support for polishing our dialogues and improving the characters’ personalities and motivations.

Q : So you say Dark Messiah is mostly an action game. Could you detail that a bit further? How, for instance are we going to play as a warrior, a mage or an assassin? Can I really decide to be only an assassin and finish the game that way?

RWG : First-person action drives Dark Messiah, while the game does have elements of an RPG, everything is handled in real time and monsters will not wait for you to think before to act. If you want to plan ahead how you will bypass a challenge, try to look for a vantage point and have a look at the scene, and plan your course of action. Playing as a Warrior or as an Assassin will be totally different. One will charge headlong on his enemies, using his skills and superior control over the most advanced techniques of close combat while the other will try to kill without being detected, plan traps, and when finally the enemies detect his presence it should be to realize that all reinforcement has already been taken care of.

Q : What challenges did you face regarding the choice of a first-person view?

RC : We already had some expertise with first person in our previous game (Arx Fatalis), so the challenge was more about how to bring something new to the experience. We decided to tackle the combat system: create a first person melee experience that just felt right. There have been attempts in the past, but we think nothing as convincing. This was a great opportunity and a great challenge. A tremendous challenge in fact.

First, we had no choice but to support a body-awareness system (the experience of seeing and almost feeling your own body in first person). Aside from the fact that having a body feels very immersive for obvious reasons, it’s also absolutely necessary to see your feet when you kick an enemy. It also improves the player's ability to evaluate distance between himself and the opponent. Basically, you’re not just a floating camera; you belong to the world, which makes a huge difference.

This body awareness is a very challenging feature, believe me. There are gazillions of things to think of when you start developing it.

Along with body awareness, we took on the challenge of creating a melee combat system that is fun, where the aiming is smooth, not confusing; where player strategy is at the forefront and where you really feel the hits (both given and received).

We're thrilled with the results so far: The constraints of a first person view have actually become our ally. There are things we implemented that you can only do in first person, such as aiming at a specific part of the body to maximize damage or disarm your enemy (if you aim at the hand). But most of all, the character/player relationship—thanks to body awareness—becomes visceral. You are the fighter, because you feel it. You are in your shoes. You are the guy who just managed to do the super cool move, and this is all possible thanks to the first person view.

Q : How important are physics in the game?

RC : Highly simulated environments have always been one of our obsessions because they lead to emergent gameplay and fun situations. Physics naturally take a very important role in game mechanics: any object that looks like it could move is physically simulated so that it can potentially have an influence on the game world and change the experience for the player.

RWG : It is very important to us to provide the player with this “vertical” freedom (as opposed to the “horizontal” freedom you have in games with huge environments), and physics are an important part of the mix in that they greatly add to the depth of the game. It is very satisfying and rewarding to know that you will be able to use physics during combat or to alter the level design of a room and generate a new path or situation.

Using the objects and the environment against your enemy is of course one of the most fun things you can do. But you are even more stunned when you realize that your opponent can and will take advantage of it too…

Q : What about the RPG elements in the game?

RC : Dark Messiah features some of the classic RPG elements such as collecting items and building up your character. As you progress, you pick skills to coincide with your chosen play style (whatever it is) and be assured that the quest is going to support whatever style of play you choose.

RWG : For instance if you decide to play as an assassin, you will have access to skills that will improve your ability to stalk your enemies while remaining undetected, such as silent walk, backstab, advanced disarm…

The great challenge and originality in Dark Messiah is that innate and acquired are intrinsically tied together in the game. The innate—your own skills, the ones you have in real life—is nothing without the skills you acquire in the game. And gaining a new skill is useless if you do not learn how to master it.

It is really a mix between the traditional skills of a RPG (purely based on statistics), and the ones of an action game (purely based on the player skill).

Q : Can you tell us about the multiplayer modes?

RWG : The game will be playable as a team-based multiplayer mode, playable with up to 32 players. We have dedicated a whole team just to develop that part. We are lucky to have an engine that powers games like Half Life 2 death match Counter Strike and even crazy multiplayer physics experiments such as Gary’s mod.

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