Archive for the ‘ Games ’ Category

Let me tell you a story

One by one they are disappearing
Friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers
When they return they aren’t who you think

They look the same. They sound the same
But they are no longer the same…

The most unholy of spells incanted,
Undead fire burns in its victims’ eyes…

The Nethermancer has spoken
His was the last voice they heard…
Before they were perverted into monsters with familiar faces

In a world without heroes
Who can you trust?

In a world where the dead are rising
Who can you turn to?
No one.
No one is safe

Can you save the world from everyone you ever cared about?

This, my friends, is the promotional snippet for Deathfire, designed to whet your appetites. Because of my vacations and all the stuff going on here, it has been a while since my last Developer Diary update, but today I thought, I’d give you a bit of a glimpse at the game’s story.

As you can certainly tell from the blurb above, there are some sinister things going on in the world. From villages, people are disappearing at random. Families are torn apart and the people are mourning and heartbroken.

But that is not all there is to it. At the same time, hordes of zombies appear and threaten the once peaceful villages. Flesh-eating monsters that tear into anything that lives. The worst part, however? These are the same people who went missing… These are the fathers, mothers, sons, sisters and friends… and they do not distinguish friend from foe. They simply… feast!

Rumor among the villagers has it that it is all the doing of an evil Nethermancer, who is hiding out in the hilltop runs of the old Apocryphic Temple. Abandoned long ago, haunted they say, and a cesspool for wicked and foul creatures, the Temple can no longer be reached directly. Thickets and forests, ravines and collapsed bridges make it all but impossible to reach the ancient structure. And yet, as its ruins claw at the sky like skeletal fingers, flickering lights can be seen among the walls. Shrieks of the tortured souls can be heard emanating from its crumbling walls and a strange, unholy glow permeates the place, as fell creatures prowl through the woods, spreading further and further, spewing forth the undead in a never-ending stream of walking death.

This is the premise of Deathfire, a story in which the Nethermancer Endergast has uncovered an ancient spell so devastating, so frightening that it had been banished for centuries. By burning his victims’ souls with an undead flame, he reclaims their bodies to do his bidding. He is gathering an army and soon, the legions of the undead will outnumber those of the living.

So this Nethermancer is really just a Necromancer, you may be tempted to think, but alas no, let me allay that misconception right here. The craft of Nethermancy is far more vicious. Unlike Necromancy it reaches out not only into the realms of the dead, but also… hey, what am I saying? I wont spoil this for you. You’ll find out in the game, because this is where you come in.

When your father has disappeared like so many before him, you rally a small group of adventurers. While you know there is no salvation for the poor souls taken and destroyed by the Nethermancer, at least you can try to put their bodies to rest and put an end to Endergast. And if you will find the same grisly end as all those around you, at the very least you died, trying!

This is only the “front end” of story, of course. The part that we present to you, the prospective player, in order to get you intrigued in the game’s premise. Once you enter the game you will very quickly find that there is a lot more to it. Nothing is as simple as it may seem and with many plot twists and turns, the story will quickly take on a much more elaborate and grander scope than you may initially suspect. In a way, I wish I could share with you many of the cool ideas we have prepared for the game’s plot, but that would truly spoil the fun for you. However, throughout the story there will be encounters with various other characters and I think in the weeks to come I may introduce you to a few of those. It may give you a better understanding of the various factions and key players in the game and hint at some of the dilemmas you may encounter as a player.

Meanwhile I hope this little glimpse into the game’s story has gotten your attention and will rev up your own imagination as to what Deathfire will hold in store for you. In my next update, however, I plan to give you an update on the Focus Group we did a little while back. Not only will I tell you in detail what it was about, but more importantly, I will break down the results for you so that you, too, can see how other role-players felt about some of the questions we posed. Naturally, the post will also let you know what conclusion we came to on our end, and finally reveal the actual title of the game. Remember, up to this point Deathfire has always been merely a project title, in reference to the Nethermancer’s horrific spell. So, stay tuned. Until next time…

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While cleaning up my hard drive just now, %%% % % % I stumbled across a neat image that I thought I’d share with you. Here, for the first time, I assume, is a look at the original artwork for Shadows over Riva without any logo and without any cropping. This is the artwork that as it was delivered to us by Ugurcan Yüce, the artist who created the artwork not only for our Realms of Arkania computer role-playing games, but also for virtually all of the “Das Schwarze Auge” pen&paper games the “Reams of Arkania” games were based on.

Ugurcan is not only an incredibly talented artists but also a very nice guy and I remember visiting him in his home numerous times, watching and admiring him at work while his wife would serve me traditional Turkish treats. At Attic Entertainment Software, we commissioned the covers for many of our games from him, not only the “Realms of Arkania” games, but also covers for titles such as “Fears” and “Der Druidenzirkel.”

Most strikingly, every time Ugurcan did a cover for us, he was nice enough to actually allow us to keep the original paintings for good. This is something very few artists will ever do—or only at a significant cost—and shows you just what kind of a guy he is.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this little gem with you real quick because I know there are many die hard Realms of Arkania fans out there. Enjoy!

Shadows over Riva cover artwork without logo

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Oh no, it moves…

After a lot of the talk about some of the basics of the game, I thought it would be nice to have Marian discuss some of the work the art department has been doing on their side of things. So without further ado, here is Marian with some shop talk for you. I’ll be back next time with more info for you.


Hey folks! We did it! The first monster is in the game! And it looks… well… unhealthy. As it should.

I want to take you behind the scenes for a bit and talk about the creation of this monster, but since you can easily read almost everything about the steps normally taken by modelers on a site like www.zbrushcentral.com, I won’t go too far into the boring details.

With our first dungeon sets finished, we noticed that pretty soon we would need something that moves around in these labyrinths, so we can play around with it, and test the game mechanics within. At this point we already have lots of ideas for cool enemies and monsters scribbled out for the game, but to fully flesh them out, design them and then build them in high quality from scratch will take quite some time. Usually you start the modeling process with a scribble that you draw or receive from your conceptual artist that defines how exactly the creature should look like in the end.

Unless, of course, you already have a clear vision, in which case you would simply set yourself loose and begin modeling the creature straight away with Dynamesh in Zbrush. Alternatively, you could just fool around with Zbrush long enough until you managed to produce something decent out of it. Each approach may work, but more often than not, the approach artists take begins with the scribble. Since nothing about Deathfire is truly ordinary, our case was an exception, of course. 😉

I recalled that I had the concept for a monster lying around in a backup somewhere. It was a monster I had thought of about ten years ago but never had the chance to actually use it. I had begun to model it back then but never got further than doing a basic few tests and getting the proportions in place. For me, it was the perfect starting point. I went back, loaded the model and began to re-imagine the creature, skipping the scribble stage entirely.

Don’t be disappointed, though, I created one nonetheless… just for you… after the fact… which is a whole lot easier by the way, because you already know exactly what it looks like.

Scribble of the Daggerlisk

Once I had the scribble, I jumped straight into 3DS Max and took a closer look at the old model I had created… and realized that not only were the proportions wrong, but also just what a mess this 10-year old mesh structure actually was. Time is hard on digital content as technology is virtually a runaway train and can change requirements overnight.

I knew I could load it up in Zbrush and give it a complete overhaul but it would be a lot of work. Still, it would still be faster than building it from scratch, so I fixed all the bugs and reworked it, creating an entirely new surface for it, while also tweaking a lot of the proportions. When it was finished I showed it to Guido and André for their suggestions and reworked it once again according to the feedback I got.

The Daggerlisk in ZBrush

Once it was completed, I exported everything to 3DS Max rendering out proper skin colors (Fig.A), the depth information for the normal map (Fig.B), a shininess map and the ambient occlusion rendering (Fig.C). All very technical stuff but very necessary to create a polished model.

The different stages of the Daggerlisk

That should be it, right? One would think so, but the fact of the matter is that models coming out of ZBrush have an incredibly high level of detail. Too much for game engines to handle, typically, and the next step in the pipeline was for me to create a version of the model that has fewer polygons.
I built a completely new low-poly model that was based on the new high-poly version, and while doing so I got to do the job every artist loves to do the most… (In case you have not noticed, I am being sarcastic right now.)

If you are into puzzles and brain teasers, you might actually enjoy unwrapping UV texture coordinates, but it is every bit as tedious as it sounds. Honestly. Try to distribute the space on a texture as evenly as possible over all the polygons of the model, eradicating the texture from stretching or being pulled in the wrong direction. Remember, the texture map of an object is like a skin, essentially, and if you tug and pull on one end, invariably, it will affect the rest of the model. Tweaking the points where the texture is attached to the wireframe model will help minimize the impact, but is a process that is incredibly time consuming and not a whole lot of fun. We might be making games for entertainment, but the work that needs to be done to get there can oftentimes be testing your patience and become every bit as mind-dumbing as any job.

It is possible to speed up the process using some functionality built into today’s software, such as relaxing the unwrap modifier, but there are still lots of minute details that you just can’t fix except by hand. And even then, there will always be some glitches that will keep you going back over and over again. The process is actually so boring that I prefer to listen to TV shows or Audiobooks during the entire procedure. That way, you get some head space and you don’t get itchy while checking all the polygons for hours and hours on end, until you found the optimal solution that gives you the (hopefully) least wasted texture space (Fig.D).

The wireframe model

With all that out of the way, the next step is to check if the proportions are still the same in both models. In the case of our critter here, I bought the model from 9 million polygons (high poly) down to 9 thousand polygons. Not a bad reduction at all. You can see the difference here in the wireframe models (yes, the right half of the model is a wire frame too. It is just so dense that it looks like a surface.).

With all the details rendered to a texture, I am loading the textures into Photoshop and begin layering them on top of each other until everything is perfectly fine-tuned and I am happy with the results. At this stage, I always find that getting input from your colleagues is the best source of feedback at this point, in order to get the details right. It is all too easy for myself to get lost in the wrong details, and a different set of eyes always provides a new perspective, pointing out things I may have overlooked or became too complacent to care about. This kind of feedback is often the source of good ideas, as well. André was my second set of eyes in this case and together we tweaked the textures to get the most natural or — in case of our undead friend here — the most scary look out of it. I think it is easy to see the improvements in the following image.

Some modifications and variations

I have no doubt that we will still have to continue applying minor tweaks as we go along and utilize the model in our Unity environment. But for the time being, the Daggerlisk is complete and exported. Time to move on to some of the other denizens of our world, most of which will not be drawn from the animal kingdom, but lean more into fantasy lore.

The finished model of the Daggerlisk

That’s it for this time. I hope you like that you’re seeing.

Marian

P.S. Oh, and yes… it also moves…

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As the development of Deathfire progresses, we have reached a junction in the development of the game where we would like to get direct feedback from the fans. We want to hear your opinions!

Since it has always been one of our foremost intentions to share as many aspects of the development with you, the fans, as possible, we feel that getting a feel for certain elements regarding the game from the fans is the logical next step.

This is your chance to become a part of Deathfire!

This is your chance to make a difference… we are putting together a limited focus group to evaluate one of the most critical aspects of the game. It will be a very easy task for those participating, that will require no more than a handful of mouse clicks and a few minutes of their time.

If you are interested in becoming a part of the first Deathfire Focus Group, please fill out the form below and we will add you to our list of interested candidates. From all submissions, we will then select 25 participants at random to move ahead with.

Update: We are sorry, but at this time we are no longer accepting submissions for the focus group. It has already been conducted, in fact.

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Before I get into the next Development Diary entry for Deathfire, I wanted to point you all to a new interview with me on The Nerd Cave. It is an interesting – I think – look at the different aspects of my career, not only the games most people are familiar with. But now back to our regularly scheduled programming… more Deathfire stuff. 🙂

It is a common occurrence in game development that you have to make design decisions based on incomplete information. Why? Well, because at the time you design many aspects of a game, the game itself does not really exist yet. You are merely projecting what you want it to be. Therefore you have to make a great many decisions based on whatever information you have at the time, and what you expect the gameplay to be like in the final product. It is probably hard to imagine for many people, but game design is a very iterative process. Especially as the complexity of the game and underlying systems grow, the requirements will most likely change as well. Somewhere down the line, play testing may show flaws and weaknesses that will have to be addressed, or entire parts of the system show themselves to be flawed, tedious or outright un-fun. No one has ever designed the perfect role playing game in a single attempt, ever. You make decision, rethink them, revise them, reiterate them, adapt them and then repeat the entire process until one day you ship a product.

While working on Deathfire, the other day we stumbled into such a scenario, which I think illustrates this very nicely in an easy to understand manner. The item in question were the character status boxes.

UI sketch These small user interface elements serve to give the player a quick overview over the characters in his party, their health, their mana, their condition, etc. They also allow the player to access more information and to make various character-specific selections, such as attacks and spells, among other things.

I made a list of components I felt needed to be part of this character box, mocked it up very quickly in Photoshop, and forwarded it to Marian so that he could think of a proper graphical representation for them. Instantly the question for him became, “Should we do it this way, or maybe make tall slim boxes, or rather wider ones?”

He worked out some ideas and showed them to the rest of the team. You can see the initial designs below. As you can see, they follow the same kind of general design pattern, but each version is created with a specific focus in mind. One focuses on the portrait, while another one favors the attack and spell slots, and so forth.

Once we saw these, it became clear that with our original premise, these boxes would use up a significant amount of screen real estate. Deathfire will have a party that consists of four heroes. In addition to that, the player can recruit two additional NPCs at any given time, resulting in six character boxes on the screen. With all the information displayed, this a not insignificant amount of screen real estate to deal with and the last thing you want is for these boxes to cover up vital areas of gameplay.

Different versions of the character status box
First versions of the character status box that we evaluated

While these were great first attempts, they felt a bit too design heavy and not what you would really need in the actual game. In addition, the important elements seemed to be drowned out a bit by the bulky borders and decorative elements. In a word, we felt we weren’t quite there yet. We decided that we needed to optimize this somehow and for that we needed to envision more clearly how the player is going to play the game. While we have the game engine up and running with our 3D environments and some basic core functionality, we have yet to reach the point in our prototype where it is possible to really get a feel for the way the game will play in the end. Therefore, we had to extrapolate and sort of play the game in our minds, and as we did so, a few things became obvious.

Another version of the character status box
An iteration of the character status box, but we felt it ran too wide.
Note, however, the lines are all much slimmer than before.
This is not final art and the portrait is merely a mock-up

There was a lot of stuff in those original character boxes that we didn’t really need. At least not all the time. So we thought that maybe we could create boxes the display the minimum of information and when the player moves the mouse over them, each respective box will expand to its full size, allowing access to the full set of features. The next step was for us to decide what that minimum of information actually is that we need to relay to the player at all times.

Small status boxDo you really need the character’s name, for example, all the time? One could argue that the portrait is enough, particularly if we allow players to customize them the way we have in mind, but since we are creating a game in which interaction with NPCs and among the party members themselves will be very frequent, we felt that it is, in fact, very important that the player always has an indication as to who is who, when they are being referenced by name.

But what about those attack and spell slots? Because we have a turn-based combat system in Deathfire, it is not essential for us to give the player instant access to his weapons and spells. In real time combat, yes, the player needs access to his weapons, which represent the attacks, within a fraction of a second, but in real-time combat, the combatants take turns, which means there is proper time for the player to make his selections without rushing things. If we automatically expand the box for the character whose turn it is, this should turn out to be pretty slick and efficient, actually, also serving as a visual guide as to whose turn it is.

The expanded character status box
The expanded character status box with weapons equipped.
Note: This is not final art and the portrait is merely a mock-up

Usually the on-hand weapon slots also serve the purpose to Use items in role playing games, such as potions or tools. However, we reckoned that while that is true, it is not an all too common occurrence, particularly not one that is typically time critical, so the brief delay that expanding the full box would incur during a mouse-over should be acceptable. There is also still enough meat for the player to grab the box and drag it to a different place so that the order of the party can be easily arranged in the game, while mouse-over texts will relay additional information, such as the actual points of health, etc.

In my original layout specs, we also had a small toggle that allows the player to switch between a panel displaying the equipped weapons and one displaying the hero’s quick-spells. (Quick spells are memorized spells that can be fired at a moment’s notice without further preparation. They are complemented by non-memorized spells that require significantly more time to cast.). Upon playing the game in our minds, we realized that this toggle, too, is really needed very infrequently. For the most part spell casters would want to have their quick spells accessible while melee and ranged fighters would want their weapons accessible. The player would then occasionally switch these panels, but for the most part we expect them to remain fairly static settings.

Therefore we decided the toggle does not need to be available at all times and could be safely removed from the mini box. Incidentally, as Marian was working out his designs, it turned out that we do not need the toggle at all, because we can fit the weapon slots and the quick spell slots all on the enlarged pop-under box.

UI sketchWith all that in mind, we decided that we really just wanted to display the portrait, and the health and mana bars at all times, along with the hero’s name and a small digit that represents the character’s level. Character states, such as poison, paralyzation, etc can be easily color-coded into the portrait, or displayed as mini-icons alongside, and damage markers can be painted right over the portrait. All in all a pretty neat affair, I would say. For now… because who knows? Once will begin actually playing the game in earnest, we may find that our assumptions were wrong and that have to re-design the boxes once more, but such is the life of a game developer. It is the nature of the beast. Game development is an evolution, even after doing it for the umpteenth time.

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On my Twitter feed, as well as here on the blog, a few questions have arisen, regarding the “Bind item on equip” option displayed in the Item Editor. It is an option that is highly unusual for a single-player game, and some of you are wondering what’s up with that.

“Bind on Equip” has been brought to the table by massively-multiplayer online games in order to prevent players from using and then selling valuable and unique items to other players. It forces the player to consider‌—‌if only for a moment‌—‌if he’d rather use the item or make money off it.

In retrospect, I find it strange that this feature has never come up in single-player games before, because at its core, the rationale remains the same. Perhaps we have all just been too blindsided to realize its existent potential. After all, they are not uncommon in mythical lore and popular fiction. James Bond has a gun that is attuned to him, and so does Judge Dredd, and even the magic wands in Harry Potter work that way. Excalibur, the mythical sword from the Arthurian saga or Ulysses’ bow are also perfect examples of bound or attuned weapons, so it is only sensible to carry the concept over into games.

When we bind items in Deathfire, it will be mostly for the same purpose. While buying and selling items in the game may not be the driving factor for item binding in our game, other aspects of it are. In Deathfire’s game design I want to use it to force the player to think about certain decisions. In this case, which party member should I give the item to?

If you give it to the wrong character, you’re robbing yourself of another character’s opportunity to make better use of it, perhaps, because the item can no longer be traded among party members. If you give it to an NPC, he or she might run away with it at some point. More importantly, it prevents that you take a truly powerful, unique weapon from an NPC who just joined the party to give it to your favorite character and then boot out the NPC. If you equip it, you’re no longer able to sell it or barter it away. What if the item is unique and part of a quest, and in the end you learn that only a certain character can use it, all the while you already bound it to someone else? On the other hand, the binding weapon you just found might be so powerful that the lure of it is simply so strong that you throw all caution in the wind and equip it anyhow, against your better judgement, because you hope it will help you overcome that mob of Golem Guardians awaiting you.

Decisions, decision, decisions… the lifeblood of a good role-playing game.

These are aspects the player has to consider, and like a cursed item‌—‌which is bound, though it does not come with the warning label of a bind-on-equip item‌—‌it can have consequences to equip such a weapon or piece of armor. It is that decision-making that I think has an interesting value, because it adds depth to the role-playing aspects of Deathfire. Giving away this additional layer of complexity and player involvement, simply because using bound items in single-player games seems unorthodox, would seem silly to me, now that it’s on my radar. Who knows, this may even turn out to be a feature other games will pick up as well… and why not?


Catch Me If You Can book coverDon’t forge that we are still running a give-away for those who are willing to help us spread the word about Deathfire. This time around you can win a copy of the ”Catch Me If You Can: The Film and the Filmmakers” Pictorial Moviebook. This full-color book includes not only the entire script of the Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, but also various photographs and behind the scenes tidbits about the making of the movie, as well as an introduction by Frank W. Abagnale, whose unique life story the film is based on. You’re interested? Well, just make sure you collect entries for the give-away below, and don’t forget, you can obtain more entries every day for the duration of the give-away, simply by tweeting about Deathfire.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The conception of Deathfire

After I had put aside Thorvalla last year, I no longer had the urge to create some huge game world. The work load on that game would have been enormous, requiring us to build a team with over twenty people to get it done right. Needless to say that a team of that sort requires a tremendous financial commitment and the responsibility that comes with it, and somehow it no longer felt right.

I always loved to make games in an intimate environment. The games I consider my best were created with small teams, sometimes extremely small teams even. There is something to be said about having the agility of a small team and the ability to rely on your team members on a personal level, when they’re not around merely to fulfill a job obligation or, what’s even worse, point out to you that a certain task is not part of their job description. We made games like the Realms of Arkania series because we wanted to make these games. Each and every member on the team was totally invested, and it resulted in real friendships that extended way beyond the work space. We enjoyed each others’ companies and respected each others’ opinions while also relying on each person’s respective strengths and abilities. We were all in it together, and were all pulling for it.

I needed a concept that allowed me to start small and expand from there

It was around Christmas that I decided I wanted to go back to those roots. To bring a level of idealism back to the table that simply cannot be found in a project of a certain size. Therefore, I needed a concept that allowed me to start small and expand from there if fancy took me.

Every time I undertake a creative endeavor seriously, it is sparked by some kind of a… let’s call it “vision” for the lack of a better word. It has always been like that for me. Whether I’ve been thinking of the story for a new book to write, whether it was a song I was writing, an orchestral piece I was composing or a game I was developing. It always started with a singular spark that got me completely excited. It is usually easy for me to separate short-lived ideas from real inspirations. The difference is time. When I have a true inspiration it will linger with me and refuse to go away. Almost, like a love affair. For days. Every free minute, it will pop back into my head uninvited and it will beg to be explored, fleshed out more and expanded upon. If this is still the case with an idea after a week or so, I know that I have found something lasting. Something that truly intrigues me and wasn’t just a short-lived idea, a fad, essentially.

So, when I had this vision in my head around Christmas, it kept occupying my thoughts throughout the holiday season, and afterwards I knew that this is something I really wanted to do. Thus the concept of Deathfire was born.


Wood Elf portrait from our Character Generation

The vision I had seen in my mind’s eye was a role-playing game game that was electric and right in your face with action. Instantly, I knew that the only way to make this happen was with a first-person view, where the player is right in the thick of things.

While I love the artistic possibilities that isometric games afford us, there are a few drawbacks that made me dismiss the approach offhandedly. For one, the amount of work that is required to make a solid isometric game of any size is enormous, but what’s more, in this case in particular, is the distance it creates between the player and the game. In an isometric game you are always an observer. No matter how well it was done, every isometric game I have played has a God-like quality to it, where I am the master moving chess pieces around, typically without too much emotion involved. This is great for a lot of games and has tremendous tactical advantages for the player, but for Deathfire I want something that is a bit more gripping. Like reading a good thriller, my idea is to create a real-time game in which the player is fully invested, where he feels the environment, where he feels the pressure, the suspense and the menace. It may not give the player the opportunity to strategize and analyze a situation in too much detail before on ogre’s spiked club comes smashing down on his head. Instead, it replaces the moment with an incredibly visceral experience that can range from startling the player all the way to downright frightening him when foreshadowed properly.

The player should feel the pressure, the suspense and the menace

This basic idea stayed with me all over Christmas, as I mentioned, and I began to flesh it out more, collect ideas, and to create a list of things I do want to achieve with the game. In January, right after I returned from my annual CES pilgrimage, we began working on the project in earnest and it has grown quite a bit since then. No doubt, in part, because I have become obsessed with it. Literally.

I’ve had experiences like this in past, and while it may sound cool, it really isn’t, because in real life this means that I suddenly tend to forget doing my chores, like paying the bills, taking out the trash and even eating. My head is constantly thinking about various things related to the game, whether it is some idea I need to write down before I forget it – yes, I do keep a writer’s journal in case you were wondering – or some cool idea for artwork that comes to my mind. Most of the time, however, it is related to some programming issue I am working on at that particular moment. It is truly an obsession and I often walk around the house like a sleepwalker, completely lost in thoughts about my work – much to the dismay of my wife and son at times. So, this is definitely something I have to work on, because it is very destructive as I’ve learned in the past. (I remember when we developed Drachen von Laas, Hans-Jürgen Brändle and I would literally lock ourselves in my apartment for weeks at a time and work on the game for 16 hours a day, every day.) On the other hand, it is exciting for me feel the rush that I get from this project in particular. It just feels right. It is the right game. I can feel it.

Deathfire is a first-person, party-based, real-time role-playing game with a focus on the story

So, to give you a bit of a better understanding what we’re trying to do with Deathfire, here are few cornerstones that I plan to have in the game.

Running in a first-person view, it is a party-based real-time role-playing game with a focus on the story. It is not an open world design. Instead, it is very focussed to create maximum impact for the player. Therefore, we will very tightly control the environment the player moves through so that we can manipulate it as best as possible. This also means that it is a stepped role-playing game, by which I mean that there will be no free roaming the 3D environment. The player will take one step at a time as he explores the world. Not only does this help us to maintain a high level of quality in the overall experience, but it is in many ways also more reminiscent of many traditional pen&paper games where you’d use graph paper to map out the game.

Our intentions are to push the envelope on what has been done with stepped role-playing games in the past

When we think of first-person stepped role-playing games, two candidates come to mind, immediately, I think. The first one is Dungeon Master, the granddaddy of all real-time first-person roleplaying games, and the second one would be the games in the Wizardry series. Deathfire will be like neither of them. It will be so much more. It will be as gripping as Dungeon Master – or Grimrock if you’re not old enough to have played the original Dungeon Master upon which it was based – but it will have the depth of a real role-playing game, putting it more in line with the Wizardy games, perhaps. It will be a completely amped up affair. It will be more intense and deeper than either of these games. We have completed the character system design at this point and I can tell you that there are enough character attributes and stats to rival the Realms of Arkania games. Well, not exactly, but we’re not too far away from its depth. Our intentions are to push the envelope on what has been done with stepped role-playing games in the past. I feel that there is a huge untapped potential how that gaming experience can be enhanced.

Think of it this way, if there’s an earthquake, in most stepped genre games you would see the screen shake and that’s about it. In the case of Deathfire, I want this to become a much more gripping event where you will see rocks shake loose, where dust clouds will form and debris will rain down from the ceiling. Characters will react to it, voice their disapproval and fear, based on their stats, or urge the others to move along before everything caves in. On the whole, I want it to become an experience that is every bit as vibrant and alive as it is dangerous and adventurous.


In addition, I wanted to mention real quick that we have also expanded the Deathfire team. André Taulien has joined the team and if the name sounds familiar, it should. André was one of the artists on Shadows over Riva and, like Marian, he worked on the Divine Divinity series. With his skills and the additional manpower, we will be able to bring Deathfire to life even better, and it feels great to be back in the game with a group of people that I’ve worked with before.

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I am certain it has not escaped your notice over the past few months that I’ve been working on some game-related things lately. I am sure my posts and tweets about Unity were a dead give-away.

Well, I have decided that it may be time for me to share with you some of the things I’m doing, because with every new day that I am working on my current project, I get more excited about it. As you may have guessed, I am working on a new role-playing game. I have to point out, however, that it has nothing to do with Thorvalla, the project I tried to Kickstart a few months ago. Thorvalla is dead and off the table. There was not nearly enough interest and support for the concept to make it happen, so that continuing on would have been a fruitless endeavor. Instead, I decided to learn from the experience as a whole and move forward.

Deathfire logo

The new game I am working on is called Deathfire… for now. It is kind of a project title currently, but the longer we’ve been using it, the more it grew on us and there is actually a chance we may use it for the final game. We’ll have to wait and see. There’s going to be a lot of water going under there until we cross that bridge.

There are currently three people working on Deathfire. Marian Arnold is the lead artist on the project. Marian used to work for my old company Attic, just after we released Shadows over Riva, and he has a pretty long gaming history himself, working on games, such as the Divine Divinity series. What’s even more important, however, is that he is a complete role-playing buff and immediately jumped at the occasion when I approached him with this idea. Being such an avid role player, he often serves as a sounding board for me, too, while I design the game and bounce ideas off him. Oftentimes he comes back to me with comments, such as “We could do this and then do that on top of it, making it work even better.” So, all in all, I feel that Marian is a great complement for myself, forcing me to think, re-think and try harder all the time. The many code rewrites I had to do to try out and/or accommodate some of our cumulative ideas are certainly testament to that.

Then, there is Thu-Lieu Pham, who is also lending her artistic abilities to the project. Lieu is a classically trained illustrator and graphic designer, and her strengths lie squarely in the domain that oftentimes makes fantasy games so mesmerizing — the tantalizing look of characters and scenes. Many of you may recall the paintings she did for Thorvalla, such as the iconic dragon ship at sea scene that we used as the game’s main visual hook, as well as the female Viking character.

Currently, Lieu is busy drawing character portraits for Deathfire’s Character Generation. Instead of creating them in 3D, we decided early on to try and capture the look of Golden Era role-playing games. The covers by Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, Brom, and Jeff Easley come to mind, right away. Call me old-school, but to me this kind of vivid imagery and paintbrush work is much more inspirational and engaging than a rendered 3D character.

And then, there is me. I am currently serving double-duty, designing and programming Deathfire. It is marvelously invigorating, I can tell you that, and it reminds me of the good old days when Hans-Jürgen Brändle, Jochen Hamma and I were making games such as Drachen von Laas, Spirit of Adventure or Blade of Destiny, the first of the Realms of Arkania games, which were, to a large degree, just the three of us working triple-duties, designing, programming and often also illustrating these games. Working with such a small team on Deathfire appeals to me very much and I am enjoying myself, perhaps just a little too much.

I’ve decided from the outset that I will be using Unity3D for the game. As you can tell from previous posts and some of my tweets, I have become a big Unity fan, as it puts all the right development tools at my disposal at a price point and level of quality that is unbeatable. The package has not let me down once so far – though I would like to say that 3D object import could be improved quite a bit.

Deathfire is using a first-person 3D role-playing environment, and I am glad that we can rely on the muscle of Unity to make sure that we do not have to limit ourselves because the technology can’t keep up. Unity may not be a bleeding edge engine, but it can sure play ball with the best of them, and the fact that it is so incredibly well thought-through, makes developing with Unity a lot of fun. More importantly, we can focus on creating the game, instead of the technology to run it on.

I know, you may have a lot of questions now, about the game. What, when, where, how… I’ll get to all that some time later down the line. For now, however, I simply want you to let the info sink in, and hopefully you’ll be as excited as we are. Visit this blog regularly. I plan on sharing more of Deathfire with you as time goes on. In fact, after some deliberation, I’ve decided that I will cover the development process like a production diary of sorts, right here on my blog. And also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@GuidoHenkel) for a constant vibe-meter as to what I am up to.

Talk to you again soon…

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As I’ve become more active in the games industry over the past months, %%% % % % I’ve also paid more attention to gaming related links, %%% % % % as you can imagine. No, I’m not going to talk about the Playstation 4 announcement. I will leave the hyperbole to others who have more panache for the upcoming new console from Sony. It leaves me pretty cold, to be honest, and the PS4 has virtually no new features I care for. I do not need game play recording and I certainly do not need a “Share” button. What I really need are better games… and those have nothing to do with faster hardware or higher pixel rates. All the game demo videos I’ve seen running on the PS4 do not impress me. I am hard pressed to really pinpoint real highlights where I’d say the graphic elevate the game play to new levels. It’s just all more of the same, just as little more orgiastic.

While I was following some game related posts on Twitter and Facebook, I stumbled across the website Kultpower, and I thought I’d let you guys know about it, particularly my German-speaking readers. This website has an online archive of many classic German computer magazines. You can find scanned versions of magazines such as Happy Computer, Powerplay, Amiga Joker and others. Every page of the magazines has been scanned and is available in fairly large format, making it possible to read all the exciting news of yesteryear, going back something like 1985 or so.

For me personally, it is just fun to go back and check out the articles and reviews of my old games, such as this first preview of the Realms of Arkania games. This article was written when we first made the announcement that we would bring famed the pen&pencil game to computers, revealing details and screenshots for the first time. As such this article is real computer games history, so make sure to click on the pages for a larger view. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did.


There are countless other gems in these archives, not to mention the small photo of myself from back then, posing in front of the top of the line computers back then – an Atari TT! Also note that the black box visible on the left side of the picture under the computer monitor was actually a development prototype of the Atari Panther, an ill-fated video game console that was cancelled and replaced by the Jaguar system before it ever saw the light of day. I had actually started development of a role-playing game specifically for that console when Atari pulled the plug on the hardware. Ah yes, good times…

Meanwhile, I am plowing away on my own little project here. I’ve spent a lot of time with Unity and since my last post I have decided to use NGUI for all my user interface needs. The package is absolutely fantastic and a real treasure trove. I constantly discover new features and things that are exceedingly helpful. For me, the $95 it cost me to purchase NGUI were well spent. Not only have I used NGUIs functionality throughout my current project, it has also offered me a lot of insight into effective Unity programming.

Another true gem that I’ve found is SceneSync, a Unity plug-in that allows collaboration of multiple people on the same scene. It is incredibly easy to use, plugs right into your project and works without a hitch. Combined with some version control system – I am using GIT for that purpose – it makes it breezily easy for people to work on the same project without risking to lose data or destroy one another’s work.

Because I found both NGUI and SceneSync so incredibly valuable, I am now constantly browsing the Unity Asset Store to see what other gems are lurking there. If you have any plug-in or script you can recommend highly, feel free to leave a comment below for me to check out.

So, what am I working on, you may ask? Well… I’m not going to tell you. At least not yet. Let’s just say for now that it includes Elves, Dwarves, Warriors, Wizards and such and a lot of virtual dice rolls.

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For the gamers among you, I have some exciting news to share. For the past months I have been working on a new project that took me back to my computer gaming roots. Teaming up with veteran game designer Neal Hallford, I have prepared a concept for a cool new computer role-playing game that we are currently trying to fund through Kickstarter.

As many of you may know, I’ve been developing computer games for over 30 years and most of them were role-playing games. For the past years I’ve diversified into different areas, such as my book writing, but the game bug bit me again this year, especially because so many of you seemed to still remember and enjoy some of the games I made, like the Realms of Arkania trilogy and Planescape: Torment. (For a cool look behind the scenes of the making of the cover of Planescape: Torment, don’t miss this blog post I made some time ago.)

Neal, has been in the industry almost as long as I have, and he was one of the co-designers of Betrayal at Krondor, a wonderfully rich PRG based on the books by Raymond Feist. Neal has gone on to work on games such as Might&Magic III: Isles of Terra, Dungeon Siege, Lords of Everquest and many others.

So here we are, teaming up and supported by a team of incredibly talented artists and programmers who are ready to bring our latest game, Thorvalla, to life. (Yes, I will not only co-design, but also do programming on the project, because I’ve always felt programming is my true vocation.) Thorvalla, as the name already suggests is a game steeped in Norse lore, a world where men and dragons are at peace and fight together to vanquish evil. It features a vast world with many cultures while at the core remaining true to a high fantasy setting that includes staple favorites like orcs, ogres and skeletons alongside cool monsters from world lore.

You can help us make this game a reality. Take a look at our Kickstarter campaign page for more information. We’ve sadly had a slow start and can use every bit of support we can find. So, if you are a gamer, or if you have friends that love roleplaying games, let them know. Talk about Thorvalla, tweet it up, put it on your Facebook wall or whatever else you can do to help us spread the word.

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