Daniel 'Digital Nightfall' Todd (TTLG): Could you start off by telling a little about yourself?
Raphael Colantonio: My name is Raphael Colantonio. I run Arkane Studios, a game development company based in Lyon, France. Before that, I worked at EA and Heliogame (published by Infogrames) on titles like Fifa, Beasts and Bumpkins, the Smurfs (PSX), and Dark Light.
TTLG: Tell me about Arkane Studios. How big is it? How did you come together?
Raf: Arkane Studios is an independent developer. It was founded on the 1st of October, 1999. A total of 6 people form the core team. All of these people are experienced developers who came from various game companies. What brought us together, really, was the idea of being in control of our own destiny. We were finally able to make the game we all had always wanted to make: ARX. The core team consists of a lead programmer (Cyril Meynier), a Level Designer / Assistant producer (Marco Mele), a lead artist (Olivier Enselme Trichard), a sound designer (Christophe Carrier), an Animator (Alain Maindron), and Myself. Also, our characters are being designed by Slash design, creators of the Dungeon keeper II characters. Slash is providing us with sketches, and a different contract group is designing the meshes.
TTLG: Does your group have any sponsoring or funding?
Raf: No, we do not have any sponsoring or funding at the moment. The idea was to self fund the production of our first game, then get investors on board. We are also in search of a publisher.
TTLG: How many out of house contractors are helping with your game?
Raf: Well, currently, only 3 contractors have been helping us. Really, we wanted to keep the production cost as low as possible for the moment. Again, the idea was to show to publishers what we could do, and then get some funding. When we have some funding, we plan to increase our in-house team to 9 people, working with a total of 6 external people. So, as you can see, it's quite a small team, but we've learned from the past that small teams are usually more efficient.
TTLG: What kind of game is ARX?
Raf: ARX is a 1st person role playing game, with emphasis on immersion, story, and interactively. Remember how in Ultima 7 you could use flour on water to make dough, then use the dough on an oven to make a bread? That's the level of world interaction we're going for, but on a much larger and more critical scale. There will be 100s of objects which can be used on other objects in the game world and on eachother, both to form combinations or alterations. The story of ARX will be the main driving force behind the gameplay, and it will be driven by exploration, discovery, and dialog. Through the use of our 1st person 3D engine, we've created some very realistic settings to immerse the player into. Never during gameplay do you leave the 1st person environment.
TTLG: Where does your main inspiration for Arx come?
Raf: The two games which have lent the most inspiration to our team and have really sculpted what we want ARX to be are Underworld 1 and Serpent Isle. We all have tremendous respect to Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, and everyone at Looking Glass Studios.
TTLG: What can you tell me about the 3D engine?
Raf: It's our own engine, created in-house. Everyone whom we have shown it to has been very impressed by it. Aside from the very high scene complexity and the usual assortment of engine features, I think the vertex illumination is one of the coolest visual effects we have. The engine is designed to handle animated 3D objects of over 1800 polys, really bringing the in-game characters to life. Aside from that, all I can say is that It has it's own unique rendering "feel". Our programming wizard would be the best person to ask for more information. At the moment we're targeting PIII 450, hardware acceleration required. We're very confident with it.
TTLG: Could you describe the game interface?
Raf: We're focusing on making it VERY accessible. Character sheets, inventory, and so on, all appear on the main screen. There will be no subscreens, or combined actions required to do anything within the interface. You're always playing in the same mode, so you have to be careful that you're not attacked while looking at your automap. Even dialog is done in-engine, so you can pick up items and retain full control of your character during a conversation. The control scheme will be the standard mouse-look setup. The inventory uses the same style interface as Deus Ex, Shock 2, and, of course, the original Underworld.
TTLG: How is the combat system going to work?
Raf: The combat system is quite a bit like the one used in Ultima Underworld and, to a lesser degree, Thief. When you wish to strike your foe, you must hold down the attack button to prepare the attack, and finally release the button to swing. Several things determine how much damage you do: How long you let the attack 'load', your weapon skill, your strength, the foe's defense skill, the stats of your weapon, and how fast you were lunging at the foe when the hit makes contact. Shield use will be implemented as well. If you choose to play as a Thief character, then you will be able to backstab your foes.
TTLG: What can you tell me about the magic system?
Raf: Our magic system is something we've very proud of. In fact, initially the entire game was going to revolve around you playing a wizard character. Unlike most games where you just click on icons or hit hotkeys to cast spells, ARX will actually require that you perform your art manually. Each spell may be cast by performing a series of hand gestures, done by moving your mouse cursor on-screen. The hand gestures draw glowing rune symbols into the air, and when the sequence is complete, the spell is cast. Each 'rune' represents a word, and spells are made by combining these words into a phrase. Thus players will be able to experiment with different rune combinations to discover new spells.
TTLG: What is the story going to be about?
Raf: It is set in a medieval fantasy environment. Arx is the name of an underground fortress inhabited by various races, after the death of the sun. Akbaa, a major demon, wants to rule this world, so he makes a treaty with Iserbius, a human from Arx. Iserbius is creating a secret kult who's purpose is to bring enough believers and energy to Akbaa for him to merge with Iserbius. Akbaa gains his power by human sacrifice. Fallan, an astronomer, discoveries all of this and warns the God administration, and is then mysteriously murdered. That's where you arrive...
TTLG: Will there be stealth aspects to the gameplay, ala Thief?
Raf: Yes, but not as much as Thief. If you play a Thief character then stealth will be one of your tools. Monsters can hear you, you can hide in the dark, they will look for you if they loose you. There will be at least two subquests which will require the use of stealth to complete.
TTLG: What type of environments will the game take place in?
Raf: ARX is an underground world, so even when you're in the 'outdoor' areas, it will always be as dark as night. The environment will not be limited to caves and dungeons, though. There will a large human town with a castle, a crypt, large natural areas, frozen bits, lava areas (at the dwarven forge), Snake-woman lair (oriental type of architecture), a place called The Temple of Illusions, Ylside's bunker (much like an Egyptian temple), and ratmen city too... plus more. We wanted to get a good variety of environments, and give each a distinct atmosphere. For instance, the crypt has taken a large inspiration from the 'Return to Cathedral' mission in Thief 1. We wanted to make it a truly horrific place.
TTLG: Please describe the roleplaying system? How is character creation and development handled?
Raf: You can choose between 3 archetypes; thief orientated, mage orientated, or warrior orientated. Choosing a warrior doesn't mean that you won't be able to use magic, it just defines your "favorite" attributes and skills. When you level-up (when you gain enough exp) you are given a set of skill points, which you can spend to increase your skills. Each skill has a set cost, depending on your attributes. If you are playing a warrior, with high strength and low intelligence, then combat skills will be much cheaper then magic skills. In the end, no player will be able to master all areas. There will be, so far, 10 skills to choose from. We wanted to use a small amount of clearly defined and useful skills. They are: mechanism (combines picklocking, disarm trap, repair), object knowledge (lore, trading, repair weapons, weapons id), stealth, casting, backstab, awareness (shows hidden objects, warns in case of monsters), projectile weapons, one handed weapons, two handed weapons, parry (a defensive skill). In addition to your skills, you also have attributes, such as strength, intelligence, constitution, and dexterity. Another cool aspect we are bringing in is the concept of followers, either NPC party members, or tamed animals. Animal taming ability depends on your intelligence, so a warrior may be able to train a barnyard animal, while a wizard could tame a baby dragon. These tamed animals will then be your companion.
TTLG: Could ARX be considered an unofficial Underworld 3?
Raf: Definitely. When we designed ARX, we always had Underworld in mind. We're not trying to make an Underworld ripp-off, though, but rather an evolutionary form. I like to think of ARX being to Underworld what Underworld was to Dungeon Master.
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