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Delving into the dungeon depths of Hunted: The Demon's Forge

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Posted by: Michael Lafferty

By Michael Lafferty GameZone.com

Two characters, classic dungeon-crawl gaming and a developer that knows a thing or two about the latter. That's the hallmark of Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Bethesda is the publisher, but the development team, which includes Brian Fargo (of Fallout fame, and he was in the team - inXile - that did the classic Bard's Tale game), knows a thing or two about the genre.

GameZone recently had a chance to talk with Fargo and his crew about bringing the forgotten elements of dungeon crawls - aka, what we loved about them - back with the upcoming Hunted title.

Hunted sounds like it is an ideal two-player cooperative game. How are the cooperative elements handled - are they in the vein of a Gauntlet game, or do you go with online with each the perspective from one character's point of view? Brian Fargo: We very much set out to make an engaging co-op game. In fact, the biggest complaint I hear is that there are not enough co-op games out there as most games are head-to-head style. The first thing we did was to make sure that both characters that you play have different abilities so that some of the fun is exploiting the strengths of each. Pretty much all co-op games have two characters that are clones of each other so we hope to open things up a bit. The gameplay itself is seen as an over-the-shoulder third person from the perspective of one character's point of view. We are honing the gameplay for use over the Internet so there is not split-screen mode.

The Bard's Tale came along at a time when the fantasy genre was not quite as packed as it currently is, and even then it was fresh and remains so. So here we are, years later, and you have a game firmly rooted in the fantasy realm. What have you done to bring life to this game and the genre, and give Hunted a fresh and inviting perspective?

Answer: Interestingly enough we are being fresh by bringing back the old. The entire RPG genre started off first with the dungeon crawls many years ago. From the mainframe MUD's to Wizardry and Bard's Tale in the 80's and then into the 90's when the category became more action oriented like Hexen and Heretic. Then the RPG's in general took some different paths as they became more like a Dragon Age, Fallout 3 or the Final Fantasy but had stepped away from the basic notion of dungeon exploration, discovery, and puzzle solving of the past. We are taking today's gameplay style and bringing back some of the elements that captured our imagination.

On a side note, since Bard's Tale was eons ago (well 2004 wasn't that long ago, but it was a different gen of console), has their been any thought on going back into that realm? Answer: Obviously I have a special place in my heart for Bard's Tale, but I want to explore some other things first like a Wasteland sequel. While Hunted: The Demon's Forge is an action game I still have a great fondness for the RPG's.

Back on track with Hunted - from the sounds of it, while you have two stock characters (archer and melee), it sounds as if they can be developed in any number of ways to create hybrids that are tailored to each gamer's particular style. Is this the case? How many skill trees can be climbed and are any restrictions in place? Answer: There are two main characters in the game E’lara she is a master with the bow and Caddoc who is an expert with the sword. Both characters will be able upgrade their primary combat style and both characters also have the ability to use spells. Players will be able to add abilities to either spells or their primary combat areas (ranged for E’lara and melee for Caddoc), so characters in Hunted are hybrids if the player desires. By hybrids I mean they can have sword / bow talents and magical spells transversely if a player desires they can put all of their crystals into their primary combat style and none in magic not being hybrid.

There are three main skill trees and about ten talent categories. For every skill there are major and minor upgrades so, for example, if I choose to get a lightning skill, first level will give the player the power to use one bolt of lightning at a time. I could upgrade it by putting more crystals into this skill to either decreased mana cost, increased damage or stun time. If I put even more crystals into that skill I will reach the next level which is chain lightning and this gives the player the ability to attack multiple enemies, again I can further upgrade that skill with decreased mana cost, increased damage or stun time. There are three major upgrades per skill and 6 minor for a total of 9 upgrades per skill.

Players will also gain talent upgrades that are based on their gameplay styles. If a player chooses to play cooperative by using their spells to enhance their partner using battlecharge as an example. Doing this multiple times will give the player a bonus to carry more mana potions. There are 10 of these categories ranging from combat styles, exploration and cooperative gameplay. We want to reward players for playing Hunted certain ways and encourage them to try new features we feel this will create a deep and fun gameplay experience.

If the game uses cover combat, does this mean it is line of sight for E'lara, and you have dispensed with the hated (well, I don't like them much) magic missiles? How tough is enemy AI and is it likely to use cover and flanking maneuvers?

Answer: Cover combat is a very important part of the game. Most of the enemies in the game will not only use cover, but they will use the layout of the environment as well. Enemies always try to get to higher ground to give them an advantage as well as using flanking maneuvers and other techniques like using suppressing fire and leap-frog maneuvers to get in closer.

Would you describe the game as twitch or thoughtful?

Answer: We describe the combat as being very strategic. Because the two main charactes have different skills and abilities and each enemy type has their own strength and weaknesses we want the players to really have to stop and think about what would be the best strategy to take the enemies out. Running into the middle of the map and pounding on the attack button is rarely going to get the job done. The player needs to figure out what enemies are ahead and what is the best way to take them out. If the enemies have giant shields, arrow attacks are not going to do it. If the enemies have high cover, charging in with a melee attack is not going to work. The player must use all the skills and abilities of the two different characters, as well as use the special co-op spells and skills to find best way to move forward.

The title obviously has some storyline that drives the player and characters through the game. Is it sandbox or is the game play somewhat linear?

Answer: The game is somewhere between the two worlds. The action sequences are more linear which allows for some incredible graphic fidelity however, we are a big fans of classic gameplay so we played with the format a bit. We created a large part of the world to be optional so that we could then challenge the player with exploration and puzzle solving without worrying about whether they could get stuck. This format freed us up quite a bit to do some clever and interesting things. I think the players are going to respond well to the non-action bits.

What lessons have you learned with inXile in the years you have been developing games that you think serve you well and really had an impact on Hunted?

Answer: Pre-production is the more important element when it comes to the nuts and bolts of putting the games together. Being more organized on the front end allows you to do most of the creative touches that one would otherwise run out of time to do. The other focus is to make sure the team is in sync with the sensibilities so the game stays true to why it is being created. And when that happens you end up being able to have the team taking the game to creative levels that no one person could ever do.

The game is using the Unreal 3 engine for the graphics, but what have you done for the narrative, musical score and environmental effects. Does the game have a lot of text-driven elements, or was there a lot of recorded material that makes its way into the game.

Answer: Our score is going to have an epic fantasy feel the way a big fantasy movie would play out. Music is wonderful for setting an emotional stage to things. The environmental effects are equally as important to create mood but in a different way. Environmental effects can really bring out the slower-paced areas or, in our case, help convey the scary sense of being inside a dungeon creeping around in the dark. The other major component of audio centers around the banter of the two main characters. E'lara and Caddoc have history that predates when the player steps into their shoes and there is a strong sense of character between the two. This history and reaction to events in the game really helps to fill them out as real characters.

Do you have a projected release date yet for the game?

Answer: Bethesda has set the date for Q1 2011 and we will be adding all sorts of features and touches up until launch.

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