Nightcaster for Xbox – GZ Interview


NIGHTCASTER
– TAKE BACK THE NIGHT – A GZ INTERVIEW
by The Badger

 

There’s
never really a completely dull moment for the gaming fanatic. If
you’re not running out and purchasing the latest game or compulsively
playing your favorites (both old and new), there’s always the future
to look forward to. This has never been more true than right now with
the PS2 hitting the platform market strong and Xbox and GameCube on the
way. With all this excitement, it’s hard to believe that it can almost
be an overload for the senses – and things may even cease to bedazzle
and beguile us in the chaos. Then a certain game or game-maker comes
along who reminds us that there’s plenty to be excited about…

 

Adam
Maxwell, Game Designer for Nightcaster, is one of those game-makers that
gets me excited about their games, their ideas, and the industry as
whole. We had a chance to interview Adam, and his enthusiasm for
Nightcaster is almost physically tangible through the wording of his
answers; giving you what is obviously the tip of the iceberg of the game
that will be the first of it’s kind on the Xbox system. 

 

With
a myriad of different options to tantalize and tease the most varied of
gamers and gaming styles, this upcoming fully 3D action-adventure game
will take the Xbox launch by storm. As the young wizard Arran, you must
learn to harness the forces of the elements in order to defeat the
Nightcaster – a dark tyrant whom has doomed the world to perpetual
darkness.

 

Features
such as a dynamic soundtrack, unique character evolution, high intensity
spell combat, and in-depth exploration options are only the beginning: 
I’d tell you more, but I think you’ll agree that Adam tells
it best!

GZ: How will Arran acquire more powerful
spells and abilities? For example, will their potency and variety be
built through practice or perhaps will you need to collect items or
complete quests to add to your spell "grimoire"?


AM:
  We actually do a
little bit of both.  Arran
gains new spells for his spell book by finding them or gaining them from
NPCs.  In some cases Arran
will have to complete quests, vanquish monsters, or solve puzzles, in
other cases the spells’ locations are secret and Arran must explore
the world to find them as he battles the Nightcaster’s creatures. 
Once Arran has a spell, however, it’s power and effectiveness
is directly related to Arran’s abilities. 
If Arran is still young and untrained his spells won’t be as
potent, but as Arran gets older and gains in power, his ability to use
the magic improves and his spells increase in power significantly.

 

GZ: What percentage adventure will
Nightcaster be? Will there be instances of puzzle solving or other more
adventure intensive activities?


AM:
  It really depends
on how you want to play the game.  Nightcaster
is an action adventure title, and while the action definitely comes
first we didn’t ignore the adventure elements. 
When designing the game systems and the locations in the world we
worked hard to make sure that a player who wants nothing but action will
get it.  At the same time we
had to ensure that players that wanted to explore the adventure aspects
of the title wouldn’t be disappointed. 
We set up situations where the player’s choices in the world
will decide the outcome of events and the pace of the game at that
point.  If you want to go
through the game blasting spells at anything that moves, you’re able
to.  You may not get all of
the spells or learn all of the world’s secrets, but you can get
through the game if you’re a good spell caster. 
On the other hand, if you to interact with the world’s
inhabitants you can and you’ll find that they stand ready to increase
your knowledge of the war between darkness light and, in most cases, aid
you in your fight. 

We
also put a lot of stock in exploration. 
There are things in this world, artifacts and information that
will help you to gain power, that can only be found by finding the
hidden areas of the world.  You
won’t be able to find all of these areas unless you’re looking for
the clues that will lead you there. 
NPCs may make an off-hand comment that eventually leads to the
discovery of a powerful artifact, or the player may find a clue in the
world itself.  The player
that explores the world and helps its people will get the complete game
experience and will end the game as the most powerful mage the world has
ever seen.

 

GZ: What are you enjoying most about
creating this title with the Xbox system’s graphical capabilities? Is
there anything in particular you have not been able to do in the past
that you are now able to do?


AM:
Oh wow.  I could go off for hours. 
But if I had to pick one particular feature possessed by the Xbox
GPU that excited me it would have to the programmable shaders. 
This technology is amazing and it’s not something I’ve ever
seen on other projects I’ve worked on. 
We have these amazing waterfalls and creatures with metal armor
that is polished or dented or scratched. 
Our ice looks like ice.  I
don’t mean it’s clear and shiny, I mean it literally looks like ice. 
Without these shaders our spells wouldn’t look magic, but since
we’re using them our spells scintillate with light, burn with fire,
drip with water, and seethe with darkness. 
We use every feature of the GPU we possible can. 
One of our bosses, Quint the Frost Giant, has an axe with designs
etched into the blade.  It’s
awesome: the designs don’t look painted on, they look etched in and
how they’re shaded is affected correctly as light sources move around
in the world.  I’ve yet to
see anyone pull of the visual effects that are possible on the Xbox and
that’s one of the things that makes it so attractive to me as a
developer.

 

GZ: There are definitely some unusual and
unique concepts being included in Nightcaster; for example the progress
of Arran’s age throughout his journey and the gradual progression of the
entire land from darkness to light as you destroy the minions of the
Nightcaster. If you had to pick one or two other outstanding qualities
that you feel set Nightcaster apart from other fantasy action-adventure
titles, what would they be?


AM:
I think it’s
all about the gameplay for me.  We use a pretty unique control scheme in the game; you aim
your spells with the Orb, which you control with the right analog stick,
while you move Arran with the left stick. 
It’s really easy to get the hang of and it opens all kinds of
strategy that I haven’t seen in similar games. 
On top of this we layer in the elemental magic system, which
filters into everything.  Even
the creatures are elemental and elements play against each other.  If Arran chooses to be a fire mage, for example, his fire
spells become the most powerful.  If
he uses them against water creatures the water creatures will take the
full brunt of the attack without the help of their elemental affiliation
to help them.  Magic of a
particular element, say fire to use the previous example, won’t work
on creatures that are affiliated with that element. 
If you’re using fire spells and you’re suddenly ambushed by a
pack of hell hounds you’ll have to switch to a different type of
magic, but if you’re still a fire mage, spells that aren’t fire
won’t be as powerful.  You
see, you have to worry about the spells themselves as well, if you
decide to be a fire mage you will find your water spells are very weak
while your dark and light spells are only average. 
When you’re playing you find yourself changing your elemental
affiliation often to gain an edge in combat and to increase the power of
the spells you use most.

 

GZ: Can you tell us a little more about
Arran’s friends/allies he will meet? Will he have the opportunities to
play alongside others in battle?


AM:  As Arran moves
through the ages and grows he’ll see his childhood friends step
forward and take key roles in the resistance against the Nightcaster and
his horde.  The darkness
that overtakes the world affects everyone and most of the people that
Arran meets will do anything they can to help. 
When you play you’ll find yourself fighting side by side with
people from all walks of life including an organized army lead by the
people of Arran’s own hometown.  This
is a long game, spanning 70 years of Arran’s life, as he ages and
moves through the world he will see the war against the Nightcaster rage
on and see the war’s effect on the world and its people through time. 
He will also see heroes rise to lead the people and aid him in
quest.  Arran definitely won’t be alone as he struggles to defeat
the Nightcaster and bring light back to the world.

 

GZ: Will there be much item collecting in
Nightcaster? If so, how will the inventory/storage system work?


AM:
  We wanted to make
sure that the action could run uninterrupted and we wanted it to be
breathtaking.  As a result
we focused most of our efforts into the spells themselves, but there are
items to be found in the world, all of which can be equipped from within
our inventory management system and used with a simple press of one of
the controller’s buttons.  These
items have a broad spectrum of uses, from artifacts that can greatly
enhance Arran’s power to items that can help heal his wounds.

 

GZ: Will there be any protective gear or
magical artifacts and accessories available for purchase in towns or
through merchants? Will you be able to trade or sell any items?


AM: 
There are protective artifacts and other magical items that Arran
can use in the world of Nightcaster, but we don’t use a merchant
system where Arran would buy them. 
The whole point of money in a game like this is to basically act
as a scoring system; the more money you make the better you did and the
more powerful you become as you buy more items. 
Rather than stop the game to do this we incorporated it into the
game itself.  If you’re a
badass spell casting terror you’ll gain power quickly and you won’t
have to stop casting spells to do it.  On the other hand if you want to stop and learn more about
the world and interact with its people you can; you’ll gain power just
as quickly, but you’ll be able to do it without having to fight for it
all the time.  This is
awesome since we can keep all types of players happy, though I have to
admit that the player that does both will gain power much sooner. 
If we used a money system with buying, selling, and trading the
players that didn’t want to stop the action would be forced to and
wouldn’t be as happy with the game play.

 

GZ: Actual Gaelic names are being used as
names for the spells in Nightcaster. Are there any other real-world
influences (both fact and/or legendary) in Nightcaster that may have
taken a part in the shaping or story of the game? Did you have anything
that inspired you in particular as you worked on the title?


AM:
We were very
fortunate working on this title.  Several
of the development team members are all from the UK.  
With their help and a lot of research before we started we were
able to do things like correctly reference Celtic gods in our spells and
have our characters yell out spell incantations in authentic Gaelic. 
Throughout the game you’ll find books and letters written by
the people of the world, all of these have an authentic feel in the
words they use and the way they’re written. 
Our voice acting is all also as authentic as possible. 
The lilting brogue of the Orb as she talks takes you right there. 
She sounds like an ancient Celtic god herself. 
When you combine it all together and see it in the game there’s
no mistaking the Celtic themes, it worms its way into every aspect of
the game, from the combat all the way up to the philosophies and beliefs
of the world’s people.

 

GZ: There are many gamers, including
myself, who are huge fans of game music and it’s interesting that
Nightcaster will feature a "dynamic" score that adapts to
Arran’s place in his story. Can you tell us a little more about the
"dynamic score" concept or about the score itself?

AM: 
The concept of the dynamic score is pretty straightforward but
it’s pretty cool too.  The
music actually changes as you move through the world. 
If Arran is ambushed the music will smoothly change to a tense
and fast battle theme from a softer, slower exploration theme. 
You’ll be walking through the world feeling safe as you
explore, for example, a deserted city sunken underground when you’ll
come around the corner and see a mob of zombies shambling towards you. 
Just as you’re going “oh sh—“ the score transitions into
a tense driving combat theme.  It
drives your emotion as you play without you even realizing it and
enhances the game in a really cool subtle way. 
I think you’ll see a lot of games using dynamic music like this
in the future.

 

GZ: Will all spells be elemental based or
will some be available for purposes such as healing or general defense?
How will Arran’s mana and life be replenished if not by magical means?

AM: 
All of the spells are centered around one of the four magical
elements in the game (fire, water, light, or dark) but we still included
spells within those elements that are defensive and strategic in nature. 
For example, we have one spell called Ice Ward that at its most
powerful will actually encase you in a dome of ice that protects you
from spells and enemies while it’s active. 
All of the spells are different in some way and each of them can
be used multiple ways.  We
have another spell that will put up barriers of flaming metal between
you and your enemies.  If an
enemy touches it they’ll burn and it’s solid so they can’t get
through it.  You can use it
as an offensive spell just by placing it in a monster’s path, but you
can use it defensively to protect someone or direct the flow of combat
into a different area.  The
villagers and farmers in Nightcaster depend on the soldiers of the army
and Arran to keep them safe so spells like these can come in very handy
throughout the game.

+++++++++++++++

GZ
wants to thank Adam Maxwell for taking the time from his busy schedule
to share these details with us and thank the whole Nightcaster team for
giving us a great game to look forward to when Xbox is released!

Stay
tuned with GZ for more details or check out the Official Nightcaster
Website: http://www.microsoft.com/games/nightcaster/