Square Enix now owns the rights to the Dungeon Siege series and hired Obsidian Entertainment to develop a third game in the series. For the first time, Dungeon Siege will be a multiplatform title available for consoles and PCs at launch. Feargus Urquhart, CEO of Obsidian Entertainment, is leading Dungeon Siege III’s development and we sat down with him for a long chat equipped with your questions.
Can you tell us how Dungeon Siege III and the 10th Legion in this game connects with past titles in the series?
Feargus Urquhart, CEO: In general how it works is the Legion is there, the Legion is what helps found Ehb. The 10th Legion then got themselves involved in sort of the politics of Ehb and were very involved with all of that. They go so involved that they basically did something to what they thought would help Ehb, but in doing so they caused something radically bad to happen. Because of that, the populous and everybody turned on them and that’s how almost all of the Legion were killed.
The way we’ve always looked at it, the Legion is so important to Ehb. It’s like like the connective tissue, they’re what keeps Ehb alive and together. Now they were destroyed, Ehb is almost like falling apart. That’s why its so important that in the game you are bringing back the Legion.
I remember you said before there were nods to past Dungeon Siege games. Maybe you can share one of those with us?
If you look at the original Dungeon Siege maps, most of the areas you go to are in that. For instance, Stonebridge is an example. Stonebridge is on the original map and you get to go there. Another would be one of the dungeons you go through, there is a big statue of the farmer, one of the characters from the original Dungeon Siege. She was on the cover of the original Dungeon Siege and we have a statue of her in one of the dungeons.
One of Obsidian Entertainment’s strengths is developing RPG stories. Dungeon Siege III also happens to be a multiplayer game, did this affect planning of the game’s plot?
In the end, no. Because it ended up being our approach to the story. In essence, all of the people you can play in the game are part of the story. When people jump into the game they’re jumping into the story. We really wanted to model multiplayer off of, even though a lot of us are old now we play a lot of the Lego games, and the Lego games allow you to jump in and jump out. We thought that would be an awesome way to do multiplayer for Dungeon Siege. So, if you do multiplayer in that fashion you can still have a very story centric game.
A reader asked what is the killing to talking ratio. Since Obsidian’s roots are in story, but Dungeon Siege is hack-n-slashy how do the two elements mix?
What I can say there is we were very careful about how much dialogue is in the game. We wanted great dialogue, but we did not want people to feel like they had to constantly go through dialogue or things like that. In Dungeon Siege III we VOed [voiceovered] everything, around 12,000 lines of dialogue, but a good number of those were repeats for each of the classes because they have to say a certain number of the same things. There is probably a tenth, fifteen percent of the dialogue [in Fallout: New Vegas] it’s somewhere in that neighborhood. So, when it comes to the killing to talking ratio we were really careful about knowing this game is about hacking and slashing. While we want to tell a story, we don’t want it to be a constant barrage.
Some players may want to create their own characters, but we know now Dungeon Siege III there is no character creation. What would you say to the group who wants to develop their own hero?
Instead of looking at it as not getting to create my character at all, look at it more as I get to start with a general idea of a character. In essence, like a melee character or a ranged character or sort of different kind of protoclasses. That’s probably a strange way to say it.
As you play the game and you level up, you have a good number of choices every time you level up to put points into different things. It helps you move that class in the direction you want to go. It’s not just the melee character has to get better with his sword and shield. There are a lot of other options. And options like if you go this way you can’t go that way as much. Really, as you progress you are like creating your character class as you are going through the game. On top of that, items have a big effect on your stats, abilities, and things like that. The items you choose to equip or not equip further pushes your class in one direction or another.
If points are so important, perhaps, the lifeblood of the characters why did you not include a respec option?
I think respec is an idea… you know that’s a hard question. If we were making a MMO like Warcraft and I’ve put a billion hours into this character and I kind of want to do something different with this character. Instead of doing PvE stuff, I now want to do PvP stuff I absolutely have to respec it do that. In other words, it’s not like the player becomes less successful with their character because of the game or because now they can play the game in a totally different way.
In a lot of ways, it is not as necessary, but it was a hard decision to whether to provide that or not. A lot of it came down to it’s not like you’re making a decision like I played 75% of the game PvE and now I want to play PvP and now I have to respec or I’m not going to be as good as players at the same level.
I understand what you mean by the time investment, but take Anjali for example. She can be a swift warrior and I could invest everything in her kicks. But, she can also be an effective fire-based character. Let’s say I start with fire…
And you want to change her. It’s a good question. One of the things we’re doing right now is we’re doing a lot of focus testing on the game. Kind of seeing what people feel they want to see or not want to see. I think, I don’t know, the respecing we prioritized less because what I was saying. You can be successful at the game without respecing where like in WOW [World of Warcraft] you will not be as successful at PvP if you do not respec. I think that was sort of our decision making process.
Since were talking about classes can you talk about how you balanced them and while these are "protoclasses" there are only four of them.
We wanted to make it easy when a player started. If you have seven classes laid out in front of someone, there aren’t really seven core classes in a role playing game. You have a melee character, you have a range character, you have a damage character, and a healer. I guess damage and range are similar. Once you start adding more classes what you are really adding a lot of the time is basically multi-classes. So, you’re adding classes that are half of this or a third of this and two-thirds of that. We didn’t want to complicate that for people. That’s why we started with what I said, these protoclasses that you can change as you go.
That’s kind of how we came up with the four. On top of that with the whole male/female thing, because Anjali can be more melee versus sort of spell-y, if you want. If someone wants to play a more melee female character than she can play that role. We tried to think about it that way – what are the kind of roles people want to play? What are the sexes people want to play? Ultimately, we wanted to also make sure each of the classes felt unique from the standpoint of animations, items, abilities, and all kind of that stuff.
Speaking of female characters and since you develop so many RPGs, why do is the bikini of protection +50 so common in medieval fantasy games?
Anjali doesn’t she’s covered up [makes gesture to his neck] from there to all the way down.
Another character we can’t name, but we did run into…
I wish I had a good comment about society as a whole, but there are people who want to play as sexy female characters. So where is the line between sexy and tawdry and things like that. We include that character because people want to play them, you know? But, with Anjali while she is not unattractive she is clothed head to foot.
Fair enough. I was surprised there was no morality system. At E3 the build we saw had that "dialogue tree" (that build actually a tree icon during dialogue choices) and I joked before with you about that.
While there is not a sort of I have seventeen points of good or things like that, there are choices within the game that affect how later things in the game play out. The morality system is more choice based. If I choose to do X or Y the game is affected by that.
How much is the game affected? Is there a point where a choice you make can collapse a kingdom or something of that magnitude?
You can make some pretty big decisions. About life and death and how groups can be affected. They all play out and you get something or lose something due to it. Both, it’s not like if I chose this I get something and I choose this I lose something. There is an effect either way I choose.
For multiplayer, since the single player story is online, in the event you play with more than one person how can you make these decision as a group. Maybe you and I want to save someone, but other players want to do something else.
What you bring up is an example of roleplaying with a group. When I used to roleplay with my friends, you know, pen and paper, not everybody agreed with everything. Part of it was convincing each other, lets do that or no let’s do that. When the party decided to go in a direction that I didn’t like, I could be pissed off about it and I could continue to be kind of a bastard about that. That’s the aspect of playing with your friends. We’re not forcing everybody to agree to every single thing. I think that’s part of the fun of it.
For the host player, will he or she have the final decision or will there be a system where you can out vote the host?
There is a system in there. There is not an out voting system, though, but there is a system in there that allows players to let each other know what they are thinking without voice chat.
Obsidian has worked with a number of different publishers including Bethesda, Sega, and now Square Enix. What has working with Square Enix been like compared to the other companies?
Well, Square has been great to work with. I think they have a real respect for developers and they have been really supportive when it comes to making Dungeon Siege III. You know, I’ve always been really impressed by Wada-san who runs the Japanese side of things. He’s one of the CEOs of a game publisher that I’ve gotten to meet a number of times and he’s absolutely a guy who knows how to make games. He has stories about making games and stories about working with developers. That’s one of the great things about working with a publisher that has game development at their core. I think that is what made the relationship go as well as it has.