Nintendo DS

Learn About Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

0 Three years of development time have been invested in Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, a first-person RPG from Aspyr designed for the DS.


I recently got in touch the Big Blue Bubble, the developer, to see if they’d talk to us about some of the history and intricacies of Fighting Fantasy.


Fighting Fantasy was first announced for both the DS and PSP as a collaboration with Bad Management all the way back in 2006. What’s happened between then and now?


Damir Slogar, CEO of Big Blue Bubble: This was a totally different project that did not involve Big Blue Bubble or Aspyr.


It seems like the extra time spent working on the game has really helped. It looks gorgeous. How long has it been in development?


We have worked on this project for over 3 years. Most of the time was spent working on the technology. The first playable prototype was ready in late 2008 and we used this to pitch the game to the publishers.


What was your primary focus development-wise when you started creating the game? Did you already have a suitable engine up and running on the DS or did you have to create one specifically for Fighting Fantasy?


Obviously the technology has played a big part in this project. Our 3D engine was designed specifically for this game but with the idea to support all types of first person games on DS. We wanted to do something that has not been done before on DS.


How did the deal with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson come about?


We met Ian at GDC 2007. I showed him the demo and he saw the perfect fit between our game and his IP.


Tell us a little bit about the story of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.


There are a lot of plot points and encounters that have been taken from the book, some of which were given more detail and made into important central points of the story structure. The brief synopsis is that the player enters the Firetop Mountain Keep and in the end encounters its master, the warlock. During exploration the player will meet many hostile and not so hostile characters who will contribute to the story. The story goes like this…


Long ago, the old dwarven city used to be a happy place, but disasters struck one after another, beginning with the unearthing of an ancient evil hidden in the heart of the mountain. This was followed by the arrival of vicious evil creatures attracted to the dark powers that radiate form within the mountain. Today, the keep is in shambles and some of its parts are completely inaccessible. The rough initial interiors are inhabited by orcs, deemed to be the lowest of the monsters. The main villain tolerates the orc presence because their subservience can be useful at times. Dwarves also reside in the mountain and many, on occasion, prove friendly. Dwarves hate the orcs and usually hold grudges against all the creatures inhabiting or merely passing through what used to be theirs. Both races are weak in comparison to the horrible creatures found closer to the warlock.


You’ve said the goal was to bring a “next-gen” role-playing experience to the DS. What in your mind comprises a “next-gen” game? How are you approaching this goal on the DS?


There has been lot of talk about immersive gameplay lately. We wanted the player to be totally absorbed in the game and the best way to do this is to create a game that he couldn’t experience before on the DS. We looked at what games were available on DS at that time and found out that there is a big hole in the first-person RPG genre on DS. I guess the main reason for the lack of that type of games was that the technology wasn’t there.


We sat down and made an ‘ideal’ list of features for our 3D engine (and the game itself) and then we went through the list to figure out what features were not feasible (at least in theory). We ended up not having to remove a single feature that was on our wish list. We had to do some compromises but we managed to achieve our main goal – creating a 3D engine that will support high res textures, maximum poly count for the environments, dynamic loading of the content (environments, monsters and sounds), soft shadows and dynamic lighting. On top of that we wanted the game to run constantly at 60fps. Most of these features come as standard on any ‘next-gen’ games but no one did it on DS. Until now.


As I understand it, there are three classes in the game: warrior, mage and assassin. What are some of the differences between them?


Well, that has actually changed. You now start the game by creating your character any way that you want. By assigning points in stamina, skill and intuition you can create a specific class that will match the stereotypical warrior, mage or assassin type of character but you also have total freedom to create the character any way you want. Your attributes and abilities will have a huge impact on the way you will play the game and different type of characters will provide totally different gameplay experience.


Does each class have its own skill tree or do they share a common pool of skills? That’s what “custom combination of skills” sounds like…


There are 4 main skills categories. Which ones you can choose will depend on your character attributes.


Do you acquire skills as you level up? I recall there are NPCs that teach you certain skills…


Yes. This is a very important aspect of the game. Not only can you add points to your existing abilities but you can also choose new abilities.


What are some of the skills we’ll have access to?


Some of examples of skills are Perception (increases your chance to spot hidden objects, secret doors and traps) and Veteran (gives a bonus on all experience earned). Spells are divided into 5 spheres and examples are Shadow (allows access to spells that draw their strength from human nature) and Elemental (allows access to elemental spells).


Customization usually plays a pretty significant role in western RPGs. Could you tell us about the extent of customization in Fighting Fantasy?


Character customization has a huge impact on the game. Every point you put in the character abilities or attributes matter and you can immediately see the impact.


There seem to be a lot of different locales in the game. I spotted a dock, some sort of armoury, a cave…will you be able to traverse freely between all these places?


You can go whenever you want if you are strong enough to beat the monsters occupying those locations. Sometimes you will have to finish some quest in order to move forward but you can always go back and fight weaker monsters in order to get more experience.


First-person games on the DS so far have been primarily shooters or turn-based RPGs. Did you use any other first-person games on the DS as a point of reference?


Not really. We looked at Metroid Prime when we discussed the control scheme but in terms of look/feel we didn’t really have any reference on DS.


If you look at FPSes on the DS, most of them seem to be fast-paced and with a heavy multiplayer focus…lots of running and gunning Since The Warlock of Firetop Mountain doesn’t have guns in it, was it particularly challenging to develop a balanced melee combat system for the game?


Well, you don’t have guns but you have spells and bow & arrows. As I said earlier character customization has huge impact on gameplay so balancing both melee and long range combat was very tough.


Something that a lot of these games do well on the DS is virtual surround. Dementium: The Ward and Metroid Prime: Hunters in particular made some great use of the feature. Are you aiming to include it as well?


Of course. You will be able to hear sounds of crackling fire you can see in the distance while an angry orc is breathing behind your neck.


How are you deciding upon which of the original books to turn into games? Is it going to be the Zagor trilogy, ie; The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Return to Firetop Mountain and Legend of Zagor?


Our original game pitch was very close to the story of The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain so the choice was obvious. As for the future plans, we will reveal them when this game hits the shelves.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.