Posted by Brother None at 4:30 pm on 04.14.2011 (2 years ago)
The RPG has been kept under wraps, though. We only have a working title (Game of Thrones RPG), and many of the game's plot and gameplay details are still completely unknown. Nonetheless, we recently had the opportunity to interview project manager Thomas Veauclin and we did our best to uncover as many details on the upcoming RPG as we could.
GB: Cyanide landed the rights to do video game titles based on the A Song of Ice and Fire books back in May of 2009. Can you tell us a little about how this deal came about? Did Cyanide approach the publisher or were you approached with the idea?
Thomas: It will be 7 years ago that we first made contact with George R. R. Martin, via his agent. It was a deliberate move on our part as many of us had read one or two of the books and we had the board game in the studio. However, it took 5 years between the time of our first contact and the day George said "yes". However, the wait was worth it and we had grown a lot, so in fact George said "yes" to both a strategy game and an RPG. When I look back over the period from first contact to the agreement, we did pass a watershed with our "Loki" action/RPG. That really was a massive development project for us and we learned a lot technically and organizationally. We therefore began the "A Game of Thrones" project with the necessary resources and technology in place. For example, we didn't pussyfoot around when it came to the choice of a game engine; we went straight for the Unreal Engine 3.
GB: Is George R.R. Martin directly involved with either project? Do you regularly check with George or other sources to ensure that the lore within the games matches the books?
Thomas: He's not part of project meetings, but we do submit concepts, artwork etc to him. We've also met with him to show a playable prototype. However, he's a very busy man, so we try to avoid inundating him with questions. Fortunately, there are several people George has worked with during the production of other licensed properties, so we've been able to call on them when we need clarification or validation. However, George does retain final word on everything.
GB: Where do you currently stand with the development of the AGOT RPG and how much longer do you expect its development to take? Is its release in any way contingent on the success of the RTS?
Thomas: The adventure began two years ago, but the two are totally separate projects, with the RPG being developed in France and the RTS in our Montreal studio in Canada. The release of one is totally independent of the other and the guaranteed success of the RTS will impact in no way on the RPG. From a development viewpoint, we aim to finish the RPG before the end of this year.
GB: Can you reveal a little of the plot's setup and how you’re structuring the game world (linear or open)?
Thomas: We spent a lot of time thinking about how we would structure the game because we wanted it to reflect the very particular structure of the books. We were not developing just any other RPG; it had to live and breathe "A song of Ice and Fire". However, we didn't want to just shift the contents of the books across into video game format, as most readers (and they do number in their millions) would not be very motivated to relive a story they already knew. We therefore took the universe of the books and wrote between the lines, creating our own story within the vast edifice created by George. We use his foundations, but we build a few levels of our own.
I won't go into much detail, but as mentioned above, the plot of the books is conveyed through the eyes of several different POV characters, each with dedicated chapters. This narrative mode is untypical of RPGs, but it is the route we have chosen, although with fewer main characters. We have two "heroes" and as the story advances, chapter by chapter, the player swaps from one to the other, switching point of view as he goes. The player thus has several windows on the game through which he can view many different stories. Bit by bit, he will mold them into one narrative which provides a complete overview of the plot.
We won't carry all fans of the series (be it the books or the HBO adaptation) with us, but they can all be assured that George is aware of what we are up to.
GB: We know it’s early, but what can you tell us about the game's character creation and advancement system? Will you be taking a numbers-heavy approach with attributes, skill checks, combat rolls, and such, or will the game be more of an action RPG? Also, will there be a fixed protagonist or is the game going to allow for character customization right from the start?
Thomas: We are working on a linear storyline in which our two main characters are "delimited". This must not be equated with constrained; it just means that a coherent story requires that the dramatis personae be coherent. The two of them thus have a well-defined background and a given mindset, which impact on their relationship. Of course, the player will be able to customise the equipment and attributes of his characters and this will allow them to evolve in a direction chosen by the player.
The same goes for the storyline. It would be impossible to offer an epic adventure if the game was played in an open world. Depth can only be provided if we keep the player to a linear path. Again, the player will be able to make vital choices at key moments, so he is not a captive of the game scenario.
As for gameplay, we are very much tactical RPG-orientated. That's why, in combat, we use an active pause system which allows skills to be stacked while the game is switched into slow motion.
GB: Beyond character creation and progression, is there anything you can tell us about the game’s quest structure, combat mechanics, or dialogue system?
Thomas: I don't want to give too much away, but I can say that we have adopted a film-like dialogue style which offers a heightened sense of realism and really does reinforce the narrative. Of course, the effect is multiplied by the fact that the player controls two characters.
GB: In a recent preview, you are quoted as citing Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate, and Knights of the Old Republic as your main influences for crafting a story-driven RPG. Could you elaborate on that? What was it about these three titles that resonated with the team?
Thomas: “What can change the nature of a man?” For us Planescape Torment is a real jewel. It recaptures the essence of many RPG classics and offers an incredible personal adventure. The scenario is grandiose and sombre, with the player held by a sense of suspense, right to the end. That's what we're aiming to achieve: an unforgettable and mature epic adventure.
GB: A big part of the "mature" categorization of the Song of Ice & Fire books is not so much adult situations, but that the books present its world in a realistic fashion, so that moral situations fall somewhere in the hazy shades of grey. When translating that to video game format, do you focus on giving the player a strong narrative with a focus on this angle, or allow him to make his own choices and mistakes when he takes things at face value, or a combination of both?
Thomas: We've approached maturity from a variety of angles. From the outset we rejected the idea of populating screens with semi-naked women and we don't have blood being sprayed everywhere. From that point of view we've been pretty faithful to the books. In fact, the books have been our touchstone, because we really have concentrated on the narrative, the depth of characters and player choices. The latter will be faced with choices much closer to "What do you prefer ? Lose two legs or two arms ?" rather than "Which road do you want to take ? Left or right ?" The player will have choices to make, but more importantly, he will have to assume the consequences.
GB: Books as a media are given a bit more liberty than their more visual cousins, like movies or video games. Does this pose a challenge when translating books with mature and adult themes - like the Song of Ice and Fire books - to games?
Thomas: Rating constraints are part of life so we just get on with it. The game will reflect the content of the books and will therefore have a "Mature" rating from the ESRB and an "18" rating from PEGI.
GB: A Song of Ice and Fire is much more low-fantasy than most of the other fantasy settings video game enthusiasts have experienced, how does this change your approach to the time-honored tropes of fantasy RPGs, such as magic spells and monsters? What opportunities does it open?
Thomas: Not without its difficulties this one! It took us a fair bit of time to find the right approach. Of course super hero style powers with plenty of graphic FX didn't even get into the frame as there is none of that in the books. However, there are some opportunities and by extrapolating ever so slightly, we came up with what we wanted, with George's blessing. All I can say is that we don't have dragons (sorry to spoil it for some) but there is magic, of sorts.