Dungeons & Dragons Online has made some serious progress since the last time we spoke with Turbine. Not only have they released additional information about the MMORPG at their Turbine Nation event, but they've also unveiled the first screenshots, artwork, and video footage from the game. To get an updated impression of where the game stands now, we tracked down lead designer Ken Troop for a fourth Q&A. Onward:
GB: What would you say are your primary goals for the development of D&D Online? What specific features are at the top of your list to make it into the game at launch?
Ken: We’re really focusing on two goals – first, to make an awesome, story-driven MMP that does honor to the D&D name, and creating an authentic D&D experience. We’ve been working with WotC very closely to that end; we didn’t just want to make a game and slap “D&D” on the box. We’re all very happy with how faithfully we’ve been able to translate the rules over to an MMP game.
Second, we’re dedicated to providing an action-adventure experience that has yet to be attempted in this setting. We want our combat to be active and fun, without the auto-target, auto-follow, auto-attack tedium from MMPs that have come before. We’re making great strides toward both goals.
GB: How much influence has Wizards of the Coast had in the game's development? Do you speak with anyone over there on a regular basis?
Ken: One of the great things about developing this game has been working with the guys at WotC. We’ve been collaborating on this game for a year and a half now, to make sure that this isn’t just a game that captures the rules of D&D, but also the spirit of D&D.
GB: You've previously said that the game's quests will not be similar to one another with some randomness to make them unique, but instead will be non-linear and more thought out. Can you expand on this and give us a specific example of a quest players might encounter in the game?
Ken: Overall, our focus for content and quests is to help the player answer the question, “Why is what I’m doing meaningful?” Some of that is taking old standards such as kill or fetch quests and imbuing them with a sense of purpose that colors and shapes your interaction with the story and NPCs.
Eberron is a fantastic setting for this purpose. It’s very story-rich and has a big “pulp-noir” feel -- with lots of believable motivations for the wide variety of different power and interest groups in the world. And yet it also still has plenty of “high fantasy” elements that tie the setting more into what players expect and want out of their fantasy. As a content designer, Eberron is one of the best gaming settings to tell good stories in that I’ve come across.
Another part of our process to create fantastic content is expanding the repertoire of what players can do. We’ve spent a lot of time on our quest system so that we can track the state of pretty much every single interactive object in a dungeon, and we can tie that state (or collection of states) into a quest success or quest failure metric. For example, anything from breaking (or preventing them from being broken) barrels to disarming traps to putting out lights can all form the base “goal” of a quest…really, anything out of which a content designer can fashion a good story can serve as that basis.
Finally, we’ve worked a lot on NPC A.I. for these new styles of quests, ranging from avoiding enemy detection, to having to rescue and escort kidnapped citizens from the dungeon depths to the town above.
GB: Will all die rolls for ability checks, skill checks, hit points, etc be completely transparent to the player? Or will such die rolls be visible if the player so chooses?
Ken: Most of the die rolls will be transparent, but damage rolls and hit points will be visible. We’re talking about an option, but no firm decision there yet.
GB: Can you explain how you're planning to integrate player vs. player combat? Will there be any "safe zones" for players who choose not to partake in PvP? Will we see any type of siege warfare?
Ken: It’s something we’re still discussing. High-level D&D PvP would very much be a matter of “save or die,” with spells like disintegrate, power word kill, cloudkill, phantasmal killer, etc. One-shot PvP isn’t fun, so we’re looking for other ways of player competition that doesn’t involve zapping each other. D&D is primarily about parties overcoming challenges together, so that’s the focus of D&D Online.
GB: Tell us about the graphics engine you'll be using for Dungeons & Dragons Online. What capabilities and enhancements will the engine have in relation to other MMORPGs?
Ken: We’re using the third generation of the Turbine Engine, which is fully buzzword compliant. Bump mapping, normal mapping, stencil shadows, specular mapping, etc. It definitely takes advantage of modern hardware, but is also playable with a GeForce 2 card.
GB: What are your plans for epic character levels? Is it possible that epic levels could make it into the game at launch yet, or will this be something reserved for an expansion?
Ken: We’re launching with levels 1-20, and we are planning on Epic levels as an expansion pack.
Once again, we'd like to give our thanks to the Dungeons & Dragons Online development team at Turbine, especially Ken Troop, for taking the time to answer our questions!