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GB: With Dragonshard now on store shelves, how has the response from the community been so far?
Charley: Absolutely fantastic. Despite a few initial hiccups with distribution, our community remained strong and faithful, giving us feedback that has been incorporated into our latest patches, and remaining active on our official boards.
Critical feedback was also very positive we were glad to see all of the reviewers that acknowledged our success in successfully blending RPG and RTS gameplay into one diverse gaming experience.
GB: Are there any fond memories or tough obstacles encountered during the development of Dragonshard that you can share with us?
Charley: Game development as a whole is fraught with both fond memories and tough obstacles. In terms of the former, we went with an iterative approach to development that involved establishing a foundation for the gameplay, and then building the necessary layers on top of that, tweaking the interwoven systems as necessary to ensure that the other features of the game were reinforced rather than hampered. As such, when we first got the dual-layer system working, or unit leveling, or Nexus effects all had a substantial impact as we watched the game get its legs under it and come to life.
Other special moments for me included the first time we implemented the Beholder and watched it annihilate units faster than we could create them (he was dialed down - just a little bit), and watching the Gelatinous Cube work its magic.
Many of the obstacles we faced were associated with the ambitious nature of a number of the features that we were attempting to implement. We went through several versions of the dual-layer system, including interlocking rooms, and navigating through underworld structures, before we finally settled on the cavernous cityscape that is found in the game today. The Nexus system also went through a number of revisions to ensure that it struck the appropriate balance between ease of comprehension and extensive, dynamic functionality.
GB: Did you plan on basing Dragonshard in Eberron from the beginning or were other settings (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, etc.) considered at one time?
Charley: As avid D&D gamers, all of us have fond memories with each of the various campaign settings. We ended up choosing Eberron because we loved a lot of the ideas that Keith [Baker] was working on in the preliminary Eberron source material, and felt that gamers deserved to be introduced to the fresh and unique elements of a brand new setting rather than merely revisiting the familiar landscapes of the Forgotten Realms.
It also gave us an opportunity to help forge part of the foundation of the world itself. The realizations of a number of the characters and environments in our game were directly reflected in a number of source material pieces that Keith Baker wrote for Dragon magazine and other D&D addendums. The nature of Dragonshards and how they relate to the game world also provided an indirect inspiration for how we would handle resource management in a new and innovative way.
GB: How much involvement did Wizards of the Coast and Eberron creator Keith Baker have during the development of the game?
Charley: Wizards of the Coast worked hand-in-hand with us throughout development, helping us to hone the artistic style of our units and ensure that each of our creations properly fit within the tenets of the D&D world.
Keith Baker was integral to the early design process, helping us to establish the direction for our overall narrative, and the influence and characterizations for the Champions throughout the story.
GB: Was it difficult to find a balance between resource management, dungeon crawling, and overland combat? Do you feel you've ultimately achieved such a balance?
Charley: Striking a balance between three different gameplay elements that must be running through the player's mind simultaneously is always a difficult task, and involved tweaking a number of different distinct elements. For example, increasing the defenses of the Nexus Grid alleviated some of the pressure of the rush that early gamers faced, and removed their hesitancy to leave their home fortification unguarded to search for resources, which allowed us to keep unit movement and training speeds high.
In the end, I think we struck a good balance between managing the player's base, scouring the above ground layer for shardfalls, and crawling the dungeons in search of experience and treasure.
GB: Aside from gold and dragonshards, were any other resources ever considered for the game? What other ideas were tossed around in terms of resource management?
Charley: Funny that you should ask. From the outset, we knew that we wanted to decentralize resource gathering, but there were a host of methods that were discussed early in the development of the game.
While we always wanted to use the periodic hail of Dragonshards as a secondary resource, our initial plan was to give each race their own unique primary resource that could each be gathered in different ways.
The Order of the Flame would use gold, plundered from the dungeons and the bodies of Monsters to fund their expedition. Signs of the presence of the Order's troops would be empty chests or slain monsters with no gold or loot nearby.
The Lizardfolk would feast on the flesh of their adversaries as their primary resource. With this system, each enemy that was killed could be harvested by any Lizardfolk unit, adding to the army's global store of meat. The sign of Lizardfolk presence would thus be skeletal remains of units picked clean by the ravenous Lizardfolk forces.
Finally, the Umbragen would actually drain the life energy from the objects around them, causing the nearby environment to wither and decay. Umbragen Bearers would approach lush groves above ground or ancient treasure caches below, and begin a chant of necromantic magic. Immediately, every object would begin to shift through several states of decay. As such, one could tell the Umbragen were nearby by noting the shift from verdant forests to twisted, desiccated husks and undead ambient life.
While we all thought these varying resource types were cool and interesting, balancing them was arduous at best. It put an extreme emphasis on having different types of forces from your allies so as not to hamper one another's resource management. Even so, we did all that we could to try and make this system work.
In the end, however, the nail in the coffin was the perceived complexity. More than anything else, players during our internal testing phase found the multiple primary resource dynamic confusing at best, and we found that it dragged down a number of other elements of play. In the end, we stuck with three primary resources Gold, Dragonshards, and Experience which produced the appropriate amount of variety of gameplay, while maintaining a level of simplicity that allowed the player to enjoy the existing resource dynamics without demanding so much of their attention that other gameplay elements fell by the wayside.
GB: Looking back, is there anything about the development of Dragonshard that you would have liked to change? Were you forced to remove features or cut any content due to cost or time constraints?
Charley: The Umbragen Campaign immediately comes to mind. We wanted to make sure that each of our missions was packed with a variety of RTS and RPG elements that leveraged each of features that make Dragonshard unique. As such, given our time constraints, we were in a situation where we were faced with a decision of quality versus quantity, and we chose the former.
That said, many of us at Liquid love the Umbragen - perhaps one day we will get an opportunity to tell their story anew.
GB: Can you give us an idea of what to expect from the tweaks and extra maps you're planning for the next patch? Also, what are your plans for continuing support for the game in the future, perhaps with even more maps or content?
Charley: All of us at Liquid are extremely proud of Dragonshard, and want to thank our fans for their undying support throughout development and post-release. Five new maps and a vast assortment of balance tweaks and fixes were included in the last patch, which resolves a number of the remaining minor balance issues, while providing several fresh new maps that incorporate a number of new ideas based on the feedback we received after launch.
GB: If an expansion or sequel for Dragonshard were given the green light, what features or content would you like to add to the game?
Charley: What a question! Well, the aforementioned Umbragen springs to mind, as we have many ideas that would love to be able to further flesh out in a full set of missions. Beyond that, there's a whole lot that I would like to say in answering this question, but cannot. Nonetheless, rest assured, there is a substantial list of cool and interesting functionality that we all thought of during the development of Dragonshard that we didn't have time to implement which would further compliment the already diverse experiences provided.
All of us at Liquid hope that our continued support of Dragonshard, and the support of sites like GameBanshee, will help our burgeoning community grow even further, which will help Dragonshard reach an even larger group of gamers, thus ensuring its presence for years to come.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Charley!