Midway Games recently announced that they are hard at work developing another title in the Gauntlet franchise entitled Seven Sorrows. What makes Seven Sorrows different than past Gauntlet games, however, is that it will be implementing more RPG elements and its development is being spearheaded by two major industry veterans - John Romero (Doom, Quake, Deus Ex) and Josh Sawyer (Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate III [Jefferson]). Since we've been reporting about J.E. Sawyer (and his games) throughout the years that he was with Black Isle Studios, we decided to catch up to the designer and find out what he has in store for us with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows. Here we go:
GB: How long has Seven Sorrows been in development? Have you recently reached any major milestones or ran into any unforeseen obstacles?
Josh: Seven Sorrows has been in development for a little over a year. We recently hit our “first playable” milestone, which is intended to present – forgive the phrase – a vertical slice of gameplay. It isn’t polished, but it gives a rough idea of what the game will be like.
Also, we’re recording a lot of the voice over lines now. Every bit of dialogue in the game has V.O. (well, except for one mute character), and I’m very happy with the quality and maturity of the actors so far.
GB: With your RPG background and John Romero's action background, what exactly should we expect from Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows? What are your primary goals for evolving the Gauntlet franchise?
Josh: Players should expect a more well-developed Gauntlet. We’re trying to keep the core elements of the franchise intact: four-player co-op, easy controls, the classic characters, generators, Death, etc., but we want to give these things more depth.
The action is the heart of the gameplay. People can play it like a masher at low levels, but the fighting system is fairly involved compared to other Gauntlet titles. We have maneuvers that are typically not found in RPGs: trips, block-breaking, grabbing and throwing, counterattacking, juggling, and so on.
To support the action and provide long-term goals for players, we have a light RPG system in the game. Players can buy new combos for their characters and find increasingly powerful equipment to augment their fighting.
Most people play Gauntlet for the action, which is what the heart of the game has always been. For people who want a great story out of their games, we have a separate story mode. It’s for one or two players and fully fleshes out the game world and the characters living in it. The player(s) alternate between the three pairs of characters (warrior and valkyrie, wizard and elf, lancer and tragedian) as they go through the story arc. Because the story mode is separated completely from the full-action “advance” mode, the story is quite deep. In terms of scope, it’s more on par with a full RPG than an action game.
For multiplayer, we’re working a number of new systems to make co-op play more enjoyable. The most obvious feature is our Junction Skill system. It allows the players to create geometric patterns in the environment that unlock magical effects between them. Juggling enemies also allows great opportunities for teammates to intercept targets mid-air with missile weapons. Another cool feature is a quick-chat system. If online players don’t have a headset, they can use their shoulder buttons and analog stick to give quick commands in their character’s voice. Multiplayer also gives team and individual challenges to characters. If you’ve played Paper Mario or Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, you probably are familiar with this type of gameplay element. At the beginning of a level, each character gets a challenge (e.g.: Don’t use block!). Also, the team gets a challenge (Blue Elf is It! Don’t let him fall below 50% health!). If players succeed at their challenges, they get keys. Keys allow characters to open special chests. Special chests always have better equipment drops than standard chests.
One of the coolest features we’re adding is something called Perfection Matches. We’re very excited about it. Perfection Matches are only available for characters of 45th level and higher. It’s an online mode of play in which one player attempts to complete every map in “the best” way possible. “The best” being criteria defined by us, involving statistics ranging from map completion time and amount of damage done to amount of damage taken. Our central server calculates the character’s score and stores his or her overall Perfection Rating for that level range. The challenge is staggering, because the generators on the level and the bosses scale in difficulty as though four characters were in the game. Just for completing a Perfection Match, the character receives a permanent “merit badge” next to their name. The top ten for each level bracket have their names displayed on our scoreboard on login, with the ultra-high score character listed as “The Perfect” for that type. So, when a player logs in with their valkyrie, they will see a scrolling scoreboard with “The Perfect Valkyrie” featured at the top.
GB: What engine is being used for Seven Sorrows, and how does its feature list compare to the Snowblind engine used for Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath?
Josh: We are using a highly modified version of RenderWare. Our re-written renderer is beautiful. Seven Sorrows supports up to four players on Xbox and PS2. Online, up to four players can play in the same game with one or two people on a single box. Our camera views in Seven Sorrows are usually much lower and again, forgive the term, cinematic than cameras in DA and Norrath. When the player is running through the plague town of Penrhos, we don’t want them looking at a dirt road. We want them to see the sun rising in the sky behind windmills on the moor.
GB: How much of a factor will equipment have in the game? Will magical weapons and armor have random prefixes and suffixes and/or can we expect to see powerful "unique" items?
Josh: Equipment plays a large role in the game. Characters use five types of equipment: armor (whole suits, not piecemeal), shields, weapons, rings, and amulets. We narrowed the type list down to five because we didn’t want the player to spend a large amount of time in their inventory. We want them to focus on the action instead of trying to choose between eight different pauldrons and three types of vambraces. We use a full base item + suffix/prefix system for our random item generation. Color coding of the name instantly tells the player how rare the item is for their level range of drop.
Treasure normally drops from chests, not enemies. To prevent jerks from, well, being jerky, any time one character opens a chest, every character is assured a single drop. The only exceptions to this are special chests, which are only opened with challenge keys. Those chests, players have to race for.
The only truly unique items in the game are held by the title-holders of Perfection Match brackets. If a character is at the top of such a bracket, he or she not only receives a special temporary title in front of his or her name (Hero/Heroine, Champion, Master/Mistress, Perfect), but also becomes the temporary custodian of a useable trophy: a Perfection Item. Perfection Items are always weapons or shields and always have unique, extraordinary models and effects. They cannot be damaged, dropped, or traded, but the moment a character loses his or her title, the Perfection Item goes with them.
It’s our little way of saying, “You, sir/madam, are the baddest of the bad… for now.”