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It's been quite some time since we reported on any news that gave us a perspective into the design of Reflexive Entertainment and Black Isle Studios' Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, but that changes today, as we're able to send you over to this new retrospective interview about the alternate history role-playing title on RPG Codex. The lion's share (no pun intended) of the interview is with ex-Reflexive designer Ion Hardie, but a few of the questions feature answers from the one and only Chris Avellone as well, so I have some fairly hefty quoting to do:
Fairfax: Do you remember if it was profitable?
Ion: I don't think it was profitable. The fan backlash was loud and hard to miss. They saw it as a treasured developer dying a slow death, and they wanted something to save them...and Lionheart wasn't it.
Fairfax: You mean Interplay wanting to save Black Isle?
Ion: I mean the fans wanting Lionheart to save Black Isle. The writing was on the wall that trouble was brewing. In the end, Feargus offered to make Black Isle work for an ownership stake, but Interplay said no. Probably better for Feargus that it didn't work out.
Fairfax: Yeah, he would've got himself in the middle of Interplay's legal troubles.
Ion: Yep...and missed out on a lot of things Obsidian got to do.
Fairfax: I'm sure the game's reception hurt, but did you find any comfort in the fact there wasn't much you could about all these problems?
Ion: In my mind there are only good results, no matter the issues faced to get there. Some solace, but not much.
Fairfax: I'd like to ask about the creative aspects of the game.
Two users (RK-47 and Apan) asked something I've always wondered as well: why the decison to go with an Action RPG real-time combat system?
On one hand, with the SPECIAL system and the "Fantasy Fallout" codename, one might've expected turn-based combat. On the other hand, the vast majority of Black Isle games used real-time with pause. Unlike the other Black Isle games, in Lionheart the player cannot issue combat commands while the game is paused, which brings it closer to Diablo and similar games.
Ion: We had just launched Star Trek Away Team, and Black Isle wanted to create something that was an action take, and they thought we could do it, based on our Star Trek game. As we went along, sadly, we actually thought that issuing commands while paused would have been better (much better). However, our programmers had told me we couldn't go back and just "add that" without completely missing our development schedule.
Fairfax: On a different note, CRPGs had a "dark age" in the last decade or so, but Kickstarter gave new life to the genre, with many projects being based on games from the Black Isle era. You said your passion for CRPGs waned over the years, but they're in a much better position now. Do you ever see yourself working on a CRPG again? Perhaps with former colleagues from Reflexive and Black Isle?
Ion: I played a lot of D&D as a kid. Heck, we were even working with Atari for a while on a Ravenloft game that, honestly, was looking pretty good before it got cancelled because Temple of Elemental Evil didn't perform to expectations. I kinda thought I would work on more CRPG's, but it just didn't happen. Now, I like quicker game play sessions that are less involving. Besides, I finally got enough experience with sound design to do only that full time...I used to do it part-time and be a producer or designer. I now work at a successful mobile game company as a senior audio producer creating sound effects...and I love it. I'd be surprised if I did anything else going forward, but I've been surprised before.
MCA: To clarify - Eric Dallaire was on the project when I got assigned to it, so I don't recall doing any pre-work (bouncing ideas) with Reflexive before Eric, but Eric and I did talk a lot when I was put on board, although I'm not sure how helpful I was to him. (Although some folks appreciated the dialogue and dialogue structure/scripting suggestions.) Eric and I still chat to this day, as he's writing novels and short stories, you could probably find him on LinkedIn, I'm sure he'd have a lot to share.
I did love the Reflexive editors, though, very smooth. It was so smooth I think it made an artist at BIS want to defect. ;)
I don't know how involved Chris Parker was, even though he assigned me to the project (along with 2 other devs - 1 design-scripter on items, I believe, and 1 programmer). On Black Isle's end, I felt a little lost in terms of what I was on-site for at Reflexive, and while there I didn't feel like BIS was communicating with Reflexive much, but as Ion said, Interplay and Black Isle was going through its share of problems, I just didn't realize how dire it was. :(
BTW, I do not know whose idea it was to use SPECIAL. (It wasn't mine.) I believe it was done to try and help boost sales by leveraging Fallout fan interest, but who made that call I couldn't say. The same thing was pushed with TORN in some respects, if I recall.
It was good (yet weird) to see what was going on even though I was there - I didn't know about half that stuff from production's end. Jeez, what a mess. Those poor guys.
BTW, Ernie Ramirez in the interview - that guy was solid. He was a great scripter, too.
There is plenty more to read in the interview itself, but I find it fascinating to learn that another Ravenloft CRPG was in development at one time. What a shame that never made it to release.