Question of the Day #4

GB: Now that the game has entered "Beta", what exactly has changed for you? Can you explain why especially now is such a critical time?

Garrett: Beta means that all assets and features are in the game, that the game has no major crash bugs in single player or multiplayer, and that a tester can navigate the entire critical path. Its a busy time since we have to look at every inch of the game to make sure it meets these criteria. Once we have determined that we have a true Beta, we just focus on bug fixes and balancing until the code date. I think that the time between Beta and Code is when I have the most fun on a project. Its great to watch years of hard work come together and see everyone's effort really pay off.


GB: What are your favorite computer games?

Garrett: Dungeon Master (a classic), Warlords II (my favorite strategy game), Pool of Radiance :) (I loved the combat system and it had a great story), Eye of the Beholder (cool dungeons), Ultima Underworld (an awesome dungeon crawl) Soldiers at War (very strategic, turn-based combat), Half-Life (what a story!) and Warlords Battlecry (an RTS with a hero that grows and can be used in every game, plus it's very easy to play, even if you don't usually play RTS games). For mindless entertainment I also love Counterstrike, Age of Empires II, and Diablo II.


GB: I take it that the game is being tested on all different types of computers. Can you say how the game plays on the minimum requirements?

Garrett: To find the true min specs, we have QA play the game on various low-end systems. We go with the slowest machine that doesn't completely aggrivate the testers. We've got a good idea of what the min spec will be, but we can't say for sure until SFS is done optimizing the code (which will be very soon).


GB: Are you still aiming for a simultaneous worldwide release?

Garrett: We're still shooting for that, but part of our ongoing re-organization has been to completely separate the US and European offices. We used to work in conjunction with them to localize a game, but going forward, Europe will be 100% responsible for creating, marketing and selling localized versions. They've been requesting assets and we've been sending them, so it looks like the process is going smoothly.


GB: How did you end up being the producer of Pool of Radiance. Can you tell us a bit about your work before Pool of Radiance?

Garrett: Jon, the former Producer, left the fold to go work at Namco. Chuck and I were pulled off of Warlords IV and Solar to work full time on PoR. In my four and a half years at SSI, I've been a Tester, Lead Tester, Senior Tester, Production Assistant, Associate Producer and Producer. I've worked long term on Panzer General, Steel Panthers, Dark Sun Online, Soldiers at War, Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate, Warhammer 40K: Rites of War, Warlords Battlecry, Warlords IV and Solar (working title). I've worked short term on about a dozen other games.


GB: Can you give us a general update on how the game is coming along? How close is the team to "lock-down"? What are the major hurdle blocks that need to be overcome?

Garrett: We're hitting Beta this week. Chuck and I have just made a pass through the game and come up with feedback on the balance. Our QA department is currently focusing on dialog testing and multiplay. The SFS level designers are putting the finishing touches on monsters and magic items and the programmers are now just doing bug fixes.


GB: What kind of A.I. will we see in the game? Will different types of monsters react differently? Is a Lich "smarter" than a Goblin?

Garrett: The AI is really good. Enemy spellcasters are devastating and the melee types are good about going after your mages and clerics without putting themselves at risk from your fighters. The AI always plays smart - we didn't dumb it down for undead or orcs.


GB: Can you give us a rundown of your top 5(?) role playing games?

Garrett: I'm assuming you mean P&P games?

For a long time, I played my own system which was loosely based on the Rolemaster system. I really liked their skill based character gen and their combat tables. The new 3E skill rules are very similar to Rolemaster. And the RM combat tables were great. Each weapon had its own table which did different damage vs.. each armor type. For instance, maces did a lot of damage to leather and chain armors and light piercing weapons were almost useless vs.. plate. Also, you were much more likely to get hit when wearing heavy armor, but you took less damage and it lessened any crits you might take. The downside to the system is that it has one of the most poorly written rule books of all time.

I love the 3E rules. The way feats and skills are handled, prestige classes, and the re-working of alignments have, in my opinion, added tons of fun to the system. I felt that earlier versions of the game were too restrictive and arbitrary. I have stopped playing my home-made system in favor or 3rd Edition.

I liked the checks and balances of the Champions super-hero system. But you really have to spend a lot of time min/maxing to have a viable character.

I've played, but did not care for Shadowrun, GURPS, Cyberpunk and Talislanta, although I usually found one or two features in each that I liked. I'm still looking forward to trying some of the White Wolf games, including Swords & Sorcery, which is the game they made using the D&D d20 rules.