More commonly known as a prolific developer and publisher of adventure games, Hamburg-based Daedalic Entertainment are branching out into the RPG genre with the turn-based, combat-focused Blackguards. We spoke to producer Kai Fiebig and creative leads Martin Wilkes and Florian Pett about this recently announced title, its origins in The Dark Eye pen-and-paper RPG system and the obligatory “will it be coming out on console?” question.
Strategy Informer:Daedalic Entertainment have previously been mainly associated with the adventure game genre. Can you tell us what attracted the studio to the idea of developing a turn-based strategy RPG like Blackguards?
Daedalic Entertainment: It’s quite easy. We asked ourselves what can we do apart from adventure games and we decided the next project should be an RPG because it’s about storytelling. And we’re great at storytelling - we’ve won awards for it, as you may know. We then felt that an action RPG may be too much for us as a first step, so we came up with turn-based.
And on top of that there’s a lot of RPG fans and pen-and-paper players here, so it was really an obvious choice for us.
Strategy Informer:With Blackguards having only been announced in the last couple of months, can you give our readers an overview of what they can expect from the game?
Daedalic Entertainment: Well, the first thing is controversial. It’s not usual that you play as the bad guys. But that means that players can do a lot of things in this party-based game that they wouldn’t be able to do in other titles. So they will have a lot of fun with the story itself.
And the battles as well. The game is very focused on the battles, on the tactics and the way you can develop your characters. We’ve placed a lot of focus on interactive environments to give players more options, more creative ways to win battles.
We wanted to translate the cool things about pen-and-paper RPG battles: the creativity with which players approach tactical situations.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned playing as the bad guys. The central character a convicted murderer and his companions a collection of misfits and rogues. It’s quite a change from the usual virtuous heroes of RPG games. Can you talk about how the story plays out in Blackguards, and why you chose to go down a darker route?
Daedalic Entertainment: The story is pretty simple. You start the game with a choice of making your main character male or female, you return from a long journey to your home city and you find your best friend has been murdered by a wolf. You try to slay the wolf, but it’s you that gets in big trouble, as no one else witnessed the wolf and you’re the one near a body with a blood-stained sword in your hand.
You’re thrown into prison, tortured by your best friend and condemned to death row, due to hang the very next day. And then the real game starts, as you escape from prison and find yourself on the run and meeting up with various teammates along the way. And you start to wonder: was there ever a wolf there? And if not, what actually happened?
Unlike other games, you’re not out to save the world - you only want to save your ass! And all your companions are only out to save their asses too. During the story, the player will have many decisions to make, and those will change the overall storyline - there are three different endings - but also the relationships between you and the other characters. And while you’re on the run, you’ll find yourself drawn into a much deeper story about an ultimate evil, but if this bunch of bad people end up saving the world, it’ll be very much by accident.
Strategy Informer:So your relationship with your companion characters isn’t going to be the typical RPG fellowship, “all for one and one for all”?
Daedalic Entertainment: No, it won’t be like The Three Musketeers! You’ll all be hunted outlaws desperately trying to get south. It’s more like in a western when they’re trying to escape across the border.
Strategy Informer:Blackguards is set in the role-playing universe of The Dark Eye, which is hugely popular in Europe but perhaps less well known outside of Europe. Can you talk about what attracted you to using that setting?
Daedalic Entertainment: It’s quite simple. We’re presently working on two other games using this license. As you said, outside of Europe The Dark Eye is not so well-known, but here in Europe it’s as big as Dungeons & Dragons.
For us, it was very important that we knew the system. As we said before, we have a lot of people here at Daedalic that play pen-and-paper RPGs, and in particular The Dark Eye, so for us it was a really easy decision as a first step in creating an RPG video game to use something we know well.
Strategy Informer:Does Blackguards use just the setting of The Dark Eye or does it also employ some of the original role-playing game’s mechanics and systems?
Daedalic Entertainment: We’ve translated a lot of mechanics, special abilities and spells. People who know The Dark Eye will recognise the talents and skills, the basic attribute system and stuff like that. But we’ve altered it in some ways to make it more accessible for those people who aren’t familiar with the original, and to streamline it for a computer game.
Strategy Informer:Does that present a big challenge, keeping the underlying number-crunching of a pen-and-paper system invisible to a video game player?
Daedalic Entertainment: Yes, absolutely. It’s a huge challenge but that is what we love to do, and we feel we’ve managed it pretty well.
Strategy Informer:There is a heavy focus on combat in Blackguards: could you give us a detailed look at how combat works in the game, and what tactical options are open to the player during the course of battle?
Daedalic Entertainment: There’s a big skill set that as we said we’ve translated from The Dark Eye rules, so just by the nature of the game you have a lot of options to choose from in terms of spells, special moves and so on. Then there’s the environments in which the battles take place. We’ve put a lot of effort into trying to make every battle a unique experience, with each one telling its own little story.
There are no randomly generated battles, and each battle area has its own uniquely designed features - obstacles and cover, water and swamps - with interactivity, so for example in a swamp there are swamp holes in which you can get stuck or swamp gas that you can ignite using spells or fire arrows. Pretty much anything made out of wood can be destroyed in the game, so wooden obstacles or barricades can be removed. There’s also a lot of unique elements distributed around the maps, such as drawbridges that be used or destroyed. So there’s a lot of the environment that you can incorporate into your tactics.
There’s also a great variety of items that originate from The Dark Eye that we have streamlined and put into groups, and special attacks that can be made with certain items.
You can also tweak all your party members and give them unique equipment as well. You’re not only working on your main character, but the others as well.
That’s one very cool thing about The Dark Eye that we incorporated into the game. You have a starting character but you can take them in your own direction. There’s no skill tree or level restrictions that you have to follow. Instead you could make your wizard into a combat monster that buffs himself to be ultra fast with spells and uses weapons just like a melee fighter, or you could make him or her into a more classical support mage. There are lots of choices.
Strategy Informer:So I presume from that you’re basing it on The Dark Eye Fourth Edition rules, which brought in more flexibility in character development?
Daedalic Entertainment: Yes, that’s right. Probably about 90% of the systems, items and so on are direct from The Dark Eye. The remaining 10% is where we’ve had to change things because they didn’t work in the context of a video game.
Strategy Informer:How much work goes into balancing all these systems?
Daedalic Entertainment: To be honest, it’s a hell of a job, and a pain in the arse! It’s a lot of tables, mathematics and number crunching, and a lot of testing and then reviewing the results. Every time we test we generate statistics, and then have to review those, So yes, it’s definitely a lot of work - you have to really like this sort of thing!
Strategy Informer:Looking at the screenshots released so far, Blackguards appears a very attractive game, with detailed character and enemy models and combat animations. What engine are you developing the game on?
Daedalic Entertainment: It’s Unity, but an enhanced version. We chose it because we knew we would have to tailor it to our needs, with a whole lot of editor expansions, putting in our own camera system and shaders. So we had to make a lot of changes to the original engine, and that’s something that works well with Unity.
Strategy Informer:Daedalic ran presentations of Blackguards at this year’s E3. Viewed through the media, E3 always has a very heavy emphasis on the home consoles with PC struggling to get a mention as a platform, but what is the experience like on the show floor itself? Is there still a lot of positive energy for PC as a platform amongst attendees at E3?
Daedalic Entertainment: The concentration at E3 is definitely on the consoles, and while there’s still a market for PC, it’s shrinking, and it’s going to shrink in the next year with the new Xbox and the PS4 coming out. I think PC will get less attention this year than in the last few years.
Speaking of Blackguards itself though, we got a lot of positive reaction at E3, but we also got continually questioned “Will this come out on console?” or “Do you plan to release it for iOS?”...
Strategy Informer:You’ve just guessed my next question...
Daedalic Entertainment: Oh, thanks a lot!
Strategy Informer:But with the move to an x86 architecture for the upcoming consoles, I guess it’s something that is going to be asked more and more, because the assumption is that it must be so much easier now to port PC games onto console. Is working on the Xbox One and PS4 something that attracts Daedalic going forward?
Daedalic Entertainment: Of course it is something that attracts us. We’re still in negotiations with both Microsoft and Sony, and also with Apple as well, so working on those platforms is attractive, for sure.
Strategy Informer:Finally, roughly how far into development is Blackguards and do you think you can give us an idea of when it will be released?
Daedalic Entertainment: We’re more than halfway through. We want to release it by the end of 2013, and we think it will happen, although if the quality isn’t yet to our liking then it may slip. But we’d like to have it under the Christmas tree.