We lord over an interview with Lennart Sas, Creative Director on Overlord II
29 June 2009 | By Import
Overlord was a unique concept, granting the player control of an omnipotent chosen one with the ability to command armies of subservient gremlin-like minions. Overlord II hopes to offer the same, but with more of an emphasis on being ruthlessly evil, tinged with a darkly daft sense of humour.
With the new game corrupting the shelves of your local game emporium as we write this and a review on the way very soon, we subdued the game’s Creative Director, Lennart Sas to answer our burning questions about the sequel.
Strategy Informer: What’s the most significant new feature for Overlord II?
Lennart Sas: We’ve strengthened the experience of being a dark lord and we’ve done that in many different ways, including what the minions can do. But the main goal has been making it more epic, more battles, so lots of features come from that objective. So, we wanted the minions to do more including ride cavalry and use war machines (like) ships. We’ve greatly increased the ability of the engine to show more enemies on screen at once, create larger draw distances and basically give the player more of the experience of what it would be like to be a dark overlord.
I think the other thing we’re most proud of is the entire tone and humour of the game, which has been refined since the first one. We’ve tried to give our game its own unique face, and it shows in the animation and the overall presentation of the game. That’s a key thing for us, to have distinguishing features for Overlord II.
Creative Director, Lennart Sas with a trio of overdressed mistresses.
All the journos gathered around the game like obedient minions.
Strategy Informer: The entire game revolves around being evil. Is that why there’s so much slapstick humour? Is it to counteract all the evildoing?
Lennart Sas: Well first off, we enjoy games and one of the key things we think is missing from games is humour. If you look at television shows or movies, there’s always a big slice of the pie taken up by comedies, but with games (the slice is) tiny. We thought humour would work well with this type of game because being an overlord is cool, but at the same time it’s really grim. We don’t really want people to aspire to be someone who burns villages, clubs baby seals and things like that, so the only way we could make this premise work was by making it tongue-in-cheek. The premise and the dark humour go hand in hand.
Strategy Informer: Was part of the decision to include humour to help broaden the audience appeal too?
Lennart Sas: Yeah, absolutely. I think if we’d Overlord an 18+ game I think a few more people who like death metal or are into weird fetish and all that sort of stuff (would buy the game). Personally, I could play the game, but I think many people would be shocked and we don’t want to appal people, we want people to have fun. That’s what the game should be about.
We don’t think the game would have been picked up either, so we would have had to finance it ourselves and end up like the Fallujah game or something.
Strategy Informer: How do you manage to keep the humour consistent throughout the game, without it seeming too forced or contrived?
Lennart Sas: We approach humour a lot differently to most other games, because we don’t treat it as in a non-interactive media. A lot of our humour is situational and it’s embedded in the entire DNA of the game. It’s in the graphics, the animations, everything. Usually, it’s just bizarre situations rather than really trying to play out pre-scripted events. The minions are always following you around, doing stupid stuff and putting weird things on their head, which is not like a joke that’s scripted. When you do see a scripted joke, it doesn’t come out of nothing. (It’s not like), “oh, am I supposed to laugh now?” So, it’s like your in that sort of mindset constantly and that’s represented by all the things I’ve mentioned.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us a bit about the multiplayer aspect of the game?
Lennart Sas: What we did with the multiplayer was create a party game, where you can have 15 minute sessions where you’re just having a laugh with your friends on or offline. It’s not a multiplayer focused game, but we wanted to give players a quick way to start the game and just have a little bit of a brawl. A lot of the game is about just venting some anger as well, so sweeping your minions and smashing stuff up. We wanted to give that experience in small, quick sessions in a multiplayer environment.
We did consider co-op, but the premise of the game is becoming an overlord, which is really an egoistic thing to do and to have two overlords side by side, thematically wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I love co-op games.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us about your plans for DLC?
Lennart Sas: We’re actually working on that now and it’ll be announced soon.
Strategy Informer: We can’t convince you to give us any details on that yet then?
Lennart Sas: Erm…no!
Strategy Informer: The Overlord commits some pretty harsh acts of mass murder and so on. Is there a broader underlying commentary going on regarding violence in games in the Overlord titles?
Lennart Sas: Oh, yeah. I think definitely. Many things you do in the game are quite absurd when you think about it and some of the absurdity gets pushed over-the-top in Overlord. That’s why it’s called Overlord – as in ‘over-the-top!’
Some woman called us out of the blue last week and told us that her 12-year old boy had come home with a free brochure, which is distributed across the Netherlands in all game stores, toy stores and what not. So, he’s 12-years old, which is old enough to buy the game and she read what it was about. She called us and said, “I’m going to stop this game from being released! I’ve already called the major retailers and we’re going to ban it! You’re despicable. You should use your talents for something else…” and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.
On paper, what you can do in Overlord sounds like it’s quite sick stuff, but when you play it and see that it’s all parody, then you wouldn’t mind having your kids play it. It’s just how you bring it. It’s the context.
The Overlord is pure Sauron from LOTR, but that’s cool.
Your ever-faithful minions are always by your side.
Strategy Informer: The distinctive, bold art style is obviously a conscious effort to suit the humour and tone then?
Lennart Sas: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a conscious effort because it’s a lot more fun to destroy something that’s nice, pretty and colourful rather than something that’s already grim and destroyed. There’s also a very intentional contrast between light and dark.
Strategy Informer: Was there anything that you wanted to include in the sequel that you couldn’t?
Lennart Sas: With Overlord, it’s a game that doesn’t sit in one particular genre. It blends many things, which allows you to draw stuff from all over the place, so you have to be careful that you don’t go all out and one of the biggest challenges for Overlord II was notsomuch what we were going to add, but what do we leave out? Because we have about eight designers working on this game with piles of ideas, we had minions that could interact with anything and stand on each other’s heads and make letters and what not, so we just stepped back and said, we need to keep this focused. It’s really more an art of leaving stuff out than making loads of stuff up.
Strategy Informer: Would you say there’s more of a focus on story for Overlord II as you’ve had the game’s writer, Rihanna Pratchett on-board from the very beginning for this one, whereas she came in late to the first Overlord?
Lennart Sas: Well, we created the framework for what the player would be doing in the game, so Rihanna writes the story and does the story design, but the main focus is the narration and what you see on screen. Then we create the shells of characters, like we have an environmental activist, we say we need an empire with a twist but the writer can determine what that twist is and decide how these people behave and what sort of character they have. So, we set some boundaries and within those boundaries, Rihanna was free to work. She’s not going to be designing levels, but she worked with the designers in order to make them a lot better.
Strategy Informer: And does that then give the designers added freedom to concentrate on the game and rest assured that the story is taken care of?
Lennart Sas: We worry about the story at two particular points in the game. At the concept stage we’re concerned with the direction in which it’s going, as the story needs to be about characters that are of particular importance in the game world that we’re trying to create very early on. Rihanna then takes it from that point and fleshes it out and maybe adds a couple of new characters to it and then right at the end when the script gets distributed, she works very closely with the individual level designers in order to integrate it. That’s a part of the editing table where we might then leave some stuff out and especially with the humour, if it falls flat or it needs to be explained a little bit more, just before or even during the voice acting sessions, we tweak and modify it a little bit to make it all work. It’s all very intense.
Strategy Informer: One of the criticisms levelled at the original Overlord was the fact that you could never really be truly evil and the quests were a little repetitive. How have you gone about addressing these concerns?
Lennart Sas: We wanted to make (the original Overlord) more evil focused, so what we did is create a ‘corruption tracker’ that gauged how corrupt you are, but it was also possible to do non-corrupt things, like saving a girl in a village, which still went towards a selfish goal but it felt like the same kind of thing you could do in an RPG. In Overlord II we’ve added something called the ‘tyranny system’ and we have two types of tyranny. Basically, there’s destruction tyranny and domination tyranny, so it’s either a case of destroying stuff for immediate rewards, so stuff like killing peasants, taking their souls and pitchforks for your minions for instant gratification. Or you can dominate them so they work as slaves giving you benefits over time or they’ll follow you and you can send them to set off traps, so you don’t need to sacrifice your minions. Those are the sorts of choices you’ll make in Overlord II.
The armies of the so-called Glorious Empire are the main enemy in Overlord II.
The Yeti’s an unpredictable sod. One minute he’s helping out, the next he’s smashing seven bells out of your minions.
Strategy Informer: A lot of fantasy usually ends up existing as a trilogy, like Lord of the Rings and so on. Are we looking at a possible Overlord trilogy on the cards?
Lennart Sas: We didn’t design the story to be like a typical fantasy trilogy, because with Overlord what we basically need to do is destroy the old overlord’s empire the moment the new game starts, because it’s all about the build up rather than continuing where your previous character left off. There are no complex family trees and all that good stuff, so we don’t know - if there’s going to be a new one - where we’d take it. We’ve now done two of these games, two years apart from each other, so it may be good to take some time out and do something different and then we’ll see where it goes.