Lionheart is a refreshing and innovative RPG coming from developer Reflexive Entertainment and veteran publisher Black Isle Studios, a division of Interplay Productions. We thank Jessica Urquhart, PR Manager from Black Isle Studios for helping us interview Lead Designer and Co-Producer Ion Hardie and Eric Dallaire, Lead Writer on the Lionheart team. We also thank Ion Hardie and Eric Dallaire for giving us a very detailed look into the world of Lionheart. This game is estimated for a Q2 2003 (April-June) release. Two exclusive screenshots of Lionheart complement this interview below as well as a link to our own Lionheart preview.
LIONHEART INTERVIEW WITH ION HARDIE AND ERIC DALLAIRE
Ion Hardie (IH)
Eric Dallaire (ED)
THE COMPANY BEHIND LIONHEART
1) Tell us about Reflexive Entertainment and each of the team members that are creating Lionheart.
ED: Reflexive Entertainment is an independent developer that has been making great games like Swarm, Zax the Alien Hunter, Star Trek Away Team, and Ricochet, for over five years. Right now, the bulk of the company’s energies are focused on completing Lionheart for its impending release.
I’m the Lead Writer and a designer on the project and I’ve been with Reflexive for about a year now. The Lead Designer for Lionheart is Ion Hardie. He’s one of the founding members of Reflexive Entertainment and has been in the industry for many years as a game designer and sound designer. Lars Brubaker is one of the programmers on the project and the CEO of Reflexive, while James Smith is also a founder of the company and the Lead Programmer – both have many years experience on multiple titles as lead programmers. The Lead Artist is Jeff McAteer, a veteran artist who also worked at Interplay on Fallout 2.
2) What goals did you have in mind when developing Lionheart? Please give us a little history behind the development of Lionheart.
ED: The history of Lionheart’s development started with a discussion between Lars Brubaker and Feargus Urquhart, President of Black Isle. The two worked together at Interplay for several years before Lars formed Reflexive. They stayed in contact with each other and both expressed an interest in working together again. About two years ago, Black Isle was looking to create a new RPG with an external developer, and Reflexive was ready to start production on a project with its polished Velocity engine. After a few months of the standard contract negotiations, production started on Lionheart about a year and a half ago. A few months into development, the game went through one major story revision (I suppose that was my fault) where we switched from a non-historical fantasy backstory to a plot where fictionalized historical characters played a much more pivotal role. Since then, we’ve been having a blast world-building an alternate history where magic was introduced in the 12th century and changed the Earth dramatically.
As far as our goals go, every department sets their own goals. Programming wanted to improve upon the Velocity engine and add new features that would help Lionheart become a great RPG. In addition, the programmers modified the engine to support 3D characters, allowing for more animations for characters and monsters.
For design, first and foremost, we wanted to create a role-playing game that would do justice to the SPECIAL system. There were plenty of challenges to tackle early on, like converting SPECIAL to a real-time fantasy system. To help with those challenges, Black Isle offered a tremendous amount of support.
Finally, the art department’s main goal was to create a unique aesthetic for the game, from a streamlined easy to use interface, to detailed NPC portraits, to lavishly detailed environments of an alternate 16th century Europe.
THE STORY /ART/ MUSIC OF LIONHEART
3) What is the story and background of Lionheart? What type of historical period is the game taking place in?
ED: In Lionheart, you play a character that is a descendant of King Richard II, and you enter the world some 400 years after Richard causes the Disjunction. The Disjunction is a divergent break within history, which briefly tore the fabric of reality and allowed for magical spirits to be released into the world. As a result of the Disjunction, history as we know it has been drastically altered. The world experienced a different sort of dark renaissance, with sorcery and monsters making Europe a very dangerous place.
The game begins in 1588, within Nueva Barcelona, a city rebuilt upon the ruins of Barcelona. Spain is preparing to release the Spanish Armada on England. The Inquisition maintains a stronghold over much of Europe in its pursuit and eradication of magic and heretical beings. As a descendent of King Richard, you have inherited a legacy from him, passed down for many generations, a power he obtained during the Disjunction. As the events of this alternate history unfold before you, you must decide which path your character takes and which factions you will ally with. Each of your choices will have both immediate and long-term implications as your actions take you through the world of Lionheart.
4) The graphics in Lionheart are very beautiful and there are simply no words to describe the talents of your artists. In my preview last year I complimented the attention to detail that went into the environments, items and other graphical aspects in this game. Tell us the process that goes into creating the stunning graphics in Lionheart. What mood are you trying to establish with the graphics in Lionheart?
ED: We have a good core group of artists managed by the very talented Jeff McAteer. They’re all meticulous artists, and every one of them knows how to stay on schedule, even with the amount of care and research they put into their work. It’s so amazing when you first envision an area while writing a scene, and then the art team just blows away your expectations every time.
The basic process starts with communication between the design team and the art team. The design document paved the way for the first conceptions of what the game should look like and play like, and from there the artists did a tremendous amount of historical research. Since the game is steeped in magic, they also had great liberty to add their own twists to characters and architecture, so the look of the game is very different than real history. As production started for Lionheart, the artists created thousands of modular pieces and textures that the designers could use to construct levels. The Velocity engine has a very robust editor that allows designers to play the game, jump into the editor mode, add pieces to a level or change a texture, and then see the effects on the level instantly. The designers used these assets to build the initial levels, populate them, and add complex scripting. Where needed, the artists created custom pieces for the designers to give even more detail to the levels. Once the majority of the scripting work for the levels was complete, a team of artists went back over all the levels and added a final level of polish. It took extra time, but we think this process of cooperation between designers and artists really benefited the game.
As for the mood, the artists were definitely going for a dark, medieval world, one that has undergone some dramatic upheavals.
5) Please tell us about the Velocity engine that is being used to create this game.
IH: The Velocity Engine is a robust proprietary Reflexive gaming engine that has been used in previous gaming titles including Zax: the Alien Hunter and Star Trek: Away Team. In Lionheart, we’ll be using it as an isometric engine to render 2D backgrounds while real-time converting 3D models into 2D images. As for the specific graphical edge that gives us, it allows us to maintain anti-aliasing with our 3D characters while perfectly blending the 3D characters into every scene. An additional benefit is that we can have an extensive amount of equipment changes. The Velocity Engine also gives us the power to modify the ground in real-time, an extremely cool effect that makes for some exciting gameplay action. If you had a chance to play Zax, you undoubtedly fell prey to lava eating the ground beneath your feet at least once.
6) Who is composing the music in Lionheart and what kind of music should we expect to grace the game?
IH: Inon Zur is doing the music. Black Isle fans might remember him, as he has done a lot of work for them before on previous titles, most recently Icewind Dale II. He has really done a good job of researching the time period and coming up with some authentic sounding music that helps place the game in the different parts of the world that the game takes place in. Expect some Spanish guitar in Barcelona, war drums in the Goblin Village and other appropriate themes.
THE GAMEPLAY IN LIONHEART
7) Tell us about the magic system and the kinds of spells we will be able to use in the game.
IH: There are 3 Magic Disciplines, Thought, Divine and Tribal. Each of these Disciplines has 4 Spell Branches…so there are 12 places to spend your skill points. Spells are gained by spending skill points in a particular Spell Branch. However, each branch starts out with 1 spell “active”, and more unlock as you spend skill points in that Branch. Each Branch has 4-5 spells within that branch that ALL get better as skill points are spent. The description of the spell changes as your skill in that branch improves, making it very easy to see just how much more powerful you are after spending your hard-earned skill points on it.
There are 57 different spells, so I obviously can’t list them all. A few that I like are:
1) Thunderclap, which not only rains electrical bolts down on enemies in a radius of the caster, but it has a chance to knock them to the ground momentarily.
2) Ice Missile, which slams into its target, causing cold damage to the enemy it hit and a few in a radius as well. It also has a chance to slow the enemy down a bit.
3) Summon Undead. It may go without saying, but having more creatures on your side really helps out.
4) Vampire. Sucking energy from your opponents during combat is a lot of fun.
8) I appreciate the inclusion of historical figures in the game. Tell us about some of the historical figures we will meet in the game. How important are they to the storyline in Lionheart?
IH: The first one that you meet right off the bat is Leonardo DaVinci. He is pretty important, and will show up in various stages of the game with different opportunities and information for the player. Another one is Galileo. He is important too, but I don’t want to give anything away as to why. And, in a nutshell, those are the only two historical characters that are “protected” by game play…in that you cannot kill them. All of the others, like Cortez, Cervantes and Shakespeare to name a few, can be killed by the resourceful (and disrespectful) player. For some reason, the first time I saw one of the other designers kill Shakespeare and then raise him again from the dead to become his mindless servant…it brought a smile to my face. A Shakespearean zombie just struck me as funny.
9) What kinds of puzzles and quests will players be able to undertake in this game?
ED: There are many different types of quests in the game, ranging from simple quests that can be completed on the same level, to world-sprawling quests involving multiple characters. Early on, the player has the chance to join one of several factions, including the Knights Templar, the Inquisition, or the secretive Wielders. During the faction quests, you’ll be exploring many different environments, forging mystical weapons, and of course slaying dangerous beasts.
For a time, we also had a fourth faction, the Knights of Saladin, but for game design reasons we decided to make them more of a non-joinable NPC faction and their quests completely optional. The Knights of Saladin are an order of eastern knights who have come to Barcelona to help the Knights Templar against a disturbing rash of thefts of the holy relics. Since the Inquisition frowns upon their use of eastern magic, the knights of Saladin have set camp outside of Barcelona. If you approach them, you can gain favor with their leader Amir by doing a series of quests. One such quest is to retrieve a valuable crystal shard that was stolen from their camp. Completing this quest could lead to an audience with their powerful Djinni, who has a set of trials for strength/combat based characters and a test of intellect for brainier characters.
During your adventures, you’ll encounter some different types of puzzles and traps, a peculiar invention of Leonardo DaVinci, subtle dialogue based situations, and various other encounters.
10) Tell us more about the SPECIAL character development system that is being implemented in the game.
IH: The system has its roots in Fallout and Fallout2. SPECIAL stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, and represents a classless system of character advancement. The character “advances”, or gets better, by spending skill points in a variety of skills, which are earned when the character levels up. We have modified the previous system by including magic and real time into the mix. Magic basically represents 12 new places to spend skill points into, and each of the Spell Branches gets better the more skill points you place into them. You can create a sneaky, crafty, two-handed weapon-wielding, fire-breathing, lightning bolt-calling, undead-summoner…it just takes a lot of skill points to do it all right.
11) Are there any special game features that you would like to share with us that we have not discussed? Why do you think gamers will appreciate this RPG over others?
IH: I think the way we have implemented our Sneak skill is pretty cool. The stealthy character really has a viable path through our game, as you can sneak around, open chests and the like, and stay hidden. You only become involuntarily “un-snuck” when you are detected by an enemy, you initiate dialog or try to hurt someone. Players gain a portion of the enemy’s experience by sneaking by enemies that are looking for them, so the sneaky player doesn’t have to go on a killing spree to gain vital XP…they just have to be careful. Sneaking in front of a hostile enemy becomes increasingly difficult as you get closer.
The classless, unrestrictive way in which the character can develop is a lot of fun. Want to shoot fireballs? Just put points into it. Want to sneak around your enemies instead of just fighting them all the time? Put some points into it. Want to see the fun when you convince two people to hate each other, and make you rich in the process? Put some points into Diplomacy and see it happen. Messing with history is also pretty fun.
THE RELEASE OF LIONHEART
12) What are you currently working on and when can we expect Lionheart to be released?
IH: One of the more exciting things I’ve done recently is go through Barcelona and add some wandering characters and a couple more generic customers to some of the merchants to make the city seem more alive. I also just added a couple more artifacts to the game to give the player a bit more of a treat when they find their way to a secret area that is pretty darn secret. The rest of the designers are really just bug fixing and balancing…as they should be at this late stage of the game.
As far as release goes, that’s up to our publisher…but it’s going to be soon.
Official Lionheart Website
LIONHEART EXCLUSIVE SCREENSHOTS