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Depths of Peril Q&A
(hx) 10:20 AM CET - Jan,17 2007

We got a chance to talk with Steven Peeler (Sin, Heavy Metal, Blair Witch: Volume III, Star Trek: Elite Force II, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down - Team Sabre,..), the lead designer and programmer of Depths of Peril, an upcoming single-player action RPG with significant strategy elements. The game is currently in development at Soldak Entertainment, with a target release date in the first/second quarter of 2007.

GGMania: Could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about what you do on Depths of Peril?

Steven Peeler: My name is Steven Peeler. I'm the lead designer and programmer of Depths of Peril and I'm also the owner of Soldak Entertainment.

GGMania: Can you give us a little background on the development team working on Depths of Peril?

Steven Peeler: The team working on Depths of Peril is setup differently than most gaming companies. We have a few core members and a number of contractors working on the game. Also unlike most companies we are spread out quite a bit. Most of us are in the US, but we have a few people in Canada and one team member lives all the way over in Germany.

GGMania: Can you give us an overview of Depths of Peril, telling us what the game is all about?

Steven Peeler: Depths of Peril is an action/strategy RPG where you play as the leader of a faction (called covenants in the game) where your main goal is to establish yourself and your covenant as the leaders of your city. Barbarians determine their leaders with battles to the death. The last covenant alive becomes the leaders of the city. To outlast the rest of the covenants you need to carefully use diplomacy until you are strong enough, and then you can declare war and raid your enemies to crush them. Did I mention that barbarians tend to be savage and vicious? :-)

Now if being in a constant battle for supremacy wasn't enough, there is also a world full of monsters that want to destroy the barbarian race and for that matter, all of the good races. So between diplomacy, wars, and raids with the other covenants, the player adventures throughout the world to gain experience, find better weapons and armor, and solve quests for the city. All of these of course help the player and his covenant in their wars with the other covenants by making them stronger.

GGMania: What can you reveal about the story and setting?

Steven Peeler: The game takes place right after the Fourth Great War. During the Fourth Great War a necromancer and an orc lead a huge army of evil monsters and crushed the good races of Aleria, including the barbarians. The good races lost and had to flee their cities and homes for any of them to survive at all. But luckily for them before the armies could track down and slaughter the remaining survivors, the evil armies turned on themselves, fighting over the spoils of war.

So the good races have been decimated. Very little is left of what was, and the world is full of monsters rampaging around. The player starts in the town of Jorvik which used to be a great barbarian trading city. Now it is simply a small town trying to rebuild a small part of what they used to have.

Jorvik's first problem is that all of their leaders died in the war. Now all of the strongest covenants left are vying for control. Soon there will be war and battles again in Jorvik.

GGMania: How is the gameworld organised? Is it one continuous gameworld, can players explore freely and can you give our readers a feel for the size?

Steven Peeler: The game world is one large continuous world. The player can explore the world freely but the farther you go from Jorvik the more difficult the enemies. So you can roam anywhere you want, but you will be in great danger if you wander farther than your abilities will allow. :-)

Also, the world is randomly generated, making every game different. The levels themselves are different each time, but also the layout of the whole world changes for every game.

GGMania: How much choice and what kinds of choices will the player have in the starting player character and in how it develops through the course of the game?

Steven Peeler: The starting choices are fairly simple. You pick one of four character classes, your character's name, and your covenant's name. So you are playing the game very quickly.

Now the development of your character is much more interesting. Each class has 30 skills that are all available at the very beginning of the game. There are no stepping stone skills to simply get to the next skill in the tree, and there is never any wasted skill points. The small catch is that each skill has a starting cost, and costs one more point for each level of the skill. So the player can choose exactly which skills he or she wants to focus on, and only put points into those. Of course they might have to save up skill points to get to some of them.

The character also has to pick where to allocate his or her attribute points that you get at every level and of course what equipment to use.

The other main thing the player has to develop, which is different than other action RPGs, is your covenant itself. Not including your character, you can recruit up to five npcs to make your covenant stronger. There is an infinite variety of possible recruits you can find and/or recruit. It's up to you to build the strongest covenant possible from those recruits you have managed to recruit. First you need to decide which recruits you actually want. Each recruit is one of the four classes, has a certain amount of experience (and thus level), has picked 4 skills to focus on, and might even have a natural enhancement or two that makes them stronger, smarter, or better in some other way than the typical recruit. So you must pick wisely which recruits you choose to build your covenant. It's also up to you how to equip your recruits once recruited.

GGMania: What can you tell us about the enemies in Depths of Peril?

Steven Peeler: There are some common enemies that most RPG players will recognize, like orcs and zombies, but there are also many new types of monsters. Each of these monster types has something special about it that is unique compared to all of the other monsters in the game, and tends to change how you fight in each particular battle.

A good example is the scavenger. Scavengers are fairly small monsters that seem pretty harmless but have huge appetites for the dead. Every time they successfully eat a dead body they get larger and more dangerous. So a quick way to die is ignore the small critter running around eating everything you have just killed. :-)

GGMania: Could you describe the combat system? Can we expect to see anything unique here?

Steven Peeler: Well in theory the combat system is fairly simple. You have health and if it gets to 0 you die. :-) You also have power which is the amount of energy you have available for skill/spell usage. Each class' power works differently than the others, so each feels and plays differently. Depths of Peril is an action game, so all of the combat is in real time and fairly quick. During combat your character will automatically use his or her basic melee skills on the enemy you choose, but after that everything else is up to you.

To be successful you need to use your skills and choose your enemies carefully. Since each class has a wide variety of skills, you have many different tactics available depending on what skills you have chosen for your character. Are all of you skills against one monster, groups, or over an area? Are they direct damage or damage over time? Do you have stealth or teleport? In other words, combat is very much determined by what skills your character has.

Obviously, the monsters impact the combat a lot also. Many times you need to change your tactics to handle a certain monster. It doesn't help to kill off all of the little monsters when the necromancer behind them keeps raising them from the dead. But even past the different monster types, many stronger versions of the monsters roam the lands of Aleria (champions, elites, unique, and legendary), and can have very powerful enhancements compared to the average monster. These can greatly change your tactics and maybe even change your equipment for that battle.

GGMania: What about the magic system we'll find in Depths of Peril?

Steven Peeler: The magic system works exactly like the other skills in the game. Each spell is another skill the character can get with his or her skill points.

A little background on magic in the world of Aleria: There are two types of magic in the world, pure magic based on mana and power granted by the gods based on faith. Since the gods grant the power based on faith the users of this type of magic are very tied to their particular god. Mana on the other hand is always available and thus the users of this kind of magic don't have to worship any gods. The gods of Aleria really don't like this because they have no real control over this type of magic, so this has caused some conflicts in the past. Most of this is simply background story and doesn't affect the player much, though.

GGMania: How will the quest system work, how much variety will there be in terms of different types, and how will you keep them from becoming repetitive or even stale?

Steven Peeler: There are a few set "boss" quests, but the rest of the quests are randomly generated, making every game unique. In Depths of Peril we try to keep the quests from becoming repetitive and stale by making the quests have consequences. You can actually fail some quests. Some quests have time limits, and if you don't finish them in time you will fail. Other quests can grow into bigger and bigger problems if you don't solve them fast enough. Here's a good example. Every once in a while a monster might manage to poison one of the main npcs or vendors in the town. If you can't gather the supplies to create the antidote in time, the npc will die and you will have to make do without whatever service they provided the town. Eventually a new npc will step up and take their place, but for the time being you have to make do without them. Most quests are similar in that they have consequences if failed, and many also change the world if solved.

Of course, for every solved quest you also get a nice quest reward of experience, gold, and influence within the city.

GGMania: What other gameplay elements does the game have?

Steven Peeler: The main gameplay elements that are different from a typical action RPG is the gameplay revolving around the covenants.

Usually you can't survive if all of the enemy covenants hate you, so you need to use diplomacy to keep the peace when you're not ready for war. You can give gifts, trade all sorts of things (including items), demand things, setup trade routes, and sign agreements such as mutual protection pacts.

And then there is war and raids. War pretty much means both covenants will attack and kill each other on sight whenever and wherever you might meet. A raid is a direct attack on a covenant's house in an attempt to destroy them. To destroy a covenant you must fight your way to the center of their house past the covenant's recruits and guards, and destroy their lifestone. If you destroy another covenant's lifestone, the covenant ceases to exist and you are one step closer to achieving victory, becoming the new leader of Jorvik. Of course, if your lifestone is destroyed, then you will be killed and have lost. Don't worry! Your character, items, and recruits will carry over to a new game with a new world and new enemy covenants. BTW, these raids can get pretty intense, especially when other covenants join in. If your full covenant raids an enemy and just one other covenant joins in, you can have over 20 people fighting in your enemy's covenant house trying to save or destroy their lifestone.

Since lifestones are so important to the covenant game, I'll describe them a bit. Every covenant has a lifestone. It is the center of the covenant in many ways. Other races might bind themselves to a particular group with strong words, but a barbarian covenant is different. Their very souls are bound together through the lifestone. If a lifestone is destroyed, any people that are bound to it die instantly. Barbarian covenants are almost always a very close knit group and there are almost never traitors within a covenant. There is a huge upside to lifestones. An individual can't die while bound to a lifestone, unless the lifestone itself is destroyed. Any time death would normally occur, the lifestone uses some of its own energy to regenerate a new body for the victim.

GGMania: What can you tell us about the engine that is being used for the game?

Steven Peeler: We are using our own engine built from scratch specifically for this game so that we have all of the features we need for this type of game to work.

You are always in danger of going to war and being raided by enemy covenants. To keep the immersion and tension, the game does all of its loading in the background. There are never pauses waiting for loading screens.

There is also a huge amount of data for the covenants, items, classes, monsters, levels, and everything else. We made the engine very data driven to make development easier for the development team and for any players that want to mod an action RPG.

Another thing, the game is designed to build random worlds in many ways. Tons of stuff is random in the game, the world, levels, item drops, traps, monster placement, etc. We wanted to do this so that each and every game played is unique.

The last main thing we wanted is to provide a fun play experience to people with a broad base of computers so that our game would actually run on computers that don't have the latest and greatest hardware. We should have a very reasonable minimum spec when we release the game. I'm not sure what exactly the min spec will be but right now I have one team member that runs it fairly well on a P3 1 GHz with a Geforce 3 computer. We do have a bunch of graphics options that higher end computers can take advantage of though.

GGMania: Will the game have a multiplayer mode? If so, what will it include?

Steven Peeler: There will not be a multiplayer mode at least for the initial game. It is possible that we might add one in an expansion, but we can't make any promises at the moment. We think a multiplayer component would be awesome in Depths of Peril, but we felt the game would be much better overall if we focused on single player for the initial game, to release as good a game as possible.

GGMania: What's the current status of the project, and what remains to be done? When will it be released? /What territories?/

Steven Peeler: The game is currently in alpha. We mostly just need to finish up the art and do lots of polishing and balancing. Despite our recent announcement of the game, we are very far along. We are trying to release the game this quarter but we will release the game when it is done, not any sooner. This is one of the benefits of being a small independent developer. We have full control of when we release our games and we don't have a huge monthly burn rate. We can take the time necessary to finish our games. The main distribution is going to be over the internet, so technically all territories will get it at the same time. We do hope to translate it into languages other than English if feasible.

GGMania: Will there be a video or demo so we can see a bit of the action?

Steven Peeler: There will definitely be a demo available some time around the release of the game and we will most likely have videos available before that.

GGMania: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Depths of Peril?

Steven Peeler: Just a minor rant. :-) Right now the games industry seems to be in a rut. There is so much money riding on the "next gen" games that very few studios seem to be willing to risk making something new. At Soldak, we feel that the gamers want something other than just another clone that has next generation graphics. In Depths of Peril we are trying to bring a fun new type of game to the gamers out there, and do something original, not just another clone.

genre: action/strategy RPG
release: 2007/Q2
developer: Soldak Entertainment

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