Hellgate Global Interview (PC)
Strategy Informer: Firstly, what's your name and role at Flagship studios?
Bill Roper: My name is Bill Roper, and I’m CEO of Flagship Studios.
Strategy Informer: Where did the idea of Hellgate: London come about?
Bill Roper: The day after we left Blizzard North, Erich & Max Schaefer and I met with David Brevik in the front room of his house. We discussed forming a new game company and then started throwing around ideas for our first game. After a while, David proposed the core concept for Hellgate: London - a completely randomized RPG played from the first person perspective. The shorthand idea was Diablo II meets Half Life 2.
Strategy Informer: We've read about the many interesting features of Hellgate: London, are there any which you've yet to announce or talk about that you'd like to share with our readers?
Bill Roper: We’ve got so many new things dropping into the game it’s tough to remember which ones we’ve talked about, which ones we can’t divulge and which are new but ok to discuss. Some of the newer things we’ve just starting showing off that are really exciting are completely localized builds, transformation abilities and all the new weapons in the game.
I know this doesn’t really sound very sexy, but it is so important in regards to reaching as many gamers as possible that we have a very solid process and result when translating every aspect of Hellgate: London. We’re doing our all to simultaneously ship the game into numerous countries, and that means we need to translate and incorporate a LOT of text, voice-overs and interface designs – not to mention create special items for different regions. At the 2006 Tokyo Game Show it was a huge step for us to present a fully playable, fully localized build. The response was great since it was a huge surprise to gamers to in Japan to be able to read and easily understand the quests and interface. We got a fantastic amount of feedback from the show, and a good part of that was because the people playing could really understand what we were doing.
We had this for a series of Cabalist spells, didn’t like it, pulled it out, and then came up with a really fun way to make this work and put it back in. Basically, the Cabalist can completely assume the form of a few different demons and gains temporary use of their powers. This is not a complete transformation, however, as the Cabalist returns to their human form after awhile. This makes the use of transformation more situational and interesting than just swapping out powers (such as we did with the Druid in Diablo II). Plus, running around the world as a poison-breathing, undead army leading Zombie Lord is simply awesome.
There are literally too many to list, but my new favorite is the Eel Launcher used by the Cabalists. It literally shoots electric eels at your enemies which then stick in their necks, torsos, and so on and wriggle and squirm as they shock the demon to death! There are so many weapons in the game now, it is not uncommon to see something and say – “Wow! What’s THAT?!”
Strategy Informer: What can you tell us about the graphical and physics features?
Bill Roper: We’re really spanning the globe in terms of graphic support, from Vista and DX 10 all the way down to creating a full set of low-poly assets and tuning our engine for lower-end graphics card support. For physics we’ve been working extremely closely with Havok for a couple of years now to integrate their fantastic engine into our game. It’s very cool to see physics working as they should in our game, but also have the ability to tweak things into the unreal if it is more fun and makes for better gameplay.
The one thing that I am most looking forward to is having people be able to play the game in the near future. Screen shots never capture how great a game flows. Getting your hands on it is so much better.
Strategy Informer: Do you have any idea on what the system requirements will be for Hellgate: London, or is this information not known at this time?
Bill Roper: We are still working on our final system specs, but we’re working extremely hard to make the game as accessible as possible to the greatest number of systems as we can.
Strategy Informer: Hellgate: London already has a large community that will most likely want to create fan related content, we wanted to know if you plan on releasing any mod tools which might assist them in creating mods and other add-ons for the game? Fan related content can often increase the sales of a title, if you've decided to not support this aspect of your community, why has that choice been made?
Bill Roper: We aren’t planning on releasing mod tools, chiefly because of the secured online component of Hellgate: London. There are certain aspects of the game where we do anticipate players creating their own content – such as in ways to track information, alter the UI and so forth. As for altering graphics, changing game play and so forth, this is something we just can’t do since we are an MMO in terms of our online support. It won’t surprise me to see players create their own single-player content, or multiplayer content that doesn’t alter the core play experience. In either case, we aren’t currently planning on providing specific support to enable this. We also haven’t had any discussions about specifically preventing it – except in the case of the secured online play, of course.
Strategy Informer: Can you give us an assessment of the health and long-term viability for Hellgate: London?
Bill Roper: The game is coming along fantastically, and it is already amazingly fun. We’ve had such great feedback from fans and press as we’ve taken it to shows, it is extremely encouraging. As for the long-term viability of the game, we look to the success of Diablo II as our benchmark. Hundreds of thousands of people are on Battle.net every day playing D2, and it is a strong and consistent seller for Blizzard. With Hellgate: London – we’re doing all of that better, especially in terms of providing a MUCH better online play and support experience. Continuing content was the one thing that Diablo II players asked us for and we’ve got lots planned for Hellgate: London.
Strategy Informer: Could you tell us a bit about the multiplayer aspect of Hellgate: London? We've heard that you'll be able to join friends online and form parties. What else will be different from the single player mode?
Bill Roper: The single player version of the game provides somewhere between 20-40 hours of play, focusing on the storyline of Hellgate: London. When you go online, you get oh, so much more. The story line remains (of course, you can go through it alone or with friends, now), but in addition to that are all the community and economy aspects of an MMO. That means you can form guilds, groups, buy and sell items to other players via an auction house and so forth. There are also numerous new areas to explore, including content specifically designed for high level groups and soloists. There is arena-based PvP combat, Hardcore mode (you get ONE life!) and tons of content big and small (from color themes to items to monsters to quests) that are only available online. You will also get 24/7 customer service and a secured, client-server structure so you’re getting the safest play experience possible. And don’t forget about the continuing content…
Strategy Informer: In past RPG games, players have been able to create magic items and other unique weapons or armour with the abilities of a special tool, will there be anything like this featured in Hellgate: London?
Bill Roper: We will have many ways for players to customize their characters and the weapons and armor they wield. Mods are a great example of this in that players can take a randomly generated item and customize it to their skills and play style.
Strategy Informer: Are you planning to release a demo at any time in the near future?
Bill Roper: We don’t have a set timeline, but we will be releasing a demo.
Strategy Informer: What's the currently release date and is it possible we may see some changes in the future?
Bill Roper: We don’t have a release date set at this time, although we expect to move into a very small, closed beta right at the end of this year / early 2007. And yes, the game will continue to evolve as we get closer and closer to release. We’re always tuning and tweaking and look forward to the beta period as a time when we can really dial the game in.
Strategy Informer: Your team has been hard at work on Hellgate: London for sometime now, we're sure you've had a run in with many problems but which part of development has been the most difficult and caused annoyance for the team?
Bill Roper: The most difficult thing with Hellgate: London has been deciding what NOT to put in the game. Every developer has too many ideas to fit into a single game, and picking and choosing what to keep and what to put on the wish list and, finally, what to put into the “Maybe for an expansion” list is agonizing since there are champions within the company for every idea.
Strategy Informer: I'm sure you've heard about paid content which is being released for many games over the internet at the moment; an example would be The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, where people are asked to pay $2 for some extra content. Is this something we'll see Flagship Studios doing for Hellgate: London? Also, what are your views on this?
Bill Roper: Creating continuing content costs a lot of money since you have to keep a team on the game at all times. When you’re running an MMO, it costs even more since you have the physical and virtual infrastructure to pay for. Players, however, have shown a desire to keep playing in a world they love and understand that this isn’t free for the developer. Oblivion made a great choice to create new content in bite-size pieces and let people buy what they want as they want. This is a very popular model across Asia right now and has allowed a lot of companies the latitude to make some very fun and compelling games and, most importantly, continue to support them. There are many ways to pay for this continuing content and support – from a monthly subscription fee to purchased items to time cards to in-game advertising to releasing expansions every 4-6 months. We have not decided our exact model yet, but when we do, we’ll let you know.
Strategy Informer: As a gamer, what's your favorite part of Hellgate: London, what makes you proud to have helped create it and why is it a game RPG fans will like?
Bill Roper: My favorite aspect of the game is how the randomization and dynamic content generation makes the play experience last virtually forever. We see new things all the time – combination of properties, how skills and spells between classes interact, new emergent behavior from monsters, new items and on and on and on. I had a chance event happen the other day that I didn’t even know was in the game. I told the programmer how much I enjoyed it and he laughed since it had been in for almost a month! The biggest concern with RPGs is that eventually, the sense of exploration and wonder of finding that next new thing ends. With Hellgate: London, you’ll be constantly amazed and finding that next new thing.
Strategy Informer: Thanks for answering our questions! Is there anything you'd like to say to the fans which are eagerly awaiting the release of Hellgate: London?
Bill Roper: We’re honestly as excited as you are to be playing Hellgate: London! The game is truly a work of love and everyone here at Flagship Studios is proud of what we’re accomplishing and we can’t wait for all of you to explore it with us.