Realms of Ancient War Interview (Xbox360)

R.A.W. Realms of Ancient War is the brand new IP from Wizarbox, who some of us might know for its console ports of games like Risen and Arx Fatalis. With its new co-op hack ‘n’ slash, however, the French developer is coming out of the shadows and taking a step into the limelight with its first-ever downloadable title on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. With R.A.W already being described by some as a Diablo clone, but also looking rather like a combat-heavy version of Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light, we thought we’d hook up with Wizarbox to set the record straight once and for all.

Strategy Informer: How did R.A.W come about and what were its inspirations? Are we anywhere near the mark in describing it as a potential cross between Diablo and Lara Croft and The Guardian Of Light?

Wizarbox: At first, we wanted to do a kind of game that we knew we would be good at. We have always focused on making things without overpromising. It’s our service provider culture. When we started the game, we tried to find a balance between our inspirations, the budget range and what our technology would support to pick a type of game in which we can deliver.

So, inspirations are as broad as the inspirations you can get when you tell yourself: “let’s make a hack & slash on consoles”. Of course Diablo is the reference, but we tried to have a more action oriented approach, as on consoles you have a direct control of the character. That’s where titles like Guardian of Light, but others too like Crimson Alliance or even Dead Nation can give a couple of good ideas. But the heart of the game comes from internal ideas.

Strategy Informer: The official press release talks of a storyline involving elves, dwarfs, a dangerous mission and an “unknown threat.” Can you tell us more about the storyline, and would you say that gameplay is story-driven?

Wizarbox: Stories in video games are about creating a background for your actions. Because what really matters is gameplay, the question is: “on what will you act”. The storyline is here to provide a context, a reason for your actions. It’s not the action in itself. But don’t misinterpret, the backstory is not only about storytelling, it’s also about how you make your levels and how it’s embedded in your gameplay. And that’s what we tried to achieve in RAW: a classical background, but surprising and (we hope) well written story for motivated action.

Strategy Informer: The fantasy-themed universe for R.A.W seems somewhat generic, but we understand there'll be a good variety of environments to explore, and maybe even some minor puzzle solving elements to contend with? What can we expect in terms of challenge from the various locations?

Wizarbox: The game will offer a greater variety of environments than most XBLA/ PSN games. First, the action takes place on a continent divided into 4 different realms with their own ambiance. Additionaly, each realm brings various locations. For instance, the elven Realm will propose woods but also caves, swamps, treehouses villages. Each level has its own ambiance and challenge. For instance, some levels were designed with a lot of deadly traps and a few strong enemies when some others levels are based on countless waves of numerous weak mobs. The puzzles are very simple (find out how to open a stuck gate) and were only designed to set some quiet time before two waves of enemies.

Strategy Informer: Though R.A.W has been described as a hack ‘n slash game, the videos we saw from E3 also showed off an EXP system suggesting that it has RPG elements. Does gameplay mix the two genres together?

Wizarbox: It’s becoming game taxonomy :) Hack and slash games can also have XP, like the Diablo series did. Role playing game is about giving players a freedom of role playing. The experience here is more a class choosing game, where each one has its own motivation, skills and game style.

Strategy Informer: We understand there will be three playable classes, The Warrior, The Sorcerer, and the Rogue. Can you tell us a little bit more about the differences between these classes?

Wizarbox: The warrior is a slow walking tank, he’s going in the frontlines and takes advantages when he is lowlife. His gameplay is a lot about living on the edge. The wizard is a frail character. He has very powerful spells and you must play wisely to avoid being surrounded.

The rogue is the jack of all trade. She can play close combats and strike powerful blows, but she can easily be killed. That’s why you have to choose when it’s better for you to stay away from the enemies and kill them with your bow, or take the risk to go and play close combat.

Strategy Informer: Incarnation has been talked about as being a significant feature in the game, allowing players to utilise enemy abilities once they’re dead. Can you tell us more about how it will work?

Wizarbox: Only some specific creatures can be incarnated. As long as the incarnation is running, the player can’t use his hero’s regular abilities anymore. Instead, he directly uses the host enemy’s powers. The player also gains the creature’s movement capacities and skills. Even incarnated, the player always has the choice to restore his true shape whenever he wants. When you leave the host corpse, it will explode, restoring your avatar at the same location the host corpse was destroyed. In counterpart, the “host” corpse won’t drop any treasure, so you have to think twice before incarnating an enemy.
Strategy Informer: We understand two player co-op is one of the main features in R.A.W. Will the advantage of having another player on board purely be just to help fend off what looks like a huge number of enemies on screen at any one time, or is there more to it?

Wizarbox: We tried to design the skills to be cross-useful from class to class. For example, the rogue can root enemies while the wizard will make range damage. We also lock the height of the camera, so you have to agree on the direction you go toward. It must sound pretty obvious but when we saw people testing the game, it was funny to see each player wanting to pursue different directions to get a loot: “Come on please, I’ve seen this drop I want to get. – No, let’s move on!”

Strategy Informer: The videos and screenshots of R.A.W show some great dyanmic lighting and shadow effects, on a par with the Diablo series, and there are a lot of enemies on screen at any one time. Have you used a custom-built game engine, or are you utilising existing tech?

Wizarbox: We use a custom-built engine. That’s one of the advantages of having a very experienced team of people working on multiplatform games and conversion, we are able to use the best from the hardware.

Strategy Informer: The E3 trailer hinted at some big boss battles. Wasn’t that a giant troll we saw? What can we expect in terms of enemy variety and, if there are big boss fights, can you give us a hint of what’s to come?

Wizarbox: We have a couple of big bosses in the game. I just want people to remember it’s an XBLA / PSN / Downloadable game. Enemy variety is above what you can expect from those types of titles. You have different environments with its specific set of monsters, beasts and foes. And a couple of epic battles to expect!

Strategy Informer: What challenges have you faced developing the game for multiple platforms? Did you have a leading platform?

Wizarbox: Honestly, the challenge is not very hard if you know well how to make a console game. Taking a PC game that is not designed for console and porting it is hell, and it’s a job that requires team of experienced developers who master the hardware. We are very proud of the talented people we have working on conversions. They do an awesome job. But if you build a technology directly for multiple platforms, that you have the right people, the right knowledge, there are (almost :) ) no hurdles. Our leading platform is the X360.

Strategy Informer: Digital downloads have becoming increasingly popular over the last couple of years. Do you think the future of gaming lies with digital downloads, DLC and micro-transactions rather than packaged products?

Wizarbox: Digital, yes of course. Every type of content now gets digital. Amazon sold more books on Kindle than real books. So, packaged products are in a declining state. But the very good thing is that this type of distribution allows you to have different prices for different experiences.

It’s pretty logical in fact, you pay for what you want to play. You have full price retail games, the expensive and incredible blockbusters for immersive and impressive experience. You have micro-transactions, where you can invest as much as you invest yourself in. You have mid-price games, like on XBLA-PSN-Steam, where you have simple concepts that give the player a fun and dynamic experience. For us, the future of gaming is about providing an experience for the player at the price they want to pay for.
Strategy Informer: How does it feel to be making your own games now? It must be much more fun calling your own shots!

Wizarbox: It’s different. In a way, it’s a bit more dangerous. When you design a game like Imagine Young Doctor, you’re not making the game for yourself. You have to think about what the players do really want. And you think a lot before doing anything and learn a lot in the process.

When you do games for yourself, the risk is that your creativity is “polluted” by all the games of the genre you know, and that you’re ending up using the same recipes you saw elsewhere. We spend a lot of time trying to shape RAW and to give it its own shape and game feel, and we sincerely hope that the player will see the result of this in the game.

Realms of Ancient War is slated for release on PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE Arcade and for download on PC in 2012. A firm release has yet to be announced.


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