Drakensang: The Dark Eye Interview
The German PnP RPG 'Das Schwarze Auge' has previously seen three classic cRPGs under the English name 'Realms of Arkania'. Now, a decade since the last one, developer Radon Labs and publisher Anaconda Games are taking over the reins and teaming up to bring The Dark Eye to new audiences. The combination of this deep roleplaying system with that modern rarity - a party-based cRPG - sounds intriguing and we had the chance to send over some questions. Here is the result.
RPGDot: Please introduce yourself and tell us about the team developing Drakensang: The Dark Eye. How did Radon Labs end up with this project?
Bernd Beyreuther: My name is Bernd Beyreuther - I am the project director for Drakensang and as such responsible for the big picture.
Radon Labs is today one of the leading German development studios with 60 employees at our two offices and growing. We design and develop bigger projects (e.g. Drakensang), but we also do contract work - we completed 7 projects in-house in the last year alone. This all started more than 10 years ago, when Radon Labs formed from a group of students, who got off to a great start with URBAN ASSAULT, which sold 400,000 copies worldwide.
Ever since then we have dreamed of making a The Dark Eye game, as we were all avid players of the pen & paper system and had spent many an night in the dungeons of Aventuria. So of course we jumped at the chance to acquire the license.
RPGDot: Can you summarize Drakensang and the gameplay it will offer?
Bernd Beyreuther: The most telling description of DSA: DRAKENSANG might be something like Baldur's Gate in 3D, but based on The Dark Eye, Germany's biggest RPG system. This means: classic party-based RPG, no irritating button mashing, but tactical, pausable combat, a skill-based dynamic dialogue system, unique characters and an epic story as a primary element. All this set against the backdrop of a classic low fantasy world with elves, dwarfs, orcs - definitely no spaceships and time travel, but an almost historical and very deep medieval world.
RPGDot: Why did you choose this title? Won't English audiences be more familiar with the "Realms of Arkania" branding?
Bernd Beyreuther: The Dark Eye universe is widely based on Nordic/Germanic names - so it was easy to decide for a title in this kind of language.
By the way: The true English name of the rpg system Das Schwarze Auge, on which Drakensang is based, is The Dark Eye, so we're using this one. :) "Realms of Arcania" has been used for the first three PC titles in the English speaking territories, that's right. But the pen & paper system is on for more than 20 years now, and it is known as The Dark Eye. We want to make sure that we're close to the pen & paper system. And there are some legal issues covering the "Realms of Arcania" brand.
RPGDot: How true to The Dark Eye source material are you aiming and will you be influenced by the original Realms of Arkania trilogy at all? The original series is considered quite "hardcore" with elements such as carefully managing the party's food for a long journey, for example. Will this philosophy carry into Drakensang?
Bernd Beyreuther: The world of The Dark Eye will be brought to life with an absolute commitment to authenticity. We're going as far as building a whole city true to maps drawn up for the pen & paper game. We're also taking great care in transporting this world's serious and realistic atmosphere.
That's why we're working closely with the original authors, four of which developed the game's story in a 6-month writing marathon, which guarantees that the plot fits in seamlessly with the world. We're taking cautious steps in adapting the ruleset to the requirements of a modern PC game - again working closely with the pen & paper writers and the fans.
So we're the ones who are giving the pen & paper world THE true 3D look. :)
RPGDot: You described Drakensang as a "Baldur's Gate in 3D", which actually sounds quite different to the previous Arkania titles. What features from Baldur's Gate do you want to emulate and why?
Bernd Beyreuther: We once again wanted to develop a "REAL role-playing game", which means a party with characters that are funny and worth remembering, pausable combat that is rooted in a turn-based system, multiple-choice dialogues, extensive inventory management and a beautiful and believable world.
We do want to modernize and speed up the combat though, which has too often become bogged down throughout the years. While we do have a pause function that you can use at any time, be it to switch weapons or to take a potion, our aim is for the player to have to use it as little as possible. In order to achieve this we're refining gameplay with such things as special party moves, quick shots and of course a well thought-out interface that offers the player precise feedback at all times.
RPGDot: The Dark Eye has a massive story background. How do you integrate Drakensang into it? What can you reveal of the story yet?
Bernd Beyreuther: The story is a central part of Drakensang and will be inseparable from the gameplay, complete with many surprises, twists and astonishing turns. The story - as written by 4 authors over a period of 6 months - takes up more than 1000 pages… but at present we obviously can't reveal anything about it.
RPGDot: For those not familiar with Aventuria, what sort of game world will players encounter?
Bernd Beyreuther: Aventuria is a massive continent - and we want the player to gain some sense of that in our game. We won't give away where the game will take players - whether it's the icy cold glaciers of the North, or the steaming jungles of Kun Kau Peh in the South, be it the dry and barren deserts of Khom or the magical islands in the mist, which are surrounded by so many myths. But one thing we can tell you is that players will not only get to know the heart of Aventuria - the Middenrealm, where Aventuria bears some resemblance to the Franconia, Bohemia or Saxony of the 14th century - they will also embark on an extensive odyssey throughout the whole continent.
Aventuria is a classic fantasy world: elves who live in harmony with nature and work strange magic, grumbly dwarves that are as proficient with the wrought iron as with their sharp battle axes, a large variety of humans, screwy mages, wild orcs, honorable warriors, thieves and burly warriors - players will meet all these archetypes of fantasy and be able to play many of them. Some of the more exceptional races of Aventuria include the beautiful and battle-hardened Amazonians, who worship Rondra, the goddess of war, the Gyalskans - a fierce tribe of barbarians who practice animal magic - or the Thorwalians, a people resembling the Vikings, who call upon Swafnir to guide their dragon boats.
RPGDot: How is the game world organized and can you give us a feel for the size? Is it one continuous world or individual maps/areas? What sort of locations will players discover?
Bernd Beyreuther: Aventuria - the central continent of the game world - is a bit larger than Europe. In our game, the player will travel to a whole range of places all over this continent. He will be free to move inside and between these locations. Deep woods, steppes, cities, castles, villages, vast dungeons, islands as well as daunting mountain ranges and jagged cliffs await the willing adventurer.
RPGDot: Will players create an entire party at the beginning or will characters join the party as the campaign moves along?
Bernd Beyreuther: At the outset, players will create one character, their avatar, and meet other companions along the way.
RPGDot: Please tell us about character creation and development. DSA uses a very deep system - how accurately will this system be replicated? Will attributes such as "Courage" and "Cleverness" be present and how will they be used in the game?
Bernd Beyreuther: We're implementing this system almost completely, but some of it will be below the surface, powering only some relevant aspects of the game. We're also applying the system to some rather exotic features of the dialogue system, which reacts dynamically to your abilities and those of the NPC.
RPGDot: What sort of NPC interactions will players experience? How does the dialogue system work?
Bernd Beyreuther: Dialogues are a vital part of the gameplay. On the one hand we will have dynamic dialogues, which can change and adapt depending on your character's abilities. For example, a beautiful elf might have an easier time getting the city guard to do her bidding than a scruffy dwarf. The dwarf though has an easier time finding the right words when talking to his fellow dwarves, where an elf would run into a wall. On the other hand, we don't want to force the player to plough through page after page of text in order to be able to follow the plot. We want to put an emphasis on short and vibrant dialogues.
RPGDot: What sort of quests will the player encounter? Will quests feature multiple solutions or branching paths? How linear is Drakensang?
Bernd Beyreuther: The main quest is mostly linear - but there is a wealth of side quests - and in addition not all parts of it have to be solved in a stringent order, so the story always waits for the player.
RPGDot: Combat is real-time round-based - can you elaborate on the combat features? Why did you decide to move away from a pure turn-based system and why did you feel more "action" elements were required? Will you include options to slow the combat down, like KotoR did, for example?
Bernd Beyreuther: We feel that a purely turn-based system only addresses a minority of today's RPG audience. For that reason we are trying to make combat more fluent - as has been done in Baldur's Gate - and make it a special experience with brilliant animations, crisp sounds and graphics effects, and above all an intelligent interface that offers precise feedback Combat is pausable at any time, which is one of the elements that allow you to slow down the pace.
RPGDot: What sort of enemies will players encounter and how advanced is the AI in combat?
Bernd Beyreuther: The ruleset of the pen and paper system gives us a vast and rich reservoir from which to draw. The bestiary alone holds hundreds of detailed monsters, the history of Aventuria provides a mythology that goes back thousands of years and there is a very lively sphere of deities battling the nameless spawn of nether hell dimensions… If you know Aventuria, we can promise you a broad sample of the most well-known and popular monsters, spells and weaponry - if you don't know Aventuria, well, you'll be in for quite a surprise. In variety, diversity and depth it is probably the richest fantasy universe of the world, continuously developed by dozens of authors for 20 years.
RPGDot: What is the balance between combat and exploration or NPC interaction? Which aspect of gameplay is the focus?
Bernd Beyreuther: At the moment, we're aiming for roughly 50% combat, 30% interaction and 20% exploration.
RPGDot: Are there any other elements of "world simulation" such as NPC schedules, factions or other elements that increase immersion or interaction in the game world?
Bernd Beyreuther: Drakensang will bring to life deep and vast forests, as well as populated villages and cities. We want to present the player with a breathtakingly vivid and logical world - the graphics will focus on this. At present, we can't reveal any details beyond that though.
RPGDot: Can you tell us about equipment and items in the game, such as weapons and armor? Is there anything like a crafting system? What about Alchemy?
Bernd Beyreuther: The player will be able to equip and dress his characters with a never-before-seen flexibility and level of detail - and all this in minutely detailed 3D. I can't give away much of anything about the crafting and alchemy systems at the moment.
RPGDot: What is the current status of development?
Bernd Beyreuther: We're estimating the current grade of completion at about 15%
RPGDot: Is there anything you'd like to add in closing?
Bernd Beyreuther: Drakensang is an effort to take RPGs back to the roots: with a party, a skill-based ruleset and pausable combat we will make a role-playing game with substance. Set in a classic, medieval fantasy world (no UFOs, no time travel, no firearms etc.), it also boasts an unbelievable level of details and lovingly crafted visuals.
We'd like to thank Bernd for answering our questions and wish them luck with the development.