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How RPGs Were A 30-Year Detour: Matt Findley On  Hunted: The Demon's Forge
How RPGs Were A 30-Year Detour: Matt Findley On Hunted: The Demon's Forge
May 24, 2011 | By Christian Nutt




[In this interview with inXile president Matt Findley, he explains why Hunted: The Demon's Forge is the game he wanted to make since the Interplay days, and how his team is doing it.]

For some reason, fantasy and action haven't blended as closely as they could this generation. Hunted: The Demon's Forge aims to change that.

Developed by inXile entertainment, a company founded by Interplay founder Brian Fargo, the game harks to the hard fantasy setting you'd expect, but with Unreal Engine 3-powered action that's somewhat atypical.

In fact, as Matt Findley, president of inXile explains in this interview, it's the game they always wanted to make at Interplay -- it's just that the technology was not ready. The game is co-op driven pure action, and while it does feature RPG elements, it's far from being an RPG.

It also marks a step up in ambition for the studio. In this interview, Findley explains the origin of the game, his ambitions for the title, and how the team arrived at its gameplay design.

Based on what we've heard before from Brian Fargo, it sounds like you made the decision to take inXile in a more triple-A direction with this release.

Yeah, well, I mean, my roots go back to working with [CEO] Brian [Fargo] for 13 years back at Interplay. I started working for him 23 years ago. We both left Interplay about the same time and started inXile in 2002. We made the remake of The Bard's Tale that shipped in 2004 for Xbox 1 and PlayStation 1. That was kind of going back to our fantasy roots, and that turned out to be a different experience.

We have been talking about making this game since the early '90s. At Interplay... we made games like Stonekeep. We would sit around the conference room table and go, "Some day, the tech is going to exist to be able to do this type of game in real-time 3D." Back then, it was all faked. [laughs] So, I think we've always wanted to get around to making a fantasy action game. We love the fantasy genre from even before computer games, whether it's tabletop or novels. We've just been huge fans of it.

The fantasy genre has been really only represented in the RPG category. It didn't need to be that way. Action games are so fantastic, that we just really wanted to do something relevant in the action category, in a rich fantasy universe. That's just kind of the origins of it.

Approaching this genre what was your go-to in terms of the way you wanted to present the action or player interaction? Because it's sort of a new spot for you guys as a developer.

Well, you know, we analyzed the long history of video games. I think these games always wanted to be action games at their heart. I think all those old turn-based games, it's just that's all the technology would allow.

The tech today, using Unreal Engine 3, which allows us to prototype really, really fast and spend more time to make the game than worrying about the technology, it allowed us to deliver on that action experience.

When you play a modern action game, whether it's set in World War II or outer space, they all have similar mechanics -- jumping into cover, ducking into over, and shooting. We thought that applied equally well to spellcasting and shooting a bow as it did to shooting a machine gun. It was really our primary goal in the beginning to just find all the ways we could...

It's interesting to hear someone with an Interplay background say, "Really, what we always wanted to do was make an action game."

[laughs]

I'm not saying you're lying or anything. It's a little bit of a surprise.

Look back at the history of fantasy action. There's not that many representations of it. You play games like Hexen and Heretic, which were essentially Doom shooter games that hinted at fantasy, but they didn't really fully deliver on that experience.

We just think you can have these rich worlds, tell deep, meaningful stories, and have all these elements of exploration, and wandering through dungeons, finding loot and going on quests for enchanted weapons -- all of these paradigms that would be in those other types of fantasy games work equally well in an action game.

There's kind of this convergence across all games where the genres are really getting blurred. Like, I don't think people playing BioShock realize they're playing an RPG. Or even in Grand Theft Auto, you go into the weight room and pump up your character. There are all these elements of your character getting better. That's what those games are really about. It lends itself to the action genre just as well. You're starting off with really weak weapons. You're finding better ones, better pieces of armor. You're getting more hit points on your character. You're getting the ability to store more mana.

You know, that phrase "RPG elements," it's become beyond trite. It's almost like saying "game elements".

Exactly. It's the simple principle of your character starts off weak, and they become more powerful. And that's really what it's all about, whether it's in the weapons you use, the magic you're using, and just the characters' strength itself. You start off, and you're weak, and you find things that make you stronger throughout the course of the game.

You have two characters -- for co-op.

Yeah. The co-op stuff is designed to make the players work together. Generally, games that say co-op, all that really means is two players play at the same time, but in our game, we wanted our players to have to use their skills in conjunction with each other. You know, E'Lara uses her ice arrow to freeze the guys, Caddoc shatters them...

So, you do that for design, essentially.

Absolutely.

So, does it change what spawns out? When you're playing co-op, is it actually different when you're playing single player in fundamental ways?

No, it's kind of the other way around. I think you have to see who has spawned and decide, "What are the right skillsets I want to take to defeat them?" When the armor guy comes out with a big shield, E'lara is at a huge disadvantage because she shoots with arrows. They're blocking them left and right. If you shoot them at the head, they raise their shield. If you shoot their feet, they lower their shield. And then she can switch to her shield-breaker magic, fire an arrow, and shatter that shield. Now that guy is vulnerable, and she can take them out with arrows. So, each enemy has their own strength and weakness, the characters [have their] own strengths and weaknesses, and you have to figure out the right combination of things to beat the enemies.

[In single player] you pick whichever character you want, and then the AI buddy is keeping the character along. We're trying to recreate the co-op experience and the single-player. I don't want the player to be able to tell the difference... At every checkpoint in the game, you can switch which character you're playing as. We tried to design a game where I want those character swap areas being about wanting to switch, not needing to switch. We tried to make it so either character can be the leader to lead through.

That sounds like it requires a lot of play passes through the areas and seeing how things play out, then revisit...

Yeah.

Is that in your process?

That's the fantastic part about using the tech that we're using. Everything is iterative. It's always faster for us to implement something in the tech than it is to write the design doc. So, you can always take your first pass playing it. And then, "Wow, this level sucks as Caddoc. Okay, let's change the enemy spawns. Let's give you different items here. Let's change the configurations."

We introduce the characters kind of one at a time. Now you get to figure out how to fight the crossbow guy and figure out how to fight the shield guy. Now all of the sudden you're seeing, "Okay. I have two shield guys and a crossbow guy. What should our strategy be?" Just to think a little bit.

And then we added a little bit of depth to the melee combat as well because that's something we haven't really seen much in the fantasy games, a really deep compelling melee experience. So, with Caddoc, he has this thing called the "Fury Meter." We're trying to eliminate button mashing and make the player use a little more strategy. So, for every time you successfully block with the shield or hit with a light attack, you're filling up the Fury Meter. If it maxes out after seven or eight hits, you can use a heavy attack that just destroys them heavily.

Fantasy computer games came out of people playing D&D, and then picking up computers and going, "Oh, it can do the math for me."

Right. That's exactly it. [laughs]

So, now you're sort of moving a step back and saying, "You're not solving that simple problem that was solved with the Apple II anymore."

That's definitely part of it. I mean, the reason those games were turn-based sword battles is that was the only option you had. I think, now you get that twitch element of "me at the controller." When you take the monster down because you successfully hit, blocked, switched to exploding arrows, and shot him in the head, you're getting that same depth that you would have had through 30 years ago D&D experience, but it's happening fast-paced, quick, and in real-time for a modern audience that wants to see action.

It seems like, this generation, all the PC talent sort of came back into the mainstream. You know, last generation, we still had sort of that console/PC dichotomy, and it's all sort of dissolved.

Yeah. I think part of that is just the tech. It's just now possible. All these machines are doing approximately the same thing under the hood. You can play a game on the Xbox, and you can have a PC version of that game, and, you know, the same art assets work, the same environments work, the same control schemes work. You can use the same controller if you plug your Xbox controller into your PC. It's allowed the lines to be blurred. Going forward, I think the lines between genres are getting blurred and the lines between all the different consoles are being blurred, which is, I think, very positive for what we can do with our games.


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