Hunted: The Demon's Forge may seem familiar to most people used to the classic dungeon crawlers of yesteryear, but then again that's the point. Developer InXile is staffed by an army of Western RPG fans - many of whom have also contributed to the genre with games such as Stonekeep.
SPOnG sat down with the studio's CEO, Brian Fargo, and its President Matt Findley on the inspirations behind introducing a return to stylistic form for the Dungeons & Dragons generation, and how the changing demands of players today has helped modernise the genre.
SPOnG: Hunted: The Demon's Forge is clearly inspired by classic 1980s dungeon crawlers – what specific inspirations would you say helped create this game?
Specific ones you say? Gosh, I don't know how I would answer that, because it's an amalgamation of everything. This game is, at it's core, something we would personally want to play. One person asked me whether there were any things we took from Japanese RPGs and other things, but there's been no conscious effort to do that.
We just grew up with these types of products, and we love this kind of game, so there's a little bit of A Bard's Tale
, a little bit of Hexen
... what those games didn't have was co-op, of course, but beyond that, the gameplay and the game player is different now than it was ten or twenty years ago.
We can't deliver an 80s game experience. Nobody wants that in a modern title, so we're trying to take the best of past games – things that people understand and are comfortable with – and mix it with some new experiences.
Yeah, all of those products from the eighties and nineties, they all struck a chord. There's an emotional connection to all of them that's really powerful, so we just want to find a way to hit all of those same kind of notes, while providing a modern gameplay experience that today's players will recognise.
What's interesting is that it wasn't like the Western role playing game ever stopped, right? It went from the dingy dungeon crawler and became something else. Whether that stylistic change was in Mass Effect
or Baldur's Gate
, our RPGs simply transformed into a different style. We want to return to some of those old-school roots – the core of it all.
SPOnG: What sort of old-school themes did you grab from these classic games? I'd like to know the games that you revisited that made you think “Yeah, this element from here would be awesome to bring back in Hunted: The Demon's Forge”.
Well, this isn't from a gameplay perspective, but I remember sitting in the Interplay conference room during a presentation of Stonekeep
, and you [motions to Brian] making the comment, “some day, we're going to be able to deliver graphics like this in real-time 3D.”
And all of us around the room went, “Yeah, right!” (Laughs) That one comment has always stuck with me, and as I watch technology progress today it's amazing to think “You know, not only can we achieve that now, but we have the power to go way beyond anything we ever dreamed of back in the mid-1990s.”
You know, more than any other category, for sure I spent the most time on dungeon crawlers and RPGs. Round the clock, I would play Wizardry
, A Bard's Tale
, Might & Magic
I played Stonekeep
too - believe it or not, you don't always have time to play your own products from start to finish when you run a big publishing company, but Stonekeep? Start to finish.
I get hooked on these games, and I still play them today. I have this wonderful, huge screen that I set up my games on, and as I'm going through these classics I'm thinking “My God, what would these scenes and locations look like with today's graphics and technology?” That's where this retro vibe was born from.
SPOnG: In recent years, a lot of the high profile dungeon crawlers have been in the form of MMOs in the West – games such as World of Warcraft for example. Would you say that's a good direction for the art of dungeon crawling to take? Would you guys have considered an MMO for presenting Hunted: The Demon's Forge?
The popularity of action games – Halo
and Gears of War
for instance – means we have an opportunity to open up a whole new audience to the fantasy genre. We can also take that vice-versa; there are a lot of fantasy fans that might not have had a chance to play many action games. I think we have a chance to deliver something to both of those crowds.
Clearly the direction of the MMO – it's a good direction and all - is to provide a different emotional experience. I find it more of an emotional and engaging experience to be looking first-person and going through each dungeon exploring and finding secret doors. To me, it's more emotional than the party-gathering mechanic.
SPOnG: What kind of environments can we expect to see in Hunted: The Demon's Forge? We speak of it as a dungeon crawler which will faithfully bring back dark and dingy locales, but you also said the game will feature huge vistas too. How will you diversify the locations here?
The environments really cross three different paths. We open the game in that deserted town, which feels very familiar as a fantasy location; and then we have the dungeon – obviously you can't have a dungeon crawler without these – followed by the temple where you see a lot of the sky and horizon. That's an example of our outdoor areas. Those are the three primary categories and we have multiple chapters that span many of each kind.
But even in the dungeon for example, the environment differs greatly from the beginning to the end. Things get progressively darker and twisted – from both a story and graphics point of view. So the start of a dungeon and the end of that same dungeon won't look the same. The world is slowly evolving as you progress.
We were talking about inspirations earlier on; and one that I think we took for the locations approach is in Call of Duty
's epic action sequences. We have the experience that I told you about, where it's confined and claustrophobic, but on the other hand we really wanted to add some Call of Duty
moments - big, cinematic and visually stunning scenes. You can't do that in a tiny area. So we do take the players outside so we can have these big, Lord of the Rings
And even our dungeons have vistas. You'll come around the corner after this tight hallway and you end up looking at this giant cliff into a cavern that's bigger than you can imagine.
It makes it feel epic.