Dungeon Siege II: Chris Taylor Interview
It's time to chat to the CEO of Gas Powered Games to learn all about the huge sequel that is Dungeon Siege II. Plus! Lengthy video walkthrough with the man himself!
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Chris Taylor, the CEO of Gas Powered Games - the studio behind Microsoft's upcoming PC sequel, Dungeon Siege II.
The game returns players to the beautiful fantasy land of Aranna, now deeply scarred by civil war. Players must lead an elite battle party against a vicious marauder determined to rule the land with an iron fist.
We'd been warned beforehand that Chris was a bit zany, and it's true... but the fearless superjournos that we are, we still wanted the skinny on DSII. So here it is...
Kikizo: Chris, thanks for your time today to talk about Dungeon Siege II. A lot of gamers have talked about the more linear, less interactive gameplay of the original - like a game that played itself. How have you been addressing this for DSII?
Chris Taylor: Yeah, we got that feedback fro players and we agreed that we had a little too much automation in there, although the good news, if you will, is that many people really loved it, and they really liked that level. So we took some of that automation out, but we added some options, into the option menu, to put them back in again. So people will hopefully strike the right balance to their own taste. But we agreed with a lot of the criticism we received and we've worked really hard to address it.
Kikizo: There's quite a lot of detail involved in things like the character development system, and the skill development of the party. It looks like a lot of work has gone into that?
Taylor: When you have a game of this kind... we have a skill-based class system, which means you can mix and match your skills, to develop a kind of hybrid class. But we wanted to allow people who were fighters say, or archers or whatever, to have very different characters depending on how they developed them. So we added a skill tree - not necessarily one where you'd choose every single skill; you would actually go through the tree and pick the things that kind of appeal just to you.
So if you and I both have fighters, we could have very different fighters. That's something we worked on. But we also added powers on top of that; we wanted these big, over the top effects, so that you can just blast away in a way that was over the top, and exciting and interesting and dynamic - but yet, you have to think about when you want to use these powers, to put a little bit of thought into how you approach combat.
Kikizo: There's sometimes a structural issue with the player's progress through the game with quicksaves, how have you made things smooth but cheat-proof?
Taylor: What we've done there is used a system whereby you just simply say that you're going to save the game... there isn't a lot of punishment in our game design philosophy, so even if your party's dead, and you save the game, and quit and reload, your party is alive again, and you can just head back on into the world and pick up where you left off. So you can save; there are some autosave points, and in multiplayer you can also save your session, so that you can do the very same things in that context too.
Kikizo: What did the feedback from the game's recent Beta testing phase tell you?
Taylor: Well actually yeah, one of the first things I told you about, was one of the things we changed based on that feedback. We had a lot of people say, "you've taken some of the automation out of combat, oh my god, we really loved that!" So we actually added those options back in, that's one of the key things that came out of the GameSpy Beta. Of course, the Beta was primarily for technical purposes, but we also got some great gameplay feedback.
Kikizo: Graphically, the detail is pretty cool both up-close on characters and environments, but also a lot of the game is played from further out and still looks good... are there any design considerations to get both looking good?
Taylor: It's mostly about technical constraint; of course, you can use big textures for everything but you can't fit them all in memory, so you have to decide where to spend it. And so we spend it on things that we think people really care about, the environment is important; we try to pick a distance with the camera and then we create this great stuff with the resources that we have.
Kikizo: Can you tell us more about the new multiplayer stuff?
Taylor: We have three modes; we have a 'Couples Mode', where two people can play with three characters each, they can either create them in multiplayer or they can import them from single player mode, also you can have three players with two characters each, or four players with just their heroes. Beyond that, we found that just too much would be happening in a small space. So it's a great co-operative game, it's what it was designed to play as. You also have a shared Experience option. We used the GameSpy Matchmaking, which is really stable and a great matchmaking platform. We have the ability to save our sessions to have the ability to be played again later.
Kikizo: So you founded Gas Powered Games in 1998. Can you tell us a bit about your experience running the studio as the boss and also working with Microsoft - you mentioned how they've been quite good in terms of giving more time to make the game perfect?
Taylor: Well my experiences in general, I mean talking less about Microsoft and more about just game making in general. The first game I made seventeen years ago, I was the only full-time guy on the team, everyone else was part time. The art was part time, the sound was part time... um, Dungeon Siege II was fifty people! But I mean, I'm hearing stories where the next-gen consoles are going to be teams of 100 to 120, so if nothing I've learned that in this business, if you don't go as fast as you can, you get left behind. The business is changing so quickly. I mean you could be a genius at game design, but not know how to manage a team of more than thirty people, and so the game's not gonna come through.
So you have to be an expert at communication, and organisation, and pre-planning and pre-production. And the company has to be there with a proper culture and set of values, you know, we really branded the company with 'health and family come first', because if people aren't healthy, if people don't have their families taken care of at home, they're not going to be effective at the job. So woah, we had to do a lot of growing up! In the last seven years since I founded the company, we have gone through so much personal growth and change. It's exhausting! I don't think I would honestly look forward to another seven years of that kind of growth! I kind of wish that we could just take a break and just focus on the creative side... but I have a suspicion it's going to be another crazy seven years, so, ah what the hell.
Kikizo: Good luck with the launch!
Taylor: Thank you!
Dungeon Siege II is out now in North America and is released on September 2 in the UK.
Editorial Director, Kikizo.com
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Dungeon Siege II
Walkthrough video with Chris Taylor (hi)
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Dungeon Siege II
Walkthrough video with Chris Taylor (low)
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Dungeon Siege II
Trailer (high quality)