Interview with Chad MooreConducted by Oyarsa with some input from other Arcanum fans, posted on 4-24-2001
TA - Sir Chadwick Moore, thank you for taking the time to answers these questions for us. It is a privilege to have one as imminent as yourself to share some of your knowledge and wisdom.
As you are aware there is a fair amount of anticipation at the inclusion
of the editor. There are groups such as AGES being formed to pool
resources and talents to develop high quality mods. Having worked
as part of Arcanum's design team what advice do you have for those wishing
to take this team approach to mod design?
Make sure to divide the responsibilities along logical lines. If there’s anything that will muck up your development pipeline, it’s having multiple people necessary in order to complete a given task.
Let me give you an example. One thing that REALLY helped us in Arcanum was that the people writing the dialogues were also doing their own scripting. So, if I’m writing the dialogue for a particular scenario, there is no doubt in my mind what the engine and scripting language is capable of, and therefore I’m not wasting any time trying to explain to a “scripter” what I think should happen. I am the scripter, therefore I’m structuring the dialogue to fit what is actually going to happen. There’s no middleman, which means less wasted time and tighter quest scenarios.
So, have someone responsible for map building, someone else who knows
the dialogue and scripting tools backwards and forwards, and someone else
who’s keeping a close watch over the design. The fewer people involved
in a given task, the more quickly it gets done.
TA - Will the editor support this kind of multiple designer approach for modules? What will this look like, team members emailing scripted portions back and forth?
Of course, it’s much easier to go about designing an RPG (or module) with everyone occupying the same real-space, but as long as everyone is keeping similar project structures on their computers, and you have some sort of version control for maps and files, you should have no trouble living in separate countries while creating a module. As you’ll see when the editor is released, we create the project structures for you, as well as giving you base templates for all of the editable data files. Even for distance-challenged teams, development should be butter smooth…? :)
TA - For the budding mod designers would you suggest any governing philosophy, rules or guidelines that you've found constructive in your creative process?
Give yourself a creative framework to work within. You’d think this sounds inherently constrictive, but believe me…there’s nothing like having some of the answers for you in advance. As an example, when we were writing literature for the game, we knew the general time period we wanted to target, which gave us the language to use as well. Concepts needed to fit within this framework as well. The advantage being, once you find a suitable concept, everything else has already fallen into place…you’ve got the voice, the “feel” if you will. Does this make sense? The same then applies to dialogues as well. After a while, anything even a little out of whack sticks out like a sore thumb.
Someone on your team needs to do this. Whether it’s in test dialogues, or backstory, or general notes…this “feel” has to be established.
Something else…often we struggle here with linearity issues. Does a particular character feel open-ended enough? Will the PC feel “funneled” into this particular scenario? Sometimes I think we worry too much about this. Arcanum is perhaps the most open-ended RPG ever made, but, in the end, we’re still trying to tell a story, and sometimes this means being okay with a certain amount of linearity. Plot is important to any RPG, and sometimes we, as designers, need to help that along. A few plot bottlenecks here and there don’t make it an adventure game.
Other than that? Design is a dynamic process. A tight design
document is VERY important, but don’t be afraid to step out of it when
necessary. And play the game. A LOT. You can’t possibly hope
to create something with depth and consistency without knowing the ins
and the outs.
TA - To give us a sense of scale for adapting or writing mod stories, how large would you say the main story arc is if transcribed as a novel?
Our main story arc is nothing if not epic. You could easily fill multiple volumes with the twists and the turns we give the player as he/she travels through our world. I’m talking Robert Jordan verbosity here. Really. No, let’s say L. Ron Hubbard, or maybe John Norman. Yeah, that’s it. Battlefield Earth meets Tarl Cabot.
Alright, perhaps I’m going over the top here… :) But it’s a very
detailed story, and we’ve got a lot of history to back it up. We’ve
heard some estimates on the word count. The number is big.
Real big. But! The important thing to remember when designing
is that you don’t want people to have to read everything that YOU might
think is cool. Some people just aren’t interested. Give them
access to it, but don’t force them to read it. That’s what makes
a good RPG.
TA - Do you develop game characters in the system or outside the system and then translate into the CP structure?
I’ve done both, myself. Usually, it depends on the day and what I’ve had for lunch. Seriously, for me it happens both ways. And usually I end up playing the scenario 4-5 times before I get the right balance. Some spells work better than others in the hands of NPC’s; some weapons are too weak, some are too powerful. You just won’t know if the character works until you get in the game.
TA - On Arcanum's main site the newspaper and Arcanum Tales perhaps are the two most powerful elements for setting the tone of the gaming experience Troika seems to be trying to create. As lead designer are you satisfied with the continuity between the current image and the actual game? In other words, can those of us wooed by these means expect to find the fulfillment of what those pieces of atmospheric fiction offer?
As the writer of Arcanum Tales, I can tell you with utter certainty that I am happy with the way that the game has turned out. Writing the story was one of the first things I did when coming over to Troika, and it has served us more than once as a guideline for character design and environment settings. If you enjoyed the literature and the newspapers we have on the website, then you’re going to be VERY happy with the world that we’ve created in the game. The dichotomy between magick and technology is represented well in the game system, and there’s a consistency in the quests and the dialogues that helps you to feel as if you’ve dropped into the same world as Perriman Smythe and Sebastian.
And who knows? You might just be surprised at the people you’ll
meet during your travels in Arcanum…
TA - What were your greatest inspirations for the story elements you wrote into the story or in developing its characters?
That’s a strange question. I can’t say as I have a game standard I try to work from. Other than “Planescape: Torment” I’ve been fairly unimpressed with the character development and interaction in the RPG’s I’ve played. Perhaps a better question is “What were your greatest aspirations?”, to which, of course, I have an answer… :)
Whenever possible, I wanted to write characters that are real, compelling and a little off-center. What I’ve noticed in a lot of RPG’s is that the characters can usually be fit into nice, little fantasy stereotypes. The wise, enigmatic mage. The grizzled dwarf. The swift and benevolent elf. In Arcanum, we tried to get away from this. I was responsible for many of the followers, so you’ll find that many of them are a bit quirky, with an overabundance of personality. Most of them have other things going on behind the scenes. They’re not always likeable. And, most importantly, I tried to have them all grow in certain ways as the story progresses. Do you need them? No. Will you want them around? Maybe. Are they interesting? I don’t know…you’ll have to get back to me on that one.
That’s not to say that we aren’t aware of what the RPG community responds
to. There are dungeon crawls in Arcanum to challenge even the most
veteran of campaigners. We’ve got magick swords and lost cities and
enough arcane history to keep the interested student reading for days.
And we’ve got a few grizzled warriors and shadowy mages for those who yearn
for the familiar. Oh, I’ll just go ahead and say it. We’ve
got it all.
TA - We have heard we will be able to discover much of Virgil’s backstory. Is this then true for all potential followers?
Not all of them. There are a few followers who have almost no history at all. But most of the followers have things you’ll find out about them as the game progresses. And all of them usually have something to say about where you are or what you’re supposed to be doing…often these little comments are subtle hints as to what might be happening behind the scenes. Pay attention…your followers can be your greatest assets, or your deadliest foes. Keep your friends close, but your enemies…well, you get the picture… :)
TA - Do you find you tend to write a story arc first, filling in the specifics of the characters later? Or do you dream up compelling characters and find out what sort of story they lead you to write?
After I was hired, we all sat down for about a week and hashed out the main story arc. Tim, Jason and Leon had already laid down the framework before I arrived, but it still took us a full week of day-long meetings to figure out what “exactly” was going to happen along the way. This, of course, wasn’t the final version…it never is…but it was allowed us to progress.
Some characters were born many moons before I was a Troika employee.
Leonard had done some really nice concept work, and other characters rose
from those pages onto the screen. But I’d say that a majority of
the characters you’ll find in the game were developed along the way…as
an example, many of you might have played the beta and run into Magnus.
This mouthy little dwarf was originally little more than some “muscle”
to help you through a nasty dungeon. But after I wrote him, he became
one of the most verbose NPC’s in the game. I didn’t really plan it
that way, but sometimes it just happens. You can’t plan everything
in advance, and usually that’s a good thing.
TA - From one Crasis: I would like to note that I am an unbiased, neutral party to the debates between the mages and the technologists. I would like to know your opinion on whether the deeper inner reflection of the mages has caused any major differences in the writing styles between mages and technologists. Do you feel that mages offer a more insightful view of the self in their writings or do you think that technologists need an equal amount of self-reflection?
I’d say that the major differences between the dialects of the NPC’s in Arcanum is not attributed to their choice of magick or technology, but to their age. It’s a strange thing to say, but bear with me. We’ve got a few old and wise mages, and they speak as you’d expect them to…stoic platitudes about the meaning of life, etc. But, we’ve also got more than a few younger mages, who, being closer to the changes that are happening in their world, speak very differently. They are brash, suave, headstrong. They are hip. Follow me? So, there’s a varied spectrum of characters and writings for both magickers and technologists.
Not that I’m biased, but that’s the great thing about Arcanum.
You can be a magick user, and you can still be cool… :)
TA - Tolkien wrote of fantasy or fairy stories being a specific genre that could transport us outside of the normal bounds of reality to convey or teach us something in a different way than morality plays and allegories. As a writer/designer would you consider Arcanum and computer games as strictly entertainment or a new medium for storytelling/mythmaking?
That depends on what the player brings to the table. If you’re looking for some deep, insightful philosophy, then Arcanum’s got it. Many of our characters have extensive dialogue trees for the soul-searching adventurer. We’ve got well-written literature and epic poems. But we’ve also crafted our game so that you can bypass all of that and hack your way to victory. In the end, Arcanum can be your “Beowulf” or your Diablo. We did our best to cover both bases.
As far as the medium as a whole, I think there’s still a large gap between
the experience of a novel, and the experience you have while playing an
RPG. It’s the dynamic quality of the game that pulls us away from
this. I’m telling you a story, but you’re writing half of it.
In the end, YOU, as the player, determine the myths that will be recorded.
And, because its different for everyone, there’s not the permanence that
we get from reading a story. Bilbo and Gandalf will always be the
same, always say the same things, always be the heroes. Han Solo
always saves the day at the end of Star Wars. It’s not the same with
games, and I don’t think it ever will be. It’s not merely entertainment,
but its not storytelling in the same sense that we’ve known it for the
last few thousand years. It will evolve as other mediums have done
so. I, for one, am excited to see where it takes us.
TA - From one Shubbard and others: How many schematics are in the game and, being a great technologist, which is your personal favorite?
I don’t have an exact count, but there are well over 100 learned and found schematics.
What is my personal favorite? Well, the Bear Trap is an AWESOME
mechanical gadget you can make in the mechnical discipline, as is the Clockwork
Decoy. Both are learned schematics. As far as the found schematics…hmmm,
there are so many wonderful and deadly mechanisms to choose from.
I’d just hate to ruin the surprise… :)
TA - A question to warm your heart from a young elvish gentleman: Sir Moore, what course of study or action would you recommend to an elf such as myself with a strong desire to dabble in the technological?
Ahhh! A man…er, elf… after my own heart! Unfortunately, as you might be aware, your elven blood gives you an inherent disadvantage when studying technological disciplines. You begin with a magickal aptitude, so it will take you longer to increase your technological bent. Technological skills, such as firearms and lockpicking, will be more difficult for you to learn…you will have to spend more points to achieve proficiency then your dwarven counterparts. The road is longer and more arduous for you, young elf, but just think how much sweeter the reward when you reach its end!
And there are so many paths to choose from! I’m not one to give
away long-held secrets…but, I suppose I might be persuaded to help along
a budding supporter of the sciences. As I stated before, the mechanical
discipline is most helpful when battling beasts and lovers of magick.
And the electrical discipline is extremely powerful as well. Students
of technology would be well-served to specialize in either one. Of
course, every artist has his chosen medium…there’s no doubt in my mind
that any of the eight disciplines can be crafted into a masterpiece of
innovation and mayhem! Sir Chadwick bids you good luck!
TA - And finally, since you have established a bit of a reputation for being a champion of technology, do you have any words for those who pursue the ways of magery? I have received some small clamoring from that quarter and do not wish to exclude them from comment.
It is only with the most grudging of respects that I can say this…?
Magick in Arcanum is very powerful, and is just as varied and interesting in its design as technology is. There are a variety of cool scrolls and spells to entice even the most weathered of spell-casters. Magick is old and powerful, and most of Arcanum’s history was written by the readers of the runes. There are ancient weapons of the oldest legends, and cursed items of the most diabolical intent. All in all, magick is pretty darn cool.
But don’t get me wrong. Any mage that comes my way is going to
find himself with a bad case of deaditis. Case closed.
TA - Again, we at Terra-Arcanum would like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Is there anything you would like to add?
By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the further delay of Arcanum. No one is more disappointed than we are here at Troika, although we understand Sierra’s reasons for holding it until September and support that decision. In the end, we all want what is best for the game.
There’s been a lot of talk on the boards from people who say that they won’t buy Arcanum now because of the continuing delays, and all I can say is that if you happen to be one of those people you’re going to miss out on a great game. This process has been tough on everyone involved, and that includes you, our fans. But, whatever the reasons for the delay, it doesn’t change the quality of Arcanum. Give it a chance. You won’t be sorry.
As for the rest of you true believers, thanks again for your patience. You’ve all been great, and we really appreciate it.
Even you magick users… :)
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