Interview with Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson8-31-2000
TA - Standard Interview Question #1: For the one or two of our readers who don't know, could you tell us what you do at Troika?
Tim - I spend most of the day programming and designing the RPG system, which is how the stats, skills and such interact with the game world. I code most of the in-game UI, such as inventory, character editing, and the logbooks, and the game AI and the scripting engine. Also I am one of the founders of Troika, along with Leonard and Jason, so I have to do "business stuff" every now and then.
Leon - I'm the Art Director, one of the main dialog writers/designers, and I get to paint the portraits when I'm good and they let me do art. Jason, Tim, and I are also the founders/joint CEOs of Troika, but I'm assuming you already knew that.
Jason - A little of everything. I did much of the core design along with tim and leon. I did some art, wall sets, tile sets etc. Lately I have been doing a lot of nuts and bolts designing, picking up loose ends and the such, as well as being the Producer. In a nutshell, if a decision needs to be made and people can't come to terms I make the call.
TA - Standard Interview Question #2: How did you come up with the setting for Arcanum?
Tim - I wanted to do a fantasy role-playing game, but Leonard didn't want to use a standard 14th century setting. He wanted something more recent, to give a Jules Verne feel to the game. Jason had an idea on combining magic and technology, and the setting grew out of this combination of ideas.
Leon - Tim told us he wanted to make a fantasy game, and when he was released from the hospital we came up with the idea of the industrial revolution/1800's/tech vs. magick scenario, which Tim said he loved. And he swore it wasn't fear of another beating...
TA - Which one do you personally prefer: tech or magick? (and don't give me a "they're balanced, they're both cool" answer :-) )
Tim - Most of the characters I have been playing have been mages of some type, so I guess I lean towards magick. I especially like the advantages that summoning and conveyance magick bring to a character. But I do like tech, so I give my followers guns. :)
Leon - I personally prefer Technology, it adds a whole different dimension to the game that hasn't been seen before in a fantasy context like this. I love the way our magick system works as well, but how much that is new and different can you actually do with a magick system?
Jason - Well?... to tell you the truth there two types of characters I enjoy playing, and neither one really leans one way or the other. The first would be a female/gunfighter ala "Lady". The second a big strong barbarian type, who only wields forged weapons ala "Conan". But... If your going to make me choose (Leonard is going to smack me for not pumping tech)... Magick. Not so much the functionality of spells but more so the Magick Items that can be found in the world. Magic items can have such cool and rich histories.
TA - If you had to pick one feature of Arcanum as your favorite, what would it be?
Tim - I like the auto-packing feature in the inventory. Talk about a feature that everyone likes and uses all the time! It seems somewhat silly to like such an innocuous little feature, but I wish more games had it.
Leon - I'm biased, since I'm on the writing/design team, but I think the depth of characterization and the openness/reactivity of the world to ANY way you choose to play it is what really excites me about this game.
Jason - I like role-playing, going on dungeon romps, exploring the world and discovering new things. I'm guessing that some wouldn't consider those to be features or even specific to Arcanum but they are my favorite things about playing the game. If I had to pick a specific feature it would be Schematics. There's just something cool about being a turn of the century MacGyver.
TA - What exactly does 3D hardware do for Arcanum? How much faster is it, approximately? Does it look a lot better?
Tim - The 3D hardware is used to speed all of the blitting but particularly the blending functions in our game. It makes lighting and spell effects much faster. It looks the same as software rendering, but the speed gain is appreciable, especially on lower end computers.
Leon - 3d hardware gives us blending for free for our lighting and translucency effects. It speeds up the game ALOT. We didn't foresee having to add the 3d support, as we were planning on being able to do 2d hardware blending, but with "everyone going 3d" no cards supported it.
TA - Have you done any actual playing of the game yet? If so, was it still enjoyable for you, even though you know the game inside out?
Tim - Oh yeah, I play the game every day. Some days I can only spend a little time here and there, while coding and testing. But some days I have spent all day playing. I am always surprised by a quest I hadn't heard about, and the game changes its feel often, as new towns go in or features like random encounters are added. One day I played a low intelligence half-ogre (is there any other kind?) and laughed at the dialog that Leonard and Chad had written for the NPC's. It was great!
Leon - Playing the game is still enjoyable, from a creative standpoint. When you see it start to come together and begin to feel like a game it is extremely satisfying. Also, no matter how much planning you put into a game, after awhile it begins to take on a life of its own and it is great to begin to get a feel for what the game is, as opposed to what you thought it was going to be. The fact that this game is so huge still enables me to find things other designers have put in away from the main story arc that I had no idea about, so I can still have a little bit of the sense of discovery that is so appealing about a game like this.
Jason - Yeah. Mostly I just go into the game to test things, but more often than not I get side tracked by the game itself. Then I end up playing for half a hour when it should have only taken me a few minutes to test what I needed to. Yes it is still enjoyable.
TA - How is the party member AI shaping up? How big an improvement is it, compared to the Fallout games?
Tim - Followers are SO much easier to control and maintain. First off, you get a follower sidebar that shows every follower and his current health and fatigue levels (you can scroll it up and down, and turn this sidebar on and off too). Second, you get verbal commands to order the followers about, either individually ("Virgil back off") or as a group ("#back off), and you can hotkey these commands, so pressing F5 makes all of your followers back off at once. You also get dialog interaction with each follower, so you can ask them questions and see what they know. Finally, you can directly control their inventory, giving and taking items from each follower and also determining what they wield. You can also look at their character records and see their stats and skills, so you don't need to guess if Virgil would be better with the gun or the mace. Yeah, it's a good system. I like it a lot. I'm still happy with that auto-pack feature though.
Leon - I'll let Tim comment on this, as he wrote the AI for both Fallout and Arcanum.
Jason - Ummm... Tim.
TA - Of the work you've done on Arcanum, what are you most proud of?
Tim - Hmm, after talking about that follower system, I am pretty damned proud of THAT. I like the RPG system we have made too. Jason's magic-tech interaction is really cool, and the whole system is easy to use (or even avoid if you use auto-leveling schemes).
Leon - It would be a toss up between the design/dialog and the portraits.
Jason - The UI. At this point it still needs some refining but in the end I believe it will be great.
TA - What will make Arcanum stand out from the pack, apart from the highly original setting?
Tim - Two things: richness and style. The game is packed with neat features and (if I do say so) just plain GOOD ideas, and you can play in Arcanum with different characters and really have different experiences. My dumb half-ogre Surly Joe was really funny to play and totally different than Zappy the Elf, master of the summoning arts. Joe had few followers and rarely had a conversation that lasted more than a few lines, but he could beat the tar out of anything he encountered. On the other hand, Zappy never got his hands dirty, and usually summoned some orcs to do any dirty work that needed doing (it seemed that Zappy always had more than his fair share of dirty work that needed doing). Zappy talked to everyone and anyone who would listen to him, and he picked up a number of followers in addition to the summoned ones.
But the style of the game will really set it apart. The humor, the subtlety, the silly parts and the grim parts, they all fit together well and just feel right.
Leon - I hate to keep repeating myself, but the ability to play this game in any manner/with any type of character you choose is going to set Arcanum apart from other RPGs.
TA - What do you think your biggest competition will be when Arcanum is released?
Tim - Probably Baldur's Gate 2, but hopefully everyone will be done playing it and ready for the world of Arcanum!
Leon - It's hard to say. At the moment, nothing else is scheduled to be released when we are (as far as I know), so I guess it will depend on who slips long enough to come out when we do. :)
Jason - Wives and girlfriends.
TA - How much of an impact do you think the multiplayer aspect of the game and the editor will have on the game's success?
Tim - I think they will both add to the longevity of the game. After finishing the single-player story, people will have fun with the editor, making their own modules and trying out their own ideas. Or if that's not their cup of tea, they can go online to try other people's modules and play in groups with their friends.
Leon - It's so hard to tell. If people begin trading modules and a big community forms around the multiplayer aspects, it could contribute greatly to the success of the game, but that would happen down the road. I think this game is going to succeed or fail based on the single player game, and the multiplayer/editor is just an added bonus. I could be being completely naive, of course.
Jason - Multiplayer? I really don't know. But I do believe the editor will be a big hit. Yes, the single player game will be re-playable but all the modules that the people out there are going to make, will make Arcanum infinitely re-playable.
TA - Where do you think Troika Games will be 5 years from now?
Tim - Simple. Arcanum 3: The Reckoning Wrath of Vengeance!
Leon - Still making classic RPGs, with any luck.
Jason - Truthfully, I don't know. I just hope we can make some cool games within that time period.
TA - And the $10,000 bonus question: What makes a game an RPG?
Tim - I don't think there is a dichotomy of games: RPG's and not RPG's. I think there is a continuum of games, where some games with certain elements are more of an RPG than games without those elements. Things like making a character from scratch, controlling his stats and skills and the like, and then playing through a story where these choices make a difference! Other elements, like inventory and quests and experience points, are additional elements on this continuum. No one element is necessary, but if a game is lacking enough of them, it's probably not an RPG.
Leon - I believe a true RPG should let the player feel like he's playing the role he wants to play in the world. That means the player needs to be able to create his own character, and have the options available to play the character any way he sees fit.
Jason - The answer's in the name. Role Playing. I don't believe it is stats or even getting to create your own character that makes a game an RPG. To be an RPG, the player need to be able to role play, and the game needs to present the player with situations that encourage role playing. Case in point, I see Torment as being more of an RPG than BG1, even though I wasn't able to create my own character in Torment, which I personally hated, but I did get to role play that character unlike BG1 where I felt like I was just going though the motions. But don't worry I'm not prefacing our game, we have plenty of stats, we let you create your own character, but in the end Role Playing is what matters.
TA - Would you mind filling out this little profile thingy?
Name: Tim Cain
Name: Leonard Boyarsky
Name: Jason D. Anderson
TA - Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions... we appreciate it.
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