Legendary Wars: T-Rex Rumble Interview
We talk to Interplay president Eric Caen about his company's upcoming DSiWare title.
TGS: Despite the touchscreen interface, the RTS genre can be seen as lacking on the Nintendo DS, did the team face any design challenges during development that may explain this? How were they overcome?
Eric: It is obviously a much bigger challenge making a whole bunch of characters move around, finding their way while avoiding obstacles and each other, than it is when dealing with just one character. This was probably the biggest challenge, especially as it requires a LOT of calculations to be performed ALL the time. When you have 20 men fighting almost as many enemies in one area the DS’s CPU really has to work hard. Once optimized, it is amazing that the DS can actually handle all this; it’s a great piece of kit.
Originally we wanted to have even more characters available to the player than we finally achieved, but at the same time we’d also underestimated how hectic things can get controlling just 20 men, so in the end the number of characters we managed to put on the screen at once worked out to be good enough for the game design requirements.
We also have to handle a vast number of frames of animation, which is very hard to manage with the DS’s RAM. There are a lot of different characters, each with a lot of different animations and each animation is stored for 3 different directions. That adds up to thousands of individual frames, which is a bit of a nightmare.
TGS: How deep are the strategy elements? Will players have the ability to upgrade characters and objects through a tech tree?
Eric: Like I said earlier, we wanted to minimize the preparation phase which is usually associated with RTS games simply in order to keep the game durations more reasonable, so our character development tree is fairly flat. Mostly players will be dealing with specific resources which are required to build specific units. Some of these resources are shared, so you need to manage how you spend them on the units you are building, but provided you own the resource you can make the unit.
We have 4 soldier classes in the game, starting with the basic, club wielding Grunt and evolving towards a coconut-bomb throwing Boomer. We also have a Shaman, which is a magician class who can cast spells.
As for the strategy, each mission is driven by a script to give it a different “flavor” to the other missions, but even so a lot is left open to the player to decide, what to attack first, which units and resources are the most important. The strategy comes from how to deal with combat and how to balance those resources. You need men constantly collecting food as quickly as possible, but you also need enough of the right types of soldier on hand to defend them. We’ve tried to leave the game open to a wide range of players, so it’s not going to be chess-game deep, but hopefully it’ll make you sweat from time to time.
TGS: How does Legendary Wars perform on a technical level, framerate, characters on screen at any given moment, etc?
Eric: We’ve had to go for a framerate of 30fps, which has become a fairly acceptable benchmark for 3D games. This has allowed us to display something like 40 characters on screen along with a large polygonal boss character. Of course, this being an RTS the program is also handling all the characters you can’t see at the same time, making choices about their actions, navigating them around the décor, checking collisions and hit scores for battles going on elsewhere in the mission.
Stuff is going on everywhere all the time, what you see on screen is just a fraction of that.
TGS: In terms of length, how much gameplay can we look forward to?
Eric: That depends on the player to a certain extent, it is possible to exit most missions quite early if all you want to do is progress, but for those that want to play each mission to the end you’re probably looking at about 4-6 hours to complete the game the first time. If you are familiar with the controls and missions it takes less than that, but once you’ve completed the game you can go back and try to improve your statistics, like the time to complete the mission, or the maximum amount of food collected. You can even try to finish each mission without losing any men if you feel like it.
TGS: The game was originally announced as a retail DS title, was there any specific reason for the DSiWare change?
Eric: Well, the opportunity was there and it is always good to get some feedback from players as early as possible. So instead of making people wait even longer for a full cartridge release, we decided to try a DSiWare version and see how players would respond. That way we can tailor future episodes to meet demand and hopefully build a bigger and happier community of players, starting with a downloadable inexpensive first episode.
TGS: The soundtrack stands out very well on a technical level and is pleasant to hear, who composed it?
Eric: The music is by the French composer Jean-Marie Philibert. We opted to use a middleware sound library called CriVibe, which allows us to stream music that is compressed a little bit like MP3 playback. This removes all sorts of technical limitations, such as the size of instrument samples and the maximum number of sound channels active at once. Jean-Marie really made the most of this lack of constraints and the result is pretty impressive, I think you’ll agree. We wanted it to sound like an epic Hollywood action blockbuster.
TGS: You had previously expressed interest in bringing the game to other platforms such as the iPad, will this avenue still be explored or does it depend on the success of the DSiWare release?
Eric: We’re actively working on an iPad version of the game right now, so no, that doesn’t depend on the performance of the DSiWare version. What does depend upon the success of this DSiWare release are the future chapters of the game. We’ve got lots of new content in store and we’ve also already made some mock-ups of different version of the Legendary Wars franchise that take place at different epochs of human history, such as ancient Greece or even the First World War. We’d love to be able to propose these different episodes on as many platforms as possible.