• 28 January 2013 20:13:07

    Mod of the Month interview with Rogue Dao Studios

    posted by Tchos
    This is part of a series of interviews with past Mod of the Month winners here on the Nexus, which still has some catching up to do. These will be posted in order of their completion.

    This interview is with Rogue Dao Studios members Mike Dismukes and Megan Carmody, for the Planescape: Purgatorio demo available here on the Nexus. Mike is the producer of Purgatorio and head of Rogue Dao Studios, and Megan is project lead on Planescape: Purgatorio. We will be discussing this demo, as well as the previously released demos, and the long-running project as a whole.

    First, a general introduction for the readers. As is evident by the name, this module is set in the Planescape campaign setting. For any readers who may not know, there are numerous official campaign settings for the Dungeons & Dragons game rules, which constitute different worlds with different cultures, creatures, and conventions, but which generally follow the same basic rules. Most of them are underrepresented in computer games based on D&D. The Neverwinter Nights games use the Forgotten Realms campaign settings (the most widely-used setting), while other computer games have been made using the original Greyhawk setting (such as The Temple of Elemental Evil), the Dragonlance setting (such as Champions of Krynn), the Eberron setting (D&D Online) and more. Many of these are alternate takes on the fantasy genre, while others provide worlds of steampunk, Victorian gothic horror, space opera, etc.

    The Planescape setting has had only one official computer game made for it, which is one of the most celebrated CRPGs of all time -- Planescape: Torment. Comparisons between that game and this module are thus inevitable, but in this interview we will explore what expectations a player should have for this module if they are coming either from having played Torment, or from a position of complete unfamiliarity with the setting.

    Be sure to vote for your favourites for Mod of the Month. Each person can vote for one mod each month, by clicking the "Vote for me" button on a mod's page. This applies to any mods in the database, not only mods that were submitted in the current month. Vote for anything you think deserves a spotlight!

    Q: Thanks for agreeing to discuss Purgatorio and RDS. First, what can you tell the readers about Rogue Dao Studios and its members?

    MD: Rogue Dao Studios has been a game maker's school for many years now. RDS was founded in 2006 for the purpose of finding paying jobs for its members. To date, 13 RDS members have gone on to paid work in the gaming industry. We have at present two projects in production, "Purgatorio" and "The Blood Ransom."

    MC: The Purgatorio team in its current incarnation is rather humble. We've got Grzegorz Gajak as our area designer and aspiring code monkey, Marco Mazzini (most commonly known among the community as Artemis Absinthe) as our expert code monkey, Hans Watts as our Planescape savant and character designer, and Max as our writer and token Clueless.

    Q: As I understand it, having looked through some of the source books and having read a bit about its history, the Planescape setting was designed as the D&D answer to White Wolf's World of Darkness setting, and in its illustrated aesthetics it seems to resemble things like Brian Froud's fey designs (seen in art books and in such movies as Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal), as well as Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. In Torment they excluded elements such as elves, dwarves, armour, and swords as a contrarian design statement, despite that those elements are a normal part of the Planescape setting. What is your design philosophy on the Planescape source material?

    MC: For the most part we try to stick as close to the source material as we can, especially when it comes to specific elements that have already been established. For example, we strictly adhered to the city Hopeless's design as detailed in the sourcebook A Player's Primer to the Outlands. However, whenever inspiration demands us to expand, we do, and do what we can to ensure that it aligns with Planescape's fundamental principles. For example, Mike Dismukes's brainchild, Anglespeak, is a pattern of speech which favors a more thoughtful, elaborate, and exacting use of language -- perfect for those notoriously anal-retentive lawful sorts. It's also a good foil to the quick-and-dirty planar cant.

    MD: We aren't selling Middle Earth. Planescape is a very different vibe. We go to some very dark places, and the people we meet are complicated. This is a different kind of gaming. As far as a design philosophy, we are faithful to the lore, but we do it our way.

    In time the player will learn that the tout out in front of the Gatehouse suffers from phantom hand syndrome, that the old Halfling woman that runs the orphanage used to be a gangster and that the insane asylum houses a chicken man that can predict the future.

    For any players out there that are wary of trying out Planescape, my advice is this: If you are a hack-n-slasher who doesn't like to read, think, or problem-solve, Purgatorio probably isn't for you. There is plenty of combat, but a lot more talking and thinking.

    If you are more of a patient player and you enjoy quirky people and problem solving, you will really like our game. I guarantee that you have never seen a game like Purgatorio.

    Q: Now, this is a question that surely comes up often, but for any readers who may not be very familiar with the Planescape campaign setting at all, or know it only through its portrayal in Planescape: Torment, how would you say Purgatorio differs from the typical Neverwinter Nights 2 experience, or from Torment?

    MC: I think the sheer amount of custom content provides a fresher face to those accustomed to "the typical Neverwinter Nights 2 experience." In some cases, for example, Mechanus, the members of Rogue Dao at the time really pushed the limits of the toolset. It's impressive how polished some settings and set pieces in Purgatorio are -- I am speaking, of course, as someone who's only been on the team during the latter part of its development and got a chance to experience much of the already-completed content with a blank slate.

    As for Torment... well, firstly, Purgatorio features elves, dwarves, and all the other typical fantasy elements that were excluded in Torment. (Sorry, Chris Avellone!) Secondly, while similarly driven by an overarching theme, Purgatorio explores different concepts and utilizes a different tone than Torment (not to mention a slightly divergent sense of humor). Thirdly, as Neverwinter Nights 2's character creation process is more flexible than Torment's, it unfortunately means that the dialog choices must also be flexible, which thereby means you won't find many PC lines as distinct and memorable as the Nameless One's. That was one of the things about Torment that really compelled me, and I was disappointed we couldn't do something similar with Purgatorio. Hopefully you'll get your fill of quotables from the companion characters, though!

    MD: Purgatorio is Torment updated to 2013. We go to a lot of places that have never before been seen in a computer game. I won't drop any more location spoilers, but there is some serious plane-hopping going on in this module, and we didn't wimp out. We go to several of the really cool planes that you would not expect to see in a computer game. We spent a lot of time talking about how to continue to develop the theme and flavor of Planescape Torment. How do you follow Torment, a game where the player starts out dead?

    Planescape is a deeper, darker and richer game world than from the typical NWN 2 experience. For example, the player will converse in three radically different dialects of The Cant and use telepathy in Purgatorio.

    Anglespeak is the lawful tongue and it has a Victorian style that is elegant and indirect.

    Xaostongue is the unlawful tongue and is a jumbled twist of mangled jargon that communicates its meaning with tone, context and codes. (It was fun looking for voice actors who could do this.)

    The Cant is the common tongue in Sigil. It is understandable, but full of colorful metaphors and vulgar expressions.

    The custom Rogue Dao Studios GUI includes a comprehensive dictionary of The Cant to help players decode the language in the beginning of the game. By the middle they shouldn't need it anymore.

    The quests are also a little nutty and run all over the spectrum. There is a quest to find a pixie who stole a cop's false mustache, a murder investigation in Mechanus, and a deeply personal feud with a priest that has a very big problem with the player.

    Q: Given that there are numerous released Purgatorio demos to choose from, which version (or versions) should interested players download and install (and in which order, in the case of more than one), if they want to experience the most of what is currently available?

    MC: The latest version -- the Outlands demo, that is -- features the same content included in its predecessor and also allows the player to explore Sigil and the planes after completing the main plot part of the demo.

    Q: The descriptions on the released demos don't describe the plot, or whether this is a character- or story-focused module. There is a suggestion in the early demo descriptions that it may involve "the final ruin of the soul". What kind of adventure should a player expect from this module, both in the currently available material and in what's to come?

    MD: This is a story-focused module. This game isn't like anything else that you have played. This is something different. Purgatorio is a game that you will remember playing 20 years from now because it is such a unique experience.

    MC: This module's story is an exploration of Purgatory, the in-between state in which the player character hangs on the edge of damnation and salvation -- or, in this case, the final ruin or the ultimate freedom of the soul -- and doesn't know which paths will lead them to where, or even if their choice matters anymore. The Outlands demo starts by introducing seeds of the nature of this Purgatory and then introducing a kindred spirit.

    It is heavily plot-driven, but the player will get a chance to explore Sigil -- and there will be a fair share of combat as well.

    Q: What was the original impetus to begin this project?

    MC: Unfortunately I wasn't part of the team at the beginning so I couldn't tell you for sure. My guess would be that the original creators decided that the modding soil was fertile for a Planescape adventure: energy was high in the modding community due to Neverwinter Nights 2 just being released, the updated engine and graphics would allow them to realize the settings more vividly, and those who played Torment wanted another chance to explore the planes.

    MD: The original impetus was to find jobs in the gaming industry for our members, and in the process further develop and explore what we believe to be the best gaming universe ever created.

    Q: One of the demos estimates about 20 hours worth of content. Is that for the released demo content, or how much there would be in the full module?

    MC: I think it's safe to say that's true for the released demo content. After all, the unreleased content seems to be a smaller fraction of the full project than the released content.

    MD: That's what you get in the demo. In truth I don't know if you could play it all in 20 hours. She's a big one.

    Q: How does this module handle such things as party management, resting, dialogue, death, etc.? Are there companions that can join you, and/or can you import your own party? If so, is there party chat?

    MC: Purgatorio will feature a cast of well-developed companion characters complete with party banter, interjections, and conversations with the player character. There's also a thematic reason why these companions are drawn to the player character (whether the player chooses to take them along or not), as well as a thematic reason why the PC starts off by theirself, which unfortunately rules out importing one's own party.

    As for the mechanics... we've kept it simple so far in favor of finishing the multitude of other things started by the previous developers, but we will eventually make them supplement the narrative more effectively.

    Q: What sort of work remains to be done in the full module?

    MC: There's one last major plot beat that we need to finish, then we need to finish developing the companion characters and adding in party dialogs. After that, it's mostly down to polish work: completing the plethora of incomplete side quests, trimming out obsolete materials, editing dialogs and journal entries, and bug hunting. At the time of this writing, we are hoping to ride on the coattails of the Global Game Jam to make a massive push forward.

    Q: I've heard that part of the reason for the long development time on this module is that the work was so good that several members were hired by professional studios. Who were those members, and which studios hired them, or is that a secret?

    MD: RDS gets farmed constantly. That is both our biggest problem and our biggest asset. It ensures both that our best and brightest eventually leave and that new talent will seek us out. The revolving door is a good thing organizationally, but it has slowed our project development.

    MC: I'm afraid I don't know all the people who were hired away or to where. Monty, one of the original founders of Rogue Dao (if I'm not mistaken), was hired by Obsidian Entertainment. The previous project leader, Ekscom, was hired by Ossian Studios. That's about all I know, though I've been told that about thirteen of the former team members have been snatched up because of this project.

    Q: To wrap things up, what would you like to see more of from the modding community?

    MC: More activity! Though I understand it's discouraging that the master servers were taken down, further relegating both Neverwinter Nights games to the annals of video game history, they are still powerful stepping stones worth using, especially for aspiring game designers/developers.

    I'd like to thank you again for taking the time for this interview. Everyone else, watch for more interviews coming soon!

    Again, be sure to vote for your favourites for Mod of the Month. Each person can vote for one mod each month, by clicking the "Vote for me" button on a mod's page, and keep in mind that your choice does not have to be a mod that was released in the recent month. Bring the spotlight on all worthy mods!

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