Jonric: Before we get into Drakensang, how would you summarize the Dark Eye universe? What is distinctive about it, and what makes it suitable as the basis for a computer RPG?
Bernd Beyreuther: The Dark Eye is the biggest pen and paper RPG system in Germany and has been in existence for more than 20 years now. The world of The Dark Eye - called Aventuria - is based on classic low fantasy, including elves, orces, dwarves etc. Its setting also bears some resemblance to the historic European Middle Ages. Aventuria is a living, breathing world. Pen and paper players can subscribe to its own newspaper, which reports on all the latest news from this parallel world. New campaigns and quests are part of this ever-evolving storyline, so players are closely connected to everything that happens.
Drakensang puts this extensively developed world to great use, as it provides both a set of rules that is well balanced and tested thoroughly, as well as a vast and rich reservoir from which to draw. The bestiary alone holds hundreds of detailed monsters, the history of Aventuria provides a mythology that goes back thousands of years, and there is a very lively sphere of deities battling the nameless spawn of nether hell dimensions...
Of course, players who are not into The Dark Eye yet will also enjoy Drakensang as a classic PC role-playing game set in a breathtaking world that will feel familiar almost immediately. We sometimes like to describe its unique feel as "European fantasy from its source".
Jonric: Would you care to expand on what type of RPG Drakensang is meant to be? When did development start, and what is your target release date?
Bernd Beyreuther: The most telling description of Drakensang - The Dark Eye might be something like Baldur's Gate in 3D, but based on The Dark Eye, Germany's biggest RPG system. So, that means it is a classic party-based RPG, without irritating button mashing, but featuring tactical, pausable combat, a skill-based dynamic dialogue system, unique characters and an epic story that plays a very big role. It is set against the backdrop of this amazing fantasy world.
The party will hold four members and up to four guests. All guests and many of the party members will play well-defined parts in the overarching plot. We want the player to remember the characters and their unique, funny, lovable or despicable natures long after he finishes the game.
Drakensang has been in developed for about a year now and is set for release at the end of 2007.
Jonric: What are your goals for the gameplay and the overall experience? In addition, do you have a sense yet as to how much playing time the average player can expect, and for the degree of replayability?
Bernd Beyreuther: Drakensang marks an effort to take RPGs back to the roots, appealing to traditional RPG gamers who long for playing a party in a skill-based rule system with pausable combat. We're creating a role-playing game with substance, set in a classic, medieval fantasy world (no UFOs, time travel, firearms, etc.) that also boasts an unbelievable level of detail and lovingly crafted visuals.
It is probably too early in the development process to determine an average playing time, but I can tell you that the story - written by four authors over a period of six months - takes up more than 1,000 pages alone... and with over 50 different archetypes to choose from plus a very dynamic and adaptive dialogue system, we can guarantee a high replay value.
Jonric: At this point in time, what if anything are you willing to reveal about the story element in Drakensang?
Bernd Beyreuther: The story is strongly connected to the development of the living pen and paper world. So, at this point of time, we can't really reveal much about the story plot yet... at this stage, that would be too much information too early for the pen and paper players, and for Drakensang as well.
Jonric: How would you describe the gameworld you're creating? Will players travel to many different parts of Aventuria, and what are some locations that stand out in your mind?
Bernd Beyreuther: Aventuria is a massive continent - and the player will get a very good sense of that in our game. We're not giving away exactly where the game will take players - whether it's the icy cold glaciers of the North, or the steaming jungles of Kun Kau Peh in the South, be it the dry and barren deserts of Khom or the magical islands in the mist, which are surrounded by many mythical stories. But one thing we can tell you is that players will not only get to know the heart of Aventuria - the Middenrealm, where Aventuria bears some resemblance to the Franconia, Bohemia or Saxony of the 14th century - they will also embark on an extensive odyssey throughout the whole continent. Deep woods, steppes, cities, castles, villages, vast dungeons, islands as well as daunting mountain ranges and jagged cliffs await adventurers.
Combat is very strategic. The right choice of weapons in advance, the right position of the fighters, the right spell just in time - things like these will decide whether you win or lose a fight.
Some special locations include a city with several thousand inhabitants or the high mountain ranges that are home to secluded villages high above deep canyons. We want the player to experience a believable and living world that can withstand the most critical eyes - for example, we are constructing castles and houses to be true to historical examples - and we also want them to be rewarded with stunning vistas and exciting discoveries for exploring it.
Jonric: Will players have many race and class options for their avatars, and to what degree will it be possible to customize them?
Bernd Beyreuther: Aventuria is a fantasy world that players will quickly recognize. We have elves living in harmony with nature and working strange magic, grumbly dwarves that are as handy with wrought iron as with their sharp battle axes, a large variety of humans, dangerous mages, wild orcs, honorable warriors, thieves and burly warriors - players will meet all these archetypes of fantasy and be able to take up many of these roles.
Some of the more exceptional races of Aventuria include the beautiful, battle-hardened Amazonians who worship Rondra, the goddess of war, the Gyalskans, a fierce tribe of barbarians who practice animal magic, and the Thorwalians, a people resembling the Vikings, who call upon Swafnir to guide their dragon boats.
The player will be able to equip and dress his characters with a never before seen flexibility and level of detail - in minutely detailed 3D.
Jonric: How much of the pen and paper character development system are you using, and has implementing it in a computer game posed any special challenges?
Bernd Beyreuther: We're using big parts of the pen and paper system, with numerous non-combat skills. With craftmanship skills, alchemy, science, the abilities to trade and convince someone, we will make sure that fighting will be just one way for your characters to gain experience. There are loads of options for the player to get through the game.
The challenge for us is to get a complex pen and paper system into modern gameplay - and not to torture players with columns of numbers and figures. That's what we are working on.
Jonric: What would you like us to know about the nature of combat system and the importance of this element in Drakensang?
Bernd Beyreuther: Combat will be a central element of Drakensang - but players also have tons of options to interact in dialogues, and to use and train their non-combat skills.
Our combat system is modeled on the one in Baldur's Gate - but we want to upgrade and modernize it since it's now a little long in the tooth. We will have the pause key, which allows players to change weapons or sip a potion at any time, but it's our goal that the player won't have to use this key very often. Thus, we're making some gameplay improvements like special party moves, quick shots and a cleaner interface.
Combat is very strategic. The right choice of weapons in advance, the right position of the fighters, the right spell just in time - things like these will decide whether you win or lose a fight. But we do not want to have elements where the player's clicking speed determines the outcome.
Jonric: What kind of system are you implementing to handle the weapons, armor and clothing in the game?
Bernd Beyreuther: We're using a kind of a construction kit to equip the characters with clothing, weapons, armor, etc. You can use your heroes like mannequins - put clothes, armors etc. on them like on a Barbie doll. This, of course, will be very important to the player, because the right choice of clothes and armor will be his protection system in combats.
Jonric: What type of magic system does the Dark Eye universe have, and how much of it are you utilizing?
Bernd Beyreuther: The magic system in The Dark Eye is a very complex one. We are using big parts of it. Heroes who can handle magic do so are using astral and karmic energy. Spells will be mostly learned and trained.
Jonric: Should players expect to face a wide variety of enemies as they proceed through the world of Aventuria? What are some interesting or unusual examples?
Bernd Beyreuther: The pen and paper rulebook of The Dark Eye is a giant pool we can use. For example, the beastiarium counts hundreds of detailed beast. The history of Aventuria runs more than 1,000 years now. And there is a living world of gods.
Drakensang is like going back to the roots. Finally, there's a real RPG with a party, skill-based combat system and pausable fights... and without UFOs, time travel and shooting weapons.
The Dark Eye property is more than 20 years old, so players will find huge variety and depth in what may be the richest fantasy universe in the world.
There will be a special beast race for Drakensang, one that has already been implemented in the Dark Eye world by the authors - but I'm afraid I can't tell you more on this yet.
Jonric: Will there be a lot of non-adversarial NPCs, what kinds of functions will they fulfill, and what are you aiming for with them?
Bernd Beyreuther: Whole cities and villages will be friendly to the player - there are big parts of the game that have to be solved in friendly manners. Dialogues will be the key - but if the player's heroes change their attitudes and social standing, dialogues can also change. They are dynamic. Based on the player's attributes, there can be special options - or not.
With all the NPCs that will be implemented in the story, it's our goal to make them memorable.
Jonric: What game engine are you using? And are you using only proprietary technology or middleware as well?
Bernd Beyreuther: Radon Labs uses its own engine Nebula3 for Drakensang. This engine is being used by more than 40 studios for commercial game development.
We're developing this technology for more than six years now. It's open source, and can be used by anyone without paying licensing fees to us - we're just selling support and tools. Of course, we will be also using well known middleware.
Jonric: What would you like to tell our readers about Radon Labs? How long has the company been around, and when did your interest in making a game based on The Dark Eye arise?
Bernd Beyreuther: Radon Labs is one of the leading German game development studios. We have more than 60 employees, two locations and a worldwide network.
We started more than 10 years ago - we were a bunch of students back then - with Urban Assault, which sold more than 400,000 units worldwide for us and Microsoft.
We were already dreaming of making a Dark Eye game back then; we were and still are keen players of the pen and paper version.
Jonric: Since we often close in an open-ended manner befitting the RPG genre, do you have any final comments you'd like to make?
Bernd Beyreuther: Drakensang is like going back to the roots. Finally, there's a real RPG with a party, skill-based combat system and pausable fights... and without UFOs, time travel and shooting weapons.
Also, if you're not into The Dark Eye and Aventuria yet... you WILL enjoy Drakensang - believe us! :)
Veterans of the computer RPG category may remember The Dark Eye and its fantasy world of Aventuria from and earlier generation of games. However, it's quite possible that a significant proportion of our readers has yet to experience either. In either case, Drakensang looks like a project well worth watching over the months to come, and we thank Radon Labs' Project Director Bernd Beyreuther for starting our coverage with this informative interview.