In part two of our interview with Firefly's co-founder Simon Bradbury we discuss upcoming PC and Xbox 360 dungeon crawler Dungeon Hero and look at the state of PC gaming. Read part one of the interview in which Simon talks about hardcore PC strategy title Stronghold Crusader Extreme right here.
VideoGamer.com: Moving on to Dungeon Hero, you mentioned you had the original idea four years ago and have been working on it for three years now, it seems quite a departure from what you guys normally do. Why do a hack and slash dungeon crawler?
SB: There's the idea side of it. I like seeing it from a different perspective, make it less of a cliché. There's kind of an arcade quality of the game, this goes back to the original Gauntlet co-op, I kind of like that. I like the idea of just going in there and bashing your way through. There will be a side by side co-op version of the game which will have its own unique modes, so you can play it with your mate while you're drinking beer. That visceral fighting done well. It's not just a meatheady bash bash bash. There's tactics to it, a slightly slower-paced combat in some ways but you're getting it right, there's a really good feel to it, there's not that many games like that. It's a game that I would like playing. I suppose it's quite selfish really.
We decided we would go for castle builder because there wasn't anything like it. So we wanted to go for a game that was unique in several different ways. It's got visceral arcadey combat but it's not a straight hack and slash. It's a hard one to pin down. It's kind of hack and slash, kind of dungeon crawler, bit more arcadey though. It does a dungeon from a realistic perspective. We wanted to pick an area from a hard headed business side as well as the passion that we could go in and make our own, like with Stronghold.
VideoGamer.com: The game is coming to PC and 360. Why not do a PS3 version?
SB: That will be a question for Gamecock and it's not out of the question.
VideoGamer.com: Interesting. So it will be coming out after the 360 and PC version?
SB: I'll have to refer you to my PR colleague here (points to Gamecock PR colleague).
Gamecock PR colleague: There will be more details about such topics later in the year. Speculate as much as you want.
VideoGamer.com: OK. So how are you finding the 360 then, since this is a first for you?
SB: Again this is one of the reasons why we wanted to make that transition over a period of time. While we were starting to look at it we were prototyping it, we had people on the R&D and we were bringing people in who've got 360 experience. Because obviously we've come from a PC background, we've come from an RTS background, which in some ways helps us because it allows us to bring that kind of sim side into the game. But in terms of 360 tech doing that initially is the way to go because it's not such a big jump from PC to 360. It's the same compiler, it's the same dev environment, it's DirectX...
VideoGamer.com: It's a PC...
SB: (Laughs) The challenges are technical actually. It's more about threading and cores which is on the PC anyway, so in some ways the PC is getting a bit more like consoles. The technical challenges aren't that daunting on the Xbox. Perhaps the issues are for us on the consoles are bringing out something to a console manufacturer's standard which is easier because it's fixed platform rather than the PC which is a moveable beast. But with a PC you can put something out and then patch it and patch it and patch it which everybody does and it's fine because it means you can just cram the thing right up to the very end whereas here you can't so the production is different on it actually. And obviously the gameplay is another one. That's why we're designing it, prototyping it, mocking stuff up, that's why we have fresher blood brought in.
One thing that is really interesting coming from an RTS and PC background to something like this is that you by that very nature bring a fresher look to it. Rather than saying right we're going to do a third game along the line and obviously it will be like that and it will do this, and all of a sudden you've got to really break out of a mindset, we're going oh let's try that, this is pretty cool. We try a lot of stuff. We tried some stuff and discarded it and tried some more and discarded it, but where we are right now is we've got some cool ways of doing the combat and some different ways of looking at how we can build the levels and this living breathing world that you might not have got if you've come at it from a traditional dev studio and you've done five third person action games on the trot. So I think that actually gives us a slight advantage. Let's make some mistakes on the way but it also lets us make them in innovative ways as well.
VideoGamer.com: Will there be any online features?
SB: It's not something we want to do right from the outset partly because of the nature of, right well we're moving to console, we're moving to action game. If we had tried to say and what's more we're going to produce a kick ass two player online game, that's probably shooting too high first time around. Whereas the game itself plays very well and a little bit more old school arcadey side by side, watch this kind of thing. If we get it right it'll be goblin ping pong, smacking them around and a fun feel to it. We'd rather focus in on getting the combat right, getting the living breathing world right and getting that simpler side by side right.
There aren't many games out there that are similar. We don't want to be compared to God of War because we're not like God of War really but we're kind of, God of War or Heavenly Sword or Viking, or any of those games like that, Prince of Persia, they don't do multiplayer games online. Two player online is one of those things that could be something where we go in the future but we need to get a feel for the thing first and then go you know what would be really cool, is if we did that, and then we go great.
VideoGamer.com: So if Dungeon Hero is successful you can see it maybe spawning a sequel?
SB: Yes. The best way to try and build games isn't to try and throw it all in. Going back to Stronghold we know that. We deliberately did not do a skirmish game, which Crusader does very well. We did more of a single siege historical castle with a typical story campaign, and then when we had that basic engine, that basic game going we polished it and patched it and were able to take that further and build on it and know how to build the skirmish game really well, which is why I think Crusader turned out so well, was so well received by everybody. It was an iteration, a new product that we could sit back and go and do that. I think it would be a similar thing with Dungeon Hero. We're 30 something odd people. That's not a massive studio. So if we're still to punch above our weight we've got to pick targets carefully.
VideoGamer.com: I wanted to ask you about the feeling that PC gaming is dead, and how we're seeing a lot of games previously PC exclusive coming to console because of piracy, which is a big issue.
SB: It is. It always has been in some ways and it always will be. I guess Steam does OK. But for us, clearly a third person game would have to be multiplatform, absolutely no bones about it. But a first person shooter game, Crysis? That game was a very expensive big game and piracy hits them quite hard. It's a short shelf life title that flies off the shelf. Strategy games are probably the last bastion of the PC because they're games that suit the PC really well. The mouse and keyboard control, the fact that you load and save half a dozen billion of them. You can patch them, they're involved games, they need a lot of patching and things like that, upgrades, DLC, the Internet, all of those things still work well on PC. Strategy games have never been brilliant, RTS for example, on consoles. It's just not suited to it. Especially builder games. We're safe. God only knows if we'll still be safe five years down the line, but right now strategy games are safe, partly through the interface and partly through the people who like to play them and the nature of the game. Anything else beyond that I think you're right, it's a bit scarier and you've got to really put it on consoles.
VideoGamer.com: What about the whole PC gaming is dead thing? I guess that's something you wouldn't subscribe to?
SB: Certainly it's in retreat in most areas. Some of the first person stuff is a battleground at the minute. Team Fortress I think is a fantastic game and games do come out that really push back. I think strategy will always be strong on it. MMOs are an interesting new one as well. In some ways the PC's big advantage is the fact that it is a great thing to innovate on. Xbox LIVE Arcade stuff aside it's still the best breeding ground for a new developer. You can put stuff out on Flash, there's lots of little technologies you can work with whereas the barrier to entry for going into console is ridiculously high. So new talent will come out of PC which is another positive thing.
In some ways the market is getting so big that there's going to always be room for PC. Perhaps it will become slightly more scruffy relative of the gaming world, which has got this nice big shiny, cheerleaders out in the console world! I don't know quite where I'm going with that imagery! But the PC will be the nerdy guy in the corner, as it always was and there's still that place for them I think. Perhaps the delivery method will change, If you get to the point where as a developer you can put stuff out on the web yourself you could get a lot of garage developers going back to those smaller bedroom coder developer things, and the idea coming back again. So I see that as a really positive thing. It's just the big blockbuster epics will probably not be on the PC.
VideoGamer.com: So you've never considered the Stronghold series for the consoles?
SB: We do look at it periodically and we'd love to be able to do it because it's a great way of getting it out to a wider market. I still think there's a lot of people out there that would want to play a castle building game that just don't play games. Now is a great time for showing the world, with the off quoted Wii-playing Granny thing, can you imagine your Granddad wanting to build a castle? There's a lot of non-game playing folk that we know gaming has kind of percolated out to, but if you go to them directly it could do really well. So, yes, if we could do a console version and get it more mainstream we would. But right now we can't quite see the control system. The Stronghold series is a well known brand now and it's an area that's got potential I think not quite necessarily in its current form, but who knows that's just wild speculation on my part.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time.
Dungeon Hero is due out for PC and Xbox 360 some time in 2009.