(Click here to read part 1 of this developer diary)
When we began developing Drakensang Online last June it was an exciting time for us: Fantastic new doors opened up overnight thanks to Bigpoint’s takeover of development.
In past interviews and talks with fans, I was repeatedly asked about taking Drakensang online and introducing co-op modes, but I was forced to answer: “No – it’s just not in our budget”. The original parts were, due to circumstances, very classic and almost old-fashioned, story-based single-player RPGs. Despite my attempts to say no, I was routinely asked about co-op possibilities, but once we became Bigpoint Berlin, the opportunity to make our long-held dreams of going online and having co-op gameplay was immediately there. Now, not just with three or four players at once, but with hundreds. Even thousands.
It suddenly became clear to us that we had to turn the game inside out. We could feel it in the air. Now was the time to act – to do something completely new.
Our team sat down and brainstormed for several days, putting our years of experience and teamwork to use. We thought about what game we wanted to make; what the strengths and weaknesses of the old Drakensang games were and how we could make them more fun; how we could further optimise our strengths; what the new medium’s requirements were; and what technical hurdles stood in our way? Hundreds of notes, post-its, doodles and diagrams were plastered on the walls. 30 to 40 people pulled together, some sitting on the floor, some working in smaller teams or all gathering together to discuss different aspects. From this massive reservoir of ideas, we were able to distil the central ideas of Drakensang Online.
This process revealed to us that the entire team’s vision was very similar to some of the original concepts used in the older Drakensang games. While designing the old games, production difficulties, external influences, etcetera. often got in the way and forced us to stray from our original plans. The co-op mode was always at the top of our wish list but was always too complex for us to realise. Other aspects, which provided similar difficulties and even sparked criticism of our older games, were the player/camera perspective, the breadth and complexity of the game dialogues, long loading times, excessive distances and much more. In many ways, this concept for a new game was ultimately a return to our first aspirations for the series, despite being independently developed.
The next step was making our case to the company decision-makers. Within a few weeks, we put together a prototype, which didn’t only boast new technology (our Nebula browser technology) but also had a gameplay demo, designed to give a taste of the game’s style, perspective and basic gameplay. The first Drakensang Online trailer and screenshots which were presented at GamesCom 2010 came from this prototype. Our talented team came through with flying colours and quickly delivered a playable prototype that wowed and dazzled with the game’s technology, graphics and gameplay.
What’s the gameplay going to be like in Drakensang Online? What’s so new and special about it? The answer is the fusion of two gaming worlds: Action RPGs and MMORPGs.
Drakensang Online is now faster and more intense than classic MMORPGs; it can be played directly and immediately in the browser without any loading time; players can dive right into the action, now largely based on hack ‘n' slay fighting. Hordes of 20 to 30 monsters are no longer an infrequent event and their fighting styles will be faster, requiring players to make quick use of their talents, potions, special attacks and magic. With no way to pause, players will only be able to take a break from fighting the hordes of monsters by challenging each other.
Teamwork is a major component of this game and is essential to discovering its immense world with an epic story and plenty of quests. In hub locations like the capital city of Duria, Kingshill, players will find not only hundreds of other real players but a city full of detailed NPCs, an iconic part of the Drakensang series. Drakensang Online tears down the barriers between online and action RPGs – a combination rarely achieved.
To create the proper foundation for Drakensang Online, a completely new set of game rules had to be assembled, and they had to fulfil some pretty hefty requirements. Considering our desire to extend Drakensang Online in the future, it was a must for them to be easily expandable. They needed to be able to handle action-heavy battles, offer lots to discover and give players endless combinations to customise their characters. Not to mention, remain as transparent as possible. That’s why we avoided a system of complicated attribute conversions and implemented instead a system with direct combat values. Action-packed and direct also means, with respect to previous MMOs, that players can avoid an incoming fireball. Quick and clever reactions allow players to determine the fate of the battle for themselves.
We’re particularly proud of our nearly endless collection of magic items that are dynamically produced and include unique selections for each character class such as equipment, helmets, magic tomes, potions and more. There’s also a large emphasis on character customisation, meaning players can change their game figure’s appearance and weapons as they like.
One of the most beautiful components of the game combat is the enormous and flexible skill system, which gives the players the ability to develop their own style of play. Players modify and enhance basic magic and special attacks with magic, elemental essences, turning basic battle magic into impressive fireballs. To make this massive collection of skills unique and visually appealing, a special 'skill team' composed of programmers and animators was assembled to implement them.
We can’t help but be proud of them and made sure to make the centre piece of our second trailer which can be found on our official website: www.drakensang-online.com