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Daniel Achterman Interview

Daniel Achterman is the lead designer for the brand new Dungeon Siege II expansion pack Broken World.

He was kind enough to put up with our incessant babbling for a few minutes and answer some of our questions about his latest project.

DSH: The multi-class classes combines abilities of two "normal" classes. But they will also have their own "special" skills, powers and spells. Will a Blood Assassin (for example) be able to use some, all, or none of the ranger and combat magic skills, spells, and powers as well?

DA: To use the example of a Blood Assassin, she can learn any of the Ranger or Combat Mage skills that she likes, but she only has so many points to spend, so she'll have some tough choices to make. A Blood Assassin has both Ranger and Combat Mage levels. Ranger skills just require Ranger levels, so Blood Assassins will be able to learn them eventually. In fact, the best multiclass characters learn a combination of single-class skills like Critical Shot and the new multiclass skills like Bloodsoaked Shots.

Spending skill points as a multiclass character can be excruciating (in a good way), because you have such a wide selection of skills to choose from, and there are so many great combinations of skills and powers. It makes multiclass characters a lot of fun to build.

DSH: How feasible is it to take one's old Combat Magician of level 39 and try to develop ranged skills to turn him into a Blood Assassin? Is it even possible, or would you advice players to keep the new classes to new characters?

DA: It's perfectly feasible to do that, though the character may not be very effective in battle for the first couple hours, until she builds up some stats. As she uses bows and crossbows, her Dexterity will increase as her stats balance out between her two classes. Once her Ranged levels are high enough, she'll be indistinguishable from a hero that's been a Blood Assassin from the beginning.

DSH: You are introducing a *LOT* of new content in Broken World. Naturally you want to make the new content interesting and useful. Is there any risk as you see it that the new content is too useful, and players will ignore the old?

DA: No.

What? That's not enough? You want more? Okay...

The new content is designed to be comparable in power to the old content, so that when you find, say, a level 32 helmet, you can expect a certain power level from it. The Broken World helmet may be able to shoot fireballs or do something else you've never seen before, but it's still about as good as a pre-expansion level 32 helmet.

The multiclass characters are the same way. Some people thought they'd obsolete the original classes, like "Why would I want just one class, when I can have two?!", but they're actually comparable to pure classes in power level. They're not stronger, just different. It's best to think of the new content as adding options, variety and excitement to the items and classes of DS2.

DSH: Since the adventure is continued, will you also do other things commonly done by this type of expansion packs, and raise the max level and/or max skill points in a skill?

DA: The max level is still 100, but it wasn't really possible to reach level 100 before the expansion, and there was less gear for high level characters. The new adventure in Broken World will challenge characters that are level 90-100, and I think players will be happy with the new high-level rewards, as well.

You still can't put more than 20 points in a skill, but in Broken World, if you have items that add skill levels, you can now get up to level 30, which makes skill-bonus items a lot more effective in the expansion.

DSH: A new feature, lip synching, has been implemented. Is this something hard-coded into the cut scenes, and as such will only be visible in the new act, or is it real-time and will work with the original game as well as fan-created content as well?

DA: The lip-syncing is part of an effort to punch up the quality of the cut scenes throughout Broken World. For example, the new cut scenes have new custom animations along with the lip-syncing. Unfortunately, that kind of custom work can't be retroactively plugged in to other cut scenes, so only the sequences in the new Broken World adventure have lip syncing.

DSH: Will your new adventure take you to meet any old friends? And in that case, are the same voice actors used again?

DA: Your new adventure takes you to meet a lot of old friends, and they're all fundamentally changed. I can't wait for people to see what we've done with characters like Warden Celia, Drianjul, and especially Celeb'hel...

We hired all-new voice actors across the board, so their voices will be a bit different. The new actors are all great, though, and they all do a great job of portraying the characters. I think you'll be impressed at how good your favorite characters sound.

DSH: Apart from lip synching, are there any other updates to the graphics engine?

DA: A few. We focused on delivering high-quality content more than implementing new technology, but we did add specular and environment mapping to characters and terrain. We also use glow on terrain in many places.

Of course, what matters to most players is when they fight their way in to a new place and say to themselves "Holy crap, this underground city looks SO COOL!" There are some great graphical "Wow!" moments in Broken World.

DSH: Many people are said to see you as responsible for what has happened. Is this something that will come into play in any way, or will it simply show and there will be nothing you can do about it?

DA: Yeah, the people of Aranna aren't all your biggest fans. It'll definitely come in to play in how people treat you and what they'll trust you with. As for whether there's anything you can do about it, it's just l ike in real life, where if someone doesn't like you, the best you can do is try to change their mind through your actions.

DSH: According to a GameSpot article, your characters can be damaged by getting caught in large amounts of enemy blood. This certainly sounds like a new feature in Action-RPG games, that killing too much might actually hurt you. Could you elaborate on this feature?

DA: Lots of monsters in Broken World have cool, powerful special attacks. The clouds of poisonous blood that the Bound Taclaks leave behind are an example of that. Other monsters can spawn additional monsters, or cast devastating fireballs, or even rise from the dead! The best thing about it is that you can't always just wade in to battle like you usually do - you have to watch and see what the monsters are doing and alter your tactics to adapt. The bosses are the best example, those guys have MEAN special attacks, and you're going to have fun fighting them.

DSH: Have you revealed all secrets yet, or do you still have one or two to create attention closer to release? (No, I'm not asking you to reveal them here...though you are welcome to do so if you feel like it!) ;)

DA: Not only are there secrets we haven't revealed yet, there are secrets we're not planning to reveal AT ALL. You're just going to have to play the game...

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