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Eric Tams Interview

Eric Tams is one of the engineers at Gas Powered Games. He works with both content and engineering. If an artist wants a monster to do a specific thing, or a level designer wants a certain piece of logic for a level, he hooks it up for them. He also worked on the spells, spell effects, and AI Behaviors.

Recently we were fortunate to have Eric take a break out of his busy schedule and answer some of our questions.

DSH: What were the system specs of the machines used to develop the maps of Dungeon Siege?

ET: I think most of the level designers ended the project with 1GHz boxes. Creating maps doesn't take too much CPU power. Since the Editor uses some of the same code as running the game, anything that can run the game should be useable for making maps. We use vertex lighting and nodes for level geometry, so there isn't a lot of processing that needs to be done before a level can be loaded.

DSH: How likely is the May release of the Siege Editor?

ET: Release of the Siege Editor in May is very likely.

DSH: What advice do you have for the legions of Dungeon Siege Siegelet creators out there?

ET: I think that the best thing that you can do if you want to make a Siegelet is to play the game first. Once you understand the game, then you can better make new material for it. With a good understanding of the game you can find places to insert small changes that make a big impact. There is already a mod out that increases the inventory space. This mod only needed to change one number, but made a profound impact on gameplay. If you are just starting out then try to make a few small changes to get acquainted with the system before making your total conversion.

DSH: What are some examples of game features that were built using skrit?

ET: Skrit is used all over the game. AI behaviors, spell functionality, animation control, level logic, and several other systems were all written in skrit.

DSH: Were the buying/selling transaction systems created using skrit or something else?

ET: Buying and selling were implemented in the core engine code, not skrit.

DSH: Can you give us a ballpark figure for what type of technical resources are needed to create a Siegelet? (i.e. computer speed, memory, final Siegelet size, etc.)

ET: Anything that you are comfortable playing the game on should be good enough for making a Siegelet. I spent most of my time at GPG developing on a 733 MHz box. The reason that I upgraded wasn't because my machine wasn't fast enough; it's just that I need something more stable. I do recommend to anyone getting a new system make sure to get enough memory though.

It depends on how large the finished product will be. I have my own pet project that I have been working on. My Siegelet contains one small region that is big enough for 6 players to run around in, the map alone tanks up to 340 KB. The Siegelet has no new textures or models, but contains 13 new spells, uses 7 new skrits, has 8 new monsters, 22 new effects, and has 18 new objects. These new resources tank up to 43 KB. So the whole thing could fit on one floppy. We recently tanked up two very large regions which turned out to be 4 MB.

It all depends on how much you want to create.

Developing for Dungeon Siege is a little different than you might be used to. We have a couple of really useful features that really speed development.

  • Skrit, SiegeFX, and Objects can all be created or modified, then loaded into the game with a really easy process. With the development build of the game you don't even need to exit the game. You can just reload the content that you changed.
  • It takes only a few seconds to compile all content in the game, so you can change something and see the result almost instantly.
  • Maps don't need to go through a long process to get them in the game. You can just save the region you are working on and load it right up.
  • With gmax you have a free modeling program, so the cost to start modding Dungeon Siege is just the cost of the game.

DSH: Can the portraits of the characters be replaced, or are they merely taken from the face of the 3D model?

ET: Dungeon Siege can be modified to display custom portraits.

DSH: How random are things? How random are chests? How random are monster placements in dungeons from game to game? How random are the item drops from kills? How random are the items themselves (i.e., do you have Diablo-like random item generation that uses various prefixes and suffixes)?

ET: All of the items in the game are generated using a system we call Parameterized Content, or PContent for short. Pcontent is neat because it allows you the flexibility to generate a random item from a list, or to specify exactly what item will drop. We use a combination of hand placed items and random items. The items themselves can have two modifiers. These modifiers can have one or several enchantments, or even a special ability like freezing. All of the modifiers have power levels that are used to determine which ones will go on what objects.

DSH: Are there any plans for a secure world, like where each item is unique and is stored on a server?

ET: There are currently no plans to have servers, but it is something we may consider down the road a bit.

DSH: What challenges do you foresee for Dungeon Siege Siegelet creators? Do you have any words of encouragement/solutions for those facing these challenges?

ET: I think the biggest challenge for mod creators is going to be trying to communicate to the user how some of the more complicated mods work. Dungeon Siege is made to support an Action RPG. Creating a different interface for some of the more ambitious mods that works into our game is going to need some clever designs. We are working on some examples that should help mod makers out.

DSH: Will packmules ever be introduced in Multiplayer?

ET: You can summon a helper and they'll run around, pick up your loot, break open barrels, and even deliver a super ninja kick. I'd take a helper over a mule any day. :) But in all seriousness we've heard everyone's concerns and they are on our minds.

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