Interview: Legend of Grimrock Dev Team on Their Upcoming CRPG

Classic CRPG Meets Modern Gaming

For many older gamers who were around during the golden age of the dungeon crawl and old-school CRPGs, the modern role-playing market, though fun and exciting, can often leave something to be desired. Many of us have been yearning for the classic crawl experience, with grid based maps and a heavy emphasis on combat, dungeon puzzles, and surviving overwhelming odds coupled with a modern interface and graphics. Though some indie dungeon crawls have tried to fill this need, few seem as well polished and promising as Almost Human’s debut project Legend of Grimrock. With beautiful graphics, carefully developed lore built into the dungeon and atmosphere, and classic gameplay mechanics, the game has managed to draw a lot of attention from fans of the genre.

Classic gameplay with a modern user interface and gorgeous graphics.

The team is made up of 4 industry veterans who founded their own development studio.

Petri Häkkinen – mad code wizard extraordinaire; works on level design too when he’s not banging on his keyboard
Juho Salila – highly productive 3D artist with special talent in high detail creature modeling
Olli Pelz – über-skilled 3D animation guru, responsible for all awesome animations in the game
Antti Tiihonen – super multitalented guy who has an endless supply of words and jokes in his pockets, works on levels, sound effects, items, GUI and game design among many other things

I had a chance to ask the developers some questions regarding their project, and hopefully shed further light on the game.

***

BNB: Almost Human’s development team has a pretty diverse background of projects and games you’ve worked on, though nothing recently in the commercial dungeon crawl realm. Is this something you have wanted to do for a long time, or was the idea developed more recently. How did it all come together?

Petri: I’m a big fan of the genre and I have a strong background in table-top fantasy roleplaying games too so this is definitely something I have always wanted to do. It all started when I saw Dungeon Master running on my friend’s Amiga 2000 long time ago and I was sold immediately. After many painstaking years learning programming and trying to decompose what made the game so good, we made a sci-fi “dungeon” crawler called Bloodfest with a couple of friends back in the days for the Amiga. The game was released as PD, and was utterly violent, horribly brutal and insanely difficult but even so some hardcore gamers seemed to like it. There was a plan to make a sequel but it never happened due to real life reasons. Many years pass, I got into games industry but the idea of making a dream game, the ultimate dungeon crawling game that could be compared to the masterpieces of the golden days never died. After a couple of more feeble attempts at hobby dungeon crawling projects, I realized that the only way to make this happen for real would be to work on this full steam and full time. At the end of 2010 we had a meeting with a couple of friends from the industry and a plan was formed. We would be starting up an independent game studio and doing outsourcing work to cover up the expenses for creating our own game. For me Legend of Grimrock is not just a game, it’s a dream come true.

Olli: Back in the Amiga days Petri got me familiar with Dungeon crawlers and specially the one and only Dungeon Master. I used to watch for hours as he played them. Now that we have our own studio it felt natural that we are going to finally make our own Dungeon crawler. I feel that with our many years of experience in the game industry we now have a very strong team working on Legend of Grimrock.

Juho: I’m not too familiar with dungeon crawl genre, but I’ve got a strong background in fantasy stuff like books, miniatures and roleplaying. When I got asked to join this project it seamed a really nice opportunity to do some cool fantasy art.

"...Uggardians roam the endless tunnels and passages of Grimrock allowing no one to disturb the eternal sleep of their kings."

BNB: Many indie developers these days offer early buy-in plans that release alpha or beta versions of the game to pre-orders, thus helping to generate revenue and allow for game testing. Any similar plans, or will the game be released as a more complete build?

Juho: We’ve had a lot of people asking some pre-ordering system. We’ve been thinking it too, but at the moment it’s too early to say yes or no. It’s a lot more complicated thing than just to put a button on web page that says “pre-order here”. We’re definitely doing a beta at some point in the near future, but we’re still thinking of the scope of it between open beta vs. closed beta.

BNB: Should the game prove profitable, are there plans for added content/DLC or future installments in the series? If not, have you discussed different projects or games after Legend of Grimrock?

Petri: Yes, we would definitely want to release new scenarios and expansions and extend the Grimrock universe further. We have so many cool ideas, probably enough for many years worth of development, so it’s quite impossible to have them all in the initial version of the game. We haven’t decided yet whether these would be implemented as DLCs or as full-blown sequels.

Juho: If we survive this game, we’d definitely want to expand the world of Grimrock. There are lots of ideas we can’t include into this game simply because of our resource limitations.

Olli: It would be great if this genre would really come to life again. With the technology of these days there is so much cool stuff that can be created for such games.

The game allows for a party of four, with varied class development promising high replayablity.

BNB: So far, the game seems focused on combat and puzzle solving. How much do you plan to develop the story and quest system? Do you have plans for multiple and/or branching side quests, or will it be a more straight forward “progress to the next area” approach?

Petri: Legend of Grimrock is a game about survival and escaping. The vast labyrinth of tunnels built into Grimrock are truly ancient and out of this world – it is a horrible fate to be locked inside. The lifeforms occupying the tunnels are not interested in idle banter, they want to eat your head off. We have no intention of having hundreds of “fetch me a towel” type of side quests because they would feel so out of place in this game. That said, the characters have a backstory and there is something more that meets the eye in Grimrock. We are building more lore around the game than we actually need for a single game so that the world feels like a real place not just some thin decorative set built for the players. The tunnels have a really long history and have seen many occupants who have now vanished into the mists of time and we intend to give subtle hints about them for the observant player. For example, the old runes carved over gateways and on the walls, the player should be wondering what they mean.

Juho: As we have somewhat limited resources in storytelling other that plain old text, we try to put as much story and world lore into art assets as possible. Also when designing say monsters or character portraits, you automatically start developing background stories and lore around them. It would be cool to somehow tell these stories too.

BNB: How will the game handle trade? Will players find small communities or shops in the dungeons or is loot based on item drops and exploration?

Petri: Gimrock is definitely devoid of luxurious shops selling trinkets and souvenirs for merry adventurers. However, we have an idea about how economy could work in these dark and foreboding tunnels, but this is something we are not ready to talk about yet.

The concept art thus far has translated very well into 3D animation. Visit the site to see a fully rendered tunnel ogre in action.

BNB:  How interested are you guys in trying to reach out to younger gamers who may not have any experience with the older style of CRPG? Do you hope to appeal to an older “hardcore” fan base, or do you want to try to make the game more accessible to different kinds of gamers? Could you provide examples?

Antti: What we’re aiming here for is a game that’s easy to get into but that has sufficient depth in it for old school veterans. There should be enough options in the character development, party build and dungeon exploration for multiple playthroughs but we’re not aiming for a more-is-more design philosophy either: whatever we put into the game should be meaningful. For example, we’re not going to put a charisma stat and speech skill in the game because there really isn’t that much people to talk to in the bleak dungeons.

Juho: Naturally we would like our audience to be as wide as possible simply to be profitable. Our core audience will probably be people who liked old school crawlers, but we hope to appeal to wider audience. With nice looking graphics and good gameplay we could get some people to try this type of game for the first time.

BNB: You’ve mentioned perhaps developing a level editor should there be sufficient demand after release. In a broader sense, how much mod support do you envision in your game?

Petri: To be honest, we haven’t had time to even think about the possibilities really. A healthy modding community along with frequent game updates is the best way to keep the players interested in a title for the long run, and my personal opinion is that a game like this definitely deserves a good level editor. The good thing is that a level editor for a grid based game should be very easy to use and not that hard to create, but this is something we have to seriously consider later.

Juho: I’m personally interested to see what kind of art and stories people can come up with our gameworld. We already have some awesome fans that are really getting into the lore and generating their own stories.

Antti: If you’re wondering why we don’t just take what we have here and package it as a level editor, it’s just not quite that simple. In its current state, it’s not something you can give to consumers. It’s not approachable enough and it’s too tied in to the nuts and bolts of our tech so that’s why it would need some work on it before releasing it to the wild. I, too, would be eager to see what the players could crank out with an editor.

Oh boy! LOOT!

BNB: The development time for the game seems relatively short. Is the team investing a lot of time in its creation? Any ideas on how big the final game will be?

Petri:There has been some critique about the short development time, people thinking that we are not putting into it enough time a title like this deserves, and so on. The truth is the release date for the game has not been set but we have revealed that we are doing our best towards a release this year. Believe me, we would like to develop this game for years but there are business realities for a small independent studio. This doesn’t mean we are rushing things. This game has been cooking in my head for almost 10 years, so we know exactly what we want to do, it is now just a matter of translating the ideas into a finished game. Although we have started working on the code and art for real only a few months ago, we are already farther in development than most people think. For example, we have the dungeon and combat mechanics working, skill and talent systems laid out, about 40 implemented items and 10 types of enemies. From experience in working on commercial game projects we know what it takes to balance and make a game fun, and we also know that there’s a mountain of work still ahead of us. The next few months are going to be really exciting!

Juho: Dev time is really short I agree, but we’re focused and using our time wisely. It helps a lot when you know what you’re doing. We’re putting 100% of our worktime into the game and naturally you think about the game in out-of-office life.

BNB: Have there been any discussions on a price point?

Juho: Yes. It will not be full priced and it will not be free. Somewhere between those two extremes.

BNB: Finally, will the game feature talking dragons or spaceships? What about customizable horses?

Juho: All of them except furries. I hate those dog and cat anthropomorphic animals. Lizard and bug people are fine and maybe wookies.

Antti: We’re going to release a horse editor after the game has shipped.

BNB: Again, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

A pleasure! Thank you for spreading the word!

***

Visit the game’s blog to get up-to-date information on the development process: www.grimrock.net

Legend of Grimrock is a dungeon crawl game for PC, Mac and iOS. Developed by Almost Human Ltd.


Comments
3 Responses to “Interview: Legend of Grimrock Dev Team on Their Upcoming CRPG”
  1. Qua says:

    Great!! I’m hoping it’s as atmospheric as was Dungeon Master. It better be scary!

  2. Underking says:

    This is the kind of game I’ve been waiting for ages!

  3. Jarrod says:

    Great review, Armand.

    Hoo boy, this looks promising. I really enjoyed the old Eye of the Beholder games, and this could definitely scratch my retro itch, while being contemporary enough to engage new audiences and hopefully revitalize the genre. Keep on trucking, Grimrock, I have high hopes 🙂

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