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Depths of Peril Interview

by Brian "Dhruin" Turner, 2007-02-21

Previously known for being the Technical Director at AAA action developer Ritual Entertainment, Steven Peeler is now heading in a very different direction with a new indie studio - Soldak Entertainment's first project is an interesting action/RPG that replaces the traditional linear plot with a dynamic strategy-based system.  We had the chance to catch up with Steven and ask some questions about Depths of Peril.

RPGWatch: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about Soldak Entertainment.

Steven Peeler: My name is Steven Peeler.  I’m the lead designer and programmer of Depths of Peril.

Soldak Entertainment is a new game company that is focused on creating new and unique gameplay.  Officially, Soldak was formed in the summer of 2006 but has been unofficially running since December of 2004.

RPGWatch: Can you provide an overview of Depths of Peril?  Broadly speaking, what sort of gameplay does it offer and what makes it stand out?

Steven Peeler: Broadly speaking, Depths of Peril is an action RPG with strong strategy elements.  It has all of the things you would expect from an action RPG like fast action, tons of monsters, exploring a world, developing a character, and gathering lots of loot.  The thing that makes it stand out is the strategy backend.  You lead a faction (called a covenant in the game) that is fighting for dominance over all of the other factions in the city.  Defeating the other covenants takes diplomacy, trade, and eventually wars and raids.

RPGWatch: What can you tell us about the story and setting?

Steven Peeler: The really short version of the story is that the game takes place after the Fourth Great War of Aleria.  During this war Draaien, an orc, and Ciglio, a necromancer, joined forces to eliminate the good races.  Unfortunately, they were very successful.  They completely routed all of the good races, destroyed all of their cities, and scattered what remained of the good races to the winds.  Before they could completely wipe out the enemy, they turned on themselves, fighting over the spoils of war.  The good races barely managed to survive and are now trying to rebuild what little they can before the evil races turn on them again.  The player starts in a small barbarian town called Jorvik that is one of these places trying to rebuild.  You can read a more detailed story of all of this on our website at: http://www.soldak.com/content/view/20/51/

RPGWatch: So, Depths of Peril is structured differently to most action/RPGs because of the strategic layer - let’s start at the beginning.  The world is randomly generated at the start – can you elaborate on this?  Does each world have the same elements but just in a randomised location or can the “contents” of the world vary?  How large is the gameworld and what sort of environments will players encounter?

Steven Peeler: Each level is randomly generated so it looks different with each new world but also the positions of the levels themselves are randomized.  So each world looks very different from all of the others.  There are also many things that are randomized for every session.  Things like monster spawn positions, chest locations, trap positions and even secret area placement changes every time the player starts the game.

The content of each world varies for many reasons.  First, not all of the levels are in every world.  There are a few levels that are always present but most of them are randomly selected.  Second, you might not see all of the monster types in just one world.  I say "might" because which monsters show up in the world can change greatly because of random quests.  Third, each game will have completely different quests and some quests are fairly rare.  Fourth, there are many other rare things like rare, unique, and artifact items and unique and legendary monsters that will be different in every game.

It’s hard to explain how big the world is actually.  I wouldn’t really say any particular world is huge or anything but since it is different for each game it really doesn’t need to be.  Each game world has around 30 levels in it and has a variety of environments such as the Black Forest and Vicious Chambers.  Many of these locations also have some history detailed in the short stories.

RPGWatch: The player’s role is to protect the city of Jorvik and eventually become the leader of the city against other competing factions.  Can you give us a sense of how the basic gameplay comes together, perhaps through a couple of examples of typical play?

Steven Peeler: Well, you start in the city Jorvik with all of the enemy covenants.  For the most part, all of the covenants start fairly neutral with each other so you have some breathing room at the beginning.  Ultimately though you are trying to defeat the other covenants to become the leader of the city and they are trying to kill you.

To win - or even survive for that matter - you need to become more powerful and preferably pick off enemy covenants one at a time.  Both of these are simple in theory but not so much in actual practice.

There are three main things to building a strong covenant: recruits, experience, and items. Pretty much no matter how strong your character is, a full enemy covenant will slaughter you easily, so you must recruit and fill out your covenant.  Once you have the max recruits that your covenant can keep, you can make your recruits more powerful.  One recruit can adventure with you at a time and will gain experience as you do.  You can even replace them with better npcs that you find or recruit.  You can also upgrade the items that they carry (a smaller subset of what the player can carry).  Now, for experience and items, everyone already knows how to gain them - simply adventure around and kill monsters. :)  You can do that of course, but the faster way is to solve as many quests that you can.  When solving quests you will get all of the experience and items that you would normally, but you also get extra from the npc that you solve the quest for.

While building the strength of your covenant you also need to be dealing with the other covenants.  There are many options for this.  You can build alliances with a couple key covenants or you can simply try to keep everyone fairly happy with you.  At the minimum you need to keep the other covenants happy enough to not go to war or raid you when you are too weak to defend yourself.  You especially don’t want to annoy multiple covenants at the same time.  To do all of this you use diplomacy to keep the other covenants happy.

RPGWatch: These other factions – the covenants – are they static NPCs or are they actively participating in the world?  Will you, for example, come across other covenants adventuring in the gameworld and does their success or failure have any impact on how events progress?

Steven Peeler: They are definitely not static.  They actively participate in the world and can do most of the things that you can do.  If you start a game with everyone at level 1, the enemy covenants will start with just one npc.  They can find and recruit more npcs just like your covenant can.  If you aren’t quick they can actually recruit the "up for grabs" npcs before you can.  They also adventure around in the world gaining experience and better equipment just like you do.  So you can’t just sit around and do nothing because the other covenants are always getting more powerful.

The other covenants can easily impact how events progress especially since they can come over and destroy your covenant at any time; well at least they can try.

RPGWatch: You’ve mentioned in previous material that you can deal with the other convenants through trade, diplomacy or raids.  How does diplomacy work?

Steven Peeler: In many ways, diplomacy is similar to how lots of turn based strategy games work.  It boils down to trade, offering the other covenants something and asking for something in return. They will either accept the trade or not.  Currently the things that you can give or ask for are items, money, influence, crystals (covenant version of money), treaties (non-aggression, mutual protection, alliance), declare war on someone, and trade routes (5 different sizes).  You can ask for or offer all of these.  For most of the things available for trade, you can also give them as gifts or demand them as tribute.  For the most part, the more you make good deals with a covenant, the more they like you.  Also, the other covenants will initiate trades with you and with the other covenants whenever they feel a trade benefits them.

RPGWatch: And raids?  Does each covenant (including your own) have some sort of base that needs to be protected?

Steven Peeler: Each covenant has their own house within Jorvik where the most important object in the house is their lifestone.  Simply put, each member of the covenant is bound to the lifestone and this is what allows the player and recruits to resurrect when they are killed.  So as long as the lifestone is in one piece everyone in the covenant is essentially immortal but the down side is that anyone bound to the lifestone is killed instantly if it is destroyed.  So the objective of a raid is to destroy the lifestone and thus destroy the covenant.

RPGWatch: Are there advantages or disadvantages to different approaches?  Why would I choose to raid another covenant rather than forging an alliance and do other covenants react to the player’s moves?

Steven Peeler: There are definitely advantages to different approaches but it very much depends on your specific game and your play style.  If you can pull it off, raiding a covenant can destroy them and you can get rid of a powerful enemy but forging an alliance can make you extremely powerful.  It is much harder for an enemy to raid you when you have friends.  For example, if you have a mutual protection pact with another covenant and another covenant declares war on you or raids your house, your friendly covenant will declare war on them immediately and might very well help you out in a raid.

The other covenants do react to the player’s moves.  For example, they watch raids very closely.  If you raid a friend of theirs, they might decide to raid you to help out their friend.  If you are raiding an enemy of theirs they might actually jump in and help you finish them off.  Even neutral covenants might decide to jump in on either side depending on how much they like or hate each covenant and how weak the raid has made each covenant.  Beyond raids, the covenants in general like you more if you treat them and their allies well and dislike you more if you treat them or their allies badly.

RPGWatch: A handful of NPCs can be recruited to your covenant.  How does this work and how are they used?  Can recruits accompany the player in adventuring or are they used to protect the base?

Steven Peeler: Well you can recruit npcs in two ways.  First, you can find them running around in the world adventuring.  Finding an adventuring npc is pretty rare but they will join your covenant directly.  The more common way to recruit an npc is through competition.  Most npcs want to go to the covenant that they think is going to ultimately become the leaders of the city so they announce they are available to be recruited.  To recruit these npcs you must solve a quest, proving your covenant is worthy.  All of the covenants in the game can solve this quest and whoever finishes it first gets to recruit the npc.

You can recruit up to 4 npcs total, but you can only bring one of them along to adventure.  Raids are the one exception.  For a raid you can take along all of your recruits if you want to but this leaves your house fairly weak.  In either case, all of the npcs not with you are protecting your house.

RPGWatch: Outside of the strategic layer, Depths of Peril is described as an action/RPG.  Can you describe the character creation and development system? 

Steven Peeler: Character creation is very quick.  You name your covenant, name your character, and pick one of four classes and then you can start the game.

Now development of the character is a little more complicated.  Each character class has 30 skills available and each of these skills is essentially available at the very beginning.  The catch is that each skill has a starting point cost and rises by one for each skill level.  So all of the skills are available at the beginning but you might need to save your skill points to reach some of the higher skills.  However, every 5 levels you start getting more skill points for each character level.  So it becomes easier to get those higher level skills.  Also, as with most other RPGs, you need to decide how to allocate the attribute points you get each level and what items you are going to equip.

RPGWatch: How diverse are the characters that can be created and can you illustrate how the gameplay might change with different character development choices?

Steven Peeler: From a class standpoint, they are very diverse.  Each class has very different skills from each other and has different strengths and weaknesses.  Also each class’ power works fundamentally different than each of the other classes.  Let’s look at the priest and mage for an example of both of these.  Priests overall have a little bit of everything but their biggest strength is that they have healing spells and have good buffs. The mage’s biggest strength, on the other hand, is offensive spells.  The mage has the most powerful and the most diverse set of offensive skills then all of the other classes.  As for their power, both of the magic users start with full power, the power gets used when they cast spells, and regenerates slowly over time.  However, the priest can pray at any time to regain back her power (called faith) quickly whereas a mage can not.  The mage can use items to regain back mana but he has a limit on how often he can use these items and some of them are quite expensive.

Even within a class the player has many choices to make that should make characters pretty diverse.  With how our skill system works, you can choose to be generalist and have lots of different skills, or be a specialist and have only a few skills.  If you specialize you can choose many different paths.  For example, you can make your priest have great healing so that you can last for a long time in battles, or specialize in buffs and be strong in defense, or specialize in attacking magic and kill everything quickly, or even choose to focus on melee and play more like a paladin.  So the gameplay can change a lot depending on the skill choices of your character.

RPGWatch: What sort of quests will the player encounter and how are they structured?  Given the imperative to protect the city, do most quests originate there or will players explore the gameworld looking for adventure?

Steven Peeler: Quests in Depths of Peril work differently than most action RPGs.  There isn’t a storyline that forces a string of set quests to solve that is the same each time you play the game.  Each world is very different so each world has different quests.  Also the available quests can change based on the player’s actions or lack of actions.

Most quests do originate from within the city from neutral npcs.  However there are some quests the player can only find while adventuring.  Here are two good examples.  Every once in a while the player can get really lucky and find a treasure map that leads to buried treasure.  Another example is sometimes monster groups start having major problems with each other and can even go to war against each other.  In these cases, sometimes they will offer the player a quest to help their group out, usually by killing a bunch of their enemies.  Each time you successfully do this, you raise the faction between the barbarians and this particular monster type.  If you can raise this faction high enough, they will even cease to be enemies of the barbarians and will no longer attack you in the world.

RPGWatch: Combat is real-time action-based. What will you be doing to make combat interesting? Are there any tactical elements?

Steven Peeler: Well one of the reasons that combat is interesting is because each battle is different.  Each monster type has different abilities then all of the other monsters.  I give a couple examples of this in the next question.  There are also champion, elite, unique, and legendary monsters that all have enhancements, changing how you fight them, and are much stronger than normal versions of that monster type.  All of this makes each battle tactically different.

There are lots of other things that can change what would be a simple battle.  Some monsters just don’t like each other and will gladly kill each other.  For that matter, monster races that normally do like each other can go to war with each other and will try to kill each other on sight.  Npcs from the other covenants adventure around in the world just like you.  If they run into your battle, the outcome greatly depends on whether or not they are an ally or an enemy.

Then there are raids.  Raids are very different than any other battle in the game.  It’s no longer just you and a recruit against a bunch of monsters.  A full raid would be 5 versus 5 but the defending covenant can also have up to 4 enchanted monsters as guards.  A lot more goes on during a raid than in a normal battle.  The objective of a raid is to destroy the enemy’s lifestone.  Not only do the raiders need to kill off all of the guards and recruits, but they need to do as much damage to the lifestone as possible before the lifestone resurrects everyone again.  Luckily for the raiders, the more damaged the lifestone is, the longer it takes to resurrect.  There are two ways to damage a lifestone.  Until the lifestone health gets really low, every time a person bound to the lifestone dies, the lifestone uses up its own health to regenerate them.  So this is very dangerous for both covenants.  The other way to damage a lifestone is to attack it directly with melee or magic.  This is the only way to completely destroy the lifestone.  Just one more little tip on raids, the other covenants watch raids closely.  Each time someone in a covenant dies in the raid their lifestone gets weaker and the weaker you become the more tempting of a target you are for the rest of the covenants.  So be careful. :)

RPGWatch: What sort of enemies will players encounter?

Steven Peeler: There are many different types of monsters in the game.  Some will be known to players and some are new.  We are also trying to make each monster type as distinct as possible from the other monsters; each one feels very different and battles with them are different than other battles.  Two good examples of this are scavengers and ghosts.

Scavengers are small little creatures that seem fairly harmless at first, but they have a great appetite.  Every time something is killed near them, they will quickly run over and devour the corpse.  Each time this happens they get bigger, stronger, and their appearance changes.  So these little guys can become a big problem if you don’t take care of them quickly.

Everyone has heard of ghosts of course.  The interesting thing about ghosts in Depths of Peril is that you can’t see them until they are very close.  You can hear them from a distance but not see them, so it’s very easy to run into a group of them without meaning to.  And when they are in melee range they are very nasty.  They can drain an enemy’s health and power very quickly, especially in a group.

RPGWatch: What is the overall balance between the strategic layer, questing, combat and exploration?  Is any one aspect the major focus of the gameplay?

Steven Peeler: I would say time wise, a majority of the time you are questing, exploring and killing monsters.  But the other covenants are always there plotting against you, so you need to keep up your power relative to them and use diplomacy to try to steer the other covenants in a manner that benefits you as much as possible.  In the end, all of this is to make you more powerful than the other covenants so you can destroy them.

RPGWatch: There’s no specific plot; the narrative comes together from the events in each game – correct?  On the other hand, you’ve written some 60,000 words of back-story – how does that get used in the game?  Is there a danger the player will miss the motivation provided by an explicit plot?

Steven Peeler: That is correct; there is not a specific plot in the game that you play through.  The events of the each game are based on what the other covenants do, what you do, and what happens in the world in general. 

The background stories show up in the game in two ways.  First, the player can find tomes that contain one of the stories.  These tomes can be collected and stored in a bookshelf that sits in your covenant’s house.  Each of these collected tomes gives the player a small magical bonus.  The second way that a story shows up in the game is that they are attached to items that are relevant to that story.  For example, if you find Mudbeard’s Chestpiece you will be able to read the story Gift of a Thief (which you can actually read right now at http://www.soldak.com/content/view/34/51/ ).

There is the danger that some people would be more motivated by an explicit plot, but I think in general people are going to be too busy solving quests, plotting the destruction of the other covenants, or reacting to all of what the game throws at them to notice.

RPGWatch: How long is each game designed to last and what happens when the scenario is finished?

Steven Peeler: They really aren’t designed to last any specific length of time.  It completely depends on which covenants are in the game and how long it takes for one of them or you to eliminate the rest of the covenants.  Depths of Peril doesn’t work like many strategy games where you choose a world size and the larger the world the farther the enemies are from you.  In this game, your enemies start within the same city and can get to you within seconds.  So some games can go very quick if someone is fairly aggressive but other games might be end up being epic struggles.

If you win or lose a particular world, you simply start a new world with stronger covenants (preferably matching your characters strength) and your character, your recruits, and all of your and your recruits’ items come over into the new world.

RPGWatch: What is the current status of development and what are your release plans?  Will this be a retail boxed release or a digital download of some form?

Steven Peeler: We are in alpha right now and hoping to release in the next couple months, but we will release the game when we feel that is done.  Currently the plan is to release Depths of Peril as a digital download first with a retail boxed release as a possibility after that.

RPGWatch: Is there anything you'd like to add in closing?

Steven Peeler: I’ve probably mentioned this before but I thought I would stress it again.  Many games lately are focusing on high end graphics and are leaving behind a lot of gamers that don’t have the latest and greatest hardware.  With Depths of Peril we are trying very hard to have a really nice looking game, but at the same time playing really well on older hardware.  Currently we run fairly well on a P3 1GHz with a GeForce 3.

And as usual you can get all of the latest news about Depths of Peril at our website at http://www.soldak.com/ .

 

We'd like to thank Steven for his generous answers and we look forward to tracking Depths of Peril as it moves toward release.

Box Art

Information about

Depths of Peril

Developer: Soldak Entertainment

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Hack & Slash
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unlimited
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2007-09-05
· Publisher: Soldak Entertainment

More information


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