Monte Cristo's Silverfall has drawn attention above other action/RPGs in development through an unusual art style, the fantasy vs technology setting and a large open gameworld. We were able to send some questions in to Monte Cristo some time ago and although a demo and press previews have been released in the meantime, we hope the detailed answers provide further insight into this title.
RPGWatch: Please introduce yourself and tell us about the development team.
Jehanne: My name is Jehanne Rousseau and I’m the project leader of Silverfall. Our game was developed in France, first by a small team, of which everyone had extensive gaming experience. Later on, the team grew and parts of the production were also realised in Kiev.
RPGWatch: Can you summarise Silverfall and the gameplay it will offer? What makes it different?
Jehanne: Silverfall is primarily a hack-and-slash RPG, with exciting combat, tons of items to collect and an extensive character-development system. However, we wanted to make sure the game would appeal to fans of story-driven RPGs, so we’ve made sure to craft a unique and appealing world with lots of interesting NPCs and character interactions.
RPGWatch: What can you reveal about the story?
Jehanne: The world of Nelwë was once governed by elemental sorcerers, who reigned from vast cities built on power nexuses. When Goblins learned to make use of black powder and steam engines, they enlisted to help of the Trolls and freed themselves from the sorcerers’ oppression and began building their industrial cities, and later empires. The impact of their technological advancement took a terrible toll on nature surrounding the cities, and so the defenders of nature rose up to fight all forms of technology.
Most factions chose either the nature or science camp, with neutrality remaining in a few cities. As the game begins, the player finds himself in Silverfall, one of the remaining neutral cities, where he must uncover the forces behind a Zombie attack that left most of the city in ruins. Obviously things escalate from there!
RPGWatch: How is the gameworld organised and can you give us a feel for the size? Is it one continuous world or individual maps/areas and how much freedom will players have in exploration? What sort of locations will players encounter?
Jehanne: The world of Silverfall is really vast and varied, and consists of several maps which together form a continuous world. The player can move around freely around the scenery, and will occasionally have loading times, but the game will continue freely afterwards.
The player can go wherever he wants whenever he wants, but he can be limited by the level of monsters in certain areas. Silverfall allows you to visit a zeppelin city, which is attached by huge chains to another city lying on the top of the canyons. The player can also see Blazis, the city built on volcano lava; he will run through underground worlds; he will enter a giant insect hive, and more.
RPGWatch: So, one of the major elements of Silverfall is the technology vs nature dynamic, which is apparently woven throughout the game. Can you expand on the impact this has on the gameplay, perhaps with an example or two of how the game might play out differently depending on the player’s choices?
Jehanne: We really wanted to ensure that this dynamic wasn’t merely cosmetic; it should have a major impact on the game, and it does. As players advance through the main quest and complete various side quests, they will face choices and have to make decisions that align them either with the forces of science or nature. The choice players make will determine which skills are available to them, how NPCs and companions react, and the player’s actions will even determine the future alignment of Silverfall.
A player who decides, through his side quests, to follow the way of Nature will, as his alignment becomes more important, gain access to nature-specific equipment, which is more powerful than neutral equipment.
He will also gain Skill points, which will help him to unlock specific skills, depending on his alignment. This way, the player can transform into a lycanthrope (werewolf, for example, as a human player), call a swarms of insects or an animal companion, and so on… on the technology side, he can use firearms or implants, spread irradiation around him, and more.
All this comes on top of the story changes and the changes to the city of Silverfall itself: the city changes after it is reconstructed, depending on the player’s alignment and the quests he has accomplished.
RPGWatch: Players won’t be adventuring in the world of Nelwe alone because AI companions can join the party. Your website mentions a “relationship gauge”, which affects the companions’ behaviour and performance. What sort of companions will players meet and how do they affect the gameplay? Is the “relationship gauge” similar to the Influence system in Knights of the Old Republic or NWN2 -- and won’t players simply try to “game” the relationship system to their advantage?
Jehanne: This gauge is actually not visible, but the companion will really change his behaviour depending on the answers given by the player. The player therefore has to be careful how he replies, as the companions will like him more or less depending on his answers, and the better a companion likes the player, the more efficient he will be in combat and the more inclined he will be to have the same alignment as the player.
In fact, our system is inspired by KOTOR (NWN2 was, of course, not yet available when we put all this into place), but much more than in that game, companions have their own personality and do not always expect the same thing from the player. Moreover and contrary to KOTOR or NWN, we never force the player to be accompanied by a particular companion; he can even choose to go completely solo.
I don’t think it is that simple to use the relationship system to your advantage, if only because of the alignment: if the player decides to please his companion at all costs, the player risks being caught up in an alignment he’s not interested in. The companions are likely to give you special quests (if they like you) and information about the story. It is even possible to turn one into an in-game boyfriend or girlfriend!
RPGWatch: Does the relationship gauge indicate dialogue plays a more important role than most action/RPGs?
Jehanne: In fact Silverfall asks the player to pay more attention to dialogues than in most other Hack’n’Slash, not only because of the alignment: a overhasty reply and your character may loose his alignment which may hinder him to use certain skills. His companions do also react much better in combat if the player goes in their direction (they get a bonus for their mood if this is the case).
Despite the importance of the dialogues, we have tried to keep them relatively short and full of character. Each character has his own personality, but we didn’t want to overwhelm the players with a ton of uninteresting text.
RPGWatch: Speaking of action/RPGs…I think many developers of hack’n’slash titles miss the real reasons for the success and longevity of Diablo. What do you think makes a great action/RPG?
Jehanne: As mentioned earlier, we really wanted to focus on delivering a great hack-and-slash experience. At the core of that experience is an engaging combat system that allows players to tactically choose which skills and weapons to use against certain enemies. Item collection is another significant component of a great action-RPG; players should constantly be rewarded with new and more powerful items, and should feel a sense of accomplishment if they find that one amazing sword they were hoping for, or the piece or armor that allows them to run into combat without hesitation. Third, we knew that we needed to develop a character-development system which allowed players to create the character they really wanted to play; we didn’t want to force them to play the game in a specific way. Lastly, a great action-RPG needs a robust multiplayer mode, and Silverfall allows players to work through the entire game cooperatively, or to just hop into in-progress games to satisfy their desire for monster-smashing!
RPGWatch: Character creation and development. Players create a character from one of four races and then develop the avatar through a skill-based system. Would you detail exactly how the system works and the diversity of characters that can be created?
Jehanne: In Silverfall, we abandoned the traditional class system in favor of an open-ended skills system that allowed for even greater flexibility in the types of characters players could create. So rather than placing restrictions on, for example, the type of armor a sorcerer could wear, we’ve made it very possible for players to develop a tremendously powerful armor-clad mage. There are three skill trees, which are further divided into several branches. One tree contains combat skills: melee, long-range and technique. The second allows a focus on magic, with branches for light, dark and elemental magic. Both of those trees are available to all characters, regardless of race or alignment. The third tree contains skills specific to certain races or characters leaning toward the technology or nature paths. In total, there are more than 130 skills to truly build the character you want to play.
Each time the player increases a level, he will earn four Skill points as well as four Attribute points that he can then allocate as he likes.
This system really allows for all possible combinations without limiting the player to a stereotype. He can, for instance, play a troll magician, or an elf battling on the technology side. And, as the player can buy back certain skill points he had already used from some merchants, he can even change his direction during the game, if he thinks he has made a mistake.
RPGWatch: The website mentions a skills synergy system…what exactly does this mean in practice?
Jehanne: It means that each skill from within the same skill tree brings bonuses for the other skills. This way we avoid having useless low-level skills after two hours of gameplay. Even the skills that you may have acquired at the first level will give you bonuses on the last skills of the same family. Therefore, each point invested remains useful, whatever the level of your character. For instance, you don’t have ten spells of different strength: there’s one health spell which is improved by passive skills, making this spell more and more powerful as more levels are gained.
RPGWatch: What sort of quests will the player encounter? How simple – or complex – are the quests and do they ever have choices or different solutions?
Jehanne: We’ve really aimed to appeal to fans of hack-and-slash games, as well as fans of traditional RPGs, so we’ve made sure to include quests that appeal to both sensibilities. We’ve implemented side quests focused on both the science and nature paths, so you’ll certainly need to play the game a couple of times to see all of the quests. Each of the companions you’ll meet throughout the game will also have their own side quests to add further depth to the experience.
There’s definitely a lot more variety in the types of quests we have, compared to a traditional hack-and-slash title. Sure, there will be quests where you just need to defeat a certain monster, but you’ll also get escort quests, exploration quests and more. We’ve really done our best to combine exciting action-oriented combat with elements usually found in traditional RPGs. To that end, some quests will definitely have different outcomes depending on the choices you make: the player will for example get a quest from a foreman whose workers don’t work anymore. If the player finds them, he will learn that the workers have been visited by a druid who has tried to convince them to stop working for the factories of Cloudworks. The player can either decide to follow the foreman and convince the workers of the benefits of technology, or follow the druid’s approach and make sure that the workers will never go back to the factory…. The compensation and the loyalty points will, of course, depend on the path chosen.
RPGWatch: Combat is real-time action-based and is obviously central to any action/RPG. What will you be doing to make combat interesting? Are there any tactical elements?
Jehanne: As with any hack-and-slash, fast-paced combat is a major element of the game. However, with the extensive character-customization options, part of what will make combat exciting is the ability to switch between a wide variety of combat skills and spells in battle. You’ll need to decide which skills to use against which enemies and in certain situations, as some spells might be ineffective against specific enemies.
RPGWatch: What sort of enemies will players encounter and how advanced is the AI in combat?
Jehanne: As the world of Silverfall is a bit different from fantasy classics, we have been able to include really original creatures such as flying goblins or necro-brains, the results of the crazy experiments of the necroraiders. Their sizes vary greatly – from small aggressive fish to a gargantuan moving hill – and attack both in groups and on their own. The AI has all what you would expect from a hack-and-slash game. Some bosses and creatures have very complex behaviour routines and you have to combine actions in a certain sequence in order to defeat them more easily.
RPGWatch: The interface is often an impediment to realtime combat achieving much depth - for example, it’s often hard to select from a large range of different attacks or combos in real time. Is this an issue for Silverfall? Do you have any different approaches to the interface?
Jehanne: The player does indeed have to consider the skill he knows and allocate them in limited slots (a total of 8) at his disposal, but I would say that this is again part of the hack-and-slash experience. When you meet a boss, for example, you’ll choose precise skills and you will only have the most useful ones as shortcuts. You can of course choose which skills are assigned to which keys, but you shouldn’t do this in the middle of a fight against a boss! :)
RPGWatch: How does magic work? Are there different schools or circles and can offer some examples of interesting spells?
Jehanne: The magic skill tree is divided into three branches: shadow magic, white magic and elemental magic.
Each of these trees gives you access to numerous different spells and passive skills. Of course you can find classic spells like storm bolt or fireball in the elemental magic tree, but it also gives you access to the tremendous Fire Rain, the Ice Crown that freezes all the enemies around you, or Tornado, which reduces their attack and movement speed. The white magic tree includes buffs and healing protection, regeneration and resurrection. Besides, we have only one healing spell, so you don’t have to buy first a minor healing spell and then a moderate healing spell etc., which will become useless once the superior level is accessible. In our case, passive skills will improve the effects of the first healing spell. One of the spells of this tree is particularly useful for each character, whatever his disposition is: it is serenity, a passive skill which allows quicker health and power recuperation when the character isn’t moving.
Last but not least there’s the shadow magic tree, which contains the invocation of dead servants and all sorts of curses, as well as power and life drains. Thanks to this tree you can not only summon a phantom, but you can also improve it so that his evolution follows yours and so that it is always useful at higher levels.
RPGWatch: Can you tell describe the equipment and items in the game, such as weapons and armour? Is there anything like a crafting system or Alchemy?
Jehanne: Items are randomly generated in Silverfall, with a nearly infinite number of possible items available. We see item collection as another pillar of the hack-and-slash genre, so there will certainly be very rare items with powerful enchantments available that should keep players hunting for hours on end.
The equipment is very varied and some of it is linked to the alignment accessible to the player. This means that some armour is nature-specific or technology-specific, and in order to better equip your character with these objects, you may need to be a certain percentage of the way toward one alignment or another. Of course we have unique items, many objects which are rare or whose enchantments are numerous, but for the time being we do not have crafting in the game.
RPGWatch: Multiplayer. What modes are on offer?
Jehanne: A strong multiplayer component is yet another staple of the hack-and-slash genre, so we wanted to make sure we offered plenty of options for fans of a good MP experience. For those who’d like to make their way through the full campaign with a group of friends, we’ve included the campaign mode. You’ll need to play through this mode with the same group, but you’ll be able to complete the main quest cooperatively.
For those who want to just hop into a game, vanquish some monsters and hop out again, there’s the free mode. The primary quest is not available in free mode, but you’ll be able to roam the land in search of items and enemies, as well as complete a variety of side quests.
RPGWatch: What is the current status of development and is there anything else you’d like to add in closing?
Jehanne: Silverfall has gone gold. One last thing I should mention is that we have included the game editor in the final product. The editor is tremendously deep, allowing you to create your own adventures, in your own world and to share them with other players, allowing you to do easier stuff like adding a monster or a unique weapon here and there, thus extending the lifetime of the game even more.
We'd like to thank Jehanne Rousseau for his answers and Tom Ohle for his assistance. Silverfall will be released in the coming weeks and, as always, we'll bring you all the news we can find.
Developer: Monte Cristo
SP/MP: Single + MP
Genre: Hack & Slash
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2006-11-21
· Publisher: Monte Cristo
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2007-03-21
· Publisher: Deep Silver
· Platform: PC
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· Publisher: Atari