Can you introduce yourself and describe your role on the project? How long have you been in the gaming industry and what drew you to your current position?
My name is Mario Kroll. I’m the Director of Marketing and PR for cdv Software Entertainment USA. I’ve been in the industry full time since 2004, and prior to that founded and operated Wargamer.com, the leading online magazine covering military and strategy games. I was attracted to cdv because I’ve been a passionate gamer for over 20 years and working with a company that, at that time, specialized in RTS games and was headquartered in my native Germany, was a great fit for my interests and background.
Can you give us some background on the game and explain a bit about what we'll be doing in Sacred 2? How much of a connection is there with the first game and will you be able to play Sacred 2 without having played the first game?
Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is a prequel to the original Sacred. Released in 2004, that game earned PC Gamer’s “RPG of the Year” award despite strong competition in the genre, and achieved a strong cult following, with almost 2 million units sold world-wide.
The game takes a step back in history and partially explains why some of the things in the original game occurred as they did, but by being set 2000 years earlier in the story, it also freed the developers to unleash their creativity. You don’t need to be familiar with the original Sacred, but having played through it, we think you’ll find it bigger, better and simply more enjoyable than that already very good game.
The only playable character that makes a return is the Serpahim, an angelic creature that is as lethal as she is beautiful. Entrusted with safeguarding the world of Ancaria and the T-Energy that is the ultimate source of power, many of her kind have entered a self-imposed exile on an inhospitable island in Ancaria. The playable Seraphim, however , still honors her original role and is trying to restore balance to a massive world rapidly spinning out of control, with devastation, strife and terribly mutated monsters everywhere.
Another significant change, aside from the dramatically improved graphics (to the point that we’ll showcase Sacred 2: Fallen Angel against any similar title out there) is the fact that this time around the game will ship not only for the PC, but also for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
What lessons did you learn from developing the first game that you applied to developing the second game? What did you learn developing this game that you'll apply to future projects?
The team really took to heart most of the criticisms and enhancement wishes received after the original and worked very hard not only to get rid of the things that kept the initial title from being even better, but also exploited the leaps and bounds in technological advances that make it possible for Sacred 2: Fallen Angel to look, sound and play even better than the original did.
The game was developed in a specialized way, with the core team working literally years on getting the technology right, then populating the world. This allowed for features such as seamless drop-in, drop-out multi-player, zero load times when exploring the massive world that is almost twice as big as the original and its first expansion, and a host of gameplay features that weren’t possible in the original.
Ascaron also established an dedicated QA team, nearly as big as the development team, taking every possible step to ensure that despite its hundreds of hours of content, the game runs as stable as possible, scales extremely well and provides a Triple A quality experience.
Those lessons will be applied and continually improved upon for future titles.Can you talk about the different classes that players will get to choose from? Do you have a personal favorite?
The game features six different classes, and four of these have both a Light and Shadow (e.g. “Good” and “Evil”) side. A quick rundown would look like this:
- The brawler or “fighter” class. He’s an undead warrior who’s very angry about having been resurrected rather than being allowed to pass on to his “final reward.” He’s basically a tank unit, with a special affinity and skills that allow him to leverage his undead status.
- The only character found in the original Sacred as well, the Seraphim is an angelic fighter with awesome hand to hand and deity-granted magical powers. She rides on a massive saber tooth tiger in combat and only wants to restore balance to the world of Ancaria.
- The High Elves are the “favored” race within Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. Not idealized humans as often found in other, traditional fantasy lore, Ancaria’s High Elves are a powerful race but feuds amongst itself as the nobility and clergy disagree about the proper use of T-energy, a powerful force that the High Elves have learned to control, at least partially. They are an agile and magically strong race, but also disdain the other races and look upon Humans as servants or slaves.
- The Dryads are a matriarchal society that stems from the original Ancient Elves of Ancaria. Distrusting of T-energy and those that yield it, they have retreated to a dense jungle island, where they live in tree houses and nurture their affinity for more primal magic, poisons and their close ties to nature. They are also lethal with ranged weapons, particularly the blow gun.
- A cybernetic guardian that shares the look of a futuristic Egyptian Anubis, the Temple Guardian packs some sci-fi weaponry with visual effects that will certainly dazzle players (and the Guardian’s foes). One of the original guardians of the source of T-energy, the Temple Guardian became a pawn in the power struggle between the Seraphim and Inquisitors, and those few that survived the ensuing massacre are guarded and tend to shoot first, asking questions later.
- The Inquisitor is the ultimate villain, corrupt to the core, he only cares about controlling the source of the T-energy. No cost is too high for this pursuit. His corrupt nature and extensive manipulation of T-energy has fostered a number of powerful and devastating spell powers that belie his fragile, cloaked appearance.
It’s tough to pick just one character. They are very well balanced and all have strengths and weaknesses. I find the Temple Guardian to be the most unique and interesting, and I love his beam and energy weapons. The Seraphim is simply very cool, using her upgradeable wings as weapons and armor, both. The High Elf has some very visually impressive spells that are a lot of fun to play, while the Inquisitor is that inner bad guy that you just want to play sometimes, without regard for trying to do the right thing in a game.
Sacred 2 was featured at Showdown LAN in Worchester, MA, on September 5 - 7. How'd it go?
Sacred 2 has “shown” very well at all the consumer events. The game’s had quite a whirlwind tour this year, starting with GDC and SXSW, then press events in June and July, followed by Comic Con and PAX (Penny Arcade Expo). We’re now on the third and final Showdown event, this time in Peoria, Illinois. Each time we show Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, people seem to get more excited for the game, which obviously makes us very happy. Even our preview versions for PC and console have received rave reviews, but we’re continuing to polish, to ensure that North American customers get the best possible version of the game.
The Ascaron development team went into "crunch time" back in July, and the PC release has been delayed from September to October. Does it look like all the promised features will make it into the final version, or is anything getting cut? The PC's ad hoc WiFi networking was certainly a big deal...
Actually, October was only a release date for the non-English version of Sacred 2 in Europe. For the UK and North America, the PC version is planned for an early November ship date, while the console version is going to move to a less crowded February.
Nothing is going to get cut. The development team has a lot of pride in this title and continues to polish almost daily. Every build we are seeing continues to get stronger and stronger. Our goal is to publish a definitive Action RPG that can stand up against any title, so we’re taking this time to polish a few last minute things that most may not even notice, but will surely please those that do.During CDV Editors Day 08 we saw some monolithic bosses: The Nautilus, the Golem, and the Red Dragon. What other bosses are lurking around the land of Ancaria? What makes a good boss monster in your opinion?
Each of the 12 regions has a boss battle. In Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, we wanted to keep game play as open as possible, although it’s not really a sandbox game. But we didn’t want to impose artificial restrictions that keep a player from playing the game their way. The bosses are tough, and defeating one requires not only brute strength but also figuring out their unique weaknesses, particularly at the higher difficulty levels. (Silver, Bronze and Hardcore are available in a new game; once completed, Gold, Platin, and the extremely tough Niob difficulties are unlocked, by the way.)
A boss, at least in Sacred 2, serves as a true challenge to the player, just prior to completing a major milestone. A good boss monster is one that the player can defeat, but its neither a trivial or a mindlessly repetitive experience. It should challenge the player in an intelligent way and also keep players from wandering too far into areas of Ancaria that are too lethal for their current skills or experience, or the their party composition.
Let's face it: Americans aren't used to their role-playing games being fronted by fantasy power metal bands. Is the West ready for a soundtrack driven by Blind Guardian's Gothic guitar riffs? How many tracks did they contribute?
You know, a lot of people were surprised by the Blind Guardian announcement, but by the same token, we had a fantastic response from fans of the band that play games but might otherwise never have discovered the game.
At Comic Con, for example, we had the band show up for two signing sessions, and the we had an incredible number of people show up. Every time we talk about the game, there’s usually someone in the crowd who says “Isn’t this the game Blind Guardian’s working on?”
The key thing to realize is that we didn’t just grab a metal band and throw them into the game. Instead, it was truly a synergy. The managing director of Ascaron knew the band and was a big fan. Conversely, most of the band had played the original Sacred and were big fans. When the opportunity presented itself to collaborate, it was almost magic.
Coupled with the support from the band’s record label, Nuclear Blast, it’s really been a win-win. We’re even sponsoring a heavy metal tour this fall in which three bands from the same label as Blind Guardian will hit every major city in the United States and Canada, handing out Sacred 2 and Blind Guardian merchandise, and traveling in a very styling tour bus that shows off the characters of Sacred 2 very prominently. We’ve even gotten support from Marshall, a guitar manufacturer, to create amazing custom guitars, of which we’ll give several away to some lucky fans.
As far as isometric RPGs go, Space Siege has been largely written off by critics as a failure, and Too Human has been raked across the coals likewise. How confident do you feel stepping out into this very chilly RPG climate?
I don’t think we’re seeing a “chilly RPG climate,” rather a “tired of the same” climate. That happens in every genre, and unless you’re really willing to bring something new to the table, gamers will be less than happy with you. So, with Sacred 2, we’re throwing all sorts of incredible features at gamers, and editors have noticed that the developers have raised the bar for fantasy Action RPGs once again.
First, there’s the online drop-in/out multiplayer, which allows the game to scale dynamically depending on the number and level of players. Start out by yourself, and the game sets the challenge appropriately. Then, as more friends drop into your game, it’ll make quests more challenging, adding more or more powerful monsters to encounters, making the bosses tougher, increasing the loot drops and unlocking unique party drop items only available during cooperative games.
Our online cooperative play will support 16 players on PC, and four players on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, which means you’ll always have plenty of room for a big exploration party. Game play on the PC will allow each player to view their own screen, while the console versions utilize a shared screen, with all four players lassoed together on one screen. You can even play on the same console with up to two players by plugging in an additional controller.
Also, our game world is hand-made, nothing procedural or random about it. So you have a massive 22 square miles both above and below-ground to explore. You’re going to get a massive amount of replay value out of Sacred 2, that’s for certain.
Since the game world is so huge, we allow for mounts, which are custom to each character type. The Seraphim, for example, rides a saber tooth tiger. The Shadow Warrior rides on the back of a Hellhound, the Dryad a giant Monitor Lizard, the Temple Guardian a giant mechanical wheel, while the Inquisitor rides a lethal giant spider. The mounts serve as both a means to travel more quickly, but also permit mounted attacks, including unique attacks for each type of mount. You can even upgrade and equip the mounts, giving them better armor.You announced the PS3 version of the game a while ago, why did you finally decided to bring it to the PS3? Are there any significant differences between the different versions of the game?
We actually had planned the PlayStation 3 version with the developer from very early on. We held back announcing it once we were sure we could address technical differences between it and the other two platforms. We wanted to have a nicely running, great looking version before we entered that fray as our goal is make this one of the platform’s must-have titles for action RPG fans. No experience like it has ever been delivered to console.
Each platform will share the same core gameplay content, but the interface and the look and feel are being optimized to play to each platform’s strength while avoiding annoyances that would result from a quick port or other undesirable approach.
Will you be releasing additional downloadable content for the game after it's released? What are you thoughts on how DLC plays into the life cycle of a game?
We’d love to introduce DLC after launch, but right now, we’re working on getting the actual game done :)
DLC is a great way to extend the replay value and shelf life of a game, obviously, but that also has to be balanced as to ensure that when a sequel is being planned, that we don’t short change that full featured experience as well.
When it comes to fantasy games there's always been one question we've had, is it really a good idea for female warriors to go into battle wearing a chain metal thong...do you have an answer for us on that?
Fashion knows no bounds… but it’s been said that chain mail thongs, through their ability to distract male opponents, offer a unique combat bonus that may outweigh any physical armor bonuses. ;-)
With the game coming out later this year do you have any tips or tricks for people when they play the game?
Definitely give each character class a try and mix it up by using different combinations of combat arts. Mostly, make the game “yours” by picking the character that best suits your playing style. The depth of customizations between weapons, armor, combat arts – including chaining and upgrading thereof – mounts, and many other aspects truly make this a wide open game. Just because you encounter another character that looks a lot like yours, don’t assume for one minute that your strengths and weaknesses are similar.
Any chance there will be a demo released before the game ships?
Absolutely. The PC demo will be released this Monday, and will feature a 10 level playable sampling, as the character takes on the role of the Seraphim in the High Elf region. While the demo will only give a taste of the significantly bigger and more full featured final game, I think folks will like what they see.
Is there anything we didn't talk about that you think is important to the game?
I’d just restate that the game is going to be fantastic. I’m obviously biased, but too many people have invested too many years of hard work and passion to have this be anything less than one of the best Action RPG’s to date, and this time it’s going to be available not just to gamers on the PC, but also to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, where a game like this has never been offered.