Thanks to an over-crowded E3 schedule, The Last Templar was a game that I only got to spend about 10 minutes with this year. Those were 10 pretty good minutes as I got a small taste of what the game was going to offer. Here's the interview I was able to secure to get more info on the game.
Could you please introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project?
Hi, my name is Nikola Ikonomov and I'm working as a game designer on The First Templar. I previously took part in the development of Tropico 3 and its expansion pack Absolute Power.
How did you go from working on Tropico 3 to The First Templar? That sounds like a pretty big shift in gameplay, content and tone.
You're absolutely right, that's a big step for us. Haemimont Games is primarily known for its strategy titles. Now we're venturing into whole new territory, a terra incognita with The First Templar. It's a dark and gritty world we aimed to create, in stark contrast to the lighthearted care-free tone of Tropico. Of course, we're not abandoning our landmark strategy titles, but with this game we hope to expand our repertoire and prove ourselves in a completely different genre.
What is the “elevator pitch” for the First Templar? Can you talk about the inspirations behind the game and what you think is unique about the game?
In the final days of a once glorious Order, a last clash between two civilizations will determine the faith of Europe and the East for centuries to come. Amidst destruction, suffering, superstitions and intolerance, a knight and a rogue lady will try to find the Holy Grail to restore order out of chaos.
Talking about inspiration, we considered everything that is cool in pop culture. We drew ideas from widely different sources and mediums to create something unique: comic books, art, historical fiction novels, and cult movies. Because I'm a movie freak, I'll tell you some of the flicks that inspired our team. First on the list is, not surprisingly, Indiana Jones, because it defines adventure like no other; we are huge fans of the franchise and even found the strength to forgive the shortcomings of the fourth part. Ridley Scott, a visual genius, gave us ideas for the representation of the times of the Crusades with his Kingdom of Heaven and the more recent Robin Hood.
The game features two main characters, could you give us some detail on the two characters and their motivations? Are these characters based on any particular person (either fictional or real)?
We have two main characters, although a third will be playable in some levels. The first character is a Knight Templar whose mission is to find the Holy Grail. On his quest he rescues a noble lady, who is accused of heresy. She's not a damsel in distress and can hold her own in a cruel man's world. Both of them are as different as night and day. It's not just their fighting style and choice of weapons, but also their characters. The lady is very witty; her "big mouth" and her knack for sarcasm often infuriate the more straightforward and serious Templar. This unlikely couple will collide with some powerful enemies in the face of the emerging Dominican Inquisition and the avaricious French king. The end of the 13th century is a very exciting time period, rich on drama and world defining events. For example we recreated the epic battle for the city of Acre, which marks the final struggle between Muslims and Christians for control over the Holy Land.
Co-op seems like a large portion of the game, how is it woven into the game play? Will players be able to drop-in and drop out of the game? Is split-screen co-op going to be supported? Is the co-op only for combat or will we need to work with a partner to solve puzzles?
The First Templar is a true co-op game, where the second character is not just a fighting companion, but essential for solving the puzzles and progressing further into the game. When you play solo, you can control either of the characters and freely switch between them at any given time. When you switch, the other hero will be controlled by the AI. A second player can always join the action and take the place of the AI controlled hero. Split screen mode will be available only for the Xbox 360 version. We also included Xbox Live and Internet support.What kind of challenges does creating a co-op game create? Could you talk about how you designed the game to include support for two players?
From the very beginning of the project The First Templar was designed as a cooperative action adventure. It was our whole starting concept - the co-op gameplay as well as the Templar/Grail theme. We've built everything around that core.
I think the biggest challenge was to work on an adequate AI for the second character in single player mode and adding meaningful challenges and puzzles that require team work.
Can you talk about how combat is handled in the game? Is this a strictly swords and fists thing or will there bit ranged weapons as well?
Our heroes will be primarily engaged in melee combat, although one of them has a ranged attack. The enemies on the other hand will use all kinds of weapons. We have scimitar wielding Saracens, heavy armored knights, cunning spearmen, nimble archers and crossbowmen, strong halberdiers and enemies armed with the exotic katar knives. If you watch the trailer there is even one very big monstrous baddie, which will give you lots of headaches.
Are there different weapons that you’ll accumulate during the game or do you just get better at using the weapons (or both)? Could you talk about the RPG elements of the game and how they impact your game?
We experimented with the idea of different weapons which you can collect from fallen enemies and could be used temporarily, but it didn't work out for us. The main characters will use their own killing tools and can get better at using them. We created an RPG inspired character development that is unique for both characters. There are around 60 skills for each hero that you can develop by defeating enemies, completing bonus objectives and exploring the game world. Some of these skills give you passive buffs like faster regeneration, more health and "zeal", while other will unlock powerful special moves and combos, which are actually pretty easy to memorize and perform. We also included different sets of costumes and weapons for the main characters, which are pretty cool. These sets will be assembled from different pieces found in the levels.
Can you talk about the “Zeal” system that’s in the game? How do you accumulate it and how is it used?
You mainly accumulate zeal by hacking and slashing enemies - the more you fight, the faster you'll replenish it. When a zeal orb is full you can perform powerful special attacks and moves. In the later levels, your hero will have many skills that will help him regain "zeal" much faster, even when not fighting.
A lot of game critics and gamers talk about the length of a game. Is that something you keep in mind when you design a game (my game must take at least 10 hrs to complete) or do you tell your story and it is what it is (or something in between)?
When we start to create a game, we rarely think in those terms. Our goal is primarily to deliver good solid fun to the players and when we achieve that the length becomes secondary. Still, there are some unwritten standards for the different genres and I think our game will fit in quite nicely in those for action-adventures.
What environments will be exploring in The First Templar? Is this strictly medieval forests and countryside or will there be more to it? Is there one environment that you’re most proud of?
I'm particularly proud that we'd managed to create a great diversity with our environments. The First Templar is an adventure that, like Indiana Jones, will take you on an epic journey through Europe and the East (the Holy Land). Most of the locations are connected with the history and the mythos of the Knights Templar. The feeling and the atmosphere is different when you venture through dark forests, cold medieval castles, towns and ports and then find yourself in the midst of lavish oriental cities, the eerie beauty of burning desert sands, forgotten temples and the horrors of war torn battlefields.The game deals with the Holy Grail, which thanks to Dan Brown has taken on a slightly different meaning. Are you going the more traditional route with the Grail mythology or going someplace new? Are you doing anything with moral implications that immortality presents?
The cool thing about the Grail mythology is that gives ample opportunities for developing a good story. The Holy Grail in itself in something unattainable, the ultimate prize, and whatever shape it takes, it always requires a seeker to surmount all kinds of obstacles to become one of the worthy ones who can reveal its secrets. By the way, you've asked me just the right question: our story indeed deals with the moral implications of immortality. Different strong characters, driven by selfish or selfless goals, will represent opposing points of view. Whether right or wrong, all of them will have a pretty good reason to act the way they do.
As for Dan Brown, I think "his" version of the Grail story was way overexploited in the last years to give it yet another rehash.
Are there any major differences between the console and PC version? Did you start with the PC version and work your way to the console version or vice-versa?
After the success of Tropico 3, which was our first multi-platform title we knew we had to move forward. The First Templar is developed primarily for the Xbox360. Of course, a PC version will also appear simultaneously and it won't be a simple port, but will receive the same polish as its console counterpart. As for major differences, no, the two versions will be pretty much identical with exception to the control scheme. The PC version will also feature facebook integration - you will be able to add and play with your facebook friends.
Any chance we’ll see a PS3 version of the game in the future? Why did you decide to skip releasing for Sony’s console at launch?
No. We have not planned a PS3 version.
You’re going to be going in to beta soon, what can people in the beta expect to see? What are you looking to get out of the beta?
We still have to polish the game and straighten some of the edges before release. In this aspect, what we expect from the beta is not so much to woo the gamers with a final and finished product, but to collect as much feedback as possible. Any critic is good as long as it is constructive and gives ideas for improvement. It is quite possible we missed a few pesky bugs or neglected some details and I hope the beta testers are going to help in that direction.
Will we see a demo of the game before launch? Are you planning for any post release DLC yet?
We are planning on releasing a demo before game launch. There is no DLC planned at this time.
Did we miss anything that you think is important?
There is surely something I missed, but I hope we'll discuss it next time, when the game is released. Until then, I want to send greetings to all your readers and hope we'll have many other opportunities to discuss future projects and our common video game addiction.
We'd like to thank Nikola for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Ted for helping to setup the interview.