Why hasn't anyone made a co-op Dungeons & Dragons game for PC, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade before? Whatever – Atari and developer Bedlam Games are finally doing the honours with Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale.
Pick from one of four race/class character archetypes, team up with friends and delve into dungeon after dungeon, looting, levelling and lolling around. There's an overarching story of course, plus the opportunity to bestow feats and powers and abilities upon your hero as they rise through the ranks. What's more, Bedlam's decided to ditch the turn-based rigour of D&D in favour of rip-roaring romp all sanctioned by rulebook overlord Wizards of the Coast.
Sounds good in theory. To find out more, we sat down with Bedlam Games creative director Zandro Chan for a chat. Dicey, I know.
Eurogamer: Where did the idea for Daggerdale come from?
Zandro Chan: This was something brought to us that we'd been talking to Atari about for a little while. The opportunity was extremely exciting for us to be able to work on the D&D franchise. It's something the team are passionate about and we really jumped at the chance to get involved.
Daggerdale to us is something very exciting. It's something that we're very passionate about. Dungeons & Dragons as a franchise is something we're very familiar with. The developers that worked on it are fans of D&D so it is definitely something we want to be associated with.
The Dungeons & Dragons franchise is rooted in a lot of history. There are a lot of fans who are very particular about how rule-sets work and how the adventures unfold. And we at Bedlam want to make sure that we do those fans justice. I don't think we're going to disappoint.
Eurogamer: A Dungeons & Dragons action RPG seems like a radical departure given that your last project was MIA music game Scratch: Ultimate DJ. What happened to that?
Zandro Chan: Bedlam is actually comprised of a lot of very experienced developers and a lot of us come from the action background and have created action titles prior to that. Daggerdale is not actually too much of a departure. If anything Scratch: Ultimate DJ was more of a departure.
That was a very good opportunity for us to stretch our wings and be able to do something that was outside our comfort zone.
Eurogamer: Where is Scratch: Ultimate DJ now?
Zandro Chan: Ha ha - you're not going to let this go, are you? Actually I can't talk about Scratch: Ultimate DJ and its development right now.
Eurogamer: Is it still going to come out?
Zandro Chan: I cannot comment on that right now.
Eurogamer: How many people are at Bedlam Games?
Zandro Chan: Right now we're about 60 developers. We've had all our top guys on Daggerdale since its beginnings in around March 2010.
Eurogamer: You've alluded to there being more Daggerdale games after this. How many has Atari commissioned?
Zandro Chan: This is the first part. That's something where we'll have to see how things pan out.
Eurogamer: Daggerdale's big idea is co-op dungeon crawling. Can you talk me through what my experience will be when I log on?
Zandro Chan: We have a very straightforward lobby system. Once players get in you can play the game in a number of ways. It has got a very robust single-player, and in addition you can play the game as intended, bringing friends together in a multiplayer environment. In Daggerdale you're able to play co-operatively online with up to four players, and you can also play couch co-op on a single box with two players.
Eurogamer: How does that lobby system work?
Zandro Chan: It's a very simple host-client system. Basically you host and your game will be propped up in the lobby and people can see that, or you can send private invites to people and to your friends and they can come in and join your game. Once the game's filled up you can start and everyone that's involved in the party at that point can go in. Players looking around can see all the active games and can join the particular game in session at that point.
The game is run with something that we call the Dungeon Master, which is a system underneath the game that dictates the number of creatures that are spawned in conjunction with your power or level and the number of players. Dungeon Master will change the difficulty of the game.
Eurogamer: Is the co-op content the same content as the single-player game?
Zandro Chan: It's scaled upwards, yeah.
Eurogamer: What happens when we level our characters up - what are our choices?
Zandro Chan: When you level a character you gain attribute points you can spend on any ability scores you may have. In addition to that, there are feats that you get to grow your character out. On top of that, there are also unique powers that each character gets that are unlocked as you gain level as well. So there's a lot of character development and customisation in the system.
Eurogamer: How faithful is that to 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons?
Zandro Chan: Everything we have system-wise in Daggerdale is based off of 4th Edition rules. We work extremely closely with Wizards of the Coast to streamline their system to make it work for an action RPG. A lot of their systems are actually in there, but because it is an action title as well as an RPG we truncated a number of different rules. And we worked with them to get that working properly.
Eurogamer: Why did you opt for an action game over a traditional turn-based D&D RPG?
Zandro Chan: We chose to go the action RPG route because it's something that the team felt very passionately about. It takes the two great loves that the team has and marries them together in a really cool, unique experience. So brawling is something that we all really enjoy, the action side of it brings with it a lot of opportunities to create white-knuckle gameplay. It's something we think fits really well with the RPG portion of it, which allows us to develop a character and customise that character through a longer period of time.
Eurogamer: How many character levels are there?
Zandro Chan: Daggerdale concentrates on the first 10 levels of the character - the Heroic tier [of 4th Edition rules].
Eurogamer: How long is going to take someone to reach level 10?
Zandro Chan: That's really up to the individual player. The game has four large chapters, four distinct characters with associated classes, there's a large number of quests, there's a large number of optional quests - the final runtime hasn't been locked down as of yet. There's still a lot of development going in. We want to pack this title with as much content as possible.
Eurogamer: As a rough estimate - what kind of time can we expect?
Zandro Chan: It'll be tough to nail down an exact time due to the fact we're still trying to fit as much as we can in before we lock down final content. It's difficult say even the estimated hours because we're still adding quests into the system.
Eurogamer: Are you aiming at a 10-hour adventure like most single-player action games?
Zandro Chan: You'll be looking at something close to that.
Eurogamer: What classes and races can we choose when we start?
Zandro Chan: What's in the game now are four selectable characters: the human fighter, the elven rogue, the halfling wizard and the dwarven cleric.
Eurogamer: And does the dwarf have a Scottish accent?
Zandro Chan: Ha ha. The dwarf is unique because he has a Chinese accent.
Zandro Chan: Ha ha, he doesn't. Those are the playable characters. You can choose to have multiple fighters, you can choose multiple wizards.
Eurogamer: Can we customise them a lot?
Zandro Chan: We streamlined the characters by marrying the class and the race together. But once you've picked your character it's entirely up to you how you want to develop that character through feats, additional armour, weapons, powers... There are three levels of powers.
Eurogamer: How important a role does loot play in Daggerdale?
Zandro Chan: Oh extremely important. The way that we have our Dungeon Master set up... Loot is basically everywhere. You're able to pick up loot through performing quests, engaging in combat in enemies and just general exploration. The idea of moving the player forward through micro rewards is one of the things that happens through the entire experience.
Eurogamer: Will I ever be able to fight my friends in Daggerdale?
Zandro Chan: Right now we don't have that as a focus in Daggerdale. The game, being the first release, is mainly focused on co-operative play, which is the hallmark of Dungeons & Dragons.
Eurogamer: Can I carry my character into a new Daggerdale game further down the line?
Zandro Chan: You will be able to carry characters forward.
Eurogamer: What social features does the co-op play have? Guilds are probably a bit elaborate, but can we trade equipment, will there be social hubs?
Zandro Chan: Once players are in the game world they're free to chat and trade items. There's a trading system that's in there; a merchant system that you can go to different towns, different areas and talk to different merchants and NPCs and pick up allies as you go along as well. The world is living, breathing and there's an economy there as well.
Eurogamer: Is the story of Daggerdale anything more than a pointer to the next battle - is there decision making with proper consequences, romances?
Zandro Chan: The player will be doing a lot of different things. Much like a lot of great tales it starts of small but it quickly blooms into something much much larger than players thought. Players start in the Mines of Tethyama amidst a group of dwarfs - a mining town that's been left to decay due to goblin raids.
The beginning part is players trying to get an understanding of where they're at, trying to get a bearing of what their main goal is - basically thwarting the evil Rezlus and his masterplan. But the very first thing is this town of dwarven miners being a shambles and players have to immediately ally themselves with these people and solve their problems, boost them up and help them through.
NPCs can join the group at specific points of the adventure.
Eurogamer: When is Daggerdale coming out?
Zandro Chan: Daggerdale should be out spring time.
Eurogamer: Can you be any more specific?
Zandro Chan: Not at this time. Largely that is being planned out by Atari.
Eurogamer: Is it possible to demo Daggerdale?
Zandro Chan: Yep! We are right now preparing a demo level that can be downloaded and players can get a taste of what it's like.
Zandro Chan is creative director at Bedlam Games.