Dungeons & Dragons is a brand synonymous with the PC, providing the role-playing genre with the inspiration for some of the finest games ever made. It's unashamedly "beardy" and reduces grown men to babbling wrecks spouting nonsense about dice rolls and saving throws. "Argh, you caught me flat-footed!"
You may find it slightly bizarre, then, that Atari and Kuju have decided to create a brand new D&D adventure for PSP.
It's due out later this year, and will be an unflinchingly hardcore addition to the RPG catalogue. It's turn-based, for starters, and rivals its desktop counterparts for customisation options and depth. Tactics will also offer a fancy multiplayer mode that will let you group up online or locally to tackle dastardly dungeons together. Which all sounds very sumptuous.
So, to coincide with our yearly adventure out of the house, we decided to corner D&D Tactics producer Lawrence Liberty about this rather strange addition to the PSP line-up.
Eurogamer: What made you decide the PSP was the right platform for a traditional Dungeons & Dragons outing? Are you worried that you might be pitching to the wrong audience?
Lawrence Liberty: There were a couple of reasons behind going with the PSP as the platform of choice for D&D Tactics. We felt that the PSP demographic skewed a bit older, and that there was a dearth of tactical RPGs on the console.
Eurogamer: D&D role-playing games have traditionally enjoyed the versatility of input a PC offers. What difficulties have you run into when recreating this for PSP?
Lawrence Liberty: As you would expect, there were many challenges in designing a user interface that works with the PSP controls and fits on the screen. In the end, it meant making the most of screen real estate and streamlining the play mechanics.
Eurogamer: How different will the game feel to something like Neverwinter Nights 2, and will it offer a similar amount of content and depth?
Lawrence Liberty: Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is not pseudo real-time like Neverwinter Nights 2. That said, it should appeal to Neverwinter fans; it does a terrific job of capturing the pen-and-paper D&D experience.
To answer the second part, Tactics is a large game with a good deal of variety. We estimate that the single-player campaign should be able to keep an earnest gamer occupied for 40-plus hours, and countless more including the multiplayer experience.
Eurogamer: What kind of characters will we be able to create, and how will grouping work?
Lawrence Liberty: Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics sports the common classes; barbarians, druids, et al. As well as the new psion and psychic warrior classes. Up to six characters can be in your party, both in single- and mutliplayer, and there is support for four players online.
Eurogamer: Do you feel the increase in technology and craving for more cinematic and engaging battles have rendered turn-based combat obsolete?
Lawrence Liberty: There are certain time-tested game mechanics that I don't see going away, and grid-based strategic combat is one of those (chess, anyone?). As long as the pen and paper version of D&D plays the way it does, the most authentic way to handle combat in a D&D computer game is turn-based. That is not to say this is the only way to go, but I think the niche will continue to have relevance.
Eurogamer: How much replayability will Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics offer?
Lawrence Liberty: Tactics has a couple of key elements to bolster replay factor: character alignment-dependent story elements and, most importantly, multiplayer support. With both co-operative and PvP modes it can greatly extend content. I could see four friends getting together and playing at their local coffee shop - something that could only really happen with the PSP.
Eurogamer: How exactly will the online modes work? Will I be able to use my single-player character to pummel my friend, for instance?
Lawrence Liberty: For game balance purposes we limited multiplayer to optimized pre-generated characters. As to the mechanics, anyone can host a game and other players within range can search for it and join. In cooperative mode (Dungeon Bash), the host acts as a pseudo Dungeon Master, assigning players to characters. All in all it's a pretty simple procedure.
Eurogamer: Downloadable content was another area you said you'd continue to support the game with. What kinds of things can we expect from this? Do you have plans to let users create their own levels using a tool set? Will we have to pay for the downloads?
Lawrence Liberty: Unfortunately this feature had to be culled. It was simply beyond the scope of a first-effort PSP D&D title. But it's something I would love to see happen, particularly user-generated content.
Eurogamer: What kind of community do you think the game will attract? Do think it could grow as large as the Neverwinter Nights fanbase?
Lawrence Liberty: I think Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics should attract a sizeable community, although I'd be pleasantly surprised if it matched the Neverwinter community. We also hope D&D: Tactics inspires a slightly different kind of community, one where friends can get together and play.
Eurogamer: Will we see Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics on any other platforms? Does the DS have enough graphical muscle for it?
Lawrence Liberty: As it stands, the game would have to be altered pretty seriously to fit on the DS. But I do think it's a natural fit for the PC or next-generation consoles, although we haven't determined if it will be ported to any other platforms.
Eurogamer: Are you concerned that traditional single-player role-playing games are being pushed away in favour of MMORPGs? Could one be created for PSP?
Lawrence Liberty: I think there's room enough for both genres to thrive. The continued success of Final Fantasy is testament to that. And the gaming market continues to expand, so I don't view the role-playing market as fixed.
There could be an MMO made for the PSP. The machine has the basic components to field one, even if it had to rely on a sizeable memory stick. It could certainly handle something like EverQuest Online Adventures (PS2 MMO). But this begs the question, would there be a market for an MMO on PSP?
Eurogamer: Will we see more Dungeons & Dragons from Kuju on PSP?
Lawrence Liberty: Kuju has been great to work with, going above and beyond for D&D Tactics. However, we have not yet determined if there will be a sequel to Tactics. For the time being, Kuju has plenty of games in development; they have five studios working across most platforms and all game types.