There are less than two months to go now until action-RPG Hellgate: London hits the shops. It's a PC-exclusive and is being developed by Flagship Studios, formed by a team of ex-Blizzard employees who worked on Diablo.
Comparisons with that game might seem inevitable but, as CEO Bill Roper explains in this interview, it's not something Flagship shies away from. Read on to find out why he believes Hellgate will have strong appeal for Diablo fans whilst still moving the genre forward.
Eurogamer: If you could sum up Hellgate: London in one sentence, what would it be?
Bill Roper: What's a horrible marketing tagline to give you... It's a new perspective on action RPGs. It sounds cheesy, but I guess that's really it.
There are 19 of us who work at Flagship, who all worked at Blizzard on the Diablo titles. That includes Dave Brevik and Erich Schaefer who created Diablo. We love making action-RPGs.
In Hellgate there are all the elements like randomisation which made Diablo such a strong title, but we wanted to do it in a 3D setting in order to play with things like first-person. We've done a lot of fun gameplay things we were never able to do with Diablo.
Eurogamer: What are the key innovations Hellgate brings to the genre?
Bill Roper: One is just the amount of immersion. We can go all the way into first-person with our characters and do things with scope and scale we've never been able to do before. You really become a part of the world.
Another thing is the sheer depth and breadth there is to it. Everything we did in the Diablo games we've just blown out of the water. In Diablo we had the socket system, in Hellgate we have this whole mod system for our weapons. You actually see the mods when you put them on your weapon, and so does everyone in the game, so it becomes part of your character's story.
The level of customisation is a really big thing. One of the things that's always a challenge when you're playing an RPG, and for some reason especially an MMO, is that your characters all tend to look the same after a while.
So if you're a level-45 warrior with the best warrior outfit, all the other level-45 warriors will look the same. Or worse yet, they've been building their outfit piecemeal, so they have a bronze breastplate and blue shoes and an orange helmet and they look like a clown threw up all over them.
In Hellgate, every piece of armour you pick up has a colour-scheme associated with it. You can use a menu to apply the colour of that item across all your armour, so you have a uniform look. We started running numbers on it and by level 10 and 11, it's almost impossible for any two characters to look exactly the same.
To me that's a really big deal, because you want to feel like your character is special and has an important place in the storyline. To create a hero that feels and plays unique is a big difference.
Eurogamer: As you say, Diablo was a hugely popular game. How concerned are you about Hellgate being compared? How will it stand up?
Bill Roper: We think it will stand up really well. We like the comparisons, I think they've all been favourable. It's certainly the market we're looking to; we wanted to create a game for all the Diablo fans who loved that pace, the randomisation, the collectability... That's who we're geared towards. Hopefully they'll play Hellgate and they'll love it.
Eurogamer: Is Hellgate a better game than Diablo?
Bill Roper: Phew, that's a big one - Diablo was a pretty good game [laughs]. I don't know. We'd like to think so. We used everything we learned from the Diablo series and more in Hellgate.
Ultimately, the gamers are the ones who will decide if it's better, but we're extremely proud of what we've done. Everyone who's played the game in testing has had a wonderful time and is excited by it, so, hopefully.
Eurogamer: Who is Hellgate aimed at? RPG fans, action fans, MMO fans...?
Bill Roper: People who loved the gameplay they got in Diablo, those are our fans first and foremost. People who are looking for a different kind of RPG experience. A lot of people play classic MMOs like World of Warcraft or EverQuest or Oblivion... We try to tap into things players of those games are going to enjoy, even though it's an action-RPG.
Also, hopefully some people who like different styles of game will find something intriguing to try out. We've had a lot of FPS players play Hellgate, taking on the role of the Marksman or the Engineer, and they're getting that FPS viewpoint.
We never try to pigeonhole the game; we just try to make sure it's fun. When we did Diablo, I remember everyone was saying, 'RPGs are dead, why are you doing another RPG?'. And I was like, 'Well, because we're doing something completely different.'
We feel Hellgate's done that again, it's a very different style of game. We hope people will at least be intrigued enough to give it a try.
Eurogamer: Does Lewisham feature in Hellgate: London?
Bill Roper: I'm not sure...
Eurogamer: It's in the south east.
Bill Roper: I don't know if we get there.
Eurogamer: Is that because Lewisham is already a Hellgate anyway?
Bill Roper: So to put it in a fictional universe would be redundant? [laughs] No. There are some landmark locations we wanted to pick -
Bill Roper: Places like Covent Garden, the Tower of London, the Millennium Bridge... Because it's such an international city that's so widely recognised, we wanted to pick a few areas where players will go, 'Oh, I know where that is.'
The challenge is that the game's completely randomly generated. We're not doing a street-by-street replay of London. We sent our background artists and a couple of our leads over to take literally tens of thousands of reference photos we used to build all of our textures from.
So even though you're in an area which is randomly generated, it should feel correct. For example, we do have the market in Covent Garden and the British Museum, so there are some areas we built specifically.
Eurogamer: Will you consider doing an expansion pack set in Lewisham?
Bill Roper: Sure, we may add that in continuing content. It would be great to go down there.
Visit the Hellgate: London gamepage for all the latest coverage.