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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.