An interview with Starbreeze, the Swedish company behind fantasy role playing game Sorcery.
Swedish company Starbreeze are currently hard at work on their debut project, a fantasy role playing game with a difference called Sorcery (which we previewed yesterday).
We dragged several members of the team away from their work to find out more about Starbreeze, Sweden, and Sorcery...
A Star(breeze) Is Born
Starbreeze was founded back in 1997 by President and lead programmer Magnus Högdahl. "Back in early '97, shortly after my previous project ("Into the Shadows") was canceled, I started out on my own, coding a completely new engine."
Meanwhile another Swedish designer called Gustaf Grefberg was working on a game design to go with the engine.
"I was with the project more or less from the beginning," Gustaf told us. "Starting to think up a game concept together with Magnus, who was still working with the engine."
Magnus continues the story. "About one and a half years later I had a game-design and a demo ready, so I went to E3 '98 in Atlanta to try to get a publisher backing the project".
"Fortunately Gremlin liked what I had to show them. By late '98 I had finalized the deal, and during approximately the same time period seven out of the current eleven team members joined the project."
Amongst the new team members was level designer Jens Matthies.
"About a year and a half ago I was scouting the internet for game developers that needed artists. Most of them are located in America, which is a big disadvantage since it requires various working permits and a major relocation."
"Almost by chance I stumbled upon a webpage that listed Swedish developers. I looked at all of them and applied for those that needed new artists."
"Starbreeze however was the place that to me, being a huge first person shooter fan, seemed to have the most interesting project going. Magnus got in touch with me, and for some reason he gave me the honor of being part of the team. I still can't believe it sometimes."
"The talent that Magnus managed to assemble is overwhelming," Jens told us. "Everywhere I look, people are making amazingly impressive stuff. It's damn hard to try and keep up."
Sweden isn't exactly famous for its gaming industry, unlike say Britain, America, or France.
"I don't know the exact count of companies that are producing games in Sweden", Magnus told us. "But I think they number somewhere around 10. We only have contact with a few of them."
Things are changing though. According to Gustaf, "the gaming industry in Sweden is constantly growing. More projects and developers pop up all the time".
Jens agrees, saying that "the Swedish game developer scene is fairly large considering our tiny population (9 million people)."
So what is it like developing games in Sweden?
"The 'advantage' of being based where we are, in a tiny town in the north of Sweden, is that there's almost nothing to do here, thus encouraging us to work more", Magnus joked. "This, of course, is the subject of complaint of almost everyone here, so eventually we will probably move to a place more interesting and warmer."
Not having anything else to do brings the team closer together though, at least according to level designer Mikael "MyrddiN" Wahlberg. "When I'm awake I'm at work. I spend 90% of my awake time with the team - we work, eat, and party together."
And Gustaf points out that "to work in one's homeland is of course an advantage". The only problem with being based in Sweden is "that it often means working at a distance with the publisher".
"I don't think it really matters where you're located though", Jens told us. "All you need is a computer to work with, and a decent internet connection."
Sorcery is Starbreeze's first project, an ambitious role playing game with gorgeous 3D visuals and an epic fantasy plot.
"The idea was to make an almost entirely magic based fantasy game, with a real 'magic' feel to it", according to Gustaf.
"I had been waiting for a decent first person RPG for a long time, but none came out", Magnus explained. "For a time I thought Hexen II would be it, but to my big disappointment it wasn't. So I figured, why not make one? There must be more people with the same preferences as I."
"It's nothing that came overnight", Gustaf told us. "While Magnus worked with a general concept, I worked on the world and story, which slowly grew and took shape."
"You take the role as a young mage who has a heavy task, to say the least. You work to restore order and peace on a continent ravaged by wars and madness."
"I won't give away any details yet, but it takes place in a definite High Fantasy setting, with a plot that will both have elements you will feel at 'home' in, along with many things that will surprise you and keep you on tip-toe."
Gameplay-wise, Magnus describes the concept as "a cross between Diablo and Quake, with a huge world to explore and lots of quests to solve".
"It's a very fast-paced RPG", according to Gustaf, "but with a good portion of strategy and puzzles involved."
"Combat will consist mainly of magic, except for many of the monsters. We have a system which is easy and user friendly, but that will at the same time provide with many combinations and possibilites, allowing players to develop their own playing styles."
"There is also a large world that you can explore, and many things to do outside the main plot. We also have a few 'secret' ingredients that will hopefully make it stand out from both 3D shooters and RPGs."
System Shock for Elf lovers? We'll have to wait and see, but so far the game is looking very promising...
Beauty Is In The Eye Candy Of The Beholder
The game is also looking drop dead gorgeous, thanks to the proprietary 3D engine that powers it.
"It's Magnus' baby, and it is a beautiful thing", Jens told us. And from the screenshots we've seen so far, we'd have to agree.
"It's main strength is it's curved-surfaces capability", according to Magnus. "When this feature was added, about a year ago, it completely revolutionized the way our levels were built."
"The best part of it is that the level designers can go crazy with their curves, knowing that if a computer can't handle them, the user can select a lower tesselation degree to get the framerate up."
Curves alone a game engine do not make, though. Luckily Magnus' engine provides all the other eye candy you could wish for, and a little more as well...
"Recursive and movable mirrors/portals, volumetric fog, illuminated volumetric fog, skeleton animation/deformation, animatable multitexturing materials, dynamic lighting, day/night cycling, etc.."
"Currently we're only supporting OpenGL. Unless we find any significant reason to support Direct3D, it will be OpenGL only. There will be no software rendering."
If you don't have a 3D graphics card already, it's time to leave your cave and join the 21st century...
The game will also feature multiplayer support naturally, although according to Jens, "the multiplayer part is getting very little attention" at the moment.
"Basically we're putting 95% of our energy into the single player side of the game. The multiplayer part will hopefully be lots of fun, but it will probably have to wait until we're pretty much done with the rest."
Gustaf gave us an idea of what to expect though. "Plenty of action, team play that will strongly encourage cooperation, and plenty of possibilities to develop your own playing styles..."
Which all sounds good to us. In fact, the only bad news is that Starbreeze are still being coy about giving any firm release date. "We're aiming for a 2000 release", is all Jens would tell us.
I guess we should let them get on with the game then...
Thanks to Jens for setting up the interview, and to Gustaf, Magnus and Mikael for taking the time to talk to us.