PC Interview

Istvan Zsuffa discusses Armies of Exigo

EA and Black Hole's latest is today's talking point

Having been intrigued by the prospect of EA and Black Hole's forthcoming fantasy-styled real-time strategy game at E3 last month, Ferrago took the opportunity to sit down with the developer's Art Director, Istvan Zsuffa, for a chat about his impressive looking project.

Ferrago: What is the premise of Armies of Exigo, and how will it engage us in the fantasy world of your creation?

IZ: The majority of our team has been playing with Real Time Strategy games for a long time, and has been interested to create one. Interestingly the majority of our team likes the dark fantasy world which is very well reflected in our game; Armies of Exigo.

Ferrago: Is it difficult creating something original (in terms of look, game play and story), when you are working as part of such a well-defined tradition as the fantasy RTS genre?

IZ: Naturally, it is difficult to create something completely new in the RTS genre, but our goals were never to create something completely new. The game we created is traditional in many aspects, however the overall outcome is significantly different from everything that has come before it. This game has several fundamentally different and new features. Our most important invention is the multi-leveled game fields. With the help of two mini-maps we are able to follow the events either on the surface or down below. Although we can view only one level at a time by switching between them, the two levels are closely connected not only geographically, but in many tactical aspects that gives rise to a new game experience while using spells, controlling units and other objects.

Ferrago: In terms of game play, we hear that Armies of Exigo will take the genre in a few new directions - can you expand for us?

IZ: The above mentioned multi-level system provides many new possibilities regarding strategy. Players will be able to cast spells from one level to the other one. One good example is the Earthquake spell, which can be activated above ground, but its effects (falling rocks from the ceiling) cause great devastations below too. We are capable of destroying existing entrances to the catacombs or create brand new ones for that matter. The miners of the empire can build connecting passageways at any point of the game field between the two levels. Shamans of the Beasts are able to transform their units into a state of gas which then can seep through the ground and re-appear in a solid form in the caves below. Constructible and destroyable bridges will provide a new tactical challenge for players. This new aspect enables the player to cut its enemy off or create new ways to get to them. All fighter units gain experience points and advance in levels respectively. As these units advance, they earn specific bonuses and privileges, therefore it is beneficial to protect, heal and take care of them in order to build a really strong army. Even if we manage to have them killed, there are ways to resurrect them and continue.

Ferrago: Multiplayer will clearly be a major part of the game, what are the challenges of this portion of the title, and how will it differ from other multiplayer RTS's.

IZ: We have created many kinds of the multiplayer mode, every player will be able to find his or her favorite. There will be traditional melee (1v1, 2v2, etc.) team melee and FFA modes both normal and the tournament kinds. We created CTF levels specifically for our CTF game mode. In this game mode the players might have to protect multiple flags which aren't necessarily located at a single location, the player's base. We also created several unique multiplayer levels which will provide us with new game modes too. There will be multi-leveled multiplayer game fields and obviously single-leveled as well. The release of the game will include its editor allowing everybody to create any kind of game field and play it with their friends.

Ferrago: Atmosphere can add so much to create an immersive experience; what ambience will you be promoting in the game and how do you hope to achieve this?

IZ: Every game level will have its corresponding animal kingdom (four legged, birds, insects) with matching intelligence. These animals are running around, grazing and have a mind of their own. The game has real time wind that moves all trees, smoke and flags simultaneously. This wind changes in direction and strength. According to the season of the level rain or snow might fall from above, and once in a while even fog might form on the surface. Time of day will also effect visuals. In the evening it will get dark and practical lights (windows of buildings and other lamps, torches, fires etc.) will illuminate their surroundings. The sun moves across the sky and real time shadows reflect this respectively. Every setting or event is filled with sounds; creeks gurgle and crickets fill the silent night.

Ferrago: Visually, the world of Exigo is already looking vivid and detailed - tell us about the landscapes across which we will be waging war, and anything else interesting about the graphical side of things.

IZ: Our players will be taken to diverse locations in the game. On the surface we experience the changes of seasons. The story will take the player to swamps, deserts or giant forests. The world underneath might even be more unfamiliar and interesting. Amongst the traditional but spectacular cavern & tunnel systems, we encounter ice caves and boiling lava caverns as well. An additional and interesting effect is the dynamic changes of lighting underground. As units move about, these lights might awaken or die out respectively.

Ferrago: How different will the game's factions be, and what problems does this present in developing a balanced experience?

IZ: There are three playable and discrete sides in the game (Empire, Beast, Fallen). I would begin by explaining that units of these different species advance levels in different ways. Units of the Empire when advancing to level three, get an aura that affects every friendly unit nearby. Units of the beasts cannot influence their friendly units, however they receive the most powerful bonuses. The way Fallen units gather xp points is fundamentally different from the previously mentioned two species since they collect and keep the spirit of every killed enemy in a specific place. As soon as the collected xp level reaches a certain amount, every existing unit of a specific kind advances a level collectively and so does every newly constructed unit of the same kind. Another diversity amongst the three species is that although they are able to achieve / execute everything their opponents can, their methods are completely different. For example, the majority of all units require supplies to be able function. The empire builds farms to provide its units with these supplies. Beasts breed Borons (giant Buffalo like creatures) to comply with this need of supplies. These creatures can be controlled, used in battles, and goblins can be put on their backs. Fallens summon their supply. While summoning, these units cannot move, although their bodies are significantly protected by this very spell. During this process Summoner can even see into other levels (surface or underground). As another important difference, I would mention how the different species transport their units by air. Fallens have a flying creature that turns invisible and is able to transport units. Beasts do not have a transporting unit, instead they know of a spell which transforms any unit into a gaseous form. This form of aggregate can fly and/or penetrate the surface and solidify back to its original form upon arriving. The empire uses flying arcs to transport its units by air. We are able to develop these arcs to have loopholes for archers to attack ground enemy units whilst in transit. I think these examples demonstrate well some of the main differences amongst species.

Ferrago: What element of Armies of Exigo are you most proud of so far?

IZ: There are a tremendous amount of features that we are very proud of, and I am reluctant to single out just one. What I'm most proud of is the fact that we created a game that we truly love.

Ferrago: How have EA's past strategy games - such as the C&C series - influenced you in developing this game?

IZ: Although the basics are similar since they are all RTS games, we tried to differentiate our game by making it to be different from previous EA RTS games. The biggest similarity between AoX and the C&C series is that we too designed super weapons, although ours differ how they are used and what / how they effect their environment. With super weapons in AoX, we don't win wars, their cunning use only helps our troops and opponents can come up with a remedy to avoid its effects.

Ferrago: Will you be hoping to create and support a gaming community around the new title, if so, how?

IZ: As you would expect, we do plan community support. We promote the forming of Clans and competitions among them. There will be detailed statistical pages of players and clans too. We are planning to provide forums to players where they can discuss everything between themselves and possibly even with the developers.

Ferrago: Thanks for your time!