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Interview to Tim Cain


Interview to Tim Cain

In this exclusive interview, Tim Cain, developer of Arcanum: of Streamworks and Magick Obscura explain to his particular point of view on the RPG's world.

di Antonino Tumeo, pubblicato il Could you name three games that impressed you and explain why?

Tim Cain: Ultima Underworld I - this was a great RPG, and the first-person graphics were new and exciting and made you feel part of the world. I loved UU1 more than any other Ultima.

DOOM - this game blew me away. The graphics, the music, the multi-player, everything was incredible. I knew that the shooter genre would never be the same again.

Civilization - I was addicted to this game for months. The replayability was amazing. I played it several times through to see what kind of civilization I could build. It wasn't the first or last Sid Meier game I played, but it was certainly one of the best. In the hystory of CRPG, which games have had more importance? Which titles influenced more your work?

Tim Cain: While I have played most CRPG's (from the early Ultima games up to the modern Baldur's Gate), most of my influence comes from paper and pencil RPG's, like AD&D, GURPS, Warhammer, TORG, and the like. I have spent many many hours as the game master in these systems, and I like to focus more on creating an entertaining and reactive world than in forcing the player to go thru a storyline. I am trying to make "a world which contains a story" rather than "a story set in a world" Are you more confident with persistent online world or with games that feature a Story Teller, like Vampire or Neverwinter Nights?

Tim Cain: While I enjoy games that support user-created mods (like Vampre, NWN, or Arcanum), I think the persistent online worlds will eventually be more widespread, since they do not require as much work from the end user. However, these persistent worlds will always be more action than RPG, since most people will just run around killing everything. Which is, in your opinion, the most important feature of a CRPG and why? What aspects make the difference between a good game and and a best seller RPG?

Tim Cain: Hmm, I think these are two unrelated questions. :)

I feel the most important feature of a CRPG is the ability for me to make my own character (being given lots of choices on what to change as well) and then having the world react to my unique playing style. I do not want the same experience as someone else playing the same game

However, I think most best-seller RPG's are more geared to the casual gamer. Therefore, they are made easier to use, which inherently means less choices for the player, which I don't like. Don't you think that it's absurd that a character increases its skills so much during the adventure? Wouldn't it be better to balance the game so that the player isn't forced to make experience only to continue in the adventure?

Tim Cain: I think people playing RPG's want to be heroic (or villainous, as the case may be), so they want to gain skills and powers during play. It is fun to start out as a relatively mundane character and rise in power to become a force to be reckoned with. People understand and respond well to such positive motivation.

I think there are a lot of games where this advancement is not available. These are called adventure games, and they seem to be dying out. Aren't the sub-quests becoming too many? Aren't the games becoming too long? The quests are often introduced only to allow the characters to become stronger: if the "growing skills" of the character would be removed, unuseful quests could also be removed and the game could be focused around its main plot. So they would be shorter and less dispersive. They could also cost less, if they would be shorter...

Tim Cain: Such a game would be simpler at the cost of being less reactive, more linear and too confining. If skills and associated quests were removed and the game focused only on the main story line, you have made an adventure game, not an RPG. I believe the market response to these new bigger and broader worlds of RPG's is saying to us that people WANT these additional quests. These quests serve more than just increasing a character's skill set. They allow the character to develop a background and become more substantial. Sure, killing a whole town raised my character's Firearms skill, but it also made him evil and maniacal and extremely self-serving. It's character-building, which is the heart of an RPG. What do you think about time limit for quests solving?

Tim Cain: In general, I like them for non-required quests, that is, quests which are not on the main storyline. Even then, it depends on the quest. It makes no sense to hear about a kidnapped princess being held for ransom, and then wait two years before you go rescue her. On the other hand, if someone lost a locket and wants you to find it, it will probably stay lost while you go somewhere else. Every thing has its place in an RPG, including time limits. But I plan to keep them off of main story quests, so people don't feel rushed to finish the game. We've seen that CRPGs from FallOut started to look like adventures, losing some components like puzzles based on combinations of buttons or enormous dungeons. What do you think about this? Do you think that this direction will continue to be followed in the future?

Tim Cain: Yes. I enjoy puzzles and combat, but I don't like random puzzles that cannot be figured out from clues in the world, nor do I like an endless series of randomly spawned monsters to fight. I want a purpose and a direction in my RPG. Yes, I want a big world to play in, but I want to know where I am going in it. What does it still lack in today online persistent worlds? Why Ultima Online, Everquest, Asheron's Call are not perfect?

Tim Cain: I play EQ a lot. While I love the world and playing the game with my friends, I hate the style of the game - endless combat, or worse, camping a spot waiting for a monster to appear that has an item you want. The design of the game practically enforces this style of play. I wish these games would provide more quests involving NPC's who can hold dialogs and in places that have histories. I know, this is difficult to provide in a multi-player setting where most people think they are playing a form of Quake, trying to kill anything that moves. But it is possible. Which are the features on which you count to make an online persistent world interesting?

Tim Cain: I look for an excellent character creation system, large areas to explore, interesting NPC's, a large variety of items with different effects, and unique things to do. Unfortunately, no single online game provides all of these features. Do you think that there will be still space for 2D RPG, or 3D will become king in this genre too? What other technologies are you looking forward for this genre of games?

Tim Cain: There will always be space for 2D. I don't view 3D as something that will supplant 2D. It's just another tool in my toolchest, something I use to make games. Look at this year's best RPG, Planescape. It is 2D. The year before we had Baldur's Gate, also 2D. And the year before that, Fallout, also 2D. This year we have Arcanum, Icewind Dale, and Baldur's Gate II. All are 2D. Do you think that in the future we will see also "western" CRPG on Consoles, or there will be only space for "japanese"-style RPG for these system? Why CRPG developers doesn't like consoles?

Tim Cain: Western CRPG's tend to have a more complex interface than most console games, and that makes them harder to port. I think we are going to see more of them ported, however, because of the rise in console popularity and sophistication. The Interface is often one of the most criticized aspects in CRPGs. So, how should look like the perfect interface? Which is the right balance between friendliness and abundance of options?

Tim Cain: We are trying to design Arcanum so that nothing important is more than two mouse clicks away. This lets us make a more friendly interface while at the same time allowing a lot of player interaction in the world. We are also adding some optional interface panels, such as a follower interface, that gives extra information to the player but that he can also choose to hide. This makes the main interface much less cluttered and gives a larger viewable play area. Now some questions about Arcanum: do you plan to make an entire saga starting with this title? What could you tell us about it?

Tim Cain: The world of Arcanum is a Tolkienesque fantasy world that has recently experienced an industrial revolution. We have tried to give it the feel and look of the late 1800's Europe, mixed with the remnants of the "Old (fantasy) World". Technology and magic have reached an unstable equilibrium, with technology being on the rise in the last 70 years, and magic being in decline from its once penultimate position in the world. Being a true fantasy world, Arcanum is populated with elves, orcs, humans, dwarves, ogres, gnomes and halflings. However, with the advent of technology, the races' roles in society have radically changed, bringing additional tension to the world.

Our story finds the player on vacation, when suddenly he is thrust into the position of being responsible for the fate of the world (of course). Our story, like the world of Arcanum, hinges on the uneasy dichotomy of magic and technology.

We plan to make a sequel too. The most interesting thing about Arcanum is without any doubts its original environment. Said that we like it very much, could you explain better how you justified the combination between techology and magic and how it will work in the game?

Tim Cain: Technology and magic do not mix in our game because they are polar opposites with respect to natural physical law. The wizard tries to bend natural law to allow his magic to be cast, while the technologist strengthens physical law through the use of his gadgets. Therefore, magic and technology tend to cancel each other. Guns work better in the hands of a technologist, while spells function worse on them. And vice versa, guns may misfire when used by a magician but their spells have more powerful effect. The player can choose to balance his character's aptitude in magic and technology, but specialization has advantages as well. This dichotomy of magic and technology is at the core of Arcanum's story line and game engine. During the game the player will meet NPC. They will be able to join the party but the player won't control them, like in Fallout. How will this aspect be managed?

Tim Cain: Arcanum has a wide variety of NPC followers that can be found during the course of the game. All of them will have their own agendas that might be at odds with the PC's. They will be watching the PC's alignment to make sure it doesn't vary too much from their own, and will leave the PC if the difference in their alignments is too great - or they just might turn on the PC when they get fed up with him. The NPC followers will advance in levels throughout the game, and they will distribute their own character points when they go up a level. This point distribution will be based on their personality. We want the followers to act as if they are truly autonomous characters. It's not so much a party system as a single player system with NPC's to help out along the way. Compared to the two Fallouts, do you think that in Arcanum you made some steps forward in the the player's interaction with the environment, that is with objects, history and other characters?

Tim Cain: In several ways, the player has much better interaction with the world. Almost every object in the world can be damaged and destroyed, meaning the player can break down doors or even walls if he is missing a key to a room. Keeping in mind the fun of playing a thief, we made windows that can be opened and closed, locked and unlocked, and the player can even climb through windows. We have added dynamic lighting, so the player casts a shadow that faces away from the light source. And light level is important in the game. It's harder to shoot someone in the dark, but much easier to hide there. Now some "classic" questions: have you got other projects besides Arcanum?

Tim Cain: No, and I am happy about that. I get to devote all of my time and attention to Arcanum. For what period do you think that Arcanum will be ready?

Tim Cain: It should be ready by September 2000. Finally, is there anything you want to tell to our readers and to all your fans out there?

Tim Cain: I appreciate your interest in the game, and I hope you enjoy it when it is released!