Interview: Don Geyer, Lead Designer of Legends of Aethereus
Earlier last month we were given closed beta access to an upcoming ARPG that had a rather successful Kickstarter. Legends of Aethereus promises to break the traditional mold of games and offer a unique gaming experience to those wanting something new. We played this game to no small extent and found it to be a different change to gameplay, offering a comprehensive crafting and hands-on combat system. After playing, we had some questions to ask, and Don Geyer, CEO and Lead Designer of ThreeGates, was there to answer them.
ARPGamer: As was stated on your initial Kickstarter, ThreeGates wanted to deliver a game that wasn’t “watered down.” In what ways do you think you’ve accomplished returning to those roots of the gaming experience to offer a more complex experience through Legends of Aethereus?
Don: We have created a rich and extensive skill and crafting systems that allow the players themselves to choose and develop a variety of character strategies. So the players will have the ability to control and customize their skill set instead of following a defined linear path.
This is one of the goals at the core of LoA that we want to create rich systems that allow the players to be creative and gives them the freedom to come up with a variety of ways to play the game.
ARPGamer: Coming up with something different takes a good bit of work. Any game is the product of years of thought and development. How long has Legends of Aethereus been in the works?
Don: We began the initial concept development phase in December 2010. So we have been at it for just over two years. Some of the ideas at the core of the game have obviously been in the back of the minds of the development team for several years.
ARPGamer: The beta shows you’ve gotten a good deal of work done in that time. The world of Aethereus is very visually-driven with plentiful exotic locations and customizable gear. How did you originally come up with the idea for the setting?
Don: The concept of the planet Aethereus was developed and then we wrote the background history including the general biological ecosystems and civilizations. We layered that with a series of natural and cultural events that helped shape and develop the current time period the player finds themselves in.
The goal was to create a believable world that is both stunning visually and interesting from a physical variety and gameplay point of view.
Then on top of that add the story layer injecting the player in as the protagonist in a world of volatile and dramatic change. In this sense the player has the chance to champion changes and make a difference in the world.
ARPGamer: Speaking of players championing changes, the game advertises a single player campaign with coop of up to four players. In addition, a variety of PvP games will also be made available as the game progresses. To accommodate this PvP-driven side of the game, you’ve made multiple factions. How do these factions factor into the single player campaign?
Don: As a player you are in the service of the Nexus City-State which is an outpost of hope in an otherwise harsh and untamed world. The Lumic peoples that make up the Nexus are a rag-tag group of survivors that have developed the Nexus over the years into a prosperous and Thriving State.
The once powerful Venatan Civilization is the main nemesis for the Nexus and has plans to take over the Nexus and put all of Aethereus under its control. The local Leader of the Venatan, General Zhorgal, is constantly plotting and scheming to take over control of the Nexus and the Lumic People.
The Ghalian Shaman, led by High Shaman Busiris and their minions the Khagal are also a constant threat to the Nexus. They have been settling the lands closer and closer to the Nexus and also have plans to take control over the Nexus.
All of the people of Aethereus have recently rediscovered an ancient legend and are searching for clues to uncover the mystery of the Anicent Skyfall Relics. These Relics contain great power and the group that discovers them first will surely have the advantage in the power struggle over Aethereus.
As an Agent for the Nexus players will be traveling on bold expeditions in search for the Ancient Skyfall Relics. These quests will take the players to a variety of untamed and dangerous lands and will, of course, be highly contested by the opposing forces General Zhorgal and High Shaman Busiris.
ARPGamer: Combat appears to be a very hands-on playstyle from what I’ve noticed in the time I’ve played. Attacks are slower, forcing the player to be more deliberate in their strategies. Parrying, blocking, and dodging have been implemented to make every HP count. What influenced you to take this more active approach to combat in your ARPG?
Don: We wanted to make a true action RPG where the player controls the action. We understand that there is a certain fun to pushing a button and watching a fancy cinematic animation play and then every enemy in the radius drops dead but we wanted to take a different approach.
We realize from the feedback we got early that we are not alone and that there are players out there that want to aim their own weapon and have control over the outcome of combat. So we developed a comprehensive combat system that is focused on player control.
This system is based on the physics of the weapons and not on dice rolling. So you aim your sword, swing and if it hits something then the actual force and damage are applied to that which you hit. Hopefully it is an enemy.
The same goes for ranged combat in the game. You shoot or in some cases like the javelin you throw something with your own aim and a force. So there is no auto-aim; it’s the players skill that determines if there is a hit or not.
ARPGamer: Are there any future elements of combat you hope to implement?
Don: There are a few combat features that are not in the Single Player Beta. Also, we have opened up the game a bit so that players can get to many skills and features in a short game play time so we could test things more thoroughly. So the full version of the game will be balanced quite a bit differently.
In the Multiplayer version we are testing in-house now we have added several new officer skills. Some of these include special combat moves and some are stat buffs and nerfs.
We have some plans to add some new melee and ranged combat elements through DLC in the future. The ideas that we have tested and thought about included adding spears to melee and a few new types of ranged combat. Bows and crossbows will come in soon as well as possibly more exotic ranged weapons like bolo or boomerang have even been discussed.
ARPGamer: This style of combat certainly contributes to a different PvE experience. How do you think your combat system contributes toward a PvP-friendly environment?
Don: The combat system has been developed so that it can really add to an interesting PvP environment. Not only the fact that the player can have firm control but also the ability to make customized and creative character types makes the PvP interesting on many levels.
Strength and speed are balanced so player and weapon speed are affected by weight. So you can develop a more active ninja-type character based on speed and quickness or you can decide to build a powerful tank type character that does more damage and shock force but will be slower and less agile.
The LoA combat system is balanced between three types of damage: Impact, Aether, and Shock.
- Impact is the more classical physical damage.
- Aether Damage is powered by Aethergems and does chemical burn types damage through venom, fire and other Aethergem effects.
- Shock Force causes knock back and stun damage. Shock force is Physic based and is determined in newtons by realistic physics calculations based on velocity and weight.
This balance allows players to develop a variety of offensive and defensive strategies. In short you cannot protect yourself against everything. So you can pick a well-rounded balanced strategy or a strategy that is very focused and specialized on specific kind of damage or armor type.
ARPGamer: What types of PvP events will be available for players? Will they be simple team-versus-team setups or will there be objectives and comprehensive playable maps?
Don: We have tested several different game types. These are played out within the arena setup. So we are testing on four maps now and have plans to add several new maps in the future.
- Head to Head – This is the mono y mono gladiator type battle.
- Deathmatch – Simple free for all timed frag count game or it can be played in a hardcore no respawn last man standing mode.
- Team Deathmatch – Just as it sounds it is a simple timed team frag count or it can be played in a hardcore no respawn last man standing mode.
- Capture the Flag – The classic tried and true fun game type.
- King of the Hill – Is a timed game where players attempt to own a certain area of the map that can be played in teams or free for all.
Besides these game types we have been messing about with some game modes like siege and a mode where you carry bags of gold to your designated area to capture it.
Also as mentioned there are a few different arena maps to chose from and we will be working on some new maps in the weeks to come.
ARPGamer: Legends of Aethereus offers quite a few unique and complex features to keep players engaged and entertained. A game of this size could offer any number of troubles during the development stages for even a moderately-sized studio. What has been one of your greatest issues in delivering this game to your fans?
Don: There are always challenges in making a game of this size and scope. Our main challenge has been to stay focused on the core features and get all the game content in order to make sure that it adheres to those features. LoA is a game based on gameplay so we need to make sure all those pretty and awesome graphic content features complement the gameplay and allow players to interact in a coherent and consistent world.
ARPGamer: Well, I think you’re succeeding in that regard quite well. But seeing a project through to this point must have been costly. Despite the success of your project’s Kickstarter, $35,000 is a modest sum for any size of studio. How has your team managed to make ends meet while tackling such a large project? Are you all working full-time, or do you have other income to help supplement the needs of Legends of Aethereus?
Don: Just about everybody on the team works exclusively on Legends of Aethereus. So in a sense a lot of the team has bet the farm, so to speak. So we have supported ourselves through whatever means necessary and raised the money within the team for equipment. Our studio is located in a building owned by some of the team members so we have a good deal on rent and expenses.
The main reason is everything works is that all the team members are intrinsically motivated to work on the game. Everybody working on LoA enjoys and wants to work with it. It is the best team I have ever worked with and I am very proud of all the hard work everybody has put in.
For the size of the team and production time we have had I think most people will be blown away with the result when we release the full game.
ARPGamer: What games do you feel inspired Legends of Aethereus throughout its stages of development?
Don: There are some old milestone classic games in the genre that of course you think about like Baldur’s Gate or Diablo II when you’re working on a game like this but what we really wanted to do was create something new. We wanted to keep some of the classic fun RPG elements and fuse them with a player controlled action based game.
ARPGamer: While there are some similarities, you’ve done a good job of making the game quite unique to the point that drawing correlations between other games and this is quite difficult. Inspiration aside, when Legends of Aethereus doesn’t consume your entire existence, what other games do you play?
Don: Well there is a wide variety of games played by members of the LoA team and obviously we try everything new that comes out, especially in the RPG or Action Genres. Personally when I need to relax and get away from RPG game development I play DOW II or L4D2.
Well, the work and effort your team has put into this game really shows, based simply on the beta I’ve played so far. ThreeGates has done an excellent job of creating something unique here and I wish you the best of luck. Thank you for your time, Don!
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