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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

GameSpy invades Troika Games

Our ongoing road tour takes us to another local developer where we demand to see Arcanum.

By — John «Warrior» Keefer.

The Troika Games offices

It really is convenient to have the GameSpy offices near so many developers in Southern California. It is a great way to get a look at games in development, get quickie interviews and mingle with the staff in their own surroundings.

Today’s victim was Troika Games, currently developing the fantasy-meets-steampunk RPG Arcanum. The company was started by Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson in April 1998 after they left Interplay. The team is best known for their work on Fallout, the futuristic RPG that helped revive the genre in 1997.

Cain and Anderson were kind enough to show Arcanum off to us, while Boyarsky was on a press tour. The game was shown at E3, so we obviously wanted to find out what has changed since then.

Inside the pretty building

One new development is character schemes that, based on a preset formula, will spend experience points earned. Players can create their own schemes (using a simple text editor), or use the ones that the team has pregenerated.

NPC followers will follow the preset schemes. When you level up, the game will explain how it has spent the points based on the scheme the player chooses. Anderson said the schemes were designed for the people who aren’t the hard-core RPGers. «They just want to create their characters and play.» he said.

Another development is that the clothes have now been genderized. At E3,the women were still in tuxedos. «But now we have matched inventory to appearance,» Cain said. «Women now wear dresses.»

Jason Anderson

Most of the character portraits are complete, designed by Boyarsky.

«Leonard got many of the portraits from a public domain civil war archive,» Cain said. «But three or four people in the company made in as character portraits.»

They then proceeded to show us a half-ogre that looked remarkably like artist Chad Moore.

«Sometimes, he takes pictures of people or uses famous models of that time from the late 1800s, early 1900s,» Cain said. «We had to change some of the looks because people from that era really looked unhappy.»

Sierra PR dude Adam Kahn

«Yeah, they looked tragically bad, so they became orc females,» Anderson said, adding, though, that some half-orc females would be fairly «hot.»

All the races will have females except dwarves, mostly for art reasons and keeping the art library managable, Cain said. And you better not ask about dwarf females either.

«If you ask a dwarf about it, that is like the height of rudeness,» he said. «There is one place where you can really piss off a dwarven leader by asking 'where are all the dwarven babes?'»

Tim Cain

The game allows six characters in a party, but that does not include charmed or conjured creatures, Cain said.

«There really is no coded upper limit,» he said, «but you’d have to work to make it more than 12.»

And once you get a large party, your alignment and reputation come into play when dealing with your party members.

«Alignment is something that can always change in the game,» Cain said. «But reputation tends to stick with you. It is very hard to get rid of reputations. Also, alignment tends to be a bit slippery on the evil side. Killing something that is good is always an evil act. But killing something that is evil is only a good act if you are less evil than them. It is very easy to go evil in this game. You have to make a concerted effort to go good. I like that.»

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Alignment is constantly monitored throughout the game by NPCs, who will make comments if you tend to stray toward more good or more evil. But no matter what your alignment, if your character has a 20 charisma, followers will never leave.

There are more than a dozen NPCs that can follow you around and react to everything in the game, Anderson said. «We have the main story arc in and the basic quests you will need to finish the game, Now we are just flushing out the NPCs.»

The game’s newspaper system can offer quests or detail events tat you have been involved in.

When creating your character, you should pay attention to intelligence. Player character dialog is adjusted based on IQ. An inteeligent character will understand more going on around him than an half-ogre character with a low intelligence, Anderson said.

Another interesting aspect of Arcanum is the combat system.

«In melee, you always hit,» Cain said. «There are just varying degrees of damage. If you swing your sword, you’ll always hit. You just may do a glancing blow.»

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

And, if your character is unfortunate enough to die, the game will continue for an extra seconds in case an NPC can resurrect you.

«You always go around resurrecting your NPCs, so we thought it would be cool if they could resurrect you,» Cain said.

The game has an intricate storyline that is about finished. There are more than 500,000 lines of dialog.

The game will be available in five languages: English, French, German, Italian and possibly Swedish. The company is aiming for simultaneous release in all languages.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Also as part of the release, every tool being used in development will be available to the fans, including a dialog script editor and a world editor.

«We plan on having a gigantic online editing document,» Cain said. «There are dozens of control files that can be modified to change how the game operates.»

Barring any unforseen problems, the game was scheduled to go beta today.

«Most of the major features are in,» Cain said. «We are down to less than 10 bugs. QA will tell us when to ship.»

Arcanum Game Goodies

Jules Verne meets J.R. R. Tolkien in a industrialized fantasy RPG called Arcanum, brought to you by the Fallout team now at Troika Games.

Arcanum Hilarity from PvP

What better way to show off a new type of fantasy RPG than at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif. Obviously, Sierra Studios, the game’s publisher, felt that a little magic would set the tone for Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, a game in the works from Troika Games.

In this case, the magic wasn’t needed: the game should stand on its own and run neck and neck with some more highly anticipated RPGs that will vie for the consumers' dollars later this year. And in this previewer’s opinion, an early look screams «RPG Game of the Year» candidate.

The premise of the game has fantasy world meeting early industrialized society, roughly in the time of the late 1800s in Europe. In this case Arcanum is populated with all the fantasy races you have come to know and love, but with the chance to wield industrial might against magic power. In the words of PvP comic character Francis. «Dwarves with guns? Bitchin'!»

Aside from the intriguing «Middle Earth through the eyes of Jules Verne» premise, the game also has going for it a huge part of the team that brought you Fallout, the breakthrough futuristic «Game of the Year» RPG that helped give the genre its rebirth in 1997.

Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson created Troika in April 1998 and immediately began working on the premise for Arcanum. Boyarksy said they had the concept for the game established in about an hour, agreeing that a fantasy game in an industrial setting was a novel and workable idea.

Tim Cain

As it stands now, Troika has only a team of 11 people. uk-tooltips are hard to come by, with the group pretty much divided into programmers and artists. But this small team, all of whom were on hand Tuesday in Hollywood to show off Arcanum, has done a large amount of work on a game that looks like it will be fairly addictive.

The press showing was divided into five stations: character editing, magic, technology, interaction and quests, and world editing. Let’s start at the top:

Character Creation

Leonard Boyarsky

One of the things that makes Arcanum different than other RPGs is that there are no character classes. You use a point-based system to buy attributes. You have eight different attributes (including the traditional strength, dexterity, intelligence etc.) as well as 16 basic skills to choose from (12 of which have no bearing on magic or technology, including lock-picking and gambling).

On the magical end, there are 80 spells with 16 colleges. On the technology end, there are 56 technological degrees with 8 different disciplines.

You have eight races to choose from: human, elf, half-elf, half-orc, half-ogre, gnome, dwarf and halfling. You can be a male in all races, but female in only four of the races.

Jason Anderson

«The art resources take a lot of CD space and we didn’t want to get into 'do female dwarves have beards?'» said programmer Mark Harrison. «Gnomes, half-ogres and halflings are also limited to male for art considerations.»

Harrison said they stuck with the traditional race set because they wanted the game «rooted in the familiar.» Dwarves are the more technological (i.e. they get bonuses for it), while elves are more magical. He said elves are also make good diplomats.

Gnomes, Magic, and Technology

Arcanum Conceptural Artwork- City Elf

«Gnomes are the business people who can make a buck off technology, while halflings rarely go adventuring,» Harrison said. «Half-orcs and half-ogres are more prone to be good in melee while being non-magical or non-technological (in terms of bonues).»

Another interesting aspect of character development is that players can choose backgrounds for their character. One option for a human female is that she can go to charm school. While it benefits her charisma and beauty, it doesn’t do much for her intelligence, Harrison said.

Each background has a benefit and detriment. What allows the player to fluch out his character is that, although the benefits and detriments do not change, the description can be altered. An example: a character chooses a background that gives him poison resistance, but he doesn’t like the stock description provied by the game. He can change it to say he got the poison resistance because of a freak lab accident.

Harrison said the benefits cannot be changed because they provide a balanced package, but changing the description allows the character to be more personalized.


Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

There are 16 spell colleges, with each college having five spells at varying degrees of difficulty. The colleges are Conveyance, Divination, Elemental Air, Elemental Earth, Elemental Fire, Elemental Water, Force, Mental, Meta, Morph, Nature, Necromantic (Evil), Necromantic (Good), Phantasm, Summoning, Temporal.

Unlike magic in other games, spells require no mana. They instead use fatigue, a factor that is based on your constitution. You can also use points to «buy up» your fatigue. resting helps you regain fatigue, although potions also are available to replenish it.

Magic items, however, do have mana. The magic is either passive (used by wearing or wielding an item) or active (involving the actual casting of a spell stored in the item). What makes these items interesting it that you will use their item’s internal mana before draining any of your own. Another unique aspect is that, unlike «charged» items in other RPGs, these magic items can regain their usefulness through lack of use.


Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

There are eight degrees a character can study for: Anatomical, Chemistry, Electrical, Explosives, Gun Smithy, Mechanical, Forged Weaponry and Therapeutics.

Sharon Shellman, an artist on the team, said the degrees allow you to combine different technological items to make things. For instance, a mechanical degree would allow you to combine a steam engine and gears to make a mechanical spider; while an electrical degree would allow you to build a light from a lantern and filament.

There will be seven items you can create in each discipline using various schematics. Other items that can be created (an the degree needed) include: stun grenades that are great to drain fatigue from mages (explosives); an elephant gun, one of the most powerful weapons in the game (gun smithy); a vial of hallucinate to make your enemies see things that aren’t there (chemistry); a magic detector by combining a watch and other electrical parts (electrical). Therapeutics will also allow characters to enhance their stats through potions and elixirs. Also imagine combining some anatomical skills with chemistry to animate the dead.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

«Magic bends the laws of physics, while Technology uses the laws of physics,» Shellman said adding that all characters start in balance. There is a meter that measures your magical and technical tendencies. Being in balance puts you at zero.

In combat, powerful magic will tend to negate low technology (magic weakens the laws of physics), while high technology will overcome low-level magic (reinforcing the laws of physics). Modifiers come into play comparing combatants aptitudes in the various areas.

«Technology in Arcanum is not real-world technology,» Shellman said. «We took what people believed around the late 1800s and made it workin our world.» She used the example that people believed magnatism would make people move faster and jump higher. So creating a magnetic ring would increase your dexterity and appropriate abilities.

Interaction and Quests:

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Leonard Boyarsky, one of Troika’s founders, took us through a few interactions between characters and NPCs, including reaction based on race and appearance, and how quests and information are handled.

He created a half-orc and, based on the character’s average beauty score, was able to show that reactions are almost always negative or suspicious.

«Beauty affects people before you even open your mouth,» he said. «Their reaction will jump. You could be a half-orc and, if you have a high beauty, people will treat you very nice.»

In this case however, a shopkeeper treated the half-orc with immediate suspicion. When the character chose a dialog branch that was bit insulting to the shopkeeper, the reaction dropped. When the character changed his tone and began to kiss-up, the shopkeeper’s reaction improved.

He then demonstrated the difference between charisma and beauty by leaving the show, increasing his charisma score and going back in. The shopkeeper’s reaction was initially negative based on the beauty score, but changed when the character said that the shopkeeper’s reaction was unwarranted.

«He is now going to beg your forgiveness because you are now an upstanding charismatic citizen,» Boyarsky said.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

He also demonstrated a quest where the character gets some inside information about the combination to a bank safe. He can volunteer to help rob the bank, which enters the quest into the quest log. He then modified the quest by ratting out the informant to the local law, effectively ending the quest. Of course armed with the lock information, the character could easily go back and rob the back at a more opportune time.

«In our game, in a lot of quest you will have a thief way to complete comething, a combat way to complete something and a talk solution,» Boyarsky said. «Any quests in the main story arc that you botch have to have backups because the main story arc you have to get all the way through. You can make up for mistakes.»

There are also some places in the game where you will have to tailor conversation to the type of person your talking to, he said. «The contrast between beauty and charisma is that beauty will give you good reaction, but you still may not be able to get to talk» or get the right conversation tree that gets you the information you want.

World Creation Tools:

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

One aspect of Arcanum that is particularly interesting is the WorldEdit map creator that will be shipping with the game. Fans will be able to create their own maps and dungeons with an editor that is extremely user friendly.

Mike McCarthy, an Arcanum artist who has been handling all the levels for the game, took us through the demonstration of WorldEdit.

«This is the first editor I have ever seen that is really easy,» he said. «Anyone who plays the game will be able to create a simple dungeon with simple monsters and every tool we have used to make the game on our end will be shipped with the game.» You can make swamps, deserts, grasslands or any other type of world. There are scenery objects that are broken down into categories that make it easy for people to identify and use, McCarthy said. You can create different types of buildings and the editor will recognize that type of building when you add windows and doors so that they go together well.

Arcanum Conceptural Artwork - Demon

Also, the properties of doors and windows can be edited. They can be locked, unlocked, hard to pick, locked only at night.

Another aspect of the editor that was well done was the way lighting is handled. You can add lightposts or torches or other light sources to your map, but the light itself is added separately. McCarthy explained that it was done with a thief in mind.

«Since thieves sneak around in shadows, it is easier for the thief to shoot out the light source with an arrow» than to destroy the whole structure, he said.

Editing can be done in isometric or top-down view. Using the top-down view, dungeons can be mapped out in squares, similar to the early RPG days of using graph paper. Monsters and treasure can be added, with their attributes and conditions modified in the same way doors and windows can be adjusted.

«I use this thing all the time,» McCarthy said with a laugh, «and every time I load it up I get excited about it. It is so much fun and easy to use.»

Final Impressions:

Arcanum has many of the elements that successful RPGs have had in the past. What will make this one stand out from the numerous RPGs slated this years is the fantasy-meets-steampunk twist. Add to that the stellar team working on the uk-tooltip and Arcanum seem destined for best-seller status, if not more.

The game will even have a multiplayer angle and the ability to set up dedicated servers for the game. And since the world is continuous, players can venture off without having to stay with their party.

Bottom line: Watch for the game in September. It should be a winner!

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