Talking Two Worlds II with narrative director Devon Smith

[Editor’s note: Funktastic was the winner of our PAX East contest where TopWare Interactive flew him out to Boston to check out Two Worlds II. — CTZ]

This is Funktastic once again here to bring to you the answers that you community members had for TopWare Interactive about Two Worlds II. For reference, here are the questions that were asked from the C Blogs and the Forums. Some of the questions were overlapping, so in case you’re sad that I didn’t mention your name during the interview, I apologize.

Hit the jump for my interview I had with Devon Smith, the Narrative Director on Two Worlds II.

Jonathan “Funktastic” Lee: From community member JoeCamNet: “What are your thoughts on the poor critical reception to the first game and how do you plan to take care of these problems?”

Devon Smith: Coming from a fresh perspective from the first game (I wasn’t with TopWare Interactive [during the first Two Worlds]) as a gamer, there were a lot of features that I saw in the game that we really wanted to bring forward. There were things on the back of the box that were really great ideas that due to the development time, you know, [that I learned about] when I came to the studio, we just weren’t allowed to do. Whenever you do a sequel you want to refocus, you want to refine it, and in a lot of cases, remodel. So we’re on a brand new continent, we’re not retreading the old material from the last game; we’re not in the same place. It’s the same world of Antaloor, but as far as gameplay features and things like that, it’s about taking all the features that really worked in Two Worlds and things that we thought we could do better and do within the timeframe and really make those things seamless. Things like the combat [are] completely revamped with unique animations and attacks that are unlocked for certain skill sets. The ability to build and unbuild essentially, to destroy weapons, and recombine them. And, you know, our magic system. I don’t know the exact number, I’m the narrative producer, but there is a letter in it, which means that it is high math. [Laughter] As an English major, not my style.

There’s infinite amounts of permutations and at this point, with a lot of things, it’s about finding the roof and just making sure that everything works within that. Building a world first, it doesn’t happen often, where you sit down and build a continent. You decide what you want to place in that world and then you tell the story within that world. We had a broad general direction that was on board when I came.

We talked about the fact I worked on Dead Space earlier. On that project, I worked on the story within the timeline, within the fiction and I worked on the backstory. When I came into this project, that was already all in place. I’m telling the story through the dialogue, which in an RPG is where all the power is. As the narrative director for North America, my job is basically to make sure that it’s not just a translated story. It’s a story that appeals to western audiences. The way that we speak, the way that our actors inflect. Those all change the performances you see in the animation. We saw some blank placeholders today but that’s because when I’m finished, once I get back from my second round in Toronto, we will be adding animations as per the performances that our actors deliver.

Yeah, well that pretty much answers why should gamers care about this game since the first one was so bad. We had a couple members like ProduceMonkey and BlackFreeFall ask that. In terms of your voice acting as you said, you’re just going back to Toronto did you say?

All the voice acting is predominantly taking place in Toronto. We’re using local talent there. Toronto has had a lot of film and television work over the years, they have a lot of really talented actors. And when you have a game in a world that’s kind of [focused] on British accents a lot of the time, it’s kind of fun to find people. There’s a lot of diversity there that we’re able to capture a lot of that world flavor. I think you guys will be really surprised. We have some standout, fan favorite characters and we’ve learned to make fun of ourselves. There are so many laughs in this game, our sidequests in particular. We have a lot of really serious things that happen in the narrative and it gets really dark in places. Things that you definitely wouldn’t expect from a typical fantasy RPG. We started to see stuff like that to kind of offset that mood. There are some dead serious but equally hilarious situated sidequests that I think people are going to be talking about for quite some time.

Yeah, that was just one of the concerns just cause apparently the voice acting in the first one was deemed pretty shoddy and whatnot.

Well, it’s all in Old English and it seems like a language that we might speak. Unless you spend your weekends at the renaissance fair, which is awesome, I love turkey legs. [Laughter] But unless you spend your time there, or unless you have a degree in other languages, predominantly a Shakespeare background, it was indecipherable. Some of it wasn’t even poorly acted, you just didn’t know what they were saying. The subtitles didn’t help, and that’s one of the scariest things for me coming onto a project like that — when your localized version isn’t something you quite understand. But I think that it really helped in benefiting the way that we shaped the story in this one. You don’t have to have played Two Worlds I to get into the story. If you are starting cold turkey, we encourage you to because we think we’ve built upon several things. It may help people appreciate it more if they’re coming fresh to the franchise. But as someone who had only played about 30-40 minutes [of the original] before coming onto the team, it was my goal to make sure that anyone else who hadn’t played the game could come in and each character was relatable. A lot of our cast is brand new and you don’t have to worry about what their motives were 40 hours ago. You get to see it from a fresh perspective.

Y0j1mb0 asked “Nowadays there’s a lot more RPGs on the market as opposed to when the first Two Worlds came out, which some people assume is the reason why it might’ve done better than expected due to reviews and all that, was due to the fact that a lot of 360 owners were starved of RPGs.” He just wanted to know just because from your guys reputation from the last game, where it wasn’t necessarily that great a game, what are you guys doing to change gamers minds and what’s different from your guys RPG as opposed to the other westernized RPGs, hack and slashes, like Risen and Divinity?”

Well, I want to state — this is terrible — I just haven’t had the time lately, but I haven’t played Risen or Divinity. What’s funny is even considering that we’re a Western market, you mentioned Risen which is actually I believe a German developed game that I think that even SouthPeak is publishing in the United States. [Laughter] But you know, it’s funny cause you’re starting to see this emerging European game market and it’s not just things coming out of England. Things like Rocksteady with Batman, for example.

You know, you’re seeing things that are coming out of a lot of countries that have a lot of booming tech industry and a lot of that stuff is coming up. In my career, most of the games that I’ve worked on are with [Baninger] and it was a learning experience for me. Coming in, there was a lot of saturation in the market. When Two Worlds released in 2007, yes, Oblivion existed and there were a couple other games that were kind of in the works and that were promised and usually came a couple years down the wayside. And I think it did benefit us. I think that it was a unique opportunity and something that they were looking for and was definitely a reason that, as Jake said in the meeting [during the preview session], that they were pushing to get it on to the Xbox 360 and try to bring that experience. I think that it was a learning experience for everyone. PC gamers and console gamers, I mean that’s an age old war, we know, we fight that for years. Mouse and keyboard versus controller, and fighting the intimate details and tailoring such as our radio menu. Things like that, that really make and bring a little bit of the MMO feeling and the ability to switch your gear and things like that.

I got off base. I want to get back to the question. Yeah, so we talked about the saturation in the market.

It was what makes it different from the other [RPG] games.

I think, yeah, we’re just talking about our approach and changing people’s minds and really it’s just showing people. You can’t really tell people. We can talk about how awesome it is all we want, you know, we’re really proud of the work we’re doing, but what we need to do is just to get you guys into a room and get it playable. Get it into a place where you guys can have as much fun as you want. I think we’re making headway.

These [meeting] rooms [at PAX East] are getting packed for such a small space. I think that kind of comes from a lot of the humility that we show. We want our actions to speak. We don’t need a big shiny booth; we don’t need 30 subwoofers to kind of draw you to our game. Western RPG players really aren’t those kinds of players. Our characters don’t have bright blue hair, they aren’t half bare-chested, and they don’t have a sword that talks to them. [Laughter] Those can be cool and we’re not definitely opposed to those sorts of things, but there’s a lot less flash involved so we try to come to it and just have fun. Just kind of whisper you over, you know, like we’re selling watches and just kind of blow your mind.

So yeah, just like things like, the players just have to experience the whole de-combining the armor and upgrading the current ones and all that right?

Yeah, I mean, these are features that are complicated systems that we’ve really tried to make easy to use for all sorts of different types of players. Now you never really know how that’s going to play out. Is it going to play out like it does in your imagination? I’ve never really been a big fan of review scores –whether they’re in my favor or not. That’s not something that matters to me. What matters is the experience. Having you guys tell me that the things we’ve been working on blow someone away. That’s why even Jim Sterling gets a lot of crap. I read his stuff all the time. I love it. A lot of the time he’s right. He cuts to the point in a lot of cases. It’s really one of those Zero Punctuation things too. It’s worst case scenario type of gameplay stuff. Someone has to be the voice that says those things. It’s not always the voice people want to hear but we’re listening. And we definitely try to curb the things we do in the office around the sensibilities in the case of even the lowest common denominator and the people that might not want to play our game.

Okay, sounds good. Another question, from Elsa, another regular on our site: “Is it definitely confirmed for the PS3, and will it include either online multiplayer or co-op split screen?”

At this phase of the game, what I can say as the narrative director — I’m not in charge of a lot of the gameplay. Each SKU is equal [to each other]. There may be some DLC that goes either which way, minor things or incentives for different retailers we haven’t discussed yet [and] that we haven’t planned yet either. But, as far as I know and as far as we’ve been told to tell at this point, each version of the game will be identical. Each engine, each version of the engine is custom tailored to get parity on all systems in making sure that everything is compensated. So that the multiplayer that exists on the Xbox 360 version should by all means be, as long as it’s welcomed by Sony, on the PlayStation 3 as well.

Okay. Then we’ve got another question where it’s “have there been significant changes to the create a character/custom characters so they don’t look so awkward?”

Well, I think the first one you could adjust arm length and how wide your chest was. We don’t have a chest hair option yet, which I’m working on, [Laughter] but there are 26 different parameters you can adjust. All sorts of facial parameters. You can adjust a lot of the body attributes, hair styles, skin tones — I think we even have a few more eye colors than you normally see in a game. But yeah, we’ve improved it, I think tenfold. I know we’ve at least quadrupled the amount of features that we did in the first game, and each one of those has a lot more depth. You’ll notice slider scales and numbers instead of just you know, “and they go past 4!” [Laughter]

From community member JoeSetsFire: “With fairly mediocre reviews and probably sales, how did you guys get the funding to do a sequel where in the current climate decent and sometimes even excellent games with solid sales and strong followings are often getting the axe?”

[Silence] With great cost comes great responsibility [Laughter]. I’m going to quote a little bit of Spider-Man. Coming from a larger company, coming from a company like Electronic Arts, you’re not just making games for your own profit. You’re making games that have to succeed and sustain other games that are failures. Two Worlds actually did quite well. There were a lot of people that really enjoyed the game. The videos, the videos were just as fun for us.

I’m just going to go ahead and do a little bit of the story of what happened with that video. That was actually my first day of work when that trailer got leaked to you guys. It wasn’t a trailer at all. In fact, what that was, that was a proof of concept animatic. I think some it was, it was motion captured by two of our dudes testing out our new suit using moves from Star Wars on a DVD player that had English voice acting over it. That’s how that got leaked. They assumed that with English VO’s, you know, if you predominantly don’t speak English you would assume that would be final. You’re not used to the acting influences from any of those things. As far as the video that you’ll be seeing in the game itself, I think you can see that they’ve been improved quite a bit.

So, now that I’m done defending myself, the way that we’re able to keep going is because we keep improving. In this industry, I think a lot of the time people are pegged as being as good as your last game. That just means we need to make our next game, and that goes back to your other question. We need to show you, not tell you, and show you what we’re doing to improve the game in itself.

Do we abandon the Two Worlds name? Everyone makes mistakes in games [in] some of the best games in the world. You’ve seen even just minor complaints, but there are always things that can be focused on and refined. Look at Mass Effect 2. The first game has a 95 plus MetaCritic. The second game, there’s a one point difference, but there’s hundreds of different features that were changed and it would be obvious. Our biggest effort here at TopWare now is making sure that is it not just tailored to the sensibilities of the European market. Reality Pump is a developer based out of Poland. Our parent company, Zuxxez, is a company based out of Germany. And as an American, we have very different videogame tastes. When you’re working on a global product, you need to make sure you cater to the taste of each region you release in. Metro 2033 I think just came out last week. You have to dial your watch to give you a timer to know how long your gas mask will last before you die. That’s not a lot of features you’re going to see coming out of one of the big three publishers. But those are things like, all right, “that’s a cool feature. How can we find a way that makes it easily accessible or get the same point across without making me want to throw down the controller?” Its trial and error and it’s a lot of compromise.

Not necessarily on topic with the game, but “if you could have one thing in the entire universe, what would that thing be and why?” That’s from a good buddy, garison.

One thing and why? Wow! That’s a difficult question. I’ve taken it already with a sense of gravity. I don’t usually answer these.

[James of TopWare talking in the background]: Piece of mind!

Yeah, time off. I want to ship. Yeah. No, actually, if I could say anything, this is going to sound so sycophantic, but I want you guys to love what we do. That’s about all I can ask for. We’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of long hours. We aren’t the largest company on the planet and that means we have to just work twice as hard, three times as hard, to get our product on the shelves with the rest of the other games. They’re afforded a lot more money and a lot nicer videos. [Laughter]

Are you guys planning a collector’s edition for this sequel? Also, why did you guys decide to release a collector’s edition for the first Two Worlds, a brand new intellectual property?

People love cloth maps! Yeah, it’s the RPG crowd. Whether it has our brand name on it or anything else, anytime that you get a badass looking sword or letter opening or anything that you can add to that shelf of geek. My house is filled with it. Whether it be a Batarang, statuettes or anything else. If you like those design, our artists work hard. That’s usually a good enough reason. If they want one, we assume you guys might want one. And so, coming out the gate with a brand new franchise, yeah, I can see the reason why they would go ahead and do a collector’s edition. So, I’m not working with the company, I would’ve been inclined to buy it.

As far as doing one for Two Worlds II, if you’ve seen any of the stuff we’ve done in the past, there’s usually a collector’s edition. I’m not at liberty to talk about it but look to the past to find the future [Laughter]. We’ll be doing some cool stuff for you guys.

Final question, a little bit of a request, but can our resident, bearded, old man samurai, Y0j1mb0, have a t-shirt?

I think we have t-shirts that we’re using to keep one of the computers safe. But I might be able to spare one of those ones [Laughter]. I cannot guarantee it will be in his size, or in what wrinkled state. However, if we were to get contact information, I’m sure that we would be happy to send him out one that doesn’t look like it’s seen the dreaded undercarriage of American Airlines. [Lots of laughter]

Hamza: I think it’d be better to send him the dirtied up one.

Should we cut some battle scars into it?

Hamza: That would be amazing. Throw some fake blood on it!

Send me that contact information. We will cut it with one of the swords in the office. [More laughter]

Hamza: Nice. 

That woman behind you, armed to the teeth. She has more swords than anyone in the office, maybe even than our game. I’m not joking.

Woman: That’s not even all my swords.

Yeah. Those are just the ones she brings to work. Zombie apocalypse come to TopWare …

Hamza: You guys are prepared!

There’s a river out back and we have melee weapons everywhere. [Laughter]

Hamza: With the engines, you said each engine is designed for, one’s for 360, PC, and PS3 to get the best performance out of all of them. Do you see that it takes a longer time to develop that way?

Anytime you do, you know, time is money, people are money, anything like that. What it really comes down to, yes, anytime you’re writing in a different codebase with a different set of parameters, you’re spending time to acclimate yourself, to acclimate people, especially if they’ve never developed before. Two Worlds was the first Xbox 360 game those guys had produced, but by that same measure, I believe it may be the first PlayStation 3 game those guys do as well. But, one of the nice things we have that we weren’t able to do with the first game is that they took the time to develop the engine. This game is coming significantly off the coattails for the most part. I mean it’s not five or six years down the line, but they took two to three years and they spent a lot of time not just developing the engine but making sure they weren’t backing baby into a corner by the time they got around developing for the consoles as well. So, it is the same engine but it is developed to give a level of parity and give ease of use to our developers and working on those things. So, when we do drop new features or adding new items, they are being directly implemented into each version of the game.

Hamza: With the PS3 version specifically, is there going to be any Sixaxis support? 

I don’t think we’re going to rule that out. I think that if we find a use we’re always toying with things like that. You know, we’ve been trying to do some really fun things with force feedback where we apply it and stuff like that. We love anything that kind of adds to the immersion. This isn’t for or against it, but my personal preference, I’ve always been a dude who likes to move my hands around and lick the top of my nose, like while I’m playing videogames, like just that stereotypical gamer. I don’t want that to kill me. But, if those guys find some cool stuff, sure. Why not? But, yeah, vaguest yet positive answer I could possibly give. [Laughter]

Hamza: With everything that we were seeing, how far along were say the character models and environments and some of the rest of the assets?

Let’s see. Right now you’ve saw the topknot with like a shader that’s developed. We’re in an alpha slash beta stage. We are going to be adding new features, new models, new animations up until the very end. That kind of goes with the world first development cycle that we’ve been really trying to establish. We’ve had 234 people to cast and make unique. “That dude sounds like he has a scar. Done.” [Laughter]. A lot of the graphics you’ve seen, a lot of the lighting and shadows you can see are pretty far along, and it’s just applying those to different degrees, and seeing how much cool shit we can pack into each individual area. I think that the level of fidelity that you did see today, is definitely indicative of the final product. I don’t think you’re going to see that scaled back. But you definitely are going to see improvements. We’re just beginning the QA process and the QA stage. We’re testing it extensively.

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