Larian Studios is a Belgian game studio best known for their hardcore role-playing games (RPG). The developer established in 1996 is responsible for the Divinity RPG series. However, Larian’s upcoming game strays from RPG to the world of real-time strategy (RTS).
Dragon Commander is a RTS game mixed with RPG, third-person action and board game elements. While the game does have heavy RPG features, Dragon Commander also has the ability to cause destruction as a dragon with a jetpack. Let that sink in for a minute…dragons with jetpacks. Larian’s lead designer for Dragon Commander, Farhang Namdar, sat down with Gaming Illustrated Associate Editor Ryan Bloom to discuss the game at a recent event in Los Angeles.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): Can you just tell me a little bit about the game?
Gaming Illustrated (RB): So, basically it’s not just RTS or just RPG?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): No, there’s everything in there. We have RPG elements, with some stuff on board as really heavy RPG–stuff that Larian usually does. Then we have the board game elements in there and third-person action with the dragon combat and the RTS to lead your units. We also have the card gameplay in there as well so there’s quite some game mechanics in there. (laughs)
Gaming Illustrated (RB): Can you tell me a little about what went into making that decision as far as blending everything together?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): The idea originally was to create a very, very short 10 mission dragon game. The gameplay with the dragon was actually pretty fun because we never really flushed it out in The Dragon Knight Saga. We got some time to actually make it play well then we said ok, we have these campaigns and stuff but it would be great to have this mothership where you come back to and keep track of all these characters. I was a really big fan of Wing Commander so I always wanted to have that in there.
If we were going to fly missions, I wanted to have the mothership there as well with all the different characters but then with choices that matter–not like Starcraft where you just click on a character and it starts a cutscene but that you can actually make choices during this cutscene. Later on, we were looking at these Cinemaware games and games that were made in the 80s and early 90s. They always had like strategy games with different things happening in between. You always had this world map where you chose what countries to attack and things to do. Once you did that, you had these interesting events popping up like this wizard travels from a far away country to your empire with a gift for you. Would you accept him or not? These small useless choices that just popped up with a single image actually made a pretty big difference during gameplay.
Also, Swen’s [Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke] a big board game fan. so we decided to integrate all that together and, yea, we really love making RTS’ as well so that’s how everything came in to the game
Gaming Illustrated (RB): Wow, ok. Can you talk about the decision making stuff and all the political stuff that’s in the game?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): The idea about the political gameplay is that we engage the player in topical issues that are quite recent. The different races have the different attributes. For instance, the Dwarfs are all about the monetary issues and the gold that they make. The Lizards are very good politicians so they always have the strategy cards making countries immune to attacks and sabotaging enemy facilities. Basically, these decisions that you make and these interactions that you have with these guys give you cards, unlocks and upgrades that heavily influence your RTS combat and your dragon gameplay.
The whole idea behind these decisions was to actually make people think about the decisions they’re going to make and how that actually affects their empire. For instance, everybody likes holidays. but if your army is asking for additional holidays, in a position of a emperor, you would probably think twice about giving them extra days off. It’s all those ambiguities and morals that are interesting to touch upon if you have those political questions in there.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): We were playing multiplayer today, can you tell me more about it?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): Dragon Commander multiplayer is crazy. In the multiplayer version of Dragon Commander, you don’t have the mothership and all the characters on board. Instead, everybody starts on a turn-based strategy map and it plays very much like Axis and Allies or Risk or any other board game that you would expect. The moment that you actually start invading each other’s countries is when you start duking it out in the RTS mode. It’s quite crazy because when you’re playing the RTS, you’re obviously trying to win and take over capture points.
I’ll give you a breakdown of the actual RTS gameplay. The RTS gameplay consists of points on the map that you can capture and build buildings and these buildings can produce units. That’s pretty much the bare bones of it. If you’re playing with four players, you usually play two against two and, together with your ally, you’re trying to get as much resources as you can to devastate the other team. But the problem is that you and your ally and the other team can materialize as a dragon anytime in the game. This dragon either has support skills, offensive skills or defensive skills. So one thing comes to the other, you can plan whatever you want but if you’re not paying attention, there might a dragon flying over your units and kicking the shit out of them. It’s quite competitive because you can get that twitchy first-person combat in there as well as the really high-maintainence RTS combat that Starcraft provides with a lot of micromanagement in there as well. It’s really for gamers that really like shooters and like RTS games a lot. It’s definitely a PC game and people really get competitive.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): Today we played with four players. Is that going to be the plan?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): That’s going to be pretty much the plan. It’s up to four player multiplayer.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): Online?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): Yes, definitely. Online Steam integrated.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): When can we expect the game to be out?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): Dragon Commander will probably be out early Summer. Somewhere like beginning June, end of May. That’s the plan right now.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): How long has it been in development?
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): (sighs) Pre-production started October 2009 or something…[Swen Vincke says 2010] 2010? Was it 2010? Yea, it was 2010. I knew it was October. It was after The Dragon Knight Saga. so end of 2010.
Gaming Illustrated (RB): I think that pretty much covers everything so thanks a lot.
Farhang Namdar (Larian Studios): Of course, thanks.