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Dragon Commander: Interview with Swen Vincke

by Joost "Myrthos" Mans, 2011-08-22

After the presentation of Dragon Commander at GamesCom we had some time to ask Swen Vincke a few questions to learn more about the game. Less than were on my list, but all good things come to an end, even an interview.

RPGWatch: What games would you compare Dragon Commander with?

Swen Vincke: I don’t have a clue. We started out making a game with dragons that was a very small project, a tryout. There were only 2 guys working on it. Then somebody put the slowdown thing in it, played it and felt: “Wow, this is fun”. The flying around really feels natural, both with a mouse and a controller.
We asked ourselves the question what to do with it? Let’s make a small DLC game. So we added missions… boring. This is the mission goal; destroy this or that… boring. To make missions interesting nowadays you need to have things happen every second. Huge things need to be happening and that was expensive. So we figured that if we made a game with dragons, because we like that combat mechanic, we need to have developments like we do in all the games. There needs to be some role-playing developments or character developments. But then we need something to develop against. So we put characters around it, added a storyline and quests.
But the missions still felt boring and why did it feel boring? Because you don’t get the feeling that you are in control over what you are doing. So that is where the strategy part came from. Being able to control what you are going to do. Once we had that in we rapidly had princesses, the fleets, the generals and the game worked. It is almost like the game is making itself.

RPGWatch: Why the jetpack?

Swen: Because it is cool. OK, you either hate it or you like it, but we like it.

RPGWatch: Why does the story take place in the past?

Swen: We have put the story deliberately in the past at the time of Maxos because we are continuing the story of Divinity with the other project. The great thing is that we have a lot of characters and stuff we can use from the Divinity history. To find out what is was like in the time of Maxos. This also allowed us to add the technology. We are steampunk lovers or dieselpunk or atompunk whatever you want to call it we mixed that with magic.

RPGWatch: How long has it been in development?

Swen: It has been in development since we shipped Dragon Knight Saga, so that should be a year by now.

RPGWatch: When do you expect it to be released?

Swen: When it is done. The difference is that we are funding the game ourselves completely, which gives us much more freedom. There was always an excuse with the Divinity games. Something that was not right and there was always a reason for that and we were never happy about releasing it at that stage. This time while we are doing it on our own there is no excuse anymore.
It normally should be released next year, but there is no guarantee.

RPGWatch: How is it going to be released?

Swen: It is going to be released both digitally and boxed. It is definitely coming out on PC and also on a console but we cannot confirm on which consoles yet. The release will be at the same time in most parts of the world.

RPGWatch: What is the expected playing time?

Swen: The single player campaign is about 20 hours and there is also a multiplayer mode.
We also made a board game. We are big Axis and Allies players. We organize weekends where we try to get rid of our family so we can play Axis and Allies, so we made this board game for the strategy part where we mixed a bit of Colonists of Catan, Axis and Allies, Risk and other games and we tried out what we really liked in a board strategy game. It was a lot of fun playing it in multiplayer mode.
But then we also had the dragon flying around. In the board game the dragon is a pawn you can place wherever you want, what happened was that when someone was in deep trouble the rest would move their players and dragons there to help that player. And 4 dragons against one dragon starts getting complicated, but then the cards play a role. OK, so that is what you are going to do? How do you feel about all your princesses become my lovers now? You have all these kinds of complications going on. There is a lot of depth underneath it, which only becomes apparent when you play the game. We are constantly learning ourselves while playing the game.

RPGWatch: What type of multiplayer modes are there?

Swen: You can campaign against each other and there will also be a skirmish mode.
I would like to have a game again that I can play with my friends or against my friends over a weekend. The prototype we are having now supports 4 players. It all depends on the performance of the game what the final number of players will be. The multiplayer idea will only work when your actions have an impact, so if you have the army of the undead you should actually see that army and if you put a battleship in the middle of a whole lot of fights you should feel the impact that has. We want the strategy component and the tactical component to influence each other very heavily.

RPGWatch: Is it possible to create mods for the game?

Swen: No. The problem is that the technology you need for this is not that easy to use.

RPGWatch: What do you think is the strongest element of the game?

Swen: I really like the feeling of power you get when playing the dragon. I also like the combat a lot. I finally got the chance to do my hub, like in Defender of the Crown, which is great.
But if it succeeds in everything I think the integration of it all is the best part. People are going to have a hard time to say what genre it is because we have a little bit of everything in there. To make this work there are a lot of things that have to be done right.
We could have this argument: Is it a role playing game or not? No it is not because you are not on the ground, but you are playing a role and you are making decisions and they are having consequences and your decisions will influence your success and in a sense it is more a role playing game than a role playing game because of the strategy map. If you are losing you are really losing, armies will be invading your territories. The role part is present it is just different than a traditional RPG.

PGWatch: Can you plan ahead or is there a lot of instant action?

Swen: No you need to use strategy. That is where the maps come in. You go to a certain spot because you need that part of technology. One of the big decisions you constantly make is do I invest in my fleet or do I invest in my dragon, can I manage somehow to combine things. Do I invest in my fleet and do I get my dragon boost from my princess. But then I become my princess’s slave. She can do me favors but they come at a price and maybe I do not want that. It is that weighing of options that is interesting.
You have a limited amount of things out of the entire set that is available from which you can select. You cannot get everything. So you have to make choices. If you made a decision at a certain point and that decision was wrong you can go back, but it might be too late to change anything, because as I said the enemy is active in the game. It is a lot less static than in an RPG. In an RPG we could say “The army is coming” but you have not found the key or whatever yet and the army keeps on coming, but it is not going to come until you do find that object. Here it is going to come regardless, so some choices cannot be undone.
I think in the end I will probably be able to list more choices and consequences in this game than in any RPG that we have ever done.

RPGWatch: But the choices you make influence the storyline, I suppose?

Swen: Yes it does but there is a common mistake that is often made. A lot of players think that it is the branches that are made which are limiting us. But that is not the case. We can go very deep in the branches. It is the visualizations of all the options that are killing us. If you can bring it into a systemic way as we do it here then it is easy to branch, it is mostly the effect and the dialog and that is it. In an RPG we would have to make the cut scenes. If you have to do 10 cut scenes you are talking about 6 or 7 man months of development, just for that particular choice. In a systemic setting like in Dragon Commander it is easier to have these choices and consequences. We monitor on the world map where you are and see how much progression you have made. This drives the main plot. If you get hit back then it will take you some time to get to that point again.

RPGWatch: What are the RPG elements in Dragon Commander?

Swen: I define the RPGness by FUME. Freedom, Universe, Motivation and the Enemy.
The freedom to develop yourself and to make choices and face the consequences. We’ll probably do OK there.
The universe is the Divinity universe.
The motivation is defined by the story line, the quests, the character arcs.
Enemies there are sufficiently. The one thing we are not doing and we also do not know how to bring it in there is the exploration part.
I think it will still feel as a comfortable game to a lot of role players. There will also be role players who will not like it, but we cannot please everybody. Then again there will be other players who will be introduced to the Divinity universe as well.

RPGWatch: How about Project E

Swen: I have no comments to make about Project E at this point. We are not ready to discuss it right now. The game is still a long way from being released.

(Editors note: We do know that Project E is Divinity 3 and that it is the continuation of the story as has been mentioned in this interview.)

Here is Swen hiding the real
name of project E

Box Art

Information about

Divinity: Dragon Commander

Developer: Larian Studios

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Steampunk
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2013-08-06
· Publisher: Larian Studios

More information

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