Interview with Steven Peeler

Happy April Fool’s Day! To celebrate, here is an exclusive (and most certainly not fake) interview I conducted with Steven Peeler of Soldak Entertainment, in which he tells us about the value of urgency, as well as offering some insight on using procedural systems in an RPG. Check it out.


Let’s start basic. Who are you? What is your role in Soldak Entertainment?

My name is Steven Peeler. I do all of the design, programming, and business stuff here at Soldak.


You’ve made quite a few action RPGs in the Diablo vein. What is it about that particular style of game that attracts you as a developer?

It’s not really that a Diablo type game attract me more than something like a turn-based RPG, it’s that I feel that the main features of our games that we have created so far work better as action RPGs. For example, an enemy covenant in Depths of Peril raiding your covenant or Demons attacking your town in Din’s Curse are much more intense when everything is real-time and you can actually see everything because of the isometric camera position.

It’s a cliche in RPG plotlines that time is always of the essence: the player must act soon, or all will be lost! Except that it really won’t. The player can dawdle, fight wolves over and over, talk to every NPC in every town in the kingdom, perform every fetch quest, and just generally do nothing while the antagonist waits patiently for the player to get on with it. In opting for intensity and timed goals, are you trying to turn this dynamic on its head? Or is that just a pleasant side effect of your approach?

Yes, this is definitely one of the things that we have purposely changed in Din’s Curse and Depths of Peril. In most games when an NPC says solve this quest quick or we will all die, it really means nothing and the player knows it. There isn’t any emotional impact when everyone is 100% sure that the threat is a bluff. Well in DC and DoP there are no bluffs. When an NPC tells the player that an Orc uprising is planning on attacking the town, that’s really what he means. If nothing is done to stop them they will eventually attack the town and at least attempt to kill everyone. Once players realize that the threats are real, they feel actual pressure to stop that Orc uprising in time. Well that or they will feel the intensity of trying to quell an Orc town attack before everyone dies.


In the new Din’s Curse expansion Demon War, you’ve added quests and new ways that NPCs can interact with the game world. Tell me a little about what you’ve done there.

Basically in the base game of Din’s Curse the world was very dynamic. The monsters, the environment, and the quests all evolve based on interactions with everything else. Now with the Demon War expansion the NPCs are also very dynamic which matches the rest of the game much better.

The NPCs now have money, happiness, and have relationships with each other. This helps the NPCs impact and interact with the world a lot better. Let me give you an example that touches on all of these things. Gregor is superstitious so he tends to gamble more than he should. Eventually he runs up a sizeable debt gambling and is having trouble affording food. Luckily the vendors, other NPCs, and player keeps him fed enough to not starve to death. However, starving, always in debt, and gambling losses makes him really unhappy. Eventually he resorts to stealing and taking bribes from monsters to sabotage the town. Since the player tracked down the source of these problems, the townspeople are quite pissed at poor Gregor and finally banish him from the town. The cool thing about this scenario is it is just one of many possibilities that can happen, it isn’t just a set script that happens, and the player has many chances to do something about it. He can help Gregor with food. He can donate money to him. He can even kill him.


It sounds like you might have drawn some inspiration from The Sims in working out the NPC systems in Demon War. What games would you say have influenced you the most as a developer?

I don’t think I ever consciously drew inspiration from The Sims since it’s not really my type of game. My wife and kids are fans of The Sims though so I certainly know how it works.

I would say by biggest influences are mostly older games like Diablo, Civilization, Master of Orion, and the D&D gold box games.

In the Diablo series, individual areas within the game world are randomly generated. You take it further, however. In your more recent games, you seem to really rely on in-game systems to procedurally generate objectives and plot events. What led you to that approach?

This actually started with Depths of Peril. In DoP, the core feature is the covenants that trade with one another, go to war, and eventually raid each other to attempt to wipe out their rivals to become the supreme covenant of Jorvik. All of this is naturally very dynamic. Once we had this in place and working it felt a little strange to have a static story line especially once your enemy covenants could compete with you and solve some of the quests. Ultimately the finally version of Depths of Peril had a small normal story line, but most of it is dynamic. With Din’s Curse we have followed along the same path (minus the covenants), but we have expanded greatly on the idea.


So the focus on dynamic enemies in Depths of Peril was originally an AI feature that expanded to become a storyline-generating feature as well?

Yeah pretty much. One of the nice things about being an indie is that I don’t have to write a huge design document at the beginning of the development cycle. Instead I can start with some solid ideas and iterate from there. Personally I call this exploring. I’m usually pretty accurate, but sometimes cool ideas just don’t work in practice and sometimes you don’t think of the awesome ideas that really make your game standout until you are halfway through the project because they build on other ideas.


What’s next for Soldak? Will you make another action RPG, or are you going to branch out?

We are still too early in the process of the next game to really say anything yet. Although, one of these days I’m pretty sure we will branch out some more. A turn based RPG, a more strategy focused game, a sci-fi game, or any number of other things are all possibilities.


Thanks for your time.


For anyone curious to know more, you can read my review of Din’s Curse right here.

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