inXile entertainment Updates the Classic Dungeon Crawler with Hunted: The Demon's Forge
SAN FRANCISCO – The lead creatives behind some of the most popular classic dungeon crawl role-playing games of all time, including Baldur’s Gate, Fallout and Icewindale, have decided to update the genre for today’s more action-oriented gamers. inXile entertainment licensed Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 technology to bring this new PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 creation, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, to life. The RPG, which Bethesda Softworks is publishing, focuses on cooperative exploration both aboveground and in the depths of dungeons.
“We’ve actually been using Unreal Engine 3 for about five years now,” said Maxx Kaufman, game director, inXile entertainment. “We’re very familiar with it. We love the developer tools. The game engine has improved tremendously, especially as it relates to PS3. For us, that was one of the biggest improvements. Some of the latest improvements like the browser, and the new lighting models, we’re just actually getting into at this point. Once Epic opened up its PS3 tools, it was hugely helpful for us to make this game across all three platforms.”
Brian Fargo, CEO of inXile entertainment, loved the heyday of the dungeon crawl games in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He said the goal going into Hunted was to answer the question, “What would that kind of gameplay look like with today's technology, using the Unreal Engine 3, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and a really high-end PC?”
To help them achieve this goal, the team at inXile utilized Epic Games’ Unreal Development Network (UDN). Kaufman said the team used UDN whenever they had issues or problems. Having used the service for years, he said that posting a problem online would always receive great feedback. “It’s a huge help when developing a game,” said Kaufman, who compared it to having an entire network of support at your fingertips.
Hunted begins with the game’s two protagonists, E’lara and Caddoc, returning from an adventure. Upon entering a town, they find that everyone has vanished. They’re offered gold to uncover what has happened to the townspeople and the story evolves into something much bigger and darker, including the enslavement and drugging of people and their transformation into monsters.
“We used the majority of the features in Unreal Engine 3 to create this game,” said Kaufman. “All of our cut scenes utilized Matinee. Some of the scripted events within the world also used Matinee. The story is very important in this game. We also used Kismet and we also have our own scripting language that we created to work with Unreal.”
In addition to using Epic’s UE3 technology, inXile also drew inspiration from what the game studio has done with its Gears of War games in the co-op department. In addition to offering two-player online gameplay, the single-player experience keeps both protagonists in the heat of the action.
“There were a number of games that we looked at, but Gears was a huge influence for us,” said Kaufman. “We all love Gears at the office. It’s always been something that we looked at. We looked at a lot of old first-person shooters and a lot of action games. But being that Hunted was created using Unreal Engine 3, it was natural to look at the Gears games and utilize a lot of the really great stuff that they did, as well.”
inXile entertainment President Matthew Findley said Gears was also an inspiration for Hunted’s cover combat system. The team designed the action to mirror the jumping through cover, leapfrogging and flanking gameplay that established the Gears franchise as an innovator in the shooter genre. Findley said the controls for Hunted match nicely with Gears, as well, which will make it easy for console gamers to jump right into the game.
Of course, inXile Entertainment is also pushing co-op gameplay with Hunted. One of the new innovations is the ability for the two players to switch between the two characters, each of which has unique weapons and skills, between levels. Players can also jump from single-player to online co-op at any point in the game between levels. Gamers can use their own characters from the single-player experience in these online games, accrue gold and crystals, and then return later to the offline experience with all that loot.
“We’ve created a new matchmaking system for Hunted that is completely customizable and allows players to go through a large series of options, including which character they prefer, what type of gameplay style they like (exploration versus run-and-gun), and what type of attacks (range versus melee); to ensure that their online partner will match up perfectly,” explained Findley. “This goes above and beyond how new a gamer is to the experience and has had great results with our play testing.”
inXile has designed the gameplay so that each character’s strengths – like E’lara’s bow-and-arrow skills -- also have weaknesses, as she’s not adept with the sword. As a result, when combating multiple enemies, Caddoc will have to help by offering her a limited lightning sword magic potion or resuscitating her after she’s gone down in combat. There’s a connection both within the game’s storyline with these characters, and in the gameplay between the two players who explore the world together.
At the end of the day, Fargo hopes that Hunted introduces a new generation of gamers to the genre that he fell in love with in his youth.
“When I used to play all those old games, I would lose myself in them,” said Fargo. “I like the action games but I also like the break in the action when you’re hearing creepy sounds in the distance and you want to move forward and find out what lies further down that corridor.”
Fargo and company have designed Hunted to satisfy both new dungeon crawlers and veterans alike. The game is filled with unlockable areas and items that can be uncovered by those who take their time and explore every nook and cranny. But in terms of the story and overall goals, players who want a more action-oriented experience can navigate at a quicker pace and still get a rewarding experience.
It only makes sense that inXile licensed Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 technology to bring back the epic feel of the dungeon crawler to old school gamers, while giving the genre a fresh new look and feel, and pushing cooperative gameplay in new directions with Hunted: The Demon’s Forge.