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Interview: Ghostfire Games' Ed Roman on Rage of the Gladiator


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Ghostfire Games' Rage of the Gladiator is a pretty unusual game -- a first-person fighting game against a set of mythical monsters. What makes it even more unusual is that the violent, fully-3D game is being developed for WiiWare -- by a company whose last game was about dancing.

We spoke to Ghostfire CEO Ed Roman about Rage of the Gladiator, and learned about its skill trees, concept, and enemies, as well as Ghostfire's commitment to WiiWare and its apparent admiration of Blizzard and World of Warcraft. You can read the full interview after the break, and oggle three exclusive screenshots in our gallery below:

Gallery: Rage of the Gladiator (8/12/09) | 5 Photos

How did the concept of a first-person fighting game come up? It's pretty rare. Were there any previous fighters that inspired the game's development?

Ed Roman, Ghostfire Games CEO: The first-person perspective was inspired by a lesser-known NEO-GEO game called Crossed Swords. But there were many games that served as inspiration for our game. Specifically:

  • The combat system was inspired by some of the best ideas from games such as 1980s Punch-Out!!
  • The combo system was inspired by games such as God of War.
  • The cutscenes (such as conjuring a meteor, tornado, or lightning storm) were inspired by games such as Final Fantasy.
  • The tech-tree was inspired by games such as Diablo or World of Warcraft.
  • The music was inspired from movies such as 300.
What inspired the more medieval theme, rather than the "traditional" Roman theme that usually accompanies gladiator stories?

Our most important mission was to create a fun experience for the player. We also wanted magic in our game. It was important to us to have free reign to create the most fun bosses as possible without having a restriction to make it "realistic" for any specific time period.

Our game design would have been hindered if we had to constantly ask ourselves "How would this fit into a Roman theme?" Instead, we opted to go with a general fantasy world with interesting characters that we invented, so that we could write our own rules, and could expand on in future games.

As a result, the bosses in our game span a variety of genres – just 3 examples are a Beholder (D&D culture), Ninja (Japanese culture), and a Minotaur (Greek mythology). Thematically we have a very cool storyline that ties it all together. It's a story of betrayal, greed, and politics. Part of the fun in finishing the game is to unravel this story.

You refer to "future games." What kind of ideas are in the hopper now for games in this universe?

We'd love to make a sequel to Rage of the Gladiator that continues the story and expands the game's universe. We have lots of great ideas for directions we can take the franchise. We'll make that decision once we've seen the sales data from the first title.

If this were to be a retail game, how would you approach it differently?

We would add a few additional features that didn't make it into the game, such as cutscenes that use a 3D engine (rather than 2D artistic cutscenes) and multiple arenas. We didn't include those features since it we had to fit the game into a 40MB download. Instead, we focused on making the in-game experience fun. For example, we have bosses that react realistically when you hit them, character customization via a skill tree, over-the-top finishing moves that demolish your enemies, memorable voice acting, and an epic sound track.

I'd say overall though, it was worth it for us to resist the temptation to make it a $50 store-bought title. It definitely would have been easier to fit everything into the game (rather than cramming things into 40MB). But in the end we discovered that we could pull it off on WiiWare. And we think customers will appreciate a WiiWare budget title price a lot more than a retail game price!

The control scheme is button-based. Did you experiment with motion?

Motion controls were definitely an ongoing debate internally for us. But in the end, we decided that since it's an arcade-style game that requires split-second quick reactions, we felt that motion controls would be too much of an imprecise way to play the game.

What kinds of creatures will you fight? What kind of attacks do they use?

The game consists entirely of boss fights. After all, boss fights are the most interesting aspects of most video games. So we skipped the "fodder" creatures. Each boss is essentially a little "puzzle" that you need to figure out how to defeat. Some require dexterity, others require memorization, and some require listening to what they're saying very carefully so that you react to their attacks appropriately.

How do the skill options work? How do you acquire new skills?

There are dozens of different skills that you can acquire for your character. These are unlocked via a skill tree, similar to World of Warcraft or Diablo. When you defeat a boss, you gain skill points that you can assign to one of three skill-trees: Offense, Defense, or Magic.

Some of these skills are passive (such as dealing more damage) while others are active new powers (such as conjuring a raging tornado or summoning a fiery meteor).

Once you defeat the final boss, you must fight them all over again in Challenge Mode, where they get new powers and are much tougher. You can continue to build your character's skill-tree in Challenge Mode, but you can't complete all the skills. So the skill tree serves as replay value for the game, as you can try rebuilding your character in a different way.

What made Ghostfire decide upon WiiWare for Rage? Was it because of the experience of developing Helix? Is Ghostfire planning anything on other platforms?

Nintendo is a fantastic business partner. They're really easy to work with and they give us good support. We are not planning on creating games for any other platforms, although we are open-minded and may explore that in the future. Rather than taking on other projects, we are focused 100% on creating an amazing product for WiiWare. This is because we subscribe to the Blizzard philosophy of not shipping games until they're ready.

Both Blizzard and World of Warcraft are cited as inspirations. Since you seem to be fans of WoW, and you're based in Austin, is it safe to assume that Ghostfire's staff has experience with MMO development?

When we assembled our team, we looked for people who are talented and passionate. That was more important to us than specific experience with any particular type of game. So while many of us are big MMO fans, our team is a melting pot of experience, including console games, mobile games, and PC games.

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