Can you introduce yourself and your company to our readers? What was your role in development of Dark Servants?
My name is Ethan Petty and I am a designer at Strategy First. Our company was founded in 1990 and we have rapidly grown as both an internal development studio and a worldwide publisher of entertainment titles. My personal role as designer for Servants of the Dark involved a lot of work with the storyline (which you will notice winds not only between the two campaigns on this expansion but also with the sagas on the Guardians of the Light expansion), map construction, and a lot of looking at the boss characters and saying “these are much too weak! I want to see them spank the players!”
Can you tell us a little about Servants of the Dark?
Servants of the Dark is the second expansion released for Disciples 2, although it is closely tied to Guardians of the Light. Players who picked up Guardians were able to follow the stories of the “good” races, but now, with Servants, they can become the villains of Nevendaar as the fate of the Elven race is decided. Players can choose the demonic Legions of the Damned as their dark god tries to abuse Elven magic to spread an infernal plague across the surface of the world, or become one of the fleshless goddess Mortis’ minions and exact her revenge against her husband (the Elven god). In these expansions, we focused much more on storytelling, including more events and more characterization than Disciples has held before.
What timeline is the add-on set in?
The story takes place soon after the original Disciples 2 sagas. We had to use this timeline due to the main point of the new campaigns; the player would be able to finish the originals and then import his leader into the new ones. The new campaigns are all high level, with much tougher neutral stacks roaming the map and bosses who make the capital guardians seem weak by comparison. At this point in the story, we had some great themes to work with if we continued close to the time of the originals – the Empire without a ruler, the Clans surviving near annihilation, and the demons cut off from Bethrezen.
Give us some of the new features. Out of all the new features, which is the one that stands out the most?
It really depends on what type of player you are. If you make your own maps, the new random map generator is a great tool to help you design them (especially on those nasty new 120x120 maps!). The player is able to feed all of the variables into the editor such as how many resources, how much land, how many neutrals, etc., and it will generate everything for you but events. The creator can then sift through the map and balance the parties or add events to give it flavor. A lot of people are excited about the new resolutions, allowing you to see a bigger portion of your map at once (it works in the scenario editor as well). The AI now assaults players a lot better when the level of the map is higher, providing a much greater challenge. Audio and visual has been touched as well, with new backgrounds added and new thematic music. We’ve added new characters, including four new brutal bosses and a handful of story-related units. Tweaks have been made to improve the user interface in various places.
What kind of new characters can you expect to encounter during the game?
In Servants, you will meet characters related to the Elven storyline including an Elven messiah, a powerful forest queen, the leader of a sinister inquisition, and...the others I don’t want to mention because it would simply spoil the surprises. Let’s just say there are some pretty wicked beasts that players have never seen before.
For an expansion to be truly great, there needs to be the perfect balance between old and new - how close do you think you come?
I think we succeeded in keeping true to the Disciples vision. The high level campaigns do play a little differently, especially with the increased aggression of the AI, but I believe the new campaigns will be a seamless transition between the old and new. We haven’t made any tremendous changes to the basic gameplay, but we did adjust a few things to compensate for the higher level missions. One example that springs to mind involves the leader types. In the early campaigns, the mage leader (who hits all of the enemy units at once) was balanced with the other two leaders because he was weaker. But what happens when the player has a level 10+ leader decked out with artifacts and protective gear? He’ll hit his damage cap, and the mage leader will eventually catch up and do the same damage to six units instead of one. We decided to correct this potential problem by raising the damage caps for the warrior and guildmaster leaders, while leaving the mage leader’s cap the same. Fans of Disciples will notice a few changes like that here and there, but they enhance the game rather than try to change it, and I believe it works very well in the end.
Will the add-on be welcoming to new players of the series - or will it be unforgiving, unless the player has a certain knowledge of the game already?
Actually, the expansion packs will probably seem a much better deal for new players! They include the full original campaigns as well as the high level campaigns, and you can only start the new ones with a high level leader. So, new players are guided towards playing through the originals and developing their own leader to continue on into the Servants of the Dark campaigns. If they would rather jump right into the new stuff, they’re just plain insane. But that’s fine, we love our insane players too, so we’ve included some high level leaders with the expansion to allow them to do so.
Why do you think Servants of the Dark should succeed?
One of our biggest intentions with Servants of the Dark was to bring new fans into the Disciples community. This is a factor in why the expansions were released in two themed packages. We had received feedback that a lot of players only played one side of the story, and in many cases only one race. We decided to offer them this option at a cheaper price, while at the same time giving them all the content they would need to catch up to the story so far. We want to see the online community grow; we’ve got some Disciples sharks that frequent our forums and are always up for a good game. We decided that we would aim primarily at the new audience to support our old one, while offering new content for the Disciples veterans as well. Disciples is a beloved license among the team here. The bigger the fanbase, the more viable it is to keep telling stories about Nevendaar. There are some heated arguments here when storyline is proposed or features added, because we all want to see Disciples succeed.
What are the design teams favorite games of the year so far?
We’ve got a pretty good variety of gamer types in our design department, split down the middle between console and PC. A lot of people have recently succumbed to Star Wars mania, giving very positive feedback about Knights of the Old Republic and Galaxies (we’re all hoping for a miracle on Episode III). Rise of Nations has a good amount of hype from our department head, praising its ability to cross genres and offer such a wide scope. Also large in scope, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is doing well with the designers here. We’ve got people saying great things about Soul Calibur II. Some of us are still hooked on older titles, personally I am hooked on Everquest and they manage to raid my bank account with every expansion, and many of the designers are rabid about Morrowind and its add-ons.
Anything else you would personally like to add?
I’d just like to say that there are a lot of great games out there that don’t get the media attention they deserve because they are developed through small studios. You’d be surprised at the creativity appearing in some of these products, and although Strategy First does support these games, many go by unnoticed. I’d suggest to everyone to shop around before using a popular magazine as your checklist...download some demos, visit some forums, and support these companies that may be the future of gaming.
Thanks for chatting with us, all the best!