RPG Italy is proud to present an exclusive preview of an italian RPG : Zaharia.
Behind the project there’s Inner Void Interactive, a new, independent software house. We asked Nathan Piperno, the lead designer of the game, about their new project. Here you can read the first part of the interview (with some artworks).
1 – RPG Italia: Hi Nathan, when RPG Italia heard about your project we could not lose the opportunity to learn more about it, especially because in our country it is quite rare to see someone who still has the courage and the desire to design something as complex as an RPG. And here we are: please start by telling us something about yourself, your gaming preferences and introduce your team.
Nathan: I am a student of philosophy and a video games lover, especially role-playing games, a genre that I consider still highly immature, especially compared to others, but with incredible potential. For this reason I decided to invest in the creation of a role-playing game and to organize a small team of young people, determined and competent, which is constantly in expansion. Currently the team is composed of six people, and although each one has its role, there is a very free environment in which everyone can express their opinion regardless of his field of expertise.
2 – RPG Italia: A quick thought on the health of today’s market of the RPG genre: What would you propose to further enhance its strengths and what to correct its flaws?
Nathan: Currently role-playing games are a genre much in vogue, a pity that many products do not know how to offer anything really new. In many RPG we see stealth features managed in a superficial way, short dialogues, an omnipresent moral dualism and, too often, the gameplay is not up to the content. The point is, that to create a role-playing game requires considerable investment and nobody wants to take risks with an innovative product, when you can just recycle the same layout and profit from it.
3 – RPG Italia: Indie development, crowdfunding, Steam Greenlight, etc. So many opportunities for those who don’s have their back covered by EA and alike. What do you think of this small “revolution”? What do you think of the seemingly unbreakable relationship between “major projects” and “big budget” that now seems a duty in the mainstream market? Do you think that in the long term it can damage the creativity of designers?
Nathan: Currently the tools in the hands of independent developers are incredibly powerful, especially digital delivery (which is firmly established) and crowdfunding. It is not only the advancement of technology (combined with a progress chart slower because of the consoles) that allows indie developers to create advanced visual products (therefore capable of selling also to the mainstream users) but we must also consider crowdfunding as a true revolution. When a developer successfully completes a fundraising, he has full control over his project. This means that there will be no major corporation that will stop the work because it believes that the game may not sell. When a product is funded and then distributed digitally, in most cases the developer do not have to cover additional costs, thus being able to start earning right away from its product.
What does that means? Means that an intermediary who finances and deals with the physical distribution disappears, so that a project needs to sell far fewer copies in order to be considered a profitable investment.
4 – RPG Italia: Now let’s get to the point: Zaharia. Is it your first project? How did this idea born? What does it mean for you and your team? And what kind of goals have you set for the project?
Nathan: Yes, this is my first project. This idea was born after years of studying role-playing games, a study that was born from passion and was constantly fed by it. Initially there were only general design ideas, but in the end we opted to create an original setting, inspired by Middle Eastern and Persian world. A setting that is not often seen in video games, if not in the form of hordes of terrorists massacred by the usual western soldiers. My goals, since the project was nothing more than a draft of a text file, have always been to create a great experience of role-playing and to try innovating a genre that, from the year 2000, appears to be unable to really change. My luck was to find a good team with good video game culture, who are able to understand and share my intentions and to work with enthusiasm.
5 – RPG Italia: The setting seems very original. Could you briefly tell us about the strengths of this setting and how are you going to characterize it?
Nathan: The setting is undoubtedly the strong point of the game. As I said before, very few developers are inspired by the Islamic world for video games, probably because of the events of September 11, but mainly because of the ignorance of some people who are not able to discern between episodes of religious fanaticisms (common to almost all religions) and what the Islamic culture is: an interesting and fascination world, that has deeply influenced all Western culture. Our is a fantasy setting, so we are inspired by the Arab and Persian world to create an original setting (all things considered the setting has a very little Islamic influence). We worked hard on every detail in order to create a setting that, although you can define Fantasy, is actually very far from the canons of the genre.
The biggest difference compared to the classic fantasy is that you don’t live in a world of decadence, and you don’t use the usual powerful magical objects that are the legacy of a glorious past. Zaharia, the land where the game takes place, is a great nation that lives a time full of cultural, social, technological and economical progress. There are many other interesting aspects of which we could talk and it is hard for me to sum up, but I hope to have the opportunity to do so in a future interview.
6 – RPG Italia: What kind of engine did you choose and why? And what kind of visuals are we going to have in exploration and combat phases?
Nathan: we are working with Unity 4, because it can provide relatively quick development time and it is very suitable for our product. The game is an isometric RPG with turn-based combat, accompanied by real time exploration and stealth.
7 – RPG Italia: What kind of structure: Story-Driven or World-Driven? Will there be a storyline influenced by the player’s choices? Are there going to be multiple endings?
Nathan: Zaharia is a very special hybrid. We want the player to live intense adventures, as in a story driven, but at the same time we want to leave him free to explore the land of Zaharia and to choose his own destiny. It sounds like a dichotomy with no way out, but our solution is very simple: within the game there will be many different stories and none of them will be mandatory to be completed. The length of these stories is variable and we have both very short quest, and long and intricate plot that will engage the player for more than ten hours. This way we allow the player to be able to profoundly characterize his avatar, without forcing him to do actions that have nothing to do with the type of character that he has decided to roleplay. At the same time, however, we have long and detailed plots, able to deliver a deep and satisfying experience to the player who want to discover more information on Zaharia.
About choices, these are my first concern when I talk about RPGs. We intend to include a large amount of choices as well as consequences that the player will have to deal with. Some of them being more important than others.
8 – RPG Italia: Solitary PC or Party-based ? Are there factions to join? Romance? And which variables will influence the social relationship with all the characters in the world of Zaharia? Please give us a few brief examples.
Nathan: The player will soon be able to assemble a party, with characters extremely responsive to every action and provided with an AI that manages their behaviour and needs (sometimes they may not coincide with those of the player). About the factions, we prepared five different factions for now. They are not only different from each other in terms of gameplay, but even within the same faction the player will be able to adopt different approaches and develop its character in a unique way.
About social relationships, there are many important variables: reputation, fame, prestige, money, membership in certain groups and, of course, the ability of the character. We want to create an extremely satisfying experience from the point of view of character growth, which will take place mainly outside of the statistics that characterize him. Throughout the game the player will be able to acquire fame and prestige, and to use these variables in many different ways in the various quests.
9 – RPG Italia: What kind of exploration can we expect? Limited by predetermined paths or free roaming? How shall we discover new locations on the map? What about map size? How will we move on it?
Nathan: The exploration will be very similar to what we saw in games like Fallout or Arcanum. The player will move inside levels of limited size and can move between these through appropriate transition points. Locations can be selected from the world map and there will be also transportation like caravans or boats. We want players to find the exploration rewarding. At the same time we want to avoid that they can enter in every house of every farmer to steal some money, or have to search every corner of the map to be able to complete the game. For this reason the exploration will be encouraged by indications of various kind and will push the player to use common sense (not trawling) to get something. A lot of important informations can be found in books and dialogues and we are sure that the more observant players will be able to discover more about the many secrets and mysteries of Zaharia.
The second part of this interview will be released in the next days. For more information about Inner Void and Zaharia visit the official website.