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Jules Verne meets J.R.R. Tolkien in a industrialized fantasy RPG called Arcanum, brought to you by the Fallout team now at Troika Games.
By - John "Warrior" Keefer

What better way to show off a new type of fantasy RPG than at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif. Obviously, Sierra Studios, the game's publisher, felt that a little magic would set the tone for Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, a game in the works from Troika Games.

In this case, the magic wasn't needed: the game should stand on its own and run neck and neck with some more highly anticipated RPGs that will vie for the consumers' dollars later this year. And in this previewer's opinion, an early look screams "RPG Game of the Year" candidate.

Arcanum Hilarity from PvP

The premise of the game has fantasy world meeting early industrialized society, roughly in the time of the late 1800s in Europe. In this case Arcanum is populated with all the fantasy races you have come to know and love, but with the chance to wield industrial might against magic power. In the words of PvP comic character Francis. "Dwarves with guns? Bitchin'!"

Aside from the intriguing "Middle Earth through the eyes of Jules Verne" premise, the game also has going for it a huge part of the team that brought you Fallout, the breakthrough futuristic "Game of the Year" RPG that helped give the genre its rebirth in 1997.

Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson created Troika in April 1998 and immediately began working on the premise for Arcanum. Boyarksy said they had the concept for the game established in about an hour, agreeing that a fantasy game in an industrial setting was a novel and workable idea.

Tim Cain

As it stands now, Troika has only a team of 11 people. Titles are hard to come by, with the group pretty much divided into programmers and artists. But this small team, all of whom were on hand Tuesday in Hollywood to show off Arcanum, has done a large amount of work on a game that looks like it will be fairly addictive.

The press showing was divided into five stations: character editing, magic, technology, interaction and quests, and world editing. Let's start at the top:

Character Creation:

Leonard Boyarsky

One of the things that makes Arcanum different than other RPGs is that there are no character classes. You use a point-based system to buy attributes. You have eight different attributes (including the traditional strength, dexterity, intelligence etc.) as well as 16 basic skills to choose from (12 of which have no bearing on magic or technology, including lock-picking and gambling).

On the magical end, there are 80 spells with 16 colleges. On the technology end, there are 56 technological degrees with 8 different disciplines.

You have eight races to choose from: human, elf, half-elf, half-orc, half-ogre, gnome, dwarf and halfling. You can be a male in all races, but female in only four of the races.

Jason Anderson

"The art resources take a lot of CD space and we didn't want to get into 'do female dwarves have beards?' " said programmer Mark Harrison. "Gnomes, half-ogres and halflings are also limited to male for art considerations."

Harrison said they stuck with the traditional race set because they wanted the game "rooted in the familiar." Dwarves are the more technological (i.e. they get bonuses for it), while elves are more magical. He said elves are also make good diplomats.

Next: Gnomes, Magic, and Technology...

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