It's unique in the way that you love games being unique, namely that it's familiar enough to suck you in quickly, but it brings enough to the table to make you wonder why no one ever thought of this before. Vincent thought of this all before actually, but because he opted to create a diorama out of Q-Tips and soap instead of actually programming it in a computer, no one listened. Now Shiny has created the game, and everyone is definitely listening--sorry Vincent, back to Hot Dog on a Stick at the mall for you.
We sat down with Lead Progammer Martin Brownlow, Lead Architect Eric Flannum, and Software Engineer Dan Liebgold to find out where Sacrifice came from, and where they hope to take us. Oh wait--wait! You mean you didn't stare at yesterday's 3D media blowout? Shame on you!
Now, on to the questions...
IGNPC: From what we've seen of the game, Sacrifice isn't really a pure RTS game, but rather it combines elements from strategy, action, and role-playing games. How would you describe Sacrifice?
Martin Brownlow: Personally I would describe Sacrifice as a "third person strategy" game. At heart, the game is a real-time strategy game played from a third person camera, focusing the action around your roving commander, the wizard. The resources and tech tree have been "simplified" from most other strategy games, streamlining the experience of playing Sacrifice down to just the fun bits; the fighting. Through fighting you gain more resources (denying them your opponents) and through fighting you gain experience and hence levels, opening up the tech-tree as you rise. In the single player game, the choices you make have persistent consequences; the most obvious of which is that as you change which god you worship, you effectively mix and match the spells you like best to define your wizard.
Martin Brownlow: The action is the key. The whole game is focused towards getting people into the fight and keeping them there. Through fighting (not necessarily winning) your wizard becomes more powerful. Through fighting, you capture the souls of your enemies, preventing him from casting units and enabling you to summon more. I think one of the biggest things we have accomplished is that we have solved the 3 person game syndrome prevalent among RTS's. This basically goes something like: You start a 3 player game, tiptoe around for a while, then 2 people start fighting. The 3rd person might as well quit at this point because he knows he has won; he can just step in at the end and mop up the pieces. In Sacrifice, however, the 2 people fighting are getting stronger and higher in level; if one knocks the other out, the survivor will potentially have all the other wizard's souls, doubling the number of souls that player 3 has; he will also be a higher level and able to cast more destructive magics.
Martin Brownlow: Sleep. "A Storm Of Swords". New series of Stargate SG-1. My desktop picture...of Catherine Zeta Jones.
Martin Brownlow: The first thing you should do is secure yourself a mana supply by summoning a manalith over a mana source. Then after summoning a couple of manahoars to channel the mana to you, you can go searching for more souls. In a multiplayer game this usually either means hunting down indigenous life (either neutral peasants or aggressive preplaced creatures) and stealing their souls, or actively advancing on one of your enemies.
Eric Flannum: There will be 46 total single player levels, 10 of which are played any single time through the campaign. There will also be a few bonus scenarios included that are not part of the main campaign.
Eric Flannum: The gods appear to the player and offer him missions in the ethereal realm. The player's choice of mission will affect which spells they can cast, so the gods are responsible for the characters spell selection. In addition to this, pleasing a particular god during a mission can result in that god taking special notice of the player and offering him a boon (gift) in the form of a stat bonus.
Eric Flannum: Sacrificing in the game serves two purposes. When creatures die they leave behind a soul or souls. If the creature was friendly to the player then that soul will be blue in color and may be gathered simply by running over or near it. An enemy creature will die and leave a red soul which must be converted to your side with the convert spell before it can be captured. The convert spell will summon a sac-doctor (A magical spirit) who will resurrect the enemy creature and drag it back to your altar where it will be sacrificed and converted into a blue soul which then gets transferred directly to the player. The second type of Sacrifice comes into play when a player wishes to banish an enemy wizard. This is done by casting the desecrate spell on one of your units while near the enemy wizards altar. Your creature will be sacrificed on the enemy altar, thus desecrating that altar and damaging the enemy wizard. If a wizard dies while his altar is being desecrated then he will be banished (put out of the game.)
Eric Flannum: Expect to see things such as: creatures casting webs out and dragging other creatures to them, creatures turning into rocks, creatures resurrecting other creatures, and creatures devouring souls to strengthen themselves to name a few. Every creature in Sacrifice has a special ability of some kind that sets it apart from every other creature.
Dan Liebgold: Unlike in other strategy games, the AI in Sacrifice is very focused upon one crucial unit: the wizard. Because of this the AI has the ability to be in your face and full of personality, as the AI's wizard casts spells on you and orders his units to attack you directly. As the player you'll find yourself cursing the AI wizard for his slime spell, or getting frustrated at his ability to run and grab that soul you are trying to convert. To make playing against the AI seem more fair, we have enforced the AI's limited view (as limited as the player's view) from day one, so we can clearly say the AI does not cheat in this sense... it must explore and discover you and your creatures just like another human.
Fortunately for me (the strategic AI implementer) the pathing and unit AI issues you mention are shared with the player as well as the AI. The strategic AI is designed to mimic a human player technically, so any pathing problems you might run into the AI will run into as well.
Martin Brownlow: The game analyzes your machine the first time it boots up, but only to set the default rendering options (texture sizes, resolution, which texture modes your card supports, etc) to the best ones for you machine. All scaling of polygon counts is done in real-time based on framerate. As your framerate drops from the one you requested in the options, so polygons are taken out of the scene until it rises to the correct level. As your framerate rises, polygons are added to bring it back down again.
The minimum system we are looking at right now is about a PII 300 with 64Mb of RAM and an 8Mb TNT-1 or Voodoo-2 equivalent accelerator card. However, in order to run the level editor that ships with the game, you will need a card that can render in a window (ie not the voodoo 2).
Dan Liebgold: Scapex, the map editor, is progressing nicely. Its currently targeted at giving our level designers the complete uninterrupted ability (don't laugh Eric) to complete the singleplayer missions we are working on. But its been designed from the start to be easy to pick up and use, and very quick and easy to lay out a simple map and play that map in the game.
A medium sized finished map (multiplayer or singleplayer) without voice-over samples will run anywhere from 150k to 500k. Interestingly, it depends largely on how much coloring of the landscape you wish to do.
Martin Brownlow: Multiplayer is great fun; fast and furious, almost FPS like in intensity. There's almost always a multiplayer game of Sacrifice going on somewhere in the office. At this point we have planned a few variations on the basic game, but these have not yet been implemented; we need to concentrate on balancing the basic game before worrying about variations. The variations currently under consideration are Soul Harvest (winner is first to hold # of souls), Gib-o-rama (winner is first to gib # creatures - a gib occurs when something takes a much larger amount of damage than he has left) and slaughter (winner is first to get # of kills). In addition, there is also allied play. Couple these with a changeable experience gain rate, gib rate, # souls and start and maximum experience levels per game, options to collect allied souls and auto-gib when something dies, and a shipping map editor (anyone who does not have the map when they join a game gets it transferred to them in the game lobby) and you have a heck of a lot of multiplayer options.
Eric Flannum: In multiplayer you gain experience for every point of damage that either you or your creatures deal. When enough experience is gained you will level up and gain new spells and creatures. Unlike single player, you choose an allegiance to a god before you enter multi-player thus determining your "tech tree" before you start the game.
Martin Brownlow: Improving multiplayer support. There have been some concerns raised by the public on our forums about our multiplayer plans, which concerned us greatly. We are currently looking at how we can improve this along the lines that they requested. Hopefully we can announce some good news soon.