Disciples III Interview

by , on 31st May 2006

E3 Questions & Answers

During E3 2006 we had a chance to talk to Akella about their upcoming Disciples III. For those of you new to the series, it's in the same genre as the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Large scale strategic choices combined with small scale tactical battles.

We're doing this interview in cooperation with our affiliate Tacticular Cancer, and we thank them for providing us with most of the questions. We'd also like to thank Akella for taking the time to talk to us, and answering the most important questions fans had.

First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Alexander, and I'm the associate producer of Disciples III series in Akella. I'm responsible for the cooperation between Akella (worldwide publisher), Strategy First (North-American publisher) and .dat (developer). I'm mainly doing the stuff that is being distributed between the partners. Akella has several in-house producers, and I’m responsible looking after the license for Akella. I'm responsible for beta testing here, and English beta testing being done by Strategy First or partners.

Will you have a public beta test?
We will probably have a public beta, but not yet. We haven't developed the schedule yet, but we’ll be starting a beta test somewhere around fall. We'll also have competitions and the likes to attract the hardcore gamers and fans.

What do you think are the core features of the earlier games, and how will you improve on them?
First of all it was turn-based strategy. It's a very interesting genre, and very popular amongst certain gamers. We're not planning to destroy the genre, or even revolutionize it. We're planning to do a very good game in the genre that will please the fans. For us the important strategy for developing Disciples III is to create a game that can be recognized on the basic principles of Disciples I and II, but we want to enlarge the game. You can do everything you could do in Disciples II for instance, but there will be more options. More spells, more units and more features. We also want to expand on the graphics, to get more realistic environments, as you can see in the trailer. For the units there are very detailed models that feature thousands of polygons, up to 20 000 for some of them. This is something that is usually not seen in the strategy genre, but is more common in for instance the cRPG genre. You'll be able to control how your units advance.

Will the graphics engine be a resource hog then?
Yes, we have some 160 models in the game. They, especially the leaders, will be very detailed. You can swap the equipment for the heroes, and it will be displayed on the model itself. When you switch helmets in any RPG for instance, you'll see the change in the game. For units that are not exactly lordlike, meaning those that are not heroes but normal creatures, you will see the change in armour and weaponry.

Disciples 3's races are the Empire, the Damned, and the Elves. What happened to the Dwarves and the Undead?
The races are not gone - they were not deleted from the lore, they are still in the game. What we talk about in the press release is that there will be 3 playable races. We have several leaders that will be available from other races in certain missions. We'll also have creatures from those races at the map sometimes, depending on the mission.

How will these races differ from each other? How will they differ from previous games?
In a way we are not trying to change the whole look of the game, though we are of course changing some parts. If we are talking about the empire and the demonic legions for instance, they will remain close to how the previous lore portrayed them. The Empire moved on to become a little more military church / state. The ruler of the Empire...no, I can't say more about the plot now. It will be slightly different. For the elves for instance, we're trying to make them a little more like in cRPGs. A little sexier, a little more different from the Empire, as wasn't seen in the previous games.

What sort of unit upgrade paths will we see (i.e. Squire into Witch-Hunter or Knight, etc)?
We've taken the entire Disciples II allocation and upgrade model for Disciples III. This is partly due to the limited time we have for the project, and partly due to the coming beta test. Then, during beta testing (since we improved the game somewhat) we'll make changes and balance things to come up with our model. What abilities will change, what models will change and so on. So yes, the paths will be the same, but we will alter and balance it to suit our game.

Will city building work the same as before? What structures can be built and what do they do?
Yes, they will be working as they did previously, though now all the buildings are three dimensional structures. They are very good models, so even if you zoom close you'll see very beautiful models. We also have very good textures and animations for everything that's around. This will give you the impression that this is real, and not just a picture or artwork.

How will the city sieges play out?
(Laughs) Eh, we haven't decided yet, so you may just as well skip the issue. We're currently testing how the combat, initiative and movement work, so we need to determine that before we implement the siege equipment and scenarios.

Lords can now use magic on the battlefields as well as on the maps. Why the change?
We felt that using certain spells during combat would add a dimension to the battles. Certain spells should have been used in combat in the previous Disciples games. In Disciples II there were some spells that affected combat only. There were summoning spells that affected the strategic map only, but there were also several spells that damaged or hurt enemy units, or gave some benefit to your units. They should have been used in battle, as there were no reasons for them to be used outside combat.

Will the spells used on the strategic maps be the same as the ones used on the battlefields? What sort of spells will there be?
It's hard to expand on this issue at the moment. Of course there will be changes. We've taken all the spells that were there previously, and redesigned some of them because there were some spells that were never ever used. Either because they were only useful in very special situations or because there were better spells all together.

So you are trying to make all spells count now?
Yes, we want all spells to be viable for different situations - different weapons or different creatures.

How about the difference between factions?
Well, they certainly will focus on different sorts of magic.

You've mentioned the use of a timer-based system in combat, even in singe-player. Why did you implement this and how will it work? How does initiative fit into this?
(Editors note: The timer-based system was just a misunderstanding. Disciples III will use a normal turn-based system with initiative, somewhat similar to the Heroes 5 system) Yeah, it's a turn-based system where initiative is the parameter that determines the order.

So it's fairly similar to the system Heroes 5 use then?
Yeah, in a way, because this sort of system is taken from Japanese RPGs. I already told you that there were an initiative system in Disciples II that could enable a creature with lower initiative to act first in some cases. This was rarely seen by the player however, and we want it to be clear and understandable in Disciples III.

Do you think that a turn-based strategy game is still viable in today's market?
Yes, for many reasons. First of all, they are very good looking and interesting. They are not fast paced, so people can enjoy a turn here and there, without the problem of having to play long sessions. Secondly, the game structure is very well balanced and easily played. We're not talking about 20 hour game play, but games that can take maybe a couple of hours, or duels where you just fight between certain groups of units. We're trying to improve on the genre by introducing lots of very good looking models and graphics. We're trying to keep the style of Disciples II, that gloomy dark style of Renaissance, picturesque art. It's not like the fantasy that's done in Heroes 5, where you see just colourful picture, but dark and very dramatic.

Do you think there's a difference of how well turn-based games sell in different regions of the world? (e.g. turn-based games sell well in Russia)
Well, the Russian market is very similar to the European market. It's more reliant on PC than on consoles, and turn-based strategy games are an important part of it. We're pretty much sure it's a good thing to have several quality brands on the market - games like Disciples III, Heroes V and Civilization 4. Adult audiences play these games, and they sell very well - especially if they are well balanced. We're making this game for the adult audience that likes these games.

Heroes of Might and Magic V, an extremely anticipated game, is due to be released soon. How will you compete against it? What advantages will Disciples 3 have over it?
Well, since Heroes 5 will be released soon, it's about the timing really. I do hope that Heroes 5 will sell well, because Nival are Russians even if they are our competitor. The games have a somewhat similar audience, but Disciples III will be released later in the year and aim at a slightly different part of the audience. We're planning on doing the game slightly different from the previous Disciples and Heroes 5. We'll focus more on the RPG elements, and make you more attached to the creatures. There will be much more growth for the heroes and creatures than seen in the Heroes games. The Heroes games have taken the classical approach, the paperdoll model and so on. In Disciples III you'll see the changes when using different gear. We've evaluating a possibility to create a random item generator, where there will be a staggeringly huge number of items available.

So we can conclude that if Heroes 5 sells well, this is good for Disciples?
Yeah, we believe so. The games can be compared, even if they focus on slightly different segments of the market. The Disciples series is for a little more adult audience if I can say that. You will get a stronger attachment to your hero, as you follow the same hero much of the way. In Disciples II for instance, you played the same hero all the way through the campaign. Not just that, you could also play them by exporting the hero to single and multiplayer missions. In the Heroes games you can't do that, and there's no reason to call your hero by name like you would in an MMO for instance. In Disciples III you can play with your hero for many months after you finish the campaign if you wish, or create different builds of him. You can keep the progress in the exported hero, but change him. This is what we want to introduce into the genre.

How far along is the development?
We're doing technical testing now. We're also creating missions to test the balance and so on. The schedule for this is being set up, but first we'll do in-house testing. After the beta test we might do a public beta test, depending on the schedule and how the testing goes. The marketing campaigns will accompany beta-testing so that we can get different players into it. We want the hardcore players to help find bugs, balance issues and exploits. We also want casual players to produce different sorts of questions, like how easy it is to get into and so on.

So you're aiming at a Q4 (October-December) 2006 release?
Yeah, that's right. We need to do at least two months of beta testing prior to the release, so therefore we aim for a Q4 release.

I can also add to the previous question that we'll have to closely cooperate with Strategy First for the beta test. We don't want only Russian language beta testers. There are large fan communities in other countries as well, so we want to beta test it in several countries. We don't want anyone to feel alienated from the testing.

Speaking of language, do you have good translators for other languages like English?
Yeah, we have Russia's largest localization team. We've been awarded for that two years in a row at our developers conference in Moscow. We're doing localization for many other games, both Russian to English and wise versa. We are currently busy doing localization for Everquest and have successfully launched Russian version of the critically - acclaimed Planetside from Sony Online. Plus, they are planning, as far as I know, to have a French version of the game.

What's the relationship between Akella, Strategy First, and .dat in the development process? In other words, who does what?
.dat is the development team. They are responsible for all artwork, information and so on that we need for marketing. Akella is the world wide publisher, except for the North-American territories. There are several producers at Akella that oversee the progress and development at .dat, and oversee and get approval with the license holder Strategy First. There is a close cooperation between the three partners, and there are different information flows between them. .dat often discusses things with Strategy First that we don't really need to know about, like gameplay issues and such. While here for instance (at E3), we're presenting the game and a video to the media and publishers as the company that will do the worldwide publishing.

How large is the developer team at .dat?
The present number of employees working on the game is 22 people. Most people work for them in-house, but there is also some outsourced work, like music.

Speaking of .dat, why use the relatively untested Virtual Dream engine for such a high-profile project?
I'm not sure I can tell much about the engine, as I haven't been involved with it before - I hadn't seen it before we started working on Disciples III. For us it is looking pretty good, and we don't have any problems with it. .dat knows this engine well, and can work efficiently and flexibly with it. It would be more trouble to use some sort of middleware engine for them. Right now they can do anything they want with the engine as long as it's good for the game.

Have you listened to any fan input on this? What's their reaction so far to the project?
Yeah, we did. We're checking the forums, and the response from the development team was very fast after we announced the game. Both Akella's forums and different strategy forums around the web. The response was very quick after the video hit the Internet, and we're reading it. The fans were very concerned with some issues like movement on the maps, especially the combat maps. It wasn’t previously in Disciples. We'll have both in Disciples III, so you can choose between how it was in Disciples II and movement in combat. The fans was concerned that combat wasn't dynamic, and we're addressing that. Strategy First already gathered a huge document for us on Disciples III, with feedback from fans through their own website and mail after it was announced. There was little direct feedback on Disciples III before it was announced, because no one knew it was in development.

How about feedback of what people liked and disliked in Disciples II?
The lead programmer and lead artist of Disciples III are huge fans of the Disciples series, and they really wanted to do the next game in the series along with the rest of the development team. They know all the exploits, drawbacks and so on of the previous games. They showed us lots of things we didn't know of, lots of balancing issues and exploits of the previous games we didn’t know of as a publisher - things that the fans discovered after playing the games for a long time. So yes, we're using the fan feedback, and that's the reason we're changing some features as I've spoken of earlier. We'll also get lots of information during the beta test, and we're getting lots of information from Strategy First.


Add Comment Comments

15 Jun 2006 - 9:49pm
More information at the official forums (some way down).
baby arm\
2 Jun 2006 - 3:26pm
baby arm
Speaking of the art, here's a gallery done by one of the .dat developers. The gallery's not Disciples-related, but it's very groovy nonetheless.
2 Jun 2006 - 1:17pm
I didn't play the previous Disciples games for some reason. That being said, I agree with you on the transition to 3D. Even if the 3D engines these days are getting very good, some of the charm of the old games seems to disappear with them. Still, I think this game is going to look GOOD :thinking:
2 Jun 2006 - 11:20am


"We're trying to keep the style of Disciples II, that gloomy dark style of Renaissance, picturesque art. It's not like the fantasy that's done in Heroes 5, where you see just colourful picture, but dark and very dramatic."
Well, I'm glad to see them keeping that straight as I'm sure we've all had more than enough of the customary black and white, clear-cut, fantasy archetypes.


However (and nice as the adoption of a 3D engine might be) I'm probably still going to miss the lavish, hand-drawn art outlook, present in Disciples II...


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Game Card

Disciples III Renaissance Box
Developer: Akella
Publisher: Strategy First



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