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The Executive Director of Dragon Rage speaks...

Executive Director of Dragon Rage, Kudo Tsunoda

We recently got the chance to chat with Kudo Tsunoda, Executive Director of 3DO's upcoming action title, Dragon Rage. Here's what he had to say.
PSi: Tell us how Dragon Rage originated? What was the idea behind the game's concept?
KUDO: I have always been a big fan of fantasy based games like D+D. Played the hell out of it as a kid. Most of the times when we played, you would band together with a bunch of your friends and go off on a quest to slay the all powerful dragon. Most of the time the dragon would end up roasting you and everyone in your band. Maybe it is just me, but I always wished that the game actually gave you the chance to play as the dragon. I always found it more appealing to be able to light all the other people on fire or maybe get a chance to decimate entire villages. But none of the games we used to play ever gave you that chance. This is the basic premise behind Dragon Rage. Instead of being one of the many small, weak creatures that have to band up to take on the mighty dragon, you get to play as the mighty dragon. No dragon rider, just a big ass dragon flying around breathing fire on people, swooping down and eating them, or picking them up in your claws, flying up in the air, and dropping people to their death. To me, this always sounded like a lot more fun then being one of the small people trying to slay the dragon.
PSi: As I understand it, originally this was going to be a Might and Magic title, but that has changed. Why the change and what is the storyline behind Dragon Rage?
Always working hard. KUDO: True, this was going to be a Might and Magic title originally. But the gameplay is all action oriented as opposed to turn based which is more what is associated with Might and Magic titles. We dropped the Might and Magic off from the name so people would not be confused as to the type of gameplay. Fortunately, while the gameplay is action, we retained many of the gameplay elements that are a lot of fun in the Might and Magic games. For instance, throughout the course of the game, you can fully customize your Dragon's abilities by upgrading your elemental powers. There are four basic elements, fire, water, air, and earth. These elements affect everything about your dragon including what magic you can use, your mana levels, your Dragon health, Dragon speed, etc. At the end of missions, you can choose to upgrade specific elements which gives your Dragon different abilities depending on which element you upgraded. You really can customize your Dragon for how you like to play the game. The basic storyline of the game revolves around one specific Dragon named Cael. In this universe, the Orcs are the dominant war-like race. They have become powerful by harvesting a magical element called Zeenium. Zeenium is the element that gives Dragons their ability to breath fire and use other magical powers. The Orcs extract the Zeenium from Dragon eggs which not only makes the Orcs more powerful, but causes Dragons to be born with no magic. They are very docile creatures. Orcs have enslaved all the docile dragons as well as other magical creatures like sprites. Through a twist in the storyline, Cael is injected with some of this Zeenium and has regained his magical abilities. He goes through the game learning how to use his new found magical powers, freeing other dragons and sprites, as well as extracting his vengeance on the Orcs and their cities.
PSi: We know you from the Air Attack series and other similar flight-based games. Explain the differences between Dragon Rage's engine and Air Attack's. They seem similar, but what can we expect different (besides the obvious change in story and setting)?
KUDO: Actually, Dragon Rage is a lot different than Air Attack and required all new technology. First off, we have a full 360 degree flight system which allows the dragon to fly freely around the environment. Since you can see so much more of the terrain, we had to do an all new terrain rendering system. Plus, the worlds are enormous. Air Attack was a lot more top down. In Dragon Rage, you can fully see the entire horizon. We put together a very sophisticated animation blending system for the Dragon. Since there are so many different things you can do with the dragon (fly, cast magic, eat creatures, pick things up in your claws, etc), we needed an animation system that would respond to the control input immediately without causing skips in the animations. Besides these features, we did new engine components for the AI in the game as well as all the special effects.
PSi: Tell us a little about Cael's moves and what sort of magic attacks we can expect in the game.
KUDO: A big part of whether you are successful in the game or not will come down to how well you can control the dragon. While flying the dragon around is simple, learning how to best control the dragon for top speed, swooping down on Orcs and eating them, picking up things in your claws, and avoiding incoming projectiles takes a little time. Besides regular flying maneuvers, the dragon can roll both left and right to avoid incoming fire. You can do a full loop which helps you throw off units trying to target you. You can also do a quick 180 flip if you fly by enemies you wanted to target or eat. In addition to all the physical attacks like eating people, you have a wide variety of magic attacks available to you as well. The player has four different breath attacks, each that can be upgraded four times. You also get Fury Attacks, which are more over the top, mass destruction weapons. You can use these to take out entire villages or armies of Orcs all at once! Plus, the dragon has Dragon Powers. These are not necessarily attacks as much as magic that adds to your abilities. For instance, one Dragon Power adds a concussion effect to your fireball breath weapon making it a lot more powerful. Another causes all enemy projectiles to reflect off the dragon and hit the unit that shot them at you. Each of these magical abilities, and how often you can use them, is controlled by the amount of mana you have. The more powerful the magic, the more mana it takes to use. When your mana is out, you are out of magic. You can always get more mana by eating Orcs!
PSi: Explain the elemental enchantments. How do they affect Cael's abilities and behavior?
Dragon Rage KUDO: There are four different elemental enchantments: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. You can change your elemental enchantment during gameplay by eating gems. What element you are enchanted with controls what breath weapon you have, what fury attack you can use, and what your current dragon power is. So for example, if you are fire enchanted, you will have a fireball breath weapon, a stream of fire for your fury attack, and a concussion power added to your fireballs for your Dragon Power. If you are water enchanted, you have an ice shard breath weapon, a crystalline fury attack, and your Dragon Power is that of reflect (reflects all enemy attacks back at the attacker). Your elemental enchantment also controls things like your mana store, your health levels, and other dragon abilities.
PSi: How many levels can we expect from the 1 Player campaign?
KUDO: There will be 15 1p Campaign levels. Each of the levels have several different mission objectives, many of which occur dynamically over the course of play. The levels are pretty long and intense, giving a really good gameplay experience. The mission objectives are tied in nicely with the cinematics and storyline which makes the game incredibly immersive. Dragon Rage will definitely give you your money's worth as far as gameplay goes. Plus, with a fully customizable dragon, you can really play the game multiple times, customizing your dragon for a different gameplay experience.
PSi: Tell me about the AI system that you've developed for Dragon Rage.
I'm doing research for the new game. No, really!! KUDO: The AI system needed for this game is a lot more sophisticated than what you have seen in other PS2 games. There are over 40 different unit types you battle each with their own AI. But the real jewel of the AI system is the "Fight or Flight" team based behaviors. All of the units in the game are constantly in communication with each other, updating everyone with battle status and affecting other units behaviors based on what you have already done in the game. So for instance, if you come across an Orc battalion, it is made up of an Orc Captain and a bunch of other foot units. If you decimate some of the foot units, but leave the captain alive, the captain will call in for more help. If you take out the captain, the team based attacks of the battalion will no longer work and they will all act individually. If you take out the captain and more than half the other units, the rest of the battalion will get scared, and turn tail and run. This gives the player the chance to swoop in behind them and eat them alive!!! Basically, all the units in a given level are communicating with each other and change how they behave in the mission based on what the player has already done or not done. It makes for a very dynamic and fluid environment and gameplay experience.
PSi: What has been your main focus during the creation of Dragon Rage?
KUDO: We really wanted to focus on making the Dragon as fun a character to be as possible. The Dragon itself looks amazing. It is easily the best looking Dragon model and animation of any game available on PS2. We also added a ton of cool flight maneuvers and attacks for the dragon. Basically, the way we made the game was to fully implement the dragon and all its abilities before putting in the rest of the game. We wanted to make sure flying the Dragon around was fun all by itself before adding anything else. Then we implemented gameplay that most complimented the Dragon's abilities.
PSi: What has been the most difficult aspect of bringing this game to the public?
Dragon RageKUDO: Basically, getting any game to the public is an incredibly difficult chore. It takes teams of nearly 50 people all told to make a game happen and it is never easy to keep that many people working towards a common goal for an extended period of time. But we have been really lucky in that we are working with a really talented team, all of which were totally motivated and excited to be working on this game. I guess the hardest part was building the game for a market we did not really know the customer on. We started working on the game before any PS2 games were released so we did not have a good idea what types of people would be playing the game. We went and made the game pretty dark and gory which at the time seemed risky, not knowing what types of people would be buying the games. But being game consumers ourselves, we made the game how we would have liked it and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the people buying PS2's are looking for games a little on the dark side.
PSi: Dragon Rage is quite a bit different from the Army Men series, which has seemed to be 3DO's focus over the last few years. Was it hard to sell them on this concept or did they jump at the chance to do something so different?
KUDO: I think 3DO's attitude towards game making is a lot different on the PS2 than it was for PS1. Basically, we got into the PS1 market in the latter half of the platform's life cycle. It really did not make sense to build a lot of very sophisticated technology on the PS1 since we were already so far behind other companies. But for the transition to PS2, we have spent years of R+D figuring out how to build kick ass PS2 engines and technology. This not only means that the games we make are a lot better, but it also gives us more flexibility to try out new game ideas. The PS2 technology our company has built is extremely robust and ahead of the curve compared to a lot of other companies. I think this shows in a lot of our new games like Dragon Rage and Jonny Moseley Mad Trix. Besides these two games, we have a lot of other new titles coming out like Godai: Elemental Force and Shifters. The company is really behind trying out new ideas. It is a good time to be a developer here.
PSi: I remember you telling us about your research with the army men - blowing them up in the parking lots and such. What sort of research did you do for Dragon Rage to give it an authentic medieval look and feel?
Dragon RageKUDO: We did a lot of research and concept work on the overall look of the game and environments. Actually, this was one of the easier things to research since there is so much medieval art to look at. The hardest thing to nail down was how the dragon flies and moves throughout the medieval world. It was kind of funny actually, we would have design meetings and sit around for hours arguing about how a dragon flies. This is kind of a weird argument to have since there really is no such thing as a Dragon. So arguing about how one flies is probably not an argument anybody is going to win definitively. So we watched any and all dragon movies available. These were helpful, but not really enough to base our flight model on. Then one night, I was up watching the Discovery Channel and they were doing a full two hour show on predatory birds and how they hunted their prey. This set us off on a whole new research angle. We got together as much footage as we could of flesh eating birds, how they swooped down on their prey, and their general attack patterns. We even brought a couple of pet birds for the office!!!
PSi: What different types of levels and areas can we look for? Will they all take place in large, open outdoor areas or will we be seeing some indoor destruction. :)
KUDO: All of the levels take place in outdoor environments. The campaign starts in the country side, with rolling hills, farms, and the lowest level orc units (archers, mounted units). As you progress through the campaign, the environments progress through various levels of technological enhancements. After the country side, you start working your way up through towns and then castles. We also ramp up the difficulty of the units you are fighting in each area to match the increasing level of difficulty of the environments. Once you pass the castles, you start working your way through Orc cities and other more concentrated, well defended areas. It works really well, progressing through all the environment types and meeting enemies that are in synch with their environment. It gives the game a great flow.
PSi: What's been your favorite experience while creating this game?
Dragon RageKUDO: Believe it or not, some of the most fun moments I have had have been working with game press people on covering the game. People in the press have really latched on to the idea of being able to control an all powerful dragon and the fun gameplay that we have been able to develop from that core concept. I really get a cool buzz demoing a game for people and seeing them getting all psyched about it. Plus, it never ceases to excite me to get to do an interview with a gaming site like PSIllustrated that I personally use to get my gaming news. I love this site and it is great to have our games covered on it.
PSi: When can we look for Dragon Rage to be in stores?
KUDO: Sometime this winter. Should be before Christmas.
PSi: What else are you working on right now that you can tell us about and when can we expect to see it?
Dragon Rage KUDO: The other title I am working on right now is called Jonny Moseley Mad Trix. It is a skiing game for PS2. But it is not skiing like most people would think of it, people in tight jump suits skiing through gates. It is totally trick based, new school skiing. A lot more like skateboarding on skis than typical skiing. Hopefully we will get to do an interview on this site about it soon!!! It will be out this winter as well.
PSi: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about Dragon Rage. We can't wait to get our hands on a copy. :)
KUDO: My pleasure. Thanks for letting me talk about the game on your site! I really love Playstation Illustrated and am psyched to see our games covered on your site. If anybody has any more questions about the game, feel free to email me: kudo.tsunoda@3do.com

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