The Game by Grolier Interactive
last update 7/18/99
This image appeared on a promotional postcard from
Grolier at DragonCon, and is used by permission.
Grolier Interactive has not had time recently
(like say, in the past year) to update their own
website about the computer game they're making based on Pern. But I learned all
sorts of info about the game from the panel they presented in the Weyrfest room at
DragonCon, as well as from the panel they co-presented with Anne McCaffrey and Atlantis
TV, and from Anne's private panel. All that information will be inter-weaved
here--hopefully in some logically organized way. And I'm going to see (soon...)
about getting permission to post some of the images they've released on to alt.fan.pern
(since they haven't gotten around to putting them on their own site!).
Three people from Grolier came to DragonCon:
Julia, a marketing director;
Chris Nicholls<, the senior producer; and
Jerome Gilbert, a tech/programmer(?). Chris is the one who periodically posts on
alt.fan.pern, and gets to answer all the email sent about the game. The team working
on the game at Grolier consists of 15 people, all of whom have read at least one Pern book
now (most read Dragonflight if only one). The three scripters for the game have read
all the books and are big McCaffrey fans. They're using the Dragonlover's
Guide to Pern as a reference book, to learn info about locations and other stuff...
Chris took over as senior producer for the game
twelve months ago, and since then the game engine has been completely re-written.
They also seem to have had a change in attitude about how the game should be written, and
are now seeking Anne's approval for all facets of the game, and also communicating with
the current Pern fan base. They stay in contact with Anne via phone and the
internet, and send her graphics and change things based on her criticisms. They've
also gone to Dublin a couple times to go over things in person. Obviously there
will have to be some difference between the books and the game--their challenge is to
translate Pern into a marketable game while staying as true to Anne's vision of Pern as
possible. Anne gets to approve of all deviations from the Pern we know from the
Chris thinks it'll take three to six months more
work to finish the game. The projected release date is March 2000. They may
be seeking play testers as soon as September 1999.
The central character of the game, whom you
control, is a young bronze rider. Although he's a pre-defined character, there's a
possibility that you might get to customize his name (and his dragon's). The
storyline spans several years, and you'll get the chance to improve your rank, possibly to
Wingleader or even Weyrleader! You start off the game as a regular rider, just above
weyrling in rank, and will have a Wingleader that can tell you what to do. The
setting of the game seems to be the Eight Interval, pre-Dragonflight, in the fictitious
Weyr of Tillek (and the game will eventually explain the subsequent demise of this Weyr,
thus keeping in line with the books). The character wakes up with a hangover after a
night of carousing with his buddies (would you believe that was the Dragonlady's idea!).
He chats with his dragon, and you'll find that the dragon won't let him leave the
weyr until he puts some clothes on! You find out that your Weyrleader has been
rushed off to a meeting--hours ago--and hasn't returned. No one knows what's going
on... You'll work to unravel this mystery. Not much more about the storyline is
known--they didn't want to give it all away! Also, they're still working on the full
storyline (and are consulting with Todd about it). Chris did say that there will be
a Search at some point in the game.
You play to earn prestige, charisma, and
respect, rather than for points or stats. It is a many-layered game, and you can
pursue different parts of the plot when you wish to. All told, the game is projected to
take around 40 hours to play to completion (and you'll know when it's done).
There is lots to do besides directly pursuing the storyline--your bronze will need
to be fed, and the programmers know how much dragons like to play in water!
There will not be any Thread fighting in this
game (which you should have guessed from the 8th Interval setting). The point of
this game is to set up the role of a dragonrider in Pernese society, so that those not
familiar with Pern will understand it, and learn about Pern through it. Subsequent
versions of the game may include Threadfall, and may have multi-player capabilities and
let you chose among different characters to play (rider, crafter, holder, perhaps).
When they said there'd be no Threadfall in this
game, one woman in particular went on a big rant about how this is what defines Pern and
makes it unique. I think Chris did a good job defending the game and their decision.
There's a lot more to Pern besides Fall, and scenes of Fall certainly don't
dominate the novels. A game of Threadfall fighting has been done before (the
Dragonriders of Pern for the Commodore-64), and would amount to little more than a
flying/shooting game which wouldn't actually be that unique. Also, at this point
designing an interactive, quality Threadfighting game in three dimensions is rather
onerous. It could be done, but with the amount of work that would take, that would
be all there was to the game in a first release version--and that would hardly do justice
to the rich world of Pern that Anne McCaffrey created.
If this game is a big hit, then we can look
forward to sequels in later years, with more capabilities as mentioned above. In
order for it to be a hit, it has to draw in more than the current Pern-reading fan base,
which is why it's designed as an intro to Pern. But that doesn't mean it'll be
boring to those of us who are already fans--I'm quite interested in it, and I'm not
usually one for games of this type!
Now for some more semi-technical details about
the game, in no particular order:
It has a propriety game engine (I have no clue what that means, but I know some of you out
there do!). The dialogue will be about 70% non-interactive, because they want to use
a lot of pre-recorded voice talent, and the other 30% will be semi-interactive. At
points in the game there will be 'skims' to fill in the player about general Pern
knowledge, and much of the skims will be directly excerpted from the novels. Maximum
resolution for the game will be 1280 by 1024, and use 24 bits for color and 8 for text.
The game uses a variety of camera angles to follow your character around; you won't
get to flip between angles like on some games, but it'll change naturally as you walk
around--from what I saw of this in the demo, it is very very nifty!
The people have fully rendered skeletons, with
movable eyebrows, eyelids, and mouth so that a variety of facial expressions can be
rendered. All joints are part of the skeleton, so that he appears normally mobile.
Oh, and he's got a pony-tail. I'm given to understand that the work they've
put into the facial features is a first in the game world. I can say that the demo
of him yawning and stretching was impressive--very life-like.
More random tidbits of info:
The programmers know you can't go between
to new places.
When you approach someone to speak to, their
rank shoulderknots will appear in the upper right corner of the screen. The upper
left corner (might) hold info on your dragon's health.
They're not thrilled with
"Dragonflight" as the name for the game, and are open to suggestions!
They're glad they didn't make the mistake of
making reptilian dragons--that would have been a flamable offense (Chris's words)!
Expect the game to cost 'the usual price' for
similar games. The developers really have no clue what the price'll be--the
marketing folks will decide that later.
Grolier didn't actively seek out the contract to
make the game at first. They heard about it when the development rights came open
from Zyntypo, decided to read some of the books, met with Anne, and loved the idea of
basing a game on Pern!
When asked she'd write a story based on the
character in the game, Anne said maybe...
Chris thought it'll be interesting to see the
emails fly after the game is released:
"Did you see that bit?" -- "No, where the hell was that?!"
The game will have five 'chapters.' The
first takes place at the Weyr, I think. The second is at Fort Hold, and the third is
at Ista Island. A new fan is joining the programming team as the scripting for
chapter three starts around 7/19/99.
A newly determined feature--they just decided
how to indicate how your dragon feels about characters in the game which you can talk to.
It's a visual cue, since the link is telepathic after all. My exclusive
scoop (straight to me from Chris!) is that the character will be highlighted
in a color which represents the dragon's eye color--thus you know how your dragon feels
about him/her! Nifty idea, huh?