Interview: Creating Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

One of the more impressive Nintendo DS games created to date is Fighting Fantasy: the Warlock of Firetop Mountain, created by London, Ontario-based Big Blue Bubble, Inc., published by Aspyr Media and set to hit stores on October 26, 2009.

What makes the game so amazing is how close it comes to replicating the experience of many great PC RPGs from years ago wile feeling completely fresh thanks to the DS touch screen and a dedicated team of artists and programmers looking to bring the book to life and beyond in portable form. FF looks to be a classic, deep first-person role-playing experience set in an huge game world running at a blazing 60 frames per second with full, intuitive touch screen controls and the ability to map locations as you like in order to uncover every nook and cranny of the world you’ll explore.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Damir Slogar, Big Blue Bubble’s CEO and Goran Marinic, the game’s Lead Designer a few questions about the game, most of them submitted by fans over on the game’s Gamefaqs page. In addition, I’m more than pleased to show off the excellent concept art and weapon renders I just received, which hasn’t been published anywhere else online.

Here’s what they had to say about the game:

Greg Wilcox: How long has Fighting Fantasy been in development and was the Nintendo DS always the first choice for the project?

Damir Slogar: The game has been in development for over 3 years and Nintendo DS was always our first choice. I started working on the concept for this game way before that (in the good old Gameboy days) but DS was the first handheld platform with enough ‘horsepower’ to handle the game I envisioned.

What were some of the biggest hurdles (technical and otherwise) the
team has faced in translating FF into game form?

DS: As with any project of that scope, there are many challenges that we encountered during the different stages of development. Most of the technical hurdles we resolved in first few months while working on the core engine. By the time we developed a playable prototype, we resolved most of our big technical issues. Probably the biggest one that kept coming back was running at 60FPS. Almost every piece of code or art assets we added during the development had impact on the frame rate so we spent large amount of time just optimizing stuff.

GW: How close to the book to the game experience? Is this an interactive version of the source material or will there be additional elements created specifically for the game?

Goran Marinic: I’d say that this game is close to what FF is, given the framework of a DS 3D game. We took all the basic premises from the book, expanded upon some of them, and filled in the blanks where the book had to be simple due to restrictions of its format, e.g. our world is a proper 3D where you walk freely, you can look in all directions, you have much better control over the combat outcome, there is spell casting etc. But if you’re a book fan, you’ll recognize a lot of details from the Warlock of Firetop Mountain. For the fans of the ‘original book experience’, our company is currently developing 5 FF titles for iPhone which are rather strict adaptations of the book content, of course, always with some kind of twist.


GW: In terms of structure, is the game primarily a straightforward dungeon crawl (such as Orcs & Elves) or are there towns and other areas to explore? Conversely, how much freedom will players have in terms of exploration, interactions with NPCs and side quests?

GM: It will depend on the player and his desire to explore or play the game again. There are several ways to reach the end of the game, and some of the player’s decisions will close other options, which influences NPC’s and main quests up to a point. In any case, while the player will always get a hint on “what to do next”, we tried not to make him feel that he’s been forced down a single path whether he wants it or not. At any point, player will be free to explore outside of the main quest and if necessary go back to the areas populated with weaker enemies in order to build up his character.


Could you describe the control layout? How customizable are the controls and how will the touch screen be used?

GM: The touch screen was designed to be the main interface, used for just about everything including the free look but excluding the actual movement in 3D world – this is mapped to a directional keypad. There are alternative button controls for almost everything and there is support for flipping controls to facilitate game for both left and right handed players. Also, a strategic part of the game is assigning some functions – spells, easily accessible weapons etc. – to the buttons on the touch screen.

As far as the touch screen mapping system goes, can players make it through the entire adventure without it if they choose to do so?

GM: The opinions differ. I’d say yes. A lot of others would say no. I’d call it lack of dedication.


DS: I have to agree. Half of the fun I had playing old school classics like Dungeon Master or Eye Of The Beholder series was mapping my steps on the graph paper. This time player will be able to use the stylus to make the comments on the maps.

GW: On the sound front, will there be music during gameplay or is this the type of experience where players will need to use their eyes and ears along with their combat skills in order to survive?

GM: Careful listening is not required to solve any problems. It might give you slight advantage in the combat, but hardly any difference between life and death. On the other hand, we’re using really nice environment effects which can build good atmosphere; all the actions are accompanied by sound feedback and I think that whoever plays FF: the Warlock of Firetop Mountain with the volume down will miss on this experience.


DS: There is another reason why the music can be heard only in the menus and not during the exploration. In order to keep the frame rate at 60fps we needed all the CPU power we can get. if we wanted the music playing at the same time it wouldn’t sound very good as we will be very constrained.

In terms of character customization, will there be some sort of “class” system. Also, how flexible is the customization and how significantly will this affect gameplay?

GM: There have been a lot of changes to the character system since the beginning. Basically, the player is allowed to tailor his character to match his game style. He may rely on brute force in melee, long distance spells, special abilities etc. If there’s a weapon or armor piece he likes a lot, he might have to strengthen one side of his character so that he can equip that item.


DS: I would say that customization is very flexible (more than any RPG I’ve played recently) and effect on the gameplay is huge. Playing the game with the warrior character will be a totally different experience than playing as a mage.


GW: In the FF books one of the more unique aspects in the ability to “reroll” during situations if something goes wrong… is this element part of the DS game?

GM: No, there’s no point, since the player has much greater control over his destiny than in the books (if we exclude cheating).


GW:About how long is the game and are there any completion bonuses for those who want to replay the adventure?

DS: You can finish the main game path in 8-10 hours but it is not very likely you will be able to do so. Keep in mind that you can finish Super Mario Bros. in five minutes. There are more than 80 missions and if you want to finish them all it will take a while. You can go through the game a 2nd and 3rd time with different characters while keeping all the items from 1st run.

Any amusing developer stories or big revelations during the game’s development?

DS: No. Nothing interesting really happened in last 3 years. 🙂
Seriously though, some of the key moments we are leaving for the post-mortem.

And that, folks… is the final word for now. I’ll also note that Slogar is a big fan of classic PC RPGs such as Dungeon Master, Anvil of Dawn and other memorable quest, combat and challenge packed adventure games, so this project should easily equal some of those favorites. Many thanks to both of these busy guys for taking time to answer your questions and for providing the lovely concept artwork and weapon renders.

Look for the game in stores this October and absolutely pre-order this one, so it makes it to as many retail locations as possible.

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