Jade Empire Interview
|Arguably, one of the most anticipated releases for the Xbox is Jade Empire. We had the oppurtunity to site down with some of the key producers at BioWare to discuss the production of this RPG.
|05.02.05 - 10:10 pm
XG: What is your name and position on the team? Could you give us a little background of your company?
RM: Ray Muzyka, Joint CEO of BioWare, Co-Executive Producer on Jade Empire.
GZ: Greg Zeschuk, Joint CEO of BioWare, Co-Executive Producer on Jade Empire.
JB: Jim Bishop, Producer on Jade Empire.
RM: BioWare is a video game developer with over 170 employees, based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We've focused on the genre of roleplaying games and have had great success in that genre our Baldur's Gate series has sold over five million units in total, and more recently the Neverwinter Nights series (released just a year and a half ago) has sold close to two million units. Our most recent game is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic it's the highest rated game in the roleplaying category at Gamerankings.com, plus it's the fastest selling game ever on the Xbox (per a Microsoft press release) and in its first few months of release KotOR has sold about a million units so far, just on the Xbox (with a PC version also released just a few days ago). At BioWare we have great employees smart, creative and passionate about our projects and we try to make each game we release better than the last. Our next project is Jade Empire, a brand new world set in mythical version of China, full of martial arts and magic. Jade Empire is an Xbox exclusive, to be published by Microsoft with a release target of Q4 2004.
XG: How long has Jade Empire been in development for and, what stage is it at?
GZ: We've been working on Jade Empire for a couple years at BioWare. The process started with an intensive world development phase in which we fleshed out the world of Jade Empire in minute detail we've got a wonderful set of source material on which to build the game. Concurrent with the design phase we started prototyping the new technology for the game the entire engine in Jade Empire is designed from the ground up to optimize performance on the Xbox, and serve the feature set for the game. After completing both the design and the prototyping we entered the implementation phase we're currently building all of the content for the game. We always plan the implementation carefully in advance of actually creating it, but we also make sure every designer and artist can personalize his or her work. Our Quality Assurance team is also working on the game testing the design and the content as it is created. QA's early involvement (they've been working on the game for quite a while already) is essential in our games due to their extreme size and detail. We're really excited about how the game is shaping up and look forward to some of the really cool things on the horizon.
XG: Could you give us a rundown on the characters in the game and their various skills and techniques?
JB: Two of the starting characters we're ready to unveil are Furious Ming and Wu the Lotus Blossom. Their names are just placeholders you can name your character whatever you like during creation. Each starting character comes with a set of starting abilities and a starting style, both of which you can modify. But if you begin the game and play Furious Ming without changing anything, he is extremely fast and quick, and uses one of the fastest martial arts fighting styles in the game.
As you advance through the game, you can customize your character to an incredible degree. Learn more than thirty fighting styles, and level them up to add new effects like poison and knockback, speed up your style animations, or add entirely new moves. You also have full control over your ability score upgrades, which influence both combat and conversation.
XG: How would you describe Jade Empire and, how does it differ from other games in the genre?
RM: Jade Empire is an action roleplaying game set in an original world based on mythical China. The main character your character starts the game as a martial arts student who grows up in the village of Two Rivers, a tiny town in a remote corner of the Empire.
At the beginning of the game, the PC hears rumors of ghosts and demons that haunt the countryside. The story has many twists and takes the main character across the continent over the course of the game. Jade Empire has all of the cool features and story depth that fans have come to expect from BioWare RPGs for example, players can customize their characters' appearance, abilities, and styles, and can choose between good and evil paths through the story on their way to become masters of martial arts.
One of the unique aspects about Jade Empire is that it is the first new IP developed entirely here at BioWare. In addition to all of the cool aspects of the brand new world of the Jade Empire, we designed a brand new, intuitive yet deep rule set from the ground up for Jade Empire, using our experience working on games like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. The distinctive setting, the detailed combat system as well as the lush area and character graphics, the motion captured animation system and the storyline rich, deep and non linear, and full of replayable options in the BioWare tradition will really set Jade Empire apart.
XG: How is the combat executed in the game and, how many attacks, spells and weapons will we be able to master throughout?
GZ: Combat in Jade Empire occurs in real time, this means that every button press on the Xbox controller leads to execution of a maneuver in real time (either a punch, kick, or other more snazzy attack). This is a departure from our RPGs of the past that were tightly governed by a set of rules that dictated the frequency of attacks and actions. We have done action games in the past at BioWare (Shattered Steel and MDK2), so this isn't actually new to us, but it is something that has yet to appear in our role playing games. Another extremely important element in combat is the ability to change combat styles in real time during the battle. For example, you can paralyze an opponent by executing a successful chain of attacks via Paralyzing Palm and then pull off a very slow, highly damaging and difficult to execute attack on your paralyzed foe. This leads to some really interesting emergent gameplay features in Jade Empire.
There are over 30 different styles in Jade Empire the various categories are martial arts styles, weapon styles and magic styles. Players will be able to custom tailor their character by choosing and developing particular styles this makes every character in the game completely different and creates wonderful synergy between styles.
XG: How many levels/areas will we be able to take on in the final version? Could you tell us about some?
JB: The player begins the game in the remote rural town of Two Rivers, and the first few adventures take place here in the Golden Delta province. Over the course of the game, the player travels as far as the Land of Howling Spirits, and makes stops in the Imperial City, a mysterious inn, a bandit infested marsh, a drowned village, and dozens of other game areas.
Our goal is to bring this world to life in lush detail, with all the color and life we can pack into it. Our art director has been downright draconian in enforcing his visual standards, so there's a great deal of harmony, even between areas that are completely different in theme. It's really a gorgeous looking game.
XG: What games or movies have influenced Jade Empire?
RM: Many different sources have inspired us as we worked on the game. We have read a lot of books on mythological China books like Outlaws of the Marsh and watched film series like The Water Margin from the BBC, as well as lots of classic Hong Kong cinema – movies starring actors like Bruce Li, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat. More recently, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has been an inspiration to the team. I have visited China (Beijing and Hong Kong) as well as other locations in Asia (Korea and Japan) during the period we've been developing this game, as have Jim and others on the team, and it's been very inspiring to see sights like the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Ming tombs. We're drawing design and artistic inspiration from a variety of periods in both Chinese history as well as mythology as Jim mentioned already, this is a tale of a China that might have been. It's a very cool setting for BioWare's first new intellectual property to be set in! In terms of games, we try to play everything and draw ideas from a lot of sources there are too many great RPGs to list, but suffice to say, we're big fans of a lot of games and we try o play them all.
XG: Could you describe your favourite part of the game?
GZ: I really enjoy the combat in Jade Empire it's fun fighting it out in an arena filled with enemies to see how the various style combinations work. At the current time the combat styles are being rapidly implements, so every week there are some new combinations to try out it's a lot of fun. Another part I really enjoy is the story and character development. We're all big RPG fans here at BioWare and we love telling compelling stories I can say first hand that the story in Jade Empire is absolutely on of our best players will be blown away by the game!
XG: What games are you looking forward to in the next year?
JB: In the near term I'm waiting to get my hands on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the PC I want to play through it again, this time as a good character. Longer term I'm dying to play Half Life 2, Doom 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Deus Ex 2.
XG: How have you found Microsoft? How do they fare with other companies from a developers point of view?
RM: We've really enjoyed working with Microsoft so far. They have a lot of strengths. First off they're the first party publisher for the Xbox system, which helps us a lot since Jade Empire is being developed as an Xbox exclusive. As well, they have a great capability to do marketing research, which helps us better understand what our fans want to see in our next console RPG Jade Empire. Finally, they're practical and have a lot of good suggestions on production. Overall they've been great to work with and we look forward to working with them more, to finish up an outstanding RPG in Jade Empire!
XG: What is the predicted release date for Jade Empire in the US and UK?
GZ: We are aiming for a holiday 2004 release. Thus far progress has been excellent on the game, and we're really impressed with both how beautiful it looks, and how much fun it is to play.
XG: What are your future plans? Will we see any more Xbox titles from your team?
RM: We can't comment on unannounced future projects of course, but we can say that we're really enjoying working with the Xbox system on Jade Empire, with Microsoft as the publisher, and we're very happy with the sales and critical success that our last Xbox RPG (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) has received!