By Jim Rossignol on July 3rd, 2008 at 6:31 pm.
This week we were brave enough to extract a few words of Homeric wisdom from Charley Price, the lead designer on Codemasters’ new action RPG, Rise Of The Argonauts. Needless to say, the Liquid Entertainment man was keen to talk up how RotA is rather different from previous videogame interpretations of classical Greek mythology, and tell us how the game was “akin to Mass Effect”. Head clickwards for the words, and a bunch of brand new Argonauty screenshots.
Price explained that the Jason story we will play through is one of their own devising: of bringing his murdered wife Alceme back from the dead. The opening scenes take place after the princess’s assassination: “Our first moments of gameplay follow Jason’s bloody chase of the assassin through the halls of his massive palace,” said Price. “Joined by Hercules, Jason tears through hordes of vicious Ionian mercenaries using his lethal expertise with sword, mace, and spear to ultimately cut off the assassin’s escape.”
This done, and assassin duly eviscerated, the game begins proper, with the warship Argo being decked with heroes, general baddy-slaying house-keeping, and the witch Medea entering the story from a rather different angle to that of the original tale.
Clearly, this isn’t a serious attempt to retell the original Argonauts mythology in videogame form, so what’s the real influence? The 1963 film? Are we going to be facing badly animated skeletons? “The Harryhausen film is a classic”, Price observed, “And his amazing work on both Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans defined the look of mythological Greece for several generations. That said, one of the reasons why we were so eager to work on a game like Rise of the Argonauts is to continue that tradition of bringing the world of Greek mythology to life in a new an unique way – capturing the lushness and richness of the world, the sense that the Gods are always watching.”
The Gods are integral to how the game plays out – effectively defining how you’ll fight in combat and how your character will develop as the game goes on. Yes, that’s right. This isn’t a God Of War type beat ‘em up, it’s an role-playing game… but what kind of RPG should we expect?
“At Liquid we have always gone out of our way to provide the player with a unique, immersive experience while at the same time planting our flag somewhere new,” said Price. “When we set out to create Rise of the Argonauts, we didn’t start with the intention of creating an action game or creating an RPG – rather, our goal was to recreate the experience of playing a myth. Thus, instead of just grabbing various elements from action games and dropping them into an RPG, we only drew upon those components that served the best interest of our goals and discarded the rest.”
Oh really? Like what? “For example, we wanted to make sure that we had a rich character progression system beyond Jason arbitrarily getting stronger every time he kills enough rats. That’s not compelling or heroic, and it provides a constant reminder that you’re playing a game, breaking you out of the experience. Furthermore, to really capture the experience of mythological Greece, it was important for us to create an atmosphere wherein the player felt the gods were always watching. Thus, Jason’s progression is based upon his Favor with his patron gods (Ares, Athena, Apollo, and Hermes). Furthermore, since the gods are always watching, all of Jason’s actions – from dialogue choices to heroic Deeds in combat – can earn him Favor and develop your character in a unique and rewarding way.”
Okay, but what kind of RPG are we looking at here. Is it really Titan Quest with 3D visuals? God Of War with level-grind stats? “Every choice has a demonstrable impact on your character and the world,” said Price. “Beyond that, we offer a rich, cinematic narrative experience akin to Mass Effect, with all the great characterization and important decisions that fans of that game will appreciate.”
The parallel between the two games could indeed go further: both use the ship as a means of travel, story-telling, and quest-bridging, as Price explained. “The Argo is Jason’s mobile headquarters, home to him and the Argonauts on their voyage. In a way, the Argo becomes another means of chronicling Jason’s journey. As he travels from island to island, gathering Argonauts to his side – they will occupy various rooms aboard the ship, reflecting where Jason has been and the choices he has made.”
Also like Mass Effect, the Argo becomes a place to interact with the other characters and figure out their place in the story. “The Argo also provides a great glimpse into the group dynamics of the Argonauts as a whole. In addition to being able to learn about their backstories and unlocking unique events, it’s not uncommon to walk in on Hercules and Pan debating about which mythological creature could win in a fight, or Atalanta rebuffing one of Achilles’ off-color remarks about a woman’s role in the world. We really wanted to make the Argo feel like a real place where Jason and the Argonauts spend a lot of time together. I think it gives players who are interested in the details a great opportunity to really get a sense of what these characters are all about.”
But there’s more: this will also be game of swords and ultra-violence, and not cartoony ultra-violence either: “While our combat system is certainly visceral and satisfying, like a God of War or a Ninja Gaiden, combat in Rise of the Argonauts is unique – most notably in terms of its lethality. In most games, you end up stabbing an enemy 20 times before he’ll finally fall down and die. In Rise of the Argonauts, if your weapon is able to connect with an enemy’s flesh (rather than their shield) you can kill them in a single, glorious attack.”
Price also had something to say about where is the action-RPG might be going. What would Rise Of The Argonauts’ contribution to the development of this genre be? “I think games in general are moving towards more complete and immersive experiences,” said Price. “At Liquid, we’re fond of saying that movies aren’t advertised with things like ‘We’ve got track cameras, and 18 varieties of guns and 7 different monsters…’, instead they talk about the story and the characters, what the movie is about, not what it is composed of. Games are moving in that direction, where we can stop talking about how many weapons you can collect, and start talking about the experiences that you’ll have.”
“That is what Rise of the Argonauts is trying to do. Yes, we have more than our fair share of creatures, weapons, and unique skills and abilities, but what makes us compelling is our powerful story set in a rich world that responds to the player’s actions. It is the level of immersion that the player feels, the sense of, ‘yes, I am in this world and I am doing these amazing things’ that makes Rise of the Argonauts something really fantastic.”
Could it be that Rise Of the Argonauts is going to surprise us all by being a jolly good action-RPG? It’s hard to know. Liquid Entertainment have surprised us before with Battle Realms and Dragonshard, but their last title was… Desperate Housewives?
Rise of The Argonauts is set for release in September this year.