We're being blessed with a swell of action RPGs in the near future, and among their number is the intriguing The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing. From NeocoreGames, they who brought us the King Arthur strategy RPGs, it's a sharp change of direction for the studio, and a return to releasing a game independently. We spoke to them about why they've headed in this direction, what lessons they've learned from recent ARPG releases, and their ongoing research into who would win in a fight between a vampire and a werewolf.
RPS: Van Helsing feels like quite a change of direction for Neocore. What made you decide to go this way?
NeocoreGames: This is not the first time that we act as indie developers. The first King Arthur game was self-published back in 2009 and it was quite successful. Now that we are more experienced, we are looking confidently to the future regarding the self-publishing of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. The genre, however, is going to be a new experience for us. We always wanted to develop a game like this, but we were really busy with King Arthur, which was more like a strategy (although with plenty of RPG elements), so we had to postpone our plans for a while. But finally the time has come for us to work on more traditional RPGs.
RPS: Does this development share anything with the Arthur games? Does anything translate?
NeocoreGames: No, it only shares our experience in developing computer games. But that's all.
RPS: Can you talk a bit about why you chose Helsing? Obviously you're not sticking to Stoker's version, and following Abraham's son.
NeocoreGames: Five years ago Viktor Juhász, the narrative designer at NeocoreGames, handed in four game design drafts for a possible future product. One of them was The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. He based the concept on one of the main protagonists of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula - the Professor who hunts down vampires. But he also wanted to take the character into a direction that we haven’t seen before. Van Helsing seemed like a good choice, since the name brings up very strong associations and we could play with the well-known elements of the background. The main character and the background world are both different but are strongly influenced by Bram Stoker’s Professor Abraham Van Helsing. In our game you play young Van Helsing, the Professor’s well-trained but inexperienced monster-slayer son, who follows his father’s footsteps and finds new adventures in the fictional land of gloomy Borgovia.
RPS: There's been a recent resurgence in action RPGs, helped by Diablo III. What does Van Helsing bring to the genre that no one else has?
NeocoreGames: Fundamentally we follow the traditions of the action-RPGs. You can fight, explore, loot, level up your character and your follower, talk to NPCs and fight a multitude of different enemies. On the other hand, we have also implemented plenty of unique ideas into The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. The setting and the world is very special: the city of Borgova is like a metropolis taken from a gothic-noir tale with dark, scary, imposing buildings and various locations resembling a 19th century European city. You can explore ancient bathhouses, great avenues, beautiful theatres and brick tunnels. We put more emphasis on the story and the characters. You have to make serious decisions in the sidequests, and the whole game has more RPG elements than most similar projects. Tactics are also important because of the diversity of the enemies and their special abilities. I could also mention your own secret lair or the power up system: you gain Rage points as you kill more and more enemies, then you can spend these points to enhance your skills and spells and combine these spell boosts in several ways. Another important feature in the game is the humorous, sarcastic narration and dialogues.
RPS: What has been learned by watching other ARPGs released this year? Are there any mistakes you're going to avoid, or themes you're going to adopt?
NeocoreGames: I'd rather say it confirmed our opinion that players really want to be able to decide in which direction their character is developing – assigning ability points and choosing the right skills for either melee or ranged battles is an essential part of these games. From the reactions we could also see that such an ARPG needs a decent afterlife, namely continuous updates for the multiplayer.
RPS: The game is already looking very pretty. Can you talk a bit about the engine you're using? Will you be fixing the camera, etc?
NeocoreGames: The game won't use a free camera mode, but it is quite usual in this genre. Still, players will be able to choose from a zoomed out and a zoomed in view.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has a brand new, in-house developed engine that uses the experience we gathered from the development of our previous two engines, but this one was already designed to run on different platforms as well, not only on PC.
RPS: With just one central character for the player, it does raise the question about co-op. How is that going to work?
NeocoreGames: The game will offer a co-op campaign for up to four players, where you can hunt down the scientific nightmares with other members of the Hunter‘s Guild.
RPS: And finally, and perhaps most importantly, who would win in a fight between a vampire and a werewolf?
NeocoreGames: Well, after long hours of debate (inviting the whole office into the discussion) we finally came up with a very scientific formula to provide the necessary modeling, but it still needs some more tuning. Now we can only say with certainty that classical vampires and werewolves always beat the modern ones.
RPS: Thank you for your time.