In stunning real-time 3D, Disciples III: Renaissance marks a striking rebirth for turn-based RPG strategy genre. Building upon the award-winning success of the Disciples series, the Russian software giants, Akella have spent nearly three years tinkering with a new battle system and tweaking the magical realm of the Sacred Lands. Playing as Lord of the Nevendaar race, gamers will partake in the ongoing and epic struggle for religious supremacy in an ominously combative and openly interactive landscape. In a conversation with Renaissance producer, Alexey Ilin, C&G Monthly discusses the development of their Virtual Dream engine, the darker gaming elements and the new Terramorphing capabilities.
C&G Monthly: Disciples has become a venerable series of PC fantasy-strategy games. What improvements can be expected for this third installment?
Alexey Ilin: The fans of the series remember the games for their strong RPG components, deep universe, and dark gothic atmosphere…While working on Disciples III, we felt that it was important to not only preserve things that made the franchise unique, but also to have these features evolve further…Our heroes now have “skill boards”, which are new to the series; also, it is now possible to manually assign the skill points of the heroes. Heroes can be equipped with armor and weapons, which now not only affects their characteristics but also alters their visual appearance both on the global map and on battle maps. We have created a very interesting storyline with the help of Sergey Tormashev, who is a well-known Russian author. Several of the best Russian game artists made the game a stunning looking product.
CGM: Could you tell us a little about the new 3D world of Disciples III. What new and exciting features will this bring to the game?
AI: We had to bring the classical 2D fantasy strategy game with its distinct graphics and atmosphere into the 3D world, and that by no means an easy task. It was challenging to see how each character would look from all sides, and also make them move smoothly. Animation was very challenging, too, since we were making a serious game, we could not use cartoon-style animation, and thus the only available choice was motion capture technology. Thanks to the filming of the real actors, the characters look very realistic and together with great looking detailed textures they provide our players with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves into the atmosphere of the Disciples universe.
CGM: Could you elaborate on the engine which powers the new 3D environment?
AI: We use the Virtual Dream 3D engine, which was developed by .dat studio specifically for Disciples III. The engine is well optimized, which allows the game to run smoothly even on systems with relatively low system specs. Our engine features processing of high-detail textures, which you don’t often see in other turn-based games. Also, players are sure to notice the day and night cycles, weather effects, and dynamic lighting that shifts according to the time of the day…Terramorphing, of course, is worth mentioning, too. In Disciples III, the player seizes control over mines and other resources by capturing and altering the territory….It was not trivial to make a completely morphable landscape, but we managed to do it.
CGM: Combat and strategic gameplay are integral to the Disciples series. How have these core elements changed for this newest installment?
AI: Compared to the previous games, the most significant tactical and strategic change in Disciples III is that now the units can move within the combat arena. In the first two games, the units were lined up in two ranks when in combat, and could not be moved. The ability to actually move your units around the combat arena has significantly increased the tactical options available. Also, there are obstacles on the arena such as rocks, rifts, and fallen trees, which make the player think about where to move his units for cover, or other tactical benefits. There are also “power nodes”, where one (or several) hexes on the combat arena provide an attack bonus to the unit standing on such a node…
The list of changes doesn’t end there, of course. As I have already mentioned, heroes now have skill boards. Each hero has his own unique skill board, and as he levels up, he gains access to more skills…All these new features make gameplay more attractive, diverse, and interesting. The players will have countless tactical schemes at their disposal. Wise use of skills, runes, power nodes and obstacles on the combat arena should allow players to defeat very powerful enemies, which otherwise would be simply unbeatable.
AI: The first major challenge that we encountered was how to adequately convert the game characters from a 2D to 3D environment. As we have more than 150 characters and high quality standards, the work needed to be done was just tremendous. Terramorphing was yet another serious challenge. The abillity to alter the landscape was an integral part of the gameplay. After a territory is captured, not only the textures, but also all objects on the map needed to be changed. The territories where our game races reside look completely different. For example, each of them has its own special visual effects, like falling leaves in the autumnal lands of the elves, or the eternal winter in the dwarven lands…while the land of demons is burnt out with flowing rivers of magma. That is why each object on the map had to be re-modelled for each type of landscape.
CGM: The Disciples series has been well–received in the PC gaming community. Are there any plans to expand into the platform of gaming consoles?
AI: As of now, we have no immediate plans in regards to the release of the game on other platforms. We have thought about it but it is yet too early to say anything more particular.
CGM: How expansive is the single player campaign element? Are there additional features for the single player gamer?
AI: The single player offers three campaigns; one per each playable race, totaling to about 70 hours of thrilling gameplay. There is a historical character in each of these campaigns, who is transferred from the previous mission to the next one.
CGM: What can fans of the Disciples series expect as far as a continued narrative from previous installments? Is it a continuation of an ongoing saga or the start of a whole new Disciples adventure?
AI: The events in Disciples III take place about 100 years after the end of the previous part. Its major heroes are brand new to the series, but the world still remains the same. As before, gods are interfering with the affairs of mortals; other troubles of Nevendaar persist as well. This is only just a beginning of the new saga, which will be continued in the expansion packs.
CGM: The Disciples games have always had a ‘darker’ visual element than most other games. Does this style carry over into Disciples III? What should players expect to see as far as art and visual graphics are concerned?
AI: We worked hard on the visual part of the game. We tried to not only maintain the gloomy and gothic atmosphere of the franchise, but also to make it even more realistic. We tried to create the world that could take players and make them believe that it’s all real.
CGM: Are there any additional special features and game elements that you would like to elaborate on for long-time fans as well as new players? What else sets Disciples III apart from other PC games?
AI: I could talk about the game forever, but assuming that we offer the readers of C&G Monthly an interview and not a novel, I would mention that Disciples III features a more flexible system of hero development compared to the other games in the genre. In addition to skill points, which gamer can spend on development of the hero, we offer a unique skillboard which is the board with counters containing extra skills which can be gained by the hero.