Dungeon Siege II

Creating the next evolution of the successful Diablo-with-a-party gameplay from the original Dungeon Siege. Working with design legend Chris Taylor of Total Annihilation fame. This was one of my most memorable game-industry experiences.

I worked on 2D games and first person shooters for many years at Monolith. After this, it was a breath of fresh air to lead a team of designers on my first action RPG.

This was also my first design role where I had no programming responsibilities at all. At first, this felt strange, but I soon realized just how much design work goes into a 40+ hour RPG. (Although I did still manage to sneak in some UI code to improve the DS2 Journal 😉)

I designed most of the core game systems for DS2. I also oversaw all the systems, enemy encounters, quests, puzzles, audio, and narrative for the game.

One of the biggest player complaints from the first Dungeon Siege was that “the game plays itself”. You could click near a group of enemies and the party AI would take care of the rest. The primary decision during combat was when to use potions.

Because of this, I really wanted to give players a combat experience with more meaningful moment-to-moment decisions, especially during boss fights. Active “Powers” on a cooldown helped a lot with this as did more interesting enemy encounter design.

Adding a skill tree to give players more control over their characters’ development was a no-brainer. So were a few quality-of-life touches like an up/down arrow to compare an item’s stats to the one you have equipped when you hover over it.

A more controversial evolution among the design team was the addition of pets. Pets were like a hybrid between a party member and a summoned creature. They would grow stronger by feeding them items. Some designers felt pets duplicated the functionality of the party and were therefore redundant. The other side felt the emotional attachment of watching your pets grow and the unique feeding mechanic would be appreciated by players. The verdict was players enjoyed pets and the feature added a lot to the replay value of the game.

One of my favorite stories from DS2’s development was when I first joined the team during the pre-production phase. There was a promotional movie the art team had created for the game. The movie was so good that it would send chills down your spine! I excitedly asked the team, “So where is that dragon in the story, and how does a giant dinosaur fit in?” The art team looked at me and laughed saying, “That movie was just meant to get players excited about the idea of Dungeon Siege 2. There’s no plan for those characters to be in the game.”

Here’s the specific trailer I’m talking about:

After hearing the movie had no connection to the story or design, those gleeful chills quickly turned to shock. That movie got press coverage and was seen by hundreds of thousands of potential players! We HAD to make sure those scenes and characters were part of the story!

To make a long story short, all the key characters and scenes from that promo video made it into the final narrative, but the most amusing was the giant T-Rex who was chasing some heroes through a forest. Since there wasn’t a good fit for this kind of sequence in the engine, we had to get a little creative and used a character who was having nightmares about being chased by a T-Rex.

When you eventually got to fight the beast from the nightmares, it turned out to be a tiny version of the dinosaur model, but was ridiculously powerful.

Toward the end of development, the production team put together an awesome video on The Making of Dungeon Siege 2 that goes behind the scenes and shows some of the ideas and processes that went into the game’s development.

Dungeon Siege 2 released in 2005 and was highly rated, receiving an 8.5 / 10 and Editor’s Choice from IGN and  87 / 100 from PC Gamer, and winning PC Gamer’s Best Role-playing Game 2005 award. The magazine’s Greg Vederman called it “that rare sequel that rises above its predecessor in just about every way.”

Here’s what I did on Tron 2.0.