Tyler Thompson on Hellgate: London
"The AI isn’t meant to beat you at Chess"Tyler Thompson is the Technical Director for Hellgate: London. Like many employees of Bill Roper’s Flagship Studios, he was working on the Diablo series at Blizzard. We’ve talked to him about the AI of Hellgate, about the storyline and why you can’t switch to 1st person view with some characters.
GG: Tyler, what is it a Director of Technology actually does, apart from saying No to ideas that would cost too many resources?
Tyler Thompson: I oversee a lot of how we do the graphics programming, as well as the gameplay coding. So I do a lot of things from shaders to monsters’ AI, weapons and skills. And as you’ve already pointed out, I say No a lot to the crazier ideas.
GG: Before joining Flagship Studios, you’ve been working on Diablo 2.
Tyler Thompson: Yes, I was a programmer on Diablo 2 for a couple of months, than I became the project lead for the expansion pack, Lord of Destruction.
GG: The Diablo series is all about the “magic flow”, of players not being able to stop playing because they just want to kill one monster more. Playing Diablo can resemble a kind of trance, where an experienced player may click and fight for minutes without really thinking about what he does. It must be difficult to bring this “flow” over to Hellgate!
Tyler Thompson: What makes you think so?
GG: It’s 3D, you’ve got different angles of the camera, players do not only to worry about whom to attack, but also what perspective to use. Things are going on not only in front of you or behind you, but also above and sometimes below you.
Tyler Thompson: Well, I can still do a lot of melee fighting by just holding the mouse button down and not even looking at the screen! [laughs] Yes, 3D has it’s challenges to it, but at the same time, we’ve done a lot to make this game easier to play. For instance, the Shift skill: We have a context sensitive button that shows the skill the program thinks would be the most appropriate right now, like running or throwing a grenade or going into tactical stance. You activate it by pressing Shift. And there’s a similar thing to the CTRL key. So you do not need all those number keys anymore or at least not all the time. And all those things that made Diablo 2 addictive, like getting that next item, beating that next monster, leveling up again, is still in there. We call it the slot machine effect. A small reward every couple of seconds, a bigger reward every couple of minutes. So Hellgate has this kind of feel to it. On top of it we have, like in Diablo, random items, random monsters, random levels. That keeps it different all the time.