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Times Past and Present (Posted at WoTC)

By Chuck Yager
Associate Producer
Pool of Radiance: The Ruins of Myth Drannor

This month, I thought you would enjoy hearing from Mark Buchignani, the lead designer on Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. Incidentally, Mark is no stranger to RPGs -- he played a great many back in the old days and actually helped create two of the Gold Box titles in the early '90s. I've had the distinct pleasure of working with Mark since my start on Ruins of Myth Drannor back in October 1999. Recently, he and I talked about the new game and how it compares to the classic Pool of Radiance. He also offered a sneak peak at some of the game's secrets. . . .

Chuck Yager: Talk a bit about yourself, your history, and your role on Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor.
Mark Buchignani: I started in computer games as a programmer out of UC Berkeley in 1982 at Mattel Electronics, doing Intellivision games. I didn't know it at the time, but the company was not going to be around that long. About a year later, layoffs began. I stayed for another six months until they closed the doors. My primary product (a football game) never came out, but I did contribute to a number of other titles. After Mattel, I taught myself the Commodore 64, which led to my current position at Stormfront Studios, where I have been for 12 years. When Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor came along, I jumped at the chance to work on it, writing the game design and directing the installation of the gameplay into the product.

Chuck: What was your role on the original Gold Box games back in the early '90s?
Mark: I worked on two of the last Gold Box titles -- Gateway to the Savage Frontier, where I designed, wrote, and installed the finale, and then as lead programmer and writer on Treasures of the Savage Frontier. A year or so later, SSI came to us with an idea for a cross between SimCity and D&D, and I was the lead designer on the resulting product: Stronghold.

Chuck: In what ways is the new Pool sequel similar to the popular Gold Box game?
Mark: It tries to be more like tabletop D&D than most Computer RPGs on the market today. Most head in the direction of real time, which isn't really what goes on in the paper game. In paper games, people spend a lot of time roleplaying and talking, and after some consideration come up with their actions. Ruins of Myth Drannor is turn-based, so people can think about their strategies and tactics before acting. Also, the DM plays a larger role than in the real-time games, which gives the game more of a true D&D feel.

Chuck: How is the sequel different?
Mark: Technology has advanced so much in the last 10 or so years. Now we have 3D characters over gorgeous, high-resolution backgrounds, and tons of memory for storyline, art, and audio. The entire production is many times larger, and that comes across in the first glance. If you put the original Pool of Radiance next to Ruins of Myth Drannor, you'd be amazed at the across-the-board advancement. Yet the general approach and basic game system have pretty much remained the same: explore an interesting world, knock off some monsters, collect some treasure, get some experience, and Save the World.

Chuck: What have you found to be the biggest challenge in working on Ruins of Myth Drannor?
Mark: The sheer scope. As players will see when they get into the game, the entire experience is huge, even though the actual portion of Myth Drannor we created is relatively small. There are tons of encounters and even more details to manage, and the game comes across as a dense slice of life in present-day Myth Drannor. No matter where you turn, there is something going on, and making sure everything fits together correctly and actually works has required tremendous effort on everyone's part.

Chuck: What's your favorite party in the game?
Mark: I don't think I have a favorite party, but my favorite character has to be my rogue-ranger, Mine. The two-class combination of skills and feats makes him a blast to play, because he can do so many things. For example, he's the party leader, so I can be less meticulous about searching for traps, because he finds and disarms most of them for me. Then in combat, he's a great archer, helping to wear down the enemies before they are on top of the party.

Chuck: What is the coolest feature in Ruins of Myth Drannor?
Mark: The first thing that anyone notices is the artwork. It is top-quality, both the backgrounds and the animations. The game is wonderful to look at. But I also like what goes on under the hood. There is a strong storyline and interesting set of characters whose personalities comes across the more you talk to them, and who tend to do more than just answer questions. In addition, the play method itself encourages exploration and discovery because the player rarely gets into an untenable position. And with the DM's role played up, the game comes across in a tabletop D&D sort of way really well. That's what I like most about it, because we set out to make a CRPG that is more like the paper game than others before it have been, and I think we succeeded.

Chuck:What are your feelings on the new D&D rules?
Mark: In general, I like the new rules. The system is much more flexible because it allows players to make characters be whatever they want them to be. If you want to play a barbarian who can thieve some and toss around the occasional spell, you can. I also like the more flexible monsters. In Ruins of Myth Drannor, certain monsters come in many different flavors, so you better take care to know what you are up against before wading in: That run-of-the-mill orc may just drop a fireball on your head if you don't take him down before his turn comes up. Anyway, all that flexibility comes straight out of the new Monster Manual. They adjusted the system so that monsters can pretty much take on all character classes, and be whatever the DM wants them to be. In short, I think the new rules are a strong step forward for D&D: more playable, more flexible, and more fun.

Chuck: Finally, can you give our readers a sneak peek at a few secrets in Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor?
Mark: Whenever you find a stairway or passageway from the dungeons up to Stillwater, be sure to ascend to the surface, even if you don't need to or want to go there. Later in the game, it will be useful to have opened up all these passageways, because they allow for easier access to the various dungeon levels. The only way to open them all up is to climb each, one at a time. Don't worry about getting stuck in Stillwater - the passages work both ways, once you open them up.

After you emerge from the Dwarven Dungeons, if you head west into Nightingale Court, you can find a Great Stone Head that has been set upon a small platform. This Head consumes small stone heads, called "idolons." By this time in the game, you should have found a number of these in various treasure caches and chests. For each idolon you feed to the Great Stone Head, it gives you a fading ring, one which has a limited number of uses before it vanishes out of existence. At first, the rings are somewhat useful to a well-equipped party, but later on, after you have advanced down to the Lower Keep of the Catacombs, the quality of the fading rings dispensed increases dramatically. Be sure to revisit the Great Stone Head after you have emerged from the Catacombs, and before you enter the Castle Passage.
The most complex quest in the game involves the story of Hachaam Selorn, Arms-Captain of the armies of Myth Drannor. To lay his ghost to rest, you must find his ancient sword, the Baneblade Faervian. This can be found in the Freth Drow treasure cache in the heart of the fourth level of the Catacombs, known as the Prisons. The defense will be stiff, but the rewards are well worth it. When you find the Baneblade, return it to Selorn's crypt in the Halls of Light, and then search for the sword's mate in the Castle Passage. Take the time to complete this quest; the reward is one of the most powerful weapons of Old Myth Drannor.

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