Dorian Kieken interview by PALGN (September 6, 2008)

From Sonic Retro

This is an interview conducted by PALGN, with Dorian Kieken. The interview appears to be concerning Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.

The Interview

PALGN: To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and your role with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood?

Dorian Kieken: My name is Dorian Kieken and I am the Associate Producer of Sonic Chronicles. My main role is to help the team with planning and general support so they can focus on creating a great game.

PALGN: Given this is BioWare's first Nintendo DS game, what sort of problems did the development team encounter?

Dorian Kieken: It was kind of a change of pacing. BioWare is used to long massive production on the PC or next generation consoles. We had to learn to work on [a] shorter timeline and with a smaller team. This was a challenge for both the company and the team as they had to adapt to a different style of project. In the end, we learned a lot from it and I do believe we all have now a better understanding of what making a game on Nintendo DS means.

PALGN: One of the key components in Sonic Chronicles is that the story will feature two acts: one being set in Sonic's world while the second takes place in another dimension. How did you plan out the story and what sort of challenges will the characters face?

Dorian Kieken: Since the beginning there was a wish to do a game that would be Sonic while being something different. We wanted to be true to the Sonic franchise and at the same time, bring our own original and darker touch. That’s how the other dimension idea came out: it was an opportunity to bring new unseen characters and locations to the Sonic franchise. It is to some extent comparable to what has been done with Knights of the Old Republic: while truly respecting someone else’s franchise, we added our own creative touches to it.

PALGN: Looking at elements such as real-time interactivity during turn-based battles, one can't help but notice similarities to other DS games, particularly Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time. Has the development team looked at other games on the system and drawn inspiration from them? Likewise, do you feel Sonic Chronicles has a high expectation to live up to?

Dorian Kieken: This is indeed true. And Mario and Luigi : Partners in Time was definitively not the only source of inspiration. Some may find the stylus only control comparable to Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, others will recognise an Elite Beat Agents feeling in the real time elements. They are also many other game inspirations: we’re all passionate DS players after all!

And yes, Sonic Chronicles I believe has high expectations to live up to. The BioWare culture strives to always improve the quality on each new game knowing that the previous game already set the bar high. Even though a DS game is new to BioWare and somehow, does not compare as well as to our other games, we still have to live up to the expectation of a BioWare game.

PALGN: An interesting feature is that at certain points party members can split up to solve puzzles and progress through levels. How does this system work exactly? Can players switch between characters at any time or are they separated at some point during the story?

Dorian Kieken: Well, to start with, you have to compose your party. Once the party is composed, you can switch at anytime during the exploration between any of the party characters and use their different abilities to progress in the level. Of course, you can come back at anytime to your stronghold to recompose your party to a different one. Party composition is important as each character has unique abilities and power moves. To add to the complexity of the composition, some characters have unique combo moves that must be performed with other characters.

And yes, [there] are indeed some moments in the story where characters will be separated and you’ll have to play multiple parties of characters.

Puzzle mechanics are a little different. When you start a puzzle, the party you currently have will automatically separate and you’ll have to move individually the characters to resolve the puzzle. Once resolved, the party will reform.

PALGN: What sort of attacks can characters perform, and how will they reflect their appearances in other titles?

Dorian Kieken: Characters can perform special moves called “Power Moves” that can change the tide of a combat. The most deadly Power Moves combine multiple characters for greater effect. One of my favourites is Sonic and Shadow swirling together to create a very destructive electric whirlwind.

PALGN: Can you explain the game's levelling up system? Are attributes (i.e. health, attack power) automatically increased or do players get to pick and choose? Also, how do Chaos affect party members?

Dorian Kieken: Well, oddly enough, the answer is both. The attributes are automatically increased but additional points can be manually assigned.

Chao on their end will bring several special abilities to the party members. They can regenerate health or power points, increase an existing statistic, add elemental damage to the attack or on the opposite protect the character with an elemental shield. The most powerful Chao are the unique ones that are very difficult to catch. One of these unique Chao can for example increase the chance of a character to instantly knock out an enemy. As an aside, during the development of the game, some use to call it the “Vorpal Chao” in reference to a similar ability in Dungeon & Dragons. (smile)

PALGN: Tell us about the game's soundtrack - can Sonic fans expect to hear familiar tunes?

Dorian Kieken: Indeed! Richard Jacques, the previous composer of the first Sonic games, has been kind enough to compose a couple of tracks for us in the traditional Sonic style. Our own Music Composer has also been remixing some old Sonic music tracks as well as creating some totally original ones.

PALGN: Will the game feature Wi-Fi connectivity?

Dorian Kieken: No, only Wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi is a very interesting feature, but we thought this would be too much in terms of development for our first DS game.

PALGN: Finally, if Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is successful once released, will there potentially be a sequel?

Dorian Kieken: I would be surprised to see Sega refusing a sequel opportunity if the game is indeed successful! In any case, our team is definitively ready to work on a sequel. We even have a precise idea on what to do next if this were to happen… And if you play the game, you might find some hints on what that idea is.

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