Answers from John Hight, executive producer of Nox and Michael Booth, the inventor of Nox and the technical director.
December 17, 1999
Q: How would you describe Nox?
A: The simple answer is a top down action-RPG with some strategy elements. The more complex answer is that Nox takes fun elements from a few different games and a few different genres and combines them into one unique experience. At first glance, Nox might look like some other games in the genre, but when you play it, you’ll see how different it feels.
Nox is a world of swords, sorcery, tricks, and traps. You choose one of three roles for your character: Warrior, Wizard, or Conjurer. Each has their own unique way to wield destruction on their enemies. Warriors have an array of weapons, armor, and abilities. Wizards have magical spells plus they can combine spells to form magic traps. Conjurers summon monsters and give them commands. They can also create a special monster, a bomber, which is like a walking trap. There are two ways to play: Hecubah’s Saga (solo story), and Arena (multiplayer competitive.)
Q: How is it different from other games in the genre?
A: It’s different in that it rewards you for being intelligent and creative. It’s different in that it’s incredibly flexible. You can go through and hack and slash if you like. If that’s your idea of fun, grab a big axe and a shield and go at it.
But that’s where Nox is just getting started. The real fun of this game comes when you master setting traps and creating spell combinations. The 80 or so spells that will be in the game are designed to be used in combination. So you’ll want to cast Stun, to freeze an enemy, then drop Fist of Vengeance on his head. Fist of Vengeance is a huge marble fist about the size of a Volkswagen that drops from the ceiling. But here’s the thing. It’s slow, so if you don’t stun your target, he’s going to run right out form underneath it.
There are dozens of cool combos. Blind your enemy, then create a Stone Golem, who will then pound on your poor sightless foe. Cast Protection From Poison on yourself then fill a room with a Toxic Gas and wait for enemies to walk in the door and suck in the fumes. Having a combat system that lets you be creative adds layers and layers of depth to the game. You’re always experimenting, always trying new things.
Traps make the game even more fun and add a deeper level of strategy. You can load a trap with three different spells. So now you can put Fumble, Confuse and Fireball into a trap and place it just inside a doorway or right next to bottle of healing potion. Your opponent shows up, goes for the potion, steps on the trap, and bang, he’s now dropped all his items (Fumble), can’t figure out how to move in the right direction (Confuse), and is blasted by a fireball. How sweet is that?
And keep in mind that for every devious action in Nox, there is an opposite and even more devious reaction. Your enemy summons a creature who now wants you for breakfast? Cast Charm Creature, and now you’re that creatures best friend. And you can use spells like Inversion to reverse a spell, so that the caster is suddenly the target. In Nox, there can be counters to counters to counters.
It gets deep, but it’s never complex. That’s what makes Nox so different and so addictive.
Q: How long have you been working on Nox? How big is the team?
Michael Booth, an awesome software engineer, began the prototype for Nox 4 years ago when he was working for a driving simulation company. Along with a friend, he wrote the code, animated the monsters, and designed the sound effects.
I saw the game at CGDC in 1997 and thought is was awesome. I knew it would be perfect for Westwood. It had all the elements. It was accessible, yet there was lots of depth to the gameplay.
I signed up Mike’s company (Hyperion, in Colorado) to build a game out of Nox in June of 1997. I hired an outside art group and provided our internal sfx team. Mike hired some engineers and a level designer. The team was kept small so we could let the game gel. As the game kept getting better, Brett Sperry (president of Westwood Studios) and I could see the potential. So in August of 1998, we bought the rights to Nox, and I hired Mike and the engineers to work with me here in Irvine.
Since then, the team has grown from 4 (me, Mike, 1 engineer, 1 level designer) to 20 (me, Mike, 5 engineers, 4 level designers, 7 artists, and 2 sfx artists).
Q: You’ve pretty much described a killer multiplayer game. What will the single player game be like?
A: The single player game is all about pacing, creating great moments and telling a great story. We’re going to have lots eye candy, exotic scenery, interesting places to explore. The single player experience is just now starting to take shape so I can’t be all that specific.
Right now, it looks like it will be a six part quest across four vast locales where you’ll meet many NPCs as well as find many monsters to slay.
And we know who our major bad guy is, or actually bad woman. She is Hecubah, and she is beautiful, and she is raising an army of undead, so you probably wouldn’t want to take her home to mom.
Q: What’s your philosophy about character and monster design?
A: Balance. Surprise. Fun. Draw from the familiar, but give everything a twist. This is a game with a sharp sense of humor and buckets full of personality. I can’t be more specific than that right now. You’ll see what I mean in a month or two when more screen shots come out.
Q: Alright then, what are the features? What is the back of the box going to say?
A: You asked for it…
Players can combine magical spells with each other, with weapons, and with the environment to initiate tactical battles against monsters and enemy characters.
Players can build traps (devices which contain spell combinations) that can be placed in sneaky locations.
Nox has a unique visibility system that imparts true line of sight, bringing a degree of suspense which other games lack.
All light sources are dynamic (fireplaces flicker, torches can be carried to illuminate areas, every spark from a fireball casts light). Furniture can be moved (tables cover trapdoors, chairs can block doorways), and objects have mass (big boulders are harder to push, explosions shift objects according to size, weight, and friction).
Spells and magic weapons illuminate the world in multi-colored light, each with its own look, sound, and effect.
Player Character Development.
Players can outfit themselves with a myriad of armor and weapons and determine the skin & hair color of their player character. They control the type of magic acquired and the skills their PC develops. This is especially nice for multi-player.
Q: How will the multiplayer experience unfold?
A: Hopefully, players will train up on the basics in the single player game, but that isn’t required. Players meet up on Westwood Online and up to 8 players (maybe more if we can pull it off) can play cooperatively, compete, or compete in teams. Maps include a specially constructed “death match” arena.
Q: What is the release date of Nox?
A: This February!
Q: When did the idea for the game first arise?
A: (This answer comes from Michael Booth, the inventor of Nox and the technical director.)
I started what was to become Nox in January 1995 in a spare bedroom of my apartment. I had always loved Atari’s Gauntlet, and at the time was playing a lot of Mortal Kombat and Magic: The Gathering. My goal was to blend my favorite game experiences into a new kind of multiplayer medieval game that was more action oriented, but still required strategic thought. After two years in the prototype phase (hey – it was just me and a friend doing all the code, art, sound, etc), I brought a playable version of Nox to CGDC in 1997 on a laptop, and started pitching it to everyone I ran into. Eventually, I got very lucky and met John Hight, who immediately saw where I was going with the game, and signed us up. John is one of those rare people who is both a razor sharp businessman and a real gamer. He is also a very creative guy. Under his guidance and input, Nox has become a world-class title.
Q: How would you classify Nox in terms of its game genre? How much RPG-type content do you think it has? What are the RPG elements?
A: (Back to answers from Executive Producer John Hight)
We like the character and story development of RPG’s, but we wanted to give gamers something that was easy to get into. Our solo game, Hecubah’s Saga, lets you choose between 3 carefully crafted roles: Warrior, Wizard, and Conjurer (a combination archer/creature summoner). You start as a 20th century guy, Jack, that got pulled into the medieval world of Nox. As you gain experience from completing quests (missions) and killing creatures you reach new levels. Each level brings additional abilities and increases the basic stats: Health, Mana, Strength, and Speed.
Q: Tell me about the game world where Nox takes place.
A: Nox is like a renaissance Earth with magic. Some interesting areas: Dun Mir, an underground fortress containing The Gauntlet – a renowned proving ground for warriors. Castle Galava, a medieval castle that houses the wizard’s academy. The Village of Ix and its Temple, home to the Weirdling, an ancient beast with incredible powers. The Field of Valor, the site of a terrible war, now a shrine and mass graveyard to the fallen. The Land of the Dead, a ghost city frozen over by a powerful curse, home to the evil sorceress Hecubah.
At one time, Nox had two distinct cultures: the humans of the south lands and the necromancers of the north. These two cultures had existed in an uneasy peace for hundreds of years until the necromancers invaded the south land. Their ultimate goal: conquest and genocide. The humans of the south rallied and, at considerable loss of life, drove back the necromancers.
The southerners knew it was only a matter of time until the battle mages of the north would muster a larger force and try again. For the necromancers had unlocked the power to reanimate the dead. The southern people constructed the Staff of Oblivion, a weapon which would literally seal the souls of the fallen forever, preventing their return. The great wizard, Horvath, led an army against the North, killing and capturing their souls. The north quickly fell and its prized capitol was frozen over by a powerful curse. It would forever be known as the Land of the Dead, its real name stricken from all writings.
Horvath remained to kill any survivors and vanquish the evil seed from Nox. The task became more difficult as the refugees became more innocent. In a final act of guilt, Horvath spared a baby girl. He carried her to Grok Torr, a settlement of Ogres, and paid them to look after her. The souls of the rest of the necromancers were sealed in an Orb and with the combined efforts of Nox’ greatest mages it was banished to a another time/space.
The southern people were scarred by the power of what magic had wrought on their land. They split into factions: warriors who eschewed magic, wizards who blended magic and technology, and conjurers who only practiced “natural” magic. Hecubah, the child that Horvath spared, eventually discovered her roots and developed a vengeful loathing. She went to the Land of the Dead and devised a way to return the souls of her people to Nox. This time they would vanquish the south once and for all.
Q: What is the basic structure of the game?
A: The solo game, Hecubah’s Saga, is mission based. Each role has a unique set of 11 missions.
In Arena mode, you battle against a number of your friends in such game variants as Arena, Capture the Flag, and King of the Realm and Flag Ball. All variants can be played on a LAN, or over the internet through Westwood Online.
Q: Please tell me about the player character options. What are the class options, and how do they differ? Are the characters simply pre-set, or do players have some options?
A: The player chooses between 3 different roles. Everyone starts out the same but they change with each level. As the PC reaches a new experience level their basic attributes (Health, mana, strength, and speed) go up. Warriors get bigger gains in health, strength, and speed. Wizards in mana. Conjurers are evenly balanced.
Q: How will character advancement work?
A: What kind of role will weapons, items and artifacts play? Can you describe some special or unusual ones?
The most unusual weapon is the Staff of Oblivion. It is assembled by obtaining 4 very unique components. It’s useable right away, each component simply increases the power and effects of the Staff. Other interesting weapons include the Chackrum – its a throwing ring that bounces off of walls, hits multiple targets, and returns to its owner. Nox has many enchanted weapons, even a common war hammer can be graced with Mana Burn – a circle of blue flame that deprives surrounding spell casters of their mana.
Q: Please describe how the magic system will work. Are there different types or schools of magic?
A: We have two schools of magic, which are embodied in the character roles of Wizard and Conjurer. Wizardly magic includes powerful direct damage spells such as Fireball and Lightning, Shield spells, Invisibility, and Teleportation to name a few. The Conjurer can control the forces of nature, perform healing magic, and summon and control creatures. Both spellcasters have a number of individual spells to work with. Skillful players will quickly learn that spells are more effective when cast in combinations, or placed into traps. Casting spells requires mana, of which the player has a limited reserve. Mana can be replenished through potions or Mana Obelisks.
Actually casting magical spells is very simple. Your spellbook contains a page for each of the spells you have acquired, which includes a description of what the spells does and a rune with an icon of the spell. You can drag this rune to your ‘spell bar’ for later casting. To actually cast the spell, you merely click on the rune. Each of the slots of the spell bar also has an associated hot key, allowing advanced users to cast spells via the keyboard.
Q: Who and/or what will you fight? Will the game have any new or particularly interesting opponents or monsters? Are you doing anything special with opponents’ AI?
A: Monsters range from wild beasts (bears, wolves, bats, wasps), undead legions (skeletons, ghosts, zombies, liches), D&D; classics (will o’wisp, beholder, ogres, pixies). You may encounter a mimic – a horrible beast that can imitate everyday objects. There are a host of human opponents which cast spells and swing blades.
AI is very sophisticated. Creatures will flee when critically wounded, feed to gain strength, and come back for more. Small monsters like urchins will fear you unless they have sufficient numbers in which case they’ll chase after you. Monsters navigate difficult passageways and avoid hazards. Demons will lead you when casting fireballs. The list goes on.