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RPGamer Interviews Volition's Mark Allender

Recently, Volition Software-- creators of the action games Descent and Descent: FreeSpace-- finished work on the PlayStation 2 version of their debut RPG, Summoner. Published by THQ, Summoner is an innovative new RPG that blends console-RPG-style gameplay with PC-RPG-style storyline and character building. We recently sat down for a brief interview with Mark Allender, project leader for Summoner.


RPGamer: Before we begin, could you please explain your role with the Summoner project, as well as any other projects on which you've worked that you'd like to discuss?

Mark: I'm Mark Allender, and I'm the lead programmer on Summoner. I do quite a few things with Summoner, from programming, to schedule making, to making sure that the game is running properly on all platforms (PS2, PC, and Macintosh). I've been with Volition for about 6 years and have worked on Descent, Descent II, and FreeSpace.

RPGamer: Volition's previous track record consists of the original Descent games and the FreeSpace space combat games, all released for the PC. Considering this, what brought about Volition's decision to create Summoner, a role-playing game for PC, Mac, and the PlayStation 2?

Mark: Many of us at Volition have been avid PC gamers for years. It was really our relationship with THQ that got us interested in working with the PS2, and we are certainly glad it did. RPG's on consoles have typically been dominated by Japanese style RPG's and we certainly saw a niche that we could try and slide into with the release of Summoner.

RPGamer: While Summoner is now available for the PlayStation 2, it will also be released later for PC and Macintosh. Could you tell us how these two versions will differ from the PlayStation 2 version? In addition to any new features, we'd like to know how performance may be improved; some publications have voiced complaints about the pop-up, slowdown, and excessive load times found in the PS2 version.

Mark: The main difference between the PC/Macintosh versions and the PS2 version will be the addition of multiplayer and higher resolution graphics modes. We are certainly working hard to address many of the issues and problems that players have mentioned about the PS2 version. We will certainly be addressing the automap and framerate issues as well as fixing some gameplay bugs.

RPGamer: Could you please elaborate for us on how multiplayer will work in the PC/Mac versions?

Mark: Mulitplayer is basically a hack 'n slash type of game. You can get one or more friends together (up to four total) and start running through levels for experience and loot. We are doing custom multiplayer scripting for several locations in the game. We are including a system that will allow players to unlock new levels and new scripts once they complete earlier levels snd scripts. We are also using PXO (Volition's game-matching service) to do game matching so that you will always be able to search for games on the Internet.

One question that has come up before is whether or not we are going to allow to play through the single-player story line in multiplayer. We will not be allowing this, and in fact, we never had plans to do so. The single-player story line often finds the party with less than the full compliment of players and making these situations work well in multiplayer would be extremely difficult.

RPGamer: The storyline in Summoner is quite different from what we've seen in RPGs such as Final Fantasy, Lunar, Grandia, etc. What was the inspiration for Summoner's storyline?

Mark: The inspiration for Summoner was really driven by the lead designer Sandeep Shekar, and the writer on our project, Jason Scott. While many of us on the team contributed to the design process, it was really the vision of these two that drove the Summoner story into what you see in the game today. Many people here are pretty heavily into RPG's and I think that we all tried to take the best elements out of all of those games and incorporate them into Summoner.

RPGamer: How would you describe the overall experience of creating this game?

Mark: It was painful and awesome all at the same time. Trying to get the game out the door for the PS2 launch was one of the most excruciating times compared with other games that we've released here at Volition. There were lots of problems at the end that were unexpected and distracting, but had to be dealt with nonetheless -- things that we might not have seen in past PC titles.

RPGamer: Will we ever see a sequel?

Mark: We are very interested in working on a sequel.

RPGamer: What do you think of massively-multiplayer online role playing, as seen in games such as EverQuest and Ultima Online?

Mark: There are many people here at Volition that play MMRPG's -- specifically EverQuest. I view these types of games as mainly online relationship-building games. People seem to be attracted to these games for mainly the social aspect. ...I think that there is room in the massively online market for games outside of the typical role playing fare.


RPGamer would like to heartily thank Mark Allender for this interview, and to wish Volition the best of luck in future projects (which may include a sequel to Summoner). To learn more about Summoner, visit the official Web site, Summoner.com.


by Jimmy Avistetto    
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