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The Mary Sue’s Exclusive Interview & Art Preview Of The Upcoming Gauntlet Reboot

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It’s safe to say Gauntlet was a defining chapter in my budding geek mind so when I heard Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment was readying an updated version from Arrowhead Game Studios, I was skeptical. Then I saw the trailer and got to talk to Art Director Rob Tatnell about our shared memories, what to expect from this new Gauntlet, plus the Warrior, Wizard, Elf, and most importantly to me, the well-armored Valkyrie. Read on for all of that plus some exclusive character and environment art!

The Mary Sue: Rob, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. I’m one of those people who has a great amount of nostalgia for the original so I think my first question to you has to be – what was it like getting the opportunity to bring this game to life for a new generation?

Rob Tatnell: It’s been quite an experience bringing Gauntlet back for this generation. The game holds a very dear place in a lot of gamers’ hearts, and that has brought a certain amount of pressure to make sure that we do justice to the name. A lot of us are big fans of the original, and the game itself was a big inspiration for Magicka, the first game from Arrowhead, so it’s been very exciting to get to work on such a cherished game. We’ve focused a lot of energy on making our version of Gauntlet true to the feel of the original 1985 arcade classic, but we’re trying to bring it up to date for today’s gamers – especially when it comes to keeping that frantic, team cooperation and competition that made the original so intensely fun to play.

TMS: Talk to us a bit about the overall look and environments of the game. Obviously it’s a top-down perspective, which are few and far between these days.

RT: A lot of the style of the game came from looking at figurines, small dioramas and table-top games as an inspiration source. We worked on making the environment assets nice and chunky, with small areas of decisive detail and a very hand-crafted feel. All the time we kept in our minds the types of fantasy artwork and films that were around when the original launched; as we wanted to essentially take what players imagined the dungeons and characters to look like when they were playing back then. This meant looking at paintings from great fantasy artists such as Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo and film monsters like those from the Ray Harryhausen movies.

Funnily enough, we actually set out in a very different direction when it came to the look of the game. We started in a very bespoke style, introducing more brush-stroke like textures and trying to achieve a fantasy painting look (similar to the artists mentioned above). It looked really unique, but then we started working with gameplay and realized that the frantic, chaotic, “lots of monsters on screen” gameplay really didn’t work with the style, and so we worked on cleaning it up and making it fit the game better. This also affected the camera angle. We started with a camera similar to the Diablo and Torchlight games, but after a while we realized that this totally didn’t fit the game. When you have so much going on screen, it’s really important to be able to know where your attack is going to hit; to see the hordes of monsters coming at you from the left; to see where your friends are in the room; and moving to a top-down perspective gave us this. It also made the game instantly feel like the original. Once we made the change we all said “yes, this feels exactly right.”

TMS: What can you tell us about this new “gauntlet” we’ll have to run?

RT: Like I said, we really wanted to make a game that was true to the original and so we’ve worked really hard to make the game as frantic and accessible as the classic. We have three dungeon environments for players to adventure through, each with varying styles of floors. Floors are split between hand-crafted, designed adventure levels; arena floors, where waves of monsters just keep coming at you until you clear the room; and procedural labyrinth floors, which give you a randomly laid out dungeon to navigate, while being constantly under threat by dangers such as falling lava and even death himself. By blending these different types and paces of gameplay, we hope to offer a great mix of experiences.

We also expanded a lot upon the uniqueness of each of the heroes too. In the original, they each had their strengths and weaknesses, and we’ve really pushed this with the new version. The Warrior is a heavy hitter, dealing a lot of damage and just cleaving his way through enemies. The Elf is a great ranged character, who’s quick on his feet and able to take out precision targets, or clear areas with a cleverly placed bomb. The Valkyrie is a great “Swiss Army Knife” of a hero (and my favorite!), with her shield block, swift sword attacks and spear thrust. She’s great at holding back hordes from the ranged heroes. The Wizard is rather fragile, but can be very destructive. He has nine spells he can wield that can slow, freeze, burn, electrocute or blow-up enemies, and his fun lies in knowing what spell to use in what situation. When you start working as a team with friends, you really notice each hero playing their roll in conquering the dungeon.

TMS: How did you and the team approach the look and characterization of the Warrior, Wizard, Valkyrie, and Elf? Obviously they’re archetypes but did you mainly draw from the general appearances of the original team?

RT: We did look a lot at art from the time around the release of the original game, and of course, at the 1985 game’s design also. We started thinking about what types of characters each of them was, and we tried to work that into their appearance also. The Warrior is a famous champion from fighting arenas, he’s more careless and brute-force, and draws a lot of inspiration from the heroes from the fantasy paintings. The Elf is more of a sneaky, unknown sort of character; he’s there for the gold, and doesn’t get fazed by all of the danger. He was a bit tricky, trying to steer clear of the Lord of the Rings style, but also steering away from the bright green pixie feel of the original. We wanted the Wizard to feel tougher than just a guy in a robe, and so we spent quite a bit of time trying to make him feel powerful, and capable of handling himself in a fight. The Valkyrie is a skilled, veteran fighter, so we wanted to give her armor that fitted her background. She’s an elite and does things by the book, and I think she can get a bit tired of the other fools she’s running around the dungeon with.

TMS: In particular, Valkyrie was a very important character for me growing up. There weren’t a lot of playable female characters in games back then and I took to her immediately. I was over the moon to see this new Valkyrie was not only fully armored but wearing real, practical armor rather than something which would form to her figure. Was that a very specific choice?

RT: We designed our Valkyrie around who she is, and what she does. She’s a trained, disciplined fighter from a small team of elites. She wears armor that reflects her role and therefore it needs to protect her in battle. To me it’s nonsensical to add armor to a fighter that would not serve this purpose; boob plates, bare legs, etc. don’t feature real armor, and so they didn’t even come into consideration when designing the look of the Valkyrie. I think it’s very sad that we are in a situation with video games where showing a female character that is wearing practical armor and isn’t overly sexualized is seen as a choice, or even a statement.

[Editor must pause here for a moment.]


[Back to the interview.]

TMS: And what villainous sorts can we expect to vanquish for this go around?

RT: I don’t want to reveal all of them, but each of the three environments will offer several of their own creature groups. As you may have seen in trailers, we have mummies, skeletons, necromancers and a lich or two in the crypts. The caves will feature the fantasy classic spider and orcs, amongst others, and in the lava environment, you’ll be fighting off a blend of different demons and cultists. Each of the monster families we have in the game have different types within them, so you won’t just be fighting off an endless stream of one enemy. We’ve made sure each of the creature families contain a nice balance of different gameplay types to keep you on your toes.

TMS: Can you talk a bit about the fan reaction since the trailer first premiered? I know it took me by surprise but I wasn’t sure how many others were as enthusiastic about the game as I had been. Then we posted the trailer and I realized I was far from alone?

RT: I think a lot of gamers are a bit apprehensive, especially when it comes to a new version of such a beloved classic. Having said that, we’ve been getting a lot of positive responses from people out there and we really are trying to make sure that we create a game that can satisfy those gamers who spent hundreds of hours in the arcades playing the original, or in front of their TVs on the console version. I’ve been lucky enough to show the game to press and gamers a few times and it’s been really encouraging to see how they’ve responded to the game. A lot of people who adored the original have been very pleased with what they’ve played of our version. I really do hope we make a game that does the classic justice!

Gauntlet will be available for $19.99 via digital download for PC on September 3, and with full support for SteamOS and the upcoming Steam Machines shipping the second half of this year.

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