So what is Rifts? I asked Kevin. "I didn’t like the limitations of early RPG games, with their narrow design and limitations [remember that this is back in the early 1980s]. The majority of them were fixed to one genre, be it fantasy, superheroes, technology or magic. By combining magic and technology in a plausible way… that became Rifts – although it did take three years.
The world of Rifts takes place just after the golden age of mankind, where technology, augmentation and computing were at their height. Then ‘something happens’, a cataclysmic world event that laid waste to large tracts of land, energise lines of magic called leylines. Where leylines cross are powerful magic places, and rifts are opened into alien environments and other dimensions.. Oh and magic has returned. So mankind is sharing the earth with new races, breeds and creatures.
Many companies approached Kevin about making a computer version of Rifts, and every time he turned it down. So what happened to make Kevin select Nokia’s N-Gage? "Simply, I wanted Rifts done right, by a group that understood Rifts." Shane Neviile, now Nokia’s Producer and in charge of shepherding Rifts from concept and onto MMC, is a fifteen year old fan of Rifts. Shane was the man who pushed Nokia to go after the Rifts franchise when new N-Gage games were being considered To lift the bar of role-playing in computers in general was Shane’s goal. And Rifts was the right title in his mind for that.
Kevin, is the N-Gage the right gaming device for Rifts? "Rifts is dynamic enough to work on any platform and I want to see it in many venues. I like what N-Gage has to offer. A lot of what they talk about and what the platform can do is pretty cutting edge and I find that exciting."
The third part of the alliance is Trent Ward, Creative Director at Backbone. Shane invited him (and Backbone) to a meeting because "Nokia were looking at them to code a licensed role playing game," which left Trent both apprehensive and uneasy… right up until Shane put the Rifts Sourcebook down on the table between them.
Yes, Trent’s a Rifts fan as well. Honestly these guys must have all thought that their boat had come in, finally getting to work on something they had treasured personally for many a year. And while Backbone makes games for a living, there was a huge sense of responsibility to make sure the Rifts world, perfected by Kevin over 15 or more years, makes the successful jump into the modern computer gaming world.
Rifts works on an isometric view, which allows for the details in the sprites and character types to be seen in much greater detail than a first person adventure – it’s also easier to recognise characters with an isometric view. Moving around and performing actions in the Rifts world is in two flavours. The adventure mode gives you direct control over your character, in a real time scenario. When you get to combat (and you will!) you switch to a turn based mode, much like Pathway to Glory. "Rifts is a combat heavy world, where there's lots of high-speed movement and high-speed weapons," explains Trent. "The system will let players use these correctly, rather than a flash of action."
It sounds like the three key players have really worked together as leaders to bring Rifts to life, but I wonder how involved Kevin was in the coding process? "[Trent and Shane] invited my input, and brought me into the studio to meet everyone. It’s so cool that everyone has been doing such a great job, I’ve hardly had to put in any real feedback beyond ‘Wow that’s great!’"
Kevin’s visits had a knock on effect, explains Trent. He gave us a driving force of "we can’t let Kevin down." Everything had to be perfect, as he was watching. We all got on really well and nobody wanted to be the one who got it wrong." And where did Nokia figure? Shane takes that one up. "Given the Backbone offices are 30 minutes from my office, meant that I could be around while the game was in development and be really hands on. This is one of our big games for the year and we’re all excited at Nokia. The plan is late summer or early fall for a public release, but it’s not decided yet.
Rifts breaks cover to the media at E3, and we’ll have a look at the preview when we get back from the USA. Till then, thanks to Trent, Shane and Kevin for taking the time to talk to us.
Want to listen to Kevin, Shane and Trent talk about Rifts? 25 minutes of highlights from the All About N-Gage interview with the Rifts team feature in "The Mobiles Show" over at the Podcast Network. Head on over and download the MP3 now.
Links of Interest