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The available screenshots suggest that this will be a true work of art that both draws on the success of one of the best RPGs in gaming history, and innovates alike. This interview suggests that this team is up for the challenge - and then some.

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"Return to Mana: Legacy of the eight Elements" uses the technology of Half-life² (Source Engine)
to revive an ancient world of adventure, excitement, and roleplaying in its full glamor. Return to Mana will have you travel through over 70 locations and meet dozens of unique friends and foes each carefully designed and implemented with character, ingenuity, and a uniqueness not found in most games.

The use of complete hand-drawn, high resolution textures and the abdication of photo textures ensures a unique and dreamy look true to the RPG that it is based on.

Return to Mana ups the ante by featuring cooperative gameplay for up to 3 players, an exiting story and intriguing symphonic soundtrack, taking the player(s) on an adventuresome ride in an alternate reality.

Return to Mana is approximately 10 months in development, placing the expected the release date to be around 2008 as we are carefully with dates.

San-J (ModDB): Hi everyone. Before we start, could you please introduce yourselves, and tell us what position you serve on the team, and in what areas of development you specialize?

Dieblein (RTM): My Name is Dieblein, i'm the Leader of the Total Conversion and i'm mainly responsible for leveldesign and the whole modeling.

Outlive (RTM): Hi - my name is Johannes Tripolt and i serve as a texture artist to the team, i also do a lot of administrative work and support dieblein wherever I can.

Erek (RTM): My real Name is Erek Hainke. I'm 17, live in Cottbus (Germany) and go to school there.
I'm head of the story-team. That contains story, dialogs and the attributes & behavior of the characters.

CPacaud(RTM): My name is Christian Pacaud, I'm the sound lead. I'm mainly a music composer but lately I've also been experimenting with sound effects and such.


San-J (ModDB): Return to Mana is shaping up to be a drop-dead gorgeous roleplaying experience. How much time do you spend creating the content for one of those screenshots? Will everything in the game be this exquisite?

Outlive (RTM): The amount of time we spend working on the mod, changes from time to time.
There are days, where hardly any progress is made, and then there are whole weeks of 14 hours work straight per day. And yeah - we constantly obtain critics to our work, to ensure a constant level of quality.


San-J (ModDB): How do you get the Source engine to create such impressive scenery? Do you feel that it is the one engine best suited for your project?

Outlive (RTM): First thing is - practice makes perfect when creating art, never be afraid to learn something new, accept and process criticism. Second - know your tools. Source has quite a large amount of features to make something look "impressive". From a large per model polycount to high-res textures, normal maps and different texture shaders.


San-J (ModDB): Do you think that you are using the Source engine to it's fullest? Judging by the available screenshots, I would imagine that this modification is targeted toward higher-end systems. What kind of frame rates are you getting, in comparison to those in Half Life 2? Will you have to optimize the code, to allow for such detailed scenery?

CPacaud (RTM): Actually, I've tried the Potos map on my computer, which is nowhere near being a gaming beast (2.4gHz, GeForce 2 MX400, you get the picture) and it ran very smoothly.

Outlive (RTM): Jep - we are testing out the amount of content source can handle and try balancing it for maximum quality but preserve playability at the same time. Good thing is - source is handled pretty good on everyday machines, with turned down graphic settings. We strive for a richer content compared to hl2, also almost everything of the code has do be refined for our special needs. That includes at least camera system, interface, netcode, physics code, artificial intelligence and shaders. You could say, that Return to Mana will need a more powerful PC then Hl2, but it's to early putting out System requirements already.


San-J (ModDB): Have you ever considered using a different engine, or was it always going to be the Source engine?

Outlive (RTM): When i joined the team - everything was already planed out for the Source engine
(that got my attention in the first place). I myself thought about the available engines and their mod support quite a lot. The Cryengine (Farcry) and the X-Ray Engine (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) have some really nice features and a very distinct look.


San-J (ModDB): You state in the description that Return to Mana has been in development for almost a year, and suggest that it may take another three years to complete. How long of a game will RTM be? How does it compare to retail games being released these days?

Dieblein (RTM): We hope to reach the amount and quality of similar retail games with RTM. That's why we need such a long time to develop it. Its not our goal to fullfill the normal gamers expectancy. We are aiming to produce an enjoyable game that is fresh and fun to play. Rtm does not want to shine with graphics in the first place but with love for the detail and story. People who are playing games just for the graphics will play Unreal 3, those who just play because of the fun will play Multiplayer Mods, we focus on reaching players that maybe stopped playing todays games because they became so similar to each other. Those players won't care if we need 4 or 10 years to develop our Total conversion because RTM is unique and does not have to fit into todays poor amount of variation in the gaming universe.

Outlive (RTM): I second that - our expectations are big so we aim for a 25+ hour game and we hope that our time and energy will get us there by 2008.


San-J (ModDB): Based on the previous question, I'm curious as to how do you keep the team dedicated enough to complete a half-decade project. Are they all really motivated by the nature of this project, or do you beat them when they don't work?

Dieblein (RTM): Although it may not look like it, but we aren't only highly motivated people that do nothing else but working on this mod all day. I always tried to keep the team as small as possible and focus on the actual development more than trying to get the coordination or public relations to work. The best thing to motivate your people is by working hard yourself. Thats what I have learned during my last mod. Many of us aren't in the team because they somehow think that maybe the game will be fun. They dreamed of this game long ago just like I did. And they think that it is worth developing it. What motivates me is the longing for good quality games and thats what I want to succed in doing with RTM.

CPacaud (RTM): From my previous online team experience, usually there is a core of very motivated members around which there is a constant rotation of people dropping from the team, people disappearing for no reason, new members joining in, etc. As bad as it sounds, that's how it is most of the time. Sometimes even the best team lead will see his team fall apart.

Outlive (RTM): Return to Mana is a great opportunity for all of us, sharing our dreams and effort with the rest of the world. We love what we are doing, so this keeps us on course - from time to time someone has to be motivated with a whip, but that's quite seldom :)

Erek (RTM): I think, we all are very interested to create Return to Mana and it seems that we all work very hard from my point of view. This game is more then just “a game” for all the teammembers - it's a challenge too.


San-J (ModDB): Modding is by no means an easy hobby. From experience, I know that it can be quite a challenge keeping a team together, on task, excited about the project, and inspired. What kinds of hardships has the team gone through?

Dieblein (RTM): Maybe the hardest point was the transition from a one man mod to an actual modding team. Half of the content i created in the firt place wasn't of any use so far and had to be abandoned.
I also had to find other people sharing the same dream and make them believe in me. And of course i had to expand my knowledge about modeling what turned me from a pure noob into an average one.


San-J (ModDB): How many people are currently actively working on Return to Mana? How many people total have contributed to the project?

Dieblein (RTM): The RTM team currently consists of 12 members. But seriously i dont count how many did contribute. There where always people joining and leaving without actually helping our development.
But I always want to keep up opportunities for others to find a place in our team.


San-J (ModDB): You all seem to be pros at making games. Do most of the people working on Return to Mana have a history in modding? What other projects have you guys worked on?

Dieblein (RTM): I have a 4 year history in Half-Life Modding, that brought me to many multiplayer mods like Taskforce, PvK, Project Timeless, Movein, untill I decided to found my own mods. The first and last mod I've completed so far, was my singleplayer mod "Escape from the Darkness" for Half-Life 1.

CPacaud (RTM): For me the list is pretty extensive, but the amount of projects completed is a little bit saddening. Those who might ring a bell: Archaean - a MMORPG, Denizens of the Night and Shadows of Winter - two Dungeon Siege mods. I'm currently working on Terra Alterna - a tactical/sim RPG, a 2nd incarnation of Shadows of Winter as a HL2 mod and Sigma Triad - a sci-fi online strategy game.

Outlive (RTM): I have almost 10 years of graphic design experience and worked on some HL1 mods before - nothing big, so this is my first premiere in the top league.

Erek (RTM): I wasn't in a project like this but i'm working in other kinds of projects. And so i have not little experience like work with a team.


San-J (ModDB): Browsing through the comments in your modDB profile, people seem to be really excited about this project. What are your feelings towards the community's response in general?

Dieblein (RTM): It's even a bit scary to see such high expectations on our work and we try to fullfill them at our very best.

Outlive (RTM): It's awesome, an indescribable feeling to be honored like this.
We are doing this for the people, not for our egos and we are doing this for free.

Erek (RTM): It motivates us working even harder.
We're doing this game for the RPG and HL2 fans. But because of the experiences we make during our developing process we have the chance to bring our own unique ideas into the game.


San-J (ModDB): You suggest that Return To Mana is inspired by the classic SNES game "Secret of Mana". How close is it in terms of content and gameplay to that game?

Dieblein (RTM): We dont want to leave the impression of any conection between the named game and our project. What I can assure you is that we may be inspired by it out of many other games. But in any case we dont want the people to like us because of a somehow similar name or suggested relation but because of our innovative content.

Outlive (RTM): Secret of Mana was a wonderfull game back in the 90ties, as for content and gameplay – But we are developing our own idea, which includes content and gameplay. The only similarity we will have are the vibes you will get playing it :)

Erek (RTM): We have our own ideas and own aspects for this game and where inspired of a lot RPG's.

CPacaud (RTM): As far as the music goes, we'll try to keep the same mood and, to the best of our abilities, bring it to another level, but there's no way we're going to use the music from the original game or anything like that. The key word here is "inspired by"... Actually that's two word.


San-J (ModDB): Has Square Enix contacted you in any way over the course of your development of Return to Mana? If so, was it supportive, or did they suggest that this may be a copyright infringement? If not, do you hope or expect to be contacted by them in the future?

Dieblein (RTM): We tried to contact them and recieved a letter that stated the general copyright laws. This is what changed our attitude to the definition of our project I before mentioned in the above answer.


San-J (ModDB): What do you think about Square Enix's policy towards community-driven projects based on or inspired by their games? What do you think about their shutting down of the "Chrono Trigger Resurrection" project? Did this surprising action on their part change your attitude towards them as a company, or your enjoyment of their games?

Outlive (RTM): Not at all - I really support the action on the chrono resurrection team.. this may sound a little harsh, but you have to know the details. Their attempt was a partial remake of the original chrono trigger game on their own developed engine and intended using it as business demo. It was never meant to be a free game for fans, but to get money out of it and that's just plain wrong if you use someones work for your own profit.

CPacaud (RTM): As far as I know, they're only protecting their copyrights. This project, as good the intentions as they probably were, was dangerously close to being a 3d clone of the actual game.

Dieblein (RTM): I fully understand the policy of game firms like Square Enic to protect their intellectual property. They need to make sure that none attempts to hurt the reputation of any of their brands.


San-J (ModDB): Does the team hope that this project will be a segway towards careers in game development? Or do your hearts truly lie in modding existing games?

Dieblein (RTM): I am like many others, attempting to get into the game industry. But despite my interests in a game business career it does not influence me in calling modding my hobby. It's one of the best things possible – realizing your own game at todays graphical standard for free. That is and will always be more or less my hobby.

CPacaud (RTM): I would be lying if I'd say I didn't want to enter the business. Still, working on these projects is a very fulfilling experience in itself and RTM is being a very special one up to now !

Outlive (RTM): My first priority is to get this game done, then i surely will take my chances in the game industry business.

Erek (RTM): Yeah me too - first comes work...other thoughts later.


San-J (ModDB): That wraps up this interview. Are there any last comments or after-thoughts that you would like to share with us?

Erek (RTM): I think, so many words aren't important. Important is, that we can create this game and that other people like to play this game. So we would work very hard and wish us that the people believe in us.

CPacaud (RTM): One thought here. Seeing as the whole gaming scene is slowly becoming a big multi-billion (or whatever is really is) dollar industry, having ambitious MOD projects around is becoming all the more essential, maybe as a reminder to the big guys that in the end, what we're making is art, dreams,
escapes from reality, not carefully engineered products. The day games stop stimulating our imagination and become mindless entertainment... I don't want to think about it, really. Maybe I'm still young. I still have lots to learn about all this. Hey, pretty deep eh? And lastly, thanks to MODDB and the fans for this honor !

Outlive (RTM): Yeah - we would like to announce major changes in our developing process, we will concentrate on work, rather then hop on the hype wagon and flash our media panties to the public constantly. We are the kind of team, that wants to get their work done, so there will hardly be any news at least till summer. Come and drop by the forums, to keep yourself informed about the project status.

Being my typical ADHD fiendish self, I compiled a list of all of the available screenshots, renders, and sketches from the RTM mod. Ucch! The HTML formatting was a nightmare. I hope you enjoy.

Model Renders

Concept Art


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