You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that? Why are you not helping?
RPG Codex Review: Might & Magic X: Legacy
Review - posted by Crooked Bee
on Sat 8 March 2014, 19:49:06
In January Ubisoft and Limbic Entertainment released Might & Magic X: Legacy, the newest installment in one of the most venerable RPG series. In a detailed review you've all been waiting for, esteemed community member and Might and Magic connoisseur Sceptic examines just to what extent MMX departs from or improves on the previous games in the series. I'll quote his conclusion here, but be sure to read the full review for his analysis:
There is no doubt about it: MMXL is an excellent game and the best turn-based blobber for the PC since forever, and not only because it has very little in the way of competition. It is obvious that Limbic put much love into making it and despite many flaws it stands as proof that turn-based gameplay is not and will never be passé. Only one question remains: how does it compare to the previous entries in the series purely as a Might and Magic game?
[...] In summary, MMXL does not quite live up to the expectations that I had when reading everything that was released by Limbic about the game, as well as the Codex previews. Perhaps no game could have lived up to the expectations one builds after 12 years of waiting for the next entry in a beloved series, an entry that no one ever expected would see the light of day. The game departs from the M&M formula where it matters the most, the overworld exploration. Additionally, it has quite a few flaws in its combat system. But it also preserves and improves core M&M tenets. The character system, the dungeons, the puzzles, the Relics, and yes, even many aspects of exploration have been lovingly recreated to please fans of the series, but also improved - something that the old series excelled at doing in almost every new iteration. Despite its flaws, the game's combat can be a lot of fun and it is certainly the most serious attempt at tactics that the series has attempted in a very long time. What matters is that none of the game's flaws are serious enough to warrant depriving oneself from the pleasure of playing it. After all, the Codex's favourite games are all flawed gems. We have always preferred games that try for challenging and tactical combat and for meaningful non-linear exploration, to ones that give up and go for typical modern formulae and restrictive cinematic experiences. MMXL certainly tries very hard, and it often succeeds. Even the exploration, despite being such a departure from what M&M did best, is excellent if divorced from the series' expectations and taken on its own terms.
The final verdict should be obvious by now: MMXL is a must-buy and a must-play. Limbic did a superlative job in bringing together many beloved elements from the series, improving where they could and not dumbing down where it matters. The flaws are immaterial in the grand scheme of things; Limbic have proven they can make a real (and good!) M&M game, and they have certainly proven that they can make an excellent turn-based tile-based blobber with all the joyful gameplay elements that entails. All Ubisoft needs to see is that there is a market for this kind of game, no matter how niche. MMXL may not be the best M&M game to date, but it's more than good enough, and if Limbic can iron out the flaws in the combat system and improve exploration and other aspects, then MMXI will really be something special. I'm certainly looking forward to it.
In times long past, we held a competition with the purpose of stuffing Larian's upcoming Divinity: Original Sin with Codex memes and generally all kinds of stupid - something we've been fighting for (and you've been donating for) ever since the beginning of the Kickstarter craze. We received many "excellent" submissions so it was "hard" for the Codex staff to pick the winners, but the day is finally here - I present you with the lucky winners, who will each get access to the game's alpha on Steam Early Access:
1. Message In A Bottle. Winner: oasis789.
I know this message will surprise you. Please accept my quest. My name is SIR COMMANDER RHODE. I am the leader of (DRAGON SLAYERS LTD) located in Farglow town. I was betrayed by my subordinates and wrongfully imprisoned by the Aleroth guard and turned to stone by the wizard Bellagar. My condition is hopeless to survive. Nobody to summon for help. I am using my last magic to send you this message. I want you to take over my treasure in Farglow of $10,000,000.00 silver pieces and send a rescue expedition. I will offer you 12% for your commitment. Presently I cannot respond you, please contact my lieutenant Marius who direct and arrange release of the funds to you.
Yours faithfully, SIR COMMANDER RHODE, ESQ. Ph.D(Dragon Slaying)"
2. Name A Personal Pet. Winner: Azrael the Cat.
"Surely there's only one plausible suggestion for the Codex pet: Andyman Messiah.
Basically you get to 'buy' a horse incredibly cheaply - spare change for the player at that point of the game - as part of a quest reward. The horse is called Andy, and before you can even pay for him, the old geezer you were going to buy him from dies of a heart attack. You then get an option to try riding the horse, but it simply refuses to move while you're sitting on it. It also refuses to carry any of your inventory, but nonetheless follows you around and prods you to feed it. A few times later in the game you wake up to find that 'someone' has put all of Andy's gear on your back - i.e. his oats, spare horseshoes and sugarcubes are all tied to a sack around your neck; you look up and see Andy - if a horse could talk you'd swear he was saying 'yeah, let's see you carry someone else's shit, bitch. Now get down and give me a fucking piggyback into town.'
Also, in the first town you stop in after buying Andy, some beggar happens to be revealed as a fraud just as you're passing through, and to avoid punishment he points at Andy and claims that he must be some sort of mystical savior of a horse, to magically give him his 'missing' leg back. Word spreads, and every place you go you encounter an increasing number of followers of the cult of 'Andy the horse-man Messiah'."
3. Personal Dual Dialogue. Winner: Sitra Achara.
"Item A: Plank
Item B: Sturdy Rock
Combination: You place one end of the plank on the ground, and the other on the rock.
Upon building the above, your partner butts in:
Char 1: "What's that for?"
Char 2: "It is an Incline."
4. Message In The Woods. Winners: Lambchop19 and Bubbles (it's a tie).
"Fate Unlock Code: MMX2-GTF6-5555-1210-****
The last few digits appear to be scratched out. Looks like you'll have to search elsewhere..."
"Don't trust the wood carvers."
(We'll try to get both messages into the game but that's going to depend on Larian - as well as on how DU's gonna fill out the submission form. Yeah, I know.)
5. Name An Undead. Winner: Random.
6. Name A Summon. Winner: Lambchop19.
"Andhaira - An imp of some sort. Should randomly spout discussion topics. "Meat vs potatos: which is better and why? Discuss!""
7. Design A Henchman. Winner: ERYFKRAD.
"Name: Theodore 'Boozebelt'
Henchman Type: Wizard+Club wielding maniac
Backstory: Once a promising student of magic, Theodore was kicked out by his tutor and banned from any further learning, after a very unstable experiment involving a sheep, garlic and a bottle of wine. Theodore now takes to the bottle to forget his frustrations, and when drinking won't do, he takes to clubbing people with utter enthusiasm. While capable of a few powerful spells, his near-permanent state of inebriation means that he'd to blow up the wrong target more often than not. On the other hand, he can club people very well."
"The Codex of Pestilential Thought & The Grimoire of the Inconceivable (found together)
The Codex contains many pearls of wisdom. However, to read it is to risk descending into madness. Use (one-time): +1 to intelligence, -1 to perception.
The sub-header of this grimoire states "You don't even know what you don't know." It appears to be an unfinished work, and although you can sense something great residing within, you cannot access it. Use: None (for now)."
10. Design an NPC. Winner: Lady Error.
"Drog the Dragon - uses magic to disguise himself and appears as other creatures."
11. Mysterious Stranger. Winner: Sitra Achara.
"You meet a scruffy looking man in the Cyseal marketplace.
You introduce yourself, and when asked about himself, he replies, "Oh, let's just say I keep the place in check. Tidy it up".
When asked his name: "I'm no one important, really. I've learned to appreciate anonymity, and forgive me if I prefer to distance myself from any possible mishaps you adventurers can cause. Quite unpleasant to get involved, authorities knocking on your door in the middle of the night, and so on."
Asking about adventurers: "Forgive me if I generalize, but some of your lot are as crazy as they come. What I once thought quaint, well, over the years I've come to realize that about one in ten of your kind is downright dangerous. Lock up behind bars, paint the key blue and toss into the sea material."
He then probes you about your wishes for the journey ahead, what you'd like to see happen, or what you wished happened to particular characters you've met or locations you've visited. You subsequently meet him in various places throughout the land, and every time you answer, he simply nods and shuffles off into the horizon. His last word, just before vanishing, is always this:
Congratulations to the winners! Angthoron should be in touch shortly with your key.
There sure is lots of Divinity: Original Sin news these days. Larian put out a Kickstarter update today describing new changes to the game's Early Access alpha.
What new features have been implemented?
We've squashed lots of bugs, made some big leaps and bounds in the area of status effects, improved the look of the Cysealian hinterlands, and amended some of our rule systems. Check out the following video in which Farhang highlights some of the more exciting changes available in the latest Early Access update. Read on for more info, or click here to see a full changelist for this update.
The most well-explored region of the game has gotten a bit more depth and style with a new tunnel leading out from the graveyard (a tunnel under a graveyard? Curious... curious indeed...).
Through the beach beyond the skelebot cave, you'll find a revamped region with lovelier scenery leading up to your favourite wizard-poet.
Furthermore, and to Arhu's tremendous relief, the city's zombie-zapping ballistas now effectively zap zombies.
Enemies now enjoy smarter target selection, meaning you'll no longer reap the benefits of what you thought was simple orcish idiocy.
Combat now offers decreased experience points. You'll have to flex your muscles a bit more to get that next level-up! In addition, fewer ability points may mean an existential crisis (and a push to explore, fight, and quest even more) for the wizard who dreamed of being a charming, telekinetic, body-building powerhouse.
You'll be able to plan fireball launches, winter blasts, and earthquakes with more precision now that skill previews have been implemented, meaning you'll see exactly how and where your spell will launch before you commit to it.
New (unfinished, but still very cool) music added
The hills are alive with the sound of Kirill! Our composer has leant some new music tracks for this update. Expect further improvements before launch, but these should add some new flavour to the areas you'll be exploring.
Statuses! Statuses everywhere!
Stoic heroes be damned! Now you can enjoy (or not) the thrill of being Chilled, Warm, Burning, Wet, Bleeding, Crippled, Blind, Cursed, Weak, Invisible, Slowed, Hasted, Raged, Lucky, Diseased, Infectious Disease, Fortified, Petrified, Blessed or Drunk.
Be careful! Each of these statuses will affect game play in some way. It may be fun stumbling around Cyseal as a drunken Source Hunter with increased luck, but be wary of your decreased initiative and intelligence. (Also, that buff to charm is only in your mind. Trust us on this one.)
Improvements to generic behaviours
Our in-house puppet masters have been hard at work regulating and improving the way NPCs react to you. Acts like theft, vandalism, murder, and breaking out of jail will now have more consistent consequences.
In addition to all of that, the update says that the game's next version will open up an entire new region in Cyseal, "featuring new characters, combat, and (main) questing". Nice!
In a blog post entitled "Educating Players", Larian's Swen Vincke expresses his worries over how Divinity: Original Sin has been received by the games media. It's not pretty.
We decided on doing another preview tour this late in development (which really is the most inopportune of times) because it became clear that there are still a lot of journalists out there who think of Divinity:Original Sin as a Diablo clone or a Diablo clone with tactical combat. This despite all the videos, walkthroughs, early access content and previews being out there. Better make that, despite the truckload of videos, walkthroughs, early access content and previews out there.
It makes me despair some times and tbh a bit worried too.
The problem seems to be that the game has a top-down perspective and turn-based combat in its first 5 mins of gameplay. This apparently is sufficient to classify the game as just-another-generic-fantasy-rpg-clone not worth spending time on.
Honestly, I didn’t believe it when somebody first told me about this line of reasoning, but by now I do because I’ve heard it repeated so many times.
Because there are so many games coming out, an hour is pretty much the maximum you can hope for when sending out preview code. And apparently that’s already a lot.
A preview is an article in which the reporter tells his audience what the game is about, what he expects of it and if there’s anything cool to get excited over.For a game that doesn’t have Battlefield style gfx, that takes its time building up and that relies on the player trying things out, the one hour thing is bad news.
Reporters relying on their gaming instincts and the first hour of gameplay won’t see what our ambitions are and thus jump to the wrong conclusion. (Off topic but in that context I’d like to advise “Thinking fast and slow”’ as obligatory reading to everybody. This type of approach is an excellent example of how your fast thinking fools you into making the wrong assumptions.)
Anyway, the good thing is that whenever we do manage to grab a reporter and put him or her through the “torture” of a D:OS demo, they do eventually understand that there’s more than meets the eye, and because we usually exceed their expectations, we get some excitement.
But it does leave us with a real problem.
Despite being so long in development and talking so much about it, we still didn’t discover the right way of communicating the game’s unique selling propositions. And we’re running out of time.
I asked one of the reporters who was very vocal about how happy he was that I showed him Divinity:Original Sin’s depth what we were doing wrong. Given his excitement it was clear to me that he was part of our target audience and I was really curious how we managed to miss somebody who was clearly informing himself on what games are coming out (it’s his job after all).
He replied that he wouldn’t have tried half the stuff I showed him because he would’ve assumed that we didn’t support it and instead jump to the conclusion that the game was broken. For him, the kind of presentation I gave him was exactly what was needed in his eyes.
It reminded me strongly of something another journalist had told me. During a demo, I think at the German magazine Gamestar, I was told that we’d probably have to re-educate players because they’re not used to this type of gameplay anymore, conditioned as they seem to be by all the streamlining games go through nowadays.
I thought of this again when I watched this youtuber the other day. I cringed when I saw how he missed out on a couple of key features. I also cringed when I saw how he ended his video, which while typical, is also the reason why so much potential innovation has been stiffled by the gatekeepers at the ruling class of old, i.e. the majority of publishers.
I mentioned I’m getting a bit worried by this because eventually we will need to sell this game. At this point I’m starting to think tutorials everywhere, which is my least favourite part of development, but I do want Divinity:Original Sin to be a success, and that’s not going to happen if everybody thinks it’s yet another ARPG clone. Or wait, perhaps it will?
This month's Age of Decadenceupdate coincides with the release of the third update to the game's Early Access version. Here's what it says:
We’ve just released update #3 on Steam (the BMT version will be updated in the next few days), which is out 5th update (R4.5) since the second 'chapter' was released. Overall, what we released in November (R4) was a good foundation and we spent the next 3 months building on top of it, adding more characters, quests, dialogues, details, and polish.
If you want to see what's in the update, click here.
We’ll continue adding and ‘expanding’ characters (Kemnebi and Abukar will get more quests, dialogues, and portraits), but now the focus will be on new locations.
We’re aiming to add 5 locations in a month’s time. Two locations are almost done: Aemolas’ village and the Library of Saross, which was slightly changed and expanded from the original design. Inferiae is half done and we’re slowly working on the bridge and the portal.
Since we're moving away from the relative safety of towns to ruins and such, we'll add two creatures in the next update as well.
Changed the area around the temple in the Slums to make it look like a busy little bazaar. We added a new, rather colorful character who greets you when you enter this square and introduces the area.
Added another character and his followers near the tower of Zamedi. He will provide a fresh perspective on the tower and share valuable insights with you.
Added a new artefact (a mechanical eye). You can acquire it and, in the best traditions of the Planescape Torment, swap it for one of your own. The eye doesn’t shoot lasers (would be totally cool if you did though), but it can see into other planes, which makes it a rather useful thing to have ... in your eye socket.
The hammer crowd complained that they don’t have a cool hammer, so we gave them … *drumroll* … the Perforator! It’s a handy spiked hammer with a unique icon.
3 journal pages (not the entire journal yet, but it’s a good start). Now in addition to Quests and Techniques, you get Lore (to collect what you learned from different people in one place), Items for all the Artefacts you managed to get your hands on, and Characters to keep track of people you double- and triple-crossed. The Characters page has only the portrait and the intro text for each character; the effect of your actions will be added in the upcoming updates. Overall, you get 17 Lore entries, 29 character entries, and 15 Artefact entries. There will be a lot more in the full game, obviously.
Added several rare alchemy components in the tower’s library.
That's right, a mechanical eye. Here's an image of it, and also of something called a "bolter"(!).
Is The Age of Decadence secretly set on a feudal world in the Imperium of Man?
Developed by FROM SOFTWARE, Dark Souls™ II is the highly anticipated sequel to the gruelling 2011 breakout hit Dark Souls. The unique old-school action RPG experience captivated imaginations of gamers worldwide with incredible challenge and intense emotional reward.
Dark Souls II brings the franchise’s renowned obscurity & gripping gameplay innovations to both single and multiplayer experiences.
Join the dark journey and experience overwhelming enemy encounters, diabolical hazards, and the unrelenting challenge that only FROM SOFTWARE can deliver.
According to Namco Bandai, the PC version will be enhanced compared to the console ones:
PC & STEAM version will benefit from PC capabilities with increased texture resolution and an enhanced frame rate option. On top of that, FromSoftware have been working to perfectly adapt the game for a mouse & keyboard combo.
The price is $49.99/49.99€. Users who pre-order the game will receive some digital goodies, namely 10 early access weapons and shields, the original game soundtrack consisting of "35 tracks to immerse yourself in the gripping world of Dark Souls II", the Official Dark Souls II Artbook in pdf, as well as the Dark Souls II Digital Comic Book written by Rob Williams and Andi Ewington with art by Simon Coleby.
Following up on his Divinity: Original SinLet's Play session from last week, Rock Paper Shotgun's Nathan Grayson has posted a nice big interview with Swen Vincke. Swen goes over topics such as Larian's plans after Original Sin is released, their troubled history as a company, how Early Access has helped improve the game, and of course, RPS's favorite topic, gender parity. Here's a particularly inspiring excerpt:
RPS: Conventional wisdom used to say that no one wanted these sorts of games anymore. And you’ve gone from making Ego Draconis, which was much more an RPG fused with an action game to Original Sin. But this is like, by many standards, a niche within a niche. You’re making a very specific type of game. Are you at all worried about a worst case scenario? A small crowd buys it and loves it, and everyone else says, “eh, not my thing”?
Vincke: Yeah. But you know, they’ve always said that about every single game I’ve made. From Divinity 1 onward. They went on to sell really a lot of units. We’ve calculated Divinity II sales at, what, 1.3 million units? That’s not a small crowd anymore. Divinity 1 must be over a million units now if you take the entire life cycle into account. That’s a lot of people already. I refuse to believe that our players currently are the only ones who want to have an evolution of the RPG genre as it existed and that was cut off. It was cut off because it turned out that the action-RPGs sold easier and were easier to make.
I personally think that, in the early 2000s, RPGs were cut off, because there were a number of production values that went up, and it was impossible to… Well, it was possible, but it was decided not to do it by the powers that be. So the genre stopped evolving. This was the case for a lot of genres. Now we have the resurgence of the indies. We have Steam Early Access and Kickstarter. Suddenly we have games that nobody would have ever invested in. Like Wasteland 2, for instance. Do you really think a publisher would have put a dollar into that? No. Look at it, how it’s soaring up the charts. That’s conventional wisdom for you.
The guys that have the conventional wisdom, I’m sorry, but I never agreed with them back then and I still don’t agree with them nowadays. It’s easy to go along the beaten path, but then you’re not going to have any evolution in games. You’ll have rehashes of the same thing over and over. There’s a lot of gamers out there, more gamers than ever, and they’re looking for a little bit more intelligent content. That’s where we want to be with this one.
Plus, the fact that I really think that people, when it’s going to release, are going to… The Trojan Horse in this particular case is co-op. Like that guy I was telling you about. His blog entry was exactly what we were hoping for when we envisioned the game originally. He starts playing and says to his wife, why don’t you try it? Then they don’t go to sleep. They keep on playing until the sun comes up. They have their own adventure, a kind of adventure that they probably wouldn’t have if they’d been playing single-player and loading and saving and loading and saving. That’s quite a feat, actually, that people don’t just load the game and continue. They debate with one another. Are we going to a load? That’s pretty cool.
RPS: Do you think that just in terms of your own creative direction, you’re going to stick with fantasy, or do you think you would ever go beyond that?
Vincke: We had quite a lot of concepts. The problem is, once you’ve made a game that’s sold a little bit, you’re stuck in the franchise, right? After Divinity 1, actually, we had an entire concept for a different style of game. And then, no no no, we want to do Divinity II. That’s how we ended up doing it. Because publishers were saying, okay, that’s something that interests us. We’re not interested in the original stuff.
But I’m sure that we’ll do something different. Larian has had some setbacks in the past. We’re not yet on the path where we can be completely free and do what we want. We have to make sure that we still make money and at least break even on the games that we do. With Original Sin, I have good hopes, because Early Access has been successful. Kickstarter has been successful. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t want to touch Early Access because they’re afraid they’re going to spoil the main story, which is a good way to play an RPG, actually. I think there’s still people who are underserved. If you look at the success of other large RPGs that have been… There’s still room for growth for us.
Read the entire thing, it's a really good interview. Even the gender parity question has an interesting answer.
Blackguards: Untold Legends, which is the first DLC for, you guessed it, Blackguards, was released today. Here's its launch trailer and the description from GOG:
The life of a Blackguard: Learn how Takate became the enslaved gladiator and seize the day to take revenge on everyone responsible for the forest man's suffering.
Untold Legends, the first DLC of Daedalic Entertainment's successful turn-based strategy RPG Blackguards, continues the main story line with seven new exciting quests. Fight against rebellious slaves, learn more about Takate's past and stop sinister magic rituals.
What's cool about it:
Seven new engaging quests revolving around Takate's past.
Eleven brand new battle maps.
Obliterate your foes with four new weapons.
25 new atmospheric tracks to complement the Blackguards Soundtrack.
Untold Legends is available for purchase on Steam and GOG, for a mere six dollars. By the way, Blackguards also received a major patch yesterday, which you can read about here.
After a ridiculous number of years in development, Obsidian's South Park: The Stick of Truth has finally been released. In North America, at least - with Ubisoft, these things are never quite clear. Here's the launch trailer:
The game is available on Steam for the price of $60. There is no Uplay, nor is there any Day 1 DLC or anything of that sort, which is kind of surprising. The emerging consensus seems to be that it's a fun little JRPG that should please fans of the TV series; whether or not it's worth that price is up to the individual buyer. Expect to see our official review sometime in the near future.
Update: GameBanshee has a roundup of the game's first day reviews, which are all fairly positive.
Dr Schultz's official Italian language Torment: Tides of Numenera blog continues to be the best Torment site around. Today he posted a meaty interview (scroll down for English) with lead designer Adam Heine, which reveals a ton of new information about the game's mechanics. Here are the first two questions:
Focus is a really big deal in Numenera. There are almost thirty Foci in the Corebook and they all have a deep influence on character development. How many of them can we expect to see in Torment? Will the Last Castoff and his companions have different Foci? Are we going to experience something new/different compared to the tabletop game?
Focus is a big deal, and we want to emphasize the specialness of it. To that end:
The PC will be able to choose from several different Foci at or near the start of the game.
Torment’s PC will have the unique ability to change his Focus at will (though not necessarily for free; more on that later). So not only can you try out different Foci without restarting the game, but you will unlock new Foci throughout the game and can switch over to the new ones if you want.
We haven’t finalized our Foci design yet, but we’re planning for at least a couple of PC Foci unique to Torment, in addition to those we adapt from the Corebook (which will be many).
Companions will have Foci unavailable to the PC, each uniquely suited to their character. (Although not the sole reason for this decision, this supports the Numenera rule that no two party members should share the same Focus).
Some Companions will have new Foci made up especially for them.
In the Meres (you know about the Meres, right? In which the PC temporarily takes control of another person’s body during some critical point in their life), the character whose body the PC inhabits can also have their own Focus. Sometimes this is a Focus that was already available to the PC or a Companion, but other times it will be unique to that Mere. This lets us explore Foci that are uniquely cool but that would be difficult to design for across the entire game (like Exists Partially Out of Phase, which enables the character to walk through walls).
This sounds like a lot of Foci (I actually have almost 30 listed in the initial draft of the design doc), but it’s far from finalized. Additionally, less than half the Foci in the initial draft are marked as A-priority (meaning we will do them in some form); the rest are necessarily marked as “we’ll do this as resources allow.”
Numenera providers players with lots of unique options during character creation, but it also features a fairly linear character progression, probably because of its huge list of gears (Artifacts and Cyphers mostly) that work like Skills or Perks. Are you aiming for the same result in Torment? Or will leveling be a more open-ended affair? As a rule, what do you think about gear-centric advancement systems?
Well, first, we are implementing Artifacts and Cyphers as close to the spirit of the tabletop as we can. So Cyphers are planned to be unique (some may overlap in abilities, but each cypher will be different), some of them powerful, all of them one-shot, and all of them encouraged to be used (i.e. we are implementing the tabletop game’s limits on how many cyphers a character can safely carry). We’re even extending the concepts with our crafting design (which you may have read about), giving the player more options for item progression and customization.
As for character progression, we’re aiming for a little more customization than the tabletop provides. We’ll have more class abilities than in the Corebook, a defined set of Skills, and the PC will be able to switch his Focus on the fly. So there should be enough there to give the player a sense of progression and choice at each Tier (plus Numenera’s character upgrades and customizations between Tiers: increasing Stat Pools or Stat Edge, learning a new Skill, increasing maximum Effort Level, etc).
Regarding gear-centric advancement systems in general, what I like about them is they allow the player to adapt to new situations as he finds them. Come across a pack of armor-wearing gorillas immune to your poison attack? Switch out your poison weapons for something that will work against them.
That doesn’t mean I like gear-centric systems as a rule, of course. I think any system can be made to work, but it depends on the implementation. If the player can always switch gear without a cost or a trade-off, then it can become too easy to fend off any situation.
What I like about Numenera’s Cypher system, though, is how it encourages players to use items rather than hoard them. I always hoard consumables in RPGs, which basically means I’m missing out on a portion of the game because “I might need this later.” But in Numenera, I can only hold a limited number of Cyphers, and I know I’m going to find more around every corner, so rather than hoarding them, I find myself looking for clever opportunities to use them. It’s a great consumables system, in my opinion.
The other questions are about character progression, combat, and the always-touchy topic of randomness and "save scumming". This one's a must-read, folks.
Rock Paper Shotgun's Nathan Grayson has a new series called A Game And A Chat, where he plays a game together with its developer while interviewing him at the same time. The latest episode features Larian's Swen Vincke, as he and Nathan play Divinity: Original Sin for an hour and a half.
In a year potentially chock full of amazing classic-style RPGs (Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, the beginnings of Torment, etc), it’s easy to overlook Divinity: Original Sin. That, however, would be a tremendous mistake given that the Ultima-VII-inspired Kickstarter darling looks to have depth and personality in spades.
I corralled Larian in my very own (adoptive) hometown of San Francisco, and we played the opus-in-the-making’s latest build. I had to pre-record this one sans a camera, unfortunately, but Larian head Swen Vincke showed me nearly two hours of late-game (read: not in the alpha) gameplay and discussed how players can kill every NPC and still progress, non-violent approaches, how Larian *wants* us to break its systems, how it plans to avoid another disastrous Divinity II: Ego Draconis-style launch (despite some rather pressing bugs in the current version), comedy in a normally self-serious genre, talking to animals, and gobs more. This one is now near the top of my most-anticipated list. Tune in below.
Note: the first 15-20 mins are pretty demo-y, but it becomes more of a dialogue after that. More from our extremely lengthy chat will be coming soon, too. Those bits escaped the video, sadly, but I caught them and smashed them with a mallet until sticky word pools were all that remained.
I haven't watched this yet myself, but apparently it's quite spoileriffic, so beware.
Adventure through a world rife with peril and intrigue, to solve a dangerous mystery in this fantasy, turn-based CRPG.
Tactical Turn-Based Combat: There is a wealth of tactical options available to each of your characters, each round. Melee attack, ranged attack, cast spell, sneak attack, attack of opportunity, bull rush, use magic item, drink potion, feint, overrun, read scroll, ready defense, total defense, use skill, use ability, etc. This wide range of tactical options requires a turn-based combat system that lets you weigh up your best move whilst the game action is paused. Enemy artificial intelligence has access to the same range of actions, and in addition will perform strategies like flanking and using cover and elevation, to attempt to get the best of you.
Physics-Based Emergent Gameplay: Want to cast Earthquake to bring a cave roof down? The Physics Engine calculates what happens next - who has to make Reflex saves to avoid or reduce damage and who is safe from flying debris. Physics introduces an extra element of randomness beyond just dice rolls and can lead to a series of connected events that result in entirely new outcomes in each encounter.
Puzzles and Traps: The world of Subterranea itself will provide a number of environmental challenges. Collapse a rope bridge to plunge some enemies to their death? You'll need to figure out how to get across that chasm now. I hope you've packed your rope.
Branching Dialogue with Choice and Consequence: You'll need to develop some skills in Diplomacy, Bluff and/or Intimidation to thrive when pitted against the machinations of the game's antagonists.
Deep Character Customization: When creating your characters, you will be able to assign ability scores, race (7 options), class (11 options), gender, appearance attributes, skills, feats and spells to produce highly customized characters.
The game features deadly intrigue, murky and conflicting agendas, a sprawling megadungeon to conquer and ultimately a mystery that lurks far beneath the surface of Vengarth Swamp!
To learn more about the game's premise and the reasons it seeks exactly 12,500 Australian dollars, check out the Kickstarter page. You can also support Subterranea on Steam Greenlight.
StarCrawlers is a sci-fi randomly generated dungeon crawler, and it is now 100% funded on Kickstarter, and RPGWatch has done an interview about it. Have a snippet:
RPGWatch: I noticed that dungeon crawl games seem to be on the rise with indie developers. Was there a reason on why you guys choose to make one?
Juggernaut: We grew up playing games like Dungeon Master, Ultima Underworld, Unlimited Adventures, and more recently Etrian Odyssey and Legend of Grimrock, so those are obvious influences for us creating a dungeon crawler. We knew from the beginning we wanted to do a party-based RPG with a Diablo 2 style emphasis on character specs and loot, giving you virtually endless potential for developing and improving your crew. Plus we just really like dungeon crawling.
RPGWatch: In your game description you mention mention the game will be randomly generated. Can you go into more details on how it will work, and how the story will tie into it?
Juggernaut: Our procedural content generation is something we’ve gotten a lot of questions about, and more than a few raised eyebrows, which we welcome. The obvious question is “how can you tell a compelling story if your content is completely randomly generated?”. Well, you can’t - if we’re just slapping rooms together and sprinkling in random mobs and items, then the player is telling the story with their actions and we’ve got something more roguelike. While that’s awesome and can be fun to play, that’s not what we’re trying with StarCrawlers.
On the mission level, we’re focusing on content generation that is based off a specific story. The Narrative AI system looks at the scenario of the mission you’re on and creates appropriate content, with randomized elements, that match the story. For example: you accept a job to infiltrate Titan Metallurgy and extract one of their employees for another corporation to interrogate. The employee in question is being transported in cryo to one of Titan’s remote facilities, so you’re going to sneak aboard the transport ship and extract them before arrival. Given that scenario, the Narrative AI has a lot of factors to work with when building out the mission level: your reputation with Titan, the corp offering the job, your difficulty settings, your reputation for being bloodthirsty or professional, and so on. This all can be factored into random variables in the level: where the employee is and how much info you have going in, how they’ll react if you accidently wake them, how long until the ship reaches it’s destination, the security detail of the ship, etc.
The goal with our procedural content is to tell a fresh take on the story with successive playthroughs, and we’re excited by the possibilities!
RPGWatch: Looking at the project you decided to ask for $65,000. Is it enough to fund the game, and how did you decide the final amount?
Juggernaut: We’ve already invested about twice that much in the development of StarCrawlers, and what we asked for is enough to take the game to the finish line, at least the base version. We’d love to get into some of the stretch goals as well so we can expand our selection of character classes, add hero class enemies and elite mini-bosses as well.
Daedalic Entertainment's Blackguards took us by surprise. Who would have expected a German adventure game studio to make a great tactical RPG, of all things? And yet, as you may recall, our early preview of the game was, nitpicking aside, positively glowing. It's taken us long enough since that preview and the game's official release in January, but we are now ready to present our final verdict on Daedalic's RPG debut, penned again by Darth Roxor and felipepepe. Have a snippet on encounter design and then be sure to read the full review:
Darth Roxor: Fighting. There’s a lot of it. In fact, it is pretty clear to me that if you don’t like combat-centric RPGs, you will not like Blackguards. However, if you do like RPG combat, this game presents a very rare treat that is fairly unique within the spectrum of the cRPG genre, and I can say that with a straight face. It achieves that thanks to a few factors, the primary one being its excellent encounter design.
You see, Blackguards seems to have a different design philosophy behind it compared to other RPGs. When you think about “difficulty” in other games in the genre, the first thing that comes to mind is usually those shitty solutions used by incompetent developers, like enemies with ridiculously bloated HP that kill you in one hit. Others will just keep the one-hit-kill part. More competent ones will come up with superior enemy AI and varied combat encounters. Daedalic obviously went for the last solution, but even then, their approach is still considerably different from other tacticool games you might have played, since it supplements mixed groups of enemies possessing different strengths and weaknesses with complex environmental interaction, that makes many of the game's fights feel a lot like puzzles. You will often be outnumbered and outgunned, against enemies armed with things like poisoned weaponry and traps, but you'll be able to offset that with careful tactical consideration and tool management. [...]
Felipepepe: I said it in the preview, and I’ll repeat it here: Daedalic’s vast experience in adventure games can be fully felt in the way they approach encounter design. Baldur’s Gate 2 is often praised for its vast bestiary and great encounter design. I dare say that Blackguards has equally great encounter design, although from a different “school”.
Since every encounter happens in a unique arena specifically designed for it, the developers had the freedom to play with various things. There are holes that spawn enemies, time limits, movable and destructible objects, healing orbs, falling chandeliers, mechanical blades, flying dragons, falling stalactites, rotating fire traps, swamp gas, giant tentacles, mind-controlling plants, draw bridges, collapsing passageways, a giant cage on a crane… there is not a single RPG out there that offers so many interesting things to do during combat. Honestly, Blackguards is a lesson in encounter design that every RPG player AND developer should experience, to see what a creative team can do when thinking outside of the genre's standard templates. Daedalic even had the guts to make skeletons properly immune to arrows and swords, as they should be.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall, the promised "Berlin DLC" expansion pack for Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun Returns, has just been released. The latest Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter update has the details:
Today is the day!!
At 10am PST February 27, your Steam, GOG and Humble Store keys were officially activated. Backers and folks who bought the Collectors Edition of SRR can now download their free copy of Shadowrun: Dragonfall.
In addition, we have updated Shadowrun Returns to version 1.2, and added the ability to save your game at any time (and in any story, including Dead Man’s Switch AND User-Generated Content).
It’s hard to believe that one of our Kickstarter stretch goals has grown into such a major release for our little studio. Dragonfall is actually much bigger than our original campaign - some completionist-type folks are reporting as much as 18 hours long!
Beyond the new campaign, city, characters, equipment, portraits, enemies, save functionality, and editor features, you’ll find lots of small improvements in the game. We really went all out for this expansion and we hope you like it as much as we do.
[...] As you can imagine, we’re anxiously waiting to see how the world receives our new story. We put a lot into it and hope it shows how hard we’ll work to grow and improve the Shadowrun experience if we get the chance.
We’re very grateful for all the support you’ve given us over the last 23 months. It’s been a pleasure bringing Shadowrun back to the screen for you.
The DLC is now available on Steam and GOG for the price of $15. If you want to see how it looks like before you buy, you might want to check out this Let's Play video by HBS's Mitch Gitelman and Mike McCain. Be warned, however, that Mitch's narration of NPC dialogue is very annoying. Expect to see our own review of Dragonfall sometime in the near future.
After the shutdown of Troika Games in 2005, its founders, who were co-creators of the original Fallout, each went their separate ways. Tim Cain would work on the MMO Wildstar for six years before eventually reuniting with his old co-workers at Obsidian. Jason Anderson had short stints at both Interplay and inXile (where he was involved with the initial design of Wasteland 2) before joining up with Turtle Rock Studios, creators of Left 4 Dead. And Leonard Boyarsky...well, he joined Blizzard to work on Diablo III.
Yeah, I know. It's been eight years now and we're still scratching our heads over that one. Well, the folks at PCGamesN were curious about this too, and they had the opportunity to ask him about it at a recent event. Here's what they learned:
Suddenly, it makes sense. Why, in the early days of Diablo III, did Blizzard hire Leonard Boyarsky - one of the originators of the Fallout series, and later lead developer on Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines - to head up story on a linear action RPG?
Here’s why: an early version of Diablo III had a branching narrative, and a sliding moral scale that opened up new player choices. But it was not to be.
“That was one of the roads we went down early on when I first started,” Boyarsky told PCGamesN at a recent Reaper of Souls event. “And that was one of the reasons I think that they were interested in me joining the team, was because I had experience with that kind of RPG, and we were really interested in exploring that.”
Boyarsky has remained Diablo III’s lead world designer for the past eight years - but in that time he’s come to believe that “you really can’t have an action RPG that has player choice”.
“It’s because it moves quickly, but I think the bigger issue has to do with multiplayer,” he explained. “Because if we offer you two different paths and I want to take a different path to my friend, how do we then reconcile that?”
Boyarsky noted that other multiplayer RPGs released since Diablo III have attempted solutions to the same problem - but in the process rendered choice-making “very superficial”. And that’s not something the man who designed Fallout 1’s endings is interested in.
“If I’m making an RPG where you have choice, I want it to matter,” he said. “And it was really not possible to make it matter and to make this game.”
During Diablo III’s development, the story team would have multiplayer meetings every two weeks - and every time they’d leave with “headaches and no answers”.
“Because every time we came up with a solution it was like, ‘Well, what happens when your friend does this’,” said Boyarsky. “We just never really came up with a good solution.
“If you’re making an action RPG, especially a multiplayer one, it really makes it impossible to go down that road.”
Players would have had branching conversation choices - and a ‘corruption’ system would have seen players gain access to different conversation options as their characters fell from grace.
In the end, though, Boyarsky and his colleagues told a linear story that was easily skippable for the portion of Diablo’s playerbase who were solely interested in loot.
“I think eventually we came down too hard on the side of the players who didn’t really want a lot to do with the story,” said Boyarsky. “And that was very problematic because our story started out as something a lot more complex than we could probably tell in the context of what we were doing.
“And instead of us realising that soon enough and really stripping that down, we continued to try to tell that story.”
In this week's Pillars of Eternity Kickstarter update, lead narrative designer Eric Fenstermaker finally gets to take center stage. It seems that the man was well chosen for the role, because the update is of large, almost Torment-esque proportions. Here's a small part of it, in which Eric describes the process of companion design:
Companions may be my favorite things about RPGs. Long after you've finished the game, looking back, if they're done well, they feel like old friends. Lately we have been ramping up our companion writing. (We really did have a discussion about one of those designs today, and did some iteration on it.) As such, I've been giving a lot of thought of late as to what our goals should be in creating the companions for Pillars of Eternity, and I thought they'd be worth sharing with the people we're designing them for. These are a few of the benchmarks I want us to try to hit:
It's common in most types of fiction for major characters (or the protagonist at the very least) to follow an arc, in which their character begins a certain way and ends up being changed by the events of the story, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But for a video game, that's not really taking advantage of the medium. This is a story about the player's character, told by the player's actions. It stands to reason that the ways in which a companion would change should be dependent on what the player does.
So we have an arc for each of our companions, but each arc has multiple potential endpoints, in just the same way that the plot has multiple endings. Which endpoint the arc ends up at will be, in one way or another, determined by what the player does - whether it's something they say or an action they take or some other choice they make. This was an approach we last took in Fallout: New Vegas and I thought it was something to definitely keep.
Unique, Varied, Relatable Ambassadors
Chris Avellone touched on this in a previous update, and it remains a core goal for us. Pillars of Eternity takes place in a brand new setting. Most players won't know their boreal dwarf chanters from their hearth orlan ciphers. Getting to know companions that run the gamut of races, classes, and cultures will help the setting come alive and hopefully become a place players will find themselves wanting to stay awhile. Each companion, in a sense, becomes an ambassador for his or her race, culture, and class.
And we only have so many companions. So they can't all be snarky elves (or can they?) - they need different characterizations, different voices, different struggles. As a designer, you never know what's going to strike a nerve with a given player. Rarely for our games is there a universal favorite companion - almost always there seems to be an even distribution for how many players like each character. In some ways that's maddening, because how do you adjust for that, but it's also one of the best things about writing companions - as long as you write a character that is authentic in its humanity, somewhere, somebody is going to identify with it, and that will be the character they enjoyed spending time with the most. By varying widely the particulars of each companion's persona and struggles, the hope is that while not everybody will necessarily love every companion, most will find at least one that means something to them.
Lanterns to the Themes
"Why should the player care?" is a question we try to ask ourselves for all aspects of the narrative. When it comes to plot, the question is answered by its themes - they make the plot about something more than a physical struggle.
But again, our narrative is interactive. The themes shouldn't be predetermined morals. There should be many facets to them, and it should fall to the player, not the designer, to decide what his or her perspective winds up being on the theme. To take a well-worn example, if the theme is about the struggle of good vs. evil (don't worry, it's not), the ending shouldn't simply assert that good always triumphs over evil. It should ask the player what he or she believes, given everything they've learned on their journey. Maybe they even surprise themselves with their choice.
That's where companions come in. If we're designing them well, their struggles should tie into the themes on some level. And the resolution they come to, which, because of the interactive dynamism discussed above, is influenced by the player, gives them a distinct perspective on the theme. The goal is that in the process of helping the companions resolve their conflicts, we give the player something to think about for what that might mean in the context of his or her own character, and in the long run, that gives the themes personal meaning when it comes time to resolve them for the player character.
I'd be interested to hear, what do all of you think? Not so much specific characterizations, but more, what are the abstract qualities that make you enjoy and remember a companion? (e.g. They made you laugh, they seemed like a real person, their quest was engrossing, etc.)
Watch out, Eric, you ask for advice like that and at least half the audience will describe Minsc and Boo. Other than that, there's the usual introductions, a tongue-in-cheek description of Eric's work day, and also a nice bit of lore about the Eternity setting's undead. Oh, and also the news that the development team will be doing an AMA on Reddit later today, at 17:30 PST. Might be worth checking out if you're still awake then.
Indeed, I just wanted to post a news item on BioWare, which we haven't done in a long, long time, it seems.
Anyway, the company that the RPG Codex knows and loves, BioWare, has been announced to cooperate with the indie studio Failbetter Games, whose games Fallen London and Sunless Sea I doubt anyone here has even heard about nevermind played (yeah, me neither), on a Super Sekret Unannounced Projekt. All we have is this short notice posted on the Failbetter Games website:
Keeping secrets doesn’t come naturally to us. We are excitable: we love our work: we love talking about our work.
But for the last year, on and off, we’ve been working in absolute secrecy on a project for a much larger company. When we’ve gone quiet for no obvious reason, it’s because we’ve been heads-down on this. When I’ve mentioned that we don’t take client work any more, with rare exceptions, this is the rare exception.
We’ve finally been allowed to lift one corner of the veil. I can’t tell you anything at all about the project – not for a little while yet – except to say that it’s a Failbettery one, down to its bones. But I can tell you the name of the company:
We are thrilled about this. We can’t wait to say more.
Wouldn't you be thrilled to work with David Gaider himself?
(And thrilled he was.)
The description of FG's Fallen London game does sound fairly Codexian, though:
Welcome to a dark and hilarious Victorian-Gothic underworld, where every choice has a consequence, from the style of your hat to the price of your soul.
Yes, it's a CYOA. I wonder if the next game is one, too. BioWare jealous of Age of Decadence's success? Stay tuned for more.
As you may have heard, Eidos Montreal released a mobile-exclusive spinoff of Deux Ex: Human Revolution last year, by the name of Deus Ex: The Fall. We don't do mobile games here on the Codex, but now they've made the wise (and predictable) choice of bringing it to the PC. From the Square Enix company blog:
Following last year’s release on mobile devices, we’re really happy to now announce that Deus Ex: The Fall is coming to Steam on March 25.
The game’s been adapted for the PC, meaning (of course) full keyboard/mouse controls, but also a whole bunch of other little bits too - so if you didn’t fancy dipping into Ben Saxon’s story previously, now would be an eminently sensible time to reconsider. After all, the game was produced with the original creative team from the superb Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and there's the small matter of new tracks penned by none other than Michael McCann...
The Steam version will sell for £7.99/€9.99/$9.99, but if you pre-order the game now (or grab it for a limited time after launch) you’ll also get the original Deus Ex – Game of the Year Edition as well, for free... and if you’ve already have DE:GOTY, you’ll be able to gift it to somebody else instead!
So what’s on the complete feature list, compared to last year's mobile version of the game?
No in-game purchase options
28 Steam achievements
Steam Trading Cards, Badges and (TBC)
Full keyboard and Mouse control optimisation
Rebalanced game economy taking into account no IAP
The Wasteland 2 beta received its first major update today. The new version's features, which include a completely new UI and improved combat mechanics, were demonstrated live on camera by the crew at inXile:
This is just a short update to notify all of you that some of the things we've been talking about of late are now live: the beta update, the $10 add-on and some new videos. First and foremost, the large beta update has just gone live on Steam.
The full list of fixes and tweaks runs well over 2000, you can view the long patch note list here, which runs the gamut from optimization to fixing small and large bugs to expanding the game's content. We also updated the beta's reference card and expanded it a little bit. As a reminder, this update will break existing save games.
The most immediate difference you'll notice will of course be the updates character and inventory screens. Update 43 had the goods on that so I won't go over it again in detail, we're looking forward to seeing people play around with it. Other than just looking better the new inventory adds a lot of functionality such as an all-party inventory and direct mouse-over comparisons between an item with your currently equipped item (by holding shift).
The second big thing is the addition of the fifth major location in Arizona, the Prison, which was formerly the Ranger Center, now taken over by a rival militia. Ranger Team Echo heads into the Prison in search of ways into Damonta, a town seemingly unreachable beyond a radiation wall.
Combat sees a significant overhaul in this update. We added stances and expanded the use of destructible cover and height advantages and ladders used by enemies. These combat improvements are still WIPs so expect more iteration and functionality going forward.
Of course there are a lot of smaller updates to existing areas. We changed and expanded the ways some of the major scenarios in the first areas play out, as well as adding smaller events and missions, many of which have an impact on larger quests down the line. And just as a reminder, while the beta is limited in areas we are simultaneously working on later areas in the game, tweaking and iterating and applying the lessons learned from the beta.
Here's a list of the major new updates in this version, from the patch notes:
Brand new icon based inventory, character sheet, skill screen and support UI elements
Huge combat pass. Animations (tons of new death and damages), SFX, VFX, AI all greatly improved.
Added destructible cover
Surgeon and Field medic have been greatly improved. Now when using the skill, a list appears with all useable items
Quality Settings check on game load.
Added Mechanical Repair Skill
Introducing grenadiers and heavy weapons AI experts
Added Prison map
Added reactivity state where both Highpool and Ag Center can fall.
Multiple improvements have been made to the save game system which were causing save games to not load
Multiple engine optimizations have been made to increase performance.
Multiple compatibility fixes.
The destructible cover is pretty cool - check out the battle at around the 42 minute mark of the livestream for an example. And there's lots more where that came from, including important features such as "Ag Center: Add cow shit to east field, make sure all shit has good examine text".
If you're a Wasteland 2 Kickstarter backer who didn't pledge enough to get the beta, you can grab it now for ten bucks over at Ranger Center.