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2004: The Year in Review

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2004: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by Vault Dweller on Mon 27 December 2004, 21:35:11

Tags: The Year in Review

2004: The Year in Review

We're back again with the 2004 edition of our Year in Review feature (check out our thoughts on 2003 here). The goal is to establish the chronicles of the CRPG industry year by year, to tell the future noobs about times when the mass market ruled the Earth (that is, before they ruled the Universe). Anyway, without further ado, RPG Codex presents important events, people, and products of 2004, and explains why they sucked - or didn't.

BioWare's New Super Original IP Revealed: Dungeons & Dragons Age

BioWare mostly kept a low profile in 2004, being hard at work on the best and the latest form of CRPG entertainment - Dragon Age, a game that's supposed to have it all: annoying party banter from Baldur's Gate II, dull "tactical" combat from Knights of the Old Republic, and the "make your own crappy module" aspect of Neverwinter Nights.

Although the early interviews spoke of somewhat unique dwarf- and elf-like races, they were promptly upgraded into more familiar and easily recognized dwarves and elves. I guess that a market survey has indicated that Bio fans are as stupid as RPG Codex implied and they can't understand the concept of a dwarf-like race:

Bio: We are introducing new races in our brand new and uber original game Dragon Age. What do you think of that?
Bio fan: I dunno. What kinda races? Aliens? Like from that movie I saw?
Bio: [patiently] No, no, nothing like that. In fact, they will be very familiar to you. Think of a short stocky fella who lives underground.
Bio fan: I dunno. A hobo?
Bio: [slightly irritated] No, not a hobo. We are talking about a fantasy character here. So, once again, a short stocky guy with a beard, lives underground, and makes stuff.
Bio fan: I'm confused now. Santa doesn't live underground, everyone knows that. What kinda lame-ass game is that?
Bio: [pissed] It's a fucking dwarf, you fucking imbecile! Is it so fucking difficult to comprehend?!
Bio fan: Why didn't you say that it was a dwarf? I get it now: a short, stocky fella, lives underground...
Bio: [really pissed] Because it's not a fucking dwarf! It's a dwarf-LIKE character!
Bio fan: Likes who?
Bio: [confused] Huh? Who likes what?
Bio fan: You've just said that this dwarf likes some character. Who? Drizzt?
Bio: Forget it. The game has dwarves and elves. And Drizzzt, with 3 zeds. It's a copyright thing.
Bio fan: Yay!

Of course, we can't mention Bio and say nothing about "Bio and the amazing hype machine". This year hype claims that for the first time you will be able to choose how the story starts and ends, promises an awesome storyline, now with 25% more key items to collect (that’s 5 items in total now, for mathematically challenged), and states that Bio people are "the most talented, creative, and original people in the world". Yep, that's the exact quote. I guess that's why Bio games are so original and creative. Can we have more dwarves over here, please?

It's worth noting that Bioware has even managed to score a Developer of the Year award somehow, despite the fact that they haven't released anything this year. That just goes to show that you don't have to actually do anything as long as people are convinced that you did. RPG Codex wishes Bioware and its awesome staff a Merry Christmas and hopes that we'll see more games as great and innovative as the ones you guys made in 2004!

A New Evil Has Awoken: Bethesda Replaces Bioware as the Top Villain

Bethesda, developer of the odious Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has sunk deeper into the abyss of mass-market friendly games (rated R for retarded), lies, and greed by snatching the sacred Fallout license from Troika's financially weak fingers, and attempting to dumb down the already dumbed down gameplay in Oblivion, the fourth chapter in the Elder Scrolls series.

Oblivion is the next revolutionary and uber immersive RPG based on the brilliant design of Todd Howard. The winning formula is "Fantasy, for us, is a knight on horseback running around and killing things". So, expect a lot of running around and looking for things to kill. The game looks very pretty and the prettiness continues taking its toll. The game will be shorter because "statistically gamers prefer shorter games and often do not finish more involved titles", so clearly there is no point in making deep long games. Some weapons, like crossbows and darts, have already been dumped, because cool people use bows, and uncool people should pretend that they are cool and use bows too.

Oblivion will fix some bugs that Morrowind had. For example, when you join one major faction some script error won't let you to join the other two. Todd has assured us that this was fixed and now you can join and "become the head of every faction all during the course of one game". Todd, you are an inspiration to every developer out there.

The Fallout license: Strike Three

The Fallout games are popular, there's no doubt about it. People want to play Fallout games, and people want to make Fallout games, but for some reasons they don't want to make games like the ones that made the setting a perpetual gamer favourite. Instead, they insist on making crappy games that suck. Oh well...

Bethesda wanted to make a distinctive looking non-fantasy game based on the same technology as Oblivion to maximize the revenues for a long time, and the infamous Fallout license was the best choice. It's sci-fi, it's dark, it fits very well into the Bethesda's RPG concept (just replace tombs with tiny little vaults, and you're halfway done!), and it's well known and anticipated.

Needless to say, new and improved Fallout 3 will be neither isometric, nor turn-based, nor PC exclusive (pro tip for the uninitiated: multiplatform development has a funny tendency to screw over the PC version), but, hey, it's a free country. It's your right to be stupid. Bethesda PR man Pete Hines has stated that the game will be using existing technologies and that Bethesda is "not going to suddenly do a top-down isometric Baldur's Gate-style game, because that's not what we do well". The interesting thing to note here is that what Hines didn't say was "we're not going to suddenly do a top-down isometric Fallout-style game..." Seems to me that this sentence loses none of its original meaning and effectively conveys the truth about BethSoft's Fallout 3 quite clearly. While Bethesda has stopped talking about FO3 since the shit storm hit their forums, some details, like survival horror-esque nature of the game, the light sensitivity feature, and Riddick-style goggles are slowly leaking out. Regardless of whether these are just early design ideas or not, they indicate one thing - FO3 won't be isometric. [Hint] Todd Howard: I'd say the impact the original had in its day was about so much more then the angle you viewed it at, or how combat was executed [/Hint]

Still, I was glad to learn that Fallout 3, isometric or not, will be made by true Fallout fans who love the games and the setting. No, seriously. Gavin Carter, aka Kathode, even said: "I've played Fallout, I love Fallout. Todd has played Fallout, Todd loves Fallout. Tons of people in the company have played and loved Fallout. If I find out they haven't played Fallout, I will make them"

Now, the memorable quotes: "I also need to find time to play through Fallout 2 now, which is a game I never got to"; "I loved Fallout 1 and 2 because of the story. I absolutely hated the combat because real-time was a little too frantic and turn-based was a little too slow"; "it's gritty drug-and-prostitute-speckled irreverence is still at the core"; "At its core, it's a survival game", etc. Looks like our friend Gavin has a lot of work ahead of him in the new year.

A Man Called Carsten

There's nothing that Fallout fandom loves like a pariah, and while we're talking about that much-abused franchise, let's bring up the new supervillain on the post-apoc RPG scene, Carsten Strehse. Carsten is the bigwig at German RPG developer Silver Style, the guys behind big hits like... um... Gorasul: Legacy of the Dragon, one of the worst Baldur's Gate clones ever. Well, okay, bad example, but there's also Soldiers of Anarchy, which is... one of the biggest commercial flops and most awful games in years. Silver Style and Carsten obviously have a checkered past in game development.

But Carsten, God bless 'im, just wouldn't give up. Some people were enthusiastic about Silver Style's upcoming post-apocalyptic RPG The Fall: Last Days of Gaia (most likely people who hadn't played Soldiers of Anarchy), a lot of whom were disabused Fallout fans denied their sequel from the now defunct Black Isle Studios. Carsten, noting how many Fallout fans were using his game as a surrogate for the FO3 they wanted, seized the opportunity for some easy marketing. First, there were subtle rumblings of Silver Style securing the rights to make official Fallout sequels from the rapidly dying Interplay. Now, even if this wasn't complete bullshit tossed out by Carsten to drum up interest in his hopelessly mediocre The Fall (hey... Fall... Fallout... coincidence? Maybe.), he didn't really have a hope anyways because German developers with two huge flops under their belts don't generally have the bankroll to compete with companies like Bethesda that actually have money (which is a substitute for game developing talent today). Anyways, Carsten's gentle murmuring--and keep in mind nobody was even thinking of Bethesda as a suitor for Fallout at the time--kept some Fallout fans interested. Seeing the response this got him, Carsten kicked the whole thing into overdrive. He went ahead and hired Damien "Puuk" Foletto, one of the designers from Black Isle's Fallout 3 to "work" on The Fall.

Now let's consider a few things: Damien Foletto, at the time, likely lived in the Los Angeles area, which is in California, on the west coast of the United States. Meanwhile, Carsten's team was plugging away over in Germany. Telecommuting? Let's also consider that Carsten was desperate to make his name among Fallout fans. What better way to do that than to hire a real FO dev? And finally, let's consider that Puuk left Silver Style just a few weeks after he got hired to take a job at Electronic Arts (in the business, we call those "real jobs" as opposed to the "fake job" he had with Carsten). Anyone else noting the painfully transparent marketing ploy here?

The whole point I'm getting to here is this: Carsten Strehse is an asshole. It makes me very happy that his game, while having been released to a lukewarm reception throughout Europe, still has no prospects of coming to North America anytime soon. The lesson here for other devs is this: don't be an asshole. Don't be a vulture, preying on dying licenses and desperate fanbases to promote your games. And for the love of god, don't make awful games like Soldiers of Anarchy.

Interplay is STILL Alive

Well, on the one hand, it's definitely dead, because it's kinda hard to think of Herve's mom's basement as Interplay. But on another hand, it's legally alive, kicking, and looking for some fools to finance the latest chapter in "How Every Decision I Made at Interplay Was Way More Stupid Than the Previous One" (Vol. 1), a book by Herve Caen, a moron extraordinaire. Herve is making an MMORPG now, the infamous Fallout Online, "FOOL". I guess soon he will be joining internet forums and typing "I r maeking kewl MMORPG!!111 OMG! do u want to join my team?"

Obsidian: Making Sequels Since 1998

Obsidian Entertainment, Bioware's trusty sidekick, has scored some crumbs off the Bio's table: KOTOR 2: Attack of the Clones and NWN 2: Everything Fallout fans have asked for since Fallout 2!(TM) Since Feargus Urquhart has mentioned his ideas about Knights of the NEW Republic, it would take a rather cold day in hell to see an original game with the Obsidian logo on it.

It's still to early to judge either of those games, but so far KOTOR 2 doesn't appear to live up to the expectations. According to the Xbox reviews the game has followed the original so closely that you feel that you've definitely played that before. Many cool features like advanced skills use and the influence systems are being reported as minor gimmicks that have little effect on the gameplay. Needless to say, trusting a review these days is like trusting a paid advertisement, so let's hope that KOTOR 2 lead designer MCA's reputation for excellent RPG design is well deserved.

Troika Disappoints ... Again

Troika continues to live up to its reputation of a brilliant RPG developer who can't release a game without some absolutely idiotic design decisions that reduce a perfect 10 to a mediocre 7.5. In Temple of Elemental Evil someone forgot to add a storyline. In this year's Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, someone added FPS mini-games as an extra bonus that nobody asked for. Coincidentally, the FPS part screws the RPG part as diplomatic characters don't do very well when faced with infinite respawning hordes of enemies.

More dismaying is the company's inability to responsibly support its products. ToEE, one of the buggier releases in recent times, was broken even more by some compatability issues with Windows XP Service Pack 2--issues that have yet to be solved. Many would blame the game's publisher Atari for that, and that's fair, to a certain extent--they sat on the two patches for ToEE released thus far for ages before finally releasing them--but Troika still deserves some flak for it. And this year's Troika title, Bloodlines, also has some severe technical issues, including a severe, game-breaking bug that affects a significant minority of players. Besides that, the game's performance leaves a lot to be desired and the whole thing really needs a lot of bug fixes and optimisation. But is there a patch? Nope. Again, publisher Activision, who have a history of less than stellar patch support, may have some hand in these issues, but Troika still isn't blameless.

Blast From the Past

May 2003:
Leon Boyarsky: "While embracing the action elements afforded to us by using Valve's technology, this game is still a Troika RPG with complex dialogue trees, rich character development, deep quests, plus non-linear, open-ended gameplay that allows the player to create their character any way they want from any of seven different Vampire clans."

Another Chapter in the Baldur's Gate Drama

Baldur's Gate is another license that's about to be raped Fallout-style. The daring and creative Atari executives (everyone knows executives are the ones best suited to make design decisions--accounting and business degrees have quality game design built right into the curriculum!) aren't afraid to do what everyone else does these days and move the camera a bit closer for cinematic effects. As one executive producer said: "You want to see the fear in the orc's eye as you blast him with a fireball, don't you?" In case you are wondering how you are supposed to see the fear in a tiny isometric orc's avatar, you're not. The orc's gonna be in your face and neither he nor the game is going to be isometric. Not much is known about the game, other then the fact that it should be epic, cutting edge, epic, revolutionary, and, did we mention epic?

Developer of the Year: DW Bradley - The Search for a Clue Continues

Although many developers have distinguished themselves, we feel that DW Bradley, the captain of Dungeon Lords, a ship that didn't get to set sail (and hopefully sink) this year, deserves this honor:

"During the past several decades my approach to creating leading edge RPG and my computer game design philosophy has evolved quite a bit, and Dungeon Lords is a quantum leap, the crowning achievement of a lifetime's worth of experience to create a new class of RPG that really takes you there.

"Dungeon Lords is a game totally devoid of the mindless and repetitious point-and-click or turn-based combat or fatiguing micromanagement that--to this day--continues to plague almost all other RPG games."

Sadly, that quantum leap of a game sucked so badly that it had to miss the shopping frenzy season known as Christmas and that's gotta tell you something.

Great Indie Games of 2004 That You've Missed Because You Are a Graphics Whore

If you can count on somebody to provide quality RPG entertainment that would be Spiderweb Software, a little shareware RPG factory that celebrated its 10th birthday this year, released Blades of Avernum, and announced Geneforge 3 to keep you busy in 2005.

Blades of Avernum is a remake of Blades of Exile, featuring 4 scenarios and an editor to make your own adventures and play other people's modules. Yeah, just like NWN, only it doesn't suck. BoA, just like other Spiderweb games, offers you plenty of turn-based combat, a skill-based, classless character system, and a custom made party of adventurers that you can take from one scenario to another. The scenarios are pretty neat and will remind you of times when graphics sucked but gameplay was great, unlike today when gameplay consists of looking at pretty pictures and admiring them particle effects.

Another great game from this year is Gearhead, a game that takes place after the Earth is nearly destroyed by nuclear war, featuring giant robots, different cities, and hundreds of NPCs, all tied together by randomly generated storylines. It's a cool game, but hey, don't take my word for it. As one of our regular forum posters said, "It's easily the best RPG I've played in the last 12 months. Open ended with lots of exploring, a huge arsenal of weapons, factions, turn based personal and mech combat (and mech customization,) and loads of skills that are actually usefull. All of this is backed up by a very solid point-buy skill system". Could it really get any better than that?

Anyway, folks, have a good holiday time, and we'll see you all in 2005.


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