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Interview with Basilisk Games

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Interview with Basilisk Games

Interview - posted by Vault Dweller on Fri 3 February 2006, 22:58:18

Tags: Basilisk Games; Eschalon: Book I

1. Summarize the game for us, please, avoiding generalization and unnecessary words like epic.

Eschalon: Book I is a game that's been in development, in one form or another, for a couple years now. It's being designed specifically to feel like a classic, old-school RPG from the golden age of CRPGs. Notice I said Computer RPGs...console gamers who think they are getting another Zelda are going to be very disappointed.

The gameplay focuses heavily on character development and open exploration. The storyline deals with you tying to uncover your lost identity amidst events going on in the world around you. There are questions about honor, trust and revenge that you will be confronted with. While the game is very character focused, I can assure everyone that the fate of the world does not balance on your character's success or failure (i.e. you are NOT the chosen one).

2. Eschalon: Book 1 is the first part of a trilogy. Why trilogy? Is it an attempt to start a new series or does the story really demand 3 games to be told properly?

The idea is to create three games that share a common story arc and ruleset but can be played independently from each other, and each game incorporating different elements from classic CRPGs.

As with most other game series, a player shouldn't have to make it through Book I to get enjoyment out of Book II or III. Each game will be able to stand on its own, however gamers who do play the entire trilogy will find a satisfying ending to Book III which wraps up the complete storyline.

3. The game is advertised as non-linear. What does that mean and how does that fit into the "story-driven" trilogy thing?

By non-linear we mean to say that the player is not forced to follow a rigid storyline. E:B1 is completely open from the beginning and no area is "locked down" waiting for you complete certain goals before becoming accessible. You are free to follow the storyline, or wander off on side quests, or just explore for the sake of exploration. The game could even be played "Rogue-style" where you just explore and plunder until there's nothing left.

With the game being so open you may run into areas that are too much for you to handle early on...but hey, that's half the fun! No one is going to hold your hand through this adventure.

4. The screens looks like the engine is inspired by and/or licensed from Spiderweb Software, know for the Avernum and Geneforge series. What mechanics would make your game different from the Spiderweb games?

When I started this project I was very much influenced by Jeff Vogel's great RPGs. However, our game engine is not licensed from them and other than sharing a similar look, Eschalon is quite different than any of Spiderweb's games. I could probably fill a page listing the subtle and obvious differences between the game's designs, but it's easier to just leave that up to the players to see for themselves when the demo is released.

5. Eschalon promises to have a "turn-based yet fluid combat system keeps the action feeling near real-time." What exactly does that mean? Why do you want to present your system as "near real-time?" What a typical combat turn would be like?

Well, what we mean by that is we've tried to allow the combat rounds to flow with little or no delay, if the player wishes. The game is still purely turn-based; we've just tried to streamline the rounds during combat.

Here's a more technical description: as soon as you choose your attack, the game rapidly parses through all world events currently in queue, then calculates the results of each event based on initiative and other factors, and finally plays out the results for that round on the screen. If you click rapidly on targets during combat, the action can play out at a speed that appears about as fast as most "Action RPGs". But just like any other turn-based game, the moment you stop clicking the mouse, the engine halts until you decide your next action. Basically, if you like to play it fast, you can...or you can sit back and step through combat round-by-round for a more traditional, strategic approach.

6. Let's talk about dialogues. Are there any? What do they do, how, and why?

The game has a narrative script that provides localized descriptions of areas and events, sort of like what a Dungeon Master provides when you play D&D. This description varies based on your character's Perception Attribute and Spot Hidden Skill. As for dialogue between your character and NPCs, yes, there is quite a bit, however we've have tried to make sure dialogue doesn't crowd gameplay. For that reason, the dialogue trees do not get too convoluted and there's not an overabundance of pointless banter between NPCs and your character. Sometimes NPCs can add a lot to the storyline, and other times they just clutter things ups. Hopefully we've found a good balance.

7. What other non-combat activities are in the game? What does a skill like Cartography do? How do they affect gameplay?

All the Skills are based on a 1-100 range, with 100 being godlike and would require a lifetime of devotion to achieve. Cartography is a good Skill to talk about: the automap in the upper right corner of the screen does not work at all until you have at least one point in your Cartography Skill. With just one point, your automap will work but it will only produce a crude outline of your surroundings. The more points you allot to your Cartography skill, the better the automap will look as color and details emerge. Eventually you can even get creatures and NPC locations to show up on the automap if your Skill rating gets high enough. Other non-combative Skills such as Lockpicking, Skullduggery (trap disarming), and Move Silently work the same way.

8. How would the game react to who you are and what you do? One of the screenshots shows "Virtuous Kessian Rogue" description. Does Virtuous refer to any virtuous activities of that rogue or is it merely a title? If it's the former, what does a rogue have to do to be virtuous?

Your character's title is a reflection of Class and Axiom (personal beliefs) choices you make during the creation processes. It's meant to help identify the unique traits of your character and to give him certain advantages and disadvantages within the rules system. NPCs do not react to you by your title, but rather the reputation you make for yourself throughout the game. In the example you point out, the Virtuous Rogue is given the title "Rebel" (think Robin Hood) and gains certain positive and negative traits from that. How you play your character, and whether or not you take advantage of these beneficial traits, is up to you.

9. Tell us about the character system. What kind of characters can we expect to create and develop?

The story in E:B1 involves a human male character. You can develop this character in any way you want and master any combination of Skills, but to maintain storyline integrity we had to lock down your race and gender selections. To make up for the lack of racial choices, you do get to pick the region you hail from which gives you Attribute bonuses and has a similar effect to that of choosing a unique race.

You'll also choose a "Base Class" when creating your character. This gives you a bonus starting Skill and works with other factors in determining how certain rules are applied to your character, but ultimately character development is purely Skill and Attribute based. Class has no effect on weapon, armor or magic usage. So, you can become a sword-wielding Mage, a Healer-Rogue, or a barbarian Ranger...whatever you want.

10. It looks like the game is not party-based. Can you explain that design decision?

Well, mostly it was a preferential choice on my part. For some reason I've always enjoyed solo adventuring as there's something kind of hardcore about it. Also, my first experience in CRPGs was Ultima 2 on the Atari 800 back in 1983 which was solo adventuring, and that had a big effect on me.

That said, Book II will have party-based gameplay. That's actually been in the design docs from the beginning. As I mentioned before, we'd like to explore difference RPG elements in each Eschalon game.

11. Tell us about magic in the game. Is it just another way of killing things or does it do something else?

Yes, magic in E:B1 covers a wide variety of combative and non-combative functions, and all spells can be cast at one of six intensity levels which increases or even alters the spell's effect. This way, a spell you acquire when you are a novice can grow with you and still be useable when you are a 20th level Mage. Spells are divided into two categories: "Divination" covers anything dealing with Spiritual and Organic realms, while "Elemental" covers pretty much everything else. There's also an Alchemy Skill for mixing potions, but that's not really magic. Our next round of screenshots will show off some magic usage.

12. Tell us about quest design. How simple or complex quests are? Can they be solved in different ways? Any examples?

For quests, we've chosen quality over quantity. We don't want the player to spend 70% of the game being a delivery boy. E:B1's main storyline will have many branching side quests, and we encourage the player to explore the game world as much as possible. If you discover a dungeon, figure out a way to get inside and plunder it! It you find a strange artifact, hang on to it...someone may ask for it later. This is how you should gain experience- not by running errands for NPCs. We want quests to be of value to the player and not just busy work to extend game play.

As for examples, it's a little early to talk about that. Quests are being developed and balanced as you read this, so it would be difficult for me to talk about any specific quests right now. Ask me again in a couple months.

13. The website mentions that Eschalon is "designed to feel like the great RPGs of the past such as Ultima®, Might & Magic®, and Wizardry®." What exactly does that mean and how does one design a game as good as the aforementioned titles?

I have played CRPGs for many, many years and it's painfully obvious that the genre I grew up enjoying is nearly gone now (with a few exceptions). The number one culprit here is the corporate take-over of the creative process, but I'll save that rant for another time. In designing E:B1 I started by going back and replaying the games that got me addicted in the first place. I literally have a dozen kick-ass old school RPGs on my PC right now that I play several times a week, especially when I am in a "development rut". I study play mechanics and how they dealt with balance issues, and I have worked hard to capture the feeling of a classic CRPG while at the same time implement ideas that I've had brewing in my head for over two decades.

With the Eschalon series, we're not trying to reinvent the genre. This game is by no means a technical tour-de-force. We're really just trying to make a CRPG that is fun to play and gives warm fuzzy feelings to gamers who remember the good ol' days.

Thank you for your time, Thomas.

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