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Knights of the Chalice Interview with Pierre Begue

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Knights of the Chalice Interview with Pierre Begue

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Mon 1 March 2010, 22:59:31

Tags: Knights of the Chalice

Indie developer Pierre Begue (Heroic Fantasy Games) of the acclaimed Knights of the Chalice, a turn-based CRPG based on the Open Game License 3.5, kindly decided to answer a few questions.


1. KotC received quite some acclaim among the hardcore RPG crowd, it scored 3rd place in the RPG Watch GOTY 2009 Poll, outperforming AAA titles such as Drakensang or Kings Bounty: Armored Princess and it also won the Gamebanshee Indie RPG of the Year 2009 Award. What do you think about that?

It's great that Knights of the Chalice received such a good reception from the CRPG websites. The problem with a lot of AAA titles is that they focus on 3D graphics to the detriment of almost everything else, like the AI, ease of use, player choices and tactical aspects. Often they are just too damn slow, in their loading times or walk animations. So a game can easily have a large budget combined with a poor entertainment value. That's why I hardly ever buy games. I was offered a copy of Crysis a few months ago and I have yet to open it. I was interested in Drakensang initially, due to the great ruleset. However, watching a gameplay video changed my mind. Movement seems too slow and the camera control seems terrible. It doesn't matter to me that the game looks great, it shouldn't make me wait and it should center on the action without me having to fight with the camera.

2. How did the rest of the gaming media react? Did KotC garner some success there as well? Did KotC's success generally meet your expectations?

Unfortunately, the game was mostly ignored by the gaming magazines. This is not surprising though, considering KotC's simple, low resolution graphics.

3. Ok so we established that KotC triggered a lot of positive reactions. But the key question is: Do you think creating RPGs tailored for this comparatively small niche market is viable? As in, you could do it professionally? It boils down to the question: have the sales been satisfactory?

The sales have been good enough to justify working on a second game, but not good enough for me to quit my job and work on a game full time. Yes, I think that the market for 2D turn-based RPGs is viable and has potential.

4. What did your experience with KotC teach you? Anything you regret or would do differently if you had the chance?

Certainly, with hindsight I would have done some things differently. The programming style I used (procedural) is very messy; going 100% object-oriented seems to be a better choice. I used the DirectX development kit, but OpenGL is in fact a much better choice, considering it’s cross-platform, simpler and does not require the user to download any extra files.
I'm quite happy with the way the game turned out, in fact I'd like to play it in Ironman mode at some point, but now I want to focus on creating a more reusable and graphically-pleasing game engine.

5. In contrast to most of today's RPGs you didn't include skills and skill dependent non-combat gameplay. Different skills are typically a prerequisite for alternate quest solutions, the handling of specific situations (diplomatic, combat, stealth etc.) and the like. What's your stance on that?

I am totally in favour of having distinct solutions to quests, but as a designer I prefer to leave it to the player to decide what course of action he would rather take. In other words, I am not in favour of leaving out options to bluff, lie, tell the truth, intimidate, or be diplomatic at any point just because a character lacks points in one skill or another. Now it may well be that you need to perform a skill check to see if the bluff or diplomacy was successful, but you could instead make a check based on one of the character's main abilities (Charisma, Wisdom, etc). So I don't see skills as essential to the system.
Furthermore, in my opinion, it's much more important and interesting for a CRPG to provide a few options with distinct follow-up outcomes, than a lot of options all leading to the same outcome (even if they go through a different skill check).

6. But shouldn't the skills of the character - not the mood of the player - decide how much of a smooth talker or stealthy ninja type he is? That's essential to RPGs. Is there really that much of a difference whether you use skills or stats checks, beside the fact that skills allow for greater character customization?

I think that there's a big difference between skills that describe intellectual abilities on the one hand, and skills that describe your physical prowess and magical powers on the other. As an adventure designer you don't want the intellectual skills of the characters to take precedence over the player's thinking.
For example if I was the Dungeon Master on a tabletop game and you, as a player, wanted to reduce the price of a flaming sword by 20%, I would not roll a D20 to see if you succeeded; I would ask you to demonstrate your own bargaining skill in talking. And if your character was stuck in a flooding room with three levers, each marked with different magic symbols, I would not roll for Spellcraft; I would show you a picture of the symbols and ask you which levers you want to pull. If at another point in the adventure, I want the players to meet an assassin claiming to be an innocent victim, I'm not going to roll for Sense Motive; I will give the players some subtle hints in talking and it will be up to them to detect inconsistencies. That's why I don't like the 'talking' skills very much; they are a replacement for the player's own intellect.
The Hide skill is another matter since it is part of the character's physical prowess. But then, in a combat-focused game I don't want the player to be able to skip most encounters by using the Hide and Move Silently skills.
I agree that there isn't much difference between using stat or skill checks. That's why I ignore skills completely and rely on the stats when a check is absolutely necessary, which is rare. Ultima Underworld had a very good skill system, but then it didn't have a Base Attack Bonus, Armor Class, spell slots, Strength, Dexterity, weapon feats, etc.

7. What are the most important aspects of a role-playing game for you and why? How should those be implemented into a CRPG ideally?

The most important aspect to me is the ability to transport players to a fictional world where they can make a difference. It is an escape from a boring or unpleasant daily routine. You get to explore a new world with different rules, cultures and creatures. Secondly, you don't have to play as yourself. Your character can be a fearsome warrior, a mighty sorcerer, a diminutive Halfling, a healer with the power to bring back people from the dead, a lowly goblin or anything else the DM allows.
Next, RPGs normally represent combat situations using a turn-by-turn system. The player characters can help each other and combine their powers so that the total effect is greater than the sum.
Lastly, a RPG usually gives a lot of freedom to the players in the way they may resolve problems. Say you had to cross a room with a bottomless pit. You can see a collapsed bridge on the other side. A Dungeon Master would allow plenty of solutions, like jumping, a levitation spell, catching the bridge with a grappling hook or by telekinesis, or creating a new bridge with a spell like Wall of Stone.

As for how to implement these elements in a CRPG, there is no single answer. Whether a game should allow the creation of a single character or a party is a matter of preference. Personally I enjoy party-based games more as you can have bigger battles with more tactical options. In terms of graphics, even a party-based game can use a 3D first-person representation; the Wizardry, Bard's Tale and Might and Magic series are like that. This representation has the advantage of greatly simplifying the combat engine. At the same time, you remove a lot of tactical considerations which are part of the fun in top-down games. In party-based games, I enjoy turn-by-turn combat a lot more than combat with a real-time-with-pause system, because you can coordinate your actions better and you can target spells much more effectively.
A CRPG should convey the uniqueness of its world through its narrative, graphics and choice of creatures, while the freedom of action can be implemented through scripted dialogue options (this is the case in most CRPGs) or simply by allowing a great number of character actions (this is the case in roguelike games).

8. In my opinion the combat engine and the AI of KotC is brilliant. In our last interview you told us that you'd like to make another game using the same engine. But now I read on your forum that you plan to abandon the KotC engine and start anew from scratch, which is a pity in my opinion. Should this indeed be the case, what are your reasons for that and have you ever thought of making the engine freeware/opensource at some point in the future?

My intention is not to abandon the KotC engine. Instead, I want to make it cross platform, allowing me to release Linux and Mac versions as well as Windows. This is essential for the game's sales potential.
The same AI and combat-engine code will definitely go into the next game. It's the graphical part that will receive most of the changes. The low-resolution graphics are a turn off for many people. Further, I want to switch from the Ultima VII angled perspective to a straight top-down perspective. For the AI, the new representation will be equivalent. At the same time, it will allow module designers to import in the game the sort of top-down battle maps that are used when playing tabletop adventures.
Regarding your last question, I have no plans to make the engine open source.

9. I'd wager for a lot of CRPG players it's a major part of the fun to build up different parties, check out different character builds and test them in challenging TB combat. Do you plan to include more classes, races, spells in a possible sequel and if yes, which ones?

Yes, definitely. However, the game is still at a very early stage of development; so don't take what I'm telling you now as if it was written in stone. I have been planning to add the Barbarian and Paladin classes for a long time now. They should not be very hard to add. Psionicist is another one I would like to add. It will be much more difficult to add, but the interesting powers and power point system can make it worthwhile, I think. A Bard class would be interesting too, not like the D&D class, but more like the Bard's Tale Bard - a fighter with a small selection of magic songs with effects applying to everyone in the group. Other possible classes, with a lower priority, include the Assassin, Monk, Psionic Warrior, Archer and Druid.
In terms of races, I am now planning to have the Human, Mul, Dwarf, Elf (in two varieties), Halfling, Kobold, Thri-Kreen, Half-Giant, Centaur and Draconian (in several varieties, each with a different breath weapon).
Regarding spells, yes there will be changes there too. Ideally all spells should be useful at any level. For example, Magic Missile scales up with your level, but Sleep is useful only at very low levels. So Sleep is a good candidate for change. Grease and Mirror Image are good candidates for new spells. There will be a set of psionic powers, including one that makes the target's hands limp, disarming them for a number of rounds.

10. I know some would wish for a bigger party size than just the 4-men party of KotC. Do you consider allowing that?

It's not yet decided, but I may well allow up to six characters in the party. I guess that for a given adventure, the module designer should specify the maximum party size so that difficulty is not thrown widely out of kilter.

11. Is there something you can already reveal about your plans for a sequel?

I can say that I'm going to work as much on the game mechanics as on module-creation tools. The tools should be easy to use and accessible from within the game. They should allow the creation of an adventure using any image as a background. Player-created modules could be made available for free. The best ones could be sold on the website as premium modules.

12. Can you elaborate a bit more on your plans for a toolset? Do you have something like the NWN toolset in mind, easy to use for non-programmers and allowing the creation of actual games with the KOTC engine?

Yes, this is precisely what I have in mind. The toolset should allow the creation of small modules, short adventures where a party of characters of a certain level can gain enough experience for two or three levels.
In creation mode, you should be able to click any NPC (Non-Player Character) to edit his dialogue script, name or combat statistics. You should be able to add a monster by selecting one from a list and you should be able to copy and paste monsters easily in order to create groups of identical monsters. Once you've created them you should be able to draw a rectangle around them to specify that they all belong to the same group and must fight together. You should also be able to create new monsters and new magic weapons. Any image will be usable as background but you will have to specify the obstacle areas, walls, braziers, doors, etc.

13. What's your favourite RPG and why?

Dark Sun The Shattered Lands. For a variety of reasons: the combat engine is very well done, the player-character races and classes are interesting and the dynamic music is great. Evil in the game is really evil, you can see the effect in-game, and often you want to beat the enemies for what they do, not just for what they are.

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