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RPG Codex Interview: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden 2 (Soon on Kickstarter)

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RPG Codex Interview: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden 2 (Soon on Kickstarter)

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 21 November 2012, 16:09:32

Tags: Barkley 2: Revenge of Cuchulainn; Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden; Eric Shumaker; Kickstarter; Tales of Game's

[by Crooked Bee]

Warning: The interview you are about to read is canon.

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden appeared out of nowhere in 2008 and took the internet by storm, soon becoming a hit indie title. Basketball-themed, humorous and parodying traditional JRPGs and the RPG Maker community, Barkley was also - and remains - one of the most unorthodox and best-written PC RPGs of recent years. And now that 4 years have passed, a sequel has finally been announced and a Kickstarter is to be launched next week* by Tales of Game's (sic), the team behind the first game.

* The Kickstarter campaign was supposed to start earlier, but has been postponed for a week due to Thanksgiving.

The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, TMROTNN:EFN7-ROC:TOGOTM-C2OTHBS for short, is an unlikely title for a game. The short version looks more like an activation code, goes a common joke. But then again the sequel itself was long considered unlikely by those who enjoyed the first game. Whereas Barkley 1 followed the adventures of Charles Barkley and his son Hoopz in their attempt to save the world from the chaos of the earth-shattering Chaos Dunk while evading capture by Michael Jordan, the head of the B-Ball Removal Department, Barkley 2 will put the player in the shoes of X114JAM9, "an amnesiac baller with no recollection of his past" who must "evade the sinister grasp of the malevolent A.I. Cuchulainn, his would-be captor and the ancient nemesis of all ballers, hoopsters, slammers and jammers," and seek out "the otherworldly slam scholar Cyberdwarf" who alone "can reclaim his lost memories... and lost b-ball powers."

The year is 666X. A powerful youngster, wise beyond his years, awakens from a B-Ball induced coma aboard the mysterious dwarf space ziggurat Necron 7, held captive by the Malevolent A.I. Cuchulainn. With no memory of who he is or where he came from, he adopts the identity of X114JAM9 and sets off into the Post-Cyberpocalyptic Wasteland in search of the enigmatic Cyberdwarf, the only one who can reveal to him the terrible truth behind his forgotten past and make sense of his harrowing future.

You may know that the core person behind Barkley, Eric "Chef Boyardee" Shumaker, goes by the name of cboyardee on the RPG Codex forums and posted about the sequel's development in the Codexian Game Development Thread. So I guess, the developer being a Codexer, it should come as no surprise that while the first game was more of a (faux-)JRPG, Barkley 2 is going to be much more of a WRPG: non-linear, with complex character development and choice and consequence. Combat-wise it will be an action RPG, though - but more on that in the interview that follows, in which we talk to Eric Shumaker about the game's concept, fully non-linear gameplay and C&C, class-changing character development and character creation that lets you influence not just the character's statistics but also the state of the world, as well as such important things as graphics, Arcanum influences, weirdness and whether or not Barkley 2 may appeal to the people populating the Codex.

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Great to hear about your soon to be launched Kickstarter campaign, Chef! This is more of a retrospective question, but I have to ask: why did you decide to make a game like Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden in the first place? Did you anticipate the kind of success it would have?

Haha, thank you! I appreciate it!

It's hard to say why we originally decided to make the game. I saw the name Barkley Shut Up and Jam! and I thought it would be really funny if I put Gaiden on the end. We didn't really even think about it, we pretty much started immediately on it. It was kind of a way to make fun of all the RPG Maker people at the time - that's the community we were active in. They all made these serious, self-important games that were obvious derivatives of much better games. Barkley Gaiden was our way to poke fun at it, but it turned into a lot more. I've still never played the original Barkley Shut Up and Jam. We had no idea anyone outside our group of friends would pay attention at all and I still have no idea why people care.​

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is a hit game, a cult indie classic even. What have you been up to since the release of the first game and why has it taken you four years to announce a sequel? At what point did you start considering a Kickstarter campaign?

There are a lot of dudes in Tales of Game's and we've all been active in game development to some degree since Barkley came out. Chef (me) and Frankie, who did graphics, have worked on a lot of games together, too many to count really. GZ, Konix, and Chef have worked on quite a few games under the GZStorm name. Medieve, who did that great title screen picture, went on to work for SOE. We've all remained close and work together pretty much constantly.

Barkley 2 is a really, really ambitious game though - more than anything else we've worked on. It's a game that's taken us years to conceptualize and prepare ourselves for. I don't think this is a game that we'd have been able to make four years ago. We've learned so much about game design and honed our abilities over the last four years that anything we could have done then would be a joke compared to what we can do now.

I thought about Kickstarting a Barkley sequel at least a year ago, but the first time I realized that we could actually do this was when I saw Wasteland and Shadowrun take off. It was amazing. We could make Barkley 1 because we were all really young at the time and weren't out there in the world, we didn't have real responsibilities. Now we're adults and unfortunately we have adult responsibilities - we have to pay bills and pay for school and cars and whatever else. When I saw Wasteland and all those games take off, we realized that we've finally got the means to pay for all the things we need make this game happen. I just hope we have the audience!​

Please tell us about your team. How large is it compared to when you worked on the first game?

We've got a few new faces working on this - Offal and Laz are doing programming, but most of the same people are returning. There are 8 of us in total, 2 artists, 2 programmers, 3 designers and 1 "producer". A lot of us share multiple roles.​

You posted about the sequel's development in the Codexian Game Development Thread, and when we discussed this interview you told me that, while Barkley was a straight up JRPG, Barkley 2 is going to be more of a WRPG, "fully non-linear," with "complex character development and building mechanics" as well as some "serious choice and consequence." What motivated you to expand the game's concept like that? Do you believe Barkley 2 may appeal to the Codex crowd?

It's weird, because the idea for Barkley 1 and Barkley 2 developed simultaneously. We talked about Barkley 2 a lot as we made Barkley 1 and we even drew ideas from it. For instance, the characters of Cyberdwarf and Cuchulainn were originally from Barkley 2 and we put them in Barkley 1. To me at least, this whole game feels like a very organic extension of the first. This is what we always had in mind from the beginning.

At the same time, we want to do very new things (not just for the series, but RPGs as a whole) with this game and differentiate it from the first in some ways too. It does feature a completely open world, much deeper character development and a very different combat system - so mechanically it is very different, but the tone and themes and humor are very much coming from the same place.

I think there will be people who will pass over this game like mondblut because it's an action RPG, and that's fine. This isn't a turn-based game so it's not going to be everyone's thing here. I like turn-based games more too, but turn-based games with one character suck, so we decided to make it the best ARPG we possibly could. I think people who like games about exploration, choices and mystery will enjoy this!​

[​IMG]

You also said, in a post on the Codex, that one of the non-obvious influences on Barkley was Arcanum. Does it remain an influence on Barkley 2 as well - and what other RPGs would you say influence the sequel?

Yeah, that mining quest where you had to negotiate between the Duergars and genies was a complete rip-off of the persuasion mastery quest from Arcanum. Arcanum's influence has been magnified in this game. The area I'm working on right now, Tir na Nog, this sprawling megacity filled with tons of people from all different backgrounds and social classes, is hugely based off of Tarant. The most important thing, though, is that Barkley 2 gives players an open world with a lot of permanent, meaningful choices to make.

The list of games that have influenced us is too huge to name, but the big ones are Realms of Arkania, Dark Souls, SaGa Frontier and Romancing SaGa, Daggerfall, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, Fallout, Ogre Battle, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Okay, that was a huge list. There's a lot of Eastern and Western stuff on it but I think the unifying concept is that they all emphasize exploration, choice and player agency.​

When you say the game is going to be non-linear, what kind of non-linearity do you have in mind? Does it mean that Barkley 2 is going to be a fully open world game where you can go anywhere and (attempt to) do anything right from the start, or that it's going to have multiple routes through the game and multiple ways to solve quests? To what extent is your character build going to determine what you can or cannot do?

Let me give you three examples of how this game is non-linear -

First, the world itself is completely open. You can go anywhere you want or do anything you want so long as you are strong or clever enough to handle the challenges. This doesn't mean it's recommended! Think Gothic.

Second, there are multiple ways to accomplish the same thing. For instance, the very first part of the game is all about getting out of Tir na Nog, this awful megacity that the main antagonist, Cuchulainn, is corralling dwarfs into. You can do this by escaping through the sewers or this whole goofy quest where you impersonate the newly-appointed governor or through other ways.

Lastly, many of the choices you make with your character are permanent and irreversible. You can change classes, but the statistics you distribute and the choices you make for your character last forever. There are a lot of very big choices that change the entire game. For instance, over the course of the game, you can acquire robotic parts. If you acquire enough, you permanently become a robot and you can never change back. This affects mechanics - robots equip items entirely differently and have a different set of skills - as well as how certain people react to you and even the endings available to you.

I don't know if there will ever be times where your character build, or the distribution of your base stats, will ever stop you from completing things but there is a lot of content available only to certain classes. I mentioned the robot thing before. The content available to you is based more on the choices you make with the world than the choices you make with your character's statistics - but there may be times when certain options are only available if you have X amount of piety or luck or whatever.​

[​IMG]

"Choice and consequence" is a buzzword here on the Codex, but it also means different things for different people. I'm not going to ask you what an RPG is, but what is C&C to you? Could you give us some examples of the kind of choice and consequence that Barkley 2 will have?

Well it means a lot of things. For one, we have a system where things change over time. These aren't cosmetic or superficial changes, but the entire world. If you get there too late, a town might get destroyed unless you intervene. Content constantly opens and closes depending on the in-game time and if you miss something, it's gone for good. By the same token, the events and content you experience may lead to even more content. For instance, last night I finished a quest that you can only do really, really early in the game and if you miss it, you will never even know it existed. If you do it though, you may be missing out on other stuff but at the same time, it changes the outcome of later events.​

Your website calls Barkley 2 an "action RPG." The original game's combat was influenced by Earthbound, Mario RPG and a number of other JRPGs. How different is Barkley 2's combat from that of its predecessor? Will the game have level scaling?

First and foremost, Barkley 2 does not scale to your level.

Now that that's out of the way, the game's combat is completely different. It's an Action RPG that controls sort of like Zelda meets Soldat - your character shoots in the direction your mouse is pointing. Your character has a number of stats - Might, Guts, Acrobatics, Piety and Luck - that influence what you're good at, and you have class, which gives you passive and active abilities. One of the really big things we're excited about, though, is the gun generation system we're working on. It's similar to Diablo or Borderland's weapon generation but even more diverse - you can get really wild gun's (they are called "gun's" in the Barkleyverse) like machine rocket launchers that shoot sludge, or gravity rifles, or shotgun's that shoot walls of fire. It's pretty fun and crazy.​

About the complex character development - can you elaborate on how it's going to work? What new RPG mechanics does Barkley 2 have in store compared to the first game?

You start the game by creating your main character, going through a very long and detailed creation process that was inspired by games like Megatraveller 2, Darklands and Ogre Battle. You make choices at different stages of your character's development that determine not only personal statistics like their alignment, attributes and class, but also crazy things about the world, like whether certain things exist (the legendary Blue Duergar...), character names and the game's starting time (which is a lot more important than it sounds!)

When you level up, you get to distribute points into your attributes and sometimes your class changes. I don't want to say how or why your class changes, but it's pretty simple and it spoils the fun of figuring it out on your own. Classes give you passive abilities that boost your stats and active abilities you can use during combat, so they act more as a way to increase your available tactics than as something you rely on, but you may find there are some classes or abilities that help your particular play style more than others so you try to build your character around them. That said, there are certain classes that have plot or quest significance and a few that drastically alter gameplay. This is a game that highly encourages experimenting, so mess around. You really can't ruin your character, there is no "optimal build".​

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Graphically, Barkley was a parody of SNES era JRPGs and RPG Maker games. Given the sequel's expanded concept, how different do you want Barkley 2 to be, graphics- and art style-wise?

We have some unbelievably talented pixel artists working on this. I'd say the graphics are comparable to the highest quality Playstation and Amiga sprites out there.

[​IMG]

What have been your goals for the sequel's story and why have you chosen the amnesiac X114JAM9 as Barkley 2's protagonist? Is the second game also going to be canon?

Haha. This game is very, very canon. Maybe TOO canon.

I think once you start playing the game, it should be very obvious who X114JAM9 is. It's kind of funny and it lets us frame the game as a coming of age story (Bildungsroman (we are trying to use as many German terms as possible - let me know if you have more good ones)) but it also lets us do really cool and weird things with character creation, which is also something we do in the game. So X114JAM9's biology, history, and destiny will push you in directions when it comes to establishing a "true" identity, but the player will be the ultimate arbiter of what that is.​

One of Barkley's famous features was the save points that would quote real Internet rants about console video games, or "vidcons," before saving the game. Are they going to make a return? Can we expect other surprising features like that - or like that dating sim section?

Barkley 2 features a saving system like Dark Souls - it happens automatically, so Truckpump will not return in the exact same role, but he's definitely in this. This game features a lot - a LOT - of weird stuff. For example, we're working on DwarfNET, an in-game forum where you can post about vidcons, gems, fruit and other extremely important issues. We may also be working on a marriage system too... ​

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What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of Kickstarter as an alternative platform for video game funding? How perfect do you believe it to be for indie game developers?

It is one of the most exciting changes in game development ever. I don't think it's publishers' intentions to exploit developers, but it's often the case and has been happening a lot more frequently and egregiously. Kickstarter allows developers of all sizes - small like us or large like Obsidian and inXile - to circumvent the entire publishing process, keep nearly all of the profits from their work and if things go well, keep doing what they're doing, so I am very excited to see this model develop. At the same time, I think it's still pretty young and there's room for improvement. People who run Kickstarter campaigns should probably be held more accountable for their money and there should be some sort of security if a project fails. We're going to try to keep our development process as open as we can, first because I think it's right for a model like this and second because it's a lot of fun to interact with fans.​

You're going to set the funding goal for your Kickstarter at $35,000. How far into the development is the game already? Why this goal, and what have you got planned for stretch goals?

We've been working on the game since the Summer and we've got the major infrastructure like dialogue, quests and basic combat up and running. We need more time to flesh a lot of this stuff out - classes aren't in at all yet - but it is in a fairly playable, if not very early, state. We set the goal for $35,000 because this is a realistic number that we think we can reach and it will give us several months of working on the game full-time, which is what we need to get all the major systems up and running. We've talked to some very cool people about stretch goals - Leon Arnott about a Mac port and Jesse Ceranowicz about potential console ports. We may have some other stretch goals in the works but I think even hitting just one is very, very optimistic this close to the holidays. We're going to focus on just hitting the goal first!​

Thank you for your time Eric, and good luck with the campaign.

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