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RPG Codex Interview: Monte Cook on Dungeons & Dragons and RPG Design

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 16 August 2012, 11:19:48

Tags: Dungeons & Dragons; Monte Cook; PnP Interview

In this installment of the RPG Codex Pen&Paper Interview series, we offer you an interview with Monte Cook himself. The questions are all Alex's. We are grateful to Monte Cook for taking time out of his schedule to answer them.

Have a snippet:

RPG Codex: You did a lot of work on the Planescape setting. Modules like Dead Gods, The Great Modron March and even the Faction War bear your name in the credits. So do a few of the setting oriented books, like The Inner Planes and Planes of Conflict. How was it working on the setting? What were the parts of the Planescape you most enjoyed? Which ones did you wish you could change? What are your thoughts about the way the Faction War destroyed a lot of what you built before?

MC: Planescape was wildly imaginative -- I loved the creative freedom it offered. It encouraged thinking so far out of the box that every day was a new challenge. I loved working on that team -- it was both rewarding and a hell of a lot of fun.

Faction War was never meant to be the end of PS. There was supposed to be a follow-up adventure/sourcebook that rebuilt things. But the line was cancelled before it could come out. A real shame. In later years, however, I was able to produce a sort of Planescape reunion product for Malhavoc Press called Beyond Countless Doorways. I brought together Zeb Cook, Michele Carter, Colin McComb, Ray Vallese, and Wolfgang Baur, some of the core minds that PS came from, and we put together a d20 sourcebook about planar travel that I'm really proud of.

RPG Codex: After Rolemaster, you worked on the second edition of AD&D, on various sourcebooks and modules. Could you tell us a little about how different the design culture between the two games were? Specifically, it seems to me AD&D at that time tried focusing on settings, the overall impression being that it was trying to outdo White Wolf in their own game. Do you agree with that impression, and if so, did this clash with the old philosophy they had, of making games that were more sandbox oriented?

MC: I don't think anyone at TSR was thinking about WW when designing a strategy. TSR was extremely isolated in its thinking. It was top dog and didn't feel much need to pay attention to the rest of the industry. This didn't change until the release of Magic: The Gathering, and that wasn't an rpg issue at all.

TSR and ICE were very, very different. ICE was small and the president was as likely as not to have lunch with the lowest employee. TSR was structured and the creatives steered well clear of the executives. Both places, however, were very fun, very enjoyable environments with good people. ICE ran into financial troubles, which darkened things, but in the end so did TSR, so in those ways they were similar too.

You're right though, TSR was focused on setting and adventures at the time, and ICE (at least as far as RM goes) on rules. It's a very different kind of design, but I enjoy both.

RPG Codex: Since leaving Wizards, you have gone back to your own endeavor, the Monte Cook Games site. From your blog, it seems like you are working on a new system already. Could you tell us a bit about what you have in mind and how it differs from your previous work?

MC: It's a game called Numenera, and I have been, and will continue to write extensively about it. It's a post-apocalyptic science fantasy set in the far distant future. The game focuses mainly on the story and the action, and less on the rules. It's a game that empowers both GM and players over the rules as written in many ways. In many ways, this is a return to my roots, both in its approach to gaming (very similar to the way I ran games back in early D&D) and in its relationship to things like Planescape, where the cool setting and amazing ideas took precedence over things like tactical combat and super-detailed rules. I hope people will take a look at both montecookgames.com and numenera.com for more on the new game as it takes shape.​

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RPG Codex reviews Dungeonbowl

Review - posted by Grunker on Fri 3 August 2012, 17:03:38

Tags: Blood Bowl; Cyanide; Dungeonbowl

Dungeonbowl is Cyanide Studio's newest release in the Blood Bowl franchise. In this review, Grunker takes a stern look at Dungeonbowl in an attempt to find out whether Cyanide has learned from the mistakes they initially made with Blood Bowl, or if they have fallen into the same traps as before.
The board game Dungeonbowl is a variant of Blood Bowl in which two teams of fantasy creatures play American Football against each other with a violence only mirrored in Australian rugby and Ukrainian parliamentary meetings. However, instead of the traditional football-field known from Blood Bowl, Dungeonbowl takes place in a dungeon, with all the shenanigans that entails: pits of lava, teleporters, treasure chests, narrow corridors and so on. The perfect setup for an even more brutal take on the favorite American college pastime. Players can level up, and teams be developed, just as in the regular Blood Bowl. The game is turn-based, and actions, beyond simply moving unhindered, are resolved by dice rolls. You serve as your team's "coach", controlling the actions the individual players attempt.

[...]

Dungeonbowl is a fun variation of Blood Bowl. It is more random, more brutal, more violent and faster than regular Blood Bowl, mirrored in the 2 minute turn limit for all turns. You can pull off insane plays using the narrow dungeon corridors, bridges over lava, or teleporters – plays that you could never do in standard Blood Bowl. In the same vein, it has never been easier to mess things up for yourself. An innocent trip through a teleporter can end up killing your star player, and a safe block can suddenly get deadly if you stand too close to a lava pit. As passing is of limited use in a dungeon, avoiding the bashing game for more agile teams becomes an interesting run-and-gun experience where the coach, heart in his throat, dances around pits of lava and exploding chests to secure the touch down. Games can sometimes stall as bashier teams block entry-ways and paths around the dungeons, but teleporters do a good job loosening this up.​


Read the full article: RPG Codex reviews Dungeonbowl

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RPG Codex Interview: Malevolence - the endless RPG

Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 1 August 2012, 17:06:03

Tags: Alex Norton; Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox; Visual Outbreak

Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox is an indie turn- and grid-based first-person RPG being developed by Aussie team Visual Outbreak. In this day and age, just hearing it's turn-based might spark an interest in some. But Malevolence does something different as well. The game procedurally generates the game world, creating an infinite experience - and not just geographically.

After some buzz on the glorious Codex forums, we got in touch with Creative Director Alex Norton to see if he could shed some light on various aspects of Malevolence and how the game will play in practice. Here's a peek:

The player does not control a party of heroes in MALEVOLENCE, which is otherwise quite common in turn-based RPGs. How do you make turn-based combat tactical and fun with a single character?

MALEVOLENCE is all about the character progression. Your abilities, spells, feats, etc, evolve in an infinite way during the game, meaning character maintenance/tweaking is a full-time job. Because of this, every aspect of your character comes into use while playing the game, but at the same time, everything you do has a consequence. As you practice and get better in one field, you will start to suffer in others. It's this balancing act that keeps things interesting for the player. But keep in mind, MALEVOLENCE is played in the style of a classic RPG, but is, in actual fact, more of a very advanced roguelike. Hence the single character aspect.​


You claim that MALEVOLENCE is almost entirely procedurally generated -- weapons, items, dungeons, cities, creature stats and even dialogue. Is the procedurally generated content based on the player character's level, on current quest objectives... or something else? How do you balance the game's challenge and how do you implement plot goals in a procedurally generated world? Are all quests going to be procedurally generated as well?

Yes indeed. All quests are generated by the game, and yes, they are somewhat based around the characters level. That being said, the game most certainly does not spoon-feed you. Many modern RPGs make it so that the game levels with the player. MALEVOLENCE does this, too, however it does so in a much more harsh way. At any point, no matter what level you are, you will be able to find things that are much too easy or much too difficult for you. That way, the player can choose their pace of gameplay and follow the path that is right for them.​


One thing about procedural generation is that it seems to be in danger of making the game too generic, both in its looks and its gameplay. How do you introduce enough variety in it?

Well the short answer is that in an infinite game, there's always going to be eventual repetition of 3D assets, voices, textures, etc. It's just the nature of it. However, we have a large variety of biomes, environments, buildings, dungeons, etc to keep the player occupied. Think of it like the DIABLO series. They would re-use the same assets, but rearranged in a different order and it had great replayability. Most people assume that we're making an infinite game so that people can play it forever, but that's not actually the case. We're making an infinite game so that people can play it for as long or as short a time as they'd like, rather than have to have it end. There's nothing worse than reaching the end of a game that you love and wanting more!​

Read the entire thing right here!

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Codex 10th Anniversary - Short Story Competition

Competition - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sat 28 July 2012, 23:04:58

Tags: Good Old Games; RPG Codex; Short Story Competition

On - or near enough to - this day, the 28th of July in the year 2002, the RPG Codex began life with its very first news post:

Test.​

And so, in celebration of the Codex' 10th Anniversary - and in grand Codex tradition - we're holding a short-story competition. Help us honour this momentous occasion by writing a short story on one of the following:

1. 10 years inside the asylum (optional variation: 10 years in charge of the asylum).

2. A Date with the Codex: A mock conversation where-in a poster has created a "dating advice" thread, asking for assistance on how he can improve his relationship with the Codex.

3. A Decade of Decadence - 10 Whole Years of Decline. A retrospective look at the events (or perhaps just one event) of the last 10 years. What struck you the most? What is your fondest memory?

4. Speculative fiction: What if we did scale to your level? A story on how the Codex might have turned out, if only things had been different...

5. Ten Prosperous Periods of Posting: A Poem.​

Stories should be approximately 500 words (although strictly speaking, there is no limit on length and all entries will be accepted).


Prizes

Our esteemed panel of judges (DarkUnderlord, baby arm and probably the rest of the staff in some sort of group therapy session) will pick the 2 best entries from each category. Winners will receive a game of their choice from Good Old Games and +2 years of ad-free Codexian browsing (assuming you have an account here).


Teh Rulez
  • We have #10 games to give away so the "best" two stories from each of the topics above will win a prize.
  • Contestants are allowed to enter a story for all topics as well as make multiple entries within a topic.
  • You can only be the winner of one free game. So even if you have the "best" story in multiple topics, you'll only be winning one free game. Share the love and all, yo?
  • Winners will be able to choose the game they want from anything in GOG's catalogue.
  • You don't have to be a member of the Codex to enter, as we are accepting entries from anyone. RPGCodex staff members are the only people excluded from entering winning (they can submit something in honour of this great occasion should they feel so inclined).
  • Be sure to include the topic your story is about in your entry.
  • Judges decisions are final and no correspondence shall be entered into, though bribes may be accepted. Preferably by buying Codex T-shirts and / or Mugs.

How to Enter

Entries can be made in one of the following ways (in order of preference):
  • By replying with your short story in the comments thread for this item (thus allowing other members to brofist your entry, which may assist in swaying the judges).
  • Through the RPGCodex contact form.
  • Private Messaging DarkUnderlord.
  • Via e-mail to: darkunderlord at WHAT IS THE NAME OF THIS WEBSITE AGAIN LULZ dot net (replace the ALLCAPS part with rpgcodex).

We'll run the competition for a month, with entries closing on the 28th August 2012. Winners will be announced sometime after that, once we've bothered to read everything.

Happy 10th Anniversary!!

The entries received so far can be found here.

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Ian Boswell and Martin Buis on The Dark Heart of Uukrul

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 26 July 2012, 20:41:59

Tags: Broderbund Software; Ian Boswell; Martin Buis; Retrospective Interview; The Dark Heart of Uukrul

Corrupted by the evil wizard Uukrul, the underground city of Eriosthe is but a shadow of its former self, its passages now twisted beyond a mortal's understanding. The Dark Heart of Uukrul, a first person turn- and party-based dungeon-crawling CRPG with top-down Goldbox-like combat released by Broderbund in 1989 for Apple II and PC, entrusts you with a single task: cleanse Eriosthe of evil, no matter the cost. And the cost will be high, probably higher than you imagine; Uukrul knows you are coming, and he will be prepared.

In this installment of the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we present you with an interview with Dark Heart of Uukrul's co-designers, Ian Boswell and Martin Buis, as well as a brief retrospective introducing the game. I will quote generously from the interview for you to have a taste of it:

Dark Heart of Uukrul features some of the best dungeon design in the history of the genre, up there with such games as Wizardry IV or Chaos Strikes Back. How did you go about designing the dungeons, and what are the ones you remember the most fondly?

Ian Boswell: We didn’t want the maze to be constrained in a box, made up of levels, with each of them square. That seems very artificial. We wanted it to sprawl and spread out, including going up and down as well, like real caves and tunnels would. With a simple grid co-ordinate trick, we were able to implement this. It makes exploring the dungeon regions a lot more mysterious, even scary, because you have no idea where it’s going to lead or how far you are from your goal. For the player, mapping it becomes really challenging too.

Some of the regions are small, some are huge. Each has its own flavour, supported by the story narrative, and a design approach which makes each region feel different as you explore it. [...]

Martin Buis: The levels also tell a story and have a real location, so we wanted to convey a real sense of space through their spralling layout, or indicate that you’d reached a new area by a change in architecture. We were too constrained to do much with the visuals, so that was conveyed in the layout. [...]

Dark Heart of Uukrul is widely considered one of the most challenging CRPGs out there. Was it your intention right from the start to create an expert level scenario? What prompted that decision, and why the emphasis on puzzles?

Ian Boswell: [...] Both Martin and I were fond of puzzles and intellectual challenges, so we imbedded some of our favourites into the game, and created new ones of our own. The very best puzzles, I find, are ones where you see the pieces, but the “big picture” is hidden from view until you put the pieces together the right way, and then the logic dawns on you and everything makes sense.

Martin Buis: One of the design points we really wanted to get across was that dying was a really big deal in Uukrul, and that this would drive combat and exploring to be more emotionally charged and encourage times when the player would be aggressive and times when the player would be cautious. This meant that there had to be consequences to death, and even some fatal traps that you couldn’t escape. We were loathe to allow backups and reincarnation as these would weaken that feeling. Playing the game, and reading walk-throughs, I’m pleased that this aspect of the game comes through.

We both enjoyed puzzles a lot, and that was a big differentiator for how we thought about the game. A lot of the pleasure in games is about learning the rules of the game, and then discovering how to exploit them. So we tried to incorporate that at all levels of the gameplay. There are little puzzles, like how to explore an area, puzzles with longer arcs, like how priests work, and the overall game story. For the harder puzzles we worked to ensure that there were multiple solutions, so that you didn’t always need to solve them intellectually.

Dark Heart of Uukrul's character development is quite unorthodox, especially as far as magic users are concerned. Both the priest and the magician gain not only in levels, but also in the number and quality of rings equipped, each dedicated to specific deities or magic arcana. Obtaining new rings is a different form of character progression, woven in tightly to exploration and combat. What were the influences and the rationale behind this system?

Ian Boswell: I remember that whole system came to me while I was waiting at a bus stop, and there was a woman waiting there who was wearing these big, gaudy rings on every finger. In the game, the rings give a tangible measure of progression through magic powers, or spiritual powers, more structured than the usual D&D spell progression. Each finger represents a discipline or deity, and the metal of the ring on that finger represents the level of spells or prayers you can access.

Martin Buis: We also wanted to make a strong differentiation between rewarding the player for magic and prayers. We hit upon the idea of making the wizard very deterministic, and the priest very non-deterministic. I’d done psychology and was interested in exploring how Fixed Response and Variable Response schedules might be used in a game, and this worked. I think that it worked out pretty well. I particularly like the way the priest starts out frustrating and a liability to the party, but by the end is a mighty fighting machine.

Can you describe the reception the game got and your reaction to it? In retrospect, would you have changed anything about the game? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Ian Boswell: When Broderbund signed us up, there was a window where computer RPGs were hot property, but the window didn’t stay open long enough. It took us too long to complete the game, and I’d say we missed the market by 6-12 months. Broderbund published it, but by then RPGs were “last year’s model”. They did little to promote or advertise the game, and it sold only modestly, something around 5,000 copies.

The reception from the public however, from the few people that actually know about the game, has always been really positive. Even now 25 years later, I still get an occasional email from somebody telling me how much they enjoyed the game, especially the puzzles!

Martin Buis: We had aimed at beating the technical sophistication of Wizardry when we started, but it was a moving target and by the time we delivered we were a little behind the start of the art. I think that the lack of sound was probably a big factor in the game being overlooked in the market place. About the time Uukrul came out Id released Wolfenstein, and everyone’s expectations of what you could do with computers changed. Really, the whole genre of thoughtful games seems to have disappeared, and casual gaming seems to be pushing things further down the ‘stateless’ approach to gaming. [...]​

We are grateful to Ian and Martin for their time! I would also like to thank Alex, Jaesun, VentilatorOfDoom and Zed for their comments on an earlier version of the retrospective.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Ian Boswell and Martin Buis on The Dark Heart of Uukrul

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RPG Codex Interview: Mike Mearls on Dungeons & Dragons and D&D Next

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 23 July 2012, 18:00:17

Tags: D&D Next; Mike Mearls; PnP Interview; Wizards of the Coast

For the third installment in the Codex' P&P RPG interview series, we reached out to Mike Mearls, Head of the Dungeons & Dragons Research and Design team at Wizards of the Coast and Lead Developer on D&D 4th ed. as well as the upcoming D&D Next. In this interview, Mike discusses his career, D&D Next and D&D in general, as well as RPG design. The questions were contributed by Alex. Have a snippet:

On the subject of exact rules, did Wizards take inspiration from computer or board games for the rules in the previous editions? If so, could you name some that were especially important? Do you see these more exact rules as something that could help the game make the transition to video-games and board games and other environments where there is no GM to make a ruling? If so, does the new edition's focus on modularity make it harder to make a boardgame or videogame based on it?

As far as I know, 4th edition was the first set of rules to look to videogames for inspiration. I wasn’t involved in the initial design meetings for the game, but I believe that MMOs played a role in how the game was shaped. I think there was a feeling that D&D needed to move into the MMO space as quickly as possible and that creating a set of MMO-conversion friendly rules would help hasten that.

What we’ve learned since then is that the specific RPG rules aren’t very useful for making other games. Instead, the world lore, feel of the game, distinct features of each class, race, and monster, and so on are much, much more important. If you look at our current boardgames, they don’t use the same exact rules as the RPG but they evoke a similar feel. That’s really the key to us. We want to be able to have a clear, easily understood definition of what a wizard or paladin is. We can then transfer that definition into other games. As long as the feel and key story beats are there, the specific rules are secondary.

One aspect that was important for some fans in 4e is how the game is "balanced". Some see this as such an important aspect that they have stayed away from introducing house rules that could break this balance. What is D&D Next's approach to this? Are you still trying to carefully balance the powers and abilities each character can have? Does the modularity aspect of the system work against this? Conversely, do you see the modularity as helping people to tweak their own game, creating new rules, classes, skills, abilities and what not?

When we talk about balance, we want to make sure that the character classes are roughly equivalent in effectiveness across the three basic pillars of D&D play: combat, exploration, and interaction. Some classes might be better in one area that another, but the gap is never so huge that players feel ineffective.

From a monster stand point, the key to balance is to make sure that we can give DMs clear guidance on a monster’s power level and XP value. If a DM throws an ogre at the party, the DM should have a sense of how much of a challenge that might be. We don’t really care how the DM uses these tools. A DM might want to run lots of easy fights, one big fights, or put in monsters that the PCs aren’t meant to fight. We just want the DM to have a good idea of the relative power between characters and monsters.

For modularity, the key is to let DMs know how a new rule can change the game. We trust that DMs will alter the game to fit what they and their groups want out of D&D. If we have a lethal, gritty hit point option, we’re not worried about maintaining balance across everything because the DM has opted into that. To some groups, balance is meaningless, so there’s no point in trying to enforce that in all cases.

If we keep the core simple and transparent, I believe that it will be much easier to create new content. Precise balance is really only possible through lots of playtesting, but I think that if DMs use our existing content as a guide they’ll find it easier to create new stuff.​

We thank Mike for his time and Alex for the questions.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Mike Mearls on Dungeons & Dragons and D&D Next

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2011: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Tue 10 July 2012, 05:55:37

Tags: Avadon: The Black Fortress; Deus Ex: Human Revolution; Dragon Age 2; Dungeon Siege III; Dungeons of Dredmor; Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; Fallout: New Vegas; Frayed Knights; Minecraft; The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings; The Year in Review; Two Worlds II

Once more we look back at the year gone past (... or should that be passed? I'm so confused) and remiss:

If you've ever played Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect or in fact, any BioWare game, you'd realise their intent is to annoy you with silly romances and other annoying tribbles from the NPC's that join your party. Well, imagine taking that concept, dialling it up to 11 and reversing the polarity and you'd have Frayed Knights. After reaching Beta mid-year, it was eventually released 3 months later. Sporting turn-based combat "just like mother used to make", the premise of the game was built more around your interactions with your party than the actual game itself. It was an indie RPG designed in that old-school style (the monsters sat there and stared at you in fake [although this time it's real] 3D-o-vision while you whacked them, as opposed to flipping about and running around and such).

It also took a light-hearted approach to the genre - the title itself for instance, "The Skull of S'makh-Daon" is pronounced "The Skull of Smackdown". Now I personally didn't enjoy the demo (you can take your old-school and you can shove it and any game that makes NPC interaction a core component without having "drown", "murder" and "rape" "kill" NPC options is unforgivable) but the general Codex consensus is "not too bad". If you're into that sort of thing that is, or are looking for something different. It also had an interesting "Drama Stars" system, designed to prevent save-scumming (stars earned were lost if you didn't reload exactly where you left off before). Although I'm not sure if it worked.​

Read the whole thing here: 2011: The Year in Review

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RPG Codex reviews Risen 2: Dark Waters

Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 3 July 2012, 19:22:08

Tags: Piranha Bytes; Risen 2: Dark Waters

When Piranha Bytes, the brains behind the Gothic series, released Risen in 2009, Darth Roxor went ahead and reviewed it, favorably. Needless to say, he was giddy like a schoolgirl at the prospect of more Risen goodness and agreed to review the sequel for us, Risen 2: Dark Waters.
Risen 2 picks up a year or so after the events of its predecessor. Once again you’ll take control of the nameless dude and proceed on a mission of glorious titan smashing. There are, however, a few problems that stand in your way. First is the fact that after joining up with the Inquisition, the protagonist has become a total bum, seeking refuge at the bottom of the bottle, which has made him pretty much forget all the skills he’s learned before, as well as making him a total wimp. Second problem is that, apparently, the whole civilised world is on fire because Ursegor, the lovely chap whose gear you needed to defeat the fire titan in Risen 1, has gone berserk. That’s why the last human remnants decided they need to evacuate as soon as possible to the “new world”. This is where the third problem arises – all long-ranged sea travel is completely impossible, since the sea titan, Mara, has been awoken, and she’s not much happy about it, that’s why she keeps sinking all human ships that want to go anywhere. This is where you come in – a rumour has it that four pirate captains managed to obtain powerful artifacts that can control, or even destroy Mara. The player character is thus sent as a secret agent by the Inquisition to find the captains and get the artifacts from them, or even persuade them to join the fight against the titan.

As you can see, changes have crept into the world of Risen. Lots of them, in fact. Probably the most visible change is the shift into a pirate themed setting – but that will be addressed later on. What first needs to be discussed is what the hell was Piranha Bytes thinking when they designed the game’s mechanics.

Let’s start by taking a look at the character system. The typical Gothic formula of learning points has been almost completely scrapped. Instead, you’ve got something vaguely resembling skill trees – the character has 5 main attributes: Blades, Firearms, Cunning, Toughness and Voodoo. Each of these attributes has 3 different skills assigned to it, as well as a number of talents. You raise attributes with glory, the local equivalent of experience that you get for just about everything you do. Skills are raised by attributes and certain talents. To get talents, you need to find specific teachers and pay them – if your assigned attribute is high enough.
Read the full article: RPG Codex reviews Risen 2: Dark Waters

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RPG Codex Review: Faster Than Light Beta

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 22 June 2012, 07:41:08

Tags: Faster Than Light; Subset Games

Faster Than Light, the space simulation roguelike(-like) focused on the internal workings of the ship (you may remember the interview we did on it), has recently seen the release of a closed beta limited to the game's Kickstarter backers who were generous enough to go for the beta tier. Among them was our very own Ulminati, who has already played the beta extensively and offers his thoughts and impressions in this review. Here's a snip:

Ship-to-ship combat is the heart of the game and to excel at it you have to understand the weapon system. Weapons begins to charge once you divert power to the ship's weapon systems. Once a weapon is charged the player can direct it to fire at a particular part of the enemy ship. The two main categories these weapons fall under are energy weapons and missiles. Missiles bypass enemy shields, and as such are prime tools for taking out shield generators, but consume a finite supply of ammunition. Shields recharge fairly quickly, so it can often be worthwhile to wait until you can fire multiple weapons in a salvo that overwhelms the other ship's defenses. Some weapons excel at damaging multiple rooms, causing hull breaches that vent atmosphere or setting fires that spread and prevents crew from repairing damaged systems. It is also possible to launch offensive and defensive drones that will fight crew, repair your ship, shoot down incoming fire or simply pepper the other ship with festive and colorful bursts of irradiated death! All the while the other ship is trying to do the same to you.

It is during combat that the game really shines. Your systems, crew and abilities are simple when looked at individually. But combat forces you to tweak all of them simultaneously and it is a pleasantly frantic experience at times. Further complicating things there are environmental effects such as nebulae that limit your sensors or asteroids that will bounce off of your ship's hull if your shields aren’t up. You rarely get through a combat without losing some of your resources in the form of hull durability, missiles, drone parts, or crew members. Having piloting and engines crewed gives your ship a percentile chance to evade incoming fire but actual range and maneuvering is abstracted. You get to pick what to shoot at with your weapons, but the game takes care of the aiming. Also, while you can order your crew to board/fight boarders, the actual fighting consists of watching health bars grow smaller and sending people off to the med-bay if they get close to dying. The focus is mainly on managing the interior of your ship and making sure it doesn’t fall apart before the other ship does. Doing well in FTL is often an exercise in damage control and making sure the payoff from a fight exceeds the repair bill you are footing at the other end. Sometimes your best option is to divert power to shields and send your crew scurrying to perform damage control until your FTL drive spools up and you can jump away. The randomly generated nature of sectors also means that an unlucky series of jump events can see your ship rapidly spiraling into a catastrophic state where you are barely holding together as you limp on, desperately praying for a friendly trader at the next FTL beacon.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Faster Than Light Beta

Thanks to Zed and Jaesun for their feedback, and to Sovard for his help with editing the article!

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RPG Codex Interview: DoubleBear on Dead State

Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Sat 16 June 2012, 14:58:04

Tags: Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda; Brian Mitsoda; Dead State; DoubleBear Productions; Indie; Kickstarter; Oscar Velzi

The Codex has interviewed the developers of Dead State, the zombie-RPG by independent developer DoubleBear Productions, which has just recently launched its Kickstarter campaign.

The interview includes questions about the game's setting, gameplay, and RPG mechanics, as well as definite proof that Brian Mitsoda is Vault Dweller!

6. Now, Dead State is going to be an RPG, which is a funny genre in that it is hard to get two people to agree on a definition of it. Why did you choose to make a role-playing game? What makes it exciting for you to work on one, and what characteristics of the game define it as an RPG for you?

Annie: I love lots of game genres, but RPGs are my favorite, and since we knew we'd be working with the Age of Decadence engine, it seemed the wisest choice as a initial project. So it was part practicality and part personal inclination.

You're dead-on that RPGs are insanely tricky to define, but it's the character development (both in the mechanics of building skills and in the actual personality of people) that I find the most enticing about the genre, both as a player and as a developer. Writing an average townsperson in a generic fantasy game is okay, but writing someone who's under constant fear for their lives and who might have lost a family member to a zombie attack? A lot more interesting of a challenge right there!

Brian: Not the old “what is an RPG?” question already! Fair enough, we are calling it one. So, let’s see - stats and skill tweaking is a given, wooden stick to horn of alpha gorillas weapon progression sure, lots of items to sort and fuss over, yeah we have those. But I kind of feel ripped off if an RPG doesn’t have some actual choices in the story and the dialogue that has actual reactivity and payoff on character and story outcomes. That’s one of the things we have dedicated a lot of time to and where our years of development experience really pays off. And if we’ve done it right, each player will have a different story to tell.​

Enjoy!

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: DoubleBear on Dead State

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Arnold Hendrick on Darklands (with Retrospective by Josh Sawyer)

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 June 2012, 12:46:52

Tags: Arnold Hendrick; Darklands; J.E. Sawyer; Microprose; Retrospective Interview

Darklands, released by Microprose in 1992, is a party-based "sandbox" computer role-playing game set in the Holy Roman Empire during the 15th century, and one of the most important titles in the history of the genre. In today's installment of our RPG Codex Retrospective Interview series, we present you with an interview with Lead Designer on Darklands, Arnold Hendrick himself, as well as a retrospective on Darklands written by our guest contributor, Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, Lead Designer on Icewind Dale II, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, who also kindly agreed to serve as a guest co-interviewer, Darklands being, as he writes in the article, "one of the CRPGs closest to my heart." Have a snippet from Josh Sawyer's retrospective:

The Magic Candle was the most unusual CRPG I had played to that point, but I wasn't prepared for Darklands. It used 15th century history for almost everything: canonical hours, Medieval currency, alchemical formulae, Catholic saints, practical arms and armor of the era, period-accurate names and spellings for cities, traditional music, mythic conceptions of satanic Templars – the works.

It also bucked so many CRPG conventions that it took me a while to wrap my head around it. Instead of making a party of characters of different races and classes, you developed them along life paths, Traveller-style, in five year increments. You could, in fact, have a party with a grizzled knight, a young bandit, a hapless mystic of affective piety, and an 80 year-old alchemist (whom you most certainly would not abandon for his potent potions five minutes into gameplay!) And as previously mentioned, there were no alignments, no levels, no experience points – just a learn-by-doing skill system and a big open world. I felt like the game gave me the freedom to explore “Greater Germany” as I saw fit.

Not that it was a forgiving exploration. Darklands was a wonderful open world game, one that rarely warned travelers about dangers lurking in a Raubritter's castle or what you might encounter while stumbling through the Black Forest. You could find yourself arguing with a demon in Latin at the Devil's Bridge, fleeing from the Wild Hunt after you've interrupted the witches' High Sabbath, or praying for a saint's intercession as you await public execution in a town square.​

As well as from the interview with Arnold Hendrick:

Josh Sawyer: Your background is in military history, but there's a fair amount of social history in Darklands. When you set out to design Darklands, did you always intend for it to be set in the 15th century Holy Roman Empire, or did you consider other times and places? What about the setting most appealed to you?

You’re correct, my academic training is in history, and my specialty is military history. However, any decent military historian should be aware of the social, political and economic issues surrounding warfare. At the very start, I wanted the Darklands' “hook” to be that it would be use some beliefs from the era to “justify” fantastical elements, rather than trotting out the usual bog-standard wizards, clerics, bards, etc. Where possible, I like my game designs to provide an insight into history – a “you are there” feel. When searching for tactical tradeoffs and interesting details, why goof around conjuring up stuff when there is plenty of interesting historical material to use?

I was also aware that no RPG set in a pre-medieval era had been successful. This meant the earliest conceivable period was the Dark Ages after the fall of western Rome. Given how risky the project already was, I decided the time period had to include some things familiar to fantasy gamers. This included all types of armor up to and including full plate. This in turn meant a full panoply of weaponry, from swords, axes, maces and bows, to hammers, bills, halberds, crossbows and longbows. This virtually required the game to be set in the late 1300s to 1400s.

If the game were set in France or Britain, it would inevitably be drawn into the events of the Hundred Years War (1330s to 1440s), on which I lacked sufficiently detailed material at that time. Germany’s chaotic “robber knight” (raubritter) era became an obvious choice, especially since the very chaos of the period gave me consider “historical license.”

RPG Codex: You probably had a lot of plans and ideas for a possible sequel to Darklands that had to be left unrealized, or at least a lot of ideas that did not make it into the game due to time and resource constraints. What were some of the things that had to be cut or that you planned for a sequel?

A true sandbox game would have more quests and activities than the characters could perform in any normal lifetime! I had originally hoped to have many quest storylines, not just one apocalyptic one. However, that was impractical given the growing time and cost. If the game had become an instant smash hit, then we could have done sequels with more storylines.

There is a lot more you can do with German history in that period. You can also add in things about the Hussites in Bohemia, the power of the Hanseatic League, the fall of the Teutonic Order, and rising Polish kingdom under the great Jagiellon dynasty. Adventures involving the struggle between the various papal factions could have been very interesting: the catholic church had three competing popes in the early 1400s.

Meanwhile, starting the late ‘90s, Jonathan Sumption has been slowing putting out an absolutely incredible multi-volume historyof the Hundred Years War. It is one of those seminal works that will be the defining history of the period for decades to come, much like S.E.Morison’s history of US Naval Operations in WWII or Oman’s history of the Peninsular wars. Armed with Sumption’s work, some great RPGs set in the Hundred Years War period are now possible.​

I strongly suggest you read the interview in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Arnold Hendrick on Darklands (with Retrospective by Josh Sawyer)

We are grateful to Arnold and Josh for their time! Special thanks are also due to Jaesun, Monolith and Zed for their feedback and suggestions.

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RPG Codex Review: Diablo 3

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 11 June 2012, 11:56:19

Tags: Blizzard Entertainment; Diablo III

Blizzard's Diablo 3 is the biggest release of the year and fastest-selling PC game of all time. But is it any good? In this detailed review, Mrowak relates his feelings about the game. The feelings are decidedly mixed. Have a snippet on loot:

The real, meaningful character development in Diablo 3 takes the form of loot hunting. Right equipment means the difference between life and death, especially on the higher difficulty levels. While each level-up grants the character an automatic increase in stats, ultimately this increase proves insubstantial. On average, a character can increase his key stat up to 250 points, but the highest gameplay modes require items that boost it by thousands of points in order to deal any significant amount of damage. Needless to say, wrong equipment can drastically reduce the player’s efficiency in battle - a hindrance which is especially noticeable when stepping into a new act.

As a consequence of gear taking precedence over character development, the importance of the player’s skill and ability to plan his character ahead is significantly diminished. Whereas in Diablo 2 a competent and at least somewhat reasonably geared player could outclass a better equipped but less able teammate, both in PvP and core gameplay, this now proves virtually impossible, since the power of your abilities is determined exclusively by the properties of the items you wear. In other words, Diablo 3 is not the kind of game where you build the most effective character, but where you get the best gear for them.

Even on Nightmare difficulty, this design proves to be problematic because of the randomized loot generator: there is no guarantee that the equipment obtained in the course of one act will suffice for smooth, enjoyable gameplay in another. It appears to be a conscious decision on the part of Blizzard who actively encourage grinding for the best items. This effect actually enhances gameplay due to the online nature of the game. In Diablo 3 enemies drop separate sets of items to each of the active players. Thus, it is a common practice to form parties to increase effectiveness of item-scavenging by trading the equipment with teammates during gear-hunts.​

And here are some concluding thoughts:

In the end, Blizzard did manage to create another blockbuster title which is guaranteed to played and talked about - for better or for worse - for months to come. Looking solely at Diablo 3’s core gameplay, I must say it is a solid game. It offers great character classes, interesting skills and abilities, challenging enemies and many memorable moments, especially in mutiplayer. It’s action-packed, dynamic, and filled with interesting ideas. It easily holds your attention and doesn’t lose steam until much later. Nevertheless, Diablo 3 will remain as a sore disappointment for many. The problems of Diablo 3 are twofold.

First are the continuity issues. Diablo 3 is a Diablo game in name only. Save for a few core tenets and keywords it doesn’t share anything substantial with its predecessors. Meaningful character progression is no more: you don’t get to choose your attributes, and planning your character is close to pointless. It was substituted by MMO-like item farming, with gear lacking the balance and variety of Diablo 2. In fact, there are whole groups of items missing, removed from the game for no apparent reason. There is no PvP and no LAN option - the mainstays of the two first games. Instead, we have been presented with a forced ‘always online’ mode and sometimes faulty Battle.net servers. There is no gothic atmosphere and sublime charm - they were superseded by sensationalism and colourful explosions supported by a mawkish and annoying story. It is telling that all of the features worked perfectly fine in the previous game, and that they were removed in order to appeal to a mass audience. It is disheartening to see such levels of condescension and intellectual bankruptcy, even in something as simple as Diablo series.

Second, there are the structural considerations. Diablo 3 resembles an enormous construction site. There are plenty of features, but most of them are overblown and end up spoiling the experience with their obtrusiveness. They are created with everyone’s interest in mind except your own. Those features make the game look important and impressive, but under the cover of hype they hide a very basic structure, a simplistic hack and slash with entertaining and addictive but ultimately shallow gameplay. One can't but wonder if all those years of development went into options that not only do not benefit the player, but spoil his enjoyment instead. Indeed, at the end, I am left thinking: how much exactly of the 60€ I spent on Diablo 3 translated into the actual game?​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Diablo 3

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Let's raise $5,000 for Dead State.

Community - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 11 June 2012, 06:04:28

Tags: Codex Dead State Campaign; Dead State; Kickstarter

Given how successful we were with Wasteland 2, having gathered more than $10k for the game, we thought why the hell not raise more money for more Kickstarter games in order to spread the Codex love?

*** DONATE HERE ***

So, we're trying to raise $5,000 for the Dead State Zombie Survival RPG made by our friends Annie and Vault Dweller Brian Mitsoda. Here are the Special Rewards the Codex will receive for our cash (courtesy of Annie Mitsoda):

$250 - 15 digital copies, Codex thanked (in aggregate) in the Special Thanks in the credits
$350 - personal info in game #1 ("Be memorialized somewhere in the game - name and key personal information incorporated into the world of Dead State")
$475 - personal info #2
$500 - text message #1 ("We will include your zombie apocalypse text message - up to 250 characters - written by you in the game as part of collectible in-game data.")
$550 - text message #2
$600 - ad poster for the "RPG Codex" store (designed by our logo artist, Brandon, and placed somewhere in the game)
$750 - character portrait!
$800 - zombie portrait!
$850 - equipment item (i.e. not a weapon or armor)
$1250 - game morale item (board or videogame - CAN YOU SAVE CODEXIA FROM THE HORDES OF TROLLS? etc.)
$1500 - 3-piece morale item set (novels? comics?)
$2000 - Zombie apocalypse story (Work with Brian Mitsoda to tell your "zombie apocalypse story" which will show up as a collectible piece of story data for every player to see.)
$3000 - 3-piece set is upgraded to 5 pieces!
$3500 - Codexian statue!
$5000 - The RPG Codex - full game store location, complete with posters, applicable decorations, and a list of the contributors in some format​

As per usual we have no idea what the details are of what we'll have in-game but I'm suspecting it will be some kind of statue...

*** DONATE HERE ***

If you'd like to contribute you MUST follow the above link. Any purchases made using the usual forum upgrades option on the user account upgrade page will not be taken into account. This is because it's too fucking hard to sort out ad-free status and what-not using that system at the moment.

Make sure you give us your forum username when you donate so we can add your name to the list of donators and work out forum goodies.

If we don't raise enough cash, then we'll go for the highest reward we can get, with anything left-over going towards hookers and booze server upgrades. If the Kickstarter campaign fails completely, all funds raised will go towards keeping the Codex alive.

Update 15th June: We've passed 10%. I've edited the content item to include further details of the special deal DoubleBear are offering the Codex.

Update 5th July

[​IMG]

Well, we didn't quite get to the statue but we got some goods in there to horribly defile the game in memory of the Codex. Thanks to all those who donated, check the article below for the full list of donors - the top 15 of which will be getting one of our free copies!

Check the list of donors and other details here.

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RPG Codex Interview: Rich Thomas, White Wolf's Creative Director, on World of Darkness & Art Design

Interview - posted by Grunker on Sun 10 June 2012, 14:52:05

Tags: PnP Interview; Rich Thomas; Vampire the Masquerade; Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption; Vampire the Requiem; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines; White Wolf; World of Darkness; World of Darkness MMO

For the second interview in the Codex' mini-series on Pen & Paper role-playing games (you can find the first here), we reached out to Rich Thomas, creative director at White Wolf Publishing - the company behind Vampire the Masquerade and Vampire the Requiem, as well as a long list of other products set in the World of Darkness. From a cRPG perspective, White Wolf is responsible for Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and the upcoming World of Darkness MMO. Due to the MMO being an upcoming title, there were some restrictions on Rich's ability to discuss cRPG specifics with us. Nevertheless, we asked him a few questions focusing on creative design for pen & paper games, the digital media in role-playing, and many related matters. Read on!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at White Wolf Publishing as Creative Director? What project(s) are you currently involved with?

RT: Very briefly, I began working in 1986 (I know!) illustrating for White Wolf Magazine and within 6 years was in Atlanta Art Directing for the whole company including a little game called Vampire the Masquerade. About seven years ago I was asked to become the Creative Director, which combined my work in charge of all of WW's visuals with responsibilities for overseeing all the writing and editing as well. For the past seven years my tasks within the Creative Director umbrella have been many and varied, but the key responsibilities have been to evolve White Wolf into a company better capable of thriving in the changing publishing marketplace, and to sustain and surpass our long history of compelling worlds and great art.​

The new World of Darkness game introduced many significant changes. Could you name some of the improvements NWoD made from your perspective? Looking back, do you think something should have been done differently about the new edition?

RT: Although they can get cheesy, especially if overused, I like the idea of things like Bloodlines - the offshoots of the larger groups that are a lot of fun to create for the Storyteller, and to personalize for the players. The biggest thing I liked was the tone shifted to the idea that even for these ancient supernaturals there were still unknown and unclassified dangers out there. I think we dropped the ball on providing a rich backstory - we really needed something with more secrets and layers of lore than cWoD. But our plan was to rely on giving that depth in fiction books, and then we discovered we didn't have the bandwidth to create those books. So I think our community, who was used to the depth of content of cWoD, was left unsatisfied. We created a toolkit approach to NWoD, but we never gave enough examples of how that toolkit should be used.​

What are the main ways video game art influences pen and paper art today, and vice versa? How would you describe this process?

RT: In general terms, because if I go to specific here it may suggest a direction for the WoD MMO that isn't true, I think all illustration is influenced by other media that exists either at the same time or as influences on the artists. What we have now is an entire generation of illustrators who are exposed to so much more in the way of visuals that ever was possible before, and who grew up on visual input from computer gaming. On the plus side, this means there's an incredible richness there, and on the downside there may be too many artists working now who really haven't fully studied their craft on a technical level. But a great illustrator is going to shine no matter what, so I think the amazing range of beautiful art we're seeing now wins out.​

For more on Rich Thomas' thoughts on pen & paper art design, as well as roleplaying in general and in the digital medium, read the entire interview!

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Rich Thomas, White Wolf's Creative Director, on World of Darkness & Art Design

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Epilogue v2.0 Released, Commercial Edition Available

Game News - posted by getter77 on Fri 8 June 2012, 04:03:08

Tags: Epilogue; Indie; Roguelike

A rather robust dungeon crawling, turn-based, graphical Windows Roguelike with a bit of plot and multiple endings at long last gains a rather substantial update alongside a spiffy Commercial Edition...

Too much pertinent info to sum up handily really aside from it being $7 via BMT Micro dev direct, no DRM, free edition available as well, and the official site being here:

http://kraflab.com/blog/?page_id=16.

Read the full article for all the details and dev clarifications: Epilogue v2.0 released alongside a Commercial Edition

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RPG Codex Book Review: Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 27 May 2012, 20:13:21

Tags: Book; Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play; Morgan Ramsay

As you may recall, in our recent retrospective interview with Leonard Boyarsky, there was a question mentioning a book called Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play (Apress, 2012). Today, we present you the official Codex review of that book. In Gamers at Work, Morgan Ramsay interviews 17 (co-)founders of video game companies about their career and the history of the industry. To quote the book's description, "if you want to successfully develop and publish video games, or if you want to learn about those who do, this book is for you."

The review is written by grotsnik, who also submitted the question for the Boyarsky interview. Have a snippet:

What Gamers At Work does do, though, is provide an unusually diverse series of self-portraits, as the industry figures provide highly subjective retrospectives on their careers and business practices and, in doing so, reveal a great deal about how they'd like to paint themselves, their careers, and the industry itself. ‘Wild’ Bill Stealey’s interview, amusingly, cuts back and forth between an obvious sweaty man-crush on Sid Meier and a deranged obsession with his own past in the Air Force; in one characteristic sequence, he recalls reacting with upright military horror at the sight of Sid pirating competitors’ games in order to ‘review’ them; “As an Air Force Academy graduate, I can’t review games without paying for them. That’s what we called quibbling at the Air Force Academy.” Elsewhere, Trip Hawkins throws a bit of a hissy fit when Ramsay asks him, perfectly innocently, if there were any co-founders at EA. (Apparently there weren't, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.) Tony Goodman, having previously insisted that he's in the business to "make the world a better place", rhapsodises about the freakishly decadent Roman-style orgy laid on for him by Microsoft. which apparently climaxed with a 400-pound lion escaping from its cage. A few of the characters emerge as honest and genuinely given to self-criticism; others, inevitably, are rather more prone to self-delusion (an otherwise candid Ken Williams at one point refers to Phantasmagoria I and II as “one of the greatest series ever made”. Oh, Ken); and at least one or two, despite their own best efforts, come across as unsurprisingly unpleasant, cut-throat and self-concerned. Nearly all of them, however, do have interesting - or at the very least, telling - stories about their careers.

And, of course, many of these stories result in good old-fashioned insider bitching; astonishingly enough, the big mistakes almost always turn out to have been the fault of someone else. Rubin talks about the “spite and contractual misbehavior” at Universal. Hawkins and Bushnell excoriate, for very different reasons, Atari, while the Chuck E. Cheese magnate also snipes at the “dim” executives at Warner. ‘Wild’ Bill Stealey claims that Hawkins tried to push towards merging EA and Microprose in the late ‘80s, a fact which Hawkins certainly leaves out of his recollections in his own interview (it’s a pity Ramsay doesn’t appear to have conducted a follow-up chat to pursue this particular line of enquiry). And Tim Cain chastises Atari for rushing the development of TOEE, and Activision, all too gently, in my opinion, for their mishandling of Bloodlines.

The specificity of Gamers At Work’s intent ends up being one of the book’s real strengths; it helps prevent sprawl in interviews about careers sometimes spanning several decades, but more importantly, it encourages the interviewees towards straightforward, nuts-and-bolts answers about how their companies grew and functioned, without giving them much opportunity to stray into self-aggrandising PR blather (though one or two still manage to do so; Tony Goodman memorably justifies selling Ensemble Studios off to Microsoft with the phrase, “I wanted to enrich myself by enriching my employees”, and boasts of asking all job applicants “esoteric questions” such as “What are your hopes and dreams in life?”). But the pure focus on entrepreneurialism can also be limiting and frustrating; it’s hard, for example, not to come away aggrieved by a retrospective interview with Warren Spector that skips past the entire first twenty years of his career in order to discuss in depth his project with startup studio Junction Point, Epic Mickey for the Nintendo Wii.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Book Review: Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play.

You can buy the book at Amazon.com as well as at other retailers listed on the official website.

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JRPG Codex Review: Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 22 May 2012, 15:33:13

Tags: Carpe Fulgur; Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone; Lizsoft

Yeah, I know we don't normally cover JRPGs and the Codex is going down the toilet. But if you want other kinds of reviews, why don't you write one? Consider this an official call for more WRPG review submissions.

So anyway, some time ago I played through and then replayed a game called Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone, a 2D party-based side-scrolling action RPG originally released by the Japanese developer Lizsoft and localized earlier this year by Carpe Fulgur, the company who also published Recettear and Chantelise. Initially I didn't plan on writing a review or anything. But yesterday I thought 'why not?', and here's the result. Have a snippet:

Every character eventually learns a lot of spells and abilities, and using them correctly without sticking to just one or two is crucial. The abilities are mostly well-balanced in that you can, and should, alternate between them to handle all kinds of situations efficiently. Ignoring the variety of spells and abilities at your disposal can make some scenarios much harder than they should be. This is particularly the case on Hard, although even on Normal different situations usually call for different tactics. It doesn't help that, as mentioned, the enemies can be surprisingly clever, dodging your attacks and taking advantage of the pauses you make in your movement. They can also inflict different kinds of status ailments on you - making you poisoned, frozen, asleep, paralyzed, and confused - and it is every bit as bad as it sounds, especially given that you remain frozen, asleep or paralyzed for a rather long period of time and poison, on top of being strong, does not wear off as long as you stay inside the dungeon.

Not just the AI, but the enemy variety is quite pleasant as well. Enemies block, flank, stunlock, poison and confuse you, fly, jump, do leap and ranged attacks, cast powerful spells, heal themselves, float out of your attack or spell range, and move faster than you do. When defeated, they drop coins and occasionally treasure chests. In the very beginning of the game, you will fight bats who dive in on you at what seems like the most unpredictable moment and evade your attempts to reach them, slimes that deal quite a bit of damage with their tentacles if you get too close, snakes that poison you, and mothbees who put you to sleep and sting you from a distance if you stay in one place for too long. Later you will encounter lightning fast sabercats, ranged archers, mushrooms that release toxic clouds, kobolds more than capable of sword fighting and even blocking your attacks, acorn-throwing cocorats who can also jump-kick your butt, merkids with their long-range tridents and powerful magicians with devastating spells to accompany them, and other regular monsters not to count bosses, each with a unique pattern that is flexible, not rigid, and tries to adapt to your actions. And don't even get me started on the freaking harpies. As a rule, every enemy that appears brings something new - a new kind of frustration - to the table, and that is no small feat on the designer's part. That also makes discovering the best way to handle an enemy type extremely rewarding.

On both Normal and Hard, enemies are fairly tough and don't just go down in one or two hits, draining your MP and always eager to significantly reduce your not too high HP. Some of the enemy moves have a chance of knocking your character down, rendering her helpless for a fair bit of time. Things get especially dangerous when there are multiple enemies of different types on the screen that complement each other with their abilities. In such cases, you have to carefully pick the attack spot and choose which foes to focus on first and how to evade the rest while timing your moves to take advantage of the enemy's moments of immobility and interrupt their spellcasting. That is also when the combat gets the most tactical, requiring you to put thought into the situation and keep the whole picture in mind instead of just rushing headlong to your inevitable demise. The enemies are also quick to repopulate the previously explored areas - the good thing being, they do not seem to scale to your level, so that low-level areas will remain low-level no matter when you revisit them. Encounters are hand-designed, not random, and many of them are avoidable if you simply run past them fast enough; a welcome thing when you just need to get to the next destination quickly.​

Read the full article: JRPG Codex Review: Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone

Next up on JRPG Codeksu~ okay I'm just kidding ^_^

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RPG Codex Interview: Sean Punch, GURPS Line Editor, on P&P, Fallout, Digital Media, and RPG Design

Interview - posted by Grunker on Thu 17 May 2012, 09:20:03

Tags: Fallout; GURPS; PnP Interview; Sean Punch

Over the course of the next year, the RPG Codex will be doing a line of retrospective interviews on pen & paper role-playing systems, including questions focusing on P&P's relationships with the digital media and computer RPGs. For the first of these interviews, we have reached out to Sean Punch - also known as Kromm - to talk about GURPS, arguably the most open-ended role-playing system ever made. Some call it the system to end all systems, some call it needlessly complicated. The system primarily aims for freedom of choice: it can be used for any setting, at any time, in any conceivable way. Fallout 1 was originally supposed to use GURPS as its underlying rule system, but for reasons that are not completely clear, that failed to happen. In this interview, we ask Sean about the Fallout incident, as well as about many other things - read on!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at Steve Jackson Games? What project(s) are you currently involved with?

SP: My responsibilities as GURPS Line Editor are diverse; SJ Games is a small publisher, so everybody wears many hats. I'm involved with every GURPS project on some level, although my role varies from item to item. I seek freelance writers for products we know we want to publish and also evaluate proposals submitted out of the blue, and I approve project outlines either way. I advise freelancers on house style and GURPS rules as they work, and then I review their writing, at any stage from first draft to final proof. I do sometimes serve as an old-fashioned i-dotting, t-crossing editor... and as a compiler, reviser, or developer, as necessary. I have the last word on rules canon and editorial style for writers, because my job's raison d'être is to ensure consistency across the product line. Finally, I write as often as I can -- in my heart, I'm an author first!​

To you, what are the most significant design principles and core values behind GURPS?

SP: I've answered that question dozens of ways in 17 years, but here are a few vital principles that always seem to make the cut:

- Options. However many expansions it has and however long these run, GURPS is a simple game at heart; e.g., characters are built on one variety of points, and most tasks involve rolling three six-sided dice under a target number. Likewise, GURPS makes no assumptions about genre or power level, and few about realism level or play style (although I'll admit that it does slightly favor verisimilitude, and avoids competitive, PvP gaming). However, it offers all kinds of options to adjust complexity, genre, power level, realism level, and so on. That's the heart and hallmark of a GURPS product: it offers tons of options that enable the gamer to customize her gaming experience.

- Austerity. GURPS is a sprawling product line, and I'd never lie and say that we don't expand it all the time, because we're famous for doing exactly that. However, a few basic systems underlie everything, and we try not to introduce new game mechanics or character abilities until we're sure that the existing stuff won't do the job. Most of the expansions you see demonstrate how to use the available tools to do new jobs. They don't add new concepts that break old ones; they just expand gamers' options.

- Consistency. We make a serious effort to ensure that every product works with every other one, and that new rules respect old rules (although they might add special cases or extra detail). Likewise, we take editorial style and even text formatting seriously, so you know what sections to expect in a particular kind of GURPS book, where to find things, and how to read the stats.​

Fallout 1 was initially supposed to utilize GURPS for its rule system, but in the end it did not. The only information we have been able to find on the subject is that SJ Games were concerned about the amount of blood and gore in the game. Can you tell us more about why a GURPS Fallout failed to happen?

SP: Ultimately, the issue was that the license didn't word the approval process in a way that was good for either party, and it was simply easier to design a new RPG engine than to redo the licensing agreement and all of the approvals. That might sound extreme, but the RPG elements of a CRPG are minor next to the storyboards, level designs, visuals, audio, and all that other good stuff. Whether the specific concern that led to the discovery of the approval issue was somebody at SJ Games disliking blood and gore, I cannot say -- I did not then and do not now handle licensing, and I never saw so much as a screenshot at the time. I can say that geeky guys at my own pay grade on both sides regretted seeing the plug pulled, but apparently my bosses and their bosses viewed that as the right move for financial reasons. To this day, I remain skeptical of claims that a single cut scene, loading screen, dialog line, etc. caused the parting of ways.​

For Sean's thoughts on CRPGs and their systems, the future of GURPS on the PC, and lots of RPG design talk, read the entire interview!

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Sean Punch, Line Editor of GURPS, on P&P, Digital Media, and RPG Design

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RPG Codex Interview: Dreadline, Party-Based Monster ARPG by Ex-Irrational Games, Ex-Harmonix Devs

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 15 May 2012, 22:05:42

Tags: Dreadline; Eerie Canal Entertainment; Freedom Force

Dreadline, announced yesterday, is a party-based action RPG for PC ("a Diablo/Freedom Force mashup, but faster and with more blood!", as described in the press release) currently under development by Eerie Canal Entertainment, a recently formed ex-Irrational Games, ex-Harmonix, ex-Iron Lore developer studio. In particular, Bryn Bennett worked on Freedom Force 2 and Steven Kimura was a 2D Artist on System Shock 2. In the game, you take control of a group of time-travelling monsters who visit history's greatest calamities, such as the Titanic tragedy or the destruction of Pompeii, with the simple but elegant goal of killing as many humans as possible in the nastiest way possible. Heck, they are destined to die anyway! Monsters that are perversely moral in addition to being perversely bloody? Count me in!

The art style is pretty unique (unique and pretty), too, as evident from the teaser trailer:


Excited about the game's announcement and premise, we have reached out to Bryn Bennett (Programmer/Designer) and Aaron DeMuth (Artist) of Eerie Canal Entertainment for a short interview that would hopefully introduce the game better than just a usual press release. Have a snippet:

Dreadline's premise - controlling a group of monsters who travel through time to kill those who are already doomed to die in history's calamities - definitely makes it stand out, as does the look. What were the main inspirations behind the game's unique concept and art style?

Bryn Bennett: Steven [Kimura, Lead Artist] is a huge Edward Gorey fan, which explains a lot of the look. We are also trying to bring the creepy look of '70's animation, which I don't think has been represented much in video games. Cartoons like The Hobbit and Watership Down were terrifying!

The concept just came from us throwing around ideas for a few weeks. We all generally have dark senses of humor, and this concept really cracked us up. We knew we were on to something right away.

Aaron DeMuth: Yeah, Steve already has a pretty distinct drawing style, mix in Edward Gorey, Quantum leap, and Ancient aliens and I think you'd arrive at the same place.

Dreadline has been announced as an "action RPG/RTS hybrid." From a gameplay standpoint, would it be fair to call the game "a Freedom Force-like, but with monsters instead of superheroes"?

BB: I think that's a good place to start, but doesn't really describe what we're shooting for. The game is going to be much faster paced than Freedom Force. It will still be necessary to control your team well in order to complete levels, but we won't have things like pause-time. We want it to feel very frantic and high energy. Additionally, we are a small indie studio, so we're not going to be making something the size of Freedom Force, since we just don't have that kind of man-power. (people-power?)

The press release says we will control "a bloodthirsty monster squad." How large is the squad the player controls going to be and how many recruitable characters will there be? Can you perhaps give us some examples of the special skills the characters will have?

BB: You will control a squad of 4 monsters at a time. We played around with the number a bit, but larger numbers of monsters started to feel unwieldy. There also may be some early level with less, to keep things simple and allow the player to ramp up with the controls. Then again, they have a time machine, so they could always go back and replay with more monsters and really bring the doom.

Again, I'm not trying to be secretive, but there are a lot of things up in the air right now. Our skill system currently allows for a ton of different types of abilities, so I'm really excited about that.

Right now, our character Cuberik (the Evil Cube), is kind of like a harvester of souls. One of his abilities is to drain life from humans, and can then use that life force to heal his monster friends. He's like a terrifying recycling machine.​

So if you ever wanted an RPG that would allow you to play on the side of monsters that kill a lot of people in a bloody way - and with an (ahem) moral justification of "eh, they were all going to die anyway" - this might be just the game for you. We thank Bryn and Aaron for their time, and personally I'll be keeping an eye on Dreadline and patiently waiting for its release scheduled for Q1 2013.

Meanwhile, be sure to read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Dreadline, Party-Based Monster ARPG by Ex-Irrational Games, Ex-Harmonix Devs

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Leonard Boyarsky on Fallout, Interplay and Troika

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 7 May 2012, 21:18:51

Tags: Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura; Blizzard Entertainment; Diablo III; Fallout; Fallout 2; Interplay; Leonard Boyarsky; Retrospective Interview; Troika Games; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Leonard Boyarsky is a name that everyone at the RPG Codex knows and loves. The games he worked on, first at Interplay and then at Troika as the company's co-founder and CEO, are among the cRPG industry's most oustanding achievements, and two of them – Fallout 1 and Arcanum – have, along with non-Boyarsky-designed Planescape: Torment, been firmly holding their place in the RPG Codex Holy Trinity™ of computer RPGs for many years already.

Therefore you can imagine how excited we were when Leonard Boyarsky agreed to do a retrospective interview with us, which you can find here. In the interview, Leonard talks Interplay, Troika, and some of the inspirations and design (and business) particulars behind the titles he helped create. Have a snippet -- but be sure to read the full interview as well, it's really interesting!

What was the atmosphere and company culture like at Interplay when you worked there, and how did it develop into the situation that prompted you to leave the company?

The atmosphere and culture at Interplay were phenomenal. It was a very creative and inspiring place to work – I mean, they let us do basically whatever we wanted with Fallout. We had almost complete creative freedom on that game. After it shipped, however, it felt like the ‘being left alone in a corner to do whatever we wanted’ era had come to an end. They liked what we had done with Fallout too much to let us run wild anymore, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong – the atmosphere at Interplay was still great, but it felt like we had to move on. Another major factor in our leaving was that we felt that Interplay was going to be facing hard times soon, due to certain choices that were being made. We didn’t want to wait around for it to implode, so we left.

Was founding your own video game developer company something you had long wanted to do, or was it a spontaneous decision? How difficult was it for you as Troika's CEO to balance creative and business challenges?

I never wanted to start my own company, I wanted to stay at Interplay forever. But then Fallout ended and our situation at Interplay changed. It was only then that we seriously started considering starting our own thing. As far as being CEO, that just meant that I was the poor soul who had to negotiate contracts, deal with publishers, write our reports, etc. I spent as little time doing that stuff as possible, which is probably one of the main reasons we didn’t succeed as a company. None of us wanted to do the business stuff, we just wanted to make games. Vampire was really where the management/lead stuff began to crowd out the ‘in the trenches’ day to day work on the games for me.

As you put it in a past interview, "being original is risky." Do you believe originality, and the fact it did not sell, was the chief reason Troika was not able to survive?

Pinning our demise on ‘being too original’ is a bit self-serving for my tastes. For one thing, we were never able to spread our appeal beyond the hardcore RPG market and our sales suffered for it. Not to mention our reputation for releasing ‘unpolished’ games…

Given the recent Kickstarter success stories of Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo, what do you think of crowdfunding as an alternative way of video game publishing? Do you believe it can significantly change the landscape of the industry, and would you consider turning to crowdfunding yourself in the future? (For a Troika reunion maybe?)

I think it’s great. It’s wonderful that old school games are being funded this way. I don’t know that it will have much of an effect on the publishing industry, though, unless one of the games is a huge hit.

And I’m happy working at Blizzard, so I don’t see crowdfunding in my future—especially since I have no desire to run my own company again.​

I repeat, be sure to read the interview in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Leonard Boyarsky

We are grateful to Leonard Boyarsky for taking time out of his demanding schedule to do this interview for us, and Che'von Slaughter of Blizzard Entertainment for kindly allowing it to take place. We also thank everyone who suggested their questions for this interview; unfortunately, it was impossible for Leonard to answer all your questions, but I hope you're satisfied with the result!

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