Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Sat 16 June 2012, 14:58:04Tags: 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!
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.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: DoubleBear on Dead State
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Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 June 2012, 12:46:52Tags: 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:
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:
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.
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 11 June 2012, 11:56:19Tags: 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:
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:
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
Community - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 11 June 2012, 06:04:28Tags: 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?
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):
$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...
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
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.
Interview - posted by Grunker on Sun 10 June 2012, 14:52:05Tags: 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?
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?
What are the main ways video game art influences pen and paper art today, and vice versa? How would you describe this process?
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
Game News - posted by getter77 on Fri 8 June 2012, 04:03:08Tags: 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:
Read the full article for all the details and dev clarifications: Epilogue v2.0 released alongside a Commercial Edition
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 27 May 2012, 20:13:21Tags: 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:
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.
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 22 May 2012, 15:33:13Tags: 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:
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 ^_^
Interview - posted by Grunker on Thu 17 May 2012, 09:20:03Tags: 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?
To you, what are the most significant design principles and core values behind GURPS?
- 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?
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
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 15 May 2012, 22:05:42Tags: 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:
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
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 7 May 2012, 21:18:51Tags: 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!
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!
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 29 April 2012, 14:51:51Tags: Faster Than Light; Kickstarter; Subset Games
For once, we are doing an interview on a Kickstarter project that does not seek your money. Anymore, at least. FTL: Faster Than Light is a "spaceship simulation roguelike(-like)" currently being developed by the two-man company Subset Games based in Shanghai, China, that recently got a whopping $200,000 on Kickstarter, with only $10,000 being the initial funding goal. Faster Than Light focuses on the inner workings of a spaceship - its (upgradeable) systems, subsystems, drones, weapons, ammo, augmentations, and last but not least its crew - as it travels throughout the galaxy, jumping from sector to sector and getting involved in random text and combat events that pop up along the way. As roguelikes are wont to, the game features heavy randomization and permadeath. To get a glimpse of what the game plays like, you can check out this official alpha gameplay video.
FTL had a dedicated thread here on the Codex, which got many of us interested in the game. Unfortunately, however, not everyone had the chance to try out the game's demo that was only available for a limited period of time via OnLive. Therefore, as the game nears its beta (currently scheduled for May), we have reached out to Justin Ma and Matthew Davis of Subset Games to ask them a few questions about the game, the things they plan on adding for the beta, and related matters. This interview is the result. Have a snippet:
While the more typical ‘pure’ roguelike games are a lot of fun, what excites us most is when developers take elements of roguelikes and combine them with other established game archetypes. This interest began after being moderately obsessed with Spelunky.
We tried to pull our favorite aspects from the roguelike genre and put them into FTL. This can be seen in the randomly generated galaxy, the way unexpected loot influences your strategy, how permadeath dramatically increases tension, and an end-state that seems just out of reach.
With its streamlined interface, FTL seems to be developed with a more casual audience in mind compared to "hardcore" roguelikes. What will the game have to offer to a veteran roguelike player? How do you ensure that such a player finds enough variety and depth in the game's mechanics to warrant multiple replays?
As much as we love classic sims, we hate the burden of over-complicated UI. We value simple controls and ease of use, but we are still hardcore gamers at heart and FTL was designed specifically for players like us. The game truly shines when players are faced with managing power issues, environmental hazards, boarding parties, injured crew, and an enemy ship... all at once.
Our ultimate goal is to have an intense and difficult game where each failure can be traced back to a decision the player has made; making them want jump back in with their knowledge and strategy refined.
What are the most important features you are still to implement before release, and have your plans changed in any way now that you have collected $200k via Kickstarter instead of the $10k you initially asked for?
By the beta, we want to restructure the map and enemy generation system, create the end-game state, and add the meta-game elements / achievements. In addition to those major features, we’ll be adding more content in the form of additional encounters, weapons, and enemy ships will be added as well. The significantly increased funds are allowing us to hire contractors to improve various aspects of the game. However, our aggressive release schedule could mean that major, previously unplanned features will have to wait until post-launch when we’ll release them as free updates.
We thank Justin and Matthew for their time and look forward to the beta! Meanwhile, you can visit the official FTL website.
And be sure to read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Faster Than Light, Spaceship Simulation Roguelike
P.S. Special thanks go to Zed for his input on the first version of the questions!
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 27 April 2012, 20:10:49Tags: Retrospective Interview; Robert J. Woodhead; Sir-Tech; Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds; Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn; Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna; Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
At the RPG Codex, we have occasionally done interviews in which we asked CRPG developers about their past work. But now we have decided to turn these "retrospective" interviews into a proper (if irregular) series, focusing on seminal titles and designers as well as forgotten gems and unsung heroes.
To start things off, we present our interview with Robert Woodhead, the co-creator of Wizardry, one of the most revered series here on the Codex, and a pioneer of the industry. Wizardry was a huge success for Sir-Tech, and it continues to inspire video game designers to this day. In this interview, Robert talks about some of the design and coding decisions behind Wizardry, nerds, groupies, and related matters. Have a snippet:
In the early days, we were very isolated; the only time we really interacted with other creators was at conferences and conventions. The rate of change during that period was very slow due to the lack of communication -- a 1200 baud modem was the gold standard!
How did your decision to leave the industry after you parted ways with Sir-Tech come about? Have you ever thought of going back to designing video games?
I actually moved to Japan to build what would have been one of the first MMOs (code-named "Sunday"), in the early 90s, but the project lost funding when Japan's economic bubble burst. But at the same time, AnimEigo grew from a fun weekend project into a real company, so things worked out. And the girl I was chasing after allowed me to catch her.
It might be fun to work on another game, but it would probably have to be in a design role. I still program quite a lot but I'm a lone-wolf coder; I've never worked in a big programming team.
Did you code the first four Wizardry games by yourself? What programming challenges did you face that you were most proud of overcoming?
I did the code for the first 4 games. The most interesting hacks I did were the copy-detection system, and the "Window Wizardry" retrofit that added overlapping windows to the UI, which got done from idea to implementation in a single 80-hour coding marathon.
Were there any design ideas that you wanted to implement in the series but had to reject because of programming or other technical considerations?
One thing I wanted to do was set up the game so that if it detected it had been copied, and there was a modem attached to the computer, it would wait until it had been idle for a while and then call us up and drop a dime on the pirate. And of course it could be a 900 number... : ) But wiser heads prevailed.
The early Wizardry titles were first developed for Apple II and then ported to other platforms. How did you go about this process?
We wrote Apple Pascal p-code interpreters for each target machine. That plus a little assembly language code to abstract the graphics did the trick. We also had a text localization system that moved all the text in the game into a database; it got done for the Japanese localizations and permitted us to create any message we needed on the fly, with all the variable parts inserted into the right places.
In Wizardry I, the player did not even have to explore half of the dungeon levels in order to beat the game. What prompted the decision to leave so many levels unused?
I think we underestimated how fast people would power-level -- and at the time, nobody knew what power-leveling was. So while there were shortcuts, we expected they would be used only after people had explored all but the final level.
Can you share your favorite anecdote or piece of trivia from the days you were working on the Wizardry series?
When the industry first got started, all the programmers thought we'd be the rock stars of the '80s, complete with groupies.
Well, it turned out we were right about the groupies. Unfortunately, they all looked just like us -- nerdy guys. : (
Heh, the story of a Codexer's life.
We are extremely grateful to Robert Woodhead for taking his time to do this interview. Stay tuned for more retrospective interviews in the future!
Be sure to read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Robert Woodhead.
P.S. Thanks to cboyardee, MMXI, Alex, Zed, and JarlFrank for their criticism and suggestions on the first version of the questions!
Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 25 April 2012, 22:35:28Tags: Alexander Dergay; Aterdux Entertainment; Kickstarter; Legends of Eisenwald
Legends of Eisenwald by indie developers Aterdux Entertainment is a strategy/RPG hybrid with turn-based tactical combat. Drawing inspiration from titles like Disciples and King's Bounty, it is one of the latest noteworthy games currently running a Kickstarter campaign to have gained the attention of Codexers. There were some questions and concern about the game, however (obviously, this being the Codex after all), so we reached out to Aterdux for an interview. Alexander Dergay, Aterdux CEO, kindly answered our questions. We hope this interview sheds some light on the setting and campaign of Legends of Eisenwald*, its turn-based combat, magic system, and more!
The interview also comes with brand new screenshots.
What are your favorite strategy RPGs, and how do they influence the concept behind Legends of Eisenwald?
AD: For this we have a quite definite answer – Disciples 2 and King’s Bounty. Not only King’s Bounty: The Legend but also the first one from 1990. That was the game that inspired making Discord Times and it was released 4 years before King’s Bounty: The Legend. We believe that zest of King’s Bounty lies in RPG gameplay on a strategic scale. You lead an army, travel to many distant places but you don’t need to worry about such prosaic things like economy or resource management. You are not a king, you are a knight, a vagabond and it’s great! This romantic feeling is what we aim to reproduce in Legends of Eisenwald.
As for Disciples we love these series mostly because of its unique combat system and as many fans we were very disappointed when Disciples 3 abandoned it. But we decided that we have to fix this situation and not let that unique system die : ) Our combat model is inspired by that particular model. Its rethought and improved version is used in Legends of Eisenwald.
Legends of Eisenwald's combat is turn based, yet at the same time you want to make it fast-paced enough for individual battles not to take too long. How do you strike a balance between complexity and speed of combat? Can you describe the move-and-strike system in more detail?
AD: First of all like in Disciples 2 and Discord Times our units don’t have a feature like “move points”. Close range fighters can attack any enemy if the way to him is not obstructed by another enemy. There is no command like “go and stand there” so for every move you have to attack someone or stay in defense position. Moreover, we aim to balance units’ characteristics to increase the importance of every strike in a battle. For example: you chose to attack one enemy unit and you finish the battle having lost two of yours. You played again, you chose to attack another one and you finish the battle with no losses.
Anyway, we understand that describing our combat system in words is not that convincing. In the next couple of days we plan to present a combat video with detailed commentaries that will show a full picture of battles that await you in Eisenwald.
How non-linear can we expect the campaign to be? Apart from the character class you choose, are there any other ways to impact how the game (and the story) plays out?
AD: Many decisions will influence how a player goes through scenarios. In some cases a player will choose himself which alliance to choose or whom to fight. The quests that he receives will also depend on that. But it all will be within a framework of coherent large campaign. In Legends of Eisenwald we plan to have “hidden” non-linearity where choices in one scenario are reflected in another scenario. For example, you received an item after a battle. You can sell it and get gold or you can use it to finish one of the local quests. But if you decide to keep it, you may find out many new things in the next scenario.
* Eisenwald is German for "iron forest". Now you know.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Legends of Eisenwald, Strategy/RPG with turn-based combat
Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Mon 23 April 2012, 12:50:38Tags: BioWare; Mass Effect 3
For the last couple of weeks TNO did nothing else but to tirelessly play through Mass Effect 3 time and again with the noble goal to bring us the third of his narratological reviews of the Mass Effect series. Let's have a snippet:
It is worth noting that the renegade options have generally grown up a bit. Previously renegade choices were random acts of violence (such as this defenestration), or killing an NPC you just met for the greater good. The renegade choice in the Tuchanka story line involved you literally shooting a likeable NPC in the back, and potentially having the betrayal blow up horribly in your face if Wrex is around to find out. Having party members mention 'shame that Mordin had to die curing the Genophage' knowing you shot him to ensure it remained uncured was much more emotionally engaging that their canned tragedy routines.Read the full article: Mass Effect 3: A Narratological Review
There are other cases of similar complexity where the C&C shines. Resolving the conflict between the Quarian and the Geth is one example, talking down Ash/Kaidan at the council coup another. This sort of thing has only really been matched by Alpha Protocol, and would that other games join in.
Sadly, it isn't all that good, and the 'Bioware choices' which lead to at-best-cosmetically-different outcomes are out in force. If a party member died in previous installments, their role will be replaced by a functionally (and often word-perfect) equivalent stunt double: Mordin gets replaced with a scientist Salarian, Grunt with another Krogan Leader, Jack with a leader of biotic students, Tali with another Quarian Geth expert, etc. Supposedly important plot decisions count for little: destroy the Collector base and Cerberus still 'recovers' the human Reaper and hangs it up in their headquarters, kill the Rachni queen and you still meet another Rachni queen 'created' by the Reapers, get Anderson to be councillor and Udina takes over the role anyway. And so on. It got to the point that whenever I saw an interesting little wrinkle in the game it made me wonder 'how would things have turned out differently?' I reminded myself that, in all likelihood, the difference would have been cosmetic. There are only so many times you can offer illusory choice before you prejudice the audience against you.
Preview - posted by Zed on Thu 29 March 2012, 03:37:37Tags: OlderBytes; Swords and Sorcery: Underworld
Swords and Sorcery: Underworld Gold is the upcoming enhanced edition of Swords and Sorcery: Underworld (2010), a turn- and party-based first person indie RPG/dungeon crawler in the vein of Might and Magic. I've written a quick preview of it so you can know what changes have been introduced. If you thought Underworld seemed like fun but was reluctant to play it for whatever reason, this might interest you.
Something that might get on your nerves is the fact that you do not see enemies approach you before an 'encounter!' box pops up and you get thrown into combat. You will enter combat everywhere, too. Even in towns. This can make it challenging to strategize, at least during your first playthrough. When my healer died early in the game, it was pure hell getting back to the temple to resurrect her because of all the random in-town encounters along the way.
Read the preview in full here: Swords and Sorcery: Underworld Gold Preview. There's also a thread for the game in the Codex Workshop subforum that you might want to check out.
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 22 March 2012, 11:43:53Tags: Brian Fargo; Kickstarter; Wasteland 2
Since the official Wasteland 2 forums went up, a lot of people have been wondering just how seriously the good folks at InXile are going to take community feedback. So we've asked Brian Fargo about it, and here's what he says.
BF: Every project that I have managed has started with a vision document that calls out the important things we must deliver on. In conjunction with those call outs I make the team deliver examples of such things. If we say great characters with interesting dialogue then I want to see a sample. If we think gorgeous character portraits are important then I want an artist to show me one. It is one thing to promise a feature, but another to deliver. So instead of my relying on my instincts or team meetings I am able to solicit the feedback from the fans to make sure we nail what is important. The process now is very similar but actually better than ever since I don't have to be flying in the dark. We are not going to try and satisfy EVERY desire of EVERY fan, or it would be a mess. My instincts for this game have been pretty much in line with what I have seen, but there have been new ideas or priorities that were not intuitive to me and I was thankful for having the input that has been supplied. And there will be an extra step soon where I post the vision document based on all these things, but I have not had a second to type something up that communicates well. I don't think there will be any big surprises on it... we all know what we want to see here.
Wasteland enforced a distinction between the core group of player created characters and the companions that could tag along. The companions would largely control themselves and helped to integrate the player's party with the game's setting and quests. Is the autonomy and personality of these companions something you would like to expand upon in Wasteland 2? In what ways?
BF: I absolutely want to expand on the NPCs' self directed nature. I do want control to tell them to move, fire, evade, etc., and probably most the time they will obey. Some NPCs will waste ammo like in the first game, but I want to take it further. Some will steal from you, which will be funny to notice your canteen is missing. Maybe he will return it and maybe he won't. And you may have another powerful NPC in the group, but he just hates bikers. Walk into a biker bar and he starts attacking without regard for consequences. Those are fun moments for me.
Most cRPGs today seem to feature voice acting in some capacity and it has been hinted at that Wasteland 2 will be no different. Many believe that the financial burden and inflexibility of voice acting will have an impact on the dialogue and quest design. Do you share this belief? To what extent would you like to use voice acting in Wasteland 2?
BF: I don't want to give away all my surprises, but people have made an assumption that voice acting is just talking heads or a narrator. There is some very interesting audio bits I have been wanting to try for years that will really up the drama but without the design or cost impacts. The classic RPGs like a Fallout or a Torment had a heavy literary vibe with all the great prose and descriptions, and that is a large element that people liked. I'm not talking about stepping on every square and getting a paragraph, but there is definitely a place for good writing. Also keep in mind that we will design the game as if there was no conversation audio, so we won't even consider that as a limitation.
Be sure to read the full interview here.
We are grateful to Brian Fargo for taking the time to answer our questions!
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 18 March 2012, 22:38:35Tags: Alex Thomas; Kickstarter; Stoic Studio; The Banner Saga
UPDATE: The Banner Saga Kickstarter is now live! Check it out and support it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga
The Banner Saga -- a 2D turn-based tactical strategy/RPG hybrid currently being developed by Stoic Studio, a small team of ex-Bioware employees -- is about to go the crowdfunding way, with a dedicated Kickstarter page scheduled to be up tomorrow. The game got quite a few people excited over here already by its promise of turn-based tactical combat as well as by taking its inspiration from King of Dragon Pass, among other games. We even have a lively thread about it here in the General RPG Discussion subforum.
That's me interviewing Alex Thomas on The Banner Saga
Therefore it should come as no surprise that, before the launch of the Kickstarter campaign tomorrow, we've sent some questions over to Stoic Studio's Alex Thomas and he was kind enough to answer them for us, this interview being the result. Have some snippets:
As a game designer, what do you think of the current state of the video game industry, and strategy/RPG industry in particular? Are there certain trends that are worrisome to you or, on the contrary, that you particularly appreciate?
In general, what makes a strategy game "deep" in your view, and where should RPG elements come into play?
Elsewhere, you cited King of Dragon Pass, Final Fantasy Tactics and Mount and Blade as influences. In what ways would you want The Banner Saga to be similar to each of those games? Do you have some specific points of similarity in mind?
Final Fantasy Tactics is the kind of mood we want to capture in combat. It was the first game to really feel like it had game mechanics that went way beyond surface level and I would play it for the sheer joy of experimentation. I imagine there were a lot of people like me who had maxed out the characters and classes before even getting to Dorter. That feeling of building a "deck" of characters with abilities that complement each other tactically, the way you would make a specialized deck in Magic: the Gathering, is something we wanted for combat in the Banner Saga.
As for Mount and Blade, well, I can't we've taken much from the gameplay. It's my absolute favorite game and what I really enjoy about it is the mood and setting more than anything else, the real sense of survival in the world and the way politics actually affect the gameplay. More than anything, this is one of those influences that lead us to making games.
We are grateful to Alex for taking his time to do the interview! I'll be sure to edit this post once the Kickstarter goes live and keep you all updated.
Meanwhile, be sure to read the interview in full: RPG Codex Interview: The Banner Saga, 2D Turn-Based Strategy RPG
UPDATE: The Kickstarter page is now up: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga. Check it out.
Competition - posted by DarkUnderlord on Wed 14 March 2012, 07:22:28Tags: Brian Fargo; Codex Statue in Wasteland 2; Kickstarter; Wasteland 2
Want this in Wasteland 2?
Carrying on from this thread (and as suggested by this thread), the Codex is aiming to raise $5,000 for the Wasteland 2 KickStarter currently being run by inXile. If successful, this will score us an in-game statue (we're going for the Codex Troll as created by MCA, shown above) and a Codexian-based location.
Brain Fargo, CEO of inXile has confirmed that he is willing to work something out for us if we can raise the cash:
UPDATE (March 15): Only $1k left to go. Tally is now on the right side of the front-page, where hot topics used to be.
Chris Avellone has also thrown in this offer:
As a thank you from the Codex, everyone who donates will get at least one months ad-free for every $5 donated to the cause (just give me a few days to set that all up). To find out more, including the current (updated as of March 15) list of donors, follow this link.
UPDATE (March 16): We have officially reached our goal with just under $7,000 raised. As soon as I transfer some of my own funds, we will reserve a statue place in the KickStarter for the RPG Codex (under the Codex' name). Due to possible tax / PayPal fee issues, we're putting in $6k towards the KickStarter and will hold the rest until we know for sure how much the charges will be. We now need ideas on what to do if we raise more dosh... And of course, you can still drop in $250+ for your own MCA troll!
UPDATE (March 17): Check the content item for updated donors. Also, please be advised that processing donations takes at least 48 hours. So if you've donated and aren't on the list yet, give it at least 2 days before you PM me asking why you're not on the list. Also, we may have a tax problem... Please stand by.
UPDATE (March 18): Ok, hopefully we've resolved the tax issue and we've changed our PayPal account. Check the content for more details and an updated list of donors! This will likely be the last update in the news item for now, but I'll continue to update the donor list and the tally daily.
UPDATE (March 20): We've decided to end the fund-raising drive when we reach $10k. Also, if you've donated but don't want one of the digital copies we get, let me know (names with an * in the list are those I've noted - some people have advised me but if you've not got an *, advise me again). Updated donor list and additional details are in the content item.
UPDATE (March 22): Updated donors. Going through and working out ad-free patron stuff now...
UPDATE (March 23): Our target of $10,000 has been reached (and surpassed just a smidge). We've now closed the fund-raising drive and will (just as soon as the funds clear) make our contribution to the Wasteland 2 KickStarter for the RPGCodex!
UPDATE (March 28):
It has been done! See the content update for more details.
More details available here, including an updated list of donors.
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 6 March 2012, 08:27:11Tags: Kickstarter; Michael A. Stackpole; Wasteland; Wasteland 2
When we at RPGCodex learned about Michael A. Stackpole, a key original Wasteland designer, joining Brian Fargo's new team, we had this pretty great idea: why don't we interview him as well and hear his thoughts now, more than twenty years after Wasteland was released, on the way the possible sequel should be designed in this day and age? There were a few things we were really curious about, and luckily, Michael was up for it, so here we have the result.
We are extremely grateful to Michael A. Stackpole for taking his time to answer our questions and to Brian Fargo for green-lighting the interview! Special thanks go to @MMXI for the splendid job he did in editing and refining the questions that I originally worded quite clunkily, and to @Monolith for troubling Brian Fargo with the whole thing.
I can't help but quote a good chunk of the interview for you:
MS: The things that players tend to remember the most about Wasteland adventures were not the puzzles per se, but the moral choices players had to make. When I do book signings, now 24 years after Wasteland came out, I still get folks wanting to know what the "correct" solution was to dealing with the rabid dog. Why? Because they felt like hell killing the dog. The dog puzzle, if you will, engaged players on an emotional level. That's not something that happens when you're killing ten orcs to get a key to unlock a chest which contains a scroll which will let you find a treasure which is the sword that lets you kill a monster. Why designers haven't stepped up to engage players emotionally is beyond me; though it may have to do with the difference between making puzzles and creating stories. Ultimately, creating stories is what we did with Wasteland, and what we'll do with the new Wasteland.
- Today's role-playing video games tend to be developed with maximum accessibility in mind. A lot of developers seem to discourage experimentation and exploration by introducing features such as quest markers to guide the players. Wasteland, however, didn't hold your hand at all, and it was therefore extremely easy to miss out on large chunks of content. What is your stance on this today?
MS: A hunk of the appeal of rpgs is the element of discovery. My preference would be to keep everything in world, but quest markers and other visual clues on a mini-map might be something which is useful. Then again, with a top down view, getting and using clear and concise directions is a lot easier than in many a FPS or MMORPG. For my tastes, it would be fun to have a mode in which folks could get that hint information. Maybe a GPS device that functions off and on, so you use it sparingly. Ultimately, of course, we want the game experience to be fun, not frustrating. If navigation becomes a problem in that regard, finding a simple and elegant solution will move up in the list of design elements to be included.
- Wasteland represented conversations through a hybrid system of keyword typing and multiple choice selection, separating knowledge acquisition and quest progression. However, over the 15 years, full-blown dialogue trees have taken over the genre, with games such as Wizardry 8 and Morrowind being the last ones to experiment. Do you see any merit in alternative dialogue systems today? How would you approach conversations in Wasteland 2?
MS: The idea of handling conversations isn't as exciting for me as handling consequences of how the conversations conclude. I'd rather get into the meat of how you know someone is telling the truth, and what you do when you find out they've lied. It's possible to design an interface that not only takes into account player choices in a dialogue tree, but selects responses based on factors which the players might not even know about. Their actions in killing everything that moved in the last town might have a serious effect on how folks deal with them in this town. Ditto an action they take immediately, or even the folks they have in their party. I do a lot of dialogue in my day job. What is said isn't as important as how it makes folks feel. That's for the player. Determining how the NPCs feel and how that tempers their responses is just one more fun part of the design.
- An impression one gets from reading old interviews is that the Wasteland developers, regardless of discipline, were able to make their mark on the actual game world. As you once put it in an interview, "Everyone wanted to have his own map". Do you envisage this kind of collaborative design for Wasteland 2? How delicate is the balance between cohesiveness and variety in terms of locales?
MS: In the past quarter century (it hurts me to say that), I've spent a lot of time coordinating the development of some large worlds, like FASA's BattleTech Universe. I've worked with other authors, like Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson and Aaron Allston on coordinating elements for Star Wars® books. What I've learned through all those experiences is how to coordinate individual efforts and their contributions into the overall project. Short form, if the overall project has enough flexibility, you can allow designers to go nuts with their maps and not have it ruin the overall design. As long as what they do, and the best case scenario of how a player can come out of their map doesn't upset the balance, and as long as they include any specific design element to speed the overall story, you're good to go. So, we have the systems and room for folks to come in, and I'm really looking forward to their contributions.
Michael also talks about how today's players see video games, Wasteland's character system, "depth and consequence" as that which Wasteland had and "a lot of RPGs lack today," and the importance of a voiced narrator and engaging text. I'm curious to hear what you all think about Michael's answers.
Meanwhile, be sure to read the interview in full: Wasteland 2 RPG Codex Interview - Part 2: Michael A. Stackpole