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RPG Codex Interview: Faster Than Light, Spaceship Simulation Roguelike

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 29 April 2012, 14:51:51

Tags: 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:

What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the roguelike genre, and how do they come into play in FTL?

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!

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Robert Woodhead on Wizardry

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 27 April 2012, 20:10:49

Tags: 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:

How would you describe the atmosphere of working in the video game industry in the beginning of the 1980s, and how did it change over the years that you were active in the industry?

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?

Not really.

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!

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RPG Codex Interview: Legends of Eisenwald, Turn Based Strategy/RPG

Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 25 April 2012, 22:35:28

Tags: 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.

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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

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Mass Effect 3: A Narratological Review

Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Mon 23 April 2012, 12:50:38

Tags: 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.

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.
Read the full article: Mass Effect 3: A Narratological Review

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Swords and Sorcery: Underworld Gold Preview

Preview - posted by Zed on Thu 29 March 2012, 03:37:37

Tags: 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.

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My most successful party consisted of a Knight, two Rogues, two Sorcerers, and a Priest, but having only played the demo, I cannot really tell how well they would do at the later stages of the game. In the original version of Swords and Sorcery: Underworld you could steamroll most encounters at higher character levels, but the Gold version has introduced many new dungeon sections and changes to both the class system and combat (the former having been tweaked and expanded on because of the latter). The changes to combat consist of new tactical options, such as choosing whether your characters should stand on the front line or hide behind your Knights and Paladins. On top of that, enemies too can fall back now (previously, they could only rush forward into melee range). This increases the combat's tactical depth and offers an overall improvement over the old system. A consequence of this is that some classes have been given new skills in order to balance combat.

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.

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RPG Codex Wasteland 2 Interview - Part 3: Brian Fargo on Community Feedback

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 22 March 2012, 11:43:53

Tags: 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.

How do you strike a balance between a professional design vision and the desires of a diverse audience? Do you believe that the nature of this project will have a significant impact on the game's development process?

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!

There are 59 comments on RPG Codex Wasteland 2 Interview - Part 3: Brian Fargo on Community Feedback

RPG Codex Interview: The Banner Saga, 2D Turn-Based Strategy RPG

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 18 March 2012, 22:38:35

Tags: 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.

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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?

AT: Well, one of the main reasons we decided to make a game was because one of my favorite genres has been disappearing lately- turn-based strategy in the style of Shining Force or FFTactics. In my opinion, the problem with giant AAA games has always been the inability to innovate, which got left to the startups and the indie games. Indie development, of course, can't afford to push the tech, the visuals and the complexity of big games like Skyrim. The fact that indie is becoming more and more viable while big publishers keep chugging along is fantastic because I think we're going to start seeing a lot more overlap between the two. I can't think of a more ideal situation. That said, it has been a little disappointing seeing such an overpopulation of shooters versus everything else. I like a good shooter as much as the next guy, I'm just looking forward to a little more balance in the genres that I think will slowly come back around.​

In general, what makes a strategy game "deep" in your view, and where should RPG elements come into play?

AT: Alright, now we're getting into some dangerous territory. I can already see getting some strong feedback on this one. Our biggest prerogative in making a game with strategic combat, is that it's truly strategic. In some turn-based strategy it's just stat comparison and grinding, and that becomes outright dull. In fact, it's practically the opposite of strategy. Chess or Go, on the other hand, has no stats and is the pure essence of strategy. I'm not saying we're going to be the next chess. What we are aiming for is a balance of these things. We have a system in place that I don't think has been seen much. It requires finesse in placement, using the board and understanding the strength of weaknesses of all your pieces, but it also has an element of rpg with a few stats and abilities that need to be taken into account, and characters that upgrade over time. I can't wait to start showing it in the near future.​

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?

AT: Absolutely. Our travel mode, as mentioned before, is where events happen. Much like King of Dragon Pass, the people you pick up in your caravan as you travel are not just warriors but peasants and clansmen and just a wide range of society. As you travel they'll react to things in different ways. There may be strife within the caravan that you have to deal with, and making one decisions may bite you in the ass later. For example, a certain family may make a demand that the rest of the caravan is against. If you deny them, a few days later they may run off with supplies overnight. If you acknowledge them it may turn into a string of events that are much more costly. We're thinking of travel mode as a moving village. They're not just commodities, they act like real people and that's what I've always loved so much about KoDP.

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.

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Codexian Wasteland 2 Location + Statue Fund-Raising Drive

Competition - posted by DarkUnderlord on Wed 14 March 2012, 07:22:28

Tags: Brian Fargo; Codex Statue in Wasteland 2; Kickstarter; Wasteland 2

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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:

If your group puts 5k together I will find a way to make sure there is a shrine for a codex shrine or something else if you have a clever idea. I'm am quite flexible and I know at the end of the day I really want groups like yourselves to be happy with this game.​

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:

If you need further incentive for members, you can let folks know that anyone who donates more than $250 to the Codex cause I'll draw them a personal Codex troll they can use for their avatar or for a quick-and-simple emoticon.​

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):
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It has been done! See the content update for more details.

More details available here, including an updated list of donors.

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Wasteland 2 RPG Codex Interview - Part 2: Michael A. Stackpole

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 6 March 2012, 08:27:11

Tags: 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:

- An extremely important part of Wasteland was its puzzles. Today, however, it seems that elaborate puzzles have no place in cRPGs. Why do you think this is? Do you consider them a viable element in modern game design? If not, what could be a contemporary replacement and would it be possible to create something as memorable as, say, Finster's Brain without them?

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

There are 241 comments on Wasteland 2 RPG Codex Interview - Part 2: Michael A. Stackpole

Wasteland 2 RPG Codex Interview with Brian Fargo - Part 1

Interview - posted by Monolith on Sun 26 February 2012, 00:55:15

Tags: Brian Fargo; Kickstarter; Wasteland; Wasteland 2

If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago whether a sequel to Wasteland could become reality I'd have asked if pigs can fly or who I should point my meson cannon at for making a FPS out of it. Then suddenly Kickstarter happened to a different, also quite underappreciated genre and here we are, presenting to you the first part of our interview with Brian Fargo - about Wasteland 2, how crowdfunding could make it happen and that it "is going to be a top down, party and turn based game".

Take a glimpse:
- Being pessimistic for a moment; if the crowd funding approach fails to take off, but you instead attract the attention of a publisher and hammer out a deal, do you feel that the resulting version of Wasteland 2 would differ in terms of style? How do you think crowd funding will affect the type of game produced?

RPG Codex being pessimistic.. cmon.. never. I guess one has to ask the question if the game would have been a sales success if there wasn't enough fan support to fund it. Many RPG players love and respect Wasteland yet many Fallout players don't realize its roots. If the Fallout community truly knew then it would probably will be a successful funding. However, if we took your pessimistic scenario I think it would be a mistake to take this game in another direction other than what we have been discussing with the fans. The fans have made it clear that they want a certain kind of game and if publisher X popped up and said "Good news we are going Wasteland and its going to be an FPS", they would be incurring quite a wrath. Keeping it closer to the original game just seems right.
And a look at the full article

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Ultima 5: Lazarus Interview with Ian Frazier

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Wed 15 February 2012, 20:24:27

Tags: Ian Frazier; Ultima 5: Lazarus; Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny

For quite some time now the bros in Jaesun's super-secret bro forum concerned themselves with a hobby-project of theirs. It was an interview about a Dungeon Siege mod, Ultima 5: Lazarus. Now, having a new, fancy homepage, we might as well put it online. I'll give you a snippet:

-What were your primary motivations for recreating Ultima V in a modern engine? How did the Lazarus project come about and how did you get involved with it? Why did you choose to remake Ultima V as opposed to one of the earlier or later games in the series?

The first motivator was simply a love of Ultima. After Ascension came out, I was incredibly sad. Partially because I was disappointed by Ascension itself, but more because I hated for the series I loved so much to finally be over. The idea of bringing it back to life (i.e. Lazarus) in some form was very appealing to me.

The next motivator was that Ultima V itself seemed to me like it had so much potential to be an amazing "modern" game experience. It had this story with shades of gray and this giant cool world to explore and an interesting, dark atmosphere…but all of those things were hinted at more than actually there—after all, the game was from 1987! NPCs had tiny snippets of dialogue, the graphics were archaic, the music was beautifully crafted but sounded very dated in midi form, etc. I wanted to take that core idea and spirit that made Ultima V so cool and bring it back to life with all that 15 years of technological advancement afforded us. (this is also why I didn’t choose to remake one of the later games—I felt Ultima V had the most potential, plus I thought Ultima VII was still playable enough that it didn’t “need” remaking)

The third motivator was selfish: I knew from 6th grade onward that I wanted to be a game designer, and as I was preparing for college I knew that I needed to make a game of my own to learn the skills and "prove myself," because class-work alone was not going to get me into the incredibly competitive games industry. I figured I needed a project and, well, Lazarus was it! Starting my first week of college, I began to sketch out the early designs for Lazarus and start trying to get fellow students and some Ultima fans online to join me in working on this crazy project, and eventually it started to build up steam. A long 5 years later, we finished!
Hope you like the read.

Read the full article: Ultima 5: Lazarus Interview with Ian Frazier

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At long last, we're finally back

Community - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 13 February 2012, 08:25:08


Well, it seems everything went all right and we've finally been able to bring the front-page back online. If you'd like to read more about the sordid story behind our month and a half offline recently, follow the link at the bottom.

In other news, gallery images will be brought online shortly. The actual gallery itself will take some time. We are enabling file uploads for patrons though, so that you can upload images directly into your posts (which should make updating LP's a breeze). For the time being, that will replace most of the functionality of our gallery.

Our spiffy new Tag feature is also still under-development. Expect that to come online over the coming months. Content Search and News Archives are also still on the to-do list. And then there's TCancer... which I still have to write a bunch of converters for and solve a rather major technical issue before I can bring that back.

Until then, enjoy your New iCodex 2.0 and feel free to complain about missing features / make new feature requests. Hopefully it doesn't over-load the server...

Read the full article: At long last, we're finally back

There are 57 comments on At long last, we're finally back

The Age of Decadence Demo Preview

Preview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Sun 12 February 2012, 11:44:36

Tags: Age of Decadence; Iron Tower Studios

In one way or another we got our hands on the Age of Decadence demo beta and decided to pen a preview. This article, too, will be added to the new and improved content system as soon as it is up.

... and here it is. Here's a slice:

Those of you familiar with Vince D. Weller’s (a.k.a. Vault Dweller) take on how an RPG should be like, probably have certain expectations when it comes to how The Age of Decadence ticks. Let me immediately put it this way: judging by the demo it looks like the game does indeed deliver on the promises. The demo was hooking enough for me to play it several times in a row, trying out different backgrounds and fiddling around with an array of different combat builds, having fun. Bodes well, does it?​

Read on about how it delivers.

There are 207 comments on The Age of Decadence Demo Preview

Swen Vincke talks to the Codex

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Mon 6 February 2012, 16:25:13

Tags: Dragon Commander; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

Larian Studio founder Swen Vincke was kind enough to waste his precious time answering a couple of questions. Initially the interview was all about Dragon Commander, Larian's upcoming RPG/Strategy hybrid, but then we digressed a bit. Keep in mind that those questions were asked and answered in December, but since the frontpage still isn't up yet I'm publishing the interview here and now in the news forum and will add it to the content system properly at an unspecified later point.

Here we go.

Thanks to Swen for his time.

There are 51 comments on Swen Vincke talks to the Codex

Talking to Bill about Bloodlust - A Vampire RPG

Interview - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 5 December 2011, 02:55:22

Tags: Bloodlust

Did you ever play the Last Half of Darkness? It was a creepy DOS horror game made by William Fisher and now floats around various abandonware sites. William Fisher (Bill), the game's creator, has made several more games in the series since but now, he's trying something different - he's making a Vampire RPG called Bloodlust. With Bill's pedigree in horror and a seeming interest in making a decent game with choices and consequences, we decided to talk to him about it:

 

3) Are you funding this game yourself? Have you made any other games apart from this, and if so how did they sell?

 

Yes, this game is funded by myself. Prior to that, I have released 4 games in the Last Half of Darkness series (Point & Click Adventure style gameplay) - The point and click niche is fairly small and never sells as much as I like... but they all sell good enough.

 

4) What is the story behind this game? How much of an impact does player actions have over the story, and what year is the game set in? (assuming it is set in Earth)

 

 

The player was bitten and is resurrected as vampire fledgling at the start of the game - the story unfolds as the player grows in bloodline and his/her memories slowly come back (Oh no! Please not another amnesia premise? Yes... lol!)

 

Apparently slight memory loss is a side effect of the resurrection process. But who resurrected you? Who has bitten you? How did you wake up in creepy ruins area? ... It all unfolds as the story progresses.

 

I am planing on setting it up with choices and consequences for the player to decide throughout the story. Siding and helping certain clans affects certain storylines, quests, etc. and ultimately creates different outcomes, etc. The demo starts off in a ruins/graveyard area with strange creatures and then moves towards the gritty backstreets and alleys of New Orleans where you find more humans and clan members.

 

You can read the rest or visit the website and download a demo.

There are 53 comments on Talking to Bill about Bloodlust - A Vampire RPG

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Interview @ The Codex

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 8 November 2011, 15:33:41

Tags: Big Huge Games; Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an open world role-playing game currently in development at Big Huge Games. Ken Rolston, lead designer of Morrowind and Oblivion, does design duties on this title (inbetween his larping sessions), whereas R. A. "Drizzt" Salvatore contributed by thinking up the whole new Amalur universe. Ian Frazier (U5:Lazarus) is Lead Designer of Reckoning and we deemed it a good idea to ask him some questions about the game, which is scheduled for release in February 2012 by the way.

 

How awesome will the game be? What's Ian's favorite cereal? Can you play a dark elf dual-wielding scimitars? Follow Vault Dweller to find out the answers to these and other important questions:

 

3. Talking about why you'd want people to buy your game you listed "our combat, our colorful art style—just the sheer size of the world." Is there anything for people who like RPGs?

 

Combat that’s genuinely fun, a beautiful art style, and a massive world to explore are all things for people who like RPGs! Why wouldn’t an RPG player like these things? I’m an RPG fanatic and I certainly enjoy them! The massive explorable world in particular is something that RPG fans tend to appreciate. 

 

As far as other things for RPG fans, though, how about hundreds of quests to experience? Interesting characters to meet? A unique role to play in various factions? Expansive character advancement, crafting, and loot systems? We’ve got all that, and more.

 

Read the full interview here.

 

There are 62 comments on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Interview @ The Codex

Extravagant Frayed Knights Codex Preview Feature

Preview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Sat 24 September 2011, 01:26:47

Tags: Frayed Knights; Jay Barnson; Rampant Games

As most of you probably know, Indie developer RampantGames is about to release the first part of their blob dungeon crawler cRPG : Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon. What can I say, I've asked Jay Barnson to tag team a preview feature with me. It's half preview, half Let's Play and half interview.

Despite the fact you'll get this pre-generated characters as your party, you're free to level them up as you like. They cover the basic RPG archetypes and while you can pick skills and feats not fitting their predefined role, I think it's at least dubious to do so, in terms of combat efficiency. Although nothing stops you from trying anyways. Unlike other blob crawlers the game doesn't feature a phase-based combat system but a truely turnbased one with initiative-rolls before every turn to determine the sequence in which the combatants are going to act, something I prefer over phase-based.

 

Staying true to cRPG traditions we start out with pretty much zero resources. Expect a potion of Negligible Healing, 2 potions of Liquid Nap (per person) and some sort of weapon, for instance a Shoddy Quarterstaff, which is almost as good as a regular quarterstaff, except it's not. Additionally, Chloe comes with 3 charges on her wand of Incendiary Crackleball, a spell that does almost nothing, but it does it to multiple enemies.

Read the whole thing here.

There are 32 comments on Extravagant Frayed Knights Codex Preview Feature

TNO Reviews Neverwinter Nights 2

Review - posted by Jaesun on Wed 21 September 2011, 18:29:46

Tags: Neverwinter Nights 2; Obsidian Entertainment

TNO has written up another review, and this time he did not like Neverwinter Nights 2: [INDENT]For an Obsidian game, NWN2 has a remarkably BioWarean pedigree. Not only in the structure and the plotting (the '4 quest hub design has been linearized, but the tutorial + linear segment before the game opens out is still there, DA:Os plot bears remarkable similarity to Act 3, etc.), but also in the gameplay: the gradual wasting away of non-combat options, the rise of 'pick up token and kill enemies' sidequests, the dumbing down of combat to a difficulty slider between 'easy' and 'tedious', and the confusion between 'playing it safe' and smearing everything in generica. NWN2's small archipelago of interesting features are drowned in a sea of the forgettable, the poorly executed, and the pervasive sense that you've done this all before (and done better, too). Avoid wasting 30 hours of your time on this game.[/INDENT] [URL='http://www.rpgcodex.net/content.php?id=238']Read the review here.[/URL]

There are 56 comments on TNO Reviews Neverwinter Nights 2

Codex Exclusive - Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Interview with Bethesda

Interview - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 11 September 2011, 16:27:39

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Finally, in a long-awaited Codex Exclusive™, Bethesda talk to us about their much loved upcoming Elder Scrolls Game, Skyrim:

 

PCM: There was some criticism in Oblivion that axes became "blunt", which is to say, instead of having a separate axe skill like they did in Morrowind, they were part of the sets of blunt weapons. Have you taken steps to address that criticism? Maybe by bringing back the axe skill?

Todd: Well, you'd think "bring the axe skill back" but that's not where games are going.

 

Clicky to read the rest.

There are 127 comments on Codex Exclusive - Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Interview with Bethesda

[Quickie Nr. 002]: Jools and Dungeon Siege III

Review - posted by Jaesun on Wed 7 September 2011, 14:38:38

Tags: Dungeon Siege III; Obsidian Entertainment; Quickie

For our second article in the prestigious Quickie series, Jools gives us his impressions of Dungeon Siege III. A snippet:

Last bits and bobs, now. The AI is, well, non-relevant, which is ok in this kind of game. Average encounters (again, the classics: spiders, slugs, bandits, skeletons, etc) will be easily dispatched of, whereas bosses, for one, occasionally display some thin strands of originality, as far as game design goes. Nothing revolutionary, mind you: they are "original" within this game and in comparison to similar titles out there. The economy is not even bad, it is just futile: in the whole game I never once found myself having to buy an item from any merchant, nor the need to sell mine. All the cool stuff drops from mobs and chests, and the drops are PC-related, so if the PC is the melee guy, they will get melee drops, and so each character will get class-related drops. Convenient! Too bad the characters' appearance will only "upgrade" at certain levels and upon equipping some of the items: most items will not have any effect on the visual appearance of the character. Again, a Diablo comeback. The "campaign", as mentioned, is really short: 10 hours, and that's taking things slowly and doing every of the (few) possible side-quests.

Read the whole thing here.

There are 31 comments on [Quickie Nr. 002]: Jools and Dungeon Siege III

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