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RPG Codex Review: Monte Cook's Numenera

Review - posted by Grunker on Sun 19 January 2014, 23:30:51

Tags: Monte Cook; Numenera; Torment: Tides of Numenera


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On April 6, 2013, 74,405 people decided that the world was ready for another Torment game. They did so even though the developers behind it, Brian Fargo and his company inXile, were unable to acquire the rights to produce a direct sequel. No familiar characters, no familiar story, and most importantly of all, perhaps: no familiar setting.

Instead, Fargo, and his lead designer Colin McComb, had decided to use the Numenera setting, the all-new pen & paper setting by Planescape co-creator Monte Cook.

Numenera itself was the product of a succesful Kickstarter, and the pitch promised it would be a strange and mystical spin on fantasy tropes and science fiction alike. In theory, a perfect substitute for Planescape.

The people gave inXile the green light. Torment: Tides of Numenera has yet to be released, but Monte Cook's Numenera saw release in 2013. Almost instantly after its release, I contacted a few Codexers for the purpose of writing a review. After all, we've had some P&P interviews before, and no P&P setting seemed more relevant than Numenera considering its use in Torment. Blaine wanted to, but then read the damned thing and told me to fuck off, saying that he really didn't "want to waste hours on a pages-long shrug of the shoulders." Not that impressed, huh, Blaine? Alex was more interested, but, honest man that he is, he wanted to actually playtest the damned thing first so he could review it "properly." Hmph. Well, I waited. And then I waited some more.

Until the fateful day when this excellent review appeared in my inbox.

Taken as a whole, Numenera is a bit weird. It isn't quite like some "indie" games: in a way, it is too traditional. On the other hand, it clearly breaks off from, say, D20 traditions by having a system that isn't particularly tactical. It certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea. My playtest group mostly disliked the game, and what seems to have been the biggest deal breaker is how the game is too simple, mechanically. Of course, with a bit of imagination, it is quite possible to make the game more complex, but if you are looking for a game where you will build a character from lots of little options and then use pre-defined actions in combat to conquer your enemies, well, Numenera isn't about that at all. My group also disliked how the system's advancement scheme is rather "flat". While a tier 6 character can do some amazing things a tier 1 would never be able to, they don't have dozens of special abilities. Nor do they first become able to do the impossible, to later become able to do the absurd and finally the ridiculous, like say, in 3e's epic level skill progression. Also, for someone looking for something more "story oriented" like Apocalypse World, or even Burning Wheel, Numenera isn't that kind of game either.​

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RPG Codex Review: Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients

Review - posted by JarlFrank on Fri 10 January 2014, 04:28:01

Tags: Drox Operative; Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients; Soldak Entertainment

A while back, the Diablo clone in spaaaaaaace Drox Operative received an expansion. It promised to add more late-game content for high level characters and a big threat that can invade the galaxy and screw the player over:

The most interesting addition, however, are the invasions of the ancients that give the expansion its title. They don't tend to happen very often, especially as they are a late-game event, but they do manage to stir things up and bring some fresh air into the later stages of the game. They appear without warning, invade solar systems and destroy everything in their path, potentially changing the balance of power completely. Up to now, the Humans and the Dryads have been the most powerful empires in your game? Well, the ancients just destroyed two of their solar systems each, and it took them less than ten minutes. Their appearance can be a real game changer for the factions you're trying to manipulate, and they might very well screw up your plans on how to best deal with the factions due to the effect they can have on the balance of power between these factions.​

To find out if the additions actually add to the game and whether the expansion is worth getting or not, read on!

Read the full article: Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients Review

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RPG Codex Preview: Might & Magic X: Legacy, Now with Act II

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 20 December 2013, 17:50:55

Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft

Limbic Entertainment's Might & Magic X: Legacy releases on Steam on January 23rd. Thanks to Limbic and Ubisoft, we got exclusive (tm) press access to Act II of the game. How good is this new act, and how does the game fare as a whole in its current state?

In this preview, Zeriel attempts to find out just that. To spice things up a bit, he's also accompanied by Broseph who adds a few scattered remarks here and there. Have a snippet:

Act II brings with it the majority of the open world, and a handful of new dungeons, along with the town of Seahaven. 2 new classes are on offer over the current Early Access. The first is the Rune Priest, a dwarven spellcaster who can master Light and Fire, providing strong healing and damage dealing capabilities. The second class is the Marauder, the Orc take on the rogue archetype who focuses on Spears and Dodge, with a class promotion ability to lay traps later on.

Broseph: I quite enjoyed the Rune Priest class in particular. It's a classic glass cannon archetype and does a very good job of both dishing out damage and shielding your allies from harm. I found having a Rune Priest in my party to be a big help with some of the nastier enemies in Act II.

Zeriel: The class balance is a little alarming. Even at this early stage there are clearly classes that are simply not as good at others at their chosen role. Why use a Marauder over a Ranger? The Ranger is better at dealing damage. The Marauder can block attacks very well, but if that's the role you're after, there are defensive melee classes that are better at it. In a way, though, this is very old school. In Baldur's Gate 2, the correct choice of class was always sorceror, no matter what. In earlier Might & Magic games, there was almost always a class that was the best at any given job, and then the mediocre ones.​

Seahaven is the standout addition in the exclusive preview. While not the largest town in the game (Karthal presumedly takes on that role), it is considerably larger than Sorpigal, offering a variety of Expert and Master trainers, and several new quests to boot. Aesthetically it's also more impressive than Sorpigal, featuring a Naga and Dwarven quarter in addition to the usual human element.

[...] The open world is indisputably the star of MMXL. Once past the "tutorial area" that is Act I, the world awaits. There are no artificial restraints placed on your party. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want. Sure, you might die horribly, but that's a definite part of the charm. Some areas--such as islands or mountain ranges--require the Blessings to reach, but the Blessings themselves are merely a matter of exploration to obtain.

Trundling my party around the open world like a pack of ravenous hobos in search of crystal meth was by far the most fun I had with the exclusive preview. Beyond each twist in the road there's a new type of enemy, a crypt with a riddle to investigate, and a treasure chest hidden behind a stand of trees. This is MMXL at its best, and why you should absolutely keep an eye on it if you are a fan of the open-world blobber gameplay that Might & Magic and Wizardry pioneered.

It's hard to put into words what's so addictive about this very basic sort of appeal, especially since wandering Skyrim's frozen wastes isn't half as interesting. On paper, they should be virtually identical. Maybe it's something to do with how very quantized a grid-based game is. Every other tile of the world is there for a reason, has something to do. MMXL doesn't have huge tracts of wilderness filled with nothing simply because it would be realistic. In terms of 3D real estate, MMXL is much smaller than the AAA giants of the industry, but it feels big.

Broseph: The wilderness areas in this game are downright awesome. Incredibly fun to explore, with lots of well-hidden secrets and goodies. The map design positively reminds me of MM3. Exploring the overworld here doesn't feel like a chore at all, unlike in some other games of this type where the dungeons are the real meat and potatoes of the experience.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Might & Magic X: Legacy, Now with Act II

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Talking to Marcin Kruczkiewicz about Hellraid

Interview - posted by DarkUnderlord on Wed 27 November 2013, 06:29:01

Tags: Hellraid; Marcin Kruczkiewicz

If running around with a sword killing demons from hell is your kind of thing, you might be interested in Hellraid.


It's immersive first-person hack-and-slash action with enough vaguely relevant RPG features for us to take a closer look. Also it looks kind of cool, so we sent Andhaira out for some doughnuts - and to talk to the Hellraid team while he was out. Here's a snip:

After gaining a new level we’ll give the player a choice from various skills, so they can create a hero with abilities that fits their style of play. The intent is that there will be significant difference depending on your choices, thus encouraging replayability.​
[...]
We place a great importance on both the history of the world we’re creating and the storyline in the campaign. So far we kept it all a secret because we don’t want to reveal anything before it’s fully completed. During the game you’ll visit a devastated monastery and have some quests to complete which you’ll have a reason for in the game’s world. Religion has been repelled by magic which strengthened the evil forces and allowed them to cross to the realm of men. We’ll reveal more details on our blog at hellraid.com soon.​​

You can read the rest at the link below.

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RPG Codex Preview: Blackguards

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 November 2013, 16:46:55

Tags: Blackguards; Daedalic Entertainment

Blackguards is an upcoming turn-based RPG from Daedalic Entertainment, a German developer whose only titles so far have been adventure games. The game means to provide an oldschool tactical experience, with a "dark narrative" different from that of most other RPGs out there. Instead of the usual goody-two-shoes heroic adventurers, you will be in command of a bunch of criminals as they escape from the law all over The Dark Eye's world of Aventuria.

Our previewers, Felipepepe and Darth Roxor, have played through many versions of the game starting from the early beta, and now they have gone through the press preview build (kindly supplied by Daedalic) as well as the Early Access edition currently available on Steam. Here's a snippet from their impressions:

Darth Roxor: Blackguards' combat impressed me greatly when I played the beta/early access versions of the game. There were two reasons for that:

1. The fact that the combat was any good, because I totally expected the whole game to suffer from the typical “non-RPG company’s first RPG!” syndrome, where the biggest focus would be placed on aspects such as the narrative, while largely ignoring or streamlining the combat system to near-minigame status.

2. The fact that the combat was so damn good. There aren't many games out there where almost every fight feels unique, challenging and genuinely fun, and Blackguards manages to actually fit into this category. [...]

Felipe: I’d say it’s precisely Daedalic's adventure game background that allows for such fresh and unorthodox battle design, adding puzzle-like elements such as the previously mentioned crocodile trap, moving cranes, mazes and other such things to the game's battles. Hell, I had to capture a rampaging gorilla with a cage on a crane during a rather amusing side-quest. The inclusion of a gladiator arena in Chapter 2 seems tailor-made for allowing for more “creative” battlefields without clashing with the setting, and I was glad to see that Chapter 3 provided extra optional fights in the arena for even more challenging fun. [...]

Roxor: Blackguards surprised me many times when I played it. In fact, the game was the complete opposite of what I expected – I assumed it would have been at best an RPG-lite, more of an adventure game with stats, with plenty of dialogue, puzzle-solving and a very advanced narrative. Instead, the combat system turned out to be great, but the narrative part disappointed me, or at least the parts of the narrative that I saw. The main plot seems to be an unexciting mess, the way it progresses makes little sense, and the whole “bunch of criminals” aspect is underplayed.

Felipe: True, it strikes me as odd how the game is constantly being marketed as a “dark story”, in which you play as a convicted murder, testing your moral compass and all that. The first 10 minutes of the game have you being unjustly arrested, and after a short while your group of fugitives is acting just like any other RPG party, helping out random people, and even attacking slavers without any really good reason besides “slavers are bad”. Some of your party members (especially Takate) seem to have no reason to even follow you other than the fact that you’re the main character in a game.

Roxor: This is a shame, because at this point in development “fixing” any combat and mechanics flaws is the only possible thing Daedalic can do, as the narrative is pretty much set in stone. But to be honest? I don’t care. I swear, I haven’t had this much fun whacking enemies in turn-based combat since Knights of the Chalice, and while it would obviously be ideal for this RPG to cover all the bases, I’d much rather see one with a combat system that actually puts some classics to shame while sacrificing the story, than another drop in the ocean of pseudo-choice oriented storyfag LARP simulators.​

Read the full preview: RPG Codex Preview: Blackguards

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RPG Codex Review: Realms of Arkania HD

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 8 November 2013, 21:22:54

Tags: Crafty Studios; Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny HD

I bet you didn't see this coming but Darth Roxor has written a review of Crafty Studios' "HD" remake of Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny, the game that was infamously released in pre-alpha state and is being desperately patched up as we speak. Have a couple of snippets:

The dungeons? They have been horribly streamlined. Why would the developers redesign the dungeons instead of porting them 1:1 from the old game is beyond me, especially considering how much the new ones suck. They have considerably fewer traps and hazards (nearly to the point of not having them at all, but who needs those when the encounter rates are tripled!), they have been reshaped (the brigand dungeon under the Thorwal academy is a straight-up corridor, and I wish I was joking – it even has secret doors that lengthen the master corridor), and the in-dungeon treasure chests store tons of healing and magic potions. While you still need a perceptive guy that can open locks (although why failing lockpicking gives xp, and to all the party members at that, is a mystery), the dungeons have overall become considerably more hack’n’slashy, less deadly and less fun.

Another incredibly poor aspect of the game is the towns. Navigating cities was already horrible in the original because all the buildings were identical and the best you could do was bring up a mini map to at least check their types. It is quite unbelievable, but the remake's developers managed to make even this aspect worse. The towns are now in full 3D, with terrain elevations, fences, market stalls, etc. You know what this means, right. It means that it’s hilariously easy to get stuck on random baskets that you walk over. I once managed to get mortally stuck on a basket mischievously placed right next to a wall and had to reload, another time I managed to get shot into space while accidentally stepping on a barrel. The good news is, however, that at least now the buildings are tagged, and you can move your party while looking at the map overview. But this just makes it all the easier to get stuck on random props. Providing, of course, that the map works in the first place because it sure as hell doesn’t, for example, in the city of Ljasdahl.

[...] I’ll be honest here, I didn’t finish this abomination. I’ve got a pretty high resistance for shovelware shitgames as long as I can get some laughs out of them. But when it came to this “game”, I simply had to surrender after about 11 hours of playing, or I would risk throwing myself out of the window in desperation. And besides, I figured finishing the game wouldn’t even matter that much because I knew what to expect from later stages in the context of it being a “total remake” (and seriously, anyone who would expect it to magically get better after this time would be a lunatic).

If there was anything listed in this review that you found even slightly positive, I can only tell you one thing. Don’t get this game. Don’t play it, don’t buy it and don’t talk about it because it doesn’t deserve anything other than a kick down a cliff. If there were any positive sides to this garbage, they are only there because they were already there in the original Realms of Arkania from 1992. There is not even the slightest reason to pick this “remake” over the original, and there is even less reason to give any money to the shameless and inept idiots who have brought this upon mankind.​

Read the full article (and weep): RPG Codex Review: Realms of Arkania HD

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RPG Codex Interview: STASIS, 2D Isometric Adventure Game Now on Kickstarter

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 4 November 2013, 18:13:21

Tags: Chris Bischoff; Kickstarter; STASIS

If I had to name one point-and-click adventure game currently in development that could be called the most anticipated one here on the Codex, that would have to be STASIS, a gorgeous and uniquely atmospheric horror-themed 2D isometric game by the one-man powerhouse Chris Bischoff. The dedicated thread in our Adventure Gaming subforum attests to no less. About halfway done already and having just launched its Kickstarter campaign, STASIS is looking for contributors to help raise $100,000 -- or even more. To celebrate the campaign launch, we've asked Chris to answer some questions about the game, contributed in part by RPG Codex readers.

If the interview piques your interest, be sure to check out the Kickstarter and also play the free alpha demo! You can also supports STASIS on Steam Greenlight.

Have some snippets from the interview:

What sci-fi books and video games inspired the game's concept? And since you have an account at the RPG Codex, are there any pen-and-paper or computer RPGs among the inspirations?

The RAMA series had a big influence on me when I was younger. I loved the idea of exploring a truly alien world, which is why my stand out games tended to be focused on that concept. When I started development on STASIS, I read quite a few books that focused on the themes of the story. Greg Bears 'Hull Zero Three', Michael Crichtons 'Sphere' (still, in my opinion, one of the best opening acts to a SciFi story ever written), and even Orson Scott Cards novelization of The Abyss.

I've been a massive lover of Science Fiction ever since I saw Star Wars at the tender age of 4, so to pick any specific influence is very difficult! STASIS is the amalgamation of all of those experiences.

As far as RPG's go, their biggest influence on me has been less thematic, and more visual. Fallout was the first CRPG that truly captured my imagination from a visual standpoint. The entire world is so beautifully crafted in that game, I would spend hours and days just walking around, hunting down new areas. From there, I moved onto the rest of the Infinity Engine games. Icewind Dale is one of my favourites graphically!

Crusader No Remorse was also a huge influence on me as an artist. I remember playing the game, and taking screenshots of it frame by frame to 'rip' the explosions and characters and use them in my games.

Visually, STASIS is looking awesome already. What video game artists (or artists in general) inspire your work on the game's visuals?

HR Giger is my favourite artist. My home is like a creepy museum of his work. But generally, I have a large collection of 'art of' books, from Halo, to one on Pixar Short films. The production artists and concept artists that work in AAA games, and Blockbuster films amaze me.

Of these, I would have to say Feng Zhu, Ryan Church, and Raphael Lacoste are right on the top of my list - but its a VERY long list!

How traditional or innovative do you want STASIS to be? Are there any ideas from earlier adventure games or CRPGs that you believe are underused today and want to introduce to STASIS?

When I started STASIS I never wanted to put a new spin on the Adventure Game genre - I wanted to create something that truly was in the traditional mould of the games I grew up loving to play.

One thing that I have tried to bring into the game is that element of maturity that I feel became lost with many Adventure Games. The current adventure revival seems to be more focused on capturing the more 'light hearted' aspect of the genre. The players of the genre grew up, and not many of the games grew up with them. I loved Day Of The Tentacle, but as a 30 year old, something like The Dig appeals to me more.

Finally, this being the RPG Codex, I have to ask: do you happen to have any plans for an isometric RPG if STASIS is successful enough? If so, what kind of RPG would you like to make?

Oh man, making a fully fledged CRPG would be amazing! Currently I don't think I have near the experience needed for something like that, but I would love to create some experimental Adventure Games with the same level of freedom that an RPG gives you.

But, if I had the experience, time, and balls of steel, I would definitely visit one of my favourite genres... a Post Apocalyptic world, and then mix it with something strange, like ancient Japan. Roaming Samurai in steam punk style armour, swords and cross bows instead of machine guns and plasma rifles.

But let's first get off the Groomlake... ;)

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: STASIS, 2D Isometric Adventure Game Now on Kickstarter

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Warren Spector on Ultima, Origin, and CRPG Design

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 22 October 2013, 16:18:33

Tags: Origin Systems; Retrospective Interview; Ultima Underworld; Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds; Ultima VI: The False Prophet; Ultima VII: Serpent Isle; Ultima VIII: Pagan; Warren Spector; Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams; Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire

Warren Spector is one of the most celebrated names in the video game industry, most famous for his involvement with Looking Glass Studios' System Shock and Ion Storm's Deus Ex, as well as his philosophy of game design that emphasizes player choice, simulation, and interactive storytelling. At the end of the 1980s - beginning of the 1990s, however, before he came to work on his most widely known titles, Warren also did important work at Richard Garriott's Origin Systems, having been instrumental in the design and production of such unique and significant computer role-playing games as Ultima VI, Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle, the Worlds of Ultima spin-offs (Savage Empire and Martian Dreams), and Ultima Underworld I & II (developed under Origin's supervision by Blue Sky Productions which later became Looking Glass), not to mention his role on various other Origin games such as Wing Commander, Bad Blood or Crusader: No Remorse.

As far as we know, it's been many years since anyone interviewed Warren Spector at length about his work on the Ultima games; this interview aims to rectify that. In it, Warren talks about his pen-and-paper background, his time at Origin and the design philosophy behind the games he was involved with at the time, and also shares some thoughts on the history of the CRPG genre. Have a snippet:

Could you tell us how the Worlds of Ultima series originated and why Origin decided to take the approach of making these games deliberately weird? Who was responsible for that, and to what extent were you involved in the series’ creation and the direction it was taking? As an aside, what exactly was your own role on Savage Empire, since you don’t actually appear in the credits despite being a character in the game?

You know, I bet everyone involved in the creation of the Worlds of Ultima series has a different view of how that sub-series came to be. My memory is probably as inaccurate as anyone's, but I remember it being my idea, to be honest. We simply needed to create more games than Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts could produce. And with guys like Paul Neurath and Greg Malone and Stuart Marks and Todd Porter gone, guys like Jeff Johannigman and I had to step up. I think I was the one to suggest creating a spin-off series of non-numbered Ultimas, produced by me and Jeff, that would re-use tech from last numbered one while Richard was creating ground-up new tech for the next numbered one.

My role on Savage Empire started and ended early. I wrote up the initial 20-ish page design spec (which I wish I still had!) for a lost world, dinosaur game. And I wrote up a spec for what became Martian Dreams. I couldn't make both and wasn't willing to pass up the chance to make a Victorian time travel game, so I took on Martian Dreams and Johan did Savage Empire. He and designer, Aaron Allston, probably scrapped my initial design doc instantly. No matter, Savage Empire ended up being a swell game and, despite all the traipsing around the Martian surface, I'm still inordinately proud of Martian Dreams. Frankly, I wish we'd kept the Worlds of Ultima games going.​

Starting from Ultima IV, each game in the series improved upon its predecessor, until we arrive at Ultima VIII: Pagan – a run 'n jump game focused around a lone Avatar and leaving behind the meticulous worldbuilding of the previous Ultima games. So, what was going on with Ultima VIII? The way you see and remember it, what made Origin decide to abandon its strategy of gradual iteration on the classic Ultima formula? Was there perhaps at one point a different vision for the game?

To be frank, I was working on other things when U8 was in development so you'd probably want to ask someone else what was going on with that team and that project. As an observer at Origin but outside the team, my impression at the time was that the Ultima guys had a bit of "Commander envy" – as in Wing Commander and Strike Commander envy. Chris's games had managed to reach a broader audience than anything Origin had done to date and I think U8 was an attempt to go after a broader audience. I did the same thing years later between Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. The obvious way to reach a broad audience is to simplify, streamline and up the action. That doesn't have to compromise the integrity of your concept but it can and often does. Maybe that's what was going on in U8. But, again, that's a lot of speculation on my part.

As far as connections between Serpent Isle and U8 go, there really weren't many – if any. My teams and Richard's teams worked largely independently. Maybe too much so… We all tried to be aware of what was going on, Ultima-wise, on "the other side" but we were so heads-down, working like crazed weasels to hit our dates, we didn't coordinate as much as we could have. Nothing as dramatic as a shifting product vision, I'm afraid!​

Serpent Isle was your last "old school" party-based RPG. In the late 90s, while at Looking Glass, you developed a design philosophy emphasizing player choice, and then you continued with that approach in Deus Ex. During the same period, however, Black Isle Studios was developing its own signature gameplay style which also emphasized player choice, albeit in a different way – games like Tim Cain’s Fallout or Chris Avellone’s Planescape: Torment were traditional party-based CRPGs with an isometric perspective, deep dialogue trees, etc. One could imagine that, had you continued making games like Serpent Isle, they would have turned out a lot like those titles. Do you ever regret not having been able to pursue that path? Do you think you could have married the form of Serpent Isle with the essence of Deus Ex, so to speak?

Interesting question… I think I could have married Serpent Isle's party basis with DX, but I wouldn't have done it with dialogue trees and traditional RPG tropes. The key thing about games like Underworld and System Shock and Deus Ex and, yes, even Disney Epic Mickey, is that they don't rely as much on scripting (dialogue or interaction scripting), as on simulation. I think it'd be possible to make an isometric, party-based game that offers all the player choice and consequence stuff, for sure. I've often thought about giving that a try. You never know – it just might happen some day!

The interesting thing to me, though, is that you really see a radical difference between the philosophy underlying Serpent Isle and the DX philosophy. I see them both as being on the same evolutionary path. I mean, the whole choice and consequence thing grew out of a design philosophy I was steeped in during my tabletop days and then reinforced by Richard's approach in Ultima VI – the "two solutions to every puzzle" idea. The moment that changed my design life was watching a guy play Ultima VI and solve a puzzle in a way Richard and I never thought of. I kind of decided then and there to make nothing but games designed to empower players. I always thought Serpent Isle was one of those games! Maybe I'm wrong!​​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Warren Spector on Ultima, Origin, and CRPG Design

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Michael Cranford on Bard's Tale, Interplay, and Centauri Alliance

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 27 September 2013, 17:25:03

Tags: Bard's Tale; Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight; Broderbund Software; Centauri Alliance; Interplay; Michael Cranford; Retrospective Interview

In 1985, Interplay released Tales of the Unknown: Vol. I: The Bard’s Tale, their own “Wizardry killer” designed and programmed by Brian Fargo’s high school friend Michael Cranford. The game was a smashing success for the company. As Fargo said in his 2011 Matt Chat interview, The Bard’s Tale I “was the product that put us on the map, it was the thing that made us earn significant royalties so we could bring the company to the next level.” In an important way, it was Michael Cranford who kick-started Interplay’s future as RPG developer and publisher. At the same time, Cranford was unhappy about the contract Interplay offered him and left the company after The Bard’s Tale II release. In 1990, he designed his last game, Centauri Alliance, a unique sci-fi CRPG published by Brøderbund for the Apple II and Commodore 64. The choice of platforms coupled with the game’s delayed release turned out to be really unfortunate for its publicity and sales, and no further titles in the Centauri Alliance universe were made. Currently Michael Cranford is CEO at Ninth Degree.

In this interview, Michael talks about the Bard’s Tale series, Interplay, his falling out with Brian Fargo, as well as Centauri Alliance and Brøderbund. Have an Interplay-related snippet:

There is a story (I don’t know to what extent it is true) told by “Burger” Heineman as well as by Brian Fargo about how you held the Bard’s Tale floppy disk hostage in order to make Fargo change the terms of the deal between you and Interplay. Could you tell us your side of that story, if you feel like talking about it?

Well, first off, Heineman wouldn’t know anything about it, except perhaps what Brian might have told him. He was a quirky guy who sat in the corner of the office and had no role in the business operation of the company. Everything that happened was between me and Brian; there was no one else ever present.

When I first came to work at Interplay, I already had a game concept and a working prototype that looked like Wizardry. I built it when I was at Berkeley. I was debating if I should even show it to Brian, rather than just going to Brøderbund or EA or Activision on my own. Brian was a high school friend, so I decided to trust him with it, and I showed it to him. He said he could sell it, and we had a vague verbal understanding of what I would receive. I threw out some numbers and he was positive and agreeable. There were no written terms of any kind. I was a young guy without business experience, and Brian was my friend. It never occurred to me that I might be making a mistake.

Late in the development, I realized I had made one. I had a couple nights where I couldn’t get to sleep, I was so anxious. I was not in a position to enforce our verbal understanding, and I realized that I could have easily brought this to EA on my own. It was sold based on the prototype. I had built every part of the game single handedly, with the exception of composing the music. (My friend Larry Holland did that.)

When the game was nearly done (or maybe entirely done, actually; hard to remember now), Brian produced a contract. I do remember asking for it a number of times and feeling like I was being stalled. I had no idea what he was going to put in it. My memory is not spot-on from 28 years ago, so I am only speaking in general terms. If I am getting any part of this out of order, it’s not intentional. The rest of it is accurate.

The contract (in its initial version) offered me a fraction of what I was expecting, and there were some conditions that would limit my earnings. I talked it through with my friend’s dad, who was the CEO of a large civil engineering firm; he thought it was unacceptable, and urged me to hire an attorney. We ended up spending a significant amount of time negotiating, and in the final equation, I think both of us thought the resulting deal was unfair. I have no doubt that Brian was doing what he thought was right, and that he felt that what he offered me was reasonable. There was a lot of emotion at the time, on my part, but he is a good guy and a smart businessman. I have no resentment against him; I’m just frustrated I wasn’t smarter about all this. I heard his rationale in this very clearly at the time, and I understood where he was coming from. If the deal that we agreed on was presented at the beginning of the process, however, I would not have brought this to him at all.

Now, this story that I held a disk hostage to extort someone – that didn’t happen, I would never do that. Sitting on the source code until the deal I was promised was finally put in writing and honored – that is possible. I honestly can’t remember. But again, there was no pressure to change any terms. The deal I ended up accepting was not what I understood I would get, and not what I would have agreed to if I had. I am a person of my word. I didn’t make very much money from these games.

In general, how would you describe your experience of working with Interplay and Brian Fargo? What are the moments you remember most and least fondly about it? In hindsight, do you think something could have been done for you to stay at Interplay and further develop the ideas you had in mind for the Bard’s Tale series?

It was mostly great. A great team, led by a guy that I admired and who was a true friend to me through high school. I was doing something that I loved. Hanging with a small, tight band of programmers was fun. We did a lot of things together. Nothing in particular stands out, but I enjoyed the time, until we got to the contract negotiation and negativity that I already mentioned. It was a little personal at the time, but then I grew up and let all that go. Just a lesson in life learned. I didn’t handle my part of all that well.

Brian asked me to leave after Bard’s Tale II, he was not happy with the process we went through to arrive at a deal. He told me he wanted me out for BT3 (which would put me at a lower royalty rate, and the fact was that with the tools and code in hand, they didn’t need me for it). The process also burnt me out, and I wanted to go back to school and do my next project on my own anyway.

There is some regret that we didn’t work things out, and that I didn’t stay to see Interplay grow into what it eventually became. That would have been fun. But I chose another path that was fulfilling.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Michael Cranford on Bard's Tale, Interplay, and Centauri Alliance

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AdventureDex: A Conversation about the State of the Adventure Genre

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 9 September 2013, 12:49:30

Tags: Infamous Quests; Mark Yohalem; Steven Alexander; Wormwood Studios

I still remember the day I played my first adventure game. I must have been around 11 years old then, a lonely kid in a new country. I came back from school that day to find my father and a friend of his messing around with our mighty 386DX family computer. My father's friend had brought with him a housewarming gift, in the form of several boxes of 1.44MB floppy disks filled with pirated games. One of those games was a monster that took up an entire box of floppies all by itself. Its name was King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow.

I was blown away. Never before had I seen a game with such production qualities and such depth. It made my small collection of NES games look like pathetic toys. From that day onward, I was a PC gamer and an adventure game fanatic. I got more adventure games wherever I could find them, pirating some, buying others. I played through all of the LucasArts and Sierra classics, from The Secret of Monkey Island to Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I also dabbled in less mainstream titles, like Revolution Software's Beneath a Steel Sky, Adventure Soft's Simon the Sorcerer and Legend Entertainment's Eric the Unready, all of which also turned out to be excellent. Life was good. But all good things come to an end.

My gradual estrangement from the adventure genre actually began not due to anything in the games themselves, but because of my computer. My once mighty machine was becoming long in the tooth, and newer games were becoming unplayable. Nevertheless, when visiting my wealthy, Pentium-owning friends, I couldn't help but notice that my beloved genre was changing. Classic point-and-clicks were dying off and being replaced with Myst clones and FMV games. Was I simply bitter that my computer was unable to run these newer titles, or did I truly dislike them for what they were? I'm actually not sure about that myself, nor does it really matter.

Whatever the case, it was around that time that I received a free CD-ROM with a gaming magazine, which contained a game called Ultima VIII: Pagan. It wasn't a very good game, but somehow it was intriguing enough for me to become further interested in the genre it represented. I used my modem to log onto to that new thing called "The Internet" that everybody was talking about back then, and I began to read. A couple of years after that, I learned about a game called Baldur's Gate that was supposed to be the next best thing in that genre. I bought it when it came out, and from that day onward my path towards becoming a Codexer was set.

But what about my old passion for adventure games? To be honest, after I got into RPGs, I didn't pay much attention to them. I was vaguely aware of a game called Grim Fandango that had turned out to be a commercial disappointment, that there had been some kind of awful action-adventure King's Quest sequel that nobody wanted to talk about, and that the genre was now considered "dead". But I didn't care, because by God, I had Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment. Life was good.

Yeah. You all know what happened after that.

* * *

Over the course of the past decade of decline and genre rape, I became aware that the adventure genre was experiencing some sort of resurgence. European developers, with their lower operating costs, were continuing to release new adventure games, and over in the United States, a company by the name of Telltale Games had received the license to produce sequels to some of the old LucasArts properties. Had the genre been resurrected? I'm not sure. Much like in the RPG world, it seems few people took those European developers very seriously, and as for Telltale, in the dark corners of the Internet, certain fans whispered that their games were but shallow imitations of a glorious past.

Perhaps that's why it was no surprise that in February 2012, when legendary LucasArts veteran Tim Schafer launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new adventure game, he received over 3.3 million dollars from over 87,000 backers. It was an incredible success, that launched a new age of crowdfunding-supported game development that has benefited RPG fans greatly. At that point, I fully anticipated a glorious future for both genres, old-school adventure games and old-school RPGs marching side by side. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.

One by one, spurred on by Tim Schafer's success, various Sierra veterans made their way onto Kickstarter to fund spiritual successors to their old titles. And...they didn't do so well. Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, creators of Space Quest? $539,767. Jane Jensen, creator of Gabriel Knight? $435,316. Corey and Lori Cole, creators of Quest for Glory? $409,150. And then there was the downright humiliating failure of Jim Walls' Kickstarter for a Police Quest spiritual successor.

Crowdfunding campaigns for newer franchises have fared a bit better. Revolution Software's Broken Sword sequel got $771,560 on Kickstarter, while Ragnar Tornquist's Dreamfall Chapters achieved a respectable $1,538,425. But none of them have gotten anywhere near Double Fine's number of backers. Tim Schafer's army of 87,000 seems to have dissipated just as quickly as it materialized.

In short: what the hell, adventure game fans, what the hell?

* * *

In all seriousness, I know I can't be the only confused by these events. Just what is going on with adventure games? Not being part of the contemporary adventure gaming "scene", I really had no idea where to start looking for answers.

Luckily for us, we just happen to have two commercial adventure game developers who post regularly on the Codex. Mark Yohalem, also known as MRY, is the lead designer of the incredible Primordia, a classic adventure game inspired by Planescape: Torment (read our interview with him here). Steven Alexander, also known as Blackthorne, is the lead writer and director of the upcoming Quest for Infamy, a Kickstarter-funded RPG/adventure inspired by the Quest for Glory series.

Time and time again, I've been impressed by Mark and Steven's thoughtful and knowledgeable posts in our Adventure Gaming subforum. These two know the score about adventure games, which is why I decided to write down some questions and have a bit of a chat with them, not just about the state of adventure games today, but also about the genre in general. The conversation you're about to read took place over the course of almost an entire month, and it may be the biggest wall of text the Codex has ever produced.

I'm pleased to present...

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RPG Codex Editorial: Where Journalism Goes to Write Itself

Editorial - posted by Grunker on Tue 3 September 2013, 11:54:20


Although we had fun at Gamescom, our overall impression of the conference was not very positive. We were just fans who wanted to write about games for other fans, who finally got a look at how the business of games journalism is conducted behind the scenes at conferences like this one. It was a troubling sight.

Ever since Jeff Gerstmann was fired for writing a negative review, and especially since the proliferation of that famous image of another "journalist" staring blankly at the camera next to a table of commercial products, criticism of modern games journalism has become widespread.

In the following piece, we add our contribution to this ongoing criticism. Have a snippet:

I cannot think of anything similar in any other field of journalism. I cannot conceive of a large industry of “film previews” where a bunch of critics write about a film's trailer based on the words of its producer and neither can I conceive of a silent press conference with a room full of journalists jotting down the words of the host and nothing more. Should you feel the need to make a sarcastic jab here – i.e. “that's pretty much what the White House press conference is, isn't it?” - then take heed: not even from the most politically or or journalistically sceptical point of view is the comparison apt. No matter how passive you might think modern journalism, film criticism, or whatever are, they're nothing like this silent crowd of people, with their headphones switched on and their minds switched off.​

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RPG Codex Report: The Vision Behind Might & Magic X Legacy

Editorial - posted by Grunker on Fri 30 August 2013, 15:19:11

Tags: Julien Pirou; Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Stephan Winter; Ubisoft

On our trip to Gamescom, we met two of the key people behind Might & Magic X Legacy: Creative Designer Julien Pirou from Ubisoft and Managing Director of Limbic Entertainment Stephan Winter. Curious to to get a sense of the vision behind this unexpected oldschool title and to understand just how it came to be, we pulled them aside for a conversation, which is summarized in the following report.

Here's a snippet:

Later on, as the company evolved, they decided at one point to sit down and ask “look, what are our IPs? What is classic Ubisoft? What solid brands have we got?”, and of course, the Might & Magic franchise was mentioned. Pirou explains what happened, roughly at least: “So a couple of guys went down into the basement and dug out all the old stuff, finding out what Ubisoft owned and what they could do with it.” That was when Pirou first got the idea to pitch Might & Magic X... but first, he asked the boss of his department whether she would OK a turn-based, old-school follow-up to the Might & Magic series. Pirou doesn't remember the conversation word for word, but he does recall his boss saying something along the lines of “over my dead body.”​

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From left to right: Arnaud Fremont - Frank Sawielijew [JarlFrank] - Casper Gronemann [Grunker] - Julien Pirou

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom, Wasteland 2 Preview And More

Preview - posted by Grunker on Wed 28 August 2013, 17:14:49

Tags: Alexander Dergay; bitComposer; Brian Fargo; Brother None; Chris Keenan; Daniel Eskildsen; InXile Entertainment; Julien Pirou; Limbic Entertainment; Logic Artists; Matt Findley; Michael Hoss; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Stephan Winter; Ubisoft

On July 18, the RPG Codex received an invitation from Limbic Entertainment on behalf of their publisher, Ubisoft. The invitation was for an all expenses paid trip to Gamescom, the gaming convention in Cologne, Germany, and specifically for the Might & Magic Fan Day that was to take place there. The Codex staff members, easily bribed, fought over who was to go. In the end, Grunker came out on top, with JarlFrank tagging along with him for the first day.

During their stay in Germany, they learned more about Might & Magic X, they shook hands with Brian Fargo and watched a gameplay demo of Wasteland 2, and they spoke with the guys from Logic Artists, with Michael Hoss of bitComposer and with Alexander Dergay of Aterdux Entertainment. Here's an article about how it all went down. Have a snippet:

Gamescom is a weird place. It is part business conference, with men and women in nice suits who look like they have never played a game before in their lives but certainly look like they've made money off of them. It is also part developer forum, with game developers showing up en masse to talk to these business people about funding their games, or talk to fans on behalf of their publisher. Lastly, it is part fan meeting, hosting both journalists and “regular” fans who come here to get a sneak peek at new games or talk to their favorite developer.

Officially, we're at Gamescom for the Might & Magic Fan Day. I've been flown in by the dear folks at Ubisoft, who are apparently so desperate for Codex approval that they felt like bribing us with food that you have to stand up to eat, watered down drinks at a party that ends at 12AM, and useless “swag” like Heroes VI artwork and posters. Had we been paid journalists, we would probably have been embarrassed on behalf of our craft to accept it. As simple gamers writing for other gamers, we are mostly annoyed by the prospect of hauling it all back to our various habitats. Our disappointment only grows as it slowly dawns on us that neither Doritos nor other bribes are forthcoming. To drink, we only receive some unlabeled lemonade. Decent, but no Mountain Dew.​

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From left to right: Casper Gronemann [Grunker] - Brian Fargo - Frank Sawielijew [JarlFrank] - Thomas Beekers [Brother None]​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Darklands

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 24 August 2013, 14:59:47

Tags: Arnold Hendrick; Darklands; Microprose

You know that last year we did a retrospective interview on Darklands, open-world RPG designed by Arnold Hendrick and released by Microprose by 1992. If that didn't convince you to give the game a try, perhaps this review by Darth Roxor might. Have a snippet:

Good ol’ Darklands. In the Academagia review I did for the Codex, I wrote that I wished it had just been a gigantic text adventure. I have reconsidered that opinion a bit since then, because while that might be an improvement for a game like Academagia, I believe that kind of thing would make Darklands a much less “full” experience. While rather awful mechanically, the combat engine still serves its purpose; improving and not removing it would be the best course of action.

Everything else, however, stays the same. Microprose gave us an absolute classic that should be checked out by every self-respecting RPG enthusiast out there, especially those who favour simulation above all else. It also makes an excellent treat for those who have a big love for history. Not to mention that the game is simply a gift that keeps on giving because just about everything in it is procedurally generated, so no two playthroughs are the same, and you’re bound to stumble upon something new each time you press “create a new world”.​

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RPG Codex Hands-on Preview: Might & Magic X: Legacy

Preview - posted by Zed on Mon 19 August 2013, 20:13:02

Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft

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In the midst of all that RPG incline happening a while back, with the Kickstarters and the Codex campaigns, we heard whispers of something terrifying: a big-name publisher is resurrecting a long-lost genre favorite. "Oh no", "It's going to be another browser-game", "I hope they lube it up properly."

The franchise in question was Might and Magic - the classic first-person party-based RPG series originally created by Jon Van Caneghem back in 1986. The first reports were positive. It would be a 'true' Might and Magic title. It would be for the PC. It would be turn-based.

They would call it Might & Magic X: Legacy. Fast-forward a few months, and I have just written a preview of it (because everybody else were busy, probably with 'jobs' and 'love' and... and..). Here's the good news: it doesn't horribly suck hard. There could certainly be improvements made to the game, and I make sure to mention them. Luckily, developers Limbic Entertainment have embraced something they call "open development." This means they involve actual gamers and fans in their beta-testing and make actual changes to the game based on their feedback. Also, it's partially free QA. I hope they will take away something from this preview.

Here's a take-away:

There's a lot of combat in Might & Magic X. It is definitely the primary pastime of your adventuring party. It's mostly fun as well. I'm saying mostly because sometimes it feels like there isn't really enough stuff to do in between encounters. It feels especially trite when you're in a bandit's lair for instance, and every encounter is some sort of bandit. When an encounter does provide a higher challenge, it usually comes in the form of an elite version of a mob you have already battled many times in that same dungeon. I would love to see a bit more variation in the encounters. Like, couldn't the bandits have hounds or something? Maybe they've captured some wild beast?

But more worrying, I found the preview to be lacking in the puzzle department. A charming thing about these sorts of games was that they often provided some really good logical challenges in between combat and exploration, and I'm afraid I didn't see much of that at all. I can only hope the other acts provide more varied challenges, puzzles and other surprises as incentives to continue playing. Riddles, movement puzzles, word puzzles - anything like that would be a very welcome addition.​

And if you didn't know, starting today, You can play Might & Magic X too! It seems they will release the same stuff I played as an Early Access for pre-orders, or something like that. Check it out: http://store.steampowered.com/app/238750/

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RPG Codex Exclusive Interview: bitComposer's Take on the Chaos Chronicles Dispute

Interview - posted by Grunker on Thu 8 August 2013, 23:53:10

Tags: bitComposer; Chaos Chronicles; Coreplay; Michael Hoss; Peter Ohlmann; Wolfgang Duhr

UPDATE, August 11, 2013: Coreplay has issued a statement in response to this interview. See the end of this interview for Coreplay's response.

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Chaos Chronicles was the kind of game the Codex had not dared hope for. Isometric perspective. Turn-based combat with a complex character system a la Temple of Elemental Evil. Overland map travel a la Realms of Arkania. To this formula a pinch of Gold Box was added along with a dash of Wizardry. Dungeons to delve into, treasures to find, creatures to kill. And not a single cent from Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform. Chaos Chronicles was to prove to the world and to us exactly what a small developer, full of passion and talent, allied with a small publisher willing to take the necessary risks, would be able to do.

And then, of course, it all went wrong. Chaos Chronicles rapidly sank into the depths of development hell.

After fans petitioned them to allow the game's development to continue, bitComposer issued a statement, and Peter Ohlmann (aka HobGoblin42) of Coreplay responded to that statement. When all was said and done, the question of who was to blame quickly became muddy. Determined to uncover the truth on what happened to Chaos Chronicles, I contacted both Michael Hoss (aka CrashOberbreit) of bitComposer and Peter Ohlmann to hear if they wanted to tell their sides of the story. Michael was the first to respond.

Today, we bring you an interview with Wolfgang Duhr, a member of bitComposer's board of directors. In this surprisingly frank interview, Duhr speaks of the hardships of being an "evil publisher," responds to the accusation that bitComposer was trying to force an early release of Chaos Chronicles, and encourages the community to show ongoing interest in the game so that it might be released.

Regardless of how you feel about bitComposer, this interview is one that we feel is well worth the read.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Exclusive Interview - bitComposer's Take on the Chaos Chronicles Dispute

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2012: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 4 August 2013, 02:08:42

Tags: Diablo III; Interplay; InXile Entertainment; Kickstarter; Loot Drop; Mass Effect 3; The Year in Review

It was the year that gave rise to the KickStarter and we take a look back on it in our 2012: The Year in Review:

Brian Fargo, founder of Interplay Entertainment (before he bailed and sold it to that French cad Herve), saw the potential next. You see, after the failure (or huge finacial success, if you look at it from Brian's personal perspective) of Interplay, Brian established inXile Entertainment. That was in 2002. For 10 years he was stuck making remakes and cheesy iPhone games. It seems nobody in the publishing business wanted to fund those "RPG" things he so desperately wanted to make. And so, his idea for a Wasteland sequel sat on the shelf. Life in exile was hard, having bought the rights as far back as 2003, talked about it in 2007 and even threatening to get Bethesda involved in 2010.

... until 2012. The success of Double Fine saw the potential for an industry reborn. Old games (like the adventure game market Double Fine were aimed at) with their old fans and niche market couldn't get funding in the modern era. Fans clamoured for these games on forums but the true size and financial possibility of that market was not understood. Or at least, it was a lot smaller and harder to make games for than simply stuffing another Call of Duty remake out the door and cashing the profits. And perhaps the publishers themselves, being inbred dimwits, only really understood games where lots of stuff exploded.

KickStarter changed all of that. By bypassing the publishers and sourcing funds directly from the market, suddenly a whole new world of funding opened up.

And it was huge.​

Take a look back on Wasteland 2, Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3 and all that KickStarter stuff.

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RPG Codex Review: Darth Roxor Reviews Shadowrun Returns

Review - posted by Grunker on Tue 30 July 2013, 13:13:32

Tags: Harebrained Schemes; Shadowrun Returns

Having raised $1,836,447, Shadowrun Returns is the first of the "big" Kickstarted RPGs to see the light of day. Knowing the importance such a release holds for the Codex, we just had to ask Harebrained Schemes for a review copy. Lo and behold, on July 22, three days before the game's release, a review copy found its way to my inbox (along with a gift certificate for massive amounts of potato with cheese Doritos upon the release of a favorable review, of course).

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Little did Harebrained Schemes realize that a wealthy eccentric who went by the username of Darth Roxor would pay us heaps of cash volunteer to take a look at the game. We consented to this, because of his formidable history of reviewing for the Codex no one else could be assed to do it.

What follows is Darth Roxor's honest review of Shadowrun Returns. Will it Kickstart the Age of Incline™, or will it be forgotten as a sad trickle of an era that ran out of juice before it even began? Here's his final word on the matter:

I find it hard to provide a verdict for Shadowrun Returns. On one hand, it has clear flaws, some that are even glaring. It’s short as hell, and a playthrough will take you something around 13 hours tops. Its replay value is a bit questionable. It’s more of a fast-food kind of deal than an actual full-scale game.​

On the other hand, you have to be fair and keep in mind the game's limited budget in the context of its flaws. Not to mention that the peanuts this game costs offer you a tremendous ratio of bang for your buck. There's also the prospect of fan-made scenarios coming out from the editor. And, finally, what I guess has the most (albeit subjective) say on the matter, is that I simply fragging enjoyed my time with the game. I'm keeping my fingers crossed tightly for the upcoming official campaign in Berlin that's supposed to have a more open world and more side missions.​

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RPG Codex Community Q&A: Project Eternity with Josh Sawyer

Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 19 July 2013, 12:03:59

Tags: Baldur's Gate; Black Isle Studios; Eternity; Fallout; Game design; GOTY 2018; Icewind Dale; J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Planescape: Torment

So, here we are, with the responses to our community-sourced questions for Obsidian regarding Project Eternity. Or just Eternity. I really am not sure whether they have dropped the 'Project' bit or not. In any case, project director Josh Sawyer took it upon himself to answers all the questions we had. Well, pretty much all of them. There were a lot of questions.

Here's a wetter:

Hormalakh asked his cat, but his cat won't answer:
Can you discuss what the different animal companions will be for the ranger and whether these companions will play any differently? Will they offer different tactical/strategic choices in combat, different choices in the story, or will their differences just be for flavor?


It is more likely that they will offer different tactical choices than story choices, but we want to make the differences more than just cosmetic. We don't have a full animal companion list yet because we're still developing our bestiary.

Kem0sabe has more faith in his question than in developers:
At this point is there a risk that Obsidian is obsessing over particular areas of the game, like the design of rules and mechanics, leading to an over-designed game with too many discreet systems?


Given the choice between an over-designed game and an under-designed game, I'd prefer the former, but I think the risk is low. We design a lot of the fundamental mechanics up front and let the other systems or pieces of content develop more organically as the project progresses.

For example, the classes were initially designed from levels 1-5 and done in waves (starting with the "core four"). We're not going to develop the remaining character levels until we've played around with the classes in the low range for a while. Doing so will allow us to adapt the classes' remaining content and even adjust their core mechanics if we feel it is necessary.

Rake took a minute to describe the environment before asking:
What are your thoughts on descriptive text in the log and in dialogues? It's more of a Fallout thing than an IE one, but Planescape:Torment had it and was better for it. Do you think it offers much to an isometric game fleshing out the world to be worth the effort?


We are currently writing our dialogues with descriptive text in the general style of Planescape: Torment. We don't use it on every node, but we do use it when we feel it adds something to the conversation.​

It's pretty lengthy so grab a (healthy) snack and relax (moderately).

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Cynic's Grim Dawn Alpha Impressions

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 8 July 2013, 21:43:05

Tags: Crate Entertainment; Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn is an upcoming action RPG from Titan Quest developers that got successfully kickstarted back in May 2012. Esteemed community member Cynic has played through the alpha seven times already, and thinks it's the best thing since Diablo III sliced bread. So he decided to share his impressions with the rest of us. Here's a snippet:

So it has great music and graphics, but let's talk about gameplay. In this release, 3 out of 5 classes (called Masteries in-game) have been included - Soldier, Demolitionist and Occultist. The Soldier is your basic Melee class, the Demolitionist is a ranged/trap based class and the Occultist is a summoner/mage type class. You are in complete control of how you want your character to progress, and at level 10, you can dual class. Immediately you feel a sense of personal ownership and attachment to your character as you experiment with unique builds and you remember what makes RPG systems fun other than finding phat lewt - customization. I can already predict that there will be thousands of viable, unique builds in this game. You will definitely feel as though your character is yours, and yours alone. You can respec, but this comes at a cost per skill point. While that cost is a measly 100 iron (the currency of Cairn), I suspect that this may change in the full release of the game, encouraging you to carefully think about what skill you choose to obtain or level up. The confirmed classes that are missing from the Alpha are the Nightblade - a dual wielding assassin type class, and the Arcanist - a pure wizard type class. Both sound very interesting and are sure to add a lot of variety to the mix.

Difficulty wise, Grim Dawn follows the aRPG tradition of offering 3 difficulty levels each unlockable via full playthroughs. However the Alpha only offers the starting normal difficulty. Don't be fooled though, the game is far from a walk in the park. I’ve only died a handful of times, but the fights are always exciting and exhilarating, forcing me to think about space, the environment, choke points and how much time I have left before my skills recharge. There’s tension, and that’s a good thing. Loot acquisition seems to be nicely paced as well, as I’ve consistently been finding better/more interesting gear which has made me think about what kind of character I want to build.​

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Codex definition, a book manuscript.
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