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RPG Codex Interview: George Ziets on Eternity, Torment, and crafting worlds

Interview - posted by Zed on Tue 7 May 2013, 01:58:55

Tags: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn; Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal; Baldur's Gate III; Dungeon Siege III; Fallout: New Vegas; Game design; George Ziets; King of Dragon Pass; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; The Elder Scrolls Online; Torment: Tides of Numenera; Writing

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We are lucky George Ziets managed to leave a strong mark on the world of CRPGs during his adventures at Obsidian Entertainment. Were it not for his phenomenal work on Mask of the Betrayer, perhaps we would not have seen him as a double Kickstarter stretch-goal superstar. Regardless, here we are with Ziets taking on both Project Eternity and the world of Numenera, and we couldn't be happier.

Mr Ziets, being no stranger to taking questions from random people, was the perfect candidate for an RPG Codex feature. In this interview, we ask him about his approach to game design, his influences, ideas, writing, and of course the games he has been involved with in the past (including NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer and the upcoming The Elder Scrolls Online) and present (Project Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera) -- and perhaps future.

Have an excerpt:

You've mentioned that you were hoping to get a chance to work on some of Project Eternity's area design in addition to your various writing duties. Has that come about? Did you have any personal design philosophies or ideas you were hoping to bring to that particular arena?

PE is still in preproduction, so that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve mainly been contributing to world and story design.

I think of area design as another form of storytelling. So the first thing I do is determine the central narrative of the area. What story (or stories) are we trying to tell? And what kind of setting or atmosphere are we trying to convey? Once those questions are answered, I have a context, and everything – main quest, side quests, NPC chatter, etc. – should arise from that. Even the smallest details can (and should) be used to communicate story and setting, so that the area feels like a unified whole.

Baldur’s Gate 2 generally did this well. When I traveled to each of the major areas (Umar Hills, De’arnise Keep, etc.), I felt like I was entering a coherent side story – a self-contained D&D module - where all the dialogues and quests were focused on telling the area’s story and/or the player’s own. That’s what we tried to do on MotB, too.

I look at quests through a similar lens. Every quest is an opportunity to explore another facet of the narrative. We should use them to deepen the player’s experience of the area’s story and setting and explore how different people/factions would react to the same events. I don’t think we should ever have to resort to “generic” quests in a well-designed RPG.

Is your creative process in any way affected by simultaneously writing for both Eternity and Torment? Have you had any problems managing your ideas? For instance, that one project bleeds into another? Are there things that would work in Eternity, but that would absolutely not work in Torment (or vice versa)?

Not really. The two worlds are very different from one another. Despite its exotic nature, Torment feels closer to science fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction to me, especially to Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series. Eternity, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in fantasy and historical traditions, and in my opinion, it feels closer to the Forgotten Realms or the Malazan Books of the Fallen (with some notable differences).

I tend to base my designs heavily on setting and story context, so I haven’t had any trouble with overlap so far.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: George Ziets on Eternity, Torment, and crafting worlds

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An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the RPG Codex to Larian Studios

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 20 April 2013, 21:48:37

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin; Dragon Commander; Larian Studios

In the midst of the ongoing competition between the Codex and the Watch, Gragt has finally finished writing up an account of his visit to Larian Studios (on March 25th) where he got to play Divinity: Original Sin in co-op with Swen Vincke and Dragon Commander with Farhang Namdar (the game's lead designer). In this preview, he talks at length (I'm not kidding!) about his impressions of both of Larian's upcoming games.

Have a really really short snippet from the entire thing:

When I first met Swen Vincke in Larian's offices in Ghent, I felt intimidated. The reason was vain and instinctive - at 1.9m, I'm taller than most of my peers, but Swen is even taller than me. I also didn't know how he'd react to my presence. After all I was an "emissary of the RPG Codex", which is a fancy way to say that I am not a member of the Codex staff and was sent there because I live not far from Ghent (then again, nothing is far from anything in Belgium). I have no previous video game journalism experience, my words do not carry weight in the video game community, and this meeting was organised because another Codex member bitched on the forums about Larian running out of money, to which Swen had replied on his blog that he'd invite one of us to Larian's office to check on the progress of Divinity: Original Sin in order to dispel such rumours. "I didn't think they'd actually send someone!", I heard him say later that day. This was all good fun, but I knew that the folks at Larian had to be very busy, working on two games at the same time, and I was afraid they might not appreciate my intrusion.

All the tension melted away when Swen and I started talking. He's the kind of man with a calm and amiable attitude that makes you instantly feel comfortable, so much in fact that you just want to sit next to him to have a chat about various things. That's actually what we did for the next few hours - sit next to each other, chat and play Divinity: Original Sin in co-op.

[...] Before visiting Larian I had assumed that Dragon Commander was an RTS that allowed you to enter the battlefield in your dragon form and take a direct part in the action; I thought that would be the gimmick that would set it apart from the rest of real-time strategy games. Bear also in mind that I'm no great fan of the RTS genre although I do enjoy some of them occasionally. However, Dragon Commander turned out to be much, much more than what I had expected. In fact, it isn't even an RTS but rather a hybrid of different genres, something that has become very rare these days. In one package, you'll find social interactions and political decisions where your choices actually matter, turn-based strategy with a strong board game feel, and real-time strategy with an action twist.​

How does the dialogue between Original Sin's two protagonists play out? What are the stats and how do they come into play outside of combat? In what way is Original Sin's combat reminiscent of Temple of Elemental Evil-meets-Fallout? How is Larian's Dragon Commander similar to Origin's Wing Commander? To what extent is it a board game-turned-computer game? Why are gay marriage and choosing a proper bride important? And what does one sandwich matter? Read all about it in Gragt's article!

Read the full article: An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the RPG Codex to Larian Studios

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RPG Codex Interview: Might & Magic X - Legacy

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 5 April 2013, 10:20:55

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

Just a couple of weeks ago at PAX East, Ubisoft announced Might & Magic X - Legacy, a new entry in the legendary Might & Magic RPG series. Described by Ubisoft as "a first-person RPG that has pledged to respect the tried-and-tested tradition of its illustrious ancestors, as it leads you to epic adventure and quests while exploring the wild peninsula of Agyn," Might & Magic X is scheduled for release later this year.

Surprisingly enough, in these days of "reboots" and "reimaginings" (Fallout 3, Tomb Raider and Thief being the most prominent examples), Might & Magic X continues to be inspired by World of Xeen rather than something like Skyrim, and features turn-, party- and grid-based gameplay. To find out more about the game, as well as why Ubisoft even decided to make it in the first place -- so far, they are the first and only major publisher to announce an "old school" title -- we sent some questions over to Ubisoft and had them answered collectively by Stephan Winter, CEO of Limbic (the company that develops the game for Ubisoft), Julien Pirou (Writer & Designer), and Gary Paulini (Producer). Have a snippet from the resulting interview:

To you, what are the essential features of a Might & Magic game that you aim to preserve in Legacy? What about the series attracts you personally, and which of the Might & Magic games influence the new game the most?

To us, Might & Magic RPGs are about a party of adventurers exploring a large world in first-person view, meeting a variety of characters, visiting cities, and of course exploring dungeons and fighting monsters in turn-based combat. The specifics may vary from one game to the next (for instance Might & Magic 6 introduced free movement while the earlier games were grid-based), but these basic ingredients were always there and they are still at the core of Might & Magic X - Legacy.

Since there have been several "eras" as far as the gameplay of the series is concerned, we had to think hard about the kind of game we wanted to make. Several pitches were made, more or less faithful to the original games, but we finally decided to go for a gameplay similar to the World of Xeen episodes. We still kept some ideas of the later games, notably our skill system is similar (though not identical) to the skill system featured in Might & Magic 6-7.

Might & Magic games have always been open-world and not just corridor-based, which distinguished them from other first person RPGs such as Wizardry or The Bard's Tale. How open-world will Legacy be compared to the previous titles, and how big will the world itself be? Will the game have level scaling of any sort, i.e., will it scale the power or number of enemies in an area to your level (like Might & Magic II did)?

Might & Magic X starts with a smaller area. This is the "tutorial" area, which we call "Act I". Here you’ll explore your first town, get your first quests, complete your first dungeons, learning how to play along the way. When Act I is over, the rest of the world opens and what you do next is really up to you. If you want to go to that mountain over there despite the fact it’s notoriously full of angry Cyclopes, nothing will stop you.

There will be no scaling of the monsters depending on your level. We feel it’s one of the great pleasures in RPGs to become a demi-god and then return to those Cyclopes and teach them a lesson. However as you progress through the main story some new creatures and monsters may appear in some areas.

While it’s too early to talk the specifics of the game’s world, we can already say it’s bigger than the world of Clouds of Xeen for instance.

Could you elaborate on how training for skills is going to work in Might & Magic X? When will you need to look for a trainer and when will you not?

While, as mentioned earlier, you don’t have to train just to level-up and gain your skill points, we did keep the idea of teachers that can allow you to reach the next tier for your skills.

You start as a Novice, and then you can become Expert, Master and finally Grandmaster by locating the appropriate teacher. Of course Expert teachers are fairly common, while there’s only one Grandmaster teacher per skill and they can be pretty hard to find. And when you do find them, you never know what they’re going to ask you to do before they grant you the title. : )​

The interview also discusses the game's class, race and skill system, the question of "accessibility" vs. "simplification", the size of enemy groups, the attractiveness of "niche" video game markets, the absence of any "always online" elements in M&M X and the presence of UPlay (which is unfortunately required, but only for one-time activation).

Be sure to read the interview in full: RPG Codex Interview: Might & Magic X - Legacy

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RPG Codex Review: BioShock Infinite [Spoilers!]

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 3 April 2013, 14:49:45

Tags: BioShock; BioShock Infinite; Irrational Games

I snap into consciousness. Where am I? What is it in my inbox? A Bioshock Infinite review? Codex fanfiction? A hallucination? Written by Castanova? I get home, post it in the staff subforum, and the next hour passes in an instant. Next thing I know--

(Warning: spoilers abound!)

At GameStop, an employee immediately recognizes me. He gushes over how amazing the game is while another he handles the purchase. He hands me back my father's credit card along with my brand new copy of the Playstation 3 version of Bioshock: Infinite, telling me, "Thank you, Mr. DeStupid."

I get home, slide in the disc, and the next hour passes in an instant. The start of the game is intriguing with a fairly atmospheric lighthouse scene and a nice aerial introduction of Columbia. I've already got questions I want answered: what's the deal with this girl I need to find? What about the flying city, how does that work? Unlike most other big budget games I've played, there's no combat sequence at first. I spend a solid thirty minutes or more just exploring the city, taking in the interesting art design, the amusing religious songs. The shooting and Vigor-casting tutorials are so cleanly integrated, I barely even notice them. Slight oddities do start to nag at me (people seem to leave a lot of money lying around...) but I push those thoughts to the side.

Then a fight breaks out. Being a hardcore gamer, I have set the difficulty to Hard and the first firefights with Columbia policemen do not disappoint. My measly shield dissipates near-instantly and I spend most of the time hiding behind things, trying to survive. Sure, the enemy AI is as basic as it gets and hiding behind things isn't exactly rocket science but I, once again, push those thoughts to the side. I have to find the girl, after all, and I'm genuinely interested in what will happen next.

Someone knocks on my door. I glance back to see a guy I don't recognize. "Hi, I couldn't help but hear you playing Bioshock Infinite from the hall." I invite him in. "I'm Youtuber. Youtuber DeStupid," I tell him. "Nice to meet you, Youtuber. My name's Mono. Mono Cull." Mono Cull looks a bit older and, after we talk more, I find out that he's a brilliant graduate student, studying Physics. I agree to let him watch as I play the game since he owns no consoles and his computer only runs Linux.

As I hunt for Elizabeth ("the girl"), I'm forced to fight seemingly endless hordes of policemen. It's still sort of enjoyable but I'm wondering when things will evolve. After all, I'm still using the same basic handgun and my only Vigor, Persuasion, uses a full 50% of my Salt bar with each cast. Mono more explicitly voices his concern about the combat's monotony but I shrug it off. Surely, I'll get some sweet new powers and items soon, right? The game answers my question by giving me the Sky-Hook, a feature lauded by many of Weakstock's reviewers.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: BioShock Infinite [Spoilers!]

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RPG Codex People's Awards: Best RPGs

Community - posted by Grunker on Tue 26 March 2013, 12:06:17

Tags: Best RPGs; RPG Codex Awards; Top10

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Ladies and gentlemen, once again Jaesun has gathered the Codex and forced it to vote on its favourite computer role-playing game pastime. After tallying and compiling, Jaesun sent us the finished list of the ten games the Codex just wouldn't be able to live without. Simultaneously, Felipepepe decided the decline in this place wasn't strong enough, and he set out to gather votes for a similar list of the Codex' favourite console RPGs.

Today, we bring you the results of the polls. Will the final list be monocled? Will it be scandalous? Is it incline? Is it decline? We ask some of the Codex' staff, resident mascots as well as random people on the forum willing to contribute, about their comments on the games the Codex found to be the greatest RPGs ever made. Read the full article to see the results!

Read the full article: RPG Codex People's Awards: Best RPGs

(also, don't forget to help the Codex achieve immortality in Torment: Tides of Numenera - click me!)

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RPG Codex Review: Driftmoon

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 1 March 2013, 18:50:10

Tags: Driftmoon; Instant Kingdom

Just a few days ago Instant Kingdom released their light "adventure RPG" Driftmoon. In this review, esteemed community member Haba tells you what he thinks about the game. Have some snippets (and then be sure to read the review in full):

Family visits. You know how it always goes. All those nagging little hints that subtly point at your failures in life: "Your YOUNGEST cousin just got married this week..." or "Weston, the neighbour's son has now been promoted to captain in the Royal Guard. His parents are SO proud of him..." None of that sort in this family. Before you even have the chance to greet your mom, the old hag decides to push you down into a well. Wasn't that old tradition reserved to only unwanted newborns? You know, for the little mishaps that result from visiting the village priest or when your brother drinks just a bit too much mead? [...]

Excuse Me Sir. I am Looking For a Hidden Fish

So if not combat and character development, what does the game really has to offer? Pixel hunts, for one. The game locations are filled with items you can interact with, hidden treasures and secrets. Crafting ingredients, gold, attribute increasing bonuses... There is a tonne of stuff for those with the obsessive compulsive hoarding habit.

Besides hunting for material, you also obtain a wealth of information. Despite the tongue-in-cheek approach of the game, it is by no means a joke. The in-game lore is well fleshed out, with monster encyclopaedias, small stories and item descriptions.

The real meat of the game is the adventure. Almost every character has something to say; even most of the sentient enemies can be heard grumbling about their miserable duty. Quite surprisingly, the myriad of different followers you recruit on your journeys are quite reactive to the things that happen around them. Sometimes the wealth of one-liners even gets tiresome. Overall the dialogue is well written, even if a bit too simplistic. There are dialogue trees, and occasional choices that lead to a different outcome. [...]

The Verdict

Despite its shortcomings, would I recommend the game for anyone? To much of my own surprise, I find myself saying "yes". Driftmoon has a certain flavour to it. In a way, the magical journey you undertake reminds me of those good-hearted children's fables. And maybe that is where the real target group of the game exists. This would be a good introductory RPG for younger players. Maybe something you'd make your own children play, in the hopes that they'd turn out less fucked up than you did.

The game certainly has something to offer for mature audiences as well, presuming that you go in with the right set of expectations. Building a game of this scale with a two person team is no small feat. I am especially looking forward to seeing what kind of results the community will be able to produce with the rich modding tools the game comes with.

If you doubt your ability to stomach simple light-hearted fun with no gritty grim dark dressing, give the demo a go. Who knows, maybe you'll rediscover your inner child. And if that doesn't work out... you can always find a well...​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Driftmoon

The game is on sale today at $11.99. There is also a large demo available at the developer's site.

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RPG Codex Report: Expeditions: Conquistador, Logic Artists and Kickstarter

Development Info - posted by Grunker on Mon 25 February 2013, 11:26:52

Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Logic Artists

Expeditions: Conquistador is a turn-based RPG with a focus on exploration and strategy. It is being developed by a small Danish development outfit named Logic Artists, and scheduled to be released on Thursday.* I decided to pay them a visit this week, to have a look at their studio, take some pretty pictures and have a chat with the developers. We spoke about the game, about Kickstarter, and about the trials of making an oldschool RPG in the day and age of cover-based shooters.

*EDIT: Since the release of this article, Logic Artists have post-poned the release date of Expeditions: Conquistador due to distribution-issues. See more here. Ah, Thursdays and their RPG releases.

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2013 is looking to be an interesting year, largely because of events that took place in 2012, a year otherwise so uninteresting that finding actual RPGs to discuss was difficult. A year so bland for cRPGs that GameBanshee decided to give its GOTY awards to games like Kingdoms of Amalur and Darksiders II. Yet in the middle of this RPG desert, the Kickstarter phenomenon kicked off in force, and brought us a slew of new games to look forward to. Oddly, it wasn't just Kickstarter that seemed promising – other games catering to the tastes of the Codex were announced separately as well. A game like Chaos Chronicles, promising a blend of Temple of Elemental Evil, Realms of Arkania and Phantasie was suddenly in the mix, with no Kickstarter-backing or anything of that sort, save a few euros from the German state. As such, whether you feel optimistic about the Kickstarter-phenomenon or not, and whether you personally look forward to the games that are a-coming, one thing certainly seems irrefutable: In 2013, the Codex will finally have games to discuss again.

One of the oldschool RPGs funded by Kickstarter is the difficult to define Expeditions: Conquistador, which is coming out soon (February 28th, in fact), and as such looks like it will be delivered on the schedule promised by the developers during the Kickstarter. One of the few Kickstarted games, it seems, to meet its deadline. As one of the first Kickstarted RPGs to actually be released it is of obvious interest to the Codex, and since their studio is located a manageable 20 minutes on foot from my apartment, I decided to pay Logic Artists, the developers of Conquistador, a visit.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Expeditions: Conquistador, Logic Artists and Kickstarter

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Winston Douglas Wood on Phantasie and Star Command

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 15 February 2013, 17:19:53

Tags: Phantasie; Phantasie II; Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus; Phantasie IV; Phantasie V; Retrospective Interview; Star Command; Star Craft, Inc.; Strategic Simulations, Inc.; Winston Douglas Wood

Back in the 1980s, there used to be a popular CRPG series that would vie in popularity with the two titans, Wizardry and Ultima. That was SSI's Phantasie, designed and coded by Winston Douglas Wood, who also co-designed (with Eric Liebenauer) another SSI-published CRPG, Star Command. Today we present you our interview with the man himself.

The West saw Phantasie as a trilogy, but actually - and this is major news that hasn't been known before - WD Wood went on to design Phantasie IV after Japanese company Star Craft, Inc., approached SSI for a publishing deal. Unfortunately, as the interview tells us, Winston didn't have the time to adapt the fourth game to non-Japanese PCs, so SSI never published it in English and it has remained a Japanese exclusive. In other news, old-time Phantasie fans will also be excited to find out that Winston is currently working on a Phantasie V in his spare time! We'll be sure to keep you informed about the game's progress.

Here are some tidbits from the interview:

Phantasie made use of passive skills during exploration to inform the player of such things as traps, hidden treasure and upcoming monsters. These features were rare at the time and are still rare today. How important do you think these mechanics were in terms of the overall gaming experience? Did you have any ideas for further skills that failed to make it into any of the games?

Those skills came from RuneQuest and D&D. They encourage the player have a greater variety of characters so that all of these skills are well balanced in their party. To imagine that your characters are listening for monsters and searching for traps gives a greater sense of realism and danger that was typically more present in tabletop games. I would have liked to have added rock climbing to Phantasie and generally make better use of the other skills but time and resources prevented that.

In 1990 Phantasie IV was released exclusively in Japan for MSX, NEC and Sharp computers. The game credits you as the creator of the series, but the actual development is credited to a Japanese company called Star Craft, Inc. What do you know about this game and did you have any involvement in it at all?

I designed Phantasie IV completely. I was able to go to Japan and meet the programmers from Star Craft but I was never able to test the game to any extent. I did consider doing another fantasy RPG but decided to do Star Command instead.

That's exciting to hear! Did you design Phantasie IV specifically for Star Craft, or have you already had it designed (for SSI perhaps) by the time Star Craft approached you? And why wasn't it published in the West?

Starcraft approached SSI with the idea of doing Phantasie IV in Japan. SSI then contacted me and I designed the game. SSI would have published it if anyone had been available to adapt it to computers like the Apple II or Commodore 64 but that never happened (I was busy designing and programming other software).

As far as I'm aware you left the industry at some point after the release of Star Command. What was the reason for your departure and what have you been up to since?

After Star Command I designed three games for Japanese companies. I thought designing the games without doing the programming would give me a chance to improve graphics quality and game play. However only one of the games (Phantasie IV) actually made it to the market and I found that I missed the opportunity to interact with the games during the design process.

At the same time I was given an opportunity to do some programming for a civil engineering software company (KYPipe, LLC). This proved to be a more stable source of income since sales of one product would continue for years instead of just a few months. I am still in that field to this day as part owner of KYPipe, LLC.

By the way I am currently working on Phantasie V. I don't get much time to work on it so its a very slow process. If you want you can check back with me in about a year and I will let you know the status of the project.

We will be sure to! Can you maybe tell us a bit about how you approach it? Will it look and play similar to the previous Phantasie games, or are you aiming for something new with it?

It is still very early in the development stage and it's really just for fun right now. I haven't given any thought to publishing. It will be a PC game though if it turns out well I may consider Android and IOS versions.

In general the scope should be quite a bit bigger but it should play very similar to the previous Phantasie games. I don't yet know how it will look but the main visual feature will still be the scrolling map on which all combat and exploration takes place.​

Be sure to read the full interview.

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RPG Codex Interview: Dan Vávra (Warhorse Studios)

Interview - posted by Zed on Mon 11 February 2013, 20:24:58

Tags: Dan Vávra; Kingdom Come: Deliverance; Warhorse Studios

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Dan Vávra and his Warhorse Studios are no strangers to intricate open world games. So when they announced that they were working on an open world RPG set in a realistic medieval setting, many people wanted to know exactly what they were up to. After two years... we still don't really know anything. We did get a glimpse of the game engine however, so we now know what to expect graphically. But what goes into the design philosophy behind the game? How will they approach the open world design? How do they balance it with strong, coherent storytelling? This and more is what I tried to wrangle out of Dan in an e-mail correspondence, resulting in this interview article.

What sort of realism is most important to you? Realistic gameplay, realistic game world, or realistic behavior? In regards to Warhorse RPG, in what areas are you striving for realism?

It's not about making a simulation of any kind—it's about creating a believable, coherent world and a story that makes sense. Because the devil is in the details, every detail counts when making that world. So, it's not important how many things there will be in the game, but rather that the things are well-executed and makes sense.

A real-world example: I am making a castle for my game. It might be a fantasy game, so I may mix different architectonic styles or came up with my own, but I still have to stick to some rules. Are there long-range weapons in my world? Are there any flying enemies? Who lives in the castle? How will it be defended? When you think about such things, you could never design those absurd caricatures of medieval castles you may find in most RPGs. The Witcher is one of the few exceptions. Probably because those guys are from Poland, and unlike Americans, they have real medieval castles all around them.

Speaking of the Witcher—The Witcher 3 was announced recently, with the main feature being that the game will have an open world approach. We have also heard speculation about Dragon Age 3 moving towards having a more open world as well. Why this sudden interest in open worlds for RPGs, do you think?

Skyrim! When something sells 20 million units, it will attract some attention. Publishers were hesitant about RPGs in the past—they are usually very buggy, complicated to develop and very hard to judge whether they're gonna sell or not. Open worlds are also very expensive, and being open world doesn’t guarantee a success. Look at True Crime, Sleeping Dogs, Dragons Dogma, or Amalur… But when they are done right, it's the ultimate entertainment.

Ah yes, Skyrim. I suppose it's the de facto king of the hill. What are your thoughts on Skyrim?

Well, as they say: In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. For me, Skyrim (or the Elder Scrolls series as a whole) is the one-eyed man. So far, it is the only western open world RPG worth mentioning. For that reason, I was more grateful for it than anyone else, but I have lots of issues with the game. It's an American vision of a medieval fantasy world and as such, it's more like Disneyland with bizarre architecture, medieval knights using katanas, half-naked female warriors, illogical quests and story that is often morally very uncomfortable for me (for instance offering no other than evil choices in quests). The RPG I would like to play was still not made, so I am trying to make it. I'm also eagerly awaiting the new Witcher, which seems like it could be something I will enjoy.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Dan Vávra (Warhorse Studios)

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RPG Codex Review: Alpha Protocol

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 12 January 2013, 20:53:32

Tags: Alpha Protocol; Obsidian Entertainment

Much to our own surprise, it turns out we never got around to reviewing Obsidian's espionage RPG Alpha Protocol. Good thing esteemed community member TNO has finally got us covered. In this review, he looks back at Alpha Protocol to see where it succeeds -- and why it fails.

Have a snippet:

So, Alpha Protocol has a good plot, lots of clever characterization, and unsurpassed C&C. That means it should be great, right?

Well, too bad the gameplay sucks.

[...] Games can be crippled by a single bad gameplay element. Every element of Alpha Protocol's gameplay - from stealth, to shooting, to bosses, to minigames - ranges from bad to awful. Incredibly rarely does it all come together to something interesting: the game forcing my stealthy character to crack out the big guns to clear the bad guys from the ticking bomb in Italy is the only thing that springs to mind. The rest of the time it varies from easy tedium to dashes of irritation.

I wanted to love Alpha Protocol - it does a lot of things right, and there is much in it that other games should strive to imitate. These elements would be more than good enough to carry a merely mediocre gameplay experience: such was the case of Planescape and Arcanum or, for example, Deus Ex, which had below average stealth and shooting but gained a lot in the way it mixed these elements. Sadly, Alpha Protocol's gameplay isn't just mediocre - it is plain monstrous. It's one of the few games I found both boring (the 'stealth bits') and painful (the bosses, minigames and shooting) to play.

In the end, Alpha Protocol is an interesting experiment, but ultimately a failure. For gamers so addicted to climbing the heights of the (let's face it, pretty low lying) field of computer game storytelling that they're willing to go through the purgatory of playing this game, it's worth a go. Otherwise, steer clear.​

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The Codex Reviews Drox Operative

Review - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 26 December 2012, 14:35:29

Tags: Drox Operative; Soldak Entertainment

Yours truly has explored several solar systems and traded with galactic empires to bring you a review of Soldak Entertainment's newest effort, Drox Operative!

At its core, Drox Operative is a Diablo-like ARPG. You fly through space, shoot down "monsters" (actually they are spaceships, but the game calls them monsters) for experience points and collect the loot they drop. Loot consists of ship components and the experience points are gathered not by any single character, but by your spaceship's crew, which has several stats that can be raised on levelup.

On the start of a new game, a map of a galaxy's sector is created and different civilizations are placed in it. These civilizations then go on to colonize space and compete with each other, forging alliances, trading technologies and going to war, just like you would expect from a 4X strategy game such as Master of Orion. The galaxy sector consists of multiple solar systems, each containing a jumpgate that allows for quick travel to any other solar system in the sector, starlanes that allow travel between two specific systems, and a couple of planets. The civilizations explore the galaxy on their own, founding new colonies in other solar systems and building an empire.​

Read all about Drox Operative and how it tries to spice up its ARPG gameplay by adding 4x-like elements in my little review here. And try out the demo if you got interested!

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RPG Codex Preview: A peek at Legends of Eisenwald

Preview - posted by Zed on Sun 9 December 2012, 20:02:56

Tags: Alexander Dergay; Aterdux Entertainment; Legends of Eisenwald

Legends of Eisenwald, the turn-based strategy/RPG influenced by the original King's Bounty and Disciples 2, was one of the earlier success stories of Kickstarter that we covered here at RPG Codex. A little while back, we were given a closed beta copy to preview the game for our readers, so I snatched it and did just that.

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Here's a lil' bit from the preview:

Besides castles and towns, you'll come across taverns, mills, graveyards, bandit hideouts, smithys and more. However, these locations don't always offer anything of interest. In fact, some locations appear to be completely uneventful. Also, a tavern could for instance at one point offer little more than gossip, and at another point (later in the scenario) offer a quest. This could very well be because its a beta, but perhaps many of the locations are meant to be little more than scenery.
You will also come across NPCs wandering the map. Although these NPCs are rarely more than guards and patrols, they help make the world feel a little more alive. While the writing may not be the game's strongest point, the gossip in taverns and the NPC interactions can be quite funny, albeit a little silly at times.

The combat of Eisenwald is initiative-driven and turn-based. This means that units will take their turns based on unit type and equipment. For instance, a ranged combatant will act faster using a longbow than a crossbow. Heavy armor also seems to burden the initiative of units. But, movement is not affected. This is because every single turn in Eisenwald requires an action. You can't choose to move somewhere specific and then end the turn without doing something. Instead, you must choose a target to attack, and your unit will automatically move there and do so. That is, unless the path is blocked by another unit. The only alternative is to skip the unit's turn entirely. This rather simple approach doesn't mean that there is no tactics involved, or that you can just click wherever and be victorious. In fact, combat feels very volatile in that any one unit may suddenly mess things up completely, and your initial positioning of units and how you use them will greatly affect the outcome.​

Besides the actual preview, I also asked Aterdux' head Alexander Dergay a few questions regarding their experience with using Kickstarter:

Legends of Eisenwald, being an early adopter of the Kickstarter model, explored unknown territory with their campaign. When I asked Alexander Dergay how they prepared, he answered: “I think our success at Kickstarter was a combination of a lot of preparation and certainly a bit of luck.”
“Before our campaign on Kickstarter, we didn't know much about how it all worked and there was very little information available - no postmortems or other articles on how to do a campaign for a video game on Kickstarter.”​

There's more in the preview!

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Stealth Game Codex Review: Mark of the Ninja

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 25 November 2012, 16:35:24

Tags: Klei Entertainment; Mark of the Ninja

Having read JarlFrank's Dishonored review, our esteemed community member Mrowak, who you may remember for his Diablo III and Inquisitor articles, decided to counter it with reviewing what he considers to be a much better stealth game - namely, the recently released 2D stealth side-scroller Mark of the Ninja. Have a snippet:

The game features many types of foes, who possess a variety of abilities. Dogs can sniff you out from hiding spots, elite guards are impossible to stealth-kill unless stunned, heavy troopers carry riot shields which make them invulnerable to your normal attacks, snipers can spot you from afar in the total darkness, and even regular guards carry flashlights which can momentarily reveal your position to everyone on the screen. As a result, all enemies remain a threat throughout the game and the composition as well as placement of their forces is the key factor in gameplay.

The enemy AI is satisfactory for the most part. Your foes react to noise and visual contact from a far distance - they go to the place of disturbance to check it out. Being discovered triggers an alarm whereby the enemies from the entire screen rush to your last seen position and inspect the area. Interestingly enough, guards have basic psychology. By default they are relaxed, patrol the area in a stroll, smoke cigarettes and chat with one another. When they are agitated, they raise their gun and carefully approach the source of the disturbance. If they spot you they become alarmed, hold the gun at the ready and move at a brisk pace - they will remain in that mode even if the alarm is called off. Lastly when they witness something horrifying, e.g. see their ally drop dead in a gruesome “accident”, they fly into panic and start shooting blindly around, possibly killing other guards.

Taking advantage of these psychological states is one of the cornerstones of gameplay. You will find yourself acting akin to an evil genius, exploiting the fears of your puppets and having them do exactly what you want: from turning their gazes away from the path to your goal, to disabling security systems for you, to killing their own allies.

[...] Mark of the Ninja is a very solid game. “Focused” is the keyword that underlies its every aspect. True, it targets a very specific niche, ignoring certain facets of gameplay which could not work in a 2D format. Nevertheless, within the limited framework it establishes, it gives no quarter - it does not know what “compromise” means, opting to be a very polished, singular experience rather than everything to everyone. It comes from developers who clearly know their own limitations, but instead of being discouraged, they are eager to work around them to deliver a thoroughly unique experience.

Mark of the Ninja is a model example of what happens when unrelenting passion meets ingenious foresight. It does have some shortcomings, but most of them result from a curious paradox: it is a rare example of a game that leaves you craving for more, even though from the very first moments it offers you plenty. It is the game a true fan of stealth games should not ignore.​

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

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

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

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden appeared out of nowhere in 2008 and took the internet by storm, soon becoming a hit indie title. Basketball-themed, humorous and parodying traditional JRPGs and the RPG Maker community, Barkley was one of the most unorthodox and best-written PC RPGs of recent years. And now that 4 years have passed, a sequel has been announced and a Kickstarter is to be launched next week by Tales of Game's (sic), the team behind the first game. The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, TMROTNN:EFN7-ROC:TOGOTM-C2OTHBS for short, is an unlikely title for a game. But then again the sequel itself was long considered unlikely by those who enjoyed the first game.

You may know that the core person behind Barkley, Eric "Chef Boyardee" Shumaker, goes by the name of cboyardee on the RPG Codex forums and posted about the sequel's development in the Codexian Game Development Thread. So I guess, the developer being a Codexer, it should come as no surprise that while the first game was more of a (faux-)JRPG, Barkley 2 is going to be much more of a WRPG: non-linear, with complex character development and choice and consequence. In this interview, we talk to cboyardee about the game's concept, fully non-linear gameplay and C&C, class-changing character development and character creation that lets you influence not just the character's statistics but also the state of the world, and other exciting matters (such as Arcanum influences on Barkley and Barkley 2). Have a snippet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure to check out the game's screenshots and read the interview in full: RPG Codex Interview: Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden 2 (Soon on Kickstarter)

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Guido Henkel on Realms of Arkania

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Thu 15 November 2012, 11:55:32

Tags: Attic Entertainment; Guido Henkel; Realms of Arkania; Retrospective Interview

Today we bring you the next entry to our retrospective interview series, this time featuring Attic co-founder Guido Henkel. Main topic are, of course, the Realms of Arkania games. Here's a snippet:

2. Blade of Destiny and Star Trail were fairly unique RPGs that stood out even in the Golden Age of games. How did they come to be? What were the goals? What influenced the design decisions?

The genesis of these games was quite intriguing, actually. We had just completed Spirit of Adventure at the time, the first role-playing game that attic did, and it was published by Starbyte, a German publisher. As it turned out, Starbyte told us that they had the rights to the Pen&Paper game that the Realms of Arkania series is based on [editors note: Das Schwarze Auge, The Dark Eye in english] and asked us if we would like to do a product for them using the license.

The kicker was that we were dying to do that, but we had serious issues with Starbyte. It was a horribly crooked company that cheated us and all of its other developers out of their money. So naturally, we were reluctant to work with them. However, when we talked to the actual rights owners of the Realms of Arkania Pen&Paper games, it turned out that Starbyte had been bluffing. They did not actually have the rights… yet. They were in negotiations, but when the licensor learned about their dirty business practices they decided to sign with us instead, and off we went to make the games. For us it was a great way to obtain the license, and for them it was a great way to do some work in the computer games field, because some of the original designers of the Pen&Paper games were itching to do some cRPG work.

The general consensus was at the time to create a computer RPG that was as close to the Pen&Paper game as possible, so there were no shortcuts at all. We implemented the entire set of game rules, the entire set of attributes and talents from the Pen&Paper original and worked them into the game as best as we could.
Thanks to Guido for his answers and to Vault Dweller for his contribution to the questions and the nice intro paragraph.

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A Codexian Fund-raiser

Community - posted by DarkUnderlord on Tue 13 November 2012, 23:20:52

Tags: Cleveland Mark Blakemore; Codex Server Slush Fund; Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar; RPG Codex; Sir-Tech; Wizardry 8

The time comes in a website's life when it needs to grow up and move to new premises. Premises that cost money. Today, that time has come for the Codex. However, there's other stuff happening too and so, due to the length of this proposal, the rest is over here.

Here's the short version so we don't have a huge sticky here for the next month:

1. We're trying to raise $2,500 for our Server Slush Fund.

2. We'll also be bidding on some of the items in the Sir-Tech Auction (prices and items to be determined. Trust us).

3. If we get enough spare cash (another $2,500), we'll throw some at Cleve's Indie-Go-Go Project.

4. If we get a LOT of spare cash, it will be held for Future Codexian Purposes, like server space for my own web games and hookers. But mostly hookers for the Codex' benefit.

5. Donors will get a special tag, ad-free status and other goodies (to be determined). MAKE SURE YOU ENTER YOUR USER NAME IN THE LITTLE NOTE BOX PEOPLE

6. If you only wish to donate to a specific cause, say so in your donation note. This will all be handled manually anyway for now, so why not make it harder on me?​

DONATE HERE

And enter your username / details here:

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The future of the Codex rests in your hands. Now is the chance to take those hands and help the Codex. Our future rests on them!

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[Quickie Nr. 003] Konjad and Pathologic

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 10 November 2012, 16:29:47

Tags: Ice-Pick Lodge; Pathologic; Quickie

We've been waiting for a long time for the prestigious Quickie Nr. 3. Well, here it is. It's Konjad again, and this time he's trying to explain why Pathologic is worth playing. Here's an excerpt:

You will need to eat and use drugs to survive, some to boost your immune system and others to fight the affliction and its effects. However, when you get infected – you’re infected. You can slow down the progress of the sickness, but you’ll only be able to get rid of it very few times in the entire game, and it’s easy to catch the disease. The Sand Plague will make your vision blurry, and after some time you'll need to take painkillers and various antibiotics which slow down the development of the disease, but as a drawback decrease your health. Alternatively, you can drink alcohol, which also helps, but drastically raises your exhaustion, forcing you to sleep often and therefore waste a lot of precious time. To fight off the sedative effects of drugs and alcohol, you can drink coffee, but it has a negative effect on your health, or you can, for example, eat lemons, but they increase your hunger, and so on... This is a great system that requires constant management once you get ill, and when you finally lay your hands on a pill that can kill the microbe in your body, you will be hesitant whether it's actually a good idea to swallow it because you know you will still be in contact with the disease due to the environment.

Prices in stores fluctuate, usually going up, but sometimes going down as well... Thus, you never know if the item you're saving money for is going to cost twice as much tomorrow. Moreover, most of the food rots with time, and sometimes it may be better to save money to buy it at a later point than to purchase everything at once... but then the price might spike up. You never really know. You can also trade with children running around the town, they sometimes happen to have useful things to offer, not to mention that they are the ones you get ammunition from.

Apart from that, there's a karma system. Many actions will increase and others will decrease your karma. Sharing your food, medicine and painkillers with others will make you more popular, but you need to keep in mind that you need these things for yourself as well as for characters crucial to the story. Stealing will make people dislike you, and killing someone (except in self-defense), especially a child, will make them loathe you.

Every day you get various tasks to accomplish, but you’re not alone. Many people will help you as much as they can, often doing the job for you if you fail… but they might pay the ultimate price for their commitment to your cause, and their absence may lead to your doom later on. Every day, the disease spreads and the town attracts attention of the police forces and eventually even the military, who try to do everything they can to stop the spreading of the epidemic. Decay, in both the physical and the metaphysical sense, is the main theme of the game, followed by sacrifice and the idea that everything comes at a price.​

But the important question is: is it an RPG? Please discuss.

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Al Escudero on Deathlord and Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 6 November 2012, 17:03:45

Tags: Al Escudero; Deathlord; Electronic Arts; Retrospective Interview; Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace; Strategic Simulations, Inc.

In this retrospective interview, we talk to Al Escudero, the designer behind two notable and unique if relatively obscure CRPGs, Electronic Arts' Deathlord (1987) and SSI's Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace (1992). The interview's main focus is Deathlord, but it also touches on Spelljammer's development and Al Escudero's career as a whole. As you can see from the interview, both Deathlord and Spelljammer had it really rough during development, to the point where the publisher would change the entire theme/concept of the game on the fly - something you would expect from Electronic Arts, I guess.

Have a snippet:

What motivated you to choose the quasi-Japanese setting for Deathlord? Were the Japanese names for classes, weapons, spells, etc., there just for flavor, or did the whole thing grow out of your fascination with Japanese culture?

Honestly, no. Though I had a budding interest in Japanese culture at the time, the game was originally created with a Norse/Teutonic theme, and I had the game finished that way. It was the marketing dept at EA that insisted we change it (at the last minute) to an Oriental/Japanese theme. I was given 5 weeks to change all the art, story, spell names, equipment names, location names, etc. I was quite upset about it. I had a game I had crafted over a year and a half I needed to convert to an entirely different style at the 11th hour and wasn't given sufficient time to do the new style justice. It felt like a hack to me, and I hated doing it. If I'd had a few months, time to do reading on Japanese culture and myths, time to craft a tale that tapped into their rich Mythology, I feel I could have done a far better job, as it was I felt very dissatisfied.

What were your goals and intentions with Deathlord? What kind of game did you set out to make, and in what ways did you intend Deathlord to be different from other games of the era?

There were a number of goals, but primarily I wanted to make it BIG. I loved playing rpg's, but they seemed to be over so quickly, and the content often felt very thin. The RPGS of the time were ones like Bard's Tale and Wizardry that were a single dungeon, or Ultima 3, which had a small world with a lot of generic dungeons that were all more or less the same. I wanted to make Deathlord feel like a real world, with big oceans, climate zones, and different lands with different customs and styles. To accomplish this we created a huge streaming world with dozens of dungeons that had unique themes. In the course of creating the ones integral to the main story line, we also created numerous 'just for fun' dungeons that were explorations of various concepts - mazes, elements, illusions, etc. I ultimately added those into the game anyway as 'filler'. Akin to the Oblivion's and Skyrim's of later years so that there were new things to explore even if you had finished the game.

What were the challenges involved in Spelljammer's development, and were you pleased with the state that the game was released in? In hindsight, to what extent would you say you succeeded in your goals and how do you feel about the game today?

Similar to Deathlord, another mid-project change in direction happened. Initially Spelljammer was going to be an rpg. You would fly through space, and explore abandoned Dwarven citadels, floating castles and dungeons on alien worlds - but a few months into development, the game was cut back to a strategy game. I had to take my ambitious space-rpg and pare it down to something more like interceptor with magic. The game I got isn't really the one I set out to make.

You call Spelljammer's schedule "aggressive." Why did SSI rush Spelljammer's development? What were their reasons for that, as well as for the mid-project change in the game's concept?

I was never told explicitly why it was rushed. If I had to speculate, Dark Sun was over schedule and presumably over budget. It was probably the single most important title the company was producing at the time and had a huge development team and a lot riding on its success. I got the impression that anything that took resources away from Dark Sun was being reigned in.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Al Escudero on Deathlord and Spelljammer CRPG

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Dishonored: A Taffing Codexian Review

Review - posted by JarlFrank on Fri 2 November 2012, 20:56:57

Tags: Arkane Studios; Bethesda Softworks; Dishonored

While it's technically not an RPG, I've written a review for it anyway. Read all about being invisible while leaning and levels that look like rectangles here!

Overall, the AI seemed a bit more aware to me than it was in Thief, but it's roughly the same in capabilities: it can see and hear the player, but it doesn't react to any environmental manipulations. Some Thief Fan Missions and The Dark Mod have an AI capable of noticing open doors or switched off light sources, so it's slightly disappointing to see that Dishonored doesn't incorporate any such more advanced AI behaviours. One positive surprise the AI gave me was that sometimes, guards would notice that a comrade is missing and would take over his patrol route, if it was a more important route than the one they currently had. In one of the later levels, I took out a guard who held a position that overlooked the entire area, only to see another guard take his place a few minutes later. One slightly silly feature of this game’s stealth system, however, is that you cannot be seen when leaning as long as your body is behind cover. So you can stand at a corner, lean to your right to check out the hallway – and nobody will detect you even if you lean right into somebody’s face.

The levels are not only very vertical, they are also pretty open. There are always two or more ways to approach your objectives, and there’s ample opportunity for exploration. However, some of the levels do feel slightly linear despite being open and offering multiple paths to your goal. It is most apparent in the mission where you have to kidnap the Royal Physician Sokolov: you need to cross Kaldwin’s Bridge in order to get to his residence, and, due to it being a bridge, it is rather linear. It does offer you several paths to cross it, but they’re all more or less parallel. It’s similar in most missions: the levels are usually roughly rectangular and you start at one end of the rectangle, while your target is at the other end. The levels are very open, yet there’s still a pretty set path. It’s hard to describe, but I think the rectangle analogy fits very well here.
P.S.: I forgot/was too lazy to take screenshots myself. Thanks to Multi-headed Cow and Raghar, who have contributed the screens I used for this review!

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RPG Codex Interview: Primordia, Point-and-Click Adventure Inspired by Fallout and Planescape

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 31 October 2012, 13:07:46

Tags: Mark Yohalem; Primordia; Wadjet Eye Games; Wormwood Studios

Today is adventure game interview day. Primordia is an upcoming point-and-click adventure developed by Wormwood Studios and published by Wadjet Eye Games, heavily inspired by such classic CRPGs as Fallout and Planescape: Torment. It also features unique art by Victor Pflug and voice acting by Logan Cunningham, the narrator of Bastion. In this interview, we chat to Mark Yohalem, Primordia's designer/writer, about the game and its inspirations and features, including its ties to the RPG genre. Have some excerpts:

Please introduce Primordia to our readers. What is the game about, what kind of world is it set in, and what character(s) do we get to play as?

Primordia is about a reclusive robot named Horatio who ekes out an existence by scavenging the wastelands around him, with the help of his sarcastic companion Crispin. Horatio's dream is to repair an airship called the UNNIIC (pronounced "unique"), in which he and Crispin live. That goal, and his very survival, is jeopardized when a robot smashes his way into the ship, declares it "forfeit," shoots Horatio, ignominiously throws him out of the ship, and then steals the ship's power core and floats off into the Dunes. Since Horatio and Crispin need electricity to survive, they have to find an alternative power source or recover the one stolen from them.

As you might expect if you've played the original Fallout, things turn out to be less simple than just finding a missing part, though we never veer into the "save the world from the demonlord and his army of orcs" scenario that Fallout has. Rather, I would say that that Primordia has a much more personal story, along the lines of Planescape: Torment.

As for the world of Primordia, it's one populated entirely by robots. These robots have seen better days, and most of them are eccentric if not outright insane. You meet characters ranging from tiny machines the size of bugs to god-like automated factories as big as an entire city. The environments form a post-apocalyptic, post-organic setting: junkpiles, rusting cities; crumbling edifices; giant, buried robots; leaking subway tunnels; and so on.

Aesthetically -- and here I can't speak as well as the game's artist, Victor Pflug -- it's a different kind of post-apocalyptic vision than what you've seen before. Fallout has a sort of 1950s retro-futurism; Bioshock has a 1930s art-deco retro-futurism; things like Mad Max or Terminator just have a kind of industrial-waste / desert futurism. To the extent you can stick a label on this, it's art nouveau mixed with HR Giger motifs (though Giger himself seems inspired by Gaudi, who was arguably part of the art noveau movement). So you have these elaborate, almost organic stylings that are crumbling apart, revealing their inorganic, mechanical core.​

Apart from telling a story, video games often explore a particular theme or set of themes. What are some of the themes you aim to explore with Primordia?

The big ones are: independence vs. collectivism (and, relatedly, the nature of freedom and free will); religion vs. materialism; creation vs. destruction; justice vs. mercy; and -- dare I say it to the Codex -- decline.

Regarding decline: Post-apocalyptic settings are actually pretty common in gaming, but typically games starts at the point where things have bottomed out and are getting better. For example, the hardscrabble towns you see in Fallout have become a fairly advanced nation state by Fallout 2. In Primordia, you're still on the downward slope. While there are ways for the game to end on an optimistic note, it's not like you've saved the world or even arrested its decline. More like there's a small bubble of hope in a tub of water that's rushing down the drain.

Regarding the other themes: Basically, I hate games that take a strong philosophical or political position (like "corporations are evil!") and then just rig the plot to showcase why that position is true. In Primordia, Horatio has certain views on the themes in the game -- he values independence and he religiously venerates Man the All-Builder -- and so, to some extent, the player is going to take Horatio's side. But the other side gets to make its arguments persuasively, and Horatio is shown to be wrong in many ways. I don't think the player is going to come away thinking, "The creators of Primordia rigged the whole thing to show that the ideal lifestyle is to be like Clint Eastwood in Gran Turino, only really religious." We're hoping they come away thinking that they're no easy answers, just hard choices, as players came away from Planescape: Torment.​

Primordia is being published by Wadjet Eye Games but developed by Wormwood Studios. What is the size of your company and how did it come about? Is Primordia your first game?

Wormwood is Vic (artist), me (writer/designer), and Jim (coder). There's also a composer and sound guy, Nathaniel Chambers, but he's really a contractor working for Wadjet Eye, even though his role on Primordia is pretty significant. Jim and Vic have both worked on a lot of independent games before. I've worked as a writer on a handful of published games, including Kohan II, Axis & Allies, Heroes of Newerth, and Savage 2. I also worked on Dragon Age: Origins, although I believe that what I wrote for Dragon Age was entirely cut (it was an origin quest involving a barbarian character, and then an encounter with a blind, racist human who didn't realize he was being cared for by an elf). Since I work full-time as a lawyer, I couldn't commit to moving to Edmonton for Bioware, and we parted ways.

Our next intended project is a text-heavy, heavily randomized space opera RPG in the vein of Star Control 2 and Weird Worlds. I've been working on the design to it in a serious way for five years, and off and on since I was 12 or so.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Primordia, Point-and-Click Adventure Inspired by Fallout and Planescape

You can also check out Primordia's official website.

There are 30 comments on RPG Codex Interview: Primordia, Point-and-Click Adventure Inspired by Fallout and Planescape

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