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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”.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Darklands

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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.

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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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RPG Codex Retrospective: Roguey fights for social justice in Josh Sawyer's Icewind Dale II

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Thu 27 June 2013, 13:29:38

Tags: Black Isle Studios; Icewind Dale 2

The year was 2002. Under the inept management of the notorious Herve Caen, Interplay was dying. The company needed money fast, and so it was decided to bring back the Infinity Engine for one last hurrah. Icewind Dale II was a project that should never have been. A slam dunk of a slam dunk. A game that nobody had asked for. It would also be Josh Sawyer's first stint as a Lead Designer.

Did Josh do a decent job? Is Icewind Dale II the black sheep of the Infinity Engine games, or is it an underrated classic? Is Josh Sawyer a true progressive, or merely a fauxgressive white boy with a rape fixation? One Codexer has decided to find the answers to those questions.

Strap yourselves in, because it's time for...

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RPG Codex Review: Expeditions: Conquistador

Review - posted by Grunker on Thu 6 June 2013, 01:03:32

Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Logic Artists

The year was 2013. The month was May. The air was hot. And humid. Don't forget humid.

Everybody was holding their breath.

Kickstarter. Some called it salvation, some called it damnation. But in May 2013, the first of the RPGs that would herald the coming of the next decade of digital role-playing would be released.

It was called Expeditions: Conquistador. The entire Codex held its breath. Would Conquistador be the bearer of good news or was it an ill omen all along? Would this be the start of a new golden age, or would the Kickstarter bubble burst even before it had begun growing?

RPG Codex Staff put one of the best men on the job of finding out. A man unlike any other. A professor even. I mean come on, how cool is that?

This is ironyuri's review of Expeditions: Conquistador. Read on, dear Codexer, and venture into the first brush of the jungle of the coming wave of RPGs. Will we float on tides of depth and complexity, or drown in a puddle of shit?

Only time will tell. For now, just click the link below and read the fucking review already.

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RPG Codex Retrospective: Roguey smashes the patriarchy in Josh Sawyer's Icewind Dale

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Thu 30 May 2013, 19:35:35

Tags: Black Isle Studios; Icewind Dale

Since development on Obsidian Entertainment's Project Eternity began last year, its project director and lead designer, Josh Sawyer, has been a figure of much controversy. His design decisions and the philosophy underlying them have been the spark for many a flamewar, causing Codexer to turn against Codexer, pro-Sawyer battling anti-Sawyer in bloody forum combat.

Yet no Codexer has been so vehement in the defense of everything Sawyer like Roguey, the forum's resident radical feminist and creepy stalker. When Roguey completed a retrospective playthrough of Black Isle's Icewind Dale (which was Josh Sawyer's first foray into game design) and wrote down his impressions, we couldn't help but feel impressed (and amused) by his dedication. We asked for more, and we received. I present to you what I hope will be the first in a series of retrospective reviews of the works of Mr. Joshua Eric Sawyer.

Prepare yourself for...

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RPG Codex Interview: Colin McComb on Writing for Torment: Tides of Numenera

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 18 May 2013, 15:32:06

Tags: Colin McComb; InXile Entertainment; Planescape: Torment; Torment: Tides of Numenera

To this day, Black Isle's Planescape: Torment is widely regarded as video gaming's most finely crafted narrative. It goes without saying, then, that it won't be easy for InXile's spiritual successor to Torment, Torment: Tides of Numenera, to live up to its predecessor's reputation. On the other hand, Planescape: Torment's amazing story came packaged alongside a fair share of problems, such as weak combat and a number of poorly designed areas. In this interview, esteemed community member grotsnik talks to Torment 2's creative lead, Colin McComb, about the approach Colin takes in designing and writing for the game so it can live up to the hype, as well as in addressing the weaker parts of Torment: Tides of Numenera's illustrious predecessor. Have a snippet:

It’s often argued that PS:T suffers from a drop in quality from Curst through to Carceri, when the player’s no longer free to explore the hubs of Sigil but instead has to work their way through a succession of smaller, wilder locations with a far higher number of hostile creatures. As a writer, how exactly do you go about trying to pace a game where the player can leap from world to world and spend longer inside one conversation tree than an entire dungeon?

A large part of this is defining our base storyline and the behavior of our NPCs within those modules. Right now we’re establishing our constraints and briefs for area design, and we’re planning of the relative size, in terms of gameplay, for each section of the game. We’re also working on character and Mere placement and number and size of dialogues. At some point, even the most completionist of players are going to decide they’ve wrung every bit of reactivity out of an area and move on. But some choices are mutually exclusive, and we don’t see it as a possibility that you’ll be able to experience the entirety of the game in a single playthrough. In fact, I don’t think you’ll get it on two.

Now, I should mention that we don’t see it as our job to make sure people move along at the pace we’ve dictated. We’re designing the story so that people can progress through the mainline at their own pace, while trying to keep the sense of urgency on the story.

But the real answer to the question is that we’re designing the game so that you can go back to areas and explore at your own pace, though you’ll start to have difficulties if you stagnate too long in one place. I see that’s the next question, though, so I’ll save further discussion for that question.

It's often held that the combat in PS:T left a great deal to be desired not only in its mechanics, but also in the sense of (to air videogame theory's most impressive-sounding new buzzphrase) ludonarrative dissonance; in that whether you were murdering your way through the Tenement of Thugs just to get to the alleyway on the other side or bashing entire swarms of mindless critters in the Weeping Catacombs or Curst Underground, fighting frequently came across as arbitrary obstacle-placing, rather than relevant to what the player character was trying to achieve in the game's narrative. Without delving into the undecided technical side of things, how would you want to go about ensuring that the combat never feels disjointed from the story?

Combat should be a part of the story, whether to indulge or to avoid. It should always serve the purpose of moving your understanding of your character ahead, and that’s one of the ways we fell down on PST. Kevin, Adam, and I have talked about this fairly extensively, and we agree that our combats should serve a narrative purpose, and that avoiding those combats will help reveal more about your character as well—whether you talk your way out of fighting or flee from your foe, you’ll create a picture of who you are in this game.

So trash mobs won’t be prevalent in Torment. No random gangsters deciding that you look like a prime target. No killing rats for XP. I’m not saying that we won’t have any mindless fights, just that trouble won’t always come looking for you to ruin your non-combat playthrough. In Numenera as well, you don’t get XP for killing monsters, so combat becomes optional – your XP comes from telling a story, from solving problems, from being clever players. We are enjoying exploring in that vein.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Colin McComb on Writing for Torment: Tides of Numenera

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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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