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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.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Guido Henkel on Realms of Arkania

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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!

Read the full article: A Codexian Fund-raiser

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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.

Read the full article: [Quickie Nr. 003] Konjad and Pathologic

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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!

Read the full article: Dishonored: A Taffing 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.

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RPG Codex Editorial: Games Journalism Scandal

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 29 October 2012, 16:14:16

Tags: Games journalism

We at the RPG Codex rarely run editorials; it's mostly always DU with another of his "Year in Review" articles. This time, however, it's different. First, it's grotsnik, not DarkUnderlord. Secondly, it's the ongoing games journalism debacle - because what else but a scandal could make us get off our arse and (ask grotsnik to) actually do an editorial?

I'd really like to quote it in full right here, but I can't. So have a lengthy excerpt:

Spare a thought for these wronged souls; it really must be irritating to keep on hearing that same tired old canard about misconduct, foul play and publisher influence in gaming journalism, just because a journalist, having made the tentative suggestion that somebody (who after five minutes of investigation turned out to have worked for Square Enix) was reviewing Square Enix games while cheerleading Square Enix products and that might look a bit bad to some people, was immediately dogpiled upon, rubbished, and censored by his own colleagues. And actually, the journalists (such as RPG Codex alumnus, games critic, and amateur PR man Ian Miles Cheong) who bleated that ordinary gamers didn’t have the whole story and were just wildly speculating as usual based on what little they could see of the inner workings of the media, are quite right to say as much. Ordinary gamers don’t know exactly how much journalists allow themselves to be affected by publisher influence, possibly because ordinary gamers don’t put in the hours at the publicists’ parties, preview events and launch events, or the various free publicist-organised jollies at castles, hovercraft classes, nightclubs, Porsche driving schools, etc, that would be required to make a fully-informed judgement on this subject. Ordinary gamers can't witness first-hand whether reporters are gently implicitly nudged towards favourable judgements, or, as in the case of Wainwright, whether they appear to have a blatantly obvious bias based upon personal relationships and career hopes; all they can see is the plethora of near-perfect scores and the meaningless superlatives that are farted out from the back end of the press machine with a disheartening regularity. All that ordinary gamers have to go on is the image the gaming media presents, which, to put it mildly, does not inspire confidence - and, every so often, a toxic story or memoir that comes seeping out through the cracks.

This is the real, harmful, bloody-minded naivety of the gaming media community; a collectively-affirmed belief that their closeness with the industry makes them specially qualified to pass judgement upon it, without being able to accept that it might also have legitimately compromised their opinions - a little in the manner of a mother who believes it’s perfectly okay for her to be a juror at her son’s murder trial because she knows him much better than anybody else. And this translates into a defensiveness on behalf of the entire profession; Klepek's article, and to a lesser extent Sterling's, takes a moment to acknowledge the inexcusable (of course it isn't right to consult with a company whose products you're reviewing) before avoiding any in-depth commentary on this undeniable glimpse of an industry operating like a swingers' party - in which journalists are invited to become PR reps by PR reps at PR events, transform into creative consultants, then turn into reporters again, jumping back and forth directly between poacher and gamekeeper without ever having their credibility questioned until a bunch of internet detectives on Neogaf happen to notice their CV details - in favour of abstracts and private reflection; really, this story is all about trust between you and me. Really, it's all about how us critics sometimes can't take criticism. Even John Walker and Rob Florence themselves issued milquetoast oil-on-troubled-waters follow-ups to their initial condemnatory statements, urging the gaming public not to think too badly of gaming journalism as a whole, since from personal experience they can testify that most of the people they know are hardworking, decent, and trustworthy.

It’s a pity. Because what the Walkers and Florences (who must genuinely want to improve the situation, indeed, who wouldn’t have spoken out in the first place if they weren't passionate about doing so) have to understand is that for them to start producing apologetics on behalf of a silent majority of honest hacks is completely futile, since nobody believes that every single gaming journalist is corrupt. What people believe is that gaming journalism is institutionally corrupt, built around an imbalanced professional relationship that frequently challenges (and, if appearances are anything to go by, frequently overcomes) writers' principles, and this image is not going to improve as a result of journalists penning earnest columns about how, a few bad apples aside, in their personal experience journalists are honest, (honest!). This image is going to improve if the wider public is provided with tangible evidence that games criticism can occur in a reasonably effective vacuum - that the clowns who announce quite gleefully that they're riding the gravy train of expensive press tours, who copy-paste press statements into their articles and use the word ‘awesome’ in their ‘previews’ and who think they might get a job in the industry themselves one day because that nice PR man gave them a business card are not the same people providing supposedly in-depth objective analysis of any commercial product, that critics are sending back or at the very least declaring the free tat they’ve been plied with (no, saying after the event that you’d meant to give it to charity all along doesn’t count), that editors never have the ability to alter review scores or excise harsh criticism, that advertising is entirely divorced from the journalistic process - and that writers can and will speak up and be heard by the public whenever they encounter misconduct both on the part of the industry and on the part of their peers. Continuing to say, ‘You don’t have the full story, but we do, and we’re telling you that aside from the specific stuff that you already know about, everything is fine, trust us,’ after everything that’s happened, is simply indefensible.​

Be sure to read the full article: RPG Codex Editorial: Games Journalism Scandal

We thank grotsnik for writing up this article for us.

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RPG Codex Interview: Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar

Interview - posted by Zed on Sun 28 October 2012, 15:42:40

Tags: Cleveland Mark Blakemore; Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar

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Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar is the long-awaited dungeon-crawler from Cleveland Mark Blakemore. This love letter to the golden age of party-based CRPGs has been in development for over 17 years, which is like a world record or something. With Grimoire now up on the crowdfunding website indiegogo, are we finally seeing the culmination of this game development epic? We thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Cleve and have him tell us about Grimoire, what he's been up to and what his future plans are.

Here's a taste of what's in the interview:

Grimoire has been in development for over 17 years. Have you stayed true to a singular vision throughout these years, or has it been altered in any way?

I imagined it this way at the outset and hoped it would turn out pretty much the way it has ended up. Sir-Tech would have never let me make this game. They would have had ten mediocre cooks spoiling this broth and it would taste so foul when it was finished nobody could stomach it. This game ended up being pure Cleve Blakemore from start to finish and when people play this game they will have a good idea of what is meant by “pure Cleve Blakemore.” There is plenty of absurdity in the game, lots of humor and the whole thing is meant to be good fun right up to the very end. I mix moments of cosmic horror with abject ridiculousness, terrifying revelations alongside baffling irreverence and some stuff that just never does make any logical sense, the same way I write on the internet. Like it or leave it this is my product and I am proud of it. If you don’t enjoy it then it is likely that you just don’t enjoy my kind of game.


What can you tell us about Hyperborea, the world the player explores in Grimoire? What sort of environments are there to traverse, and what manners of creatures inhabit them? What served as your greatest inspirations when crafting the world and its lore?

Hyperborea is based on the many disparate writings of Greeks and other archivists, from Pliny to Virgil, Pindar, Simonides, Hellanicus and several others. All of these men described this place alongside other accounts of geographic regions that we know are real. Nobody has ever fully understood exactly why Hyperborea was written of so earnestly when all the evidence indicates it was a mythical place. One of the things all the writers were agreed on was that Hyperborea was somewhere on earth but a difficult place to reach, almost requiring some sort of spiritual transformation to arrive in.

Hyperborea was commonly envisioned as a place where there was no sorrow. I began to think about the implications of a place that is perfectly serene and content all the time. Without some conflict, how would any progress occur? Then I imagined I was in charge of Hyperborea and I have been tasked to keep it intact. Would I make the mistake of thinking introducing a bit of trouble might actually be part of my job? Based on this initial premise, the entire story unfolded for me quite rapidly very early on. A recurrent theme present in my ideas about the world from a young age is the notion that humans often try to fix a world that isn’t broken and doesn’t need any intervention by them. In doing so they always manage to make things much worse, even intolerable and they don’t know how to recover what they didn’t appreciate they had. I have always believed that humans often have just enough brains to get themselves into dire straits they do not correspondingly have the brains to get themselves out of. This cycle is repeated in history until it is the rule, not the exception. Why shouldn’t the same mistakes be made in the mythical land of Hyperborea?

I have drawn on a broad assortment of legendary creatures and fantastic writings to populate this world from thousands of different sources. I have modeled characters in the game after figures from Rudyard Kipling, Ambrose Bierce, Kafka and Emily Dickinson. I have a rich interior and I didn’t cultivate it to impress girls. It is the result of hundreds of thousands of hours of reading, including the Western pantheon and all the other books they tell us are not worth reading anymore. I have a peculiar fondness for Cervantes' anti-hero Don Quixote and he appears in the game as a knight errant.


For Grimoire, you take inspiration from Wizardry 6 and 7, but not Wizardry 8. What makes the former superior to the latter, in your view?

Wizardry 8 is a derivative work attempting to copy the superficial mechanics of the earlier two games. I believe it is soulless and empty compared to Bane of the Cosmic Forge and Crusaders of the Dark Savant. There is more atmosphere in the first city you enter in Wiz 7 than the entire game in Wizardry 8. An honest appraisal would conclude that the primitive 3D in Wizardry 8 is manifestly inferior to the hand crafted artwork of W6-W7 for atmosphere and immersion. The graphics in Wizardry 8 were not good 3D environments and they weren’t much for classic dungeon blobbers. Lands of Lore was infinitely superior and they made the same mistake, moving from a beautiful handcrafted appearance in the first game to a sterile, flat and unconvincing 3D engine with flat billboarded sprites in the sequel. I thought the first Lands of Lore looked like a Richard Corben graphic novel from beginning to end.

Wizardry 8 was what flowed into the vacuum left behind by David Bradley and Anthony Greenberg at Sir-Tech. It was the absence of the good, which is the worse thing you can be as far as I am concerned. The absence of the good is worse than merely bad.​

We also have three new screenshots of Grimoire on display in the interview, so make sure to check it out.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar

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RPG Codex Interview: Antharion, Indie Turn- and Party-based RPG

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 26 October 2012, 21:40:44

Tags: Antharion; Kickstarter; Orphic Software

Another promising RPG project currently on Kickstarter is Orphic Software's Antharion, "an old school turn-based party-based RPG set in a huge open fantasy world." According to the Kickstarter pitch, the intention behind Antharion is "to combine an immense open-ended living-breathing world where the player is free to go anywhere and do anything, with a deep tactical turn-based combat system, a rich skill set and character creation system, and the distinctive feel of old-school classic RPGs."

Antharion has grabbed the attention of some Codexers already, so we reached out to Ari Rae-Silver of Orphic Software with some questions in the hope this interview would help shed more light on and bring more attention to the game. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

The Kickstarter page doesn't have any information on races and classes. Could you describe them for us and explain how they relate to the game world? Will NPCs react differently to characters of different races?

There are 5 races: Human, Lynx (the cat-like creatures), Elves, Orcs, and Necrophils (the demonic beings). Each race has its own set of strengths and all are inextricably tied in with the game world and storyline. Humans are the most politically powerful race and the de facto rulers. Elves are a noble race and are widely admired for their beauty but have little influence beyond culture. Orcs, once a great race of warriors whose warlords ruled over Antharion for aeons, are now taken and sold as slaves by Humans. Lynx are subterranean and reside solitarily on the fringes of society. Necrophils, originally the magical creations of adept Wizards, gradually improved their own powers through magical self-replicating techniques, eventually becoming more magically proficient than their creators. Some NPCs will react to your party differently depending on its racial makeup. Sometime favorably, other times disfavorably.

Antharion seems to be very dungeon crawling-heavy and action-oriented. Are there any non-combat skills such as thievery skills, alchemy, speech skills, etc.? What sort of interactions are there with the gameworld aside from killing monsters?

There’s definitely tons of dungeon crawling, but it’s not all about that. One thing we’re really trying to do is to create the sense of a living world. NPCs don’t just wait around for you in their shops. They go home at night, go to lunch at the nearby tavern, that kind of thing. There’s also a big stealing component. Get caught stealing and you’ll either be attacked or the npc will flee to alert a guard. The guard will alert other guards and chase you down, throwing you in the nearest jail if you’re caught. As far as non-combat skills go, we’re definitely adding alchemy and are considering adding persuasion, pick-pocketing, crafting and a few others.

How diverse are Antharion's quests going to be? What other types of quests apart from kill and fetch quests are you going to put in the game? You also call the game world of Antharion "open-ended". Does this include alternative endings and multiple quest solutions?

There’s a lot of diversity. Of course you’ll have the standard Fed-Ex style quests, but you’ll also have some pretty unique stuff. For example: you meet a local slave trader in one of the sleazier taverns on the wrong side of town. He tells you that he’s just had a shipment of Orcs stolen by a rival slaver and asks you to go retrieve them. From this point there are a number of possible outcomes: (1) you could go and retrieve the Orc slaves and return them to the quest giver; (2) you could go and free the Orc slaves; (3) you might happen to run into the rival slaver who would then offer you money to kill the quest giver; or (4) you could just kill all of Orc slaves for the heck of it. Personally, I love these types of quests and will put as many of them in as possible. The decisions that you make in a quest like this will have a direct impact on your party’s alignment which in turn affects the world in all kinds of other ways.

So definitely, Antharion has multiple endings and lots of multiple quest solutions.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Antharion, Indie Turn- and Party-based RPG

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RPG Codex Interview: Ars Magica: Years of Conquest (Now on Kickstarter!)

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 24 October 2012, 20:37:32

Tags: Ars Magica; Ars Magica: Years of Conquest; Black Chicken Studios; J.E. Sawyer

From Black Chicken Studios, the creators of Academagia, comes a single player turn-based computer adaptation of the pen and paper RPG Ars Magica, Ars Magica: Years of Conquest, currently running its Kickstarter campaign. We've been intrigued about it, not least because the world needs more PnP-based CRPGs, and odds are, thanks to Kickstarter the future will bring at least some. So, as usual, we decided to run an interview about it.

For this interview, we have (again) teamed up with Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, lead designer on Fallout: New Vegas and Project Eternity and a connoisseur of the PnP Ars Magica, to find out what exactly we can expect from Years of Conquest; the questions in the interview are ours and Josh's combined. How close will it be to the pen and paper game? How will the Covenant gameplay and the combat be represented? And what influence will the folks at Atlas have over the game? Have some snippets:

You call Ars Magica: Years of Conquest a "Medieval Simulation and Role-Playing Game." Usually, a CRPG combines exploration, interaction and combat from an isometric or first-person perspective. Will Years of Conquest be a traditional CRPG in this sense, or rather a game in the style of Academagia, with a text-based CYOA-like interface and tons of skillchecks? How different do you want the presentation to be from that of Academagia, and what other video games could you compare it to?

If we had to liken it to another game, we'd say King of Dragon Pass: the majority of player activity is in the Covenant simulation, but it's punctuated by text quests, adventures and judgments, which themselves can give rise to our Combat engine. The Combat engine plays out rather uniquely (see below), and has a definite old school feel- it's not isometric, though. As for Academagia, that was a menu-driven sandbox raising game, and is a different beast altogether- the UI for Ars Magica is much more contextual, much better organized, and has a lot less in it: that's a by-product of the fact we are using the 5E Ars Magica mechanics, though. ; )

Early next week, we're producing a concept screenshot for a Dialogue, which will show the direction we're taking the UI.

Ars Magica has a distinctive "wizards as scientists" feel, much more so than something like D&D, by virtue of emphasizing the way a wizard researches his spells and conducts his arcane experiments. How important is that going to be in Years of Conquest?

It will be as important as the player chooses to make it. Certainly, if they do not engage in these kinds of activities, their mages will not be as powerful as they have the potential to be. Of course, an enterprising player can get around this through trade with other Covenants, but even if you want to do nothing but focus on your grogs and companions, you can reach the end of the game by doing just that. Don't expect to do very well in the Magic or Faerie realms, though...

How will Years of Conquest's turn-based combat be presented, and what combat mechanics do you currently have in mind? Is it single character or party-based? What are the options the player will have in combat, and how does your environment come into play?

It's a pretty unique party system, adapted from Academagia Year 2. As mentioned earlier, it is very old school: your foes are presented on one end, and your party on the other, and you act according to 5E initiative. What sets it apart, however, is the Environment. This is a pool of factors, constantly changing and refreshing, which advantages and disadvantages all combatants. Where you go in the Environment, and what you do there can provide you the means of survival- only the most hardy or well protected warrior can ignore the Environment, and even then, probably not for very long. It also turns on and off Spell/Spontaneous Magic options- if an opponent is sniping from a bush, you can set it on fire. If an opponent has taken shelter in a building, you use the furniture to attack them. Is it raining? Change it to acid. And so on.

To conclude this interview, what have you got planned as far Kickstarter updates are concerned? Do you intend to release screenshots of Years of Conquest's gameplay or UI before the campaign is over? And most importantly, have you got a plan B in the unfortunate case that your Kickstarter falls short of the funding goal?

We have quite a few more updates in the works, in which we introduce the gameplay concepts, especially for players new to Ars Magica. We'll be producing a set of concept screenshots, as well, with the first out next tuesday. This one will be showing what a Dialogue looks like, and how Spontaneous Magic options will appear. In a way, we already have Plan B under steam: we are presently working on Academagia Year 2, along with an unannounced project, now in the editing phase. Unfortunately, we would not be able to proceed with an Ars Magica game without funding- it's a costly endeavor. We feel confident so far: KickStarter is the place where the indies of the indies can succeed, and if the fans want an Ars Magica game done *right*, this is the way to accomplish it. So far, we've heard from some very passionate fans, and that gives us a lot of hope that the people we want to make this game for are out there.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Ars Magica: Years of Conquest (Now on Kickstarter!)

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RPG Codex Interview: Corey Cole on Quest for Glory and Hero-U (Now on Kickstarter!)

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 19 October 2012, 21:44:25

Tags: Corey Cole; Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption; Quest for Glory; Transolar Games

Today is a big day for fans of Sierra's classic adventure RPG Quest for Glory - Corey and Lori Cole, the series' creators, are back with a Kickstarter campaign for a new RPG, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Rogue to Redemption is intended to combine the best about Quest for Glory with an all-new interface and turn-based combat.

Rogue to Redemption's story is, unsurprisingly, that of a Rogue. Like the original Hero's Quest, or Quest for Glory 1, Rogue to Redemption is supposed to launch an entire series of games. In contrast to Quest for Glory, however, each game in the Hero-U series is going to bring a specific class in the spotlight: Rogue in the first game, Wizard in the second, etc. In this interview, Corey Cole talks to the RPG Codex about the decision to make Hero-U's combat turn-based and the combat mechanics he has in mind for the game, the class and skill system, budget limitations, puzzle design, crowdfunding as a way of independent video game publishing, and his and Lori's plans for future games. Have a snippet:

RPG Codex: One significant departure of Hero-U from Quest for Glory is the turn-based combat. What motivated your decision to make combat turn-based this time and apparently give it a more prominent place?

Corey Cole: Two of our inspirations for the game were Rogue and Wizardry; both used turn-based combat. We want to focus on tactical options and not make this a "mash the button fast" game. There are plenty of that type out there! By keeping combat turn-based, we will have more of a thinking person's game.

As for the prominence of combat, we think it's fun, and it makes sense in this game. We watched some play-throughs of Quest for Glory and felt people were avoiding monsters all too easily. You'll be able to avoid some fights in this game – especially since you're a Rogue – but might not want to do that too often because it will be both fun and useful.

RPG Codex: Can you talk about the combat system you have in mind for the game and the combat mechanics involved? Just how tactical do you want the combat to be? Are there any games, computer or pen-and-paper, that you take inspiration for Hero-U's combat from?

Corey Cole: We're looking at in-place combat on the dungeon map rather than the special screens we used in Quest for Glory. We used those because we didn't want the player or enemies to get stuck on room terrain. For Hero-U, we'll set up some of the combat settings to make combat more tactical. You will be able to move around, shift things in the room to channel your enemies, and so on.

If you look at D&D 3+ vs. AD&D, they went with more options such as flanking opponents. In CRPG's, I liked the Betrayal at Krondor tactical combat interface. I'm undoubtedly being influenced by World of Warcraft boss battles after spending several years raiding. : ) But we're trying to come up with a unique system that has intuitive UI, but also gives the player real choices.

We will have an Action Point system so that you can choose between doing a single, powerful action during your "turn" or a couple of smaller actions (such as stab and dodge) or move to improve your tactical position. I won't allow combats to turn into 10-minute marathons, but there will be more choices than in Quest for Glory.

The main feature of the Rogue character will be item use – Your Rogue will supplement his basic skills with a variety of items that let him do some unusual actions. We plan to keep the same basic interface for each game in the Hero-U series, but each character type will have a different flavor in combat.

RPG Codex: Corey, in a comment on your blog you recently said, "we also want to make sure our new games are very distinct from the work we did at Sierra. We’ve moved on, and learned more about game design." What are some of the things about game design, and adventure game design in particular, that you have learned since Quest for Glory?

Corey Cole: We were really pretty naïve when we made at least the first two Quest for Glory games. We based them on our paper RPG experience (including our custom skill-based RPG system), the few CRPG's we had played (Rogue, Wizardry, Dungeon Master, Ultima IV, and Bard's Tale), and a few days spent playing through older Sierra games.

Specifically, we'll be going back to our paper RPG roots to simulate and balance combats so that they will be challenging, but in the player's favor. Also, we will add some puzzle elements to combat – Using items or abilities to negate your enemy's strongest attacks and get through their defenses, and using the terrain to survive combat against multiple opponents.

In addition, Lori and I have to be particularly sensitive that we are *not* making a new Quest for Glory because Activision owns the series license. We may be able to work with them in the future on new QfG games, and we don't want Hero-U to feel like a clone of anyone else's game, including our own.

RPG Codex: Hero-U will be broken down into five episodes, one for every character class, of which "Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption" will be the first. In terms of play time, how long do you want each episode to be - is it one-fifth of a Quest for Glory game? Do you plan on doing a Kickstarter for every episode? When all episodes are released, do you intend to "merge" them into a single game with different routes where you choose your character class in the beginning, RPG style?

Corey Cole: Each Hero-U game is a complete game in its own right, probably about the size of the original Hero's Quest. In fact, whether we even do more than one game will depend on the response we get to our Kickstarter and our sales of the first game. I can't put a number of hours on that play time.

We don't intend to merge the games, but they will all tie together in thematic ways and in terms of events going on in the world around you. If we are able to pull it off, your actions as a Rogue in the first game will affect some things that happen in the Wizard game, and so on. In the fifth game, we want to make it so that you play all of the characters, switching between them as needed to solve certain puzzles or win some of the battles. It's an ambitious plan, and we will have a lot more discussions about the interface and design for that game when we get closer to it.

We might or might not do a Kickstarter for the future games. The major advantage would be as a presale and publicity vehicle – Kickstarter gives us a way to reach more fans. But if we have adequate funding at the end of the first project, and sales of the first game go well, we might fund future games from the proceeds of the earlier ones. A Kickstarter drive is time-consuming and potentially expensive, so might not be an appropriate way to fund a sequel. But it will depend on our bank balance after the first game.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Corey Cole on Quest for Glory and Hero-U (Now on Kickstarter!)

We thank Corey for his time, and for providing us with some exclusive concept artwork for this interview. Don't forget to check out Hero-U's Kickstarter page to study the rewards and pledge if you'd like to support the game.

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RPG Codex Review: Inquisitor

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 16 October 2012, 19:04:19

Tags: Cinemax; Inquisitor

2009 saw the release of Czech RPG Inquisitor, which had been in development for about ten years. In 2012, the game received an English translation and is now available at GOG.com. But is it any good? We asked our own hack'n'slash expert Mrowak to investigate. Have a taste:

So has Inquisitor managed to blend water with fire? The answer to this is a resounding… no. Inquisitor is a game of many contrasts and baffling design decisions, and its problems sadly take away from enjoying what could otherwise have been a decent and unique experience.

[...] For many, the way the game is divided in two gameplay “modes” may come across as artificial. Nonetheless, in case of Inquisitor this segregation is justified. The two layers of the game are completely separate - they do not have anything at all to do with each other. The sheer fact that Inquisitor can be so easily divided in two distinct gameplay parts signifies a profound game design flaw which persists throughout the experience.

Setting consistency is the first victim of the division. The game sometimes contradicts itself. For instance, the adventure mode makes a big fuss about the Pagan, Heretical and Infernal magics being forbidden arts, but not only can you use them without any constraints in combat, you can also buy scrolls with those "forbidden spells" in almost every church you come across. Another example is when the player slaughters a large group of knights serving a noble family without a second thought, followed by a conversation with their master who tells you you were misinformed and wrong in what you did, but it is fine, you can still be best pals - nevermind that his knights continue attacking you. Occasions like these are common in Inquisitor and will often leave you scratching your head.

There is also the issue of location design. There exists a clear separation between town hubs, where the biggest part of the adventure mode takes place, and all other areas, where you engage in combat. In all fairness, this is a rather common hack and slash design, but here it also serves to highlight the disparity between the two aspects of gameplay. When out of town, you enter a kind of twilight zone which completely suspends all the logic and nuance present in the investigations; all you are left to face are the enormous empty overland maps and dungeons filled with mobs to be disposed of in the most lackluster way imaginable. At times you will stumble on a riddle or a simple puzzle of the “find the hidden passage to a location” variety, but nothing really ambitious or worthwhile.

The disproportion between the two gameplay modes is Inquisitor's biggest balance flaw. The adventure mode, in spite of its many problems, is the one that features the most interesting events and generally pushes the game forward. In contrast, the combat mode is boring, repetitive, and devoid of any genuinely exciting elements. Indeed, Inquisitor is the first game I have played which had me dread to even think of exploring new dungeons for the fear of spending long gameplay hours soldiering through the tedious combat. I would have rather focused on investigating murder cases and unraveling mysteries, which were at least better presented and had more dynamics to them, however broken the underlying gameplay mechanics were. It is therefore most baffling that the adventure mode constitutes at most 30% of the gameplay, whereas the combat mode will unavoidably be accountable for at least 70% of your entire play time. In the face of such a strong contrast between the quality and the quantity of each segment, it is difficult not to question the developers’ priorities.

[...] Bluntly put, Inquisitor is a bad game. There is not a single gameplay aspect it excels at. Far from that - it actually manages to implement many of the common hack and slash mechanics in such a haphazard manner that the end result is naught but an unplayable mess. It is evident that the developers lacked focus and did not know what it was they were trying to convey and what the strongest aspects of their project could and should be. It is as if they had picked the wrong medium for their goal. With its excellent art direction and the decent story it tells, Inquisitor could have been a good illustrated novel or comic book. As an interactive medium, however, Inquisitor fails miserably simply because its creators did not know what makes a good game. I appreciate the developers’ effort and wish them good luck in the hope that their next endeavor will be better thought through design-wise, but I cannot in good faith recommend this game to anyone.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Inquisitor

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RPG Codex Interview: Blackspace, Sci-Fi Physics-Based RTS

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 13 October 2012, 10:23:42

Tags: Blackspace; Kickstarter; PixelFoundry

Occasionally we at the RPG Codex offer you interviews about non-RPGs that we believe may be of interest to you. This is one such case. Blackspace: Plan. Dig. Defend. Survive's concept is that of a hard sci-fi RTS with a focus on mining, defense, customization, and realism. Its key features are "a destructible spherical play surface, direct control of the environment and extensive use of physics to make the experience more organic and non-formulaic." There is also an emphasis on upgrading and modifying your ship and operations to suit your play style. To get a better idea of the game, you can watch this YouTube video.

Blackspace is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, but to be honest things aren't looking too good, with under a half of the $350,000 goal raised to date and only a few days left to go. We have sent RPG Codex user skuphundaku to talk to the devs about what Blackspace has in store for us when and if it hopefully releases. Have a snippet:

What inspires the game's concept? Personally I'd say the videos you've released give me a Battle Zone vibe, and the defense against the enemy hordes reminds me of Harvest: Massive Encounter. Also the spherical play surface recently made an appearance in the successful Planetary Annihilation Kickstarter campaign (and has been toyed with in various game development communities around the web for some years). Am I correct in my impressions? What other sources of inspiration have you had for Blackspace?

We were avid Total Annihilation players and the one aspect we loved the most is how the terrain and physics would sometimes determine the outcome of whether or not a projectile would successfully hit its mark, or sometimes a shot aircraft could crash land onto a structure damaging it in the process. That said, when we started to think about the gameplay design aspect of Blackspace, we did not want to be influenced by other games upfront. It was only after we figured out what we wanted on a high-level design that we then started to notice some similarities with our design vs. other games like Battle Zone, so we made sure that we are not re-inventing the wheel if we don’t have to. As for the spherical play surface, we have been working on this game for quite sometime now, and even though a number of games have used a similar approach, I don’t think I have seen any that have implemented a spherical play surface with full physics interaction. Games like Spore, Populous and the likes have used a fairly rigid set of rules when interacting with the environment.

Leaving aside the impressive visuals and physics, have you already decided on the gameplay mechanics or are you still working on that?

When it comes down the second-to-second game play mechanics (lander flight), we believe we have nailed down the majority of them. That said, there are still various aspects to fill in and we also want to make sure that the mechanics we have in place will work nicely with different set of varying conditions such as different gravitational constants or different lander upgrades changing the engine thrust power. Menu interaction is a piece that still is under heavy construction. There is a lot going on in this game and we want to make it all as quickly and easily accessible as it can be during gameplay.

One of the game's features is the Lander, the ship you customize to your play style. Is there going to be a first person option (Battle Zone-like) and/or a strategic viewpoint option (Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander/Planetary Annihilation-like) for controlling the Lander?

First person control of the Lander has been something we’ve been thinking about from time to time. The peripheral spatial awareness of the current third-person view of the lander helps when the user is flying around as well as using certain aspects like tethering something underneath the lander. There may be an option for first person perspective, it is still something were working out. As for strategic views, we will likely have overviews / map views where you can clearly see what is happening, but any interaction with the play surface is done from the Lander perspective. This is one aspect that differentiates us from classic RTS games. Its YOU, you are there doing things and making things happen, not your mouse.

In your second video you mention that units which survive combat level up. How much customization will the leveling-up mechanics allow? Are we talking RPG-like customization or rather TA/SupCom-style unit veterancy? Do the RPG fans have anything to be excited about on this front?

I think the RPG fans will most love the customization on the Lander itself, armor, weapons, tools, communications, sensors, engines, will all be customizable and something that each player will purchase to suit their preferences. We have not yet settled on the extensibility of the building customization. There are some game designs that have yet to be tested before we can nail down how much worth we want to assign to the buildings individually. I would say there is a potential for deeper customization but were still under pretty heavy construction in this area.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Blackspace, Sci-Fi Physics-Based RTS

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RPG Codex Review: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 1 October 2012, 19:24:28

Tags: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die; From Software; Namco Bandai

Dark Souls is an action RPG developed by Japanese company From Software (King's Field, Shadow Tower, Armored Core) and originally released last year for PS3 and Xbox360, with Namco Bandai as publisher. In August 2012, a PC port of the game with additional content, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die, saw the light of day. So how is the port? Average Manatee and praetor have set out to find out. In contrast to Average Manatee's general review of the game, praetor's review focuses mainly on the new content and the quality of the port. Have a snippet from Average Manatee's piece:

Dark Souls intentionally leaves only bits and pieces for the player to piece together from the little that NPCs you meet may tell you and the information you find from various historical artifacts. This may have been a lost art of storytelling in games, but expect no plot dispenser NPCs who will sit with you while you make your way through a 10-layer deep dialog tree of interrogation. Don't expect your all-knowing journal to track and summarize every plot detail you have found to hand you a cohesive narrative on a platter. Certainly expect no villains to appear and detail their dastardly plan while twirling their mustache and insulting the impudence of daring to face them. Arguably there isn't even a real antagonist in the game beyond the world itself. Only a large cast of characters big and small, most of them struggling to maintain their grip on life and sanity. Some of them are failing, and some you will cause to fail.

Along with not feeding you the plot on a platter, Dark Souls is equally mysterious about the choices you have to make. Because in the end, Dark Souls is a game about actions, not dialog choices. It expects you to figure out what your choices are and make one for yourself. Where some games may permit inaction, in Dark Souls that's the quick route to getting multiple NPCs that provide essential services killed. It's also entirely possible that the majority of players won't even realize the existence of a decision between alternate endings, so subtle and natural a thing it is.

Or you can ignore everything entirely and coast through the game as a series of go here and kill stuff-quests. I've been assured from very reputable sources in the gaming industry that the quality of a plot is entirely irrelevant to a game based around swinging your sword to kill things.​

And a snippet from praetor's part of the review:

The DLC gives you access to 3 new levels "proper" plus a couple additional side areas. Disappointingly, one of them is a reworking of an old area - Royal Wood being essentially Darkroot Garden (and a part of Darkroot Basic) set in the past with new enemies, loot and bosses and some relatively minor structural changes - and another, The Chasm of Death, is rather small and dark, creating the impression of a mere "antechamber" to the final new boss.

The largest and by far the most interesting new area is the Oolacile Township with its slightly slanted architecture further emphasizing Dark Souls' dark, oppressive atmosphere. In a way, it reminds me of a darker, more evil Painted World of Ariamis. It is a bit of a pity that it is so short and rather straightforward structurally, and does not offer much in the way of side exploration. In that regard, it is similar to Anor Londo or New Londo Ruins, in that it looks very large but only parts of it are accessible and as a whole it is quite simple to navigate. The Battle of Stoicism also deserves a special mention. It consists of two in-game multiplayer arenas, Ruins and Dais, designed for players to engage in PvP sessions (free-for-all deathmatch, 2 vs 2 team games and 1vs1 duels) without interruptions from random invasions... At least in theory. Unfortunately, the randomness of the multiplayer system also affects the arena, and playing with/against specific people is even more of a hassle than doing it the old fashioned way via summoning signs. Not to mention that the entire arena concept seems somewhat out of place in the game.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die

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RPG Codex Interview: Adam Brennecke on Project Eternity

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 28 September 2012, 16:06:50

Tags: Adam Brennecke; Kickstarter; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

As most of you know, the folks over at Obsidian Entertainment are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for an isometric party-based CRPG provisionally entitled "Project Eternity," with over $2 million already collected and 18 days still to go. For this interview, we reached out to Adam Brennecke, Project Eternity's project director, to ask him about his job, the Kickstarter campaign, and the game itself. Have a snippet:

RPG Codex: When did you start preparing for the Kickstarter campaign, and what were the main points of debate and the major challenges involved in coming up with the campaign's concept? Were there any strong alternative ideas for this Kickstarter?

AB: We started working on the Kickstarter pitch a few months ago. Initially we had a brainstorming meeting with Chris Avellone, Feargus, Tim Cain, Darren Monahan, and Josh Sawyer, to toss around ideas on what we wanted to move forward with. We had a few different ideas, but one that we all were really excited about was revisiting the top-down isometric RPG, and we felt it would be a great fit for a Kickstarter too. After the meeting, I got working on the logistics of doing the Kickstarter, assembled a team, and started to prepare the pitch presentation.

There were long discussions and meetings about the name, the concept of the world, and how to pitch the game - It's been an unusual (and sometimes scary) process, since these decisions are typically made during pre-production, but we had to go public with our ideas immediately.

RPG Codex: When you say you're the point man on the project, does that mean you also oversee all systems design decisions and get to decide on the mechanics that designers suggest? What are the guidelines you have in mind when approving or rejecting the ideas that flow your way?

AB: My philosophy is to let the designers design because they are much better at it and I trust their decisions. My role is to make sure that they are staying true to the overall vision and plan. As a project director, I have a high-level view of the project across disciplines of art, design, and programming, and it's my job to make sure that all the departments are working well together. It's always a team effort though, and games are never designed by one person. It's a large collaboration from everyone on the team, and we are in constant discussion and debate to make sure we make the best game possible.

RPG Codex: Do you think it's a risk going with a "project name" rather than the game's actual name? You're getting all this publicity for "Project: Eternity" and all the google links, and then you're going to change the name. Why not just come up with the name first and get as much publicity for it as possible?

AB: Project Eternity is the best name for the game right now, and I think it's a perfect fit for the type of game we are making. It's fantasy, IE-like, and has a connection to our world. The team went through a process of trying to name the game with an actual name. However we felt that it was too difficult creatively, because the story and themes of the game are in such early stages of development. We don't want to be stuck with a name that doesn't fit the game. We put "Project" in the title to make sure people don't confuse the title with something that's final.

RPG Codex: How much of the project can we reasonably expect to see before the Kickstarter campaign is over? Do you plan on sharing anything like screenshots, tech videos, or design documents with the community, or will it be too early for that?

AB: We have more things in store for you before the Kickstarter is over, and even afterwards we plan on keeping everyone updated regularly on what we are up to on our website and forums. This is something new to us, so please give us feedback on how we are doing our updates on the Project Eternity forums. (Most of us lurk on the Codex too).​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Adam Brennecke on Project Eternity

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