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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.​

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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.​

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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).​

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Swing your partner and face the sides... as we square dance around in Legend of Grimrock

Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Wed 26 September 2012, 03:09:53

Tags: Almost Human Games; Legend of Grimrock

You may have heard of Legend of Grimrock. After watching a YouTube video and getting interested, then finding out that it was only $15, I thought I'd grab it and see what's it like:

Enemies move in the same manner you do. That is, they turn, then step forward into the square in front of them and if necessary (such as when you've retreated sideways), turn again and repeat. Taking advantage of this allows you to gain advantages for attacking an enemies' flank or rear (double and sometimes even triple damage). Of course this results in you spending most of your time square dancing around enemies as you move backwards and sideways, they turn to walk into the square you just left, opening up their flank, you attack their flank... rinse and repeat.

This movement system did trip me up from time to time, hitting a wrong key and falling down a trap or trying to walk into a wall instead of running away and being killed as a result. And if you intend to play Melee characters, then you will be dancing like this with your enemies most of the time. Despite the quirkiness and confusion in sometimes getting turned around, it is pretty fun - at least a lot more interesting than playing whack-a-mole in your average Bethesda RPG. The only downside is that once you've got the hang of it, it can get a bit tiring. Some levels even have traps which you can take advantage of, such as luring opponents onto a pit and then triggering it to open so that they fall down to the level below (where you can eventually deal with them later).
[...]
Oh and be aware: If you're playing the game in Steam, Steam has an annoying habit of popping up it's messages "Dickwad is playing some dumb popamole game" RIGHT OVER THE WIZARD'S CASTING AREA. FUCK YOU HABA. I DIED BECAUSE YOU PLAYED DARK SOULS RIGHT WHEN I WAS TRYING TO CAST FIREBALLS.​

Read the rest of our Legend of Grimrock review.

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Ensure the Warriors of Diversity will live on in Eternity

Community - posted by DarkUnderlord on Fri 21 September 2012, 04:16:45

Tags: Codex Eternity Fundraiser; Kickstarter; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

MAJOR EDIT: Chris Avellone has agreed to draw personal troll avatars/pictures for those who contribute at least $250 to this donation drive! So if you wanted to but couldn't get on board this initiative back when we did the Wasteland 2 fundraiser, now you can do it. -- Crooked Bee

Project: Eternity is the new popamole RPG currently under development by Obsidian Entertainment. Because they're broke and nobody wants to fund them, they're doing a KickStarter - which has already raised their goal of $1.1 Million thanks to the large number of brain-dead idiots who'll throw their money at anything these days.

Well, now is your chance to join those idiots on behalf of the Codex! We should actually be doing a fund-raiser for a new server but fuck that, let's raise money for Obsidian's Project: Eternity instead. So we're aiming for the new community-focused tier goal:

$5,000: NAME AND HELP DESIGN AN ENEMY ADVENTURING COMPANY. What beats the classic RPG challenge of squaring off against a diverse enemy party with skills, abilities, and equipment to match your own? Nothing, that's what! Now you can design a crew of knuckle-cracking skull-crushers to ambush players at the worst possible moment. Ha, HA! You are the devil himself! We will send you six PROJECT ETERNITY NPC character sheets for you to fill out for our design team. We will turn your personalized party design into a lethal wrecking crew to oppose the player in the shipped game (within reason of course). You will also receive The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 15 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family. You also get the top tier WATCHER FORUM BADGE.​

Once again, silly game developers have allowed fans a chance to ruin a potentially otherwise shitty good game by adding silly in-house references and over-the-top stupidity. Once more, the Codex strides boldly into the fray to prove how much of a bad idea that is. Spectacle has already graciously reserved one of the spots for us - so as long as we raise the dosh, the opportunity for the Warriors of Diversity to rape assault you in-game is ready and waiting.

*** DONATE HERE ***

I was hoping to have our fancy-schmancy new payment system in place before we ran this but hey, Legend of Grimrock isn't going to play itself. So, to make it simple: You will get nothing, nothing for your money, other than the knowledge that you contributed to the Codex: Eternity fundraiser.

Anything that may and or may happen with copies of the game that may and or may not ever materialise or special ad-free bonuses that my accountant may or may not say we should be offering so that it counts as a "payment" rather than a "donation" and keeps the Australian Taxation Office from asking too many awkward questions, is up for grabs.

The expected release date is April 2014, because that's apparently how long it takes to fuck up perfectly good camera controls... but the KickStarter runs for another 25 days. Actual details of the Codexian NPC Group will be finalised if / when we're successful.

I'll update the list of donors in this article as I get around to it.

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RPG Codex Preview: Expeditions: Conquistador

Preview - posted by Zed on Sat 8 September 2012, 14:59:07

Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Logic Artists

Logic Artists' Expeditions: Conquistador now has four days left on Kickstarter, with little left to go to reach their target $70K goal. Codexer Tigranes has written a preview for you if you need convincing to pledge, based on some playtime with a press version of the game.

Here's a bit on character development in Expeditions:

[​IMG]

Expeditions involves two types of characters. The first is the protagonist; he/she does not fight in battles, and in fact is generally not present in the gameworld, but interacts at a more abstract level, such as in dialogues. You begin the game by picking a name and gender for your hero, and distributing points into 5 attributes: Tactics (greater maneuverability in combat), Leadership (follower loyalty), Diplomacy (persuasion in dialogue), Healing and Hunting (self-explanatory). It’s hard to know how well balanced these attributes will be over the course of the entire game, but nothing immediately stands out as useless or obvious at the present - an advantage of a simpler system. The downside is that there is very little scope for customisation or personalisation; you can’t even choose a portrait, at least in the press build. I missed that little extra dash of colour, perhaps like a small selection of backgrounds à la Arcanum.

The real focus is on the followers, who are disposable, pre-set characters with their own specialties and personalities. You begin by choosing ten followers from a static pool of 30, divided into five jobs (the Kickstarter page promises ten): doctor, hunter, scholar, scout and soldier. I didn’t get much use out of scholars in the press build, especially as they and scouts cannot fight, but the other three roles were very generic, falling into the tank / archer / healer stereotypes. In addition, they have a mix of personality traits like 'Pious', 'Narcissistic' and even 'Racist', and come with a short bio that knits it all together into simple but believable personalities. They might be best understood as a simpler version of Jagged Alliance 2’s mercenaries. Subsequently, I found two main ways of customising the followers. Each battle accrued a shared pool of experience, which I could expend on any follower to level them up. I don’t know if the press build hiked up XP gain, but I could generally level up one follower after two battles at most, and there were only 5 levels. Each level seemed to unlock a new skill, making it 5 skills per class. The doctor begins with a basic heal skill, for example, while the hunter begins with a double-shot then unlocks an aimed shot that negates the distance penalty. I could also find or purchase ‘equipment’, again a general resource I could use to increase a follower’s melee, ranged or defensive capabilities.​

Thanks Tigranes for the write-up!

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RPG Codex Interview: Chaos Chronicles

Interview - posted by Grunker on Fri 7 September 2012, 14:36:23

Tags: Chaos Chronicles; Coreplay

[​IMG]

VentilatorOfDoom and Grunker have interviewed Peter Ohlmann, Technical Director at Coreplay, on their upcoming turn-based cRPG, Chaos Chronicles.

The interview focuses mainly on the gameplay and unveils some of the core aspects of the game which Coreplay has not yet talked about.

Here are some tidbits from the interview:

RPG Codex: Going by the classes and stats you have already revealed to us, the game's character and combat systems seem heavily inspired by D&D?

PO: We are using the 3.5e Open Game Content and our guides regarding the combat implementation are Temple of Elemental Evil and Knights of the Chalice. If you like the combat system of those games, you will like ours as well.​

RPG Codex: Do you employ level-scaling in monsters? In other words, do the monsters in the world level up along with the player?

PO: Automatic level-scaling? Kill it with fire! No, seriously, it already ruined ‘Oblivion’ and we will not repeat that mistake in our game. There are different monster types of different levels in different areas of the world. Therefore, as the player you should be very careful where you are roaming.​

RPG Codex: You cite P&P gameplay and earlier D&D cRPGs like the Gold Box games as well as Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE) as major inspirations for your combat gameplay. Can you elaborate on the differences and similarities between your game and those games? What improvements do you intend to make?

PO: Since we are using the 3.5e OGL, our combat will not be so different from ToEE's. The main difference will be our hexagon grid. All 3.5e OGL combat rules are designed for squares and ToEE has no grid at all. That’s why we are investing much time to adapt 3.5 actions and spells to our grid. I think introducing this hex-grid to 3.5e will be the main improvement of our game.​

Read the full interview for more about the gameplay, Ohlmann's comments on Coreplay's involvement in Jagged Alliance: Back in Action and more!

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Tim Cain on Fallout, Troika and RPG Design

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 4 September 2012, 17:22:43

Tags: Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura; Fallout; Interplay; Journey to the Center of Arcanum; Obsidian Entertainment; Retrospective Interview; Temple of Elemental Evil; Tim Cain; Troika Games

In this entry in the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we are happy to offer you an interview with Timothy Cain. At Interplay and then at Troika Games, Tim Cain designed some of the RPG Codex' all-time favorite CRPGs: Fallout, Arcanum, and Temple of Elemental Evil. The interview deals with Tim's career and his thoughts on RPG design, and even includes a question on Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. We are grateful to Tim for taking time to answer our questions in detail. Have a snippet:

Troika's games, while arguably among the genre's most outstanding achievements, were notoriously rough at the time of release, often criticized for bugs and unfinished content. In retrospect, how do you explain this? Do you feel this kind of criticism can sometimes get unfair?

I don't think criticizing Troika games for being buggy was unfair. They were buggy, and I think there were two big reason why that was so. First, we tried putting a lot of features into these games. We really needed to learn how to edit, because we would spend a lot of man-hours putting a feature into a game that hardly any of the players would ultimately care about. For example, Arcanum had newspapers that reported on major incidents that were caused by the player, but I don't remember a single review mentioning that. We spent a lot of time getting that working, and those hours could have spent balancing real-time combat, or fixing the multiplayer code.

Second, we kept our team sizes small, both for budget and for management purposes. This meant we had less total man-hours to work with, and all of the late nights and weekends couldn't make up for the fact that we only had about a dozen people working on the Arcanum and Temple projects. Looking back, I am amazed our games were as feature-rich as they were, but I am not surprised they were as buggy as they were. We should have made some serious feature cuts early in their development.

Troika got characterized as “always blaming the publisher” when something was wrong and I think this was unfair. We would always own up to the parts of the development process in which we had made mistakes, but it seemed that if we ever said “we messed up this, and our publisher messed up that”, some people just heard the latter part of the comment and would start screaming “Troika is blaming the publishers again!”. It got frustrating after a while, especially when I saw people at Troika quoted out of context. But I did gain quite an insight into the American political system, which seems to deal with the same kind of illogical, sound bite oriented system of criticism of its political candidates. People hear what they want to hear, and often make up their minds before seeing, or even in spite of, any evidence to the contrary.

Temple of Elemental Evil featured what is to this day the best translation of D&D to the PC. Sadly, there only was one game using that engine. Were there any plans to keep using it for other games, or perhaps license it to other developers, in a manner similar to the Infinity and Gold Box engines?

Yes, we had great plans for that engine. For the sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika proposed using the super-module GDQ: Queen of the Spiders, which consists of seven modules from the popular Giants and Drow series, plus the special Q-series module that completed the adventure. In fact, we were going to let the players bring their characters over from ToEE directly into the QoS, so they could simply continue playing with the same group of characters. Alternatively, we had suggested using the engine to create the long-awaited Baldur's Gate 3, and Obsidian had also expressed interest in licensing the engine to make D&D licensed games. Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.

In his speech at the 2012 Unite Conference, Brian Fargo claimed the industry has "come full circle" since 1980s, shifting away from the console model dominant since the late 1990s and back towards "2 and 3 man teams" empowered by new tools, crowdfunding, and new distribution methods. Do you agree with this kind of picture? How would you describe the way the industry changed over the years that you have been active in it?

Small 2 and 3 man teams may be able to produce a few PC and console games, but mostly they are making smaller games that have much less complexity or player time investment than full-sized games, and those latter games still need a team to develop them. I am glad to see crowdfunding add an alternative to the publisher model for many developers, and digital distribution creates sales channels for smaller companies that can rival the older physical distribution of large publishers. In short, I think variety and options are good things, in the game industry as well as in games.

I am concerned about the mid-tier developer being crowded out of the market by these new methods. It seems that we are increasingly seeing two types of games, ones made by small independent developers and ones made by huge, publisher-owned teams. The mid-tier developer, which have teams of 30-60 people, are shrinking, and small teams of less than 10 people and large teams of over 100 people are becoming the norm. I am worried what this means for the types of games that will be available over the next few years. Will they be either small casual games that you play for a few hours and then move on, or gigantic behemoths that you devote months of gaming time to, possibly investing in DLC to stretch the gap between sequels? It's as if books are disappearing, to be replaced with short story collections and lengthy book series, or movies are being replaced with TV shows and movie franchises. Is there no middle ground any more? I don't know, and that worries me because some of the best games have come from such development, and it would be a shame if it was lost.​

The interview really covers a lot of ground, so I strongly recommend you read it in full.

Read the article in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Tim Cain on Fallout, Troika and RPG Design

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Underrail Preview

Preview - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 29 August 2012, 13:11:04

Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail

Underrail, the post-apocalyptic indie RPG which has a demo out and the developer posting regularly on the Codex, has been officially previewed by none other than me.

The indie RPG Underrail, which had its demo released recently, feels and looks very similar to one of the most popular Codexian classics - Fallout. When I played the demo, many of its aspects reminded me of Fallout. The flavour text when examining some objects, the character system, the combat, and even the atmosphere in some parts of the game. But is it actually good? To find out, read the following preview!​

So, don't waste any time and go read that preview! (And play the demo if you haven't already.)

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Expeditions: Conquistador Interview

Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Fri 24 August 2012, 12:54:58

Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Logic Artists

The developers of Expeditions: Conquistador have asked us nicely to interview them, and we answered by throwing a bunch of questions at them.

4. The Kickstarter description for the game claims that every character has a set of combat abilities. How many of them are there going to be, both per character and in total? Are these abilities determined by class or uniquely tailored for each character? Do you unlock them via some kind of skill tree?

At present there are three abilities per character type plus one ability for the Sergeant rank and one ability for the Lieutenant rank (you may only have two Sergeants and one Lieutenant at a time). Since we have 5 Spanish character classes, that adds up to 17 abilities. Some of the Native classes share a few abilities with their Spanish counterparts, but most of them have different abilities, and if you allow a native character to join your expedition, you'll get to use those abilities as well. We really want to add character ability trees so you choose between 2 or 3 abilities when you promote a character, but it's a stretch goal - it depends on how much money we get from the Kickstarter. This is because all our abilities are active abilities, they're never passive, so they're somewhat time-consuming to implement.
They still have more than two weeks to reach their goal, so get out your wallet and help them reach that kickstarter goal!

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Jon Van Caneghem on Might and Magic

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 18 August 2012, 19:08:49

Tags: Jon Van Caneghem; Might and Magic; New World Computing; Retrospective Interview

In this installment of the RPG Codex Retrospective Interview series, we are happy to present you with a Q&A session with Jon Van Caneghem, the creator of the Might and Magic series and a living legend among CRPG designers. Have some tidbits:

RPG Codex: As one of the most distinguished game developers, what was the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? Looking back at your career now, is there something you would have done differently?

JVC: The biggest challenge for me was being the designer / creator of the games and the CEO of the company. This dual role always created personal conflict. On the one hand I wanted to make every game perfect, more features, better polish… and on the other I had to pay the bills. My ongoing compromise was: if I stayed profitable, I will always be able to make another game.

Doing something differently, would have to be not giving up programming. In the early days I did all the coding, but as the projects got bigger I had to focus on overseeing the teams. I really enjoyed programming.

RPG Codex: In what ways did you intend Might and Magic to be different from Wizardry and Ultima, design-wise? What did Wizardry and Ultima lack that you wanted to do in your games?

JVC: Wizardry and Ultima were great inspirations for me. But I wanted to make my own vision for a CRPG. I wanted more of an open world feel with quests, puzzles and an emphasis on exploration and discovery. I wanted party based tactical combat, tons of magic items to find and an ever increasing feeling of power as you leveled your characters. Most of all I wanted players to feel free to experiment with all the "tools" I put in the game so they could enjoy playing any way they wanted to.

RPG Codex: Regarding the Might and Magic lore, what gave you the idea to give prominence to the mingling of sci-fi and standard fantasy, when other series (such as Ultima) had dropped it? Were there specific games at the time that inspired you to do this kind of thing?

JVC: I have always been a big sci-fi fan as well as fantasy. Arthur C. Clarke coined the phrase "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This idea plus a Star Trek episode "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky" was the basis for the original M&M Lore. But I didn't want any sci-fi to get into the fantasy world until the very end of the game. I was hoping to create a more thought provoking ending like an episode of the old "Twilight Zones" and not be intrusive throughout the fantasy game.

RPG Codex: What gave you an idea to bundle Might and Magic IV and V together into World of Xeen in such a unique way, and why did you not handle any other games in the series in the same manner? To elaborate, usually expansion packs added something "on the side", but with World of Xeen you could tell that, when Clouds of Xeen shipped, all the connection points were already there.

JVC: I thought to myself as a player, what would be cool if a new version of this game comes out, so I came up with the crazy combining scheme that would be magical to the consumer. This was a monumental task especially in those days. But I thought it was an amazing idea and we keep working on the concept until we figured out how to do it. Thank you for recognizing that feature, we were very proud of that accomplishment and to this day I don’t think anyone has repeated it.

RPG Codex: Are there some kind of extremely obscure trivia or easter eggs in the Might and Magic games that nobody knows about? (Aside from the Star Trek references, of course.)

JVC: Wow, ok, so many games over so many years, there are tons. How about these 2 of the top of my head:
  • "Sheltem" the main protagonist in the first few Might and Magic’s was named after my dog. He was a miniature Collie called a Sheltie. When anything was awry around the house I would always say it was "Sheltem"; that was his mischievous nick name.
  • "Crag Hack" was one of my most played paper AD&D characters. He was a LVL 16 Human Neutral Fighter, 18/00 strength, used 2 one handed swords, acquired Psionics and among other things one of his hands was replaced with the "Hand of Vecna"... it’s a long story. : )
RPG Codex: What do you think about the current state of the cRPG industry? Are there certain trends that are worrisome to you or, on the contrary, that you especially appreciate?

JVC: Besides stand alone CRPGs being completely overrun by MMOs, the move towards "movie games" is worrisome to me; I enjoy game systems, open worlds and exploration. I like to play games, not watch them.​

We are grateful to Jon Van Caneghem for taking time out of his demanding schedule to answer our questions!

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RPG Codex Interview: Monte Cook on Dungeons & Dragons and RPG Design

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 16 August 2012, 11:19:48

Tags: Dungeons & Dragons; Monte Cook; PnP Interview

In this installment of the RPG Codex Pen&Paper Interview series, we offer you an interview with Monte Cook himself. The questions are all Alex's. We are grateful to Monte Cook for taking time out of his schedule to answer them.

Have a snippet:

RPG Codex: You did a lot of work on the Planescape setting. Modules like Dead Gods, The Great Modron March and even the Faction War bear your name in the credits. So do a few of the setting oriented books, like The Inner Planes and Planes of Conflict. How was it working on the setting? What were the parts of the Planescape you most enjoyed? Which ones did you wish you could change? What are your thoughts about the way the Faction War destroyed a lot of what you built before?

MC: Planescape was wildly imaginative -- I loved the creative freedom it offered. It encouraged thinking so far out of the box that every day was a new challenge. I loved working on that team -- it was both rewarding and a hell of a lot of fun.

Faction War was never meant to be the end of PS. There was supposed to be a follow-up adventure/sourcebook that rebuilt things. But the line was cancelled before it could come out. A real shame. In later years, however, I was able to produce a sort of Planescape reunion product for Malhavoc Press called Beyond Countless Doorways. I brought together Zeb Cook, Michele Carter, Colin McComb, Ray Vallese, and Wolfgang Baur, some of the core minds that PS came from, and we put together a d20 sourcebook about planar travel that I'm really proud of.

RPG Codex: After Rolemaster, you worked on the second edition of AD&D, on various sourcebooks and modules. Could you tell us a little about how different the design culture between the two games were? Specifically, it seems to me AD&D at that time tried focusing on settings, the overall impression being that it was trying to outdo White Wolf in their own game. Do you agree with that impression, and if so, did this clash with the old philosophy they had, of making games that were more sandbox oriented?

MC: I don't think anyone at TSR was thinking about WW when designing a strategy. TSR was extremely isolated in its thinking. It was top dog and didn't feel much need to pay attention to the rest of the industry. This didn't change until the release of Magic: The Gathering, and that wasn't an rpg issue at all.

TSR and ICE were very, very different. ICE was small and the president was as likely as not to have lunch with the lowest employee. TSR was structured and the creatives steered well clear of the executives. Both places, however, were very fun, very enjoyable environments with good people. ICE ran into financial troubles, which darkened things, but in the end so did TSR, so in those ways they were similar too.

You're right though, TSR was focused on setting and adventures at the time, and ICE (at least as far as RM goes) on rules. It's a very different kind of design, but I enjoy both.

RPG Codex: Since leaving Wizards, you have gone back to your own endeavor, the Monte Cook Games site. From your blog, it seems like you are working on a new system already. Could you tell us a bit about what you have in mind and how it differs from your previous work?

MC: It's a game called Numenera, and I have been, and will continue to write extensively about it. It's a post-apocalyptic science fantasy set in the far distant future. The game focuses mainly on the story and the action, and less on the rules. It's a game that empowers both GM and players over the rules as written in many ways. In many ways, this is a return to my roots, both in its approach to gaming (very similar to the way I ran games back in early D&D) and in its relationship to things like Planescape, where the cool setting and amazing ideas took precedence over things like tactical combat and super-detailed rules. I hope people will take a look at both montecookgames.com and numenera.com for more on the new game as it takes shape.​

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RPG Codex reviews Dungeonbowl

Review - posted by Grunker on Fri 3 August 2012, 17:03:38

Tags: Blood Bowl; Cyanide; Dungeonbowl

Dungeonbowl is Cyanide Studio's newest release in the Blood Bowl franchise. In this review, Grunker takes a stern look at Dungeonbowl in an attempt to find out whether Cyanide has learned from the mistakes they initially made with Blood Bowl, or if they have fallen into the same traps as before.
The board game Dungeonbowl is a variant of Blood Bowl in which two teams of fantasy creatures play American Football against each other with a violence only mirrored in Australian rugby and Ukrainian parliamentary meetings. However, instead of the traditional football-field known from Blood Bowl, Dungeonbowl takes place in a dungeon, with all the shenanigans that entails: pits of lava, teleporters, treasure chests, narrow corridors and so on. The perfect setup for an even more brutal take on the favorite American college pastime. Players can level up, and teams be developed, just as in the regular Blood Bowl. The game is turn-based, and actions, beyond simply moving unhindered, are resolved by dice rolls. You serve as your team's "coach", controlling the actions the individual players attempt.

[...]

Dungeonbowl is a fun variation of Blood Bowl. It is more random, more brutal, more violent and faster than regular Blood Bowl, mirrored in the 2 minute turn limit for all turns. You can pull off insane plays using the narrow dungeon corridors, bridges over lava, or teleporters – plays that you could never do in standard Blood Bowl. In the same vein, it has never been easier to mess things up for yourself. An innocent trip through a teleporter can end up killing your star player, and a safe block can suddenly get deadly if you stand too close to a lava pit. As passing is of limited use in a dungeon, avoiding the bashing game for more agile teams becomes an interesting run-and-gun experience where the coach, heart in his throat, dances around pits of lava and exploding chests to secure the touch down. Games can sometimes stall as bashier teams block entry-ways and paths around the dungeons, but teleporters do a good job loosening this up.​


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RPG Codex Interview: Malevolence - the endless RPG

Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 1 August 2012, 17:06:03

Tags: Alex Norton; Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox; Visual Outbreak

Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox is an indie turn- and grid-based first-person RPG being developed by Aussie team Visual Outbreak. In this day and age, just hearing it's turn-based might spark an interest in some. But Malevolence does something different as well. The game procedurally generates the game world, creating an infinite experience - and not just geographically.

After some buzz on the glorious Codex forums, we got in touch with Creative Director Alex Norton to see if he could shed some light on various aspects of Malevolence and how the game will play in practice. Here's a peek:

The player does not control a party of heroes in MALEVOLENCE, which is otherwise quite common in turn-based RPGs. How do you make turn-based combat tactical and fun with a single character?

MALEVOLENCE is all about the character progression. Your abilities, spells, feats, etc, evolve in an infinite way during the game, meaning character maintenance/tweaking is a full-time job. Because of this, every aspect of your character comes into use while playing the game, but at the same time, everything you do has a consequence. As you practice and get better in one field, you will start to suffer in others. It's this balancing act that keeps things interesting for the player. But keep in mind, MALEVOLENCE is played in the style of a classic RPG, but is, in actual fact, more of a very advanced roguelike. Hence the single character aspect.​


You claim that MALEVOLENCE is almost entirely procedurally generated -- weapons, items, dungeons, cities, creature stats and even dialogue. Is the procedurally generated content based on the player character's level, on current quest objectives... or something else? How do you balance the game's challenge and how do you implement plot goals in a procedurally generated world? Are all quests going to be procedurally generated as well?

Yes indeed. All quests are generated by the game, and yes, they are somewhat based around the characters level. That being said, the game most certainly does not spoon-feed you. Many modern RPGs make it so that the game levels with the player. MALEVOLENCE does this, too, however it does so in a much more harsh way. At any point, no matter what level you are, you will be able to find things that are much too easy or much too difficult for you. That way, the player can choose their pace of gameplay and follow the path that is right for them.​


One thing about procedural generation is that it seems to be in danger of making the game too generic, both in its looks and its gameplay. How do you introduce enough variety in it?

Well the short answer is that in an infinite game, there's always going to be eventual repetition of 3D assets, voices, textures, etc. It's just the nature of it. However, we have a large variety of biomes, environments, buildings, dungeons, etc to keep the player occupied. Think of it like the DIABLO series. They would re-use the same assets, but rearranged in a different order and it had great replayability. Most people assume that we're making an infinite game so that people can play it forever, but that's not actually the case. We're making an infinite game so that people can play it for as long or as short a time as they'd like, rather than have to have it end. There's nothing worse than reaching the end of a game that you love and wanting more!​

Read the entire thing right here!

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