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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 1: Tacticool Goodness and Adventures Galore

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 23 August 2014, 22:51:19

Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; Fire; Gamescom; Paradox Interactive; Runemaster; The Devil's Men

It was a fine August day when, anticipating mountains of Doritos and rivers of Mountain Dew, esteemed community member Darth Roxor stepped into the nerd-filled halls of Gamescom 2014. Rest assured, he found what he was looking for, enough to write his report in 3 parts. In today's Part 1, Roxor recounts his 2-hour presentation with Daedalic Entertainment -- which included such games as the tactical RPG Blackguards 2 and the adventures Fire and The Devil's Men -- as well as his impressions of Paradox Interactive's Runemaster.

Since most people here are probably (hopefully) interested in Blackguards 2, I'll quote a snippet that has to do with that game:

Daedalic have introduced several changes to the The Dark Eye ruleset. Apparently, the spell failure and hit chance mechanics have been overhauled in some way, making it less likely to miss if a dude is just standing motionless next to you, although it beats me what the specifics of that are. Furthermore, Daedalic apparently got a bit sick of Aventuria's generic bestiary, so they introduced a bunch of their “own” creations – mostly demons, chimeras, shapeshifters, etc. Two of these were shown, one an insectoid creature with four arms (each one can hold a different weapon), and the other a “leaper” demon that loves to jump into mobs of characters and knock them down (careful around ledges!).

Big changes have also been made to the character system, though I must admit I’m not exactly sure of the specifics. Apparently, Blackguards' basic attributes were too confusing for the average player, so they've been streamlined into even more basic attributes like “offence” or “defence”, although Kai said the original stats are “still there” somewhere. Basically, they figured this was a better way of handling them because it was dumb how three different attributes could influence the same derived stat. This is something that I don’t quite like because, personally, I find abstract values like “offence” to be much more opaque than three different attributes that might (or might not) do the same thing, but are properly described. Maybe it’ll look better in motion. Nevertheless, you still get adventure points for battles, and you still assign them to talents and skills, just like in the original.

Taking into account these changes and the expanded bestiary, I asked how difficult it was to convince the Dark Eye license owner to incorporate them, considering how protective some of them can be (hello, Games Workshop), but apparently, it only took one long meeting of discussions and negotiations.

Now that we're done discussing the game's tactical layer, let’s say a few things about the geoscape. The original game’s chapter-based storyline is gone, replaced instead by what could be described as a “conquest mode”. The whole of southern Aventuria is now visible from the start of the game, and you must go on a blitzkrieg to conquer all of it and become its new ruler. Every location taken over will grant some bonus to your characters or mercenaries, and unlock further “nodes” that you can pillage. That doesn’t mean the “adventure” layer is gone, though, as each city you liberate™ can be entered and checked for quest opportunities, just like in the original Blackguards. Furthermore, you also get your own HQ in the form of a travelling base camp, where you can consult with your advisor, buy equipment, etc.

There are many significant things going on in the game's strategy view, as well. You are not the only force in the land, and just as you conquer lands, the enemy will try to reconquer them. If you fail at defending them, they will need to be re-reconquered, and these reconquest battles are meant to be very hard. I just hope this won’t devolve into GTA San Andreas taggin’ da hood – Blackguards edition.

The final part of the presentation was about the general changes to the narrative and reactivity. As I said, the game is no longer divided into chapters; instead, the storyline changes “dynamically” depending on the course of conquest you take. A playthrough where you first take the southern part of the map under your protection™ might be very different, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, from another where you first scorch the north. Moreover, over the course of the game, you’ll have to make many decisions that will impact the story and gameplay. Fiebig said that this time they are “real” choices, that may lead to all sorts of hilariously bad outcomes, and it’s “very easy to fuck up completely”. A few examples of these decisions include whether to torture prisoners during interrogations, and what to do with captured cities - raze them to the ground, intimidate their citizens through mass murder or leave them alone? Which is the best and why? Discuss!!!

That very much concluded the presentation. I was offered a hands-on of the demo, but it was cut short by the incoming unwashed masses with their scheduled presentations. I didn’t mind much, though - as I said, the game does pretty much look and play exactly like Blackguards, so I doubt I’d have derived any new information.​

For Darth Roxor's further impressions, be sure to read the full piece.

There are 28 comments on RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 1: Tacticool Goodness and Adventures Galore

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Toshio Sato on StarCraft Inc., Phantasie IV and Tunnels & Trolls

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 20 August 2014, 14:12:19

Tags: Phantasie IV; Retrospective Interview; StarCraft Inc.; Toshio Sato; Tunnels & Trolls

Today, Japanese role-playing video games are usually associated either with "JRPGs", exemplified by the likes of Final Fantasy, or with niche Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawlers. The first Dragon Quest game may have been famously conceived as a cross between Wizardry and Ultima, but since then JRPGs have evolved in a different, distinct direction.

There was a time, however, when it seemed that some of the other, more "advanced" kinds of Western computer RPGs might also take root in Japan. The Japanese company that ported the early Ultima games to Japanese computers, StarCraft Inc., also localized other important WRPGs — from Might and Magic to Phantasie to The Magic Candle — which even sold fairly well in the Land of the Rising Sun. In this interview, we talk to Toshio Sato, who worked with StarCraft and programmed many of their important titles. In a way, this is a continuation of our interview with Winston Douglas Wood, the Phantasie creator, since Mr. Sato was part of the team that made the Japanese-only Phantasie IV (which Doug Wood designed himself). Aside from that, Mr. Sato worked on New World Computing's Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan, the only Western RPG to be coded in Japan first and then ported to the West, as well as on many of StarCraft's localizations. There isn't much information in English on StarCraft's history, so we also talk about that in the interview, as well as about the difficulties they had in porting English-language CRPGs to Japanese computer systems. Here are a few snippets:

RPG Codex: You worked on two projects that should be of particular interest to our readers, the Japanese-only Phantasie IV and the Japanese version of Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan. We have a question about Phantasie IV first. In his interview with us, Douglas Wood said that StarCraft were the ones to contact him about doing a fourth game. What were the reasons why StarCraft decided to reach out to Douglas Wood to make a new game - and why the Phantasie series in particular?

Toshio Sato: In comparison to the Japanese RPGs of its time, the Phantasie series had plot, dungeon crawling, events, etc., that were miles better than what was being done then. It was also featured a lot in magazines, and thus its popularity was on the rise. StarCraft ported the Phantasie series starting from the first game. Phantasie III especially got a Macintosh Plus-like interface with icons, mouse and windows which caught the eye of the users. I heard it also received praise from SSI.

With such potential, responding to the fans' enthusiasm, the director made the decision to continue releasing sequels and thus, after the release of Phantasie III, I believe he went into negotiations with SSI and Doug.

RPG Codex: On the projects that you were involved with, what were the main challenges when it came to localizing and porting the Western role-playing games? Was it mostly a smooth process, or did it involve many technical or other difficulties?

Toshio Sato: One of the company's mottoes was "Never make lifeless copies". At that time, Japanese PC monitor resolution was quite high. It felt like a waste to simply port the games, so the main challenge was to make something that would surpass the original [from the technical standpoint].

We had some technical problems with the memory size and the drawing speed. As the resolution was higher, we had more graphical data to compute and so we needed to figure out how to make the drawing speed faster. Again, window and icon systems were new and experimental. We had to match the mouse cursor to the terminal's scan lines refresh timing, meaning we had to find a way for the process to take very little time. Oh yes, we also worked on the data organization to lower the number of floppy disks necessary.

There were other difficulties too. For example, in Might and Magic II, in order to learn how the experience system and the item selling calculations were done, we had to learn the 6502 assembly language from scratch.

Regarding the question about porting, at the time we couldn't just casually get in contact through the internet. We usually met once in America, and then the rest was done by fax... Isn't it hard now to believe how it was done back then?

RPG Codex: To what extent do you think these RPGs that you worked on managed to influence the Japanese video gaming landscape? In retrospect, what do you think came of StarCraft’s efforts to bring Western-style, non-Wizardry-like RPGs to Japan?

Toshio Sato: If you look at the Japanese game industry as a whole, I don't think my work had a big influence. However, I think what we did was make the yet-unknown game company New World Computing into a recognized name in Japan, although I don't think that's such an achievement.

RPG Codex: To build on the previous questions, although they were a huge fever in the late 80's and early 90's, Western RPGs' popularity in Japan seems to have declined afterwards. What changed, the games or the audience?

Toshio Sato: I cannot tell you much about that, but I can at least tell you three things:

-First, the RPG genre was getting overcrowded, game development was rushed and the product quality dwindled.
-Secondly, the new fad was simulation games.
-Then there is the hardware. In the 90s, Sega and Sony changed their business from consumer goods to game development platforms. Nintendo also released the Super Famicon, but as far as small development companies are concerned, the fact was that the best platform to develop for became the Playstation.

Furthermore, as the players' age group shifted, mature RPGs became less and less popular.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Toshio Sato on StarCraft Inc., Phantasie IV and Tunnels & Trolls

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RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin

Review - posted by Angthoron on Sat 16 August 2014, 23:49:39

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin; Larian Studios

Divinity: Original Sin, the latest entry in Larian Studios' series of Divinity games has finally been released from its Early Access status, and the ever-speedy RPG Codex staff embodied by Angthoron has already provided a review a mere two months after the game's release. Is this game divinely good, sinfully bad or stuck half-way in purgatory? Here are but a few spoilers:

What did I expect a year or so ago when Larian Studios announced their Kickstarter campaign for Divinity: Original Sin? A fun, light-hearted isometric game with lovely music, lots of hit-and-miss humor, a fair bit of filler combat, hours of enjoyment to rival the chunk of my life that was torn out by Dragon Knight Saga and a meaningful co-op mode in which my partner would blow me up with well-placed fireballs and lightning bursts. Were my expectations fulfilled? Oh, yes. Granted, things like the absence of the mega-dungeon and the cut-short soundtrack are somewhat of a disappointment, and there seems to be a whole lot more than just a fair bit of filler combat, but overall, this is the game that all the subsequent Kickstarter RPGs will be measured against, and I admit that a part of me worries that some of the upcoming projects might not measure up quite that favourably.

The writing in Original Sin is by its nature fairly light-hearted and humorous as is common to Larian Studios’ style. [...] It does, however, occasionally suffer from jarring tone deafness and anachronistic expressions. Being addressed with “Sup, mate” by a rooster, or have a ram admire a cow’s derriere is certainly amusing, but not quite appropriate in a context of high adventure in the enchanted lands.

The character system in Original Sin is a simple enough thing that most RPG developers in the recent years have managed to screw up. Fortunately, Larian hasn’t, and the result is a simple and solid system based on genre-standard ability scores, skill points, slightly less standard traits as well as minor boosts coming from playing the characters consistently in dialogue.[...]

[...]The world is well designed, with distinct locations, appealing vistas and high attention to detail. Characters and objects clearly stand out from the backgrounds, effects are almost always obvious and visible and the secrets are obscured within reason. The side character models are also more detailed than certain models from Dragon Age 2 despite the isometric perspective instead of third person, so there’s also that. If it’s better than a game from the masters of the RPG genre, it’s gotta be good.[...]

The co-op multiplayer mode in Original Sin isn’t just a hasty afterthought – it’s one of the game’s major hooks. Larian’s intentions from fairly early on have been clear: they wanted to make an RPG that could be played together by friends, couples and strangers alike, where all parties involved would have their say at critical moments, and where all would find something to do. With but a few minor issues, their intentions can be considered a success. The multiplayer experience can be a great amount of fun thanks to the chances for distracting the NPCs (and stealing all their paintings), creating unexpected scenarios in combat and arguing through loads of dialogue[...]​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin

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RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 12 August 2014, 23:27:12

Tags: Lords of Xulima; Numantian Games

Last week, the isometric-meets-first person RPG Lords of Xulima got released on Steam Early Access. For this preview, I am joined by the esteemed community member felipepepe and we just talk and talk and talk about what the game currently has to offer. (We could've talked even more, but you have to stop somewhere.) Short version: we enjoyed it. Have a few snippets:

F: I’d say it took me about half an hour to go from disappointed to excited. As I invested myself and understood the logic behind each mechanic, I was impressed. I can’t sum Xulima up in just a few words. The exploration is similar to Geneforge, but much tighter and with Zelda-like elements, while combat is that of blobbers, with an added layer of formations and positioning. All surrounded by robust resource management. I can recognize the individual mechanics, but they are put together in a brand new way. The small Spanish team behind Xulima clearly played a lot of RPGs and carefully examined the mechanics behind each game, what worked, what could be different, and what they could offer. Xulima is the result of that, a careful collection of mechanics and gameplay elements. It feels familiar, but for every aspect of it, there’s a interesting twist.

Using a musical metaphor, Xulima isn’t a cheap "Best of RPGs" CDs done by a mediocre cover band. It’s one of those albums where a good musician makes readings of his favorite songs in a new, amusing coating. [...]

CB: It feels like every corner of the world has at least something interesting to it, something that makes it worth exploring and clearing out that fog of war. The only thing I kept wishing for was edge scrolling for the camera – sometimes you just want to have a good overview of the surrounding area, which the zoomed-out map can’t really give you. You can also explore in any direction, or venture into any dungeon, as long as you’ve found the key and/or can defeat the encounters in your way. I wouldn’t call the game fully "open world," since – similarly to Divinity: Original Sin, to use a recent comparison – enemies that are significantly higher-level can be essentially undefeatable, but it does give you enough freedom and sometimes even alternative paths to reach the same objective.

F: I also like that dungeons have a unique feel. Some are just combat areas, others a clever mix of traps, enemies and hazards, and some just one big elaborate puzzle. They aren’t very long, but usually entertaining. Inside, you’ll often spot traps (as long as your Perception skill is high enough). Some of them appear as red areas that can be disarmed, similarly to Baldur’s Gate. But there are also spikes, which should be carefully navigated around (you can even use the keyboard for more precise navigation), or hazards, such as a room on fire, webs full of spiders, or venomous gas, that you can either endure or neutralize by using expensive magic scrolls. [...]

F: Every action you perform, from simply walking to forcing doors open to resting, consumes food. Run out of food and you'll suffer a massive debuff, or even die of starvation on the Hardcore difficulty setting. And man, is food expensive. In fact, everything is expensive, especially healing your characters of status effects. In the early game, lifting the curse from two or more characters can mean selling a piece of gear to pay for the bills. [...] There are also various other ways to find yourself broke, as beside food you need torches, lockpicks, magic scrolls, and so on, and those blasted peasants keep raising their prices as you level up! (Not the most elegant of game mechanics, but it works well enough.) Not to mention the thieves roaming the roads, who will steal a fortune and run away unless you kill them quickly, or a vast desert requiring huge amounts of food to be crossed. I honestly don’t remember ever playing anything like this before, even 30 hours in I was still counting coins and thinking about the cheapest way to do stuff. [...]

CB: I had to stop playing the game after the second temple just so we could discuss it and do this preview, but I am really looking forward to what the rest of the game has to offer.

F: I’m happy to inform you that after the second temple things get even more diverse, and exploration opens up a lot. I could access three other temples at once, deciding which to face first. There were huge deserts, burning gardens, and some other nice surprises. Surprises that I hadn’t thought the game would be able to deliver.

This all goes back to what I think is Xulima’s main issue: the presentation constantly makes you think less of the game. A lot less.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima

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RPG Codex Retrospective: Roguey dismantles white privilege in Tim Cain's Temple of Elemental Evil

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 8 August 2014, 01:28:57

Tags: Temple of Elemental Evil; Troika Games

In the year 2003, if you were a serious RPG fan, and you weren't interested in playing Neverwinter Nights expansion packs and console ports from BioWare, or in playing slam dunks from Black Isle while watching all their good games get cancelled, Troika Games was your only hope.

Founded by the trio of developers behind the original Fallout, Tim Cain chief among them, Troika's obvious raison d'etre was the development of further roleplaying games of that type. That meant heavy on choice and consequence, extremely non-linear, and perhaps most importantly, possessing a fresh and original setting and premise - at least for an RPG. For that reason, it must have been odd when in that year, Troika released The Temple of Elemental Evil, a turn-based dungeon crawl based on the classic D&D module by Gary Gygax.

Although generally praised for its faithful implementation of the 3rd Edition D&D ruleset, to this day TToEE remains in the eyes of many the black sheep of Troika's oeuvre. But there is one man on the Codex with a keen interest in isometric dungeon crawls. One man whose idol would not get a chance to develop his own game to completion again until 2010. One man who is always eager to share his controversial opinions on video games. And although I would have preferred if he continued his survey of the career of J.E. Sawyer, we'll just have to make do with this.

That's right, it's time to gripe about...

[​IMG]

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective: Roguey dismantles white privilege in Tim Cain's Temple of Elemental Evil

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Sensuki Interviews Josh Sawyer about Pillars of Eternity

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 31 July 2014, 15:31:32

Tags: J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

On June 17th, esteemed community member Sensuki sent a number of miscellaneous questions to Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, project lead on the upcoming fantasy RPG Pillars of Eternity. As you may know, a backer-exclusive beta of the game is coming next month already. Now that the work on the E3 presentation and the gameplay video has been finished, Josh got back to Sensuki with the answers.

Sensuki has also added his comments to some of the replies, and incorporated a few of Sawyer's recent tumblr and forum posts into the interview where relevant. Have some snippets and then read it in full.

In a recent interview with Norwegian gaming site gamer.no, Pillars of Eternity was stated to be "larger, yes, easily larger, than Icewind Dale. We're not quite up to Baldur's Gate 2 size, but it's close". What elements of Pillars of Eternity are up there with Baldur's Gate 2 specifically? (e.g. Length of the crit path, Amount of optional content, Number of Exterior Areas, Quest Complexity, etc.) How would you say you've done regarding Wilderness area scope? Which in the stretch goal thread was slated to be "slightly larger than BG2".

Number of overall areas is getting close to BG2. I think we now have over 150 maps with a healthy split between cities, dungeons, towns, and wilderness maps. I'm happy with the number of wilderness areas we have. I think there will be good content density in them and there are enough of them off the critical path that players will feel rewarded for exploring.

Sensuki: For the record, BG2 has over 275 maps in the original game. I counted them the other week in Infinity Explorer. However, BG2 has stacks of tiny interiors such as houses or child areas of main dungeon levels, so the size of the game may well be getting close to BG2.

The Stronghold update revealed that Pillars of Eternity would use an Act structure instead of a Chapter structure. The IE games used Chapters and generally had up to seven of them. An act structure is common in ARPG games because of Diablo 2, but I can't help but wonder if the use of Acts refers to literal acts in a story, such as a three-act or five-act story structure. Can you elaborate on the use of Acts instead of Chapters for PE?

Eric [Fenstermaker] chose to use acts to consciously follow the classical (Aristotelean/Horatian) concepts of an act structure within a story. His feeling was that chapters do not have the same implications of dramatic progression that acts do.

While Races will give players different bonus attributes, what kind of mechanical bonuses can players expect from choosing a Cultural Background in Pillars of Eternity?

The only mechanical bonuses currently afforded by culture are attribute modifiers and class-based starting equipment sets. We are open to modestly expanding those bonuses based on feedback.

Regarding encounter design, is there anything in Pillars of Eternity that rivals or surpasses the complexity of some of the encounters in Icewind Dale 2 (Orc Shamans beating War Drums to summon reinforcements, Goblins falling off Worgs)? Will there be pre-stealthed enemies? Are there any new scripting features that were built for PE that made things possible you couldn't do in the IE games?

Honestly, I think it will take us a while to exceed the complexity of IWD2 fights. IWD2 and BG2 were built with a lot of tried-and-true scripting functions that programmers and designers developed over previous titles and expansions. Like any other feature, AI in PoE is being built from the ground up, so we have to add layers of complexity over time.

Did any "C priority" features or assets make it into the game besides character/creature art?

I don't use C-priority on the projects I direct. I require the developers on the team to divide requests into "must have" and "would really like to have" (A/B). If by some miracle we complete everything we need and everything we would really like to have, we can discuss third string ideas. This has literally never happened. That said, we did get a healthy amount of B-content in (mostly art).​

The full interview also discusses stances, talents, the combat idle, spell FX, the Gilded Vale location, and some other things.

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RPG Codex Review: Unrest

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 July 2014, 11:04:33

Tags: Pyrodactyl Games; Unrest

Unrest is the Kickstarted adventure RPG set in a fantasy version of ancient India, developed by Pyrodactyl Games and released just a couple of days ago on Steam and GOG. In this review, esteemed community members Deuce Traveler and VioletShadow tell you about the experience they've had with the game - what they have, and haven't, enjoyed about it.

Have a snippet:

VioletShadow: The concept of seeing the Bhimra's unrest through the eyes of several different main characters worked very well. Not only were the individual segments intertwined in terms of their actions and consequences, but the personal perspective of each of them served to ground the world and make it feel very lived-in. Some of my favorite segments were the ones that involved the peasant. Even though she was only loosely connected to the main plot, her story and the circumstances she found herself in helped illustrate the disconnect between the lower castes and those at the top. Her immediate preoccupations, and those of the other peasants, involved problems directly related to their status in society, such as lack of food and the need to marry into higher castes, rather than political instability or the trade treaty, which for the most part they hadn't even heard of. It made me think of how the isolation of the lower castes created the conditions for problems such as the slums' rioting. This ties into your point regarding events outside the characters' control. Looking back to the segment with the naga, I felt a strong sense of helplessness; there was really nothing she could do to make the situation better. I agree that it made the game world believable, and a much more immersive experience than if some chosen one could erase history and its consequences with eye-rolling heroics.

Deuce Traveler: The world of Unrest is certainly a kind of medieval fantasy setting, but different enough to interest players tired of the all-too-familiar pseudo-European fare. The architecture is eastern, as is the dress of the people. The culture is post-Gupta Indian, featuring an entrenched caste system and Hinduism with nary a hint of Buddhism or Islam. The game's story fleshes out the motivations of its various characters, including the villains, who believe that they were right for making the bloody decisions that propel the plot, despite the catastrophic results. This is not a story of noble heroes pushing back darkness, but instead a tale of survivors with opposing viewpoints going through their lives, which are interrupted on occasion by short outbursts of charity or wickedness.

[...] Finally, there are some major decisions you can make in the game that seem to have little effect on the overall story. In one playthrough, I decided that I was going to put my character in harm's way for the sake of diplomatic niceties. That character was killed. On the second playthrough I decided to be especially conceding during the diplomatic discussions, but then rigidly refused a request for my character to put himself in harm's way. This caused my character to step down from her diplomatic station and retire. In the character's narrative this made a huge difference, since she was now alive rather than dead. But from my perspective as a player the result was the same, since the character would have no further impact on how the story unfolded.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Unrest

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RPG Codex Review: The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 20 July 2014, 17:15:56

Tags: Cryptic Comet; Elder Sign: Omens; Fantasy Flight Games; The Occult Chronicles

Last year, two somewhat similar games, The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens, were released for Windows within an interval of a few months. Both feature board game mechanics and settings inspired by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. With such a unique premise, esteemed community member Gragt decided to review both of them in the same article.

Have a few snippets on both games:

The first of the duo is The Occult Chronicles by Cryptic Comet, released in August 2013. As fans of his previous games Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum already know, Cryptic Comet pretty much means Vic Davis. Davis is a one-man designer/programmer team and a visionary who specializes in developing games for the very small niche best described as “board games specifically made for computers”. By moving tedious elements like bookkeeping and frequent calculations to the computer, these games are able to feature much more complex systems than traditional board games, without alienating players. Coupled with Davis’ terrific sense of style, this has allowed him to craft some great and memorable games, and his latest work is no exception. While his previous games were straight strategy games, The Occult Chronicles deviates from his canon by being a mix of board game and roguelike with a focus on exploration. Davis later regretted calling the game a roguelike as it apparently gave players the wrong set of expectations, but despite his feelings on the matter, in my opinion The Occult Chronicles is much closer to a traditional roguelike than many of the games that have popped up in recent years and claimed the genre for themselves.

[...] this is a terrific little game. It features no animation at all, yet manages to convey a tense and heavy atmosphere thanks to its excellent design. Zane Reichert’s drawings illustrating the various events fit the game’s pulp fiction atmosphere very well, striking a good balance between comic-book and creepy. The slow and brooding music by Stian Stark, who also composed the music for Solium Infernum and Six Guns Saga, is perfect for this kind of game; there are no memorable tunes to speak of, but it sets the tone without intruding. While every adventure follows the same basic structure, there is a decent amount of randomly generated content to experience, and I am still surprised to see events that I missed, connected to quests that weren’t available before. As a horror and occult-themed roguelike, I guess the closest thing to it would be the bona fide roguelike Infra Arcana, but the board game aspect makes it fairly unique. If you can get past the clunky interface and obtuse ability descriptions, there are many hours of quality entertainment to be had. A game takes only a few hours to complete, the atmosphere is thick, the challenge is high, and the different backgrounds and scenario options keep it replayable.

[...] The second game is Elder Sign: Omens by Fantasy Flight Games, released for Windows in November 2013, a mere three months after The Occult Chronicles. This is actually a port of the 2011 game for Android, Apple, and Kindle Fire. Now, it may seem weird to review a game with such a dubious pedigree, but humor me for a while.

The reason it is reviewed here alongside The Occult Chronicles is that both games share many similar elements, from theme and setting to the board game-like gameplay. Of the two, Elder Sign: Omens plays the closest to a traditional board game, which is par for the course considering it is an adaptation of an actual board game, Elder Sign. There are some differences between them, but for the most part Omens is quite faithful to its cardboard sibling. This also makes it a much simpler game than The Occult Chronicles, if only because it could be easily set up on a table with cards, tokens, and dice, whereas The Occult Chronicles, just like other Cryptic Comet games, would be a nightmare of cyclopean proportions to play that way. The basic scenario has you control a team of four investigators in the ’30s, of various backgrounds and talents, who must prevent the awakening of an Ancient One from the Cthulhu Mythos. To achieve this goal, you must explore the Miskatonic University Museum at night to gather supplies and artifacts, including the titular Elder Signs required to seal the cosmic horror. This time the game makes direct use of the Mythos, and you will encounter familiar figures like the Deep Ones, Ithaqua and even Cthulhu himself. Truth be told, the Mythos is used here more as a coat of paint to give a strong and familiar theme to a horror-themed board game that is light on plot, but it does the job rather well. It may not be as involved as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, but it's good enough to give you your Lovecraft fix as long as you don’t expect a great plot, great characters, or great dialogue — which isn’t something usually found in a Lovecraft story anyway. [...]

Both games have their flaws and merits, and while none ascends to greatness, they are well worth a look, especially if you need a fix of horror and Lovecraft pulp fiction.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens

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RPG Codex Review: Long Live the Queen

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 13 July 2014, 18:44:59

Tags: Hanako Games; Long Live the Queen

Back in the decline-plagued year of 2011, with no proper RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin or tactical RPGs like Blackguards in sight (and with Age of Decadence remaining the all-too-easy subject of "vaporware" jokes), our very own Darth Roxor did a review of the CYOA RPG Academagia. Our readers generally prefer "full-fledged" RPGs, or at least those with good combat or interesting "choices & consequences" (C&C for short), so Academagia didn't really gain a lot of traction around these parts. However, CYOA RPGs are still RPGs, at least to some extent, and so it shouldn't be too surprising that another one, Long Live the Queen!, has caught our attention.

In this quick review, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler tells us what's good about the game -- but also what's bad, and not particularly exciting, about it. Have a snippet:

And this is my biggest issue with Long Live the Queen. There is no way for you to predict the various skills that you will need to survive. In one playthrough, I had done well building up my courtly skills, only to fall victim to an arrow that I could not avoid due to a lack of archery skills, nor treat the resulting wound due to a lack of battlefield medicine skills. So, I loaded a previous save and pumped my skills up just enough to be able to live through the attack and move on. The game is won on the basis of trial and error rather than any tactical decision making on part of the player. It really is just a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) visual novel. Due to its lack of randomization or tactical considerations, the skill checks are simply another CYOA element. Even the somewhat similar skill building simulator, the infamous Slave Maker 3, has more randomization, and that game is a fan project.

That brings me to my final point. Long Live the Queen is a fine story as seen through Elodie's eyes, and the character works as a quirky slate for the player. However, the supporting cast is full of unsympathetic arseholes. Even Elodie's father hides critical information from her, despite having a vested interest in her survival. Her friends are fickle, the nobility behave as vultures over a rotting carcass, and the peasants are either dull or violent. With so many unlikable characters, I often found myself playing Elodie as a martial character, mastering warfare, weapons, and magic. To the game's credit, however, you can play as a much more cultured and peaceable character and still win. I have read, for instance, that there is a winning path for someone who becomes a master musician. You can also develop romantic relationships with many of the different characters, despite a range of ages and genders. Because of this, the game has some replay value for those willing to work through its trial-and-error gameplay loop.​

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RPG Codex Interview: Blackguards 2

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 7 July 2014, 18:08:43

Tags: Blackguards; Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; Kai Fiebig

As you may recall, we quite enjoyed Daedalic's tactical RPG Blackguards. Its unique combat design and difficulty have already earned it a prominent place among this year's released or to-be-released oldschool RPGs (which also include Might and Magic X, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity). Next year is promising to be interesting too, and not only thanks to Torment: Tides of Numenera's release, but also because Daedalic has recently announced a sequel to Blackguards, Blackguards 2, to come out in 2015 as well.

For this interview, we reached out to Kai Fiebig, producer on Blackguards and Blackguards 2. Have a snippet:

Could you talk a bit about the inspirations behind the first game, and how they have changed (if they have) for the sequel? One of our reviewers compared Blackguards to "a European version of Final Fantasy Tactics" - to what extent was that one of your inspirations, and to what extent do you intend to keep your inspirations the same for Blackguards 2?

My personal inspiration for Blackguards was mainly good old pen & paper combat, with the ambition to put as much of the diversity of tactical options and creative use of the environment pen & paper combat can offer into a video game.

Ideally, every single battle fought should tell a small story in itself, with the player „writing“ the part of his heroes. The game presents only the challenges and a huge variety of abilities, spells and environmental interactions the player can choose from, combine and improvise with, to overcome those challenges.

This ideal remains an ideal, as video games cannot accomplish the same level of interactivity as pen & paper games. But getting as close as possible is a great motor for making these kind of games.​

The press release talks about "faction-based" gameplay and the need to conquer lands and defend them. It sounds like a big change from the first game. Could you elaborate on how that is going to work, exactly? Is Blackguards 2 going to be more open-ended, or do you prefer to continue focusing on tactical turn-based battles at the expense of non-linearity?

Yes, in Blackguards 2 the goal is to conquer a small province in the south of Aventuria. We are not operating on a military scale with huge armies, though; more like clans or war bands. The main goal is to capture the capital of the province. How many and what kind of fortifications, cities or other strategic points the player conquers before attacking the capital is all up to them. Every conquered point on the map gives the player certain bonuses, so it's a good idea to choose a route that grants bonuses matching the personal play-style and preferred tactics. Once the walls of the capital have been breached, there are multiple endings with different outcomes for each of the heroes, depending on player's choices.​

The press release also mentions some "revisions and simplifications" to the RPG system. Understandably, many of our readers (who were quite happy with the first game) are worried that you might remove complexity instead of adding or iterating on it. Could you go into some detail on the "simplification" part?

Like already mentioned above - we have absolutely zero intentions to lower the level of complexity. We love complex turn based combat. We are just going to simplify the character sheet so players know which knobs to turn to improve in which discipline of combat.

In fact, we even increase the complexity a bit by introducing Stamina, which basically works like Astral Points, only for warriors and their special abilities. There will be attacks and spells that drain Stamina, and of course Special Abilities that increase the Stamina regeneration.​

Although Blackguards was about scoundrels and anti-heroes, the storyline was quite heroic and featured some pretty altruistic moments. What are your own thoughts on the original game's balance between the heroic and the non-heroic stuff? How dark of a journey can we expect this time?

Blackguards 2 will be darker. And the player will be presented with some really fucked up moral choices.​​

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RPG Codex Preview: Dr. Dungeon's Madman!

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 16 June 2014, 23:14:09

Tags: Dr. Dungeon; Madman!

Esteemed community member Deuce Traveler has written up a short preview for the upcoming Ultima-style retro RPG Madman! by Robert "Dr. Dungeon" Deutsch​. (We have a dedicated thread about Dr. Dungeon's games on our forums, in case you didn't know.) Here's a snippet:

You are a lone hero, declared a Madman and exiled from your home due to the belief that your actions have led to the death of a sibling. Certain in-game events call your sanity into question, like when you dream of having conversations with your supposedly dead sibling. However, it is not just your own character who seems a bit off. In your travels you will encounter NPCs with their own oddball eccentricities - characters who espouse strange philosophies, or throw off their initial shyness to participate in drunken parties, or partake in hobbies such as overly enthusiastic metal polishing. You actually can't play your own character in a straight-laced manner, as the game requires you to occasionally perform criminal acts and be caught in illicit activity. And yet all is not well in your character's adopted land. Monsters roam freely and are often encountered along the borders of civilization. Citizens have gone missing and require a hero to come to their rescue. This, of course, is where you come in, as the locals can't solve these issues themselves. [...]

The game also has puzzles, which are better than its combat. You'll really have to pay attention, even with the game's very effective quest log system. Although at times the quest log practically walks you through the steps of your current quest, in general the clues you receive tend to be vague, and you will often find yourself having to go back to the quest giver and pay greater attention to his dialogue in order to piece together what you must do. The game has plenty of fetch quests, but there are also puzzles which pose a larger degree of intellectual challenge. For instance, at one point you're required to insert artifacts into some niches in the ground. You are not given much of a clue as to where these artifacts are, but if you've been paying attention you might realize that some seemingly worthless artifacts you saw before have the exact same shape as the tiled niches. Some quests can be frustrating in their logic, however, such as when you're required to leave the domain of a strange race, who send you to solve a series of puzzles before you can get an important quest item from them. I found this particular set of quests to be quite nonsensical. But then I remembered that the game was called Madman! - nonsense is kind of the point. [...]

So, would I recommend the game? It depends. Action-RPG fans are not going to be comfortable playing this game and should probably avoid it due to the interface, graphics, and simple plot. However, I think that those who enjoy firing up the early Ultimas or Might and Magics would be comfortable here. Also, if you've played any of Dr Dungeon's Ultizurk games you will be right at home, as his unique writing style and sense of humor is instantly recognizable. There is even a suggestion in-game that your character in Madman! is the same person as the protagonist of the Ultizurk series, though with a scrambled set of memories.​

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AdventureDex Retrospective: Sanitarium

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 27 May 2014, 04:39:23

Tags: DreamForge Entertainment; Sanitarium

It's been a while since we posted any AdventureDex content, hasn't it? In this review, esteemed community members Deuce Traveler and VioletShadow cast a look back at DreamForge's horror adventure game Sanitarium (1998). Here's a snippet from the full review:

VioletShadow: Sanitarium is in many ways about discovery and this is reflected on the amount of puzzle-solving one must do; there was a lot of it. For the most part, puzzles were intuitive and well integrated into the story. Many were inventory-related, with some machine and lever ones as well. Disappointingly, their difficulty ranged from easy to medium so experienced adventure players will most likely be underwhelmed by the lack of challenge. I appreciated a few puzzles that required paying attention to what other characters said or details in the environment to be solved.

There were a couple of action sequences which involved using an object on enemies while avoiding their attacks. These weren't much of a challenge, as failure meant the character was 'reborn' and free to try again without losing any progress. My favorite puzzle was a maze, which tends to be a headache in many other adventure games but in this case was nicely challenging and fun to complete.

Deuce Traveler: Some of the puzzles in the beginning were so simple that the game nearly felt like a visual novel where you are focused more on reading dialogue than gameplay. The difficulty picks up a little bit more after the initial chapter, but never really becomes challenging to a player who is willing to click on everything he or she sees, or use every item in the inventory on every object and person in the environment. There is a lack of real death in the game, which reduces the tension of the experience. A limited inventory and smaller, contained locations reduced the amount of actions you had to employ to solve the puzzles. This is definitely one of the easier adventure games I have ever played. Your enjoyment in solving puzzles won't come in feeling how clever you are in defeating them, but instead their bizarre nature. For that reason, I enjoyed some carnival challenges the most.

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VioletShadow: Now, as for the interface it isn't awful, but has several flaws that may frustrate players to no end. Firstly, sometimes the character must be standing in a certain position to be able to interact with objects and maneuvering him until he is at the right place can take several tries and become a minor annoyance. Secondly, click/hold RMB to slowly walk didn't work that well and the character often ended up moving in the wrong direction. This takes me to the next issue: stairwells. *Screams*. Whenever the character walks in the wrong direction and gets close to a stairwell, he will go into the 'stairwell animation' and you have to wait for him to finish walking up or down. Many stairwells in the game plus awkward movement controls equaled lots of frustration for me.

Deuce Traveler: Heh. I didn't find the interface nearly as rage-inducing. In fact, I thought it was beautiful in its simplicity. If I had issues with anything, it was the lack of solutions to puzzles. There was always a certain item that had to be used in a certain way to progress, which admittedly is a frustrating staple of such adventure games. For example, I couldn't electrocute a creature with jumper cables, but had to find an artifact to use as a conduit. Said artifact was in a small pool of water and looked to be within easy distance of an adult arm, but the game forced me to locate a fishing rod in order to retrieve the object.

Unfortunately, the pathfinding in this game is nearly non-existent, so when I try to talk to someone the game often tells me I can't reach him or her to do so, even if I am standing next to them. This is because the game's animation requires the conversation to occur at a different angle from where I made the attempt.​

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RPG Codex Interview: Torment: Tides of Numenera

Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Thu 22 May 2014, 21:48:55

Tags: Adam Heine; Colin McComb; George Ziets; InXile Entertainment; Jeremy Kopman; Torment: Tides of Numenera

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What was first meant to be a catch-up interview with George Ziets, now the Lead Area Designer for Torment: Tides of Numenera, turned into a much broader interview as we also managed to get a hold of a few other game designers as well. So, for this interview, George Ziets is joined by Creative Lead Colin McComb, Design Lead Adam Heine, and Crisis Designer Jeremy Kopman. Holy moley.

Here's a slice of it:

The original Torment as well as Mask of the Betrayer are known for their originality and weirdness – at least in comparison to other CRPGs. When talking about why Pillars of Eternity will incorporate dwarves, elves and other fantasy tropes, Josh Sawyer touched on the importance of player familiarity. What's your take on this? Do you think it could ever get too “unfamiliar”? Too abstract?

George Ziets
This is partly a matter of personal taste, but I place much less value upon familiarity in new settings. Audiences are a lot more flexible than we often think. To me, it’s more important that character motivations and emotions feel believable and identifiable, regardless of setting. If you create characters who feel and act in a believable way, have problems that players can identify with, and are likable, audiences will tolerate a lot of weirdness in setting details.

Presentation is also a major issue to consider in a new setting. If you try to throw a lot of unfamiliar setting details at a player in the first ten minutes of gameplay (or, worse, in a convoluted opening cinematic), you’re likely to lose your audience. If, on the other hand, you drop them into a world that is full of mysteries, and the player is learning about the new world as an integral part of gameplay and story, their unfamiliarity with the setting can actually be an asset – it encourages a sense of ongoing discovery that can help keep the player engaged throughout the game.

I think problems arise in new settings when characters are flat and boring, stories are clichéd, the audience isn’t emotionally invested in what’s happening, and the creators are relying upon the details of the setting itself to interest the audience. A lot of hard science fiction falls into this trap. Writers can become so focused on communicating the details of the setting that they fail at job #1, which is creating an engaging story.

Colin McComb
Josh is a really smart guy, and he’s right that many gamers place a great deal of value on familiarity so that they have touchstones on which to base their experience with a game. Using standard fantasy tropes is a great way to get people to ease into acceptance of the stranger aspects of the setting – for instance, the novel soul mechanics of Pillars of Eternity. This is the right decision for their game, which deliberately takes on some of the trappings of a magical, medieval setting. Given their vision and the experience they’re targeting, it would be a mistake for them to introduce too much abstract weirdness into the early part of the game.

Our vision was about something else altogether, and I think – I hope! – that we made our backers aware of just how weird and wonderful our setting is. Part of why we chose Numenera in the first place was because we want to deliver a setting that is intentionally strange and mysterious to our players, and one that will come to make coherent, internally consistent sense through the course of the game. We’ve said before that the game takes the player through the life of the Last Castoff, and we meant that. When the player enters the game, he or she will do it as an infant to the world. The world should be unfamiliar, just as it is to a newborn. The player will gain familiarity through experience.

That said, sure, a game could get too abstract or too weird. But I believe that if we create strong characters with believable motivations, realistic choices, and interesting situations, the strangeness of the setting becomes an inextricable part of the pleasure of the game.

Planescape: Torment had some very combat-oriented zones, particularly in the late game, while other parts of the game remained relatively combat-free. These combat zones could cause problems for socially invested characters. Is this something you're looking to address in Torment: Tides of Numenera?

Jeremy Kopman
Because the Crisis system leads us to build fewer but more expansive turn-based, tactical portions of the game, we don’t plan to have any areas densely populated with groups of mobs you are forced to fight. While all Crises present tactical challenges, some are more likely than others to lead to combat, and at times combat will be the most straightforward solution to the problem at hand. But even if the player finds him/herself in a spot where they have no choice but to fight, non-combat build options (Skills, Esoteries, Tricks of the Trade) will frequently offer a benefit. Players can attempt to converse with intelligent enemies, using their PC’s features to broker peace, frighten their opponents into losing morale, or simply distract them so their allies can gain the upper hand. In addition, many esoteries grant Fettles (the TTON term for status effects) that could weaken opponents’ resolve and leave them more susceptible to conversation options, disable them long enough to flee, or even charm them into helping the party. If your party is still in danger, exploration abilities and skills can be used to open paths to escape or inflict damage on the enemy without any attacks (as in the gantry example in the Crisis question above).

As we’ve stated before, we plan for it to be possible to complete TTON without engaging in combat at all. Players can finish or avoid every Crisis using social, stealth, and exploration abilities. Having said that, we haven’t promised that it will be easy. It will likely require very careful decision making and smart character build choices to complete the whole game without throwing a single punch/self-propelled energy projection device.​

You really ought to read all of it, like, right now.

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RPG Codex Top 70 PC RPGs (Now with User Reviews!)

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 10 May 2014, 23:05:55


Back in January, esteemed community member felipepepe staged a vote so we could find out what our community's all-time best computer RPGs actually are these days. As a result, we got a hefty list, with graphs and stuff, of 70 titles - or actually a bit more: some games were tied, so you may notice that this Top 70 list features more games than just seventy. Then we asked our users to submit mini-reviews for the games that made it on the list. Around 50 Codexers and one Watch spy took the call, and here's what came out of it.

I'll quote the winner here for you, but be sure to check out the full list.

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Jasede: Ah, wretched Planescape: Torment, always Planescape: Torment. This game is so hard to sell. I've many times attempted to get people to play it, only for them to get bored before leaving the mortuary or the bar outside it. If they do keep playing despite that, they are met with terribly shallow encounter design and an RPG system that seems more like a strange cross between Choose Your Own Adventure books and an adventure game, based around puzzles and conversations. Even calling it an RPG is almost a matter of some debate. So why then does this game hold such a high place to so many of us?

The biggest reason is that this game has shown us that story-based games can work. Often likened to a playable novel, PS:T tells the engrossing tale of a man in search of his past - or pasts. Starting from the tired cliché of amnesia, PS:T quickly draws those who will accept it for what it is, warts and all, into an engrossing tale of redemption, love and treachery, covering succinctly many of man's desires and shortcomings. While nobody is going to suggest this is the same level as classic literature, this is the game that showed us that video game writing can be above average, can indeed conjure up fantastic worlds and allow us to visit them. Not one NPC in PS:T does not have an interesting story, not one description of text or snippet of party banter an enticing tidbit that teaches us about the odd, foreign world that the tale occurs in.

PS:T invites us to a strange journey, and those who accept the invitation will, if they have the patience to read the game's copious walls of text, find themselves drawn to into an experience that they are not likely to ever forget.

MicoSelva: Probably the best story in any video game ever, Planescape: Torment is much more than just that. Allowing the player to explore one of the most unique worlds in the history of computer RPGs and interact with some of the most interesting characters ever created, PS:T is also a very solid game underneath it all. Everything you do in this game matters: how you create your character and develop it, how you approach people and what you say to them, what you do and what you decide not to do.

Torment will destroy your assumptions about what to expect from a fantasy RPG, as it comes with zero elves, zero dwarves and only two swords in the whole game, and it will also leave you wanting more from every RPG you play afterwards. Obviously it's not perfect (nothing is), with combat especially in need of some improvement, but so far it is as close to perfection as it gets.

Grunker: This game is unlike anything I'd ever played before or have played since. Everything was strange, and you never knew what to expect. One of the things I miss the most about games from the years past is the feeling of being thrust into a completely alien world, where nothing can be expected and everything is new and surprising. Oh yeah, and "DON'T TRUST THE *spoiler*". That moment was singed into my brain; it's probably the most memorable gaming moment for me.

Planescape: Torment is a game unlike any other, and thoroughly deserves its top spot on this list.​

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RPG Codex Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 7 May 2014, 17:47:54

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; South Park: The Stick of Truth; Ubisoft

It's been around two months since the release of the Obsidian-developed and Ubisoft-published RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth. It reviewed well and, we assume, sold well, too. Now that the initial hype storm has passed, Zed and I sat down to discuss what the game did right and what it did wrong. Our impressions are mixed -- in a sort of positive way, but mixed. For details check out the full review, but meanwhile here's our conclusion:

Zed: It took me 12 hours to beat the Stick of Truth on hardcore difficulty. I completed almost every quest I came across and my character reached the maximum level of 15. After beating the game as a Fighter, I tried replaying as a Mage for half an hour, before realizing the game stayed essentially the same – same QTE-centric gameplay, same jokes. As you mentioned earlier, throughout the story there’s only one real instance of a choice, with only a short-lived consequence. But while it doesn’t have a lot of reactivity nor much replay value, The Stick of Truth is a funny game. Not as funny as the TV show, but it feels like a genuine South Park experience. I would have liked to see more satire and witty humor, and the game doesn’t really introduce any new characters either. The absurdity and in-jokes seem a bit overdone compared to most other South Park creations.

Crooked Bee: Well, like I said, I personally enjoyed the overdone absurdity. The mechanics though, not so much. Quests, combat, exploration, it’s all very easy to get into – mostly thanks to the writing – but ultimately also very repetitive. That's why it’s a good thing the game is only 12 hours long; but also a bad thing, because I believe the full price is too high for that. (Thank you, Ubisoft, for a review copy.)

Zed: Yeah, while being a subjectively funny game, it’s not very good in terms of mechanics and systems. The social media stuff seems half-forgotten in the later segments of the game and there are rarely any reasons for you to re-visit locations. It’s like a long South Park episode coupled with the gameplay and interactivity of a Newgrounds flash game.

Crooked Bee: Wow, that’s harsh! (Says someone who did nothing but complain about the mechanics for the entire review.) But sure, if we are to judge it as an RPG – this is the RPG Codex, after all! – and not just an interactive South Park episode, it’s definitely lacking, a mixed bag made up of addictive and monotonous in equal measure. Some aspects (writing, atmosphere, loot, animations) are brilliant; the RPG core, however, the combat, quest structure, and character development, are very simplistic. The lack of any kind of non-linearity or improvements to the tired Paper Mario formula is a big downer, too. The flip side of this being an interactive TV show episode, I guess…

Zed: It is what it is, and as that good ol’ Codex saying goes, it’s “good for what it is.” I highly recommend this game to fans of South Park (especially fans of the more juvenile stuff) and fart enthusiasts (like Germans). I can’t really recommend it to grimdark serious-face CRPG players looking for something deep and rewarding. They will find none of that here.

Crooked Bee: Yeah, it’s an ultra-casual RPG lite, albeit a very solid one at that. Despite my nitpicking, however, this is also the best, and most skilfully written, comedic RPG I’ve played. If you can disregard that this is supposed to be an Obsidian game, you’re bound to enjoy it. It is a shame, however, that I can’t help but associate the excellent content with Matt and Trey, and the underwhelming gameplay and design with Obsidian. It may, of course, have been South Park Studios or the evil publisher Ubisoft who demanded that Obsidian should make the actual RPG side as unimaginative as possible, but given Obsidian’s best titles, I refuse to accept any blame for wanting the game to have been something more. Mr. Chris Avellone once mentioned he’d like to design a High School RPG some day; if this were it, I would be highly disappointed.

Zed: It’s a bit funny how Obsidian are often profiled as the CRPG developer, when they haven’t exactly got a lot of releases under their belt to show for it. Imagine us in a year or two, reviewing Armored Warfare and going “Tanks?! Real-time?! Where are mah choices?! We expected more from you – Chris Avellone!”​

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RPG Codex Interview: Prisonscape

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 4 May 2014, 19:44:05

Tags: Kickstarter; Lunar Enigma; Prisonscape

As you may have guessed from its title, Prisonscape is an RPG set in prison. Featuring the traditional "indie game" pixel art and influenced equally by Japanese and Western RPGs, it aims to be complex in its mechanics and focused in its scope. Recently, Prisonscape's developers launched a Kickstarter to help them devote more time to the game, with the funding goal of $49,500. Unfortunately, so far it has only managed to collect about a third of that sum, with just 4 days left to go.

We reached out to Prisonscape's designer, Pekka Kallioniemi, to ask him some questions about the game's concept and the Kickstarter campaign. Here's a snippet:

Please tell us a bit about yourself and what motivated you to make a game like Prisonscape in the first place. Both thematically and mechanics-wise, what were the main influences on the game's concept?

We are two Finnish guys who decided that developing games could be our thing and decided to give it a try. Tuomas used to be in QA of a Finnish gaming company, Universomo, but I had no prior experience in game development. As a designer, I draw a lot of inspiration from pen and paper RPGs, such as AD&D 2nd edition, Twilight 2000 and Cyberpunk 2020.

Originally, Tuomas (the programmer) wanted to do an arcade/action game similar to the hospital scene in the Amiga classic It Came from the Desert. Eventually the game evolved into an adventure/roleplaying game. We felt that prison from the inmate's perspective was something that wasn't done properly before. Thematically the biggest inspiration comes of course from HBO's Oz, but also from classic prison movies like Shawshank Redemption, Midnight Express and Escape from Alcatraz (see a pattern here?).

Before this we have said that mechanics-wise most of the inspiration has come from classic JRPGs, but this isn't really true anymore since we moved from 1 vs 1 / ATB battle system to grid-based, tactical combat with henchmen, and there aren't many other similarities between classic JRPGs and Prisonscape. The current combat system is probably closer to Fallout, but actually most of the stuff we've come up with comes from pen and papers. This is a bold statement, but I think that AD&D 2nd edition with the Player's Option expansions is THE best combat system ever made, it just needs a lot of adjustments so that it fits in a cRPG taking place in modern prison.

Among the non-combat skills on the stats screen, there is a skill called Literacy. I'm curious: what does it do? There's also a screenshot on your Kickstarter page that shows the main character "reading up on some high school materials" in order to raise different attributes - is Literacy connected to that? How does training and raising your skills and attributes work?

Literacy is kind of a 'hard mode' - when you start the game, you can select your background and there's an option for being illiterate. Many of the jobs require you to be able to read and/or write, but the main story doesn't require this, and you can try playing the game through as an illiterate inmate if you want. This also limits your Intelligence score as you can't get all that knowledge that's available in the books. You can also learn to read inside the game if you start it as illiterate.

Skills and attributes can be increased by training - the most effective method being actually using them. For example, getting into melee fights exercises your Fighting skill and trading with other inmates exercises your Haggling skill. This is the most effective way to learn, but there are others, too. After every game turn (about a week in prison) you can choose what you want to do during being locked inside your cell or at rec time. These are related to either training your attributes or skills. Attributes are better in all-around stuff, whereas training skills gives you expertise in more specific areas. You can also get trainers to boost your training by hiring them or getting them through jobs.​

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RPG Codex Review: Heroine's Quest

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 1 May 2014, 16:28:34

Tags: Crystal Shard; Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok

Just when everyone had used to the thought that the Quest for Glory series would never see a worthy successor, and the Coles themselves went a seemingly unrelated way with Hero-U, a whole three new Quest for Glory-like adventure RPGs were announced - Quest for Infamy, Mage's Initiation, and Heroine's Quest. The latter was the first one to be released, and for free to boot! (Download it on Steam.) Quality never came at a lower price.

Having nothing to do with mind-altering substances, Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok follows the adventures of a female protagonist in a Viking-themed land. It also follows the Quest for Glory formula almost to a tee. In this review, esteemed community member Aeschylus tells you why you should abandon whatever it is you're doing and go download Heroine's Quest right now, especially if you're a Quest for Glory fan. Have a snippet:

Once upon a time, in the halcyon days of 1989, Sierra released a strange game called Hero's Quest -- later rebranded Quest for Glory, due to Hasbro's corporate dickery. The game tried things that had never really been done before -- melding RPG character development, classes, combat, and exploration with adventure game-style puzzles and occasional moon-logic. That game spawned a remake and four quality sequels, comprising undoubtedly one of the finest game series of all time. In spite of its success and quality however, Quest for Glory never really spawned any imitators (other than the painfully mediocre BloodNet) and remained for the most part alone in its genre. Over the years there have been a few attempts by fans to create successors -- such as the ill-fated Hero6 project -- but none had come to fruition until finally, this year, Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok was released by Crystal Shard Studios as freeware, following up on their excellent adventure game A Tale of Two Kingdoms.

Heroine's Quest is a game that does not so much politely borrow from Quest for Glory as it does tackle it and steal its stuff. Thankfully, it does so for the most part without damaging any of the elements that made QFG great; most everything from the originals is still there, including the three character classes, connections to real-world mythology, adventure game puzzles, stat-building through practice, exploration of a large, hostile forest, goofy, awkward humor, and multiple solutions to almost every situation. The only real difference is that your character has lady-parts. Because of all this it is almost inevitable that Heroine's Quest will be played through heavily tinted nostalgia goggles, but it is also a game that is worthy of consideration on its own merits. The borrowed mish-mash of features for the most part comes together successfully independent of its influences, though not without a few stumbles along the way. There are many elements to discuss, so let's get to it.

[...] The overall difficulty of the puzzles, aside from the few previously mentioned, is fairly moderate. You'll have to think a bit and explore the world carefully, but there are no puzzles that are so out-of-this world logic-wise that they're likely to be a major stopping point. That plus the fact that you generally have a fair number of things to do -- there is a large amount of optional content in the game, though it's only 100% optional for the Rogue -- mean that being completely stuck is likely to be a rare occurence. Getting full points on the other hand is quite challenging and requires you to always do the things appropriate to your class; a Rogue should always steal when possible, a Sorceress should strive to use spells, and a Warrior should always enter combat and search for new weapons. It's worth trying to max out your score, as you're likely to find a few interesting optional sections you would have otherwise missed.

So, after all that, is it worth playing? The answer is very much yes, particularly given that it's free. Heroine's Quest is of a good enough quality that it could be considered a proper entry in the original Quest for Glory series, and that is high praise indeed. It's a well-crafted look back at an era of games that we haven't seen for a long time, but it can very much stand on its own independent of any nostalgia.​

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RPG Codex Interview: Obsidian's Carrie Patel on Pillars of Eternity

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 April 2014, 17:59:14

Tags: Carrie Patel; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

You might be surprised to hear that Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity has other people besides Josh Sawyer, Chris Avellone or Eric Fenstermaker working on it. One of these people is the narrative designer Carrie Patel. She is also a writer, and is publishing her first book, "The Buried Life," in July.

Esteemed community member Hormalakh has reached out to Carrie to ask her some questions about Pillars of Eternity, RPGs, as well as various narrative design and writing-related things. Have a snippet from the resulting interview:

What are some of your literary influences and your favorite games?

It's hard for me to pinpoint who I actually emulate, but I'll tell you who I'd love to follow. I love Neal Stephenson -- his books are funny, smart, and thrilling all at the same time, and I'm convinced that the first two pages of Snow Crash would hook anyone. I loved Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose for the way it bound a fascinating mystery, two surprisingly lovable characters, and interesting theological questions. And I'd also have to mention Dune. I liked the story, and beyond that, I loved the way it fleshed out an entire universe of political and economic conflicts.

On the games front, my big formative experiences were with the old Sierra adventure game series -- King's Quest, Quest for Glory, the Colonel's Bequest. I loved playing through stories that were also puzzles, and it was always satisfying to explore, explore, and explore again and finally find the thing (an old boot, a soup bone) your character inexplicably needed. It was fun even though it was way too easy to play yourself into an unwinnable corner without realizing it.

I've also loved Morrowind -- it was the perfect blend of sandbox and story in a nontraditional world, and it just goes to show that you don't need to play a plumber to travel a world with giant mushrooms. I had tons of fun with both the combat and the storyline of the Mass Effect series, and I loved stealthing my way through Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For something a little different, Braid and The Stanley Parable did amazing things with experimental storytelling while unfolding their narratives with unique but fitting gameplay. The Stanley Parable is one of the funniest games I've ever played, and even though it's brief, I was as engrossed in it as I've ever been in bigger, more produced games. And the end of Braid is one of my favorite "aha" moments in any game. And, of course, Planescape Torment is a great example of a unique and immersive narrative -- even though character customization is limited, the choices presented to the player make the experience every bit as personal as if you'd built the character from scratch.

What do you find the most difficult aspect of writing for a video game like Pillars of Eternity?

Accounting for all of the extremes of player agency is challenging. One of our goals is to create a story that people can play however they want, but that means that when you're writing and scripting, you have to consider all of the secondary ways someone could try to complete the game. What if the player kills this NPC? Would exploring this area too early break the story? You don't want players to feel shackled, but you don't want to create situations where they might end up with an unplayable mess. So you set up failsafes to guide them through the key moments so that they can ultimately play however they want and still enjoy the full game.​​

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RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2014

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 21 April 2014, 18:17:28

Tags: Chris Roberts; PAX East; Star Citizen; Tim Schafer

Have you ever been to a gaming convention? You know, one of those events where gamers, cosplayers, and developers meet, and panels are held that no one really cares about? If you ever felt you might be missing out, don't: the Codex's most famous person with a disability, esteemed community member mindx2, has just recently returned from this year's PAX East (held on April 11-13), and is here to tell you why it proved to be a disappointment for him. Here's a Tim Schafer-related anecdote:

Then I noticed the sign behind the cashier stand stating that the one and only Tim Schafer would be there at 2:00. It was 1:45, and I had stumbled right into the head of the line to meet the man himself! I would be able to deliver my message of disappointment face to face, and bemoan the fact that he had failed to recapture the glory of Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. Sure enough, about ten minutes later he was there, and I was climbing off my scooter to shake his hand. Granted, this was not going to be an in-depth conversation like I had with Chris Roberts. I would literally only have a minute to say whatever I had to say.

I walked up and explained that I had been tasked by the RPG Codex to report on my PAX experience, and he went “Who?”

“It’s a prestigious magazine/forum.” I said. He just stared blankly at me.

“We thought the game was too easy.”

He looked down at me, clearly not expecting criticism and said, “No it's not. You say that or they say that?”

“Well, the consensus was that that the puzzles were too easy,” I replied.

I will always remember his response to that. He said, “Tell them they're playing it wrong.”​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Anachronox

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 11 April 2014, 20:36:12

Tags: Anachronox; Ion Storm; Tom Hall

Remember Anachronox, the best non-Japanese JRPG? We sure do. That's why we offer you this retrospective feature on Tom Hall's RPG masterpiece, written by esteemed community members Deuce Traveler and VioletShadow. (A word of warning: contains spoilers!) Have a snippet:

VioletShadow: Interesting and well written dialogue is something Anachronox is definitely not short on. Talking to random people or robots might lead you to a side quest, or it might not. My main motivation for striking conversation was never “Let’s see if this nets me a side quest” but rather “I wonder what hilarity awaits me here”. I liked how sometimes an unexpected NPC would offer you important information about the game world, like when a random man in the slums gives you an incredibly sophisticated explanation of the nature of Mystech. Another way of completing side quests and obtaining skills, upgrades and rewards is to use your companions’ "World Skills" (described further on). Depending on what an NPC wants or what his problem is, it will often be very obvious which companion World Skill is required. [...] Anachronox's levelling system works well, with party members becoming satisfyingly powerful towards the end but not absurdly overpowered. Each character has a total of four unique combat skills and weapons which can be upgraded from barely working all the way to excellent. I like how the use of each character’s World Skill is integrated into their weapon and combat skill progression, such as Boots finding a combat skill by lockpicking a chest, or Grumpos yammering nonstop until some monk gives him a better weapon. It's possible to buy upgrades from a store later in the game, but exploration and side quests are the main way of obtaining them. Most of the companions can just use the item that unlocks their combat skill right away, but not all. A couple of them require extra steps that make sense in the context of the character, such as Grumpos needing to meditate using the skill item at the Pay2Pray, or Democratus’ upgrade plans having to be taken to the engineer. It works so much better than ‘character leveled up, skills unlocked’. [...]

Deuce Traveler: Let me answer the most important question: Is the game worth playing? I have to say that it is, and I have to thank VioletShadow for suggesting the game to me. I really did not have high expectations going in, and I wasn’t sure I would enjoy playing it, since I usually care more about the gameplay and combat than about the story and graphics. While there were some tactical options in the game's combat system that helped make the experience more enjoyable, ultimately the story and setting are its biggest selling points, and they are done incredibly well. This is a science fiction game with a certain degree of technobabble, but lots of it is actually based on scientific theory, and the game definitely expects a bit of intellectual maturity from its audience. I also liked the characters, and the way in which the story was told. It is a shame that we will never see a sequel, as it is quite obvious that the tale was meant to continue. I finished the game with about half of the side quests done, around the 35 hour mark.

VioletShadow: Anachronox is a wonderful game; weird, charming, unique, and original in its presentation. I’m glad that I chose this game for Deuce and I to play. Despite a bit of a slow start and often repetitive combat, it manages to provide an engaging experience with superb writing, storytelling, setting, humor, music and voice acting. I had a blast playing it and highly recommend it, especially for those with a soft spot for the bizarre and unconventional. Even though there’s hilarity at every turn, the game also explores serious topics such as corruption, bureaucratic ineffectiveness, the infinite nature of the universe and more, and not half-heartedly.​

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