Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 8 March 2014, 19:49:06Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft
In January Ubisoft and Limbic Entertainment released Might & Magic X: Legacy, the newest installment in one of the most venerable RPG series. In a detailed review you've all been waiting for, esteemed community member and Might and Magic connoisseur Sceptic examines just to what extent MMX departs from or improves on the previous games in the series. I'll quote his conclusion here, but be sure to read the full review for his analysis:
[...] In summary, MMXL does not quite live up to the expectations that I had when reading everything that was released by Limbic about the game, as well as the Codex previews. Perhaps no game could have lived up to the expectations one builds after 12 years of waiting for the next entry in a beloved series, an entry that no one ever expected would see the light of day. The game departs from the M&M formula where it matters the most, the overworld exploration. Additionally, it has quite a few flaws in its combat system. But it also preserves and improves core M&M tenets. The character system, the dungeons, the puzzles, the Relics, and yes, even many aspects of exploration have been lovingly recreated to please fans of the series, but also improved - something that the old series excelled at doing in almost every new iteration. Despite its flaws, the game's combat can be a lot of fun and it is certainly the most serious attempt at tactics that the series has attempted in a very long time. What matters is that none of the game's flaws are serious enough to warrant depriving oneself from the pleasure of playing it. After all, the Codex's favourite games are all flawed gems. We have always preferred games that try for challenging and tactical combat and for meaningful non-linear exploration, to ones that give up and go for typical modern formulae and restrictive cinematic experiences. MMXL certainly tries very hard, and it often succeeds. Even the exploration, despite being such a departure from what M&M did best, is excellent if divorced from the series' expectations and taken on its own terms.
The final verdict should be obvious by now: MMXL is a must-buy and a must-play. Limbic did a superlative job in bringing together many beloved elements from the series, improving where they could and not dumbing down where it matters. The flaws are immaterial in the grand scheme of things; Limbic have proven they can make a real (and good!) M&M game, and they have certainly proven that they can make an excellent turn-based tile-based blobber with all the joyful gameplay elements that entails. All Ubisoft needs to see is that there is a market for this kind of game, no matter how niche. MMXL may not be the best M&M game to date, but it's more than good enough, and if Limbic can iron out the flaws in the combat system and improve exploration and other aspects, then MMXI will really be something special. I'm certainly looking forward to it.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Might & Magic X: Legacy
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Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 28 February 2014, 23:39:56Tags: Blackguards; Daedalic Entertainment
Daedalic Entertainment's Blackguards took us by surprise. Who would have expected a German adventure game studio to make a great tactical RPG, of all things? And yet, as you may recall, our early preview of the game was, nitpicking aside, positively glowing. It's taken us long enough since that preview and the game's official release in January, but we are now ready to present our final verdict on Daedalic's RPG debut, penned again by Darth Roxor and felipepepe. Have a snippet on encounter design and then be sure to read the full review:
You see, Blackguards seems to have a different design philosophy behind it compared to other RPGs. When you think about “difficulty” in other games in the genre, the first thing that comes to mind is usually those shitty solutions used by incompetent developers, like enemies with ridiculously bloated HP that kill you in one hit. Others will just keep the one-hit-kill part. More competent ones will come up with superior enemy AI and varied combat encounters. Daedalic obviously went for the last solution, but even then, their approach is still considerably different from other tacticool games you might have played, since it supplements mixed groups of enemies possessing different strengths and weaknesses with complex environmental interaction, that makes many of the game's fights feel a lot like puzzles. You will often be outnumbered and outgunned, against enemies armed with things like poisoned weaponry and traps, but you'll be able to offset that with careful tactical consideration and tool management. [...]
Felipepepe: I said it in the preview, and I’ll repeat it here: Daedalic’s vast experience in adventure games can be fully felt in the way they approach encounter design. Baldur’s Gate 2 is often praised for its vast bestiary and great encounter design. I dare say that Blackguards has equally great encounter design, although from a different “school”.
Since every encounter happens in a unique arena specifically designed for it, the developers had the freedom to play with various things. There are holes that spawn enemies, time limits, movable and destructible objects, healing orbs, falling chandeliers, mechanical blades, flying dragons, falling stalactites, rotating fire traps, swamp gas, giant tentacles, mind-controlling plants, draw bridges, collapsing passageways, a giant cage on a crane… there is not a single RPG out there that offers so many interesting things to do during combat. Honestly, Blackguards is a lesson in encounter design that every RPG player AND developer should experience, to see what a creative team can do when thinking outside of the genre's standard templates. Daedalic even had the guts to make skeletons properly immune to arrows and swords, as they should be.
Read the article in full: RPG Codex Review: Blackguards
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 20 February 2014, 15:55:27Tags: Paper Sorcerer; UltraRunawayGames
Esteemed community member Deuce Traveler has penned a review of the Wizardry 4-like dungeon crawler Paper Sorcerer, released last year and available on Steam as well as from the game's official website for just $5. Have a snippet:
There are four different difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Normal, Hard and "1980's". During my first trial runs, I went through the first stage of the game on Normal and on 1980's. I played on Normal with my Sorcerer, a Skeleton, a Minotaur, and a Vampire. On 1980's mode I tried my Sorcerer, a Cultist, an Abomination, and a Shadow. Eventually I settled on playing with a Vampire, Abomination and Witch on Hard mode. This party had the benefit of having two characters that could perform strong melee attacks (Abomination and Vampire), two characters capable of healing (Vampire and Witch), and two characters for arcane magic (Witch and Sorcerer). Those that want to go with a more classic party could run with a Goblin thief, Skeleton warrior, and Cultist healer. The combinations are quite numerous and the various classes fun to play and level up, adding to overall replayability. [...]
The main dungeon levels seem simplistic at first, each consisting of around a dozen or so rooms with connecting hallways. Each stage of the prison consists of three dungeon levels to explore, followed by one open area where a boss fight is conducted. It is easy to breeze through these levels, as you can always return to your home to rest up when low on health, and the enemies encountered do not respawn once defeated. However, there are hidden secrets scattered through the game that you can find if you explore thoroughly and pay attention. Finding these secrets is rewarding, as often they lead to treasure rooms with some great randomly generated loot.
Many of the stages have their own architectural style, with the graphics for the doors and walls altered to convey a different atmosphere. Some locations require you to walk across narrow causeways, while others require you to ascend or descend platforms in order to navigate them. This doesn't really make the game any more difficult, but it is a welcome attempt to break up the monotony. A couple of locations in the main dungeon also feature respawning enemies which make it difficult to map everything out, but this is thankfully used sparingly. [...]
The replay value is what makes the game addictive. With nearly a dozen different thralls to summon, you’ll be constantly experimenting with the composition of your party to support particular play styles. I can imagine fans of the game trying to beat it with a party consisting of no tanks or no healers, for example. At the end of the game you are given an epilogue for each character you have in your party, encouraging you to play again in order to see the various endings.
Read the review in full: RPG Codex Review: Paper Sorcerer
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 29 January 2014, 20:50:46Tags: BloodNet; Microprose
BloodNet is a 1993 adventure/RPG hybrid that has been recently re-released on GOG. In this review, community member Satan in the Suburbs attemps to find out if the game is worth your hard-earned $5.99.
According to him, the answer is a no:
Any writer worth the title knows that character development is what makes characters have life. In this area, BloodNet falls completely on its face. There is absolutely no character development to be found in BloodNet. Every character is exactly the same at the beginning of the game as they are in the end. Any obstacle in BloodNet exists solely for the sake of gameplay, as opposed to an obstacle that, when overcome, changes a character's outlook. Each character arc is completely flat.
[...] The combat system is by far the weakest aspect of the game, and it's a shame since there are many mandatory fights. The interface is clunky and unintuitive, time consuming when you have to give orders to every party member and stop combat with the escape button, and ultimately just not fun. There is no tutorial for anything, so you'll have to read the manual (which includes false information) to understand exactly what to do. Combat is turn-based, and it comes in two types: descriptive and quick. Quick combat lets the computer make decisions for you, which will invariably lead to the death of your entire party and force you to reload the game. Descriptive combat is where you make the decisions. In this mode, however, combat can become rocket tag, if you know the trick. Most enemies can die in one or two hits, provided that they're not wearing an armor type that absorbs the specific type of damage you're dealing, that you're targeting their chests, and that you're using the right weapon. There are a multitude of weapons in the game, but the one that you'll probably use the most throughout the game is one that's in your inventory at the very beginning: the sawed-off shotgun. One hit to the chest is all it takes for most enemies to die. You can target an enemy's limbs, but there's never any reason to do so.
[...] BloodNet is not a good game by any stretch of the imagination. It's likely to give you a major headache with all its faults, forcing you to give up on it midway through when you've triggered one of the many ways to render the game unwinnable. While the cyberpunk aspect of BloodNet is executed well, the vampire aspect of the game seems to be tacked on as little more than a gameplay quirk. However, if you're willing to look past all of its failings, you may find something to like. BloodNet is a game with some good ideas, but with an absolutely terrible execution.
Read the review in full: RPG Codex Review: BloodNet
Review - posted by Grunker on Sun 19 January 2014, 23:30:51Tags: Monte Cook; Numenera; Torment: Tides of Numenera
On April 6, 2013, 74,405 people decided that the world was ready for another Torment game. They did so even though the developers behind it, Brian Fargo and his company inXile, were unable to acquire the rights to produce a direct sequel. No familiar characters, no familiar story, and most importantly of all, perhaps: no familiar setting.
Instead, Fargo, and his lead designer Colin McComb, had decided to use the Numenera setting, the all-new pen & paper setting by Planescape co-creator Monte Cook.
Numenera itself was the product of a succesful Kickstarter, and the pitch promised it would be a strange and mystical spin on fantasy tropes and science fiction alike. In theory, a perfect substitute for Planescape.
The people gave inXile the green light. Torment: Tides of Numenera has yet to be released, but Monte Cook's Numenera saw release in 2013. Almost instantly after its release, I contacted a few Codexers for the purpose of writing a review. After all, we've had some P&P interviews before, and no P&P setting seemed more relevant than Numenera considering its use in Torment. Blaine wanted to, but then read the damned thing and told me to fuck off, saying that he really didn't "want to waste hours on a pages-long shrug of the shoulders." Not that impressed, huh, Blaine? Alex was more interested, but, honest man that he is, he wanted to actually playtest the damned thing first so he could review it "properly." Hmph. Well, I waited. And then I waited some more.
Until the fateful day when this excellent review appeared in my inbox.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Monte Cook's Numenera
Review - posted by JarlFrank on Fri 10 January 2014, 04:28:01Tags: Drox Operative; Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients; Soldak Entertainment
A while back, the Diablo clone in spaaaaaaace Drox Operative received an expansion. It promised to add more late-game content for high level characters and a big threat that can invade the galaxy and screw the player over:
To find out if the additions actually add to the game and whether the expansion is worth getting or not, read on!
Read the full article: Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients Review
Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 20 December 2013, 17:50:55Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft
Limbic Entertainment's Might & Magic X: Legacy releases on Steam on January 23rd. Thanks to Limbic and Ubisoft, we got exclusive (tm) press access to Act II of the game. How good is this new act, and how does the game fare as a whole in its current state?
In this preview, Zeriel attempts to find out just that. To spice things up a bit, he's also accompanied by Broseph who adds a few scattered remarks here and there. Have a snippet:
Zeriel: The class balance is a little alarming. Even at this early stage there are clearly classes that are simply not as good at others at their chosen role. Why use a Marauder over a Ranger? The Ranger is better at dealing damage. The Marauder can block attacks very well, but if that's the role you're after, there are defensive melee classes that are better at it. In a way, though, this is very old school. In Baldur's Gate 2, the correct choice of class was always sorceror, no matter what. In earlier Might & Magic games, there was almost always a class that was the best at any given job, and then the mediocre ones.
Seahaven is the standout addition in the exclusive preview. While not the largest town in the game (Karthal presumedly takes on that role), it is considerably larger than Sorpigal, offering a variety of Expert and Master trainers, and several new quests to boot. Aesthetically it's also more impressive than Sorpigal, featuring a Naga and Dwarven quarter in addition to the usual human element.
[...] The open world is indisputably the star of MMXL. Once past the "tutorial area" that is Act I, the world awaits. There are no artificial restraints placed on your party. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want. Sure, you might die horribly, but that's a definite part of the charm. Some areas--such as islands or mountain ranges--require the Blessings to reach, but the Blessings themselves are merely a matter of exploration to obtain.
Trundling my party around the open world like a pack of ravenous hobos in search of crystal meth was by far the most fun I had with the exclusive preview. Beyond each twist in the road there's a new type of enemy, a crypt with a riddle to investigate, and a treasure chest hidden behind a stand of trees. This is MMXL at its best, and why you should absolutely keep an eye on it if you are a fan of the open-world blobber gameplay that Might & Magic and Wizardry pioneered.
It's hard to put into words what's so addictive about this very basic sort of appeal, especially since wandering Skyrim's frozen wastes isn't half as interesting. On paper, they should be virtually identical. Maybe it's something to do with how very quantized a grid-based game is. Every other tile of the world is there for a reason, has something to do. MMXL doesn't have huge tracts of wilderness filled with nothing simply because it would be realistic. In terms of 3D real estate, MMXL is much smaller than the AAA giants of the industry, but it feels big.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Might & Magic X: Legacy, Now with Act II
Interview - posted by DarkUnderlord on Wed 27 November 2013, 06:29:01Tags: Hellraid; Marcin Kruczkiewicz
If running around with a sword killing demons from hell is your kind of thing, you might be interested in Hellraid.
It's immersive first-person hack-and-slash action with enough vaguely relevant RPG features for us to take a closer look. Also it looks kind of cool, so we sent Andhaira out for some doughnuts - and to talk to the Hellraid team while he was out. Here's a snip:
We place a great importance on both the history of the world we’re creating and the storyline in the campaign. So far we kept it all a secret because we don’t want to reveal anything before it’s fully completed. During the game you’ll visit a devastated monastery and have some quests to complete which you’ll have a reason for in the game’s world. Religion has been repelled by magic which strengthened the evil forces and allowed them to cross to the realm of men. We’ll reveal more details on our blog at hellraid.com soon.
You can read the rest at the link below.
Read the full article: Talking to Marcin Kruczkiewicz about Hellraid
Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 November 2013, 16:46:55Tags: Blackguards; Daedalic Entertainment
Blackguards is an upcoming turn-based RPG from Daedalic Entertainment, a German developer whose only titles so far have been adventure games. The game means to provide an oldschool tactical experience, with a "dark narrative" different from that of most other RPGs out there. Instead of the usual goody-two-shoes heroic adventurers, you will be in command of a bunch of criminals as they escape from the law all over The Dark Eye's world of Aventuria.
Our previewers, Felipepepe and Darth Roxor, have played through many versions of the game starting from the early beta, and now they have gone through the press preview build (kindly supplied by Daedalic) as well as the Early Access edition currently available on Steam. Here's a snippet from their impressions:
1. The fact that the combat was any good, because I totally expected the whole game to suffer from the typical “non-RPG company’s first RPG!” syndrome, where the biggest focus would be placed on aspects such as the narrative, while largely ignoring or streamlining the combat system to near-minigame status.
2. The fact that the combat was so damn good. There aren't many games out there where almost every fight feels unique, challenging and genuinely fun, and Blackguards manages to actually fit into this category. [...]
Felipe: I’d say it’s precisely Daedalic's adventure game background that allows for such fresh and unorthodox battle design, adding puzzle-like elements such as the previously mentioned crocodile trap, moving cranes, mazes and other such things to the game's battles. Hell, I had to capture a rampaging gorilla with a cage on a crane during a rather amusing side-quest. The inclusion of a gladiator arena in Chapter 2 seems tailor-made for allowing for more “creative” battlefields without clashing with the setting, and I was glad to see that Chapter 3 provided extra optional fights in the arena for even more challenging fun. [...]
Roxor: Blackguards surprised me many times when I played it. In fact, the game was the complete opposite of what I expected – I assumed it would have been at best an RPG-lite, more of an adventure game with stats, with plenty of dialogue, puzzle-solving and a very advanced narrative. Instead, the combat system turned out to be great, but the narrative part disappointed me, or at least the parts of the narrative that I saw. The main plot seems to be an unexciting mess, the way it progresses makes little sense, and the whole “bunch of criminals” aspect is underplayed.
Felipe: True, it strikes me as odd how the game is constantly being marketed as a “dark story”, in which you play as a convicted murder, testing your moral compass and all that. The first 10 minutes of the game have you being unjustly arrested, and after a short while your group of fugitives is acting just like any other RPG party, helping out random people, and even attacking slavers without any really good reason besides “slavers are bad”. Some of your party members (especially Takate) seem to have no reason to even follow you other than the fact that you’re the main character in a game.
Roxor: This is a shame, because at this point in development “fixing” any combat and mechanics flaws is the only possible thing Daedalic can do, as the narrative is pretty much set in stone. But to be honest? I don’t care. I swear, I haven’t had this much fun whacking enemies in turn-based combat since Knights of the Chalice, and while it would obviously be ideal for this RPG to cover all the bases, I’d much rather see one with a combat system that actually puts some classics to shame while sacrificing the story, than another drop in the ocean of pseudo-choice oriented storyfag LARP simulators.
Read the full preview: RPG Codex Preview: Blackguards
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 8 November 2013, 21:22:54Tags: Crafty Studios; Realms of Arkania HD Remake; Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny
I bet you didn't see this coming but Darth Roxor has written a review of Crafty Studios' "HD" remake of Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny, the game that was infamously released in pre-alpha state and is being desperately patched up as we speak. Have a couple of snippets:
Another incredibly poor aspect of the game is the towns. Navigating cities was already horrible in the original because all the buildings were identical and the best you could do was bring up a mini map to at least check their types. It is quite unbelievable, but the remake's developers managed to make even this aspect worse. The towns are now in full 3D, with terrain elevations, fences, market stalls, etc. You know what this means, right. It means that it’s hilariously easy to get stuck on random baskets that you walk over. I once managed to get mortally stuck on a basket mischievously placed right next to a wall and had to reload, another time I managed to get shot into space while accidentally stepping on a barrel. The good news is, however, that at least now the buildings are tagged, and you can move your party while looking at the map overview. But this just makes it all the easier to get stuck on random props. Providing, of course, that the map works in the first place because it sure as hell doesn’t, for example, in the city of Ljasdahl.
[...] I’ll be honest here, I didn’t finish this abomination. I’ve got a pretty high resistance for shovelware shitgames as long as I can get some laughs out of them. But when it came to this “game”, I simply had to surrender after about 11 hours of playing, or I would risk throwing myself out of the window in desperation. And besides, I figured finishing the game wouldn’t even matter that much because I knew what to expect from later stages in the context of it being a “total remake” (and seriously, anyone who would expect it to magically get better after this time would be a lunatic).
If there was anything listed in this review that you found even slightly positive, I can only tell you one thing. Don’t get this game. Don’t play it, don’t buy it and don’t talk about it because it doesn’t deserve anything other than a kick down a cliff. If there were any positive sides to this garbage, they are only there because they were already there in the original Realms of Arkania from 1992. There is not even the slightest reason to pick this “remake” over the original, and there is even less reason to give any money to the shameless and inept idiots who have brought this upon mankind.
Read the full article (and weep): RPG Codex Review: Realms of Arkania HD
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 4 November 2013, 18:13:21Tags: Chris Bischoff; Kickstarter; STASIS
If I had to name one point-and-click adventure game currently in development that could be called the most anticipated one here on the Codex, that would have to be STASIS, a gorgeous and uniquely atmospheric horror-themed 2D isometric game by the one-man powerhouse Chris Bischoff. The dedicated thread in our Adventure Gaming subforum attests to no less. About halfway done already and having just launched its Kickstarter campaign, STASIS is looking for contributors to help raise $100,000 -- or even more. To celebrate the campaign launch, we've asked Chris to answer some questions about the game, contributed in part by RPG Codex readers.
If the interview piques your interest, be sure to check out the Kickstarter and also play the free alpha demo! You can also supports STASIS on Steam Greenlight.
Have some snippets from the interview:
The RAMA series had a big influence on me when I was younger. I loved the idea of exploring a truly alien world, which is why my stand out games tended to be focused on that concept. When I started development on STASIS, I read quite a few books that focused on the themes of the story. Greg Bears 'Hull Zero Three', Michael Crichtons 'Sphere' (still, in my opinion, one of the best opening acts to a SciFi story ever written), and even Orson Scott Cards novelization of The Abyss.
I've been a massive lover of Science Fiction ever since I saw Star Wars at the tender age of 4, so to pick any specific influence is very difficult! STASIS is the amalgamation of all of those experiences.
As far as RPG's go, their biggest influence on me has been less thematic, and more visual. Fallout was the first CRPG that truly captured my imagination from a visual standpoint. The entire world is so beautifully crafted in that game, I would spend hours and days just walking around, hunting down new areas. From there, I moved onto the rest of the Infinity Engine games. Icewind Dale is one of my favourites graphically!
Crusader No Remorse was also a huge influence on me as an artist. I remember playing the game, and taking screenshots of it frame by frame to 'rip' the explosions and characters and use them in my games.
Visually, STASIS is looking awesome already. What video game artists (or artists in general) inspire your work on the game's visuals?
HR Giger is my favourite artist. My home is like a creepy museum of his work. But generally, I have a large collection of 'art of' books, from Halo, to one on Pixar Short films. The production artists and concept artists that work in AAA games, and Blockbuster films amaze me.
Of these, I would have to say Feng Zhu, Ryan Church, and Raphael Lacoste are right on the top of my list - but its a VERY long list!
How traditional or innovative do you want STASIS to be? Are there any ideas from earlier adventure games or CRPGs that you believe are underused today and want to introduce to STASIS?
When I started STASIS I never wanted to put a new spin on the Adventure Game genre - I wanted to create something that truly was in the traditional mould of the games I grew up loving to play.
One thing that I have tried to bring into the game is that element of maturity that I feel became lost with many Adventure Games. The current adventure revival seems to be more focused on capturing the more 'light hearted' aspect of the genre. The players of the genre grew up, and not many of the games grew up with them. I loved Day Of The Tentacle, but as a 30 year old, something like The Dig appeals to me more.
Finally, this being the RPG Codex, I have to ask: do you happen to have any plans for an isometric RPG if STASIS is successful enough? If so, what kind of RPG would you like to make?
Oh man, making a fully fledged CRPG would be amazing! Currently I don't think I have near the experience needed for something like that, but I would love to create some experimental Adventure Games with the same level of freedom that an RPG gives you.
But, if I had the experience, time, and balls of steel, I would definitely visit one of my favourite genres... a Post Apocalyptic world, and then mix it with something strange, like ancient Japan. Roaming Samurai in steam punk style armour, swords and cross bows instead of machine guns and plasma rifles.
But let's first get off the Groomlake...
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: STASIS, 2D Isometric Adventure Game Now on Kickstarter
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 22 October 2013, 16:18:33Tags: Origin Systems; Retrospective Interview; Ultima Underworld; Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds; Ultima VI: The False Prophet; Ultima VII: Serpent Isle; Ultima VIII: Pagan; Warren Spector; Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams; Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire
Warren Spector is one of the most celebrated names in the video game industry, most famous for his involvement with Looking Glass Studios' System Shock and Ion Storm's Deus Ex, as well as his philosophy of game design that emphasizes player choice, simulation, and interactive storytelling. At the end of the 1980s - beginning of the 1990s, however, before he came to work on his most widely known titles, Warren also did important work at Richard Garriott's Origin Systems, having been instrumental in the design and production of such unique and significant computer role-playing games as Ultima VI, Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle, the Worlds of Ultima spin-offs (Savage Empire and Martian Dreams), and Ultima Underworld I & II (developed under Origin's supervision by Blue Sky Productions which later became Looking Glass), not to mention his role on various other Origin games such as Wing Commander, Bad Blood or Crusader: No Remorse.
As far as we know, it's been many years since anyone interviewed Warren Spector at length about his work on the Ultima games; this interview aims to rectify that. In it, Warren talks about his pen-and-paper background, his time at Origin and the design philosophy behind the games he was involved with at the time, and also shares some thoughts on the history of the CRPG genre. Have a snippet:
You know, I bet everyone involved in the creation of the Worlds of Ultima series has a different view of how that sub-series came to be. My memory is probably as inaccurate as anyone's, but I remember it being my idea, to be honest. We simply needed to create more games than Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts could produce. And with guys like Paul Neurath and Greg Malone and Stuart Marks and Todd Porter gone, guys like Jeff Johannigman and I had to step up. I think I was the one to suggest creating a spin-off series of non-numbered Ultimas, produced by me and Jeff, that would re-use tech from last numbered one while Richard was creating ground-up new tech for the next numbered one.
My role on Savage Empire started and ended early. I wrote up the initial 20-ish page design spec (which I wish I still had!) for a lost world, dinosaur game. And I wrote up a spec for what became Martian Dreams. I couldn't make both and wasn't willing to pass up the chance to make a Victorian time travel game, so I took on Martian Dreams and Johan did Savage Empire. He and designer, Aaron Allston, probably scrapped my initial design doc instantly. No matter, Savage Empire ended up being a swell game and, despite all the traipsing around the Martian surface, I'm still inordinately proud of Martian Dreams. Frankly, I wish we'd kept the Worlds of Ultima games going.
Starting from Ultima IV, each game in the series improved upon its predecessor, until we arrive at Ultima VIII: Pagan – a run 'n jump game focused around a lone Avatar and leaving behind the meticulous worldbuilding of the previous Ultima games. So, what was going on with Ultima VIII? The way you see and remember it, what made Origin decide to abandon its strategy of gradual iteration on the classic Ultima formula? Was there perhaps at one point a different vision for the game?
To be frank, I was working on other things when U8 was in development so you'd probably want to ask someone else what was going on with that team and that project. As an observer at Origin but outside the team, my impression at the time was that the Ultima guys had a bit of "Commander envy" – as in Wing Commander and Strike Commander envy. Chris's games had managed to reach a broader audience than anything Origin had done to date and I think U8 was an attempt to go after a broader audience. I did the same thing years later between Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. The obvious way to reach a broad audience is to simplify, streamline and up the action. That doesn't have to compromise the integrity of your concept but it can and often does. Maybe that's what was going on in U8. But, again, that's a lot of speculation on my part.
As far as connections between Serpent Isle and U8 go, there really weren't many – if any. My teams and Richard's teams worked largely independently. Maybe too much so… We all tried to be aware of what was going on, Ultima-wise, on "the other side" but we were so heads-down, working like crazed weasels to hit our dates, we didn't coordinate as much as we could have. Nothing as dramatic as a shifting product vision, I'm afraid!
Serpent Isle was your last "old school" party-based RPG. In the late 90s, while at Looking Glass, you developed a design philosophy emphasizing player choice, and then you continued with that approach in Deus Ex. During the same period, however, Black Isle Studios was developing its own signature gameplay style which also emphasized player choice, albeit in a different way – games like Tim Cain’s Fallout or Chris Avellone’s Planescape: Torment were traditional party-based CRPGs with an isometric perspective, deep dialogue trees, etc. One could imagine that, had you continued making games like Serpent Isle, they would have turned out a lot like those titles. Do you ever regret not having been able to pursue that path? Do you think you could have married the form of Serpent Isle with the essence of Deus Ex, so to speak?
Interesting question… I think I could have married Serpent Isle's party basis with DX, but I wouldn't have done it with dialogue trees and traditional RPG tropes. The key thing about games like Underworld and System Shock and Deus Ex and, yes, even Disney Epic Mickey, is that they don't rely as much on scripting (dialogue or interaction scripting), as on simulation. I think it'd be possible to make an isometric, party-based game that offers all the player choice and consequence stuff, for sure. I've often thought about giving that a try. You never know – it just might happen some day!
The interesting thing to me, though, is that you really see a radical difference between the philosophy underlying Serpent Isle and the DX philosophy. I see them both as being on the same evolutionary path. I mean, the whole choice and consequence thing grew out of a design philosophy I was steeped in during my tabletop days and then reinforced by Richard's approach in Ultima VI – the "two solutions to every puzzle" idea. The moment that changed my design life was watching a guy play Ultima VI and solve a puzzle in a way Richard and I never thought of. I kind of decided then and there to make nothing but games designed to empower players. I always thought Serpent Isle was one of those games! Maybe I'm wrong!
Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Warren Spector on Ultima, Origin, and CRPG Design
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 27 September 2013, 17:25:03Tags: Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight; Bard's Tale: Tales of the Unknown; Broderbund Software; Centauri Alliance; Interplay; Michael Cranford; Retrospective Interview
In 1985, Interplay released Tales of the Unknown: Vol. I: The Bard’s Tale, their own “Wizardry killer” designed and programmed by Brian Fargo’s high school friend Michael Cranford. The game was a smashing success for the company. As Fargo said in his 2011 Matt Chat interview, The Bard’s Tale I “was the product that put us on the map, it was the thing that made us earn significant royalties so we could bring the company to the next level.” In an important way, it was Michael Cranford who kick-started Interplay’s future as RPG developer and publisher. At the same time, Cranford was unhappy about the contract Interplay offered him and left the company after The Bard’s Tale II release. In 1990, he designed his last game, Centauri Alliance, a unique sci-fi CRPG published by Brøderbund for the Apple II and Commodore 64. The choice of platforms coupled with the game’s delayed release turned out to be really unfortunate for its publicity and sales, and no further titles in the Centauri Alliance universe were made. Currently Michael Cranford is CEO at Ninth Degree.
In this interview, Michael talks about the Bard’s Tale series, Interplay, his falling out with Brian Fargo, as well as Centauri Alliance and Brøderbund. Have an Interplay-related snippet:
Well, first off, Heineman wouldn’t know anything about it, except perhaps what Brian might have told him. He was a quirky guy who sat in the corner of the office and had no role in the business operation of the company. Everything that happened was between me and Brian; there was no one else ever present.
When I first came to work at Interplay, I already had a game concept and a working prototype that looked like Wizardry. I built it when I was at Berkeley. I was debating if I should even show it to Brian, rather than just going to Brøderbund or EA or Activision on my own. Brian was a high school friend, so I decided to trust him with it, and I showed it to him. He said he could sell it, and we had a vague verbal understanding of what I would receive. I threw out some numbers and he was positive and agreeable. There were no written terms of any kind. I was a young guy without business experience, and Brian was my friend. It never occurred to me that I might be making a mistake.
Late in the development, I realized I had made one. I had a couple nights where I couldn’t get to sleep, I was so anxious. I was not in a position to enforce our verbal understanding, and I realized that I could have easily brought this to EA on my own. It was sold based on the prototype. I had built every part of the game single handedly, with the exception of composing the music. (My friend Larry Holland did that.)
When the game was nearly done (or maybe entirely done, actually; hard to remember now), Brian produced a contract. I do remember asking for it a number of times and feeling like I was being stalled. I had no idea what he was going to put in it. My memory is not spot-on from 28 years ago, so I am only speaking in general terms. If I am getting any part of this out of order, it’s not intentional. The rest of it is accurate.
The contract (in its initial version) offered me a fraction of what I was expecting, and there were some conditions that would limit my earnings. I talked it through with my friend’s dad, who was the CEO of a large civil engineering firm; he thought it was unacceptable, and urged me to hire an attorney. We ended up spending a significant amount of time negotiating, and in the final equation, I think both of us thought the resulting deal was unfair. I have no doubt that Brian was doing what he thought was right, and that he felt that what he offered me was reasonable. There was a lot of emotion at the time, on my part, but he is a good guy and a smart businessman. I have no resentment against him; I’m just frustrated I wasn’t smarter about all this. I heard his rationale in this very clearly at the time, and I understood where he was coming from. If the deal that we agreed on was presented at the beginning of the process, however, I would not have brought this to him at all.
Now, this story that I held a disk hostage to extort someone – that didn’t happen, I would never do that. Sitting on the source code until the deal I was promised was finally put in writing and honored – that is possible. I honestly can’t remember. But again, there was no pressure to change any terms. The deal I ended up accepting was not what I understood I would get, and not what I would have agreed to if I had. I am a person of my word. I didn’t make very much money from these games.
In general, how would you describe your experience of working with Interplay and Brian Fargo? What are the moments you remember most and least fondly about it? In hindsight, do you think something could have been done for you to stay at Interplay and further develop the ideas you had in mind for the Bard’s Tale series?
It was mostly great. A great team, led by a guy that I admired and who was a true friend to me through high school. I was doing something that I loved. Hanging with a small, tight band of programmers was fun. We did a lot of things together. Nothing in particular stands out, but I enjoyed the time, until we got to the contract negotiation and negativity that I already mentioned. It was a little personal at the time, but then I grew up and let all that go. Just a lesson in life learned. I didn’t handle my part of all that well.
Brian asked me to leave after Bard’s Tale II, he was not happy with the process we went through to arrive at a deal. He told me he wanted me out for BT3 (which would put me at a lower royalty rate, and the fact was that with the tools and code in hand, they didn’t need me for it). The process also burnt me out, and I wanted to go back to school and do my next project on my own anyway.
There is some regret that we didn’t work things out, and that I didn’t stay to see Interplay grow into what it eventually became. That would have been fun. But I chose another path that was fulfilling.
Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Michael Cranford on Bard's Tale, Interplay, and Centauri Alliance
Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 9 September 2013, 12:49:30Tags: Infamous Adventures; Mark Yohalem; Steven Alexander; Wormwood Studios
I still remember the day I played my first adventure game. I must have been around 11 years old then, a lonely kid in a new country. I came back from school that day to find my father and a friend of his messing around with our mighty 386DX family computer. My father's friend had brought with him a housewarming gift, in the form of several boxes of 1.44MB floppy disks filled with pirated games. One of those games was a monster that took up an entire box of floppies all by itself. Its name was King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow.
I was blown away. Never before had I seen a game with such production qualities and such depth. It made my small collection of NES games look like pathetic toys. From that day onward, I was a PC gamer and an adventure game fanatic. I got more adventure games wherever I could find them, pirating some, buying others. I played through all of the LucasArts and Sierra classics, from The Secret of Monkey Island to Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I also dabbled in less mainstream titles, like Revolution Software's Beneath a Steel Sky, Adventure Soft's Simon the Sorcerer and Legend Entertainment's Eric the Unready, all of which also turned out to be excellent. Life was good. But all good things come to an end.
My gradual estrangement from the adventure genre actually began not due to anything in the games themselves, but because of my computer. My once mighty machine was becoming long in the tooth, and newer games were becoming unplayable. Nevertheless, when visiting my wealthy, Pentium-owning friends, I couldn't help but notice that my beloved genre was changing. Classic point-and-clicks were dying off and being replaced with Myst clones and FMV games. Was I simply bitter that my computer was unable to run these newer titles, or did I truly dislike them for what they were? I'm actually not sure about that myself, nor does it really matter.
Whatever the case, it was around that time that I received a free CD-ROM with a gaming magazine, which contained a game called Ultima VIII: Pagan. It wasn't a very good game, but somehow it was intriguing enough for me to become further interested in the genre it represented. I used my modem to log onto to that new thing called "The Internet" that everybody was talking about back then, and I began to read. A couple of years after that, I learned about a game called Baldur's Gate that was supposed to be the next best thing in that genre. I bought it when it came out, and from that day onward my path towards becoming a Codexer was set.
But what about my old passion for adventure games? To be honest, after I got into RPGs, I didn't pay much attention to them. I was vaguely aware of a game called Grim Fandango that had turned out to be a commercial disappointment, that there had been some kind of awful action-adventure King's Quest sequel that nobody wanted to talk about, and that the genre was now considered "dead". But I didn't care, because by God, I had Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment. Life was good.
Yeah. You all know what happened after that.
* * *
Over the course of the past decade of decline and genre rape, I became aware that the adventure genre was experiencing some sort of resurgence. European developers, with their lower operating costs, were continuing to release new adventure games, and over in the United States, a company by the name of Telltale Games had received the license to produce sequels to some of the old LucasArts properties. Had the genre been resurrected? I'm not sure. Much like in the RPG world, it seems few people took those European developers very seriously, and as for Telltale, in the dark corners of the Internet, certain fans whispered that their games were but shallow imitations of a glorious past.
Perhaps that's why it was no surprise that in February 2012, when legendary LucasArts veteran Tim Schafer launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new adventure game, he received over 3.3 million dollars from over 87,000 backers. It was an incredible success, that launched a new age of crowdfunding-supported game development that has benefited RPG fans greatly. At that point, I fully anticipated a glorious future for both genres, old-school adventure games and old-school RPGs marching side by side. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.
One by one, spurred on by Tim Schafer's success, various Sierra veterans made their way onto Kickstarter to fund spiritual successors to their old titles. And...they didn't do so well. Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, creators of Space Quest? $539,767. Jane Jensen, creator of Gabriel Knight? $435,316. Corey and Lori Cole, creators of Quest for Glory? $409,150. And then there was the downright humiliating failure of Jim Walls' Kickstarter for a Police Quest spiritual successor.
Crowdfunding campaigns for newer franchises have fared a bit better. Revolution Software's Broken Sword sequel got $771,560 on Kickstarter, while Ragnar Tornquist's Dreamfall Chapters achieved a respectable $1,538,425. But none of them have gotten anywhere near Double Fine's number of backers. Tim Schafer's army of 87,000 seems to have dissipated just as quickly as it materialized.
In short: what the hell, adventure game fans, what the hell?
* * *
In all seriousness, I know I can't be the only confused by these events. Just what is going on with adventure games? Not being part of the contemporary adventure gaming "scene", I really had no idea where to start looking for answers.
Luckily for us, we just happen to have two commercial adventure game developers who post regularly on the Codex. Mark Yohalem, also known as MRY, is the lead designer of the incredible Primordia, a classic adventure game inspired by Planescape: Torment (read our interview with him here). Steven Alexander, also known as Blackthorne, is the lead writer and director of the upcoming Quest for Infamy, a Kickstarter-funded RPG/adventure inspired by the Quest for Glory series.
Time and time again, I've been impressed by Mark and Steven's thoughtful and knowledgeable posts in our Adventure Gaming subforum. These two know the score about adventure games, which is why I decided to write down some questions and have a bit of a chat with them, not just about the state of adventure games today, but also about the genre in general. The conversation you're about to read took place over the course of almost an entire month, and it may be the biggest wall of text the Codex has ever produced.
I'm pleased to present...
Read the full article: AdventureDex: A Conversation about the State of the Adventure Genre
Editorial - posted by Grunker on Tue 3 September 2013, 11:54:20Tags: Games journalism; Gamescom
Although we had fun at Gamescom, our overall impression of the conference was not very positive. We were just fans who wanted to write about games for other fans, who finally got a look at how the business of games journalism is conducted behind the scenes at conferences like this one. It was a troubling sight.
Ever since Jeff Gerstmann was fired for writing a negative review, and especially since the proliferation of that famous image of another "journalist" staring blankly at the camera next to a table of commercial products, criticism of modern games journalism has become widespread.
In the following piece, we add our contribution to this ongoing criticism. Have a snippet:
Read the full article: RPG Codex Editorial: Where Journalism Goes to Write Itself
Editorial - posted by Grunker on Fri 30 August 2013, 15:19:11Tags: Julien Pirou; Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Stephan Winter; Ubisoft
On our trip to Gamescom, we met two of the key people behind Might & Magic X Legacy: Creative Designer Julien Pirou from Ubisoft and Managing Director of Limbic Entertainment Stephan Winter. Curious to to get a sense of the vision behind this unexpected oldschool title and to understand just how it came to be, we pulled them aside for a conversation, which is summarized in the following report.
Here's a snippet:
From left to right: Arnaud Fremont - Frank Sawielijew [JarlFrank] - Casper Gronemann [Grunker] - Julien Pirou
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: The Vision Behind Might & Magic X Legacy
Game News - posted by Grunker on Wed 28 August 2013, 17:14:49Tags: Alexander Dergay; bitComposer; Brian Fargo; Brother None; Chris Keenan; Daniel Eskildsen; InXile Entertainment; Julien Pirou; Limbic Entertainment; Logic Artists; Matt Findley; Michael Hoss; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Stephan Winter; Ubisoft
On July 18, the RPG Codex received an invitation from Limbic Entertainment on behalf of their publisher, Ubisoft. The invitation was for an all expenses paid trip to Gamescom, the gaming convention in Cologne, Germany, and specifically for the Might & Magic Fan Day that was to take place there. The Codex staff members, easily bribed, fought over who was to go. In the end, Grunker came out on top, with JarlFrank tagging along with him for the first day.
During their stay in Germany, they learned more about Might & Magic X, they shook hands with Brian Fargo and watched a gameplay demo of Wasteland 2, and they spoke with the guys from Logic Artists, with Michael Hoss of bitComposer and with Alexander Dergay of Aterdux Entertainment. Here's an article about how it all went down. Have a snippet:
Officially, we're at Gamescom for the Might & Magic Fan Day. I've been flown in by the dear folks at Ubisoft, who are apparently so desperate for Codex approval that they felt like bribing us with food that you have to stand up to eat, watered down drinks at a party that ends at 12AM, and useless “swag” like Heroes VI artwork and posters. Had we been paid journalists, we would probably have been embarrassed on behalf of our craft to accept it. As simple gamers writing for other gamers, we are mostly annoyed by the prospect of hauling it all back to our various habitats. Our disappointment only grows as it slowly dawns on us that neither Doritos nor other bribes are forthcoming. To drink, we only receive some unlabeled lemonade. Decent, but no Mountain Dew.
From left to right: Casper Gronemann [Grunker] - Brian Fargo - Frank Sawielijew [JarlFrank] - Thomas Beekers [Brother None]
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom, Wasteland 2 Preview And More
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 24 August 2013, 14:59:47Tags: Arnold Hendrick; Darklands; Microprose
You know that last year we did a retrospective interview on Darklands, open-world RPG designed by Arnold Hendrick and released by Microprose by 1992. If that didn't convince you to give the game a try, perhaps this review by Darth Roxor might. Have a snippet:
Everything else, however, stays the same. Microprose gave us an absolute classic that should be checked out by every self-respecting RPG enthusiast out there, especially those who favour simulation above all else. It also makes an excellent treat for those who have a big love for history. Not to mention that the game is simply a gift that keeps on giving because just about everything in it is procedurally generated, so no two playthroughs are the same, and you’re bound to stumble upon something new each time you press “create a new world”.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Darklands
Preview - posted by Zed on Mon 19 August 2013, 20:13:02Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft
In the midst of all that RPG incline happening a while back, with the Kickstarters and the Codex campaigns, we heard whispers of something terrifying: a big-name publisher is resurrecting a long-lost genre favorite. "Oh no", "It's going to be another browser-game", "I hope they lube it up properly."
The franchise in question was Might and Magic - the classic first-person party-based RPG series originally created by Jon Van Caneghem back in 1986. The first reports were positive. It would be a 'true' Might and Magic title. It would be for the PC. It would be turn-based.
They would call it Might & Magic X: Legacy. Fast-forward a few months, and I have just written a preview of it (because everybody else were busy, probably with 'jobs' and 'love' and... and..). Here's the good news: it doesn't horribly suck hard. There could certainly be improvements made to the game, and I make sure to mention them. Luckily, developers Limbic Entertainment have embraced something they call "open development." This means they involve actual gamers and fans in their beta-testing and make actual changes to the game based on their feedback. Also, it's partially free QA. I hope they will take away something from this preview.
Here's a take-away:
But more worrying, I found the preview to be lacking in the puzzle department. A charming thing about these sorts of games was that they often provided some really good logical challenges in between combat and exploration, and I'm afraid I didn't see much of that at all. I can only hope the other acts provide more varied challenges, puzzles and other surprises as incentives to continue playing. Riddles, movement puzzles, word puzzles - anything like that would be a very welcome addition.
And if you didn't know, starting today, You can play Might & Magic X too! It seems they will release the same stuff I played as an Early Access for pre-orders, or something like that. Check it out: http://store.steampowered.com/app/238750/
Read the full article: RPG Codex hands-on preview: Might & Magic X: Legacy
Interview - posted by Grunker on Thu 8 August 2013, 23:53:10Tags: bitComposer; Chaos Chronicles; Coreplay; Michael Hoss; Peter Ohlmann; Wolfgang Duhr
UPDATE, August 11, 2013: Coreplay has issued a statement in response to this interview. See the end of this interview for Coreplay's response.
Chaos Chronicles was the kind of game the Codex had not dared hope for. Isometric perspective. Turn-based combat with a complex character system a la Temple of Elemental Evil. Overland map travel a la Realms of Arkania. To this formula a pinch of Gold Box was added along with a dash of Wizardry. Dungeons to delve into, treasures to find, creatures to kill. And not a single cent from Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform. Chaos Chronicles was to prove to the world and to us exactly what a small developer, full of passion and talent, allied with a small publisher willing to take the necessary risks, would be able to do.
And then, of course, it all went wrong. Chaos Chronicles rapidly sank into the depths of development hell.
After fans petitioned them to allow the game's development to continue, bitComposer issued a statement, and Peter Ohlmann (aka HobGoblin42) of Coreplay responded to that statement. When all was said and done, the question of who was to blame quickly became muddy. Determined to uncover the truth on what happened to Chaos Chronicles, I contacted both Michael Hoss (aka CrashOberbreit) of bitComposer and Peter Ohlmann to hear if they wanted to tell their sides of the story. Michael was the first to respond.
Today, we bring you an interview with Wolfgang Duhr, a member of bitComposer's board of directors. In this surprisingly frank interview, Duhr speaks of the hardships of being an "evil publisher," responds to the accusation that bitComposer was trying to force an early release of Chaos Chronicles, and encourages the community to show ongoing interest in the game so that it might be released.
Regardless of how you feel about bitComposer, this interview is one that we feel is well worth the read.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Exclusive Interview - bitComposer's Take on the Chaos Chronicles Dispute