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Interview Vince D. Weller and Mark Yohalem RPG Mega-Interview by Chris Picone

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Feb 3, 2018.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
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    Tags: Fallen Gods; Iron Tower Studio; Mark Yohalem; The New World; Vince D. Weller; Wormwood Studios

    The freelance writer Chris Picone, who has previously interviewed Iron Tower Studio's Vince D. Weller and Primordia designer Mark Yohalem, has now published a massive interview with both. It's very much like an RPG version of our AdventureDex interview from 2013, which is even linked to in the footnotes. It covers all the frequently discussed RPG topics, such as inventory management, combat density, magic systems, resting, character death and save-scumming. There's lots of details about Mark's upcoming Fallen Gods, Vince's upcoming The New World and most interestingly, also the historical "Inquisition RPG" that Vince plans to develop afterwards. As you might expect, in the interview it's thoughtful Mark vs practical Vince. Here's an excerpt:

    CSH: AoD was the first cRPG I’ve played in a long time where you’re totally on your own and not part of some adventuring party. I thought it odd at first, for no other reason than that it’s no longer the done thing. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In AoD, if you played as a fighter, you would experience a combat-heavy game and a number of experiences simply were not available to you since your character lacked the means to engage in those opportunities. Similarly, if you played as a merchant or lore master, you were forced to get creative about solving your problems because combat was not a feasible option. This concept was the foundation of pen-and-paper roleplaying because although you were part of a party, you normally only controlled one of those characters yourself, but is something that modern, party-based cRPGs seem to lack. The modern cRPG gamer is used to having their cake and eating it, too, but I feel like we’re losing out on some of the core roleplaying experience in the process. Is there a way to have a party-based cRPG and still have that character-centric experience?

    Mark:
    Players love party-member interactions, which have grown in prominence and complexity as time has gone on. Certainly, they are among the most memorable and likable parts of RPGs for me. There’s a reason why Primordia features a “party,” and Clarity has intra-party dialogues that are modelled on the Biowarean (was it Bioware who came up with it first?) approach where you can talk a bit more every time you’ve made some main-quest progress.

    Fallen Gods has a party, but it’s not the kind of party that people are used to. It is something more like the Clan Ring in King of Dragon Pass; maybe even thinner in terms of characterisation. Your followers have unique names, but currently generic portraits and sprites (one for each of the follower types: churl, woodsman, fighter, priest, skald, berserk, maiden, witch). While they chime in during events, and can be asked to undertake tasks during events, this chiming in is also generic. While only one of each follower type will quip per event node (the happiest of that type, typically), it’s not as if Ragnar the Fighter will ever say something different from Hrut the Fighter. And you don’t really interact directly with them – they speak, but you can’t talk back to them. You can give them items, as discussed above, which can make them happier, but it’s not like, say, Dragon Age: Origins where this unlocks deeper interactions. It’s all very superficial.

    There are a few reasons for this. The first is that when I was working on the now-abandoned (and pre-empted by FTL) predecessor to Fallen Gods, Star Captain, I tried writing events where the crew (still fairly generic) were heavily integrated into the text and story. It turned out to ramify into impossible-to-imagine complexity very quickly. The second is that I wanted to keep the focus on the eponymous Fallen God, rather than the earthbound beings helping him. Said god is something of an egoist, anyway, and would not be interested in learning about Skadi the Churl’s tough childhood.

    Third, another lesson I learned in working on Star Captain – a lesson that I think RPGs could often benefit from – is that it’s better when events or dialogue keep moving forward. The “hub” model of dialogue so common to RPGs, especially to lore dumpers, totally kills the game’s momentum. Because Fallen Gods is meant to be pretty quick-moving, it would be antithetical to let you go on a random dialogue digression with a follower. Finally, having the followers thinly characterised works well in a procedurally generated setting where followers die a lot. As noted earlier, FG is procedurally generated in terms of selecting what goes where, but the content is all pre-designed. Since there are dozens of followers to hire in a given game session, trying to make each one unique would be a huge amount of work. And it would actually tend to highlight the smallness of the game’s content when you encountered Bjorn the Berserk twice in a row, and he was exactly the same each time.

    Anyway, I think this is one of many ways that Fallen Gods is likely to disappoint many players – especially fans of Primordia – who expect rich characterisation in an RPG. The characterisation is either non-existent (for many followers), generic (for, say, berserks and witches, who have strong but non-character-specific voices), or indirect (as with the god). And the NPCs you meet are really going to be characterised in at most a couple nodes of text, maybe a few words of dialogue. I think we’ve done a pretty good job with making that little bit count, more because of our great artists, narrator, and composer than because of our middling writer, but the proof of the pudding will be in the reading.

    Vince: AoD was a solo game because working your way up in a faction to secure your future required a single character. You don’t show up for work with your five closest friends who don’t have anything better to do today.

    TNW is more about adventuring and dealing with multiple factions at once (to ensure your own survival) which does call for a band of like-minded individuals. Not sure about the Inquisition game yet but we’re leaning toward party-based as well.

    As for having that character-centric experience in a party-based game, it depends on the design and goals. For example, in games like Baldur’s Gate or Pillars of Eternity there are no non-combat classes, so any character you pick will be handy in a fight, thus a party of six will be able to kick a lot of ass regardless of its makeup.

    Our approach is a bit different. In TNW you’ll increase skills by using them instead of gaining skill points and distributing them as you see fit.

    Let’s say you’re a talker accompanied by three brutes waiting for your nod to crush your enemies. The problem is that unless your brutes get a regular workout, they won’t be very skilled. So you’re mostly talking your way through the game, your brutes won’t get regular workouts and will never be as skilled as a combat-focused party. They might be able to get you out of trouble but you won’t be able to fight your way through the game.

    Essentially, you’ll have four types of parties:

    · The warband (your typical western)
    · The grifters (while you don’t need two talkers, you might need people with the right connections or ideas, think traveling with Miltiades in AoD)
    · The infiltrators
    · The jacks (of all trades), who won’t be as good at combat, diplomacy, or stealth as the specialist parties.

    Plus, your Charisma determines how many followers you can inspire to tag along. If you want 3 party members, you need to have CHA 8 (out of 10), which is a significant investment.
    This interview is a real classic, the kind I'd like to have done myself. Read the full thing there.
     
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  2. StaticSpine Arcane Patron

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    Fantastic interview! Very deep.
     
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  3. CryptRat Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Don't worry, I hate those. I, the player, control the party. Interactions should occur between the party and what's outside the party, were the party members created by me or not. Fallen Gods is going to be good.


    Also I have to say I agree with VD about the death part, no problem with a lot of deaths and reloads.
    Yes, that's one of the reasons why not being able to save anytime anywhere is often a good thing.
     
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  4. HeatEXTEND Arbiter

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    Good stuff :salute:
     
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  5. thesheeep Arcane

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    Really impressive. There's so much in it, I don't even know where to begin commenting.
     
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  6. Iluvcheezcake Learned

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    Excellent interview
     
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  7. Zombra Arcane Patron

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    You are talking my language.

    For players like me important, it's definitely a problem. I've seen a lot of complaints about AOD's structure ("play, look at skill thresholds, load saved game, spend skill points, play 'for real'"), and I share those complaints. Likewise, any game where I'm expected important to look at a guide or walkthrough is a failure in my opinion. Note that both of these observations apply to games where there isn't clear intent towards these types of player behavior - a game with its wiki integrated into the journal menu for example, or "fail forward" type of games where you die but retain xp and try again a little stronger and smarter can be fine. But I hate games where it's just "screw up, reload and start over". LIMBO was a perfect example of this crap. I also remember in the mostly excellent Nocturne, there's a part where you walk into a mansion and there are four switches on the wall. Two do nothing, one kills you, one opens the door to proceed, and there are no clues or hints; you don't even know that's what they do. Flip one or more switches, and reload if you die. I hope you saved recently. Not good design.
     
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  8. Delterius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Vault Dweller I'm from thirdworldia and you have the canadinian health system to prop you up. If I die to malaria before that inquisition game is released I'm going to haunt you for the rest of your life.
     
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  9. Rivmusique Arcane Patron

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    Only read the inventory question and answer so far and really enjoyed Mark's answer. Will certainly come back to it later, thanks for the heads up.
     
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  10. Drowed Arcane

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    This really is great, nicely put.
     
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  11. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    Thanks, guys.

    Zombra The reason why I think it's hard to define the problem is because while "one of three doors kills you" obviously expects outside knowledge in a bad way, there are lots of ways games expect outside knowledge (to give one simple example, reading the manual) that we tend to find inoffensive. And sometimes outside knowledge (or experiential knowledge) enhances the game because the Edge of Tomorrow live-die-repeat mechanic is deliberately built into the game. (Whether we're NES action games or rogue-likes or Sierra adventures or Varicella or Braid or Ocarina of Time or whatever.) Sometimes it is thematized in the game (as in Braid and OOT), sometimes it is thematized around the game (as in Varicella or Super Meat Boy) and sometimes it isn't thematic at all, but just an expectation of the genre (as in Ninja Gaiden). Those are all games I like a lot.

    Incidentally, the AOD complaint in some respect reminds me of the trainwreck that is the Know-It-All achievement in Primordia. I had this idea that we'd include a kiosk where players could get all sorts of lore about the game if they wanted to, but could also just skip it because it was all unnecessary to the puzzles. My operating principle was to include any topic any player could possibly ask about, on the theory that few would ask them, but if they did, they'd be amused to find them answered. But then, near release, Dave said he wanted to add achievements to the game (a very sound marketing decision), and one obvious one would be to find all of the topics, since there were few things in Primordia that a player could accomplish but didn't need to accomplish to win. Once it became an achievement, however, getting the achievement became a big deal. Players felt obliged to catch 'em all, and it turned out there was a glitch in tracking topics such that few players could get the achievement. Then a walkthrough was released with inaccurate information on the topics, and since there weren't other achievement guides, it became the accepted gospel. The end result was significant unhappiness among players -- next to Logitech mouse and Steam overlay glitches, it's the most common complaint I dealt with on the forums.

    But it was all pointless. There achievement meant nothing. The topics weren't supposed to be exhausted, they were meant to be exhaustive, and surplus.

    Similarly, when people say you need to hoard skillpoints in AOD, what they're talking about is what you need to do to maximize content. But AOD wasn't designed to require content maximization. The extra content was (at least it seems to me) a lagniappe, almost an Easter egg. Yet players being the completionists they are, the introduction of the extra content compelled min-max stat management, which in turn compelled outside knowledge.

    There are definitely ways Vince could have anticipated and averted this (and I think he's doing so with TNW). But it wasn't like AOD was being designed to expect outside knowledge in that sense. That's another reason why the problem is hard to define because sometimes it arises from designer malice but often it arises from player neurosis (a neurosis caused by designers in the long run, but not necessarily any given designer).

    Whew! Another Great Wall of Text. :/
     
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  12. Goral Arcane Patron The Real Fanboy

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    :D :D :D
    If puzzles have to be solved in order to move forward then yeah, that can be frustrating but in general I like them. In Bloodlines there were some puzzles along the way but they were rather simple and were a nice addition IMO (it was similar with DOS). and in dungeon crawlers they're rather common. IMO there shouldn't be ALWAYS an alternative way to solve things, e.g. if you're not smart enough to solve a puzzle and open some sturdy gate then tough luck because you don't have enough explosives and experience to blow it in a way it would allow you to pass (or a plasma torch would not be enough and you wouldn't have it anyway). In Arcanum there were locks/containers which couldn't be destroyed for example which was great IMO.
     
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  13. ERYFKRAD Arcane Patron

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    Good stuff.

    Anyone know if the Inquisition game is gonna have party creation by the way?
     
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  14. thesheeep Arcane

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    I must say, I side fully with VD on the subject of death & reloading.

    I've got very fond memories of many encounters (or dungeons, or dangerous situations in general) in games where I was either saving after walking around every corner or reloading very often to try and tackle that one boss/encounter/whatever.
    Meanwhile, I do not have that many memories of occasions where my character(s) failed, but the game just went on with some kind of disadvantage (or just different outcome) coming from that.
    That might come from the fact that the reloading & reliving the whole encounter multiple times imprinted it way better than just doing it once and having any result - but that is kind of a proof on its own, isn't it?

    Usually, you have a desired outcome in any situation - and if that outcome can be realistically achieved by reloading a bit, well, you'll probably do it.
    That's why I'm so supportive of safe-anytime systems. The only difference between them and more restrictive save systems is that the player is not forced to waste a great amount of time by repeating all those previous steps that he already succeeded at again and again and again...
    And wasting a player's time is a cardinal sin in game design. Like not being able to speed up combat animations. Gets me into a :argh: every time.

    You just can't help it, can you?
    Are you one of "those" people that just can't shut up after having been asked a question because everything must be very detailed (even if the original question has been answered sufficiently to everyone else involved)?

    I don't mean that insulting in any way, I live with one of those.
    Just find it kinda funny because I know it tends to annoy people :lol:
     
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  15. felipepepe Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

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    SOLD.
     
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  16. Zombra Arcane Patron

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    Agreed, and I hope I didn't come off as hating all games that incorporate ideas like this. Roguelikes are an obvious example of a type where you're supposed to die right away, learn, and start over. Technically this involves a Game Over screen but it's really "failing forward". Roguelikes pass my acid test: they're fun to play without a walkthrough. The games I dislike are the ones where I persistently ←important get the feeling that I'm supposed to know something, when I have no way to know other than to cheat.

    My experience with AOD was not consistent with this interpretation. The design of that game was so opaque to me that I almost felt like I couldn't do anything without scumming. When I played AOD "cold", I assigned points based on a lot of things I wanted to try ... I wanted to be good at stealth, a couple points in Disguise, maybe a point or two in a weapon skill, it's fun to be Streetwise, Persuasion of course is always useful ... then when I actually played, my character failed at 90% of the things he tried - things he'd put points into! - and then got caught up in a combat he could not possibly survive. This was on top of an already harsh, uncaring world. Was the "design intent" that I play as the world's biggest loser who can't solve any problems and quickly dies? This was a case of feeling I was supposed to know something - how good is 2 points in Lore really? - but I had no way to know without trying to use it first, and I continued to have no way to know what I needed as the game progressed. A 3 Persuasion was enough for this challenge, but a 5 isn't enough for that one? Why? I had already heard about people recommending the skill point hoarding, and found that when I started over and tried that, the game was much more enjoyable. Whatever the design intent, point hoarding and scumming is the behavior the design actually encouraged.

    I'm sorry to hear about that. The funny thing is, despite my disagreement with you about AOD's fundamental design issues, I agree with your sentiment that "maximizing content" isn't what AOD - or indeed any game - is or should be about. In fact there was a huge argument about this recently.* It turns out that for many Codexers, the existence of the achievement probably didn't even matter ... if they knew there was bonus content in the game, they would have felt compelled to read every word of it because they feel they're "supposed to", no matter how interesting or boring they might have found it.
    *If the thread appears to start abruptly, it's because it was split from another thread about Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2018
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  17. lukaszek Arcane

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    you are used to lazy RNG. When you put 2 points into a stat you expect to boost success rate to 40%. Then on failure(possibly death) you load. You dont see another options so you just try again. 40% isnt a too low chance so why not? Quickly it becomes a habit.
    Smart guy VD realized a flaw of randomness and introduced deterministic checks.

    Soon adversaries of new, better order appeared and shouted "CYOA!"

    but VD stood firm and word on the streets is that in his new game there will be no RNG in combat.
     
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  18. Zombra Arcane Patron

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    That's fine with me ... but if I find out that a Zap Gun skill of 2 means I'll lose a fight and Zap Gun 3 means I'll win it, I'm going to reload a save and hoard skill points so I can have Zap Gun 3 by the time that fight starts.
     
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  19. lukaszek Arcane

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    2 points will mean that you wont know how to reload. You will need to end your fights quickly and have costly and embarrassing trips to hubs to fix your situation
     
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  20. Trashos Magister

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    A big thank you to everyone involved in the interview. Very interesting.

    I thought I might quote some parts (both from Vince and Mark) here to brofist them, but there were so many that I abandoned the task. I will point out that I generally agree with Mark's "Well I guess then" mind game (although I still like Arcanum's inventory), and absolutely agree with his comments on how character progression is often handled in RPGs. I think he doesn't like players getting stuck, which I disagree with (although, of course, it should be well done). Give me reasons to engage my brain. I absolutely agree with Vince's comments on HP, the requirement of a learning curve, and the need of death as part of the atmosphere and the challenge. I am not sold yet on "learn by use" (but the proof will be in the pudding) or the desirability of attrition (have a fight weaken you and then have next fight take advantage of that).

    Just some personal preferences, relevant to the discussion:
    - Give me a satisfying learning curve. I absolutely need that to enjoy any game. I enjoy decisions, but I also enjoy overcoming odds.
    - Your games may crash. My schedule is weird and unexpected things happen all the time. Don't stop me from being able to save whenever I want, there is nothing worse than having to immediately redo something than I just did successfully (as opposed to having to redo something that I failed in, which I enjoy greatly).
    - Not sure why people are against metagaming. Isn't that a big part of what makes RPGs replayable? It's like getting a second chance at life.
     
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  21. Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis

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    :littlemissfun:
     
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  22. Trashos Magister

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    Vince mentions in the interview that he still doesn't know if Inquisition is going to be a party-based game. I bet it depends on his experience with TNW.
     
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  23. Politician Novice

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    You are hyping a game that is not even in development yet. That's absurd. You should hype their next game instead.

    I don't mean to probe, but Yohalem is a jewish name, isn't?

    :updatedmytxt:
     
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  24. Kyl Von Kull Arcane

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    Presumably the learn by doing system in TNW will make all of the the skill point hoarding problems irrelevant. I think that’s the best reason for doing it. Have you been talking your way through the game? Then you’ll probably pass the next important persuasion check. Removes a lot of the temptation to metagame.
     
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  25. Politician Novice

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    By following this train of thought, you should stick to the same spell for most of the game, which sounds a bad idea. Your choice can be interesting for narrative reasons, but it ruins the character progression completely. Notice that you can make special items memorable without scarcity, e.g., you can shower the player with regular weapons to highlight the contrast with magic weapons. The most important items in BG2 have illustrations, a personal story, a memorable name and a specific quest to create the weapon. In fact, I can fondly remember most special items of BG2 and the game has an overabundance of them—the game can be demolished for making some of these items too powerful and being completely broken, but that is another issue.
     
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