You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that? Why are you not helping?
RPG Codex Report: A Codexian Visit to OtherSide Entertainment
Editorial - posted by Infinitron
on Wed 25 February 2015, 20:10:09
If you were a computer RPG fan of a certain type in the 1990s, your preferred brand of gaming came in two distinct flavors. There were the top-down/isometric RPGs, such as Origin's Ultima series in the early 90s, and the RPGs from Black Isle and BioWare later on. And then there were the first person games from Looking Glass Studios - Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief - which would form the foundation of the genre that Warren Spector would retroactively dub the "immersive sim". Despite the seemingly wide differences between these two genres, they would end up following strikingly parallel paths. Both would place an increasing emphasis on developing the concepts of player choice and reactivity, and both would suffer a precipitous decline in the early 2000s, due to destructive trends in the gaming industry which have been heavily discussed in our forums and elsewhere.
With the rise of big budget crowdfunded gaming in 2012, isometric RPGs made a huge comeback. But that other type of RPG, the Looking Glass-style first person immersive sim, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, people reasoned, this was due to the fact that producing a good-looking first person game requires more budget than even a successful Kickstarter can possibly provide. Or maybe it was because the veterans of Looking Glass and successor company Ion Storm Austin had scattered to the four winds - to Irrational Games, Arkane Studios, Valve, Bethesda and Zynga. It would seem that the implosion of the latter company due to the bursting of the social gaming bubble was what finally changed the situation for the better.
Back in July 2014, we first learned of the creation of OtherSide Entertainment by Paul Neurath, founder of Looking Glass Studios, after his departure from Zynga. Joining him was Tim Stellmach, lead designer of Ultima Underworld II and the Thief series. Their first project would be "Underworld Ascension", a successor to the Ultima Underworld series. After six months of quiet behind-the-scenes preparations, which would see the project renamed to Underworld Ascendant, the inevitable Kickstarter was finally announced in late January. It's now been three weeks since the Kickstarter's launch, and while it will clearly make its $600,000 goal, it's not the huge success some may have hoped for. I can think of any number of reasons for that, but that's outside the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, the same people who thought a first person Kickstarter game was a non-starter due to budgetary reasons are likely to be skeptical about the viability of this one.
Regardless of the Kickstarter's success or lack thereof, the prospect of a Looking Glass Studios revival is a matter of the utmost importance to a site like ours. For that reason, several weeks ago, we made arrangements for a personal visitation by stalwart Codexer mindx2 to the humble headquarters of OtherSide Entertainment in Boston, Massachusetts. That visit took place last Friday, and mindx2 would spend the entire subsequent weekend compiling his discussions with Paul Neurath and the rest of the OtherSiders into a lengthy interview/report. I don't know if this report will change anybody's mind about pledging to Underworld Ascendant, but you'll definitely view them more sympathetically after reading it. Without further ado...
After receiving several shout-outs yesterday, the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter campaign made it past $550,000 of funding and 10,000 backers, and it's now approaching its funding goal at a relatively brisk pace. The first Kickstarter update of the campaign's final week is all about melee combat, and OtherSide's thoughts about how to improve it beyond the simple clickfest formula of the original Underworlds. I quote:
In most fantasy RPG’s, fighters are not the sharpest tools in the shed. Rather than relying on their brains, they use their ample brawn. Wading into a battle, slashing and smashing every foe in sight.
Nothing wrong-headed with that style of character. Can be great fun! Underworld Ascendant welcomes players who want to play a straight up, traditional fighter character. But fighting can go much deeper than simply brawn. Finesse. The tactics of maneuvering back-and-forth with an opponent in a flowing, dynamic engagement. Mastering a weapon. Learning your opponent’s weakness, then using that against them. Players who choose to focus on fighting will be able grow into masters of the art of combat.
What does this mean in terms of game play? Here is one illustrative example…
[Caveat. Please understand that we are still in prototype phase. What is described below is our best guess at how combat will likely work well. But as we have learned from making games such as Ultima Underworld and Thief, often you discover further along in development that changes from the original design plan are needed to achieve the best gameplay. So this is just a starting point.]
Romulus, a master swordsman, has just turned a corner to spy a Dire Faerie, hovering in the middle of a large and high-ceiled chamber. The Faerie has not yet noticed Romulus, so he decides on a stealthy approach to try to get close, unnoticed.
Romulus closes in quickly, and is nearly on top of the Faerie before it becomes of aware of the fighter’s presence. The Faerie spins and tries to fly away, but Romulus is able to land a blow to one of the Faerie’s wings before it can get out of reach. The damage to the wing makes the Faerie’s flight unsteady; harder for it to maneuver outside of Romulus’ range. Romulus has achieved his first objective of the battle, to neutralize the Faerie’s advantage of flight.
Now he closes in for the kill. Since Romulus has fought Faeries before, he has learned some of their weaknesses. The game reveals this by showing a glow on the Faerie’s left chest, which is especially vulnerable.
Romulus closes in to try to land the killing blow…
This is just one way this battle might evolve. Each battle will be fluid and dynamic, with the player having choices to make, tactics to adjust. As players master that art of warfare, they will gain new skills that layer into these choices. Some skills will make them simply deadly, but others will open up new tactics they can try using.
It is worth highlighting that in Underworld Ascendant combat will not be a fast, twitch experience. Even though gameplay is played out in fluid first-person 3D, the pace will be slower than a “shooter”, giving players more time to make tactical decisions.
Likewise, it will not be a game about pixel precision landing of blows. Your fighter’s character skill will factor into the success of landing blows, more so than your quick twitch ability. If you are role-playing a master swordsman, we want you be able to actually fight just like a master swordsman, even if you’ve never hefted a real sword in your life.
Paired with the Improvisation Engine, combat in the game is not just about whittling away your opponent’s hit points. With maneuvering, knowledge and planning the combat possibilities are practically endless, and ensure that Mages aren’t the only ones who fight with flashy tricks!
We've had updates on magic and melee now, so I suppose there's a good chance the next one will be about thievery. Considering the developers' background, that could be pretty interesting.
We know from previous Torment: Tides of Numenera updates and interviews that the game will be implementing the Effort mechanic from the Numenera PnP rules. Effort allows you to actually spend your character's stats to aid in overcoming difficult tasks, in dialogue, combat and elsewhere. In the latest Torment Kickstarter update, Adam Heine gives a more detailed explanation of this mechanic, and describes how it will be implemented in the game in practice. Oh, and there's a new screenshot, too - a WIP render of an area we've seen before. Here's that, and an excerpt from Adam's treatise:
In TTON, we handle tasks with an Effort dialog. Because Effort is a new mechanic—and a key mechanic at that—we decided to display the Effort dialog every time the player attempts a Difficult Task.
"What?!" I hear you say. "You're telling me I have to click away this annoying pop-up every time I try anything?" Yes, that's what I'm telling you. But it's not annoying at all—the opposite, actually. Part of that is there aren't as many Difficult Tasks as you might think. Each task is uniquely crafted (that is, you won't be picking twenty generic locks in a row), so when there is a difficult task, the Effort dialog adds import to it, making every task a potentially significant event. You don't click the pop-up away. You make a real decision, every time.
("But can't I just reload until I beat the task without Effort?" You could, but in some cases you'd be missing out on content that is only available when you fail some tasks. And anyway, as I've said in the past, savescumming isn't technically any easier, it's just a different way to play.)
What do you see when the Effort dialog appears? This:
The difficulty of the task. By default, this difficulty appears as one of eleven abstract labels (e.g. Routine, Challenging, Impossible, etc.), but you'll be able to change this in the Game Options to show the actual target number (i.e. the Task Difficulty multiplied by 3) or to not show any difficulty at all.
The adjusted difficulty of the task. If you have any skills or assets that apply to the task, then the initial difficulty will be visible but crossed out, and the actual difficulty (what you're trying to beat) will appear beneath it. Note that it's possible to have penalties, such that a task is harder than the base difficulty for some characters. That will be reflected here as well.
When you mouse over the difficulties, a tooltip will display showing you what skills and assets you have that are adjusting the difficulty (if any). This way, we don't have to clutter the dialog with a bunch of text, but you can have access to all the information if you want it.
An icon conveying which stat applies to this task. This determines which Stat Pool the Effort cost comes out of. Most tasks will only allow one stat: Might, Speed, or Intellect. In special cases (usually when the PC has certain abilities), a PC might be able to choose to replace the original Stat Pool with a different one. For example, a Jack with the Brute Finesse ability can choose to apply either Speed or Might to non-combat Speed tasks.
An Effort slider. This allows the player to choose how many levels of Effort he will apply to the task. As he increases the slider, the Effort dialog will show him how much Stat Pool will be deducted and the adjusted difficulty will change to reflect the Effort he's applying.
Sidebar refresher: The first level of Effort costs 3 from the applicable Stat Pool. Every level of Effort thereafter costs an additional 2. If the PC has any Edge in the applicable Stat Pool (another thing you gain each Tier), then his Edge is subtracted from the overall Effort cost. So if a player has 1 Might Edge and purchases two levels of Effort, it will cost him 4 Might (3 for the first level + 2 for the second level – 1 for his Might Edge).
If the PC has 3 or more Edge in the applicable Stat, then the Effort slider will automatically be set to however many levels of Effort that PC can get for free.
Sounds cool. I'd worry less about save-scumming, and more about how resting to recharge your Stat Pools could trivialize the mechanic entirely. Though it seems like inXile already have some ideas about how they're going to deincentivize that.
A representative from a site called GameWatchers met up with Josh Sawyer recently to ask a few questions about the upcoming Pillars of Eternity. The resulting interview focuses on the game's story and setting, and also reveals something of the nature of its expansion pack. Here's an excerpt:
GameWatcher: How do you kick off a big new universe like this? It must be difficult to juggle the need to inform the player without swamping them in exposition.
Josh Sawyer: I think it’s important to establish what’s important in this part of the world. The region in the game is called the Eastern Reach, and it’s a colonial area. Your character is not from here. When you start the game, your character is as new to this world as you are. We don’t try to elaborate other than in lore books and things like that, we don’t explain everything to you in a big wall of text. We just say; here’s what these people are worried about, here’s what is going on right here at this moment in time, this is what they’re trying to do. So in terms of world-building we try to give you a picture of the state of this huge colonial area, and the direction in which it’s headed. We’re not writing some huge guidebook to the universe that covers every single bit of information, we’re trying to focus on what’s happening in one corner of the world. One set of stories, and the characters that are involved in them.
GameWatcher: In the Baldur’s Gate series we were dealing with these huge epochal events, Gods dying and rising again, all that good stuff. Are you taking a similarly high fantasy approach in Pillars, or are things a little more grounded?
Josh Sawyer: Well, we do try to keep things a little more realistic and grounded, but at the same time we know that people like it when the stakes get epically big. My kind of philosophy is to start with something small and personal, and slowly build it into something momentous. In Fallout: New Vegas for example, you start out with a fairly simple plot; someone’s shot you in the head, dropped you in a ditch, and you’re out to find the man who did it. Then, as you start to explore you find out there’s a lot of crazy shit going on in the world, and you start to become embroiled in it. In Pillars it’s a not too dissimilar situation, where you become embroiled in something that you weren’t really looking for, and as you start to deal with the fallout you get drawn into the larger story. As you start to grow in scale you realise that this is not a small conflict, it’s part of something a lot bigger. RPGs are about growth, not only of your character as they become more powerful, but of your place in the world. Gaining reputation, things like that. So even though our game is a little more grounded in focus, maybe a little more believable, I think it’s important that we have that escalation.
GameWatcher: You decided not add in multi-classing options for Pillars, which were a big part of previous Infinity Engine games. Was that a conscious decision to simplify things for the first game using this new rules system?
Josh Sawyer: Yeah. Well, a bit simple within the realm of having eleven classes and six races all in the game, but yes. Multi-classing is something that tabletop D&D still struggles with. Every edition has tried another way to do it, but… I understand why people want to do it, totally, it’s very cool but it’s also a very hard thing to do. For this first game we thought let’s stick with single classes, but have a tonne of options within those classes. If you want to make a speedy, offensive fighter or a tough tank fighter you can, if you want to change the focus of your character you can do that. We might do multi-classing in the future, but we had to do so much stuff for this game that at a certain point we had to say, OK, we’ve promised eleven classes in the Kickstarter, let’s just stick to those.
GameWatcher: In terms of additional content for the game, will you be heading down the DLC pack route, which is something Paradox as a publisher is known for, or will you be concentrating on larger expansions?
Josh Sawyer: No, we want to do a traditional expansion, and we’re in the early stages of planning for that right now. Part of the Kickstarter campaign was a full expansion, so we’re definitely doing a Tales of the Sword Coast style campaign. We’re still in the early stages of design for that right now, though. What I would say about additional content other than that, is that I would like to see any gameplay tweaks and changes we make in an expansion get rolled into a free patch. So if you don’t want to buy an expansion, you get all the same gameplay benefits without the extra story.
GameWatcher: Obviously I’m trying to stay well out of the spoiler minefield here, but does Pillars have a distinct, one-off story? The original Baldur’s Gate sort of set itself up directly for a sequel at the end – does this feel like a complete story in and of itself?
Josh Sawyer: Yes, I think it does. Obviously if we want to make a sequel we’ll follow up on things, but this is a complete story with a distinct ending. There’s no big twist that gets unresolved, and there’s a real sense of closure at the end. There’s lots of stuff to build on, obviously, but the main conflict is resolved at the end of the game.
Fallout: New Vegas - Fantasy Edition, eh? They could certainly do worse.
Today's Underworld AscendantKickstarter update provides some details about the game's magic system. It's an evolution of Ultima Underworld's rune-based magic system, with additional experimentation and crafting options:
We wanted to do a deeper dive into one of the core game systems in Underworld Ascendant, magic. Can’t have a fantasy game without magic!
Magic in Underworld Ascendant springs from the original Underworlds. As with the originals, magic is built on rune stones. Scattered around the Abyss is an alphabet of rune stones, each inscribed with a runic letter. The Avatar discovers these stones as they explore the Abyss, over time building a vocabulary of spells.
To cast a spell, the player lays outs particular combinations of stones. For instance, the pair of stones IN LOR casts a dim magic light. A much more powerful version of this spell using 3 rune stones, VAS IN LOR, casts the brightness of daylight. Learning new spell combinations is part of the fun. You feel as if you are growing in arcane knowledge --- which of course you are!
Underworld Ascendant explores a new dimension of runic magic. As players master the lore they will uncover hidden powers, and learn how to magically transform their runes. For instance, a mage might learn how to transfigure the runes for a Fireball, POR FLAM, to enlarge its blast radius. As the mage’s knowledge deepens, to make the Fireball dance around the chamber, seeking out each nearby foe in turn. Or perhaps instead, to burn with a violet aura, which clings to foes longer and with more terrible effect. Ultimately, a mage can craft their own repertoire of unique and powerful runes.
Spells in Underworld Ascendant are also far more diverse than the standard RPG variations on “blast your foe”. There is magic that will aid in your being stealthy, alert you to a variety of dangers, let you levitate or fly, bar a door, to name just a few. These more diverse non-combat spells feed right into the Improvisation Engine, giving spell casters all sorts of clever approaches to solve challenges.
Speaking of spell casters, any Avatar can learn to wield at least some magic. A player focused on, say, combat skills, will never become master of the magical arts. However, they can still learn to cast some less powerful spells if they choose.
The update also reports that a name has been selected for the game's gelatinous "Tunnel Trapper" monster - Earthclot. No new backer vote has been introduced after the conclusion of this one, so I guess they're done with those.
RPG players are generally pretty addicted to the coolest form of game playing around. But what about if you are in the mood for something a little different? The people at All Slots download list their favorite slots games for you to choose from. Slots are fun and can win you a stack of cash.
Torment: Tides of Numenera "Craft an Obelisk" reward
Community - posted by DarkUnderlord
on Tue 24 February 2015, 09:13:29
Because we raised money for Torment, one of the rewards we're due is the "Obelisk from a Lost Empire", where we work with inXile to "determine the characteristics, design and tides of a monument of our choosing. The Obelisk can be a statue, a pillar, a pyramid or something else that will be placed somewhere in the game. The player will be able to interact with it and thus learn more of the story we wish to tell."
inXile now want to know the following from us:
- The shape, size and look of your Obelisk
- A description of what you'd like to have happen when the player interacts with it.
We will take your outline to our design and art team, and then contact you again once we have a concept and design outline for you to approve.
- When designing the Obelisk, please keep in mind this is a top-down game and a lot of things are not conveyed on the model. Focus on the descriptive text for details.
- While the Obelisk can take any shape, it should not be larger than XXX and can not have any moving parts on the model itself – though it can be described as moving in the text.
- The interaction with the Obelisk can be either a short text or a brief conversation, please define and outline how you’d like to see this interaction work.
- The interaction with the Obelisk should be self-contained, so it can’t be tied to a bigger quest or pose a great danger to the player.
- The Obelisk should not require a specific context or biome, so that we can place them in any of our areas.
- The Obelisk design should fit in the Ninth World setting. If the design or look of it does not fit we may need to adjust it until it does.
Oh and also:
You filled in "A troll. Like the one we sent Brian Fargo in the mail!" While funny, obviously exactly reproducing the Codex troll would not fit the setting or tone of the game. "Devil"-like figures like the troll in general wouldn't fit. Perhaps you guys can put your heads together and come up with some alternatives? We would love to hear back this week.
We are now taking suggestions for troll-like things that fit the theme, or other ideas.
Remember Zaharia, the Middle Eastern-themed isometric RPG that went on Kickstarter last year but failed to meet its funding goal? Well, now the team behind that game, Inner Void Interactive, is back with a new project - Icy, a survival RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world witnessing a new Ice Age. Icy was actually announced back in May 2014 as "Project Frozen World" and significant development has already gone into the game, so the very modest Indiegogo campaign launched today is only meant to provide funds for the finishing touches. Here's the pitch video and feature list:
Live a survival experience in a peculiar post-apocalyptic setting.
Create your character, characterizing it choosing among 3 main attributes and 10 different skills that affects the whole game.
Influence the plot with different choices, changing the course of events that will lead to multiple different endings.
Manage to keep together group of survivors, each one with different needs, values and ideals.
Scavenge for items and hunt for food, face the challenges of the Frozen World.
Enjoy more than 400 hand-drawn artworks.
More than 10'000 dialogue lines.
Day/night cycle that affects the gameplay.
A mere 5 dollars will get you a copy of Icy, which is scheduled to be released in June this year, but only if the fundraiser hits its 2500 dollar goal. You can learn more about the game from the dev diaries that were posted on the official website over the past nine months. Don't forget to vote it up on Steam Greenlight, too. Oh, and yes, the name is temporary.
Nearly a year after the previous one, Dr Schultz has posted a new entry in his irregular series of interviews with the Torment: Tides of Numenera development team, over at the official Italian language Torment blog. This time, it's an interview with Colin McComb, focusing on the topic of the game's narrative. Naturally, he can't reveal much, so the interview is not very long, but there are a few interesting tidbits here:
You’ve stated before that you’ve chosen the Numenera license mostly because of its setting, but as far as I know Torment’s story takes place in uncharted territories. I mean, parts of the Ninth World not covered in the Corebook. Why? And is there any chance we are going see parts of the Steadfast/Beyond in TON?
You won’t see any places from the Corebook, but some will be referenced. We didn’t want to risk conflicting with anything Monte Cook Games had planned in the Steadfast; as a younger setting, it still needs to establish some meta-campaign narrative. The Corebook was still being worked on when we began planning Torment, so we all thought it would be better if we built out beyond the Beyond and we could integrate the two areas later.
I’m under the impression that the Endless Battle is going to play a huge role in Torment’s story. Can you tell us a little more about this conflict? Additionally - given the fact that ToN is a game about legacies - is it safe to assume that the player will be able to influence the outcome of the war?
It’s funny that you should ask about that, because the Endless Battle came up in story meetings just recently. At the risk of handing out spoilers: It does play an important role in the game, both symbolically and narratively. Born out of an argument between the Changing God and the First Castoff, it has become essentially a feature of the landscape over the last several centuries. Much like the everlasting storm of Catatumbo, it’s almost a force of nature by this point. Think of the trenches and craters of World War I, and then add time distortions, gravity fields, sentient machines, and nightmare creatures released from other dimensions, and you’ll start to get an idea what it’s like.
At this point, the two sides are at a stalemate, but they push and prod for incremental advantage. Victory isn’t in sight for either side, but neither are they willing to admit defeat – they are fighting for ideological principles now, for their reputations, for some other reason – and so, despite the First being dead and the Changing God not involved in the fight, the Endless Battle continues.
It is not safe to assume that you will be able to influence the outcome of the war. On the other hand, I don’t know that you should assume you can’t.
Our readers are always eager to learn new details about Torment Companions. Can you tell us something we don’t already know about one or two of them?
Our cold, calculating jack’s name is Matkina. Her original conception was the stainless steel jack, a nod to Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat”, and her character arc originated there. It’s changed significantly since then, but the deadly confidence, careful thought, and occasional impulsiveness colored her initial narrative portrait.
Bonus question: after the astonishing success of TTON you are confirmed as Creative Lead of the third Torment game, set in a different universe and powered by a new ruleset . The choice is entirely up to you. What will this universe/ruleset be?
We’ve loved working with Monte Cook Games, and they’ve been a fantastic business partner, but since you’ve said a different universe/different rules…
Do I get to keep working with the same team? Because if we’re together again, I think in this imagined future we’ll take a swing at inventing our own world and our own rules. Given that I’ve created and developed a number of different worlds now, and given that Adam is doing great things with the rules, and given that George and Kevin are brilliant, I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t create our own world completely under our own control. Why, we could blow up the world and no one could stop us!
Uh, hypothetically speaking, of course…
There sure are lots of Torment interviews these days. I wonder if inXile are building up hype towards something?
The Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter campaign hit the $500,000 milestone over the weekend, something that the guys at OtherSide were quite happy to break their vacation to celebrate in a Kickstarter update. Owing to the quick success of the Splatter Seed Sling backer goal, the update also went and announced a third backer goal for next week, to be unlocked at 10,000 backers. Naturally, it's a Shambler artifact - a sharp-witted talking skull (hmmm...) named Chattering Bart. But today's update is more interesting than that. OtherSide's decision to use the Unity engine for this game has received criticism for some quarters. In the video accompanying the update, programmers Will Teixeira and Jeff Kesselman talk about the advantages of Unity for developing a game that's heavily based on physical simulation. It also includes some new footage of the game's prototype. Check it out:
There has been a lot of chatter about the in-game visuals in the Underworld Ascendant early prototype. Some have called them downright homely. We take no insult.
As with the games we developed at LookingGlass, our philosophy is to avoid putting a lot of time into making pretty in-game visuals during early development. This enables us to iterate fast early on, rapidly improving game play. The tradeoff is having less impressive visuals to show off with a prototype. For fans who want to see gorgeous visuals upfront, this can be a hurdle.
Good news is that we can and will dramatically step up the visual bar. Not at the expense of gameplay, and not to try to chase AAA games that have tens-of-millions to throw at visuals, but we'll deliver a great-looking indie game.
Explaining some of the how:
Beyond tapping into the enthusiasm of Chris’ kids, our art team has track record of delivering games known for their wonderful art style and 3D visuals: BioShock, BioShock Infinite,Uncharted 2, The Last of Us, among others.
As for the software engine, we are currently using Unity 4.6 for the prototype. This version’s visual capabilities are dated. However, it's proven and robust, enabling fast prototyping.
This week we started doing test builds with a beta version of Unity 5. Its capabilities are hugely improved. Notable new features include physically-based shading, PhysX 3.3, and global illumination. Check out what Unity 5 promises to deliver when it is released for production useHERE.
When the Unity 5 beta becomes sufficiently stable that using it will not slow down our development, we will make the switch. We expect Unity 5 will be a good fit for the project’s needs. However, if we are surprised to learn it fails to deliver, we will switch to a more suitable engine.
They've also updated the Kickstarter pitch video with some of this new stuff. Nice! BTW, don't forget to vote for Underworld Ascendant on the GOG.com community wishlist.
Do you enjoy reminiscing? Looking back on years past as if the years that followed them hadn't happened yet? Well, since everything in 2013 got postponed, we thought it gave us the perfect excuse to postpone the 2013 Year in Review.
Until now. We look back on the games that were released:
Moving on to other legal stoushes and stories of inanity from 2013, we have Chaos Chronicles. It was supposed to be a turn-based, old-school, classic... and other buzzwords we like to hear... RPG under development by CorePlay. It started the year by putting its official forums on the Codex.
And it was all downhill from there.
... the publishers that died:
... and they died. THQ that is, not Trey Parker or Matt Stone. The remains of the company were acquired by UbiSoft which, after some concern about what kind of limbo the game would end up in, did confirm they would complete the game.
... the delays:
If 2012 was the year that gave rise to the KickStarter, then 2013 was the year of delayed incline. For all those who thought release dates for KickStarter projects of just one year later were a tad optimistic, you were right, as several major projects got delayed.
... the birth of Steam Early Access:
Long-time gamers would know that video games don't get finished, they just get released. Often in a horribly buggy and unfinished state that then requires multiple follow-up patches. In many cases, the game fails to sell enough copies, the patches never materialise (or some legal road block from the publisher gets in the way) and that's the end of that. You'll take your buggy unplayable piece of shit and you'll like it.
Not so anymore! 2013 finally saw the year when the standard industry model... actually became the standard industry model. And it pretty much happened that quickly.
... and more!
It may give you a weird feeling reading it now since we talk about games "slated for a 2014 release" that have been out for months. But come with us now, on a journey through time and space, back to 2013.
Over at the unusually named Urban Gaming Elite, there's a fantastic new two-page interview with no less than four of the developers on Torment: Tides of Numenera - Colin McComb, Adam Heine, George Ziets and Jeremy Kopman. Unlike the recent interview at Eurogamer, this one has lots of new stuff. I can't possibly quote all of it, so here's an excerpt:
What are some of the challenges of adapting a tabletop RPG setting?
Adam Heine: The biggest challenge is that we don't have a GM. More than most RPGs, Numenera encourages players to come up with creative solutions and the GM to come up with creative responses to those solutions. TTON has to anticipate what players will want to try and handle it in interesting and satisfying ways.
It's a daunting task, but it is in many ways uniquely suited for a Torment game. When the player comes across a lock, it won't be just a lock you can pick, but maybe a riddle you must solve using clues gained through Lore: Civilizations, Visual Perception, or even items you've picked up in your travels.
Numenera's play style encourages us to create unique, scripted interactions like this, instead of dropping locks and traps everywhere that differ only in their difficulty level. It is most certainly a challenge, but it should make for a more interesting game across the board.
Can you tell which creatures from the Numenera setting might make an appearance in the game?
George Ziets: We’re planning to draw Numenera creatures from both the Corebook and the more recently published Bestiary. For example, we recently implemented a quest for the Bloom that revolves around a Decanted – a construct that keeps a withered biological head in a little tank on its chest. I can’t reveal the rest of the creatures right now, but in the Bloom zone, the current design includes: 1) one of the abhuman races, 2) a transdimensional hunter, and 3) a crystalline entity… as well as some non-adversarial creatures like the aneen. In the Oasis zone, we’re planning to build a similar set of creatures that fits the local flavor, including one iconic Numenera monster for the desert exterior.
According to your website, there are 8 writers working on Tides of Numenera. What made you decide to go with such a large team of writers?
Colin: In part it’s because I wanted the opportunity to work with each of them, in part it’s because I wanted to get a broad array of voices to contribute to the project, especially in the early stages when their literary contributions can make the most impact. Now that we’re in a more technical phase and working directly in our tools, we have fewer writers involved. At this stage, those who are need to be able to understand the intricacies of the dialogue tool and writing dialogue specifically for a computer role-playing game, and that’s a pretty steep training curve. It’s also because most of our writers have projects of their own, and can’t devote their attention to the game full time. In practice, the writers we have working most closely with the project are Nathan Long, Adam Heine, George Ziets, and me.
You've indicated that you're trying to emulate tabletop encounters. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means, and how you're doing that?
Jeremy Kopman: The lynchpin to a satisfying tabletop RPG encounter is the nearly endless variety of options available to the player in any given situation. When you're rolling real dice that flexibility comes from quick thinking on the part of the GM. Players can—are encouraged to! —use anything the GM has described to come up with a plan of action. Say you've encountered a hostile Murden (a crow-like abhuman) on a rope bridge. As a player in a tabletop game, you might decide to rush the creature with a melee attack, possibly knocking it off the bridge. You might try to pin it down with ranged fire. Or you might try to cut the bridge free of its stakes before the murden can cross. And depending on how much you know about the creature, you might try to talk to it or use telepathic powers to convince it to flee ("Hey, don’t murdens usually travel in groups? What are you doing out here alone?"). A good GM will take those player ideas and turn them into specific tasks to roll quickly enough to make the players believe she had it planned all along.
That openness of action—the possibility for the player to make use of anything in the scene as well as a broad array of their character's abilities—is the feeling we're trying to capture with our Crises. In our case, we really do need to predict and implement as many of the things a player could think up as we can. While the visual nature of a computer game, especially the camera and environment art, set a few more constraints than the infinite possibilities of your imagination, this is still a big job. As Adam alluded to earlier, we're integrating conversations with NPCs, interactions with objects, and a very diverse set of combat abilities into our encounters. You can exchange a few lines of persuasive dialog with a weak-willed NPC with your first party member, slice open an enemy with a sword attack with the next, and use a crane that blocks a group of incoming reinforcements with another (making use of their Lore: Machinery skill). Since there's no live GM, we're planning a continuous cycle of iteration and improvement for our Crises, layering in option after option. We're limiting the total number of Crises, so that we'll be able to make each one as rich, reactive, and interesting as possible.
In addition to a wealth of ways the player can interact with the Crises, NPC AI provides another weapon in our arsenal of fun. We're refining a behavior tree system that allows us to easily script complex NPC behaviors that react to specific player actions as well as work toward their own goals. For example, an NPC might want to keep a machine running at all costs, prioritizing manipulating a control panel over attacking you or ordering minions to handle combat while he works. But if you get too close, or start targeting the machine itself, he could fire off his own esoteries [NOTE: esoteries are Numenera's version of spells] or manipulate the machine to speed whatever process it is running. He might even yell out for mercy, starting a conversation with the nearest PC. The aim is to ensure that NPCs can do all (or at least most) of the kinds of things you can, employing character-appropriate tactics in working toward their goals.
Read the entire thing there, it's really good. (And watch out you don't miss the second page!)
Okay, so the new Pillars of EternityKickstarter update is actually just about the results of the physical disc poll from last week (the first option won by a large margin), plus some information on the game's Prima strategy guide. But I'd rather tell you about the profusion of Pillars of Eternity previews that appeared across the web today, a week after it was demonstrated at Paradox Interactive's PDXCon conference by Josh Sawyer. Here's a list of them:
The longest and most comprehensive English preview by far is the PCWorld one, which could actually serve as a fine introduction to the game for Infinity Engine fans who haven't followed any news about it. If that's too tl;dr for you, excerpts are available in GameBanshee's round-up post, and in our own Pillars of Eternity thread. But wait, that's not all! Obsidian also released a few new screenshots for this round of publicity:
There'll be more in a couple of weeks, when Pillars of Eternity is exhibited at PAX East. They're certainly going all-out with the publicity for this game. It'll be interesting to see how well it pays off.
In the last Underworld AscendantKickstarter update for this week, Paul Neurath proudly announces that the game has been greenlit for Steam release after only a week, and also that the Kickstarter campaign now has over 9,000 backers. The update's main course is a video formally introducing senior producer Chris Siegel and also "jack of all trades" Steve Pearsall. What it doesn't mention, however, is Twitch personality Arvan Eleron's excellent interview with Paul from last night, which is what I'm going to be posting here:
The interview, which starts at around 19:30 after resolving some technical issues, is around one hour long, with about forty minutes of questions from Arvan and another twenty with questions from viewers. After the initial introduction of the game's basic design principles, things get pretty interesting, with questions from Arvan about the controversy surrounding the game's co-op stretch goal, about why the Kickstarter campaign isn't going as well as expected, and about OtherSide's scope management skills in face of a fairly low development budget. Definitely check it out if you have the time.
Colin McComb was interviewed at Eurogamer today about Torment: Tides of Numenera. It is the first such interview in a while, perhaps not uncoincidentally coming right on the heels of the announcement that he would be attending the EGX Rezzed convention (which is sponsored by Eurogamer's parent company) in London next month. For the most part, the interview retreads old ground, but there a few tidbits here worth quoting:
The role-playing universe Numenera is "less a chess game and more a storytelling game", according to McComb. For Torment that means combat isn't the bread and butter of the experience - story is.
"We are not giving experience for killing stuff," McComb says. "Numenera is about exploration, it's not about killing people and taking their stuff. In a game where we say 'what does one life matter?', we actually want to make it matter." Not, "What does one life matter? Well, about 25XP!"
He goes on: "We have Crises and Tussles. A Crisis is a hand-crafted encounter, a major thing - a major set-piece. Then we've got Tussles for when you screw up a dialogue or get caught picking the wrong pocket. I don't want to call it a trash combat because hopefully it's all going to be entertaining and fun."
[...] You'll recruit companions, which were a crucial element in Planescape: Torment, but there won't be many and you'll adventure in small parties. There's a chance, too, that your companions will die. In fact, based upon your actions, they could already be dead before you meet them.
"If you choose to seek out one companion earlier than another, then the other companion will be gone from where they are - they might be dead," says McComb. "Or they might be in a situation where you're going to have to work a whole lot harder to extricate them from it. Or they might be getting into something that can change the course of the story.
"We're looking at some really deep reactivity here on things that will change. It's not going to be just, 'Are you going to save the kitten in the burning building? Or are you going to come back two weeks later and save them then?'"
He adds: "A lot of people can perma-die. We can find some weird, hand-wavy explanation about why you can save people but there are certainly a number of options where people can perma-die."
Another reason to be excited is inXile, the developer, which already delivered Wasteland 2 - a nostalgic Kickstarted game - to a very high standard. The bulk of that team now works on Torment, a force that numbers around 25-30. That's a hefty workforce for a game like this. The budget has grown too, from $4.1m as of the end of the Kickstarter campaign up to $4.8m now.
There have been a couple of delays to Torment: Tides of Numenera but the end is finally in sight. The good news is it will "definitely" - read: hopefully - be out this year, according to McComb, although it sounds like there's still an awful lot of work to do. The official date is Q4 2015, but that's "probably late 2015" in actuality. There don't appear to be any plans for an Early Access release, but those who backed the game at the appropriate level will get access to an alpha systems test ahead of the game's full launch.
UPDATE: The article in question is from 2009. I blame felipepepe and my short attention span! Still, I found it pretty interesting. Plus, turns out John Harris has just announced that his monthly roguelike column @Play will be returning, after 4 years of inactivity.
Felipepepe's new home away from home, Gamasutra, has a really long article by one John Harris, entitled "Game Design Essentials: 20 RPGs" (that every game designer should play). Read it here. It goes through the more famous RPG series, both Western and Japanese, starting with Wizardry, which, being a Wizardry gal, is the main thing that got me interested.
On that note, have a quote on Wizardry's exploration:
The grid-based layout of the dungeon and atomic, space-by-space nature of the party's movement combine to make rendering relatively easy to implement; this is how Wizardry was able to present a 3D world to players a decade before Wolfenstein 3D. It was much copied, to the extent that it shows up in some far-flung products: the original Phantasy Star uses a much more attractive implementation for its 3D dungeons; retro action games like Fester's Quest and Golgo 13 also implement their own takes.
The 3D effect makes mapping essential. The grid layout both makes mapping easier, by conforming it to a grid, and harder, by making it easier to trick the player using map gimmicks to fool him into mapping incorrectly. (Mapping tricks are explicitly mentioned on the OD&D books as a useful tool for the DM, so blame them.) One such type of trick, a particularly mean one, is the teleporter, which invisibly sends the player to another spot in the maze, sometimes one that looks similar, but not identical, to the previous one.
Another cruel gimmick is the spinner, which randomly flips the player's facing direction to a random direction upon entering. If the player didn't notice that his facing has changed, a spinner can easily mess up an entire map. Wizardry even has dark areas that provide no vision of the corridor ahead, requiring that the player deduce where the walls are solely though the "Ouch!" messages that appear when the party collides with one. These tricks make coming up with an accurate map one of the biggest challenges of the game, and as a result it's rather satisfying to finish out an entire level.
Of all the games listed here, none is as inseparable from the act of mapping as Wizardry. An automapping feature would arguably ruin the game, because it'd reveal information, such as having been teleported or spun around, that players are supposed to deduce for themselves. Many players now would view that as being screwed with and abandon the game, but it's important to remember that being screwed with, and overcoming it, is one of the great joys of classic Dungeons & Dragons.
While I completely agree with grid-based exploration being one of Wizardry's fortes, I cannot subscribe to the view (implicit in this article as I read it) that it was just a limited kind of design leading to something like Wolfenstein 3D. I think Rampant Coyote summed it up fairly well recently, but the gist of it is, grid-based exploration has an entirely different set of strengths, and a different feel, compared to the free-form one. Which is why I still prefer Wizardry I to VII to Wizardry 8, up to this day. Breaking down the map into tiles lets you do the kind of things - dubbed "map gimmicks" in this article - that no natural, free movement progression through a level can afford to do.
Even though there are many scripted encounters, or "specials," a key difference between Wizardry and the D&D sessions it seeks to emulate is the absence of a flexible DM to allow the players to try things that aren't offered in the basic ruleset. There is no jumping up on tables, swinging from ropes, prodding with 10-foot poles, knocking on walls, or listening at doors or using them to block pursuers. Monsters don't exist until they have been triggered, and once a fight begins it takes place entirely in that square of dungeon map, and cannot sprawl out into the dungeon.
It is important to note that, in the 25-plus years since Wizardry was released, no CRPG has satisfactorily addressed this limitation, that of system inflexibilty. The lack of verisimilitude remains the most grievous difference between them and pen-and-paper games.
This much, though, I can fully agree with, and I wonder how CRPGs might address that, if at all.
Aside from Wizardry, this 22-page (!) Gamasutra article addresses Ultima, Wasteland, Gold Box, Quest for Glory, Might and Magic, Nethack, The Elder Scrolls, Baldur's Gate, and WoW, as well as such famous JRPG series as Dragon Quest, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy, Earthbound, Pokemon, Mystery Dungeon, and even (gasp!) the Tales Of series.
This is, in other words, a fairly comprehensive list, which doesn't include any of the really obscure or more unorthodox titles, but does its best to do justice to the more popular ones.
Underworld Ascendant received its second weekly major Kickstarter update today. This update describes in further detail the environmental interaction capabilities of the game's "Improvisation Engine", and also its larger scale faction-based reactivity and choice & consequence mechanics. The latter is something we've less heard about, so I'll quote that part of the update, after the accompanying video:
Faction Influence: You Can't Please Everyone
Underworld Ascendant's sandbox design also feeds into how you interact with the Abyss’ three factions: the Dark Elves, the Dwarves, and the Shamblers.
Each faction's outlook towards you is shared by all of its members, based on your reputation and prior actions towards them. Their outlook is influenced by choices in conversation, larceny, acts of overt hostility, favors (for them or their rivals), or actions that may even seem inconsequential at first.
For example, slaying a Tunnel Trapper blocking access to the mines might put you in good with the Dwarves, but harm your reputation with the Dark Elves, who herded it there earlier to thwart the mountain folk's prospecting efforts. Likewise, the bark of the carnivorous plant known as the Ripper is highly-prized by all three factions. The Dark Elves craft it into light, sturdy mail. The Dwarves utilize it as an alchemical ingredient. The Shamblers employ it as a fertile, living bed for the growth of spores. Killing one of the creatures may provide you with valuable items to trade the Dark Elves or Dwarves, but put you out of favor with the Shamblers.
Keeping on good terms with a faction may lead to special quests, access to unique items, and even to becoming adopted into their tribe; all of which greatly affect your gameplay experience. It’s all up to your choices.
A Dynamic, Reactive World
When we say that Underworld Ascendant will be a “living, breathing world”, we mean that there's a complex ecology of flora and fauna existing around you while you play. This ecology will be self-sustaining, designed to flourish and grow.
The player can impact the ecology. For instance, killing a pack of Shadow Beasts may mean the Lurkers living in the watering hole nearby won't have a food supply. Their new home may end up being directly in the path of your next quest, or adjacent to an encampment of Dwarven allies.
Conversely, if you decide not to hunt the Shadow Beasts, their nesting habits may attract Cave Worms, who love to lay eggs in Shadow Beast feces. More Cave Worms means more Dire Faeries, who view Cave Worms as a delicacy. Suddenly this area is getting pretty dangerous!
Opportunities will arise for you to take an active hand in altering the environment. For instance, transforming a damp, humid bog into a dry, arid plain by damming a nearby stream will drive out the native species. Invite in others that favor the altered clime, and tip the area out of the Shamblers' control and into the hands of the Dwarves or Dark Elves.
The more you play, the more you'll come to understand the web of interrelated systems playing out around you, and how you can play within those systems. That's what “freedom of choice” means for Underworld Ascendant.
Other than that, the update also reveals that OtherSide have recruited yet another old-time Origin/Looking Glass celeb - the artist Denis Loubet, who was responsible for all of Origin's iconic box art. Oh, and the OtherSiders are currently doing their Twitch LP of Thief: The Dark Project, which you can watch from the very beginning here. Looking Glass Studios veteran Randy Smith is the guest star.
Rare are the times that the Codex's front page braves the dark and fearsome world of roguelikes. Being predominantly a traditional CRPG, not roguelike-focused website, permadeath scares us - all of us except the courageous Deuce Traveler, who in this review ventures headlong into ADOM from the perspective not of a roguelike expert, but a fellow veteran CRPG player. One of us, then! Let's hear what he has to say.
So, would I recommend Ancient Domains of Mystery?
Well, I highly recommend that every Codexer play the game once, but I don't recommend that you attempt to actually beat it. I know that seems like a contradiction, but while ADOM is a treat for those who enjoy CRPG design, it loses its charm as a game and begins to feel like work after your 20th or so character death. I suggest playing the game for a few hours without backing up save states or looking at the ADOM wiki. Then, when you begin to feel frustrated with the experience, go ahead and look at the wiki for dungeon locations and to get a general idea of where you should explore next. If you still find yourself feeling frustrated after that, leave the game and go find something else to play that is more enjoyable. But if you feel driven to beat the game and are still enjoying yourself, then you'll be able to spend the next few months or even years defeating it. Good luck, and don't get eaten by a grue.
The Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter campaign has concluded, with a final tally of $1,204,726 raised from 31,497 backers (plus $3000 from our fundraiser!). It's an impressive achievement for what was ultimately a fairly low effort campaign, which bodes well for future initiatives from other RPG developers who have used Kickstarter before. In a celebratory Kickstarter update, Jordan Weisman and Mitch Gitelman thank the backers one last time:
Congratulations to everybody at Harebrained Schemes!
Today's Underworld AscendantKickstarter update announces the conclusion of last week's backer vote. This week, in lieu of a regular vote, backers are being asked to suggest their own name for one of the game's monsters. I quote:
Time to call this week’s vote, the face off between Lava Bats and Dire Fairies. By a whopping 195 vote margin, Dire Fairies win over Lava Bats!
Clearly some of you are haunted by dark nightmares, or want to be. (Despite the lack of a win, we do reserve the option to include Lava Bats in some more remote areas of the Stygian Abyss if we reach our first stretch goal.)
This massive, semi-translucent ooze feeds by cramming it gelatinous bulk into tight dungeon passageways, absorbing detritus and any creature unwary enough to get in its way. We’ve been using the placeholder name “Tunnel Trapper” for this oddball beast, but we know you can come up with something better! Go to our forums HERE to submit a more suitable name. Then in a week's time we’ll select the one that we feels fits best.
There are also a few miscellaneous announcements related to OtherSide's efforts to publicize the game:
We noticed that there are just 732 likes on the OtherSide Facebook page. If you would go to our Facebook page and like us, it’s an easy way to help spread the word. Let’s see if we can get to 2,000 likes by week’s end! While you’re at it, please follow us on Twitter.
It's been just a half week and Underworld Ascendant has already broke into the top-40 out of over 1,700 games currently on Steam Greenlight. Pretty amazing. If you’ve not already done so, please vote YES. Let’s see if we can get into the top-20 and really make our presence known with the Steam players!
The most exciting part of the update, however, is the announcement that they've recruited yet another Looking Glass voice acting legend to their cause - Terri "SHODAN" Brosius:
Also, tickled to announce another superbly talented voice actor joining the Underworld Ascendant roster.
Terri Brosius was part of the team at LookingGlass, doing both design and voice acting on the Thief games and System Shock II. She is the voice of Shodan and Delacroix in the System Shock series, and the voice of Viktoria in the Thief series. She has also worked with Ion Storm, Electronic Arts, Tiger Style, and Arkane. Terri has writing credits on the Thief games, Dishonored, Waking Mars, and more. Terri also plays keys for The Vivs, teaches piano to unsuspecting youngsters, likes to crochet, and has an unreasonable fear of hornets. We are thrilled to be working with Terri again!
Finally, the update also announces an upcoming series of Twitch streams in which the OtherSiders will be playing the Looking Glass classics:
Last, we wanted to give everybody a heads-up that over the coming 3 weeks we’ll be doing a series of sessions on Twitch, which we’re calling OtherSide plays LookingGlass, Folks from OtherSide, along with some very special guests, are going to be playing a selection of classic games we worked on when we were at LookingGlass.
First up is Thief, this Wednesday at 3pm – 6pm EST. Then System Shock 2 on Wednesday the 25th (time TBD). For the finale session on Wednesday March 4th (time TBD), Ultima Underworld naturally.
During each session we will be chatting about the game, sharing behind-the-scenes anecdotes, stories about what went into its development, and more. We will also be giving away some free digital copies of these classic games. Please come join us, and tell your friends to come along too!
They're doing their best! How about bringing on Terri's husband to help with the soundtrack?
Just under twelve days since its launch, the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter campaign has reached 450,000 dollars of funding, with over 8,000 backers. The Dwarven Claw Knuckles goal from last week was reached on time, adding that item to the game for all backers (though without any opal stones). Now OtherSide want to repeat that tactic again, this time with a Dark Elven artifact. The latest Kickstarter update explains:
We’re having a great weekend so far, pushing past the 8,000 backer goal for the week. As of noon Sunday there are 8,078 of you strong! That’s a small army… growing into a larger army. This also means everybody who backs this Kickstarter will receive gratis the exclusive ‘Little Friends’ digital reward, which our dwarven smiths are busily crafting.
With this goal met, we’re setting a new challenge. Let’s grow our army of backers to at least 9,000 strong come next Sunday noon. The Dwarves are not the only faction helping us out with this. The Dark Elves are working on a special gift for everybody if we meet this next goal.
A handy sling, popular with the Dark Elves. This one comes with rare Splatter Seeds. The elves harvest these seeds from a creeping vine that thrives in their domain. The seeds have sharp thorns that can damage a foe, but they also split open on contact to spray a phosphorescent goo. Great way to tag a foe in the dark! The 5 seeds that come with this sling have a one-of-a-kind, extra long-lasting, purple goo. For every hundred additional backers over 9,000 that join us by Sunday noon, the elves have offered to include a bonus purple seed.
There's more exclusive item-related stuff in the update - details about the Dark Elven buckler available to people who back both this and Portalarium's Shroud of the Avatar, and about the Avatar's robe available to backers at the $200 and above tiers. But the most exciting thing in the update is the announcement of the voice acting talent that OtherSide have picked up. That's right, Stephen "Garrett" Russell:
It’s our pleasure to announce that Stephen L. Russell will be doing voice acting for Underworld Ascendant. Among gamers, Stephen is perhaps best known as the voice of Garrett in the original Thief games. At Looking Glass we worked closely with Stephen, where he voiced some of the more memorable characters from Thief, Thief II and System Shock 2. Stephen also did voice acting for Fallout 3 and Skyrim. We’re looking forward to working with him once again.
If you want more nostalgia, you might also be interested in this Ultima Underworld 1 & 2 retrospective discussion that was featured in Star Citizen's "RSI Museum" a couple of days ago. Starring Richard Garriott, Paul Neurath-on-a-stick, and veteran Origin producer Dallas Snell, it's actually more of a retrospective of their entire careers and the companies that they founded. Here's the video:
Despite being over an hour long, the discussion is far too abridged to really say anything very interesting about the Ultima Underworld games themselves. However, I enjoyed the final part when they began talking about the "Origin tribe" and the concept of "company culture". At one point, Dallas Snell honestly admits that Origin failed at sustaining its culture after EA took over and the founding personnel began leaving the company.