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Sat 17 March 2018

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?

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Sat 17 March 2018, 00:48:55

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Paul Neurath; Underworld Ascendant; Warren Spector

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Paul Neurath and Warren Spector were at the annual SXSW media conference in Austin this week to promote Underworld Ascendant. Today they participated in a hour-long panel discussion about Ascendant organized by PC Gamer and streamed live on Twitch. It was a decent enough discussion, but there wasn't much new there if you've been following the game's monthly development updates. They go over the design principles, features, development anecdotes, etc. What little I did find noteworthy about the panel you can read about here. It does start out with a brief new gameplay teaser, though.

The next week looks like it'll be a busy one for Ascendant. According to a forum post by OtherSide's community manager, there's going to be another trailer of some sort in the coming days, to be followed by a new monthly development update. It also reveals that the game will be reaching alpha within the next two months or so.

There are 4 comments on Underworld Ascendant Panel at SXSW 2018

Fri 16 March 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 16 March 2018, 01:17:26

Tags: Iron Tower Studio; The New World; Vince D. Weller

Vault Dweller is looking for some input from the community. Since The New World is a party-based game, it's going to have larger battles than Age of Decadence did, especially when it comes to factional warfare. If you remember Adytum from Fallout, you know that turn-based battles involving large numbers of characters who aren't under your control can be painful. Vince has come up with a few solutions to this problem, but he'd like to know your opinion on the matter. Here's his explanation over at the Iron Tower Studio forums:

Now that we're slowly implementing things, different design issues start popping up, so we might as well discuss them openly and get some feedback.

Imagine a situation where you're helping a group of armed men (Jonas and his thugs) to attack another group of armed men (Braxton and his Regulators). Let's say that Braxton has less men but they're better armed and trained (aka quality) and Jonas has more men but they're poorly armed and trained thugs (aka quantity). Let's say 8 Regulators vs 12 thugs plus your party, so it's 8 vs 14-15 avg and the Regulators have the advantage of properly fortified headquarters.

If you control only your own party (which could be just you if you're playing solo) and you have to wait until 20 guys take turns shooting at each other, it will get boring very fast. We can reduce the Regulators to 4-5 and Jonas men to 5-6 but it won't solve the problem but make the fight less interesting. Thus it seems that the best solution is to let the player assume control over all allies and have a bit of fun, instead of waiting.

Basically, it's like attacking Antidas and his men in AoD but controlling not only your own characters but the Imperial Guards as well.

Let's take it a step further though:

To make it more manageable I think we should split the attackers in two waves (the first wave will soften up the Regulators and the second wave will go in for the kill) and let you control the first wave (the suicidal thugs destined to die) as well, trying to inflict as much damage as possible before your party and the remaining allies go in.

If you're having trouble visualizing the scenario, there was a somewhat similar situation in AoD in the thieves questline, where you recruit Rusty and some local scum, pump them full of drugs, and send them to soften up the assassins hiding in some house, before you finish them off. In AoD you're told of the outcome of this attack and then you go in. Imagine taking full control of Rusty and his crew and overseeing the attack personally. Basically, having fun instead of being told about other people having fun while you're waiting for your turn.

Other examples of such control would be attacking several targets simultaneously (your party attacks target #1, your allies attack target #2, then combine forces) or splitting your party to lead different groups.

I know that this design is definitely not for everyone, so we want to hear what you have to say before we start designing fights.
Do you want to control allies in combat? You can respond to the poll over there, or right here in our own Iron Tower Studio subforum.

There are 10 comments on The New World Design Poll #1: Assuming Control

Thu 15 March 2018

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 15 March 2018, 01:03:20

Tags: BattleTech; Harebrained Schemes; Jordan Weisman; Mike McCain; Mitch Gitelman; Paradox Interactive

Paradox have published the second episode in their three-part series of introductory videos for Harebrained Schemes' BattleTech. This episode in particular is very much worth watching, as it provides the closest look at the game's strategic campaign layer that we've had so far. It's more complex than I expected, with detailed team management and mech upgrade options as well as RPG-style CYOA text events. Check it out:

Looks pretty slick, doesn't it? I'm surprised that Harebrained haven't talked up this aspect of the game more.

There are 6 comments on BattleTech Basics Video #2: Mercenary Life

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Wed 14 March 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 14 March 2018, 00:48:16

Tags: Chris Keenan; InXile Entertainment; The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep

It's nice to see Bard's Tale IV updates start to come in at a more rapid pace. This month's Kickstarter update is an important one. First of all, the game now has a subtitle. From now on, it's The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep. Second and more importantly, the game's alpha test is being released next week to eligible backers, and will also be shown at GDC later this month. The update isn't long, so I'll just post the entire thing here:

Chris Keenan here, VP of Development at inXile, and we come to you with two pieces of very good news.

First off, next week will be the release of the backer Alpha, and backers’ first opportunity to go hands-on with the game!

This demo showcases many of our core features that we have highlighted in previous Kickstarter updates. This twenty minute Alpha Systems Test includes looks at combat, puzzles & traps, puzzle weapons, Songs of Exploration, and more (including one often asked about Easter egg).

We know many of you are excited to check out the game, and we hope those of you with Alpha reward access enjoy this first hands-on look at it. We’ll have more information next week on how to access the Alpha Test, as well as how to leave feedback for us. We’re excited to get the game into the hands of those Alpha backers!

For the rest of you, there are plenty of ways to get in on the action. Next week marks the start of this year’s Game Developers Conference, one of the game industry’s biggest and most important events. As part of the conference, from 03/21 - 03/23, we will be demoing The Bard’s Tale IV using the backer Alpha Test. There will also be plenty of press coverage of the game, so keep your eyes open (and we’ll be sure to link to some of the coverage in a future update, too).

The second big piece of news you might have caught at the beginning of this update. We are proud to announce the full title of our game and share it with you first - The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep! We tossed around a number of possible subtitles for a long time. The Destiny Knight and Thief of Fate described important story hooks for those games, but for the return of The Bard’s Tale after so many years, we wanted a name that captured the essence of a dungeon crawler.

From the catacombs beneath the Mad God’s temple to teleporting between realms, The Bard’s Tale series has always been about seeking out places that only adventurers would dare, descending into the depths, overcoming monsters and puzzles, and defeating the evil within... and to be heroes worthy of a tale sung by a bard. Exploring the dark corners of the world is the essence of a dungeon crawler, and in Barrows Deep, your adventure awaits!

We hope you like it, and please let us know what you think! We’ll return with David’s look at the Practitioner archetype soon, but for now enjoy the ride over the next couple of weeks as GDC and the backer Alpha Test take center stage! Thanks to all of you for helping us make The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep a reality.
So the alpha is a small "Systems Test" like what Torment got back in 2015. Considering that Bard's Tale IV is supposed to be releasing this year, I certainly hope it's in better shape than Torment was at that point. I guess we'll know if the beta is released not long afterwards...

There are 13 comments on Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter Update #42: Subtitle Chosen, Backer Alpha Coming Next Week

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Tue 13 March 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 13 March 2018, 23:46:12

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

For the last month or so, pretty much all we've seen of Pillars of Eternity II is beta previews, ship system previews, and the occasional inscrutable secret code tweet. At this point in the first game's development, we had seen multiple livestreams of non-beta content at a number of major industry events. The other day Josh Sawyer assured me that everything was fine, but still it seemed quite unusual for a game less than a month away from release. Which is why perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised when Obsidian announced today that Pillars II's release was being postponed by five weeks. It's now coming out on May 8th.

Greetings fans!

We know you're as excited as we are about the upcoming launch of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. As you have probably guessed, Deadfire is a huge game -- significantly larger than the original Pillars of Eternity. Obsidian has been working harder than Abydon himself to make sure every inch of it is awesome, as well as incorporating all the great feedback we have been getting from everyone playing the Backer Beta.

With this in mind, we are taking just a few extra weeks to polish and put those finishing touches on the game.

Our new launch date will be Tuesday, May 8, 2018. To tide you over until then, you can look forward to plenty of Deadfire-related news and content coming in the weeks and months.

See you all soon in the Deadfire!

According to Josh, the reason for the delay is "bugs". It should also give Obsidian time to do another beta update to test out Josh's latest wacky ideas, something that was looking increasingly unlikely with the original release date, although there's no official word on that yet.

There are 25 comments on Pillars of Eternity II delayed to May 8th

Game News - posted by Darth Roxor on Tue 13 March 2018, 20:03:42

Tags: Ghost of a Tale; SeithCG

Following a successful Indiegogo campaign and nearly five years in development, with a lot of the time spent in Early Access, Ghost of a Tale - an action RPG/stealth game with rodents - has just been released on Steam. To quote,


Ghost of a Tale is an action-RPG game in which you play as Tilo, a mouse and minstrel caught up in a perilous adventure. The game takes place in a medieval world populated only by animals, and puts an emphasis on immersion and exploration. It features stealth elements, disguises, conversations with allies and enemies, and quests.

You’ll be able to explore the secrets of Dwindling Heights Keep and navigate its dangers. Tilo is not much of a fighter, so stealth and nimbleness are your allies when confronted with enemies twice your size. Talk to the characters you meet and leave no stone unturned in your quest to find Merra, your true love…​

Naturally, calling it an "action RPG [game]" might be stretching it somewhat, since the "RPG" part is limited to some basic stat unlocks and inventory management, but that has never stopped anyone from posting news about much more questionable things here. At the very least, it is charming as hell and looks like a good enough stealth game. Spreading of rodent agenda is an added bonus on top.

You can get it on Steam, 10% off for the first week, or on GOG.

There are 81 comments on Ghost of a Tale Released

Fri 9 March 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 9 March 2018, 19:17:29

Tags: Disco Elysium; ZA/UM

In their ongoing quest for better marketing, the wacky Estonians at ZA/UM have made the choice to rename No Truce With The Furies to Disco Elysium, bringing an end to over a year and a half of bad puns about furries. The game is now simply billed as "a detective RPG". To announce this rebranding, the developers have put together a new trailer. It's a bit more action-packed than previous trailers and offers a glimpse at some of Disco Elysium's roleplaying systems. What kind of cop are you?

I wasn't expecting to see all those animations. The game is definitely coming together nicely. Still no release date beyond "2018", though.

There are 117 comments on No Truce With The Furies is now Disco Elysium, a detective RPG

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 9 March 2018, 01:44:31

Tags: Black Shamrock; Cyanide; Paranoia: The Official Video Game

From out of nowhere, the plucky French studio Cyanide have come out with the news that they're developing an RPG based on the satirical science-fiction tabletop game Paranoia, in partnership with their Irish sister studio Black Shamrock. The game's title is simply Paranoia: The Official Video Game. In case you haven't heard of it, Paranoia is set in a dystopian megacity called Alpha Complex which is run by an insane civil service AI known as The Computer. Players are tasked by The Computer with rooting out mutants, members of secret societies, and other threats to Alpha Complex. The joke is that the player characters are themselves typically mutants and/or members of secret societies. Double-crossing is encouraged, and hence the title. As for Cyanide's adaptation, all we have right now is this press release:

Good news, Citizen! For the first time, your friend The Computer, has authorized a digital version of Paranoia

Cyanide and Black Shamrock are fervently loyal to The Computer and therefore proud to announce the development of Paranoia: The Official Video Game, a darkly humorous RPG adapted from the critically acclaimed pen and paper game created by Dan Gelber, Greg Costikyan, and Eric Goldberg.

Paranoia is set in Alpha Complex, the last remaining human city. Alpha Complex is a paradise. The Computer tells you so. Of course, The Computer is always right. Questioning or challenging The Computer is likely to result in termination, or possibly long-term commitment to a Re-Education Gulag and Spa.

In Paranoia, you’ll play as the leader of a Red Clearance Troubleshooter team. As a Troubleshooter, your job is to find trouble. And shoot it. Though Alpha Complex is a paradise, it is unfortunately beset by all kinds of enemies. Terrorists. Mutants. Members of secret societies. Even – shocking though it may be to say – even Troubleshooters who somehow doubt The Computer’s benevolent wisdom, and the evident truth that Alpha Complex is a paradise.

Lies, double-cross and backstabbing will be your best allies for survival in Alpha Complex, as betrayal is a constant threat. Sometimes your team mates, and even yourself, are more of a threat to your survival than the ostensible mission baddies.

On top of that, the Computer is always watching your actions, judging you, and rewarding you fairly… or not. But should you be defeated or terminated (incinerated is more accurate), you have 5 replacement clones in reserve to try again! Not always faithful copies of the original… but that's another problem.

To demonstrate your loyalty to The Computer, please circulate these posters! Thank you for your cooperation!

Unreliable narration; explosions, laser blasts, insane robots; technology-based environments to explore; a role-playing team you can’t rely on: Paranoia takes the conventions of the CRPG and turns them on their head, creating a world and a gaming environment that will frustrate, surprise, and delight players of the genre with something both familiar – and something that defeats their expectations.

The above information is Clearance Violet. If you are below Clearance Violet, please report to the nearest Termination Booth immediately. Thank you.

Paranoia: The Official Video Game is co-developed by Cyanide, from Paris Complex, and Black Shamrock, from Dublin Complex. The game will be released on PC and Console when the Computer decides that the time is right.​

Two RPGs based on esoteric tabletop properties announced within barely over a week? Truly we live in wondrous times. However, this one doesn't sound like it'll be turn-based. A job ad on Black Shamrock's website calls for a senior level designer for an "immersive kick-ass action RPG". It's interesting that there's no mention of a publisher anywhere, though.

There are 35 comments on Cyanide is working on a Paranoia RPG

Tue 6 March 2018

Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 6 March 2018, 23:54:44

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios

Ah, Divinity: Original Sin 2. It's our RPG of the Year for 2017, and a game that really, really pissed some of us off. Above all, it's a hugely successful title, with some 1.2 million copies sold to date. Which is why it's unusual that we've heard so little from Larian since its release in September. Last month's controversial combat mechanics interview with Original Sin 2's systems designer is the most recent of their very few media appearances. After reading it, I knew we had to finally publish a review - even if our reviewer couldn't bring himself to finish the game. I do wonder whether that interview might be a hint that Larian are working on some sort of big systems overhaul. Regardless, I think it's high time we unleashed Darth Roxor on them. Gentlemen, without further ado:

However, armour is by far not the dumbest aspect of DOS2. That award goes to the initiative system. This game is perhaps the first RPG I’ve ever seen where initiative is a dump stat. That is because the initiative queue functions as a round robin, where both sides take turns on a “you go, I go” basis – the initiative score only influences the queue arrangement within a specific side. Combatants on the same side can only move in succession if there’s more of them than the opposition, and this will nevertheless occur only at the bottom of the queue. So, in other words, if you have four characters with initiative 15, and you fight two monsters with initiative 5, those monsters will still take their turns before two of your characters. Even worse, the queue reshuffles itself each turn if a combatant dies. So if one of the initiative 5 monsters were to die, the other would now act before three of your characters. This gets particularly bad for big brawls, where strong monsters with low initiatives that you leave for last, in order to first dispose of their faster but weaker buddies, will keep climbing the queue with each turn, until they finally get to act first and bust your balls.

I have no other words to describe this other than that it’s pure distilled stupidity. You will run into numerous occasions where finishing off an enemy is a bad idea, because in that way you will empower its stronger ally that is further down the initiative queue. Instead you are better off either ignoring them, or leaving them stunned as “initiative block decoys”. Before killing anything in DOS2 during harder fights, you always have to check the initiative queue and consider whether you will not be sabotaging your own planned courses of action for subsequent turns that way. This is not how it’s supposed to work, goddammit. Also, you can now scroll back to the attributes section of the previous chapter, and realise just how useless is the Wits stat – there is no reason at all to raise this, except maybe on one character that you’d want to move first among your own party, or to have a chance to open a fight instead of leaving that to an enemy.

But Wits and initiative are not the only things that suffer from the jumbled mess of oversimplifications that plague the systems in DOS2. Another is character archetype identity and skill “coolness”. I’ve sort of mentioned this already for the armour discussion, but it deserves repeating. When the mechanics are more or less reduced to “do damage”, “heal” and “debuff once armour is broken”, you significantly limit the breadth of skill functionalities, and also remove a lot of the craziness that made the combat in DOS1 so fun (which is further amplified by the big reduction of damage for all sorts of explosive barrels and other environmental hazards). It also doesn’t help that action points are very limited – base is 4 while the max you can hope for is 6, and that’s only with haste effects that are very short and hard to come by. In practice, this more or less limits you to doing 2 meaningful actions a turn at best.

To put it bluntly, the majority of abilities in DOS2 are boring, repetitive and samey. For example, take the “ranger” and the “warrior”. In DOS1, they had a number of stances, support and damage skills, and the ranger also had elemental arrows with various uses. In DOS2, the ranger is reduced to having more or less the same damage skill repeated ten times with slightly different flavours, while the special arrows are hardly more than generic magic projectiles to bust through some idiot’s magic armour. That’s it. As for the warrior – his bread and butter is a ranged multiple target nuke, a charge with multiple target damage and knockdown, a cone-shaped stomp with a knockdown, two suspiciously magical-looking teleports… and so it goes. When playing a warrior, I found myself casting more area damage spells than I would in most other games as a mage, with barely any chance to do regular attacks, which anyway were all inferior to the constant spellspam.

[...] I think everyone can agree that the story and its presentation in DOS1 was the game’s worst aspect. The story was bland, the writing was boring and the characters were kind of stupid. It also employed Larian’s trademark tongue-in-cheek style, but this time, without actual quality writing to support it, it ended up dumb instead of funny.

The studio promised to improve this by hiring a bunch of new writers and promising to make the game “less whimsical”. I’ve always been sceptical of this, because to me it looked like acting on wrong feedback. It wasn’t the whimsical style that was the problem in DOS1 – after all, the same style was fine in all the other Divinity games. The problem was that it was just not good. Unfortunately, my scepticism proved well-founded.

I don’t think it’s fair to complain or go too deep into the story itself here, because it’s near-identical to every other Larian game in existence. That is, your character, a Special Person, turns out to be an Even Specialer Person, and embarks on an Epic Quest to change the Fate of the Known World™©®. The reason why this particular iteration of the story comes out bad is in the presentation and, again, in the lacking writing quality.

The chief problem is that despite the writing team switch, the writing remains largely the same – boring, long-winded and without flair, complete with my favourite boast of “over one million words of voiced dialogue”. The only major difference is that the dumb whimsical aspect was replaced by a dumb maturegrimdark aspect, plunging it even further into generic fantasy crapola territory. Not to mention that the writers appear to have some concerning mental issues related to various deviations.

One is the alarming ubiquity of all manner of sexual content. It’s like every second character just can’t wait to pinch, lick, kiss, smell, caress or have other questionable interactions with your protagonist, or describe said interactions with other people, to the point that it makes you imagine the writer as some sort of overly excited dog trying to hump your leg all the time.

Although likening the writer to a dog might be risky given the second, much more disturbing deviation, which is the rampant animal abuse in this game. I swear there is not a single animal in DOS2 that wouldn’t be subjected to torture, torment, mutation or madness, and probably half of those either die after your conversation with them concludes, or beg to be mercy killed.

Also, when it comes to the main plot, there is one thing I can’t really understand. The game gives inexplicable importance to Braccus Rex, an early game boss monster from DOS1, whose characterisation was limited to laughing a lot and throwing fireballs around. Out of all the bad guys in the Divinity series, they really had to pick someone as featureless as this? It’s roughly the equivalent of having The Butcher as one of the main villains in Diablo 2, although even that would make more sense.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin 2

There are 476 comments on RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin 2

Sat 3 March 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 3 March 2018, 21:58:49

Tags: Iron Tower Studio; The New World; Vince D. Weller

The latest monthly development update for The New World introduces another one of the game's locations. This time it's the area known as the Wasteland, which is no land at all but rather the name given to the colony ship's former Mission Control sector. Formerly the seat of the ship's commanding authorities, it was utterly ruined during the mutiny and is now a foreboding multi-level dungeon. In addition to the hostile scavengers, traps, and forgotten caches of advanced technology you'd expect to find in such a place, the Wasteland is also home to at least one semi-mythical mutated creature. But I'll let you read about all of that yourself:

The desolation known as the Wasteland, a span of decks torn apart by the unfathomably destructive weapons of Old Earth, was called Mission Control in better times. This was the Ship Authority's domain, an impregnable stronghold and the seat of power.

The mutineers’ attack was months in the making, a decisive, disabling strike at the electronic heart of their world. It should have been over in less than an hour, but such things rarely go as planned. The Ship Authority was made of harder stuff than anticipated and the first assault was driven back.

In the following months of attack and counterattack, the mutineers’ failure to quickly secure the complex cost them much in lost lives and spent firepower. When forced to surrender ground, both sides adopted a policy of destroying anything not of immediate use, so as to deny it to the enemy.

Though the mutineers were able to ultimately capture and hold key positions across several decks, the complex had been gutted and irreplaceable resources lost. Too late they would discover that during the protracted struggle over Mission Control, Ship Authority loyalists in the Habitat had firmly entrenched their position, preparing to fight to the last man and woman. And child, should it prove necessary.

Weakened and shocked by the brutality of Mission Control’s demise, the mutineers weren’t eager to unleash the same horrors on the Habitat. A truce was offered under the pretext that the Ship Authority was finished anyway and there was no reason to waste lives trying to speed up the inevitable. Yet the same inferno that purged the old order also forged the new. The Protectors of the Mission were destined to reclaim everything their predecessors had lost. They would take it all in the end, whatever the cost.


Decades later, deteriorating conditions at home began to drive explorers and treasure seekers farther and farther afield, until a lucky group wandered into the fringes of that fabled battlefield. When the first news trickled back of decks littered with the technological marvels of Old Earth, the scavengers swarmed like maggots devouring a carcass.

Inside of a month, the first two decks were swept clean, but moving deeper into the seemingly bottomless ruins was a more daunting challenge. The entire zone was unpowered and bitterly cold; portable lamps provided the only light. Fused doors and warped bulkheads made a maze of the original corridors and descending to the lower levels, now accessible only through jagged holes in the decking, was a treacherous proposition. Add in the traps left by the long-dead defenders of Mission Control, or by ‘prospectors’ hoping to dissuade the competition, and more often than not it was a one-way trip.

Once the easy pickings had been gathered up and sold, the less principled scavs decided it was easier, and healthier, to let someone else take the risks. And so a new tradition was born: ambushing the suckers returning to the 'surface' with their relics.

Yet those who survived the dangers of both the Wasteland and their murderous colleagues returned with accounts of more than just mummified soldiers and half-melted energy rifles. They told tantalizing stories of security doors with still charged and fully operational turrets, of functioning retinal scanners blocking access to forbidden vaults, and of the Holy Grail itself: the Admin Center, the very brain of the Ship, sealed from within at the height of the Mutiny and never breached. They also spoke of cadavers seemingly unharmed but drained of blood, of mysterious floating lights more terrifying even than the darkness of the void, and of Beelzebub himself. Called Ol’ Bub for short, this terrifying beast was said to dwell deep within the ruined complex, and to feed on any weary prospector foolish enough to let his guard slip.


With the Wasteland our goal is to create a proper, thematically-fitting 'dungeon' with the following features:

1. The focus is on exploration not combat. Navigating the dungeon, finding a way past the obstacles and into the deeper levels is more important than killing monsters and clearing levels.

2. Non-linear with multiple directions and goals. While the Admin Center is the top prize, there are lesser 'prizes' located in different parts of the complex. None of these locations will be easy to get to, because the lore says that many prospectors tried to find these places for years, so you can’t just waltz in, but unlike AoD’s Abyss which had a single path to the central chamber and required a very specific build, there will be multiple ways supporting different stats and skillsets.

3. You’ll be frequently stopped by some obstacles (such as a retinal scanner, for example, or poisonous gas, or tough enemies, humans or otherwise) and would have to leave and return later when you acquire what you need. In other words, you won’t blast though the entire 'dungeon' in one go.

4. Every dungeon needs some enemies and they will come in two varieties: humans (rival prospectors, thugs looking for easy money, the Regulators if you piss them off) and creatures. While every RPG and every dungeon need some 'monsters' we believe that in this setting less is more, so the entire game will have 5-6 mutated creatures and we won’t throw them at you the way we did in Dungeon Rats but handle it very differently and hopefully more memorably.

5. If you do manage to find a way into the Admin Center, it will affect the endings (extra options, pre-req. for a different ending, etc.)
See the full update for more details about the legendary Beelzebub, and for a few pieces of concept art of the Wasteland.

There are 112 comments on The New World Update #24: The Wasteland

Thu 1 March 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 1 March 2018, 01:01:13

Tags: Funcom; Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden; The Bearded Ladies

Ever heard of the 1984 tabletop RPG Mutant, by Swedish publisher Target Games? No? Well neither had I until today. It's set in a Gamma World-like post-apocalyptic far future that features all manner of robots, mutated humans, and in particular, anthropomorphic animals. And in this strange new age of big budget turn-based RPG, it's getting a multiplatform video game adaptation this year, by a Swedish team who call themselves The Bearded Ladies. The game is called Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, and it's described by publisher Funcom as a turn-based "tactical adventure game". That sure sounds like "RPG" to me, but they appear to be avoiding that label, perhaps because the game features fixed characters with no character creation. The new cinematic reveal trailer introduces three of those characters:

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a tactical adventure game combining the turn-based combat of XCOM with story, exploration, stealth, and strategy. Take control of a team of Mutants navigating a post-human Earth. Created by a team including former HITMAN leads and the designer of PAYDAY.
  • TACTICAL COMBAT: Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is the ultimate fix for your tactical strategy addiction. Dive into a deep, turn-based, tactical combat system inspired by the XCOM games.
  • EXPLORE A POST-HUMAN EARTH: Journey through a post-human world of abandoned cities, crumbling highways, and overgrown countryside. Check back at the Ark, a neon-bathed oasis of ill repute and questionable characters, to restock your supplies and plan out your next adventure.
  • CONTROL A TEAM OF MUTANTS: A duck with an attitude problem and a boar with anger issues; these aren’t your typical heroes. Get to know Dux, Bormin, Selma, and many other characters each with their own unique personality and deranged perspective on the world and their situation.
  • MASTER THE STEALTHY APPROACH: Sneak through shadows to avoid conflict or to catch enemies unaware. Real-time stealth allows you full control of approach: sneak into an enemy camp, position the team of Mutants to your advantage, and gain the element of surprise.
  • UNLOCK MUTATIONS: Unlock new mutations and abilities for your Mutants, such as Selma’s Stoneskin, Bormin’s Charge, and Dux‘ uncanny ability to sneak into a camp full of enemies unnoticed, despite being a 4-foot tall walking, talking duck with a crossbow.
  • DYNAMIC ENVIRONMENTS: Use the environment to your advantage. Stay out of floodlights, hide from line of sight, or just blast down fully destructible walls and buildings and wreak utter havoc.
  • LOOT, LOOT EVERYWHERE: From makeshift slingshots to high-powered rifles and top hats to police vests, make sure you equip your Mutants for the dangers ahead. Nothing says post-human quite like a mutated boar in spiked metal armor charging at you with a blunderbuss in his hands.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has an official website and a Steam page where you can find additional details and combat screenshots. Apparently we'll be seeing more of the game at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, on March 19-23.

There are 30 comments on Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a turn-based tactical adventure based on the Mutant tabletop RPG

Wed 28 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 28 February 2018, 01:10:06

Tags: BattleTech; Harebrained Schemes; Jordan Weisman; Mike McCain; Mitch Gitelman; Paradox Interactive

We've known for a while that Harebrained Schemes' BattleTech was going to come out sometime early this year. Today we've learned which month, if not the exact date. The game will be releasing in April, which is turning out to be quite a hectic month. Let's hope they at least give Pillars II a few weeks distance. Paradox have put together a new trailer, which you can see in the game's latest Kickstarter update. It features Jordan Weisman, Mitch Gitelman and Mike McCain, and is the first in a three-part series of introductory videos:

BattleTech is now available for preorder on Steam, GOG, or directly from Paradox for the price of $40. There's some sort of silly mech skin preorder bonus, which Kickstarter backers also get of course. You might also be interested in last month's Kickstarter update, which listed some of the features that weren't going to make it for the game's release. Nothing too important I think, unless you really care about fan service cameos in the campaign.

There are 13 comments on BattleTech Kickstarter Update #48: Releasing in April, Basics Video #1

Tue 27 February 2018

Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 27 February 2018, 23:59:59

Tags: Into the Breach; Subset Games

Back in 2012, the two-man indie studio Subset Games released roguelike spaceship simulator FTL: Faster Than Light. It was a pretty cool game, the first big success of Kickstarter, and if you squinted hard enough you could even call it an RPG. A year and a half later, FTL received an Advanced Edition that featured additional writing from Chris Avellone, making it even cooler. Today, nearly four years later, Subset have finally released their next game, Into the Breach. At first glance, it seems like couldn't be more different from FTL - a turn-based, tile-based tactics game where you defend cities from aliens with giant mechs. Into the Breach also features the writing talents of Chris Avellone, but there's no mistaking it for an RPG. Nevertheless, our tactical specialist sser was intrigued by it, and when sser sets his mind to something, he delivers. Without further ado, I give you his thoughts on Into the Breach:

I’ve seen Into the Breach described in a lot of interesting ways, from a game of mechanized billiards to something more akin to aikido. While I was playing it I just kept thinking, “Whatever you do, just don’t call it a puzzle game!” But like so many writers who visit North Korea that cannot ignore the reality of 1984 come to life, I can’t really refer to Into the Breach without touching base with its puzzle-game roots.

Barring a small yet potentially significant %-chance for attacks to miss the Power Grid, the game essentially has no RNG. Enemies telegraph attacks and, with a brilliant interface that spares no details, you only need to read the information and respond accordingly. Sure, there is a bit of variety that is in the spirit of classic RNG. For example, you don’t know where enemies will go. Your pre-battle setup may end up leaving you borked before the battle even begins as enemies scatter into such nasty positions it may as well have been you playing the other side. You also don’t know what sort of monsters might appear either. I had one perfect run slightly tarnished when a ‘grabbing’ insect snagged a mech to certain doom on the very last turn. C’est al Vek.

But in the age of Jagged Alliance and X-Com and Battle Brothers, most look at RNG as a form of percentages, odds, and risk-taking. None of those reside within Into the Breach. Every single aspect of detail is covered with absolute determinism. Like any good puzzle game, things aren’t where they should be and you need to put the pieces where they rightfully fit. The schism between a good score and a smoldered run is solely the responsibility of the player. You have but the greatest weapon at your disposal: time. And, similar to the fantastic and also RNG-less Invisible Inc., there's an even more powerful tool you may be keen on using: the ability to revert time and restart at least one turn a fight.

An infinite amount of time does give me pause, though. Due to the ‘sliding puzzle’ gameplay and the ability to read information so tight and terse Sid Meier would drool, there isn’t much in the way of challenge. I very nearly beat the game on my first run, beat it on my second with a completely different squad, and absolutely breezed through it on a third campaign with another fresh team. It’s a large break from beating FTL which was like trying to rescue a cat from Evil Dead’s rape tree.

Unfortunately, if you put Into the Breach on Hard, it only increases the number of Vek in an attempt to brute force defeat into your hands. Despite following a familiar design path, Invisible Inc. felt as if it had a better grip on difficulty. It utilized a fog of war to present players with unforeseen challenges that they then responded to on the fly. Because Into the Breach is such a puzzle-game at heart, I think that it needs a timer or a ‘rope’ like Hearthstone to compel players to act quickly. I would not have cruised through the game repeatedly if I had to make snap decisions in the tougher situations. Though the game might look like a SNES title, I feel like emulating SNES-era difficulty by simply adding more enemies isn't the right or at least only route to go.

If beating the game is so straightforward, what is the catch that’ll keep one coming back like there was in FTL? There is a bit of a ‘meta’ in Into the Breach that lends it replayability: the mechs themselves. There’s a large cast of machines to choose from and it’s a blast running new teams through a campaign. Some machines are overpowered while others struggle to make a cohesive, kaiju-pinballing unit. You’ll often be surprised which mech proves to be the MVP of the squad. Once you’ve unlocked your fair share, you can start mix-and-matching the pieces. You can make runs with all bruisers and try to stomp your way to victory. Or you could run a team of full-on utility, peacefully pushing and pulling insects around like a hardcore battle of Jains and Kaijus.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Into the Breach

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Sat 24 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 24 February 2018, 12:56:06

Tags: Josh Sawyer; Katrina Garsten; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

As promised, the latest Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Fig update is all about the game's ship system. In the video, Katrina Garsten asks and Josh Sawyer answers questions about crew management, random events, ship combat, ship customization and more. Oh, and apparently Josh and Katrina are muppets now. Yeah.

There's nothing really new here if you read the previews from earlier this month, but oh well. The next update, coming in a few weeks, will be about the game's audio.

There are 44 comments on Pillars of Eternity II Fig Update #45: The Ship System

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Sat 24 February 2018, 02:16:30

Tags: Origin Systems; The Digital Antiquarian; Warren Spector; Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams; Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire

After taking another extended break from the genre, this week the Digital Antiquarian has penned a new chapter in his slow-moving chronicle of computer roleplaying. The topic this time is Worlds of Ultima, Warren Spector's short-lived series of Ultima spinoffs, which consists of 1990's Lost World-themed Savage Empire and 1991's steampunk space adventure Martian Dreams. Among fans of RPGs from the period, the Worlds of Ultima games are cult classics, unusual for their unique settings, increased emphasis on story, and de-emphasis of traditional RPG elements such as character progression, magic and combat in general. It's no surprise then that the Antiquarian, who is primarily an adventure game fan, found them very enjoyable - although he does single out their reliance on the creaky Ultima VI engine and their insistence on retaining a tenuous connection to the main Ultima continuity for criticism. His article even contains an aside discussing whether the Worlds of Ultima games can be considered adventure games, as some commentators have claimed over the years. In my excerpt however, I'll just quote the beginning and the sad end:

In the very early days of Ultima, Richard Garriott made a public promise which would eventually come back to haunt him. Looking for a way to differentiate his CRPG series from its arch-rival, Wizardry, he said that he would never reuse an Ultima engine. Before every new installment of his series, he would tear everything down to its component parts and rebuild it all, bigger and better than ever before. For quite some time, this policy served Garriott very well indeed. When the first Ultima had appeared in 1981, it had lagged well behind the first Wizardry in terms of sales and respect, but by the time Ultima III dropped in 1983 Garriott’s series had snatched a lead which it would never come close to relinquishing. While the first five Wizardry installments remained largely indistinguishable from one another to the casual fan, Ultima made major, obvious leaps with each new release. Yes, games like The Bard’s Tale and Pool of Radiance racked up some very impressive sales of their own as the 1980s wore on, but Ultima… well, Ultima was simply Ultima, the most respected name of all in CRPGs.

And yet by 1990 the promise which had served Richard Garriott so well was starting to become a real problem for his company Origin Systems. To build each new entry in the series from the ground up was one thing when doing so entailed Garriott disappearing alone into a small room containing only his Apple II for six months or a year, then emerging, blurry-eyed and exhausted, with floppy disks in hand. It was quite another thing in the case of a game like 1990’s Ultima VI, the first Ultima to be developed for MS-DOS machines with VGA graphics and hard drives, a project involving four programmers and five artists, plus a bureaucracy of others that included everything from producers to play-testers. Making a new Ultima from the ground up had by this point come to entail much more than just writing a game engine; it required a whole new technical infrastructure of editors and other software tools that let the design team, to paraphrase Origin’s favorite marketing tagline, create their latest world.

But, while development costs thus skyrocketed, sales weren’t increasing to match. Each new entry in the series since Ultima IV had continued to sell a consistent 200,000 to 250,000 copies. These were very good numbers for the genre and the times, but it seemed that Origin had long ago hit a sales ceiling for games of this type. The more practical voices at the company, such as the hard-nosed head of product development Dallas Snell, said that Origin simply had to start following the example of their rivals, who reused their engines many times as a matter of course. If they wished to survive, Origin too had to stop throwing away their technology after only using it once; they had to renege at last on Richard Garriott’s longstanding promise. Others, most notably the original promise-maker himself, were none too happy with the idea.

Origin’s recently arrived producer and designer Warren Spector was as practical as he was creative, and thus could relate to the concerns of both a Dallas Snell and a Richard Garriott. He proposed a compromise. What if a separate team used the last Ultima engine to create some “spin-off” games while Garriott and his team were busy inventing their latest wheel for the next “numbered” game in the series?

It wasn’t actually an unprecedented idea. As far back as Ultima II, in the days before Origin even existed, a rumor had briefly surfaced that Sierra, Garriott’s publisher at the time, might release an expansion disk to connect a few more of the many pointlessly spinning gears in that game’s rather sloppy design. Later, after spending some two years making Ultima IV all by himself, Garriott himself had floated the idea of an Ultima IV Part 2 to squeeze a little more mileage out of the engine, only to abandon it to the excitement of building a new engine of unprecedented sophistication for Ultima V. But now, with the Ultima VI engine, it seemed like an idea whose time had truly come at last.​

The spin-off games would be somewhat smaller in scope than the core Ultimas, and this, combined with the reuse of a game engine and other assets from their big brothers, should allow each of them to be made in something close to six months, as opposed to the two years that were generally required for a traditional Ultima. They would give Origin more product to sell to those 200,000 to 250,000 hardcore fans who bought each new mainline installment; this would certainly please Dallas Snell. And, as long as the marketing message was carefully crafted, they should succeed in doing so without too badly damaging the Ultima brand’s reputation for always surfing the bleeding edge of CRPG design and technology; this would please Richard Garriott.

But most of all it was Warren Spector who had good reason to be pleased with the compromise he had fashioned. The Ultima sub-series that was born of it, dubbed Worlds of Ultima, would run for only two games, but would nevertheless afford him his first chance at Origin to fully exercise his creative muscles; both games would be at bottom his babies, taking place in settings created by him and enacting stories outlined by him. These projects would be, as Spector happily admits today, “B” projects at Origin, playing second fiddle in terms of internal resources and marketing priority alike to the mainline Ultima games and to Wing Commander. Yet, as many a Hollywood director will tell you, smaller budgets and the reduced scrutiny that goes along with them are often anything but a bad thing; they often lend themselves to better, more daring creative work. “I actually liked being a ‘B’ guy,” remembers Spector. “The guys spending tons of money have all the pressure. I was spending so little [that] no one really paid much attention to what I was doing, so I got to try all sorts of crazy things.”

Those crazy things could only have come from this particular Origin employee. Spector was almost, as he liked to put it, the proud holder of a PhD in film studies. Over thirty years old in a company full of twenty-somethings, he came to Origin with a far more varied cultural palette than was the norm there, and worked gently but persistently to separate his peers from their own exclusive diets of epic fantasy and space opera. He had a special love for the adventure fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this love came to inform Worlds of Ultima to as great a degree as Lord of the Rings did the mainline Ultima games or Stars Warsdid Wing Commander. Spector’s favored inspirations even had the additional advantage of being out of copyright, meaning he could plunder as much as he wanted without worrying about any lawyers coming to call.

[...] Unfortunately, gamers of the early 1990s were rather less blown away. Released in October of 1990, The Savage Empire was greeted with a collective shrug which encompassed nonplussed reviews — Computer Gaming World‘s reviewer bizarrely labeled it a “caricature” of Ultima — and lousy sales. With the release of Martian Dreams in May of 1991, Origin re-branded the series Ultima Worlds of Adventure — not that that was an improvement in anything other than word count — but the results were the same. CRPG fans’ huge preference for epic fantasy was well-established by this point; pulpy tales of adventure and Victorian steampunk just didn’t seem to be on the radar of Origin’s fan base. A pity, especially considering that in terms of genre too these games can be read as harbingers of trends to come. In the realm of tabletop RPGs, “pulp” games similar in spirit to The Savage Empire have become a welcome alternative to fantasy and science fiction since that game’s release. Steampunk, meanwhile, was just getting off the ground as a literary sub-genre of its own at the time that Martian Dreams was published; steampunk’s founding text, the novel The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, was published less than a year before the game.

For all that the games were thus ahead of their time in more ways than one, Worlds of Ultima provided a sobering lesson for Origin’s marketers and accountants by becoming the first games they’d ever released with the Ultima name on the box which didn’t become major hits. The name alone, it seemed, wasn’t — or was no longer — enough; the first chink in the series’s armor had been opened up. One could of course argue that these games should never have been released as Ultimas at all, that we should have been spared all the plot contortions around the Avatar and that they should have been allowed simply to stand on their own. Yet it’s hard to believe that such a move would have improved sales any. There just wasn’t really a place in the games industry of the early 1990s for these strange beasts that weren’t quite adventure games and weren’t quite CRPGs as most people thought of them. Players of the two genres had sorted themselves into fairly distinct groups by this point, and Origin dropped Worlds of Ultima smack dab into the void in between them. Nor did the lack of audiovisual flash help; while both games do a nice job of conveying the desired atmosphere with the tools at their disposal, they were hardly audiovisual standouts even in their day. At the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in June of 1991, Martian Dreams shared Origin’s booth with Wing Commander II and early previews of Ultima VII and Strike Commander. It’s hard to imagine it not getting lost in that crowd in the bling-obsessed early 1990s.

So, Origin wrote off their Worlds of Ultima series as a failed experiment. They elected to stop, as Spector puts it, “going to weird places that Warren wants to do games about.” A projected third game, which was to have taken place in Arthurian England, was cancelled early in pre-production. The setting may sound like a more natural one for Ultima fans, but, in light of the way that Arthurian games have disappointed their publishers time and time again, one has to doubt whether the commercial results would have been much better.
So it goes. Warren Spector did get another chance to make a weird story-driven spinoff with Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle - AKA the last good Ultima. Hopefully we're not too many months away from reading about that.

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Fri 23 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 23 February 2018, 21:40:39

Tags: Fallen Gods; Mark Yohalem; Wormwood Studios

This week's development update for Fallen Gods, the upcoming Norse-flavored roguelite from Mark Yohalem, is entitled "Days of Yore". Contrary to what some may have thought, it's not about the history of the game world, but rather about the history of the project itself. Mark has been looking to make a computer game based on Barbarian Prince and Lone Wolf for a very long time, long before Primordia. Inspired by the 2005 space roguelike Weird Worlds, it was originally going to be a science fiction game called Star Captain, an idea that was set aside due to the success of FTL and Mass Effect. You can read the whole story of Fallen Gods' conception here, but first a sample of music from the game's composer:

Your fire’s gleam seems to dim in this great room, swallowed by shadows that swim and loom like whales in the dark sea. Blacker than light’s lack, the hall must hold some lost, last scrap of the unmade world. Bats flap through this false night on leather wings, their shrill songs ringing softly off the far stone walls. It is an uncanny cleft, one which waits with unwelcome dread.

I’m old enough that when I was very young, we had no computer at all. And the computer we did get, when I was around six or seven, was an Apple IIc that plugged into a black and white television. This gift came from my grandfather, a NASA engineer who rightly anticipated that facility with computers would be essential for my generation, and using this machine he taught me basic (literally, BASIC) programming. Essential or not, it wasn’t much for gaming, and even when my brother and I pooled our allowances, we never managed to get our hands on much more than a two-sided floppy with David’s Midnight Magic and Choplifter. The formative games of my childhood were thus not computer games but board games, video games, “narration games” (rule-free RPGs in which whining and punching replaced rolling dice and tracking stats), and gamebooks.

There are two games from that era that loom large not just in my memory but in the design of Fallen Gods: Arnold Hendrick’s single-player RPG board game entitled Barbarian Prince (Dwarfstar, 1981) and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf gamebooks (1984 and onward). Arnold Hendrick is a name any RPG fan should know because he was the genius, the seemingly mad and insatiable genius, behind MicroProse’s Darklands. His earlier work shows the same genius. And Joe Dever has rightly ascended into, if not the pantheon of renowned game designers, at least the ranks of “designers with longform Wikipedia entries.” His recent untimely death at 60 robbed the world of a generous spirit and a tireless pen.

Barbarian Prince contains many of things that computer RPGs would take years to include: a vivid setting with open exploration; many towns, castles, ruins, and other locations of interest to visit; multiple victory paths to discover; engaging encounters with different resolutions; gear, mounts, relics, followers, and resources to manage. Its core conceit is not far from that of Fallen Gods. The eponymous Barbarian Prince has been ousted from his throne and must regain it within 70 days or else live forever in exile. During that time, he must gather strength, wealth, and followers and typically something special (a particular relic, the favor of a particular patron, etc.) in order to overcome the usurper back home. While Barbarian Prince is now (was always?) too complex to play easily as a board game, that’s because the “computer’s” job in a cRPG (tracking stats and enforcing rules and so forth) is foisted upon the player alongside his normal job (digesting information and making decisions). In a hypothetical scenario where the player could be freed from such extra obligations, Barbarian Prince’s visionary design reveals that a rich, strategic RPG can emerge from what are, actually, pretty simple rules.

Despite its embarrassment of riches, or maybe because of it, Barbarian Prince lacks the “flavor” that a DM or cRPG designer brings to an RPG. It has almost 200 events, but each is extraordinarily thin, barely more than an encounter chart in an early P&P RPG. For instance, “e164 Giant Lizard” provides, in inelegant sum total: “A huge, giant lizard that shakes the earth as it walks attacks you. It is combat skill 10, endurance 12, but you strike first in combat (r220). Escape is only possible if you have mounts, those without cannot escape.” That’s it.

There is no such shortcoming, if it is a shortcoming, in Lone Wolf. Those gamebooks—by which I mean “choose-your-own-adventure books with RPG statistics”—also reveal a design genius, but a very different kind of genius. The long series tells a sprawling epic in a vividly described world with unique cultures, creeds, and creatures. Scenes are brought to life by Dever’s clear prose and use of familiar fantasy tropes. The story begins thusly: “You must make haste for you sense it is not safe to linger by the smoking remains of the ruined monastery. The black-winged beasts could return at any moment.”

In counterpoint to its more complex storytelling, Lone Wolf offers much simpler rules than those of Barbarian Prince. Because of this simplicity, everything the game asks of you feels significant, down to each ration of food. Every skill you can choose sounds appealing, and the inability to take them all is heartbreaking. That longing grows stronger as you play because the skills you do have—esoteric abilities like “Animal Kinship” and “Mind Over Matter” and more workaday knacks like “Hunting” and “Camouflage”—offer such rewarding possibilities. Likewise, finding magical items or superior gear feels as exciting as discovering a new item in Zelda or a new weapon in Metroid, rather than being the kind of dull, incremental upgrade now ubiquitous in cRPGs.

These two masterworks from master craftsmen returned to my mind around 2006 when I played a modest but excellent “coffee break” procedural space game called Weird Worlds(Digital Eel, 2005). It struck me then that the simple framework of my childhood favorites could be combined with procedural generation because Barbarian Prince’s rules would work just as well in a procedural setting as in a fixed one. Indeed, Barbarian Prince’s events already occurred with a great deal of randomness; only the map was fixed. And Lone Wolf’s prose adventures, in vignette form, could replace the thin events of Barbarian Prince. For a variety of reasons, a space opera seemed the right setting for this, and for many years I worked on Star Captain, a project that would blend the three games into one. A series of setbacks and distractions (including the very fine distraction of Primordia) delayed the project, and by the time I got back to it in early 2013, it had largely been preempted in gameplay by FTL and in setting by Mass Effect.

Fortunately, just a year earlier I had read The Long Ships. The novel had rekindled my love of Norse mythology and Viking adventurers and of Iceland itself, which I had visited in 2003 as part of my dad’s vain 60th-birthday attempt to see the aurora borealis. The Long Ships led me to Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson’s account of the old Norse kings. AndHeimskringla led me to Snorri’s Prose Edda which led me to the elder Poetic Edda, and thence to Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Norse Myths. And from these, I began to browse my way through the enormous, majestic body of Icelandic sagas as well as many collections of Norse myth and Scandinavian folklore.

It became clear that from these pieces I could build the setting to house my game idea—a sort of homecoming, since Barbarian Prince itself is about a great warrior from the North. To round things out, I read through other sagas and sources from farther abroad: the IrishTáin Bó Cúailnge; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf (Seamus Heaney’s amazing translation); the Finnish Kalevala; and the Anglo-Saxon poetry in The Exeter Book (introduced to me by the project’s Polish linguist-editor-scripter-factotum, Maciej Bogucki) to try to get closer to how our language was used in telling those sorts of stories. I don’t have a scholar’s memory or a poet’s craft, but from these I started to feel some of what C.S. Lewis called “Northernness,” and to trace the deep folkloric roots of the modern fantasy genre that J.R.R. Tolkien brought into flower.

With all that, I consigned Star Captain to the dark abyss in the sky, and set sail for the lands of Fallen Gods. I will leave you with this piece by our wonderful composer, Anders Hedenholm, fittingly hailing from Uppsala, Sweden, once home to the greatest Norse temple complex.
Although it doesn't sound like it, the next Fallen Gods update will be about the game's lore. However, Mark has decided to switch to a monthly update schedule, so you'll have to wait a while for it.

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Mon 19 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Mon 19 February 2018, 23:04:41

Tags: Ctrl Alt Ninja; Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest

Ctrl Alt Ninja's Druidstone was announced last April as some sort of procedurally generated roguelite, but with every development update since then it's seemed to move away from that initial vision. In their first update for 2018, the former Legend of Grimrock developers announce that this change of direction has reached its ultimate conclusion. All vestiges of procedural generation have been removed from Druidstone, and it is now a tightly focused game based around challenging tactical set pieces. With this return to their handcrafted design roots, Ctrl Alt Ninja are now ready to enter full production. I quote:

This is big! As you may have been able to read between the lines, the development process of Druidstone hasn’t been all roses and butterflies. What I mean is that there has been some uncertainty with the project which has made it hard to communicate clearly what the game is truly about. That’s because up until now we have been in pre-production mode where we still try ideas and see what works and what doesn’t. But now that has changed. We know exactly what we are doing now.

That means that many things in the game which we have mentioned in the initial blog posts have changed. Actually, so much that the game as it is now and how it will develop in the coming months does not resemble the one displayed in old blog posts that much. Sure, we still have the same basic premise, the same environments, the top-down view and tactical combat, but the spirit of the game has changed. Has evolved, if you will. What started as a procedurally generated RPG has transformed and will transform into a much more tightly focused game.

So what exactly has changed? Here are the main points:
  • Procedural generation is gone. Long live the editor! Every map and every encounter will be handcrafted.
  • Focus on deep and tactical combat system. We want to make the combat really challenging so that every action you make every turn is a careful choice. Like playing chess with fantasy characters.
  • Focus on fun gameplay mechanics. We are not writing a book, not filming a movie, we are making a game, and gameplay is king.
  • No fluff. We want to make a tightly focused game, the same design principle we had with Grimrock. No filler content. Less is more. Or as Antoine de Saint-Exupery puts it famously “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
During the last year, iteration by iteration, the amount of procedurally generated content has been diminishing. At some point we had to ask ourselves what point does the procedural generation have anymore. That was when we started working on the editor, and after that pieces have started to click into place very fast. Last week was the real kicker and we could produce a near shippable quality 30 minute segment of the game in just a couple of days. That’s huge! It’s very rare that we can make such a big leap in just a couple of days.

But the main difference is really inside our heads. We now understand exactly what kind of game we really, really want to make. Sometimes when analysing the markets and looking at what kind of games are the topsellers, and worrying about the doom and gloom of indie developers, it’s easy to forget what your heart really desires. But if you listen carefully to yourself, you can perhaps hear a faint whisper. And if you keep listening to that inner voice, the voice gets louder, until it becomes a great booming voice that makes your bones shiver and skin tingle with determination: “YOU GOTTA MAKE THIS GAME!”

Listening to yourself is the greatest and most important skill a game developer can have. This is hugely important, but difficult to explain why. It’s the thing that guides us through the development process and tells us what the game needs and what it doesn’t. It’s the vision what the game is really about.

This is such an important milestone for us because now we have confidence in that this game will be great. It makes us want to pour all the love, sweat and energy we have to make the best game we absolutely can.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve only had a similar feeling once before. That was when I was working on Grimrock 1. Believe it or not, Grimrock 1 was made in less than a year, from scratch to release. Looking back at it, I still don’t quite get how we managed to do it in such a short time. But the answer is, of course, simple: we had a clear vision from the start and we worked our asses off to make it happen. Now that same feeling is back and we are really relieved, happy, motivated and excited at the same time. Making a game hasn’t been this fun in many years!

In hindsight maybe setting up this dev blog in such an early stage of the project wasn’t the wisest idea, but we have always striven to maintain an open, honest and transparent view into the dev process. Mainly because we think it’s the right thing to do but also because (hopefully!) it’s interesting to follow us as we tread on the uncharted paths.

That said, as we now move into production mode (making the game in our heads come true!), we are going to take a break from updating this blog. That’s because we want to focus 200% on the game we’re creating. But when we do come back (and we will!) we will present to you Druidstone, the real deal. That’s a promise!​

All's well that ends wells! I'm guessing we won't be seeing more of Druidstone until much later this year, but I feel confident about its future now.

There are 31 comments on Druidstone enters production, procedural generation now completely removed

Sat 17 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 17 February 2018, 01:10:18

Tags: Fallen Gods; Mark Yohalem; Wormwood Studios

As members of our community may know, the next game from Primordia creator Mark Yohalem is Fallen Gods, a roguelite RPG inspired by Norse folklore, the board game Barbarian Prince, the computer game King of Dragon Pass, and the Lone Wolf gamebooks. Fallen Gods has been in development since 2014, and was first properly revealed at the end of 2015. After that we heard little about it, other than a look at a preliminary teaser trailer in 2016. I was almost ready to dismiss the game as vaporware, but the interview with Mark earlier this month should have been a clue that I was wrong. Although it still has no release date, it seems that Fallen Gods is now far along enough to finally show in detail. Today's introductory post on the Wormwood Studios blog is only the first in a series of weekly development updates. It includes a few screenshots:

[​IMG] [​IMG]

Once, the world was better, the gods greater, the wars over, the end farther. You were born in the Cloudlands during those days, one of the Ormfolk, forever young and strong, worshiped by those below for your forefathers’ deeds. But all is not well. Now, wolves and worse haunt the night, the law holds no sway, and men’s hearts grow hard toward your kind. Fearful of their dwindling shares of souls, your brothers turned against each other ... and against you. And so you were cast down from the clouds, a fallen god broken upon the bitter earth. You rise, still free from death, with only the slightest hope of winning your way back to the heavens that are your rightful home.

Fallen Gods is an RPG inspired by the board game Barbarian Prince, the computer game King of Dragon Pass, and the sagas, eddas, and folklore of the far north. With a dark, wry tone, it tells the story of a god trying to survive in a dying world ruled by beings with great might and wits, but without the wisdom to heal the wounds left by their wars. The game has been in production for about four years, and its concepts have been building in my head for decades.

At the core of Fallen Gods are interactive events, choose-your-own-adventure vignettes in the spirit of the Lone Wolf gamebooks. Throughout the game, the player will enter towns and tunnels, meet strangers and friends on the road, face earthly and unearthly foes, and witness wonders of all kinds. Each of these events, accompanied by a hand-painted illustration, consists of a series of nodes, each a paragraph of text followed by several choices that depend upon the skills the god knows, the items he bears, and the followers he leads.

These events, like Fallen Gods itself, are about exploring the game’s world, mechanics, and story. In every session, dozens of the hundreds of possible events are spread across a procedurally generated landscape in a way that creates both surprise and coherence. Events are both destinations for the player to seek out and obstacles to bar his way. They provide the landmarks and characters that bring the world to life and make geographic exploration rewarding and dangerous.

Events also provide a laboratory for mechanical exploration. Just as the world is unique in every session, so too is the god, with different skills, strengths, supplies, followers, and gear. These things, alone and together, are powerful tools that can open up new paths, some obvious, others requiring thought and experience. Thus, for example, the Death Lore skill (allowing the god to speak to the dead) and the Wurmskin Cloak (allowing him to understand the speech of birds) can together unlock a new path through the “Windfall” event, which begins with the god finding a field full of dead starlings. Or, in “The Whale,” the player might use the Wild Heart skill (allowing him to bend beasts to his will) along with Nail (a magical spear) to draw back and harpoon his titular foe. In another example, the screenshot below shows a few of the possible forks at the start of the “All Is Lost” event.

As the player passes along these different event paths, he uncovers more about the world and what has befallen it. This “narrative exploration” reflects three values (aside from the basic goal of engaging writing). First, what the player learns should be relevant to the game’s mechanics and thus of practical value. As in the wonderful King of Dragon Pass, an understanding of the setting’s laws and lore helps in handling both friends and foes, in making informed choices rather than guesses. Second, while Fallen Gods involves plenty of words, reading should lead to doing: there is never more than a paragraph of text before the player is back in control, either making a choice with strategic consequences, fighting foes in a tactical battle, or exploring the world while managing resources. Third, the setting should be uncanny and unsettling, rooted in the same rich soil from which modern fantasy springs, but growing along different lines.

That setting grew from my fascination with Iceland and its marvelous Commonwealth, a nation of silver-tongued skalds, quick-witted warriors, troll-women, and land-wights, a land haunted at night by the Northern Lights, where some men still worshiped the beautifully flawed Norse gods. Where but in that Iceland would they compose an epic about a man who “was so great a lawyer that his match was not to be found”? This is Njal Thorgeilsson, the 10th century hero of the hauntingly titled Saga of Burnt Njal, a man who warns that “by the law alone will our land be built up” in a saga that vividly shows the other path, as scenes of farms and families give way to an endless blood-feud that brings Njal his fatal epithet. Where but in that Iceland would men dream up nabrok, wealth-bringing pants stitched from a dead man’s skin, or tilberi, milk-sucking worms shaped by witches from wool-wrapped ribs? What other land, so tiny, so remote, so poor, could bring forth not just Snorri Sturluson but Leif Erikson?

But Fallen Gods is not a “Norse” or “Viking” game; neither is it a Tolkien-inspired fantasy setting. Rather, like Tolkien’s own setting, it is drawn from the old lore and poured into a new glass, hopefully yielding something familiar but also strange.

Over the next weeks, we’ll be sharing more about the game’s setting and its systems, its paintings and its pixels, its music and its narration, to give you a sense of what has already been done and what still needs to be finished. The game has no targeted release date because everything about it has taken far longer than I ever imagined. Perhaps it will come in 2018; perhaps in 2019; perhaps later still. One way or the other, it will be done “in the fullness of time.”
Let the anticipation begin again. Next week's update, I'm told, will go into further detail about the game's various inspirations.

There are 55 comments on Fallen Gods Update #1: Introducing Fallen Gods

Fri 16 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 16 February 2018, 02:30:30

Tags: David Rogers; InXile Entertainment; Paul Marzagalli; The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep

As I recall, inXile were planning to release a Bard's Tale IV gameplay trailer last month. For some reason that never materialized, and instead they mysteriously disappeared for almost two months. Now there's finally a new Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter update. There's still no trailer in sight, but the update does contain plenty of animated GIFs showcasing what I assume is the game's latest build. The much-maligned character portraits seen in last year's combat video have been touched up, but they're still 2D cutouts that swivel and bob around. I guess that's probably not going to change. As for the update itself, it's the description of the two Bard classes that we were promised in the previous update. There's the Brew Master, who concocts beverages and gains combat bonuses when drunk, and the Rabble Rouser, whose songs bestow damage-increasing buffs on his party. I quote:

Brew Master ("Just one more test, and then we are ready for the world!")

Bards are only as powerful as the brew that fuels them. In the original trilogy, bards must wet their whistle. When they’ve sung too many songs, they’d have to return to the Adventurer’s Guild for a drink. Caith is a big, wild place, and the adventure extends well beyond the walls of Skara Brae! With that in mind, we didn’t want to force the player to stop what they are doing and backtrack to the Guild every few fights. Still, we also wanted to hold true to the booze-fueled theme of the Bard's Tales of old. In The Bard's Tale IV, the Bard drinks as they fight to gain useful generate Spell Points, which are in turn used to sing their magical songs.

Brew Masters are not only masters of brewing beers and spirits, they’re masters of drunken brawling. The bard’s Basic Combat skill teaches a bard to not only swing a hatchet, but also how to chug a drink in the heat of combat and craft Trow Squeezins, a drinkable power-up. Trow Squeezins, and really all brews in The Bard’s Tale, do two things: grant Spell Points and build up the status effect "Drunken." The Spell Points can be saved up or spent on one of the bard’s magical songs (which we’ll cover below). As for the latter, being drunk also carries its own risks and rewards.

How well a bard can hold their drink is based on their Intelligence stat. While your Drunken status effect is equal to or lower than your Intelligence stat, you’re fine, dandy, and fighting-fit. However, the moment your Drunken status exceeds your Intelligence, your bard goes into a drunken fury, gaining a huge burst of Strength before blacking out for a few turns. Overindulging limits how many songs your bard can sing in a fight before going out of commission, but can also be used strategically to get yourself out of a jam. The boost in Strength they receive before blacking out empowers both their attacks and their songs, allowing for huge damage/defense spikes in a time of need.

The next skill in the Brew Master line is Battle Brewer. Battle Brewer grants +1 Intelligence, allowing you to hold your liquor that much better. You’ll need it, because it also teaches you how to craft Elven Wine. Elven Wine is notoriously potent. It grants +2 Spell Points, but also grants +4 Drunken. Since you can only chug booze once per turn, and some songs cost 2 or more Spell Points to sing, Elven Wine is your fastest way to pull off that clutch song. It’s also your fastest way to end up asleep in a nearby gutter when your party is being bashed by some giant monster. Please drink responsibly.

Mean Drunk is another optional skill bards can pick up along the way. It’s not required to achieve the title of Brew Master, but it sure is handy for them. The Mean Drunk skill grants your Bard a passive effect which causes them to throw a mug at the enemy after every drink, for a little extra tick of damage.

The next skill in the Brew Master skill line is Town Drunk. Through this skill you learn to brew beer. It’s not just any beer though - it's Dwarven Stout! This grants +1 Spell Point and +2 Drunken, but it also causes your next melee attack to be empowered with Dwarven belligerence, causing knockback to enemies you hit. The fact that some boozes grant bonus attack effects makes Bards very versatile. Knockback can be used to disrupt enemy positioning, causing a channeled attack to miss, or exposing a weak wizard that would have otherwise been protected by their ally.

Lastly, we have the capstone skill in the class line: Brew Master. Brew Master grants the bard extra Strength, Intelligence, the recipe to brew Lowland Park Whisky, and the Shot of Courage passive. Lowland Park Whisky is the finest whisky in all the land, and in addition to granting Spell Points and Drunken, those who drink it are empowered with pompous indignation that causes their next melee attack to deal Mental Damage. That’s a huge buff, as Mental Damage is used to break the focus of enemies and ignores Armor. Generally, attacks that deal Mental Damage are on the weak side, but when a bard is swigging Lowland Park Whisky, they can pump out the highest Mental Damage in the game. The Shot of Courage passive is nothing to sneeze at either. At the start of each combat, the bard takes a free drink, granting them a free spell point and a Drunken level.

Brew Masters are powerful allies, able to choose the right brew for the job. A clever Brew Master also knows the exact moment to over-indulge for a huge burst of power to wipe out an enemy party. It’s also useful to note that bards can drink any booze they come across, so if your party contains more than one bard, only one needs to go down this path to brew booze for the others.

Rabble Rouser ("Time for a bit of the rough and tumble!")

Rabble Rousers are probably the most aggressive of the Bards, emboldening their allies to perform great feats. If you want to boost your party's damage output, Rabble Rouser is the Bardic class for you.

The first skill you learn on the way to becoming a great Rabble-Rousing musician is, appropriately, Hot Crossed Buns. Hot Crossed Buns is the first skill any bard learns as they pursue any of the four musical classes: Rabble Rouser, Troubadour, Minstrel, and War Chanter. From the Hot Crossed Buns skill, the bard learns to play the most basic instrument, the Bones. With their musical Bones, they can play Sanctuary Score, the first magical song a bard learns. By singing Sanctuary Score, the Bard shifts into a stance which provides healing for the entire party at the end of each turn, until they leave the stance willingly or mental damage breaks their focus, forcing them out of the stance.

Rabble Rouser: Novice is the first real step down the Rabble Rouser path. Here, the bard learns to play Rhyme of the Doutime on a Schofar. This new song reduces the cooldowns of all your allies' abilities, allowing a character to launch the same ability multiple times in a row, which can be incredibly power if an enemy needs just one more hit to go down, or that character is benefiting from lots of buffs.

If you become a Rabble Rouser: Master you gain access to an even more powerful song, Falkentyne’s Fury. In this iteration of The Bard’s Tale, Falkentyne’s Fury marks all enemies with a special Falkentyne’s Mark for a few turns. If that enemy takes damage while the Mark is on them, it explodes, dealing Falkentyne’s Mark extra damage. This ability does a TON of damage, and drives you to spread the damage out across the entire enemy party before the Mark falls off, rather than focusing your damage on a single character like you normally might be inclined to do.

And lastly, if the Review Board deems you worthy, you can become a Grand Rabble Rouser. Grand Rabble Rouser grants you a suite of stat bonuses, but most importantly of all, it grants your party one bonus Opportunity point! Opportunity is probably the most sought-after upgrade in all of Bard’s Tale, as each point lets you perform an additional action each turn. If it sounds like you might want to build out an entire party of Rabble Rousers, keep in mind you can’t gain bonus Opportunity from the same skill twice, so it’s probably best to diversify your party if you’re going for an All-Bard "marching band" party build!
Be sure to check out those animated GIFs in the full update. The next Bard's Tale IV update will be showcasing the Practitioner, the game's spellcaster archetype. There'll be two more archetypes left to show after that, the Fighter and the Rogue, but it looks like they're not doing another survey to select which one.

UPDATE: inXile have quietly added a paragraph to the update announcing that The Bard's Tale IV will be releasing in Q3 2018. That's rather important! And it's going to get a subtitle too, like the previous games in the series. The game's backer alpha should be arriving very soon.

There are 22 comments on Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter Update #41: The Bard Archetype, Release in Q3 2018

Thu 15 February 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 15 February 2018, 00:01:13

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Sam Luangkhot; Underworld Ascendant

Development on Underworld Ascendant continues to pick up pace. In the latest monthly development update, OtherSide are now able to reveal to reveal the game world's basic structure. They plan to use an Ultima Underwold 2-style hub-and-spoke model, with the player embarking on missions out of the Lizard Man settlement of Marcaul. The update also has details on Ascendant's controversial character progression mechanic, where players are rewarded with skill points for discovering new ways to interact with the game's emergent systems. This mechanic is justified via narrative - the Lizard Men of Marcaul value survival skills and reward you with knowledge from their magical library in exchange for discovering new techniques. Here's an excerpt from the update:

An Ever-Evolving Stygian Abyss

Many of you have asked about our plans for Underworld Ascendant’s environments. For example, is it a hub-and-spoke model? Is it a large open sandbox world? Or maybe one-off, discrete levels? In Underworld Ascendant, we’re taking a similar route to Ultima Underworld 2. The player will accept missions and bounties, acquire skills, trade for provisions and equipment, and interact with Faction intermediaries in Marcaul, a Lizard Man settlement and hub of trade and intrigue. Once you’ve readied yourself for your next challenge, you’ll navigate The Circle of Portals outside of town to travel to levels.

The primary reason we’re using this design is because it maximizes the amount of time players are in interesting and relevant environments. Second, this design leverages our small team in the most optimal way (currently 14 internally) and allows us to focus on making great interactive and dynamic environments where you can track even small changes as the narrative progresses.

Exploration is an important feature of The Stygian Abyss and there will be plenty of dark tombs and labyrinthine caverns to explore, with the help of The Silver Sapling!

New quests are offered by the Factions each day in Marcaul, and these range in challenge, reward, consequence, and location. You may even return to a level area two or more times over the course of the game. However, each time you visit a level, you’ll encounter new opportunities, challenges, and more. Helpful creatures like Lizard Man allies may be present or a swarm of Lava Bats may now inhabit the area. Useful flora like the glue plants may have been harvested and replaced with Nether Moss, which causes Deep Slugs to leave a sight-blocking smoke trail. Movement options also change, as the Outcast tribe’s construction efforts expand or are destroyed.

We’ll talk more about the Outcasts and their relationship with the Factions (and you!) at a later time.

As the game progresses, the world state begins to decay, causing the local ecology to become even more challenging, as fierce creatures crawl up from the lower depths and thermal vents appear.

These are a few of the ways we’re working to ensure that not only are levels different every time you visit them, but that you can play through the game multiple times and have a uniquely different experience each time.

In future updates, we’ll talk about the world state changes in depth, as well as its driver: our main nemesis, Typhon.

Feat-Based Player Growth

It’s been important to the team to closely examine RPG gameplay and story elements from the previous games in the series, to determine what to build upon and where to do something differently.

We’ve kept elements like The Silver Sapling, while eschewed others like stats and character classes. (Apologies those of you burning to play once more as a shepherd.) Instead, the player has a wide variety of combat, stealth, and magic skills and abilities to choose from to customize their character to match your preferred play-style.

We want players to teach themselves and reward them for experimentation as they explore Underworld Ascendant’s deep gameplay systems. It’s important to us to avoid overtly hand-holding the player, while teaching them the full depth of the opportunities within the immersive sim ecology, where logic-based simulated systems ensure elements like physics and physical properties make sense.

Our earliest example of this during our Kickstarter was a locked wooden door: You can burn it down, either with a spell, torch, or burning debris. You can pick the lock. You can bash it down, but the sound may attract foes.

Add to that a bevy of spells that allow you to alter physics, transform physical properties, manipulate creatures with exploitable behaviors, and, well, there’s much to learn.

So, instead of taking the traditional experience point route or requiring players to repeatedly use a skill to improve it, player growth in Underworld Ascendant is focused on a Feats-based system.

A “Feat” in our game is an action that demonstrates the player is hitting a key milestone toward understanding a play-style (combat, stealth, magic, environ, or key combinations) or game system. Think “the Labors of Hercules.”

Performing a Feat will gain the player a skill point. New skills cost one or more skill points. A few of our internal rules for Feats are that there should always be multiple ways to perform them and they can never be mundane.

One example? Many of our traps are physics-based, so can be blocked by heavy objects or stuck in place with adhesives. We decided to make this action a Feat after an external tester showed that she could stop a tick tock trap by tossing a glue ball directly at its seams. Which worked! (We’d never seen this before… Something that happens often when external testers play our game.) And that example is one of many ways to perform that Feat.

Through this, we hope to reward fun with more fun, while also not overwhelming the player with too many options right off the bat. And as you prove you understand and are actively engaging the many options available to you in the sim, you’ll unlock skills and abilities that grant you access to even more.​

Now that Ascendant's design is finalized, it appears there's much more to come in future updates. The game will also be featured in the PC Gamer panel at the annual SXSW event in Austin next month, on March 16th.

There are 7 comments on Underworld Ascendant Update #43: World Design, Player Progression

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