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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?

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Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 16 June 2018, 15:10:43

Tags: BattleTech; Harebrained Schemes

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Harebrained Schemes' 2013-2015 trilogy of Shadowrun roleplaying games weren't known for their awesome gameplay but were lauded for their writing, establishing the Seattle-based studio's reputation as a narrative powerhouse. The second game in the trilogy, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, was particularly popular on our forums - rivaling the far more mechanically robust Divinity: Original Sin for the title of our 2014 GOTY largely due to the merits of its narrative design. Commercially, however, this storytelling excellence was not enough to make the Shadowrun RPGs anything more than budget-priced minor hits.

With BattleTech, Harebrained set out to expand beyond their core competency. With its more robust tactical combat implementation and strategic mercenary company management layer, contextualized by the rich lore of the BattleTech universe, the game sought a more even balance of story and gameplay. From a commercial perspective, this approach has clearly been a resounding success for the studio, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold and a handsome $7.5M buyout by publisher Paradox Interactive. But has this shift in priorities led to a more satisfying game, or have we gone from excellent narrative and perfunctory gameplay to tedious mediocrity on both fronts?

The man to answer that question is our esteemed tactical specialist sser, who volunteered to review BattleTech shortly before it was released back in April. His verdict? In short - mediocre, but not hopeless. Here's a quick look at his take on the game's combat:

One glaring omission from this world lies outside the mechs themselves. Namely something one might call, fisting two holes at the same time combined arms. Military strategists realized the OP nature of air superiority back when that consisted of two kites stitched together and a pilot with a good throwing arm. One can only imagine the devastating nature of controlling the Z-axis when you elevate it into fucking space. I think it’s already kinda lousy how BATTLEMECH handles this enormous elephant in the room, but it got me to thinking if perhaps it could have been utilized without dampening the core of the game. Maybe put some hangars on the mothership to state that it has fighters on hand to defend it as it travels to and fro? And in-battle ‘air support’ would simply be a limited supply of strikes you could bring down, while the rest are implied to be warring for superiority as ground forces do the dirty work? That or just fly Oscar the Grouch’s mansion around a hostile galaxy where, apparently, no spies exist anywhere and you can spend days sitting on jump-ships waiting to take off like Donald Trump casually standing in line for a Cinnabon at the Mexico City International Airport. But I digress.

So why not some ground troops? Technically, there are a few in the form of tanks. And they’re hilariously powerful little buggers when you consider the cost-benefit ratio. It’s one of the few times the universe lets slip how silly it all is. Let’s analyze for a moment. A tiny tank can get jacked up on PCP lasers, giant cannons, or so many goddam missiles the animation of them smashing your mech lasts so long all it’s missing is a microwave’s timer going off at the end. They’re incredibly threatening – and also incredibly sparse. Presumably because they get close to threatening the mech’s limelight. Fine. Fair enough. Whatever. But boy… when I look at those curvaceous BATTLEMECH maps freckled with innocent rural pastorals, the first thing I imagine is having a host of combined arms thrashing it to bits with mechs striding gloriously through that which has been ravaged.

But it does isolate an issue with BATTLETECH’s entirety: the player’s ability to only take four mechs into combat forever traps the game design into a phonebooth only big enough to challenge that starting point. I still feel like the difference between X-Com and XCOM (1994, 2012) is a perfect example of the issue. In X-Com, you have numbers on hand which not only makes your decisions on map very flexible, it also means your enemies have a lot of flexibility as the game has to contend with the players deep well of resources. In XCOM, you usually roll a squad four-deep. Your gameplay options were so piled into those squaddies that losing even one meant a giant stepback in firepower and force projection (and losing a whole squad often meant game over). Enemies are not foes frantically looking to squash you so much as they are taking directorial cues on how to behave. In turn, the maps became static ‘Overwatch creep’ affairs where players tilted toward the strategically conservative choices. It took a sequel and its expansions to get anywhere close to fixing this. BATTLETECH suffers from a similar fate in its first steps.

That’s the primary reason I harp on this lack of, admittedly ancillary, tools. Because a game can only challenge a limited toolkit so much. If it throws too much at you, then you’ll end up having to lean on luck instead of tactical options at which point it feels more unfair than challenging. The corollary is that if the game throws too little, like many of the randomized mercenary missions, it leans into simply being boring. This is partly why the game’s best missions are those designed to stretch your resources horizontally, forcing you to spread out and cover geographical ground while also choosing between killing targets and protecting points. Rewarding players for eagerness is a design resource you can tap repeatedly and when BATTLETECH does this it does it well. But the core of XCOM laid itself bare real quick and I think BATTLETECH does as well. I imagine HBS will borrow the cues from Firaxis in figuring out ways to variate the gameplay and wrench it free of its current confines. (My simple suggestion is that combined arms would be a great way to do this.)
And its story:

Where BATTLETECH noticeably falters is in the plot and characters. There is also a strange stylistic change between non-event writing and event writing. While events are written fairly straight, the main game’s writing has a lot of characters talking like this:

“I told you – A THOUSAND TIMES – to not… sigh… microwave the burrito with the foil on.”

The stilted orthography is a sort of sci-fi mirror to the campestral style of a ten-cent Western. Fair enough, but every character talks like this. If you pulled dialogue from the game and hid its speaker, you wouldn’t even know who the hell was talking. A lack of distinction and differentiation between characters is somewhat ironic since, like most sci-fi settings, the cast is a Captain Planet’s catalogue of diversity. One big red flag for this unexotic “dialogue” is that every single character is a certified ass kisser. There is only passing resistance to any of the Princess’s goals or ideas. With a large cast of characters, the matter of getting from point A to point B has about as much conflict as going from 1-1 to 1-2 in Super Mario. The unending rimjobbing she gets also stands in stark contrast to the actual plot's conceit.

And a quick recap of said plot: you are a financially insolvent killer for hire and there is a deposed princess who wants to take back the throne. This is a great premise. Story-wise, it is intriguing. The mercenary has debts to pay and the princess needs to recapture her throne. I immediately jumped to the obvious question. Why doesn’t the mercenary just fork over the princess to those who own the throne? What could the princess possibly reward him for years of struggle and uncertainty that would be better than a simple phonecall to the current royals? Not only is this a fun narrative, it could feed directly into gameplay with difficult decisions to make.

Except at no point whatsoever is there any tension between a person who murders for cash and a person who is essentially a Disney Princess. The toothless premise most noticeably sends a wrench into the issue of cashflow. In-game, the Princess is bankrolled by an outside power yet you can ostensibly still run out of treasury. It seems to me that the better concept would be for the player to play as the Princess who must hire the mercenary, and if you run out of treasury then the mercenary turns on you. Meanwhile, the mercenary smells blood in the water and keeps making bigger and bigger demands. I don’t know, just thinking out loud here. It’d be cool if the player’s story was front and center instead of every accomplishment’s limelight being afforded to a Mary Sue with a scar, but I digress. What's clear is that you are not a mercenary at all, which is kind of awkward considering the non-story contracts you undertake. Instead you fall into one of those awkward gaming tropes; that one where the shopkeeper wants you to save the world, but he still finds the time to demand you pay a couple quid for the very tool you need despite the implication that any failure on your part would also be his doom.

The debris of this blown idea peppers the rest of the game’s writing: the plot never really deviates from good vs. evil, and it’s almost patronizing how thoroughly it makes sure you know who has the halo who the horns. At one point it even lampshades itself when a villain talks like a toddler about their evil plans, but the device felt out of place in the setting and served to only further highlight how doldrum the whole thing was. Not to mention said evilness coming to fruition pretty much gets hand waved away which was about the point I gave up on expecting more.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: BATTLETECH

There are 122 comments on RPG Codex Review: BATTLETECH

Sat 23 June 2018

Community - posted by Infinitron on Sat 23 June 2018, 15:06:25

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

The Age of Decadence was criticized by some for its CYOA-like all-or-nothing dialogue skill checks. It turns out that this is another design element that Vault Dweller is considering changing in The New World. In the latest community poll on the Iron Tower forums, he proposes an alternative dialogue mechanic based on a numeric disposition value altered by cumulative positive and negative reactions. Here's the explanation:

When designing AoD dialogue system, our goal was simple: your character’s skills must determine conversations' outcomes (i.e. success or failure). The dialogue checks were equally simple: if your skill is high enough, you pass the check, otherwise you fail. It created 3 problems:

1. You never had to consider what the NPC would respond best to. Any tagged line would result in instant success if you have the skill, meaning that your dialogue option was not an attempt (as it should be) but guaranteed success, which made considering the options redundant.

2. Since all dialogues had multiple checks to simulate realistic conversations, it didn’t matter how many checks you passed and how well you were doing until that last check that resulted in failure (i.e. early success didn’t contribute to anything and thus didn’t matter).

3. The rigid nature of the system forced us to lower the checks to make the hybrids (i.e. jacks of all trades with lower skills) viable, which in turn made playing talkers an easy mode.

We did have a couple of interesting dialogues. When you talk to Lorenza, she asks you some questions to understand your motivations better (before she makes her decision), and your answers modify the checks later on, making them easier or harder.

In The New World we’d like to engage the player, make him/her consider the options instead of clicking on the line with the tag matching your highest skill, yet still keep the system skill-driven. It’s not an easy task as this problem doesn’t have a perfect solution, so I’m asking you to consider both systems (see below) and vote for the one where the pros outweigh the cons.

The biggest conceptual change is that the tagged lines would now represent an attempt without any guarantees of success. It’s up to the player to read people based on the available info and consider what would work best. You can have two different streetwise lines, for example, one would result in a positive reaction, the other in a negative.

That brings us to the second biggest change. Most lines would no longer lead to success or failures but result in positive and negative reactions, represented numerically. Your skill level would act as modifiers, magnifying positive reactions and reducing the effect of blunders. The final check would tally up the reactions, which will determine whether you’ve succeeded or failed.

Let’s say your Persuasion is 3. You’re offered 3 arguments. The NPC will respond very favorably (+2) to argument #1, favorably to argument #2 (+1) and very negatively to argument #3 (-2). Your skill will modify these reactions to 4, 2, and 0. Let’s say the final check’s value would be 10, so assuming the conversation has 3 nodes with tagged lines, you’ll need to score at least 2 very favorable reactions and 1 favorable (or 3 very favorable ones) to pass the check. In longer dialogues you’d be able to fail a few times and still recover.

This system will maintain the importance of skills and encourage further investment but it will shift the focus to figuring out which lines would work best. Obviously, it might increase meta-gaming but that’s your choice and thus not our concern. Every time the player is offered to make a choice with different outcomes, 8 out of 10 people would want to know the outcomes in advance and the exact way to get to the outcome they want.

Anyway, let us know what you think and if you have any concerns.
Which shall it be, the old or the new? As always, you can respond to the poll over there or in the corresponding thread in our Iron Tower subforum.

There are 7 comments on The New World Design Poll #3: Dialogue Checks

Fri 22 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 22 June 2018, 22:33:41

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

The latest free DLC for Pillars of Eternity II was released yesterday, alongside a minor patch addressing some of the leftover issues from this month's big balance update. Obsidian took the opportunity to publish a new Fig update that also reveals a bit about what they have planned for next month. They seem to be putting out a lot more updates these days than they bothered to before the game was released!

We hope you've been enjoying the new features and challenges presented by Patch 1.1, released on June 7th. Thanks to our community's continued support and feedback, we've made some slight adjustments and fixes in our newest update, Patch 1.1.1, and have released our fourth free DLC - the "Scalawags Pack", both released today. Head to our forums for the full list of Patch 1.1.1 fixes.

The "Scalawags Pack" introduces new and additional crew members, including a rowdy Wood Elf cook named Haema, a rather professional Orlan navigator named Coreto, and a familiar Aumauan merchant named Ponamu Bird-Scorned. Haema, Coreto, and Ponamu Bird-Scorned can be found and recruited in Port Maje, Crookspur, and Tikawara, respectively. In addition to the new members you can add to your lovable gang of misfits, the pack also includes new ship upgrades in the form of a living steel anchor made by animancers, a lantern that illuminates your way through the lesser flame blight trapped inside, bright sails made of palm fronds, a monstrous steering wheel made from parts of a Vine Lurker, and a short-range flamethrower to spew Magran's fire at your enemies! And just in case your crew forgets who their captain is, make sure they know who runs their ship with the Savage personality setting that you can set for your Watcher at any time as of our last patch.

Coming in July

As always, the team welcomes your feedback and discussions about the game, and we haven't veered away from our continued commitment to support Deadfire with ongoing feature updates, fixes, and quality of life improvements to make your every adventure in the Deadfire Archipelago the absolute best it can be. July will bring with it a bevy of new features, including the oft-requested stash improvements and in-game mod support, through Patch 1.2. As a sneak peek into 1.2, we want to share with you our planned relationship tracking feature, which shows players a history of the choices they made that affected their relationships with particular companions or factions!

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Additionally, our first expansive DLC, titled "The Beast of Winter", will be released in late July! We can't wait to share in the mysteries and stories that await you in this lore-filled adventure, so be sure to check back regularly to see what we and Rymrgand have in store for you in the weeks to come.
Adam Brennecke dropped a few additional hints about the Beast of Winter expansion in an interview with Shacknews at E3 last week, although nothing you couldn't guess by its title. In the meantime, you can grab the new free DLC on Steam or GOG. I wonder if this is the last one.

There are 10 comments on Pillars of Eternity II Fig Update #50: What's Coming In July


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Thu 21 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 21 June 2018, 22:43:09

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

Larian revealed details about the upcoming Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition to the press last month. Today they finally got around to publishing a Kickstarter update with a more comprehensive account of the many changes it introduces. In the accompanying video, Swen Vincke goes on a magical journey throughout Larian, speaking with his developers about the Definitive Edition's balance improvements, new and improved combat encounters, new late game content, performance improvements, new music and more. The game has the obligatory Story Mode now, and a silly pre-order bonus, Sir Lora the Squirrel Knight - free for existing owners, of course. As always, if you don't want to watch the video, you can just read about it in the update.



Narrative
We received some criticism on the last part of the game and so we took that to heart. We had a long look at how we could improve it and came up with quite a list.

Almost 150k words of text have been changed and we've recorded over 130k new words, fixing some voices and text that weren't quite perfect in the original game. We've created new situations and dialogues to give you a greater sense of reactivity across the world, and have bumped up our use of the tag system across most conversations. Finally, we’ve worked on the personal journeys of the origin characters, polishing their quests and situations to better communicate how your decisions impact their story.

Combat
Combat is an integral part of your adventure in Divinity: Original Sin 2, so we’ve worked on rebalancing some of the fights in the game to make the challenge curve flow better and avoid harsher spikes of difficulty. The overall experience will now be smoother and make you feel like your experience in earlier fights has prepared you for what comes later, while still offering you new challenges. We’ve also added some brand new fights (be careful of Edouard's surprise in Kemm's garden) as well as reworking the Kraken in the Harbour scene. Because we all want to see a showdown with that big, tentacled bully!

Balance
Here are some specific balance changes you can expect to see in the Definitive Edition:
  • Economy changes - We’ve updated the prices of many items in the game. Unique items were usually too valuable, while armor prices now better reflect their utility in combat and the cost won’t vary so heavily.
  • We slightly reduced the damage on some of the three Source point skills. (Skills like Arrow Storm and Meteor Shower will still be super cool, but not an 'I win' button.)
  • Totems will now gain intelligence as they grow in levels. This will help their damage output scale better towards the end game.
  • Lone Wolf abilities and attributes will now be capped at the normal cap levels. Currently, Lone Wolves can increase their abilities and attributes past the soft caps of 40 and 10 respectively. In Definitive Edition, this will no longer be possible - you will only be able to double your points to the cap and not beyond.
  • The Torturer talent will allow you to apply status effects through magic or physical armor.
  • The difficulty of persuasion encounters across Arx have changed. Most of these encounters were unproportionally hard compared to the result.
  • We buffed some underused skills. Petrifying Touch, Sucker Punch, and Infect are getting increased damage. Mosquito Swarm will have a shorter cooldown and and Door to Eternity will last longer.
  • AI will be more likely to attack players with Damage Reduction abilities. These abilities usually resulted in the AI avoiding you rather than ever doing damage to the AI.
  • High quality wands will create surfaces.
Sir Lora, the Squirrel Knight
Of course, not everything in the Definitive Edition is an improvement. There are rumours that an apocalyptic cult of squirrels, the Knights of Drey, are trying to bring about the end of the world by summoning the Great Acorn, which will be the doom of all tall peoples! (Yes, even dwarves.) At least, that's what we've been told by Sir Lora, the Squirrel Knight. The coming of the Acorn was foreshadowed in the original version of Divinity: Original Sin 2 and now it appears to be imminent. Sir Lora arrives with his own small story arc, and will be a mini companion you can recruit in your game. He's there as a pre-order bonus for Divinity: Original Sin 2 - Definitive Edition, but if you own Original Sin 2 on PC before the launch of the Definitive Edition, then you will receive Sir Lora for free as soon as the Definitive Edition goes live!
The next Kickstarter update will be released close to the Definitive Edition's launch on August 31st. Swen hints that at that point we might finally learn something about Larian's next project. They've been doing a lot of hiring.

There are 13 comments on Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter Update #47: Definitive Edition Details


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Wed 20 June 2018

Game News - posted by Darth Roxor on Wed 20 June 2018, 18:00:25

Tags: Goldhawk Interactive; Xenonauts 2

Xenonauts 2, the "non-chronological sequel" to the only recent X-COM clone worth a damn, has just launched a Kickstarter campaign. If for some reason you are still oblivious as to what this game is about, maybe the video and description below will enlighten you.



XENONAUTS-2 is a "strategic planetary defense simulator" that puts you in charge of a clandestine military force attempting to protect the planet from extraterrestrial invasion. It is the sequel to the acclaimed Xenonauts, successfully Kickstarted way back in 2012!

We are building a hugely complex strategy / tactics game that gives you total control of your organisation all the way from the command staff in your base down to the troops on the battlefield. The formula will be familiar to anyone who has played the classic X-Com games from the 90's (or the modern reboots), but Xenonauts-2 expands those foundations to create something deeper and more distinctive!

The action takes place in the modern day - but in an alternative timeline where decades of alien interference has prevented the end of the Cold War, leaving NATO and the Soviet Union teetering on the brink of a catastrophic nuclear war. Can you hold humanity together long enough to end the alien threat forever?​

The Kickstarter aims to gather 50k in pound sterling, and it seems to be already going strong. Backing for £18 gets you a copy of the game with early access access, £25 buys you a ticket into the closed beta, and everything above that nets you an additional copy or whatever trinkets you might be interested in. There is also an alpha combat demo (alternative GOG link) available if you have any doubts.

There are 48 comments on Xenonauts 2 now on Kickstarter

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 20 June 2018, 00:14:31

Tags: Ceres Games; Realms Beyond

Back in April, we got our first brief glimpse of footage from the upcoming Chaos Chronicles successor Realms Beyond. Today Ceres Games have published the first full-length gameplay video, a 26-minute long demonstration of the game's "combat alpha". The video shows a player party fighting against a band of orcs and a cave troll, a scenario we got a sneak preview of in a pair of screenshots published last month. The orcs are much sturdier than the goblins from the first video, making for a very long battle even after they're immobilized by a Web and Stinking Cloud early on.



If YouTube starts the video in low, blurry quality, please change the resolution manually to 1080p60 or 720p60.

Please be aware, due to the nature of alpha versions, the user interface (especially placeholder icons) and a other elements such as sounds, camera, FXs and animations are still work in progress and therefore not final.

If you wonder about the Wizard’s overcrowded spellbook: We made every spell available (according to his 9th level) for testing purposes. Under real circumstances, he wouldn’t had so many spells already unlocked.

We appreciate hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvements related to the combat system.

Also, based on your feedback to previously published screenshots, we reworked the ground terrain textures and the level itself to improve the readability of the scene.
Even with the help of a powerful summoned demon, the video cuts off before the troll is taken down. The game seems promising from a visual and technical perspective, but they're definitely going to have to work on the pacing.

There are 32 comments on Realms Beyond Combat Alpha Gameplay Video

Thu 14 June 2018

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 14 June 2018, 22:52:45

Tags: Brian Fargo; David Rogers; InXile Entertainment; The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep

Although many new games were announced at this year's E3, the traditional RPGs that the Codex is most interested in haven't had much of a presence. One of the few exceptions to that is inXile's upcoming The Bard's Tale IV, which made an appearance both on the Shacknews "Indie Heaven" stream on Tuesday and on today's Twitch E3 broadcast. Presenting the game was a very enthusiastic David Rogers, also joined by Brian Fargo in today's broadcast. They appear to have brought a new gameplay reel with them, which offers a glimpse at areas which aren't part of the currently available backer alpha, as well as at the game's character creation UI. Both streams are about ten minutes long. Watch here:


Other than the footage, there's not much new information here, but it is worth noting than in both presentations, David only says the game is due out "this year", without specifying the Q3 release window that was announced back in February. Hmmm.

There are 16 comments on Bard's Tale IV Gameplay Snippets on Twitch and Shacknews E3 2018 Broadcasts

Wed 13 June 2018

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 June 2018, 01:07:41

Tags: CD Projekt; Cyberpunk 2077

Two days after its re-announcement, CD Projekt have decided to reveal the first gameplay details about Cyberpunk 2077. Several media outlets got to see a behind closed doors demo of the game today, and have been allowed to report their impressions. The most important takeaway is that Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person RPG, something which has caused a certain degree of consternation among Witcher fans who were expecting a similar experience. Unlike what some people may have assumed, it appears that the game is in an advanced state of development, and all the attendees came away from the demo very impressed. IGN seem to be the first site to have published a full preview. I quote:

Six years after its first reveal, I have seen a live demo of Cyberpunk 2077, and it looks like everything I was hoping it would be. A beautiful and sprawling RPG set in an alternate future that sits somewhere between Dredd, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element.

The biggest surprise is that the gameplay is almost entirely first-person. With a helluva lot of guns to fire and damage values popping up as your bullets hit enemies, the combat plays out more like Borderlands or Deus Ex than it does The Witcher 3. There are tons of abilities to use during combat, including bullet ricocheting and a bullet time slow down that came in handy quite a bit during the 45-minute demo I saw.

The shooting looks solid as well, though it’s always hard to tell without going hands on. Shotguns, pistols, and an enemy-seeking rifle all had kick and feedback to them that I maybe wasn’t expecting from the studio behind The Witcher. It seems slower than something like Borderlands, but definitely faster than Deus Ex, and using abilities in conjunction with your guns clearly seemed important.

And while we saw a bit of stealth, and I’m sure using the Mantis arm blades and a late game wall run ability will help facilitate that, our demo was mostly guns-blazing. One cool moment was when the player took out an enemy stealthily, then jacked directly into him to get a schematic of the base they were fighting through, hacking various systems to cause havoc.

Outside of the heat of battle, however, Cyberpunk’s RPG core shines bright and clear. You take quests, talk to NPCs with branching dialogue options, and explore an open world only limited by your “Street Cred” value -- which can be increased by doing jobs, or even by putting on sweet looking clothes, like a leather jacket that had a 5% increase to Street Cred in addition to other stats.

You play as a mercenary cyberpunk named V, a bespoke character that you can customize to be male or female and deck out with tats, electronics, and all sorts of other outfits befitting the game’s name. You also assign points to six stats (most of which are from the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game): Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Reflexes, Tech, and (my favorite) Cool.

But Cyberpunk also pulls away from other typical RPG molds. Instead of picking a class archetype, you get to customize and specialize as you see fit during the game, making your own class of sorts. You get to customize V’s backstory as well, and instead of more typical options you might expect, there are questions like picking your “Childhood Hero.”

But while your character is your own, this is clearly as much of an open-world RPG as The Witcher 3. We saw V, a woman in the demo I watched, walking around the dense and winding Night City to talk to allies, get quests from shady criminal sources, and upgrade her abilities and body parts.

At one point she went to her Ripperdoc to install an optical scanner and a hand upgrade called Subdermal Grip. The increased grip strength upped the damage of her guns, as well as brought up a previously-missing ammo counter. The eye (which you see installed in her head from its perspective and is one of the all-time creepiest and coolest pieces of equipment I’ve seen in a game) gives V the ability to zoom and scan enemies and vehicles.

That scanning is important, because there appear to be four different types of damage in Cyberpunk 2077: Physical, Thermal, EMP, and Chemical. Scanning shows you what damage the enemy uses, as well as what they are weak or strong against.

There were also equipment and chip slots, and one chip we saw towards the end of the demo gave V a robot spider about the size of a dog that would follow and fight for her. It rocked. Player choice seems incredibly important to Cyberpunk, and I feel like we only scratched the surface of its customization options

And did I mention vehicles? Because, yes, you can drive in this game. It’s not totally clear how big Night City is, but its streets were at least sprawling enough to hop in what looked like a futuristic Lambo and get in a mobile gun fight. The AI companion took the wheel as V leaned out the window and shot people out of a van in front of them. It was tense, though the map doesn’t look nearly as open or free for driving like it is in GTA 5 from what I saw.

That said, Night City seems to have a lot of depth and height to it if you’re walking around. It’s got huge sky-rises full of things to do, sodas to buy (which can be used later like most RPG food), and V used elevators to get between floors. Like I said, it comes out as a dense city with lots of side paths to explore.

And Cyberpunk has more AI civilians just bustling around on ground level than I’ve seen in most games. Walking around in first-person made the city streets feel alive with action, not like a game. It was truly remarkable.

Cyberpunk 2077’s writing and voice acting seemed superb as well from what I could tell. It was clever and well-written -- at one point a dialogue choice had V chastise her Ripperdoc for narrating what he was doing, poking fun at another game trope.

The dialogue options also seemed like they had real weight to them. At one point, a deal gone south made V end up getting hacked by her enemy, a line plugged into her that acting as a digital lie detector. The player could lie still, but when she said that she didn’t have back-up (she did) it caused them to search for her partner. All the while, the option to just grab the gun and start a fight persisted, but the player was able to talk their way through without conflict.

Those dialogue options don’t feel as stationary as The Witcher 3, either. Occasionally more casual dialogue choices would pop up while walking around with V’s NPC partner. That, coupled with the first-person camera, makes Cyberpunk 2077 seems significantly more immersive than having more structured conversations as Geralt.

CD Projekt also explicitly called Cyberpunk 2077 "a mature experience intended for mature audiences" and that players would "not only have a chance to engage with the game world but also with its people.” They happened to say that right after V carried a naked woman she had rescued for a job out of a building, and during a cutscene where we then see V waking up in the morning in nothing but her underwear. You can read between the lines for yourself, but it sounds like… let’s call it “romance” options will be in Cyberpunk too.

A handful of cutscenes were the only times Cyperpunk left first-person -- apart from driving which gives you the option to swap, though first-person has a sweet MPH UI on your windshield. It’s nice to know that you’ll be able to see your custom V during the game.

Cyberpunk 2077 is definitely not just “Cyberpunk Witcher,” it’s something a whole lot more than that. The core of what I loved about The Witcher is clearly there, but in a wild and exciting new shell that stands as something wholly its own. Questions about how free its open world feels, the quality of its stories, and if the guns are actually good to shoot when they are in our own hands persists, but having finally seen Cyberpunk 2077 in action, I’m more excited for it than ever.
IGN also put together a bullet point list of Cyberpunk 2077's notable features, and at Game Informer there's an even more detailed preview that describes the demo footage moment-by-moment. When will we get to see this footage, you ask? Two of the game's developers were interviewed on the GameSpot and IGN live E3 broadcasts today, but there was no sign of any footage there. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.

There are 254 comments on First Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay details revealed

Tue 12 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 June 2018, 15:31:53

Tags: InXile Entertainment; Krome Studios; Mark Morgan; Wasteland; Wasteland 2; Wasteland 3

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the original Wasteland, inXile have announced their intentions to release a remastered version of the game, coming in early 2019. Wasteland was already kinda-sorta remastered with 2013's "The Original Classic" re-release which featured new portraits and music, but I guess this version will be more comprehensive. The developers are Krome Studios, the same chaps who are now doing The Bard's Tale trilogy remaster. Apparently they've made quite a good impression. The remaster will be part of a new 30th Anniversary Bundle now available on Steam, which also includes the original Wasteland, Wasteland 2 and a few additional goodies including a music track from the upcoming Wasteland 3. Here's the announcement:

inXile Entertainment is proud to announce the Wasteland 30th Anniversary Bundle, a celebration of the video game series which launched the post-apocalyptic genre in video gaming and inspired successors such as the Fallout series. The bundle includes items from across the history of the series, along with two new items - a musical track by Mark Morgan, which represents the first publicly available new content from 2019’s Wasteland 3, and a currently in pre-production 30th anniversary remaster of the original Wasteland by Krome Studios (currently partnered with inXile on a similar remaster of The Bard’s Tale Trilogy).

Items in the Wasteland 30th Anniversary Edition Bundle include:
  • Wasteland 1 - The Original Classic
  • Wasteland - 30th Anniversary Edition remaster (due early 2019)
  • Wasteland 2: Director's Cut
  • Digital Extras:
    - Wasteland 3 Music Track "Frozen Waste"
    - Wasteland 2 Novella: All Bad Things
    - Wasteland 2 Novella: The Earth Transformed Ghost Book One
    - Wasteland 2 Novella: Death Machines Ghost Book Two
    - Wasteland 2 Concept Art Book
    - Wasteland 2 Choir Songs EP
    - Wasteland 2 Original Soundtrack
This bundle will contain all the items listed above and be sold for $44.99, launching at 10% discount in celebration of the game’s anniversary. When Wasteland - 30th Anniversary Edition is released, it will also be added to the libraries of customers who purchased the bundle at no additional cost.

The signature item of this bundle is Wasteland - 30th Anniversary Edition, a remastering of the first game that will feature updated graphics (which maintain the spirit of the original pixel art), run natively in current operating systems and at all current resolutions, and offer other quality of life features. This work is being done by Krome Studios, the team currently behind a similar remastering of The Bard’s Tale Trilogy.

The Wasteland - 30th Anniversary Edition remaster is currently in pre-production, with an expected completion date of early 2019. Anyone who purchases the bundle prior to then will receive the game at no additional cost upon release.​

I imagine there'll be more details about this in the next Wasteland 3 Fig update. According to inXile, unlike the Bard's Tale trilogy remasters, the remastered Wasteland will not be given free to Wasteland 3 backers. I suppose that's fair, they never promised it - but it would be nice if they offered it as a perk for high tier backers at least.

There are 18 comments on inXile to release Wasteland 1 remaster in early 2019, part of new 30th Anniversary Bundle

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 June 2018, 14:01:10

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios

Last month, Larian told USgamer that they were going to publish a Kickstarter update "sometime before E3" with details about the upcoming Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition. As you can see, that never happened. We might yet get something before E3 is over, but in the meantime, Larian have put out a new story trailer that announces an exact date for the Definitive Edition's release - August 31st.


Since Swen is at E3, perhaps we'll see some gameplay footage and interviews on one of the daily broadcasts as well.

There are 4 comments on Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition releasing on August 31st

Mon 11 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Mon 11 June 2018, 15:08:35

Tags: Arkane Studios; Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 76; Prey (Arkane Studios); Prey: Mooncrash; Starfield; The Elder Scrolls VI

Bethesda had a tough act to follow after Microsoft's press conference at E3 yesterday. Yes, they revealed details on Fallout 76, which it turns out is indeed an "entirely online" multiplayer base-building game, just like Kotaku's Jason Schreier said it would be. As far as I'm concerned, this will be the last time you ever read about it on the Codex front page. They also announced The Elder Scrolls: Blades, a free-to-play Elder Scrolls RPG for mobile devices coming later this year. And there was a trailer for the recently released The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset expansion, and a console release for The Elder Scrolls: Legends card game. Oh, a Skyrim port for the Amazon Alexa, but that's just a joke, I think.

But it didn't end there. Whether because they felt they were at risk of angering their core fanbase with all of that multiplayer stuff (#SavePlayer1, amirite?) or because they thought they needed to reveal even more after Microsoft's bonanza, Bethesda decided to do something unusual this year. They officially announced not just Starfield, the mysterious space RPG that has been a topic of speculation since Zenimax trademarked it back in 2013, but also The Elder Scrolls VI, a still unsubtitled sequel to Bethesda's flagship series. Of those two, Starfield will come first, but both titles appear to be years away from release. These short teaser trailers are probably all we'll be seeing of them in the near future:


On the non-BGS side, there's a new Rage, a new Doom and a new Wolfenstein, but the most interesting announcement is the new "roguelike mode" DLC for Prey entitled Prey: Mooncrash, released today alongside a free update that adds a hardcore Survival Mode to the game. Prey is also getting a multiplayer mode called Typhon Hunter later this year. I guess it's nice that Bethesda are still willing to invest in the game despite its commercial disappointment.

There are 46 comments on Bethesda E3 2018 Press Conference: Fallout 76, Starfield, The Elder Scrolls VI

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Mon 11 June 2018, 02:17:37

Tags: CD Projekt; Cyberpunk 2077

The annual series of press conferences at E3 began rather dismally yesterday with a fairly pathetic showing from Electronic Arts, who had nothing of any real interest to reveal other than another look at BioWare's upcoming online multiplayer game Anthem. But today things were different. For the first time in years, we're posting about Microsoft's E3 press conference, which this year was packed with an incredible number of world premieres. That included an early look at Bethesda's apparent multiplayer Fallout spinoff Fallout 76, a new game from From Software called Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a Gears of War turn-based tactics spinoff(!) called Gears Tactics, and most bizarrely of all, the on-stage introduction of Techland's zombie survival sequel Dying Light 2 by its narrative designer, Chris Avellone. What.

But that's not what you're here for. When its Twitter account reactivated this January for the first time in over four years, many people guessed that this would be the year when CD Projekt's Cyberpunk 2077 would finally re-emerge after its premature initial announcement back in 2012. Although it seemed at first like it wouldn't, the game made a surprise appearance at the very end of Microsoft's press conference, in an amusing fake hacking stunt. Behold, our first real look at Cyberpunk 2077:


At the end of the trailer is an obfuscated message from CD Projekt, which has already been deciphered by observant fans:

It's been over 2077 days since we announced our plan to develop Cyberpunk 2077. We released a CGI trailer, gave some interviews and... went dark. Normal procedure for these kinds of things - you announce a game and then shut up, roll up your sleeves and go to work. We wanted to give you The Witcher 3 and both expansions first, which is why this period of staying silent was longer than we planned. Sorry for that.

As soon as we concluded work on Blood and Wine, we were able to go full speed ahead with CP2077's pre-production. But we chose to remain silent. Why? At some point, we made a decision to resume talking about the game only when we have something to show. Something meaningful and substantial. This is because we do realise you've been (im)patiently waiting for a very long time, and we wouldn't like anyone to feel that we're taking this for granted. On the contrary - it gives us a lot of extra motivation. The hype is real, so the sweat and tears need to be real, too.

But, to the point. Today is the day. If you're seeing this, it means you saw the trailer - our vision of Cyberpunk, an alternative version of the future where America is in pieces, megacorporations control all aspects of civilised life, and gangs rule the rest. And, while this world is full of adrenaline, don't let the car chases and guns mislead you. Cyberpunk 2077 is a true single player, story-driven RPG. You'll be able to create your own character and... well, you'll get to know the rest from what we show at our booth at E3. Be on the lookout for the previews!

Before we finish, you probably have some questions,

1. When?
When we told you we would only release the game when it's ready, we meant it. We're infinitely much closer to a release date than we were back then, but it's still not the time to confirm anything, so patience is still required. Quality is the only thing that drives us - it's the beauty of being an independent studio and your own publisher.

2. How big?
Seriously big, but..., to be honest, we have no bloody clue at this point in time. Once we put it all together, we will openly tell you what you can expect. And we promise we'll do this before we start talking about any pre-orders or ask anything of you.

3. Free DLC/Expansions/DRM?
Expect nothing less than you got with The Witcher 3. As for DRM, CP2077 will be 100% DRM-free on PC.

4. Microtransactions?
In a single player role-playing game? Are you nuts?

Once again, thank you for your patience. If you have a minute, do visit cyberpunk.net and share your opinion (about anything) with us. We read everything you post and we treat it very seriously.

Yours,
CD PROJEKT RED Team.
The trailer is proving to be divisive, with its vision of a bright and wacky cyberpunk future, seemingly more inspired by the likes of Judge Dredd's Mega-City One and the Grand Theft Auto games than by the noir aesthetics of a Deus Ex or a Shadowrun. The only thing we really know about Cyberpunk 2077 so far is that it features a protagonist called V, a young street-level cyberpunk who is just starting out on his first serious contract. But I'm sure we'll be learning much more about the game in the coming weeks.

There are 156 comments on Microsoft E3 2018 Press Conference: Cyberpunk 2077 Re-Announced

Fri 8 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 8 June 2018, 01:16:20

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

As promised in their previous Fig update, Obsidian have released the first major patch for Pillars of Eternity II, which addresses the problem of the game's lack of difficulty on higher difficulty settings. In addition to buffing up many of its combat encounters, the patch introduces a boatload of nerfs to abilities and items. That's right, Pillars II is now officially Sawyerized - and patch testers have confirmed that the increase in difficulty is significant. Indeed, the patch is a big enough deal that Josh decided to make a video about it, which also includes details about some of the other new features it introduces, such as improved custom AI and character appearance options. And if you're upset about the nerfs, you might be interested to know that he's still planning to tune a few things back up in future patches. Here's the video and a list of highlights from the new Fig update:



Intro Skip Added
  • There is now a Start & Skip Intro button that brings the player directly to the second level of the game.
  • This feature becomes available after you have played through the intro once, or loaded a save (after getting the update).
Veteran & PotD Balance Improvments
  • Armor and Penetration now scale up on PotD.
  • Many encounters have had units swapped out for tougher versions.
  • Some encounters have had units added or set to ambush the party during the encounter.
AI Support and Updates
  • All Conditionals have now been categorized in the Custom AI menu.
  • The AI Toggle button on the ability bar now supports cycling through: Attacking while using Abilities, Attacking while not using Abilities, and Not using AI.
  • The following actions can now be conditionalized in Custom AI: Using Consumable quick slot items, Activating Modals, Switching Weapon Sets, and Basic Weapon Attacking.
Ship Resupply
  • A new "Refill Ship Supplies" button can now be used to conveniently purchase ship supplies from any storefront that sells Medical Supplies, Cannon Shot, and Repair Supplies.
World Map Legend Added
  • A new Map Legend has been added that allows all icons on the World Map to be filtered by category.
The full patch notes are available here. Alongside the patch, Obsidian have released another piece of free DLC, the Beard and Hair Pack which (surprise surprise) adds a few new hairstyles and beards for your character. You can grab that on Steam or GOG. Pretty silly, but it sounds like the next one, which will introduce new crew members and upgrades for ships, might be more substantial.

There are 52 comments on Pillars of Eternity II Fig Update #49: Patch 1.1

Thu 7 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 7 June 2018, 23:56:11

Tags: Iratus: Lord of the Dead; Unfrozen

Iratus: Lord of the Dead is an upcoming Darkest Dungeon-inspired tactical RPG, where you play as (you guessed it) Iratus, a sardonic necromancer seeking revenge against the living after a millennium of imprisonment. The developers are a Russian indie studio by the name of Unfrozen, who count the Codex's own Pope Amole II (known elsewhere as the Nerd Commando) among their ranks. Iratus was first revealed back in January, and two weeks ago Unfrozen launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise additional funds for it. Unfortunately it's not doing very well, which is kind of puzzling because the game looks pretty damn cool. Check out the pitch video, where Iratus himself gives a hammy but thorough introduction to its mechanics:



Iratus: Lord of the Dead is a turn-based RPG taking gameplay inspiration from the Darkest Dungeon and the sardonic tone of Dungeon Keeper. Playing as the fearsome Necromancer, Iratus players will use their undead minions to ignite a reign of terror that has been years in the making. Iratus is slated for release in late 2018 on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Features

Advanced strategy system: Study your enemies' strengths and weaknesses to achieve victory.

Raise your army of undead minions by collecting body parts from your defeated foes.

Use your knowledge of alchemy to give unique abilities to your minions.

Turn-based combat system with over 50 different talents for your minions.

Stylized 2D graphics with a dark fantasy flair.

Choose wisely: with irreversible consequences and classic roguelike features, including character permadeath.
Unfrozen are looking to raise $20,000 on Kickstarter to make Iratus better. You can get yourself a copy for just $15, with beta access at $20 and alpha at $45. There's also a free demo you can try. I'm not sure the campaign has a chance at this point, but it sounds like the game will be finished no matter what, so that's good.

There are 52 comments on Darkest Dungeon meets Dungeon Keeper in Iratus: Lord of the Dead, now on Kickstarter

Wed 6 June 2018

Company News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 6 June 2018, 00:14:05

Tags: BattleTech; Fredrik Wester; Harebrained Schemes; Jordan Weisman; Mitch Gitelman; Paradox Interactive

The Codex doesn't seem to like BattleTech all that much, but despite that (or perhaps because of it?) the game appears to have been quite successful for Harebrained Schemes. So successful in fact, that a month and a half after its release, Paradox have decided to acquire the Seattle-based studio outright for $7.5M. Not bad for a bunch of "mobile devs"! You can watch Jordan and Mitch make the announcement here and read about the terms of the deal here. And here's Paradox's press release:

STOCKHOLM and SEATTLE - June 5, 2018 - Paradox Interactive, a publisher and developer of interactive entertainment, today announced it has entered into an agreement to acquire Harebrained Schemes, LLC, a Seattle-based developer of award-winning games set within genre-defining universes. Harebrained Schemes will now act as an internal studio and division within the Paradox organization, led by its own internal management and creative teams, designing and developing the games that have earned them their outstanding reputation.

Harebrained Schemes was founded in 2011 by industry veterans Jordan Weisman and Mitch Gitelman. Weisman is the creator of many acclaimed game universes including Shadowrun, Crimson Skies, and BattleTech/MechWarrior, and has founded several previous entertainment companies including FASA Corp, Virtual World Entertainment, FASA Interactive, 42 Entertainment, and Wizkids. At Harebrained Schemes, the partners-in-crime assembled a scrappy, talented team and shipped eight titles in seven years including the award-winning Shadowrun Returns series of CRPGs and the recently released turn-based strategy title BATTLETECH, published by Paradox.

“Harebrained Schemes have proven themselves as a world-class studio with a very talented team within a genre where Paradox wants to be present,” said Fredrik Wester, CEO of Paradox Interactive. “In addition, we really like the studio, the people who run it, and their games; these are all absolute hard criteria for us in any acquisition. Our recent successful launch of BATTLETECH, our first project together, has been a fantastic collaboration, but the possibilities of what we can do together in the long term now that we’ve joined forces -- that’s what has us truly excited.”

“Mitch and I started Harebrained to create the kind of story-rich tactical games we loved,” said Jordan Weisman, CEO of Harebrained Schemes, “and for the last seven years, our studio has been fueled by our team’s passion and by the generous support of our fans. As the scale of our games has grown and the marketplace has gotten extremely noisy we felt that HBS needed to team up with a company that could provide us the financial stability and marketing expertise that would allow us focus on what we love doing - making great games and stories.”

Mitch Gitelman, Harebrained Schemes’ President, added, “Our experience working with Paradox on BATTLETECH was the best of our careers and proved to us that this was a company we would be proud to be a part of. What’s more, we’ve gotten to experience the incredible audience that Paradox has firsthand: the fans who we met at PDXCON in May after having launched our game were so full of enthusiasm and appreciation. We share a deep respect for our audiences, for healthy and collaborative teams, and for the creative process itself -- the fit just works.”

As a token to welcome all fans of Harebrained Schemes to the Paradox family, Paradox will give a complimentary copy of Stellaris, the sci-fi grand strategy game from Paradox Development Studio, to every player who backed BATTLETECH on Kickstarter. For further details on this new arrangement, Wester and Weisman will appear on a live-streamed presentation and Q&A session in the near future on the Paradox Interactive Twitch channel, found at https://www.twitch.tv/paradoxinteractive.
On their forums, Paradox published a FAQ to explain what this means for Harebrained Schemes going forward:

What will this mean for Paradox and HBS?
Harebrained Schemes will continue to operate with its own internal management and creative teams, designing and developing the games that have earned them their outstanding reputation. HBS and Paradox have a shared vision for where to take narrative rich tactical games. Of course each title will be greenlit via Paradox's publishing process. HBS will continue to have the freedom to creative direct our games and build our player experiences.

In their new role as a division of Paradox Interactive, Harebrained Schemes will gain access to an expert publisher with a strong reputation and a global audience. Paradox will handle finances, marketing, PR, and distribution, and leave the development to HBS. Paradox is bringing HBS on board because they like what the studio is doing, so nobody wants to change that. Fans of Harebrained Schemes can continue to count on the community involvement and visibility that the studio has always provided.

This arrangement came about due to the excellent experience both companies have had while working together on BATTLETECH. Everybody believes this is a great fit.

Is Paradox removing any of the executive team at HBS? Will they be installing new studio managers from their side? Will there be other staffing changes?
All the executives of HBS are remaining at the company in their current roles. There are no plans to install new studio management from Sweden in the HBS offices. The only anticipated staffing changes is that we at HBS are currently hiring for the studio!

Will PDS make games using the HBS IP? Will there be Mechwarriors in Stellaris?
There are no plans for “crossing the streams” at this point.

Will HBS make games using Paradox IP? Could we get a CK2 RPG? Victoria 3 when?
HBS will continue to focus on what it does best which are tactical games with rich stories.

Is HBS going to shift its focus to developing tons of DLC?
We will be supporting BATTLETECH with updates and additional content and we are starting concept development for a new title.
What the FAQ doesn't address is whether Harebrained Schemes will be able to develop additional Shadowrun and BattleTech games in the future. Those two licenses are not in fact "HBS IP" - they belong to Microsoft. Would Microsoft agree to continue licensing them to a rival publisher? Between that, BattleTech's success and the fact that Paradox is fundamentally oriented around publishing strategy games, a new Shadowrun RPG seems less likely than ever. Still, the commitment to "story-rich" tactics is heartening, so I guess we'll see what happens.

There are 112 comments on Harebrained Schemes acquired by Paradox Interactive

Sat 2 June 2018

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Sat 2 June 2018, 17:05:42

Tags: Origin Systems; Ultima Underworld 3

Back in 2012, we reported that Origin historian Pix had published a story document for a tentative Ultima Underworld 3 project that was proposed at Origin back in 1997. Now, over six years later, Pix has unearthed what appears to be the game's complete design document, giving us a much fuller understanding of what it was meant to be about. I'll let you read his summary:

It’s now 10 years since I started this blog and also by coincidence (for the most part) this is the 1000th post. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d finally share the last big piece of Origin history I’m still holding onto.

Some years back, I posted a story document for the proposed Ultima Underworld 3. Since then I’ve managed to get hold of a later design document which has been greatly expanded to include backstory, gameplay and design details. I’m reasonably sure this matches up with the one in the Richard Garriott archives at the University of Texas but without a side by side comparison I’ll never know.

I’ll let people read it for themselves but to summarise Underworld 3 was going to be built in the Wing Commander Prophecy engine, include multi-player, have a George Oldziey soundtrack (using modified themes composed for the already cancelled Silverheart) and would be set on a whole different world to Britannia.

The first story document bore little mention of Ultima but this has you crossing swords with an imprisoned Shadowlord who was banished to the world of Jaal in Ultima 5 when the Avatar destroyed his shard. The 3 Shadowlords apparently need to reunite to form into the Guardian which seems to imply this game would have been set some time between Ultima 5 and 7. I much prefer this idea to the Guardian being the Avatar’s dark half but I’m still not entirely convinced.

There’s some basic details on gameplay including some NPC and monster details (trouser snake?). It’s a glimpse into the game that might have been and is now available to download here.
The original story document from 2012 sounded suspiciously similar to Ultima IX in places. It's interesting then that there's an entire section in this document explaining how Underworld 3 would have been different from Ultima IX, in particular stating that it was meant to be more casual. Also worthy of note is that although Underworld 3 was going to have outdoor areas, the document explicitly states that it was not a massive open world game. Instead, the developers planned to use an immersive sim-like "fewer levels, more detail" design approach. According to the document, the game was planned for release in Fall 1998, which makes me wonder if there might be a prototype out there somewhere.

There are 13 comments on Design document for cancelled Ultima Underworld 3 project unearthed by Origin historian Pix

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 2 June 2018, 14:52:16

Tags: Alan Miranda; Beamdog; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Darkness over Daggerford; Ossian Studios

Darkness over Daggerford is a well-known module for Neverwinter Nights released back in 2006 by Ossian Studios, the indie RPG studio led by former BioWare producer Alan Miranda. The story behind Darkness is that it was originally meant to be an official module sold by BioWare as part of their 2004-2006 premium module program. Unfortunately for Ossian, the program was cancelled by Atari before the module was done. They finished it anyway and released it for free later that year - though not before Atari inexplicably agreed to allow one more premium module, Wyvern Crown of Cormyr, to be sold. Ossian would be screwed again two more times after that, first with the cancellation of their Scars of Betrayal add-on for The Witcher and then with the pointless years-long delay of their Mysteries of Westgate expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2. In 2013, they released a mobile RPG called The Shadow Sun which never made it to PC. Since then little has been heard from them, though we know that Alan Miranda had some involvement with the development of Beamdog's Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear.

It's that association which probably led to yesterday's surprising announcement that Darkness over Daggerford is back, now as an official module for Beamdog's Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition. It's an enhanced version, featuring new music, portraits, voice overs and "nearly 500 gameplay improvements". Here's the announcement from Ossian's website:

Introduction
In August 2006, Ossian Studios released its first game: Darkness over Daggerford. Originally slated to be a an official Neverwinter Nights Premium Mod released by BioWare, it was cancelled when the premium mod program was unexpectedly shut down a few months earlier in May. The Daggerford team pressed ahead anyhow, finishing the module and releasing it for free, taking the Neverwinter community by complete surprise. The game promptly broke download records on the NWVault, won several awards for its outstanding quality, and praise from thousands of fans.

Almost 12 years later, on June 1, 2018, Ossian finally finished what it had originally set out to do: complete Darkness over Daggerford as it had been envisioned. Released by Beamdog as an official premium module for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, the game has been remastered with new music, new portrait art, lots of VO, and most importantly almost 500 fixes, improvements, and some complete overhauls based on all the feedback and critiques players had posted over the years. This level of care and polish was added over the course of many months, with the ultimate goal of giving players the best possible gameplay experience. We hope you enjoy playing it!
- Alan Miranda

Darkness over Daggerford Enhanced
Developed by Ossian Studios, this new enhanced version of Darkness over Daggerford updates the award-winning former premium module with a host of gameplay improvements, new music, voice over, and portrait art.

The Duke of Daggerford has been mysteriously killed, a new power has taken over the town, bandits rove the Trade Way unhindered, and mysterious things stir in a fabled ancient citadel, yet all is not as it seems. A darkness is fast descending upon this sleepy town near Waterdeep - will you be able to stand against it?

Explore the walled town of Daggerford and recruit up to two daring companions to join you as you venture into the surrounding region of the Sword Coast to unlock dangerous secrets, combat hidden foes, and find a stronghold to call home. Lock blades with some of the most powerful and infamous organizations the world of Faerûn has ever known in this grand, 25+ hour Dungeons & Dragons module.

Features:
  • An expansion-size adventure with 25+ hours of gameplay
  • Use the world map to venture across fifteen areas along the Sword Coast, each brimming with unique adventures.
  • Establish and customize your stronghold to discover new quests
  • 12 new music tracks
  • 12 new character portraits
  • New voice over for main characters
  • Nearly 500 gameplay improvements over the original!
The original Darkness over Daggerford development team included some of the most talented members of the NWN community: Kevin Smith (aka codepoetz), Luspr, Brian Watson (aka MadWombat), Alan Tarrant (aka Lord Alex), Anya Clancy (aka Lady Oonagh), and Brian Dunn (aka BrotherRoth). The enhanced team added two additional former NWN modders and longtime Ossian team members: Rich Barker and Raphael Faccioli.

Buying the enhanced edition of Darkness over Daggerford helps to support Ossian Studios’ goal of bringing you more great Dungeons & Dragons adventures!​

Quite the moral dilemma, isn't it? On one hand, it's another example of Beamdog profiting from another developer's work, one which opens the door to more "paid mods" in the future. On the other hand, it's long-awaited justice for a talented indie studio who never got the break they deserved. The new enhanced Darkness over Daggerford is available on Steam for $10 as a DLC for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, with a 15% discount until next week. The original version will remain free on the Neverwinter Vault, so that's nice.

There are 6 comments on After 12 years, Darkness over Daggerford is finally an official Neverwinter Nights premium module

Fri 1 June 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 1 June 2018, 21:24:51

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Sam Luangkhot; Underworld Ascendant

The big Underworld Ascendant news that OtherSide Entertainment promised last week has turned out to be a bit troubling. In a new E3 trailer released today, they announce that the game will be out in September, less than four months from now.


Alongside the release of the trailer, two websites - Ars Technica and PC Gamer - have published previews of Ascendant's E3 build. Both previews are scathingly negative, citing uninteresting and above all janky gameplay. An excerpt from Ars Technica:

To start: combat. Nothing about UA's current first-person swordplay and archery feels right. Melee combat strikes were difficult to aim, and any visual or audio recognition of my strikes was lacking. My combat successes seemed contingent on enemy models—mostly ragdoll-bouncy skeletons—but they often didn't react. Crouch-walking around with a bow, meanwhile, repeatedly got enemies' attention even when I was out of their line of sight, despite an on-screen indicator with a closed-eye icon that appeared to confirm my hidden state.

Emphasizing spells didn't help matters. The primary spell at my disposal, a freeze-enemy move, required aiming and firing multiple times to actually ensnare enemies, even when I was aiming at enemies who stood still. The same went for when I tried to use a sticky seed that I found lying on the ground to ensnare or freeze enemies or traps. (When I finally got a skeleton soldier stuck, it wobbled around in the ground like a wacky inflatable tube.)

I was encouraged to set doors on fire as a means of traversal, and sure enough, anything in the world made of wood could catch fire. Why bother finding a key? But there was only so much stuff in the level made of wood, and no other chemical-reaction spells or items were made available to enable creative spell-solution possibilities. Will we see a variety of burnable, freezeable, and meltable elements in various dungeons to use to either solve puzzles or rain down hellfire on our foes? If so, this gameplay slice didn't reveal them.

Instead, I felt like I had my best time just flinging various powers around while tearing through a been-there-done-that take of series like Thief and Dishonored. "This could be pretty good with another year of polish," I thought to myself as I wall-ran to reach a faraway platform, marched through a sluggish, annoying series of traps, and clumsily slapped my sword onto a skeleton until it finally decided to die.

Then I went back to OtherSide Entertainment's site to confirm the release date. September of this year? Say what?!
OtherSide's community manager responded to these criticisms on the official forums:

The criticisms raised in the articles are honest of the build they saw. We've been reading through the press this morning and feel the same way: They both acknowledge that the game isnt 'done' yet, and negative criticism is the most productive thing we are going to get out of any of these articles.

Fixing movement, animations, and even making sure the level design is adjusted CAN be done. It's GOOD for us to have this feedback, especially as we start to ramp up our external playtesting and QA processes.

We've been transparent about what we've been working on for the past month, and a lot of that has been fine tuning the experience based on what we saw at PAX, as well as throwing in entirely new mechanics and animation systems since then. Puppetmaster is in, and we're still figuring out how to make the motions more satisfying and "less janky." We saw a lot of people get stuck early on the PAX build, so we made the level design easier to read so more press could get through the level. (While PAX press had up to an hour to play through the demo, the E3 press had 15 minutes. We wanted to make sure they could see more than just one room, especially if they were stuck!)

As always, we're taking the reviews in stride and will be heads-down working on the game. The game can only get better as we keep working on it!
Nevertheless, and this is true regardless of what's in those previews, I just don't see how a game that has been in development for over three years can go from pre-alpha to release in less than four months. I'd love to be surprised, but if OtherSide are out of money we could be looking at a disaster here.

There are 118 comments on Underworld Ascendant releasing in September, gets negative previews

Thu 31 May 2018

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 31 May 2018, 23:51:16

Tags: Chris Avellone; George Ziets; Josh Sawyer; Robert Kurvitz; Sven Vincke

By some coincidence, over the past 48 hours two different websites have published interviews with celebrity RPG designers. Both interviews are about the state of the genre in 2018, a topic which is perhaps more relevant than usual in the aftermath of Pillars of Eternity 2's release. Yesterday's Kotaku UK interview asks Chris Avellone and George Ziets how the definition of RPGs has evolved over the years. Here's an excerpt:

Regardless of the particular definition of the form, as any abiding genre fanatic will attest, most RPGs live or die on the strength of their storytelling. It might be surprising but it wasn’t always that way, as veteran RPG developer George Ziets recalls. Ziets started working in the games industry around the turn of the millennium, eventually working on New Vegas and Torment: Tides of Numenera with Avellone, along with a host of other games including Dungeon Siege 3 and Pillars of Eternity.

Ziets recalls that early computer RPGs like Wizardry and the original Bard’s Tale essentially ported the most popular editions of their tabletop progenitors like Dungeons and Dragons to the personal computer, eschewing epic tales of sword and sorcery to focus on the tactical guts of the pen-and-paper experience. “Originally, most RPGs were Tolkienesque, monster-slaying fantasies,” Ziets says. “Now we have RPGs set in science-fiction worlds, modern times, etc. Similarly, most early RPGs had some version of D&D stats and skills, but many are now evolving away from strict adherence to those rules.”

To Ziets, this slow expansion beyond the realm of twenty-sided dice and Vancian magic reflects the advance of video games as a medium, in the same way as early television programs like The Twilight Zone resembled theatrical productions more than the elaborate multi-camera setups of later decades. “As the art form evolved, and creators discovered techniques that were unique to television, that gradually moved further and further away from the techniques of theatre,” says Ziet. “TV got better and came into its own because creators learned what worked best for their medium, but in the early days, they had to start with what they knew. I see RPGs in much the same way.”

As the genre shed its analogue origins and began to explore the immense possibilities of digital space, however, the expectations of the player-base began to change along with it. Avellone remembers the days when players were expected to draw their own maps, engage in tedious pixel-hunts, or — worst of all — call up premium hint lines for help with labyrinthine questlines. For a generation of gamers raised on the likes of THAC0 and needlessly-Byzantine attack tables (staples of early RPGs) the shortcuts of today seem like ostentatiously easy living. There’s a small-but-enthusiastic audience for games 'hardcore' enough to abandon these modern trappings, such as Caves of Qud or Brogue. Even something as lauded as Wild Hunt caught more than its share of flack for its less-than-immaculate inventory system and inexact player movement.

“I’ve noticed that Fallout has removed some elements and added others depending on the game,” says Avellone. “I suspect that’s done to make progression easier — easier for a more casual user to understand... Players expect quest-markers, an auto-map, easy equipment comparisons. Overall, things have changed over the decades to reduce a lot of the heavy lifting RPGs used to do. I’m not saying that’s bad, but its influences aren’t driven by the RPG market, but player expectations.”

When faced with the onslaught of skill-trees and coloured loot flooding the very top of the sales charts, neither Avellone nor Ziets expresses any serious concern about these mega-action games pushing less mainstream fare out of the market. In Ziets’ view the opposite is happening, thanks to the small horde of high-quality 'traditional' RPGs released in the past two years which grappled for the limited time and hard drives of genre fans: Pillars of Eternity 2, Torment, Wasteland, Divinity: Original Sin 2, the Banner Saga series, and stylish newcomers like Disco Elysium (formerly No Truce With the Furies).

“If anything," says Ziets, "I’m worried that the abundance of RPGs is going to make it harder for any individual game to stand out or cause burnout in the core audience.”
Today's PC Gamer interview with Josh Sawyer, Swen Vincke and Disco Elysium's Robert Kurvitz takes a more direct angle, asking whether the RPG genre needs to evolve from its nostalgia-based fantasy roots. As you might expect, Josh is eager to see change while Swen is more defensive, but it's Robert who is the true radical. I quote:

“The RPGs we play nowadays are based on massive revolutions. The first Fallout was, I think, the last major change to RPGs. It changed the setting and showed you could do completely different things from its high fantasy roots. I was 11 when I played that, but I’ve never seen anything as revolutionary in all my years playing since.”

Kurvitz sees a genre in stasis, and it’s the source of some frustration. “It’s very odd. RPGs are essentially reality simulators, and the hook is that the position the player is put into is the skin of one person. So it also simulates mental and physical faculties, giving not a bird’s eye view of reality but the subjective reality of one person. That seems in and of itself a tremendously open concept that should be constantly evolving.”

The source of this stagnation goes far beyond RPGs or even video games, he says. Kurvitz believes that it’s the product of culture, particularly pop culture, slowing down. “It’s calcifying. The internal generation engine of western pop culture is just very self-referential in general. So that could be one possible reason for it—just people growing old.”

Kurvitz’s solution? Broaden everything. Settings, mechanics, what an RPG means, even who creates them. Writers and artists from other industries with different expertise need to be tempted over, but he doesn’t see that happening until the love affair with high fantasy has ended.

“I’m going to sound elitist, but I’m going to suggest that a lot of really good writers don’t want to write in a high fantasy setting. They don’t want to spend four stressful years on Tolkien fanfic. You just won’t get really talented writers who can do tremendous things for your game that way, and you need to hire artists and writers outside of the usual development circuit.”

If we were to get away from the conventions of the CRPG, one of the best places to look would be tabletop RPGs. Again. Once you move beyond official D&D campaigns and all the expectations that come along with them, the tabletop landscape becomes a lot more unpredictable and experimental.

“People do these amazingly historically accurate D&D sessions of the Peninsular War,” says Kurvitz. “They order actual, real-life memorabilia and objects from the Peninsular War, and models, and play with them. I know that amazingly strange things are being done with tabletop, but CRPGs are really conservative in comparison.”

[...] “I think people are right that there’s a renaissance of traditional RPGs, or the traditional style of RPGs, but I don’t want us to squander this opportunity to really grow the genre into something broader,” says Sawyer. “We don’t need to abandon fantasy or crunchy number systems, but that doesn’t have to be the limit of what we make.”

What Kurvitz wants to see is a complete revolution, imagining RPGs that take decades or even a hundred years to make, flagging and reacting to every tiny thing you do. He envisions RPGs becoming a new mode of literature—programmed literature—putting programmers and novelists together to tell stories that literally span generations. It’s improbably ambitious and far-fetched, but still incredibly tantalising.

“I hope we’re going to get the ball rolling.”
Godspeed, gentlemen.

There are 156 comments on Avellone, Ziets, Sawyer, Vincke and Kurvitz on the future of RPGs at Kotaku UK and PC Gamer

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 31 May 2018, 00:43:11

Tags: Jeff Vogel; Queen's Wish: The Conqueror; Spiderweb Software

The past two years have seen the conclusion of two trilogies by Jeff Vogel's Spiderweb Software - the BioWare-inspired Avadon trilogy and the Avernum remake trilogy. Before he moves on to the inevitable Geneforge remake, Jeff has promised one last original series. A year and a half ago in an interview with PC Gamer, he said he was planning a Kickstarter in early 2018 to fund the development of a new engine with better art for that purpose. There's not much left of early 2018, but it looks like he's just about made it. Introducing Queen's Wish: The Conqueror, a fantasy RPG that Jeff hopes will be the first part in a new trilogy. Here's the pitch:



We invite you to escape into the all-new world of Queen's Wish. This will hopefully be an all-new trilogy in a a unique and fascinating setting, which you will be free to remake to your liking.

You are the youngest child of Queen Sharyn, the absolute leader of the Empire of Haven. While your older siblings have grabbed fame and power, you have slid by in a life of quiet luxury. Until now.

Your mother has decided to force power upon you and send you out into the world. Your new home: The wild, war-torn land of Sacramentum. There was once a successful Haven colony there. It then fell apart, for reasons not entirely clear.

To win the Queen's favor, you must go to Sacramentum and rebuild Haven's colony. But will you? Will you crush the nations of Sacramentum and expand Haven? Make peace with them and earn a place in their lands? Or just try to escape from your mother and homeland?

It will be up to you.

Features

Queen's Wish will be a huge fantasy role-playing game for Windows, Macintosh, iPad, and possibly iPhone. It will feature an enormous world, sharp dialogue, cunning quests, and fascinating characters. It will be old-school 80's-style gaming, with a low budget but tons of clever design and charm.

Explore an enormous outdoors and search for towns and dungeons. Fight clever, carefully designed turn-based battles. Meet three different fierce nations, and deal with them with cunning, diplomacy, or (if you choose) violence.

Build new forts and customize them. Install your own smithies, shops, and furniture, giving each fortress your own unique spin. Choose how to expand your towns. The sorts of shops you specialize in will give your character different bonuses.
It's a modest Kickstarter pitch, very much aimed at existing Spiderweb fans, and Jeff wasn't lying when he said the graphics wouldn't be a big improvement. But apparently it's good enough that the campaign has already nearly reached its $30,000 goal, so Queen's Wish is probably being made. You can secure yourself a copy for $20, with beta access available at a steep $200. The estimated release date is May 2019.

There are 66 comments on Jeff Vogel goes to Kickstarter for his next game, Queen's Wish: The Conqueror

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