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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Richard Seaborne on Escape from Hell, Myraglen, and Prophecy

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 26 January 2015, 19:40:04

Tags: Activision; Electronic Arts; Escape from Hell; Prophecy: The Fall of Trinadon; Retrospective Interview; Richard Seaborne; Tower of Myraglen

This month, January 2015, marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most unique titles in CRPG history, Electronic Arts' 1990 Escape from Hell, designed by Richard L. Seaborne. Imagine something like Wasteland -- a party-, skill-based top-down RPG -- that has you band together with famous historical and literary figures, from Genghis Khan to Hamlet, and explore, literally, the circles of Hell. Along the way, you fight the likes of Al Capone and Satan, learn new skills from Thucydides and Wyatt Earp, among many others, and solve your own and the denizens' problems, which Hell has in spades, with one overarching goal: escaping back to the real world.

As far as CRPG settings go, there has hardly been a more unorthodox one. And the character portraits were fantastic, too.

To celebrate the game's anniversary, we've interviewed Richard Seaborne, who currently works at Microsoft, about Escape from Hell along with two other RPGs he worked on, Tower of Myraglen (1987) for the Apple ][GS and Prophecy: The Fall of Trinadon (1989) for the PC. Here's an excerpt:

Prophecy’s spell system was especially interesting. You could memorize up to 10 spells, and also increase their effects, etc. (including making the area of effect larger), by adding the proper prefix to the spell name. What made you go for a system like that?

Prophecy’s spell system was fun to make. I think people really enjoy controlling things where their decisions and actions materially change things in the games they play. And they delight in seeing their creations come to life or even blow up in surprising failure. The magic is that their actions had consequence, and they can get better. I wanted the player to feel like an alchemist that could craft their own magic spells according to consistent rules for any situation, seeing magic as a science they could control once learned.

I imagined players would really like having the ability to “program” their own spells through a spell language that included a prefix power amplifier, effect inverter, and foundational spell function. Spells included implicit properties (fire, ice, poison, harm, heal, etc.) and targeting (individual, missile, area of effect/AOE, etc.). A heal spell could be reversed with an inverter to make the spell harm, and a harm spell could be reversed to heal. Spells had a sense of physics too, so if you cast an AOE spell in too small of a space the blast would ricochet off walls and keep expanding through corridors until its “volume” filled its effect area. Adding the most powerful modifiers to an AOE spell could fill most of the screen with a powerful blast, which might be bad for the player if they were in the path of destruction.

How did Electronic Arts end up publishing Escape from Hell? Were they involved in the process of development, and did they influence the final product in any way?

I had always admired Electronic Arts (EA) for their game quality and innovation, and so pitched the concept of Escape from Hell to them not long after Prophecy had shipped. I learned quite a bit about formal planning and ideation while working with EA. I spent nearly six months of the total 12-month development cycle in pre-production, developing engine technology and tools that would ultimately be the foundation of the game and refining the concept with some of EA’s leaders including Trip Hawkins, Bing Gordon, and Dave Albert. It was during this process that Escape changed from a serious traditional RPG to the contemporary grim comedy RPG.

Perhaps the biggest influence that EA had on Escape from Hell was the business pragmatism of Cost of Goods (COGs) and Return on Investment (ROI). They made the decision to reduce the number of discs the game shipped on in half because retailers demanded the game be available on both 5¼” and 3½” discs. It was an unfortunate time in the industry where many computers had just one disc drive size, and so EA had to ship on both disc sizes. To keep costs down, they required Escape to get a lot smaller so the same COGs would cover both disc types.

You can imagine how that went down in terms of the game’s vision and scope – a lot less character and monster art, 9 circles of Hell collapsed to 3 planes of Hell, time & dimensional shift opportunity reduction, and a lot of loose end tying up with these changes. EA offered a Technical Director to help with compression algorithms to fit as much as possible on the discs and a professional writer to brainstorm and help the narrative be as cohesive as possible within the revised scope.

Escape from Hell was released in January 1990, so that January 2015 marks its 25th anniversary. I'm very interested in the way you feel about the game now. Let me put it this way: what is your first thought whenever the game's name comes up? Retrospectively, are you fully satisfied with what kind of game Escape from Hell turned out to be?

Disappointed. Disheartened. Proud. It’s a bit mixed as you can tell.

Escape shipped and had its place in history. I firmly believe it would have been better if it hadn’t had its media budget cut in half, forcing it to miss out on all Nine Circles of Hell, signature art for key characters, more demons, monsters, & gear, and more map & script variances according to player actions, party members, and Trident time control. On the other hand, I am proud to have contributed to the early era of CRPG’s, influencing a lot of features, design tenants, and concepts in many games over these twenty-five years.​

Read the full interview for many more details about Richard's games, as well as things like team sizes, D&D modules, nudity warning labels, IBM PC vs Apple ][GS, and Trip Hawkins' and other senior EA people's involvement with Escape.

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Brent Knowles Interview: An Insider's Look at BioWare, 2000-2009

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 21 January 2015, 00:31:22

Tags: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn; BioWare; Brent Knowles; Dragon Age; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark; Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

In the year 2000, BioWare released Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, one of the most acclaimed computer RPGs of all time. In 2009, they released Dragon Age: Origins, a game that was purportedly similar, but very much a product of its time. It was the product of a company which over the course of that decade, had gone from being a small developer of PC-exclusive D&D RPGs to a cinematic console RPG powerhouse, with titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. And between them was Neverwinter Nights, controversial and misunderstood black sheep of the family, along with its expansion packs, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark.

The truth is that you could probably write a book about what happened to BioWare during the first decade of the new millenium. Since DarkUnderlord doesn't pay us enough to write books, we'll have to make due with interviews, which can give us a glimpse at what was going at the company during that time. And what better individual to interview than Brent Knowles, the man whose career at BioWare spanned that exact duration? Starting off as a junior designer on Baldur's Gate 2 in late 1999, Brent eventually rose to become one of the lead designers on NWN, sole lead on its expansion packs, and most famously, lead designer on the Dragon Age franchise, until he was replaced by one Mike Laidlaw after leaving the company in 2009.

You might remember that Brent was briefly famous during the Dragon Age II brouhaha, when his personal blog posts describing the end of his tenure at BioWare, which confirmed fans' worst fears about the direction the franchise was heading, were brought to public knowledge. With the recent release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, we felt it was a particularly appropriate time to revisit Brent and ask him a few questions about his time at BioWare. To be honest, it was actually way more than "a few", but Brent graciously replied to them all anyway. Read on, then, for...

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An interview with Brent Knowles

Read the full article: Brent Knowles Interview: An Insider's Look at BioWare, 2000-2009

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RPG Codex 2014 Role-Playing Game of the Year Awards

Community - posted by Zed on Tue 13 January 2015, 02:10:18

Tags: RPG Codex; RPG Codex Awards

This has been one of the first good years in computer role-playing games since the inception of RPG Codex. To celebrate, we figured it might be fun to have a proper Game of the Year awards ceremony. So here it is:

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Read the full article: RPG Codex 2014 Role-Playing Game of the Year Awards

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RPG Codex Review: Valkyria Chronicles

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 6 January 2015, 19:04:32

Tags: Sega; Valkyria Chronicles

Aside from a good number of new RPGs, 2014 saw the release of a few notable PC ports of RPGs that had been formerly only available on consoles. Of these, one of the most surprising and welcome was SEGA's port of the 2008 Japanese Strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles (available on Steam). In this review, RPG Codex staff member WhiskeyWolf dissects the game to see what it has to offer.

Here's a snippet:

Probably one of the main advantages of Valkyria Chronicles is its unique tactical turn-based system that, while not diverging from the standard formula for games of this type, still manages to alter the perspective of certain elements radically enough to gain a dynamic never before seen in any turn-based game. The difference is profound and, what is more important, it works. Most of the time.

The Battle of Live Tactical Zones (BLiTZ) divides the battle into two modes. The first one is the Command Mode where you are able to oversee the battlefield from above, as if you were looking on a map. All your units are marked on it, as well as the enemy units that are within the line of sight of your forces. Apart from giving you the general feel of the tactical situation, this mode also allows you to issue Orders and allocate Command Points. Command Points are – as the name would imply – points which are issued every turn to you and the enemy. Each point allows one of your units to take action (two points are required if said unit is a tank). Orders are mostly, but not only, stat related boosts, and require various amounts of points to issue. You only have a few at your disposal at the beginning, but you can acquire new ones as the game progresses.

So far, this is pretty much the standard TRPG formula. That is, until you issue a Command Point to one of your units. As soon as you do that, the view shifts to a third person perspective, and the gameplay becomes sort of pseudo-real time where you are able to directly control the chosen unit. This is the Action Mode. Please note that this does not make it a third person shooter, as movement and shooting are done separately. Once in direct control, your unit is entitled to a certain distance it can move and a single action it can perform (there are some environment related events that do not use up the action). All this depends on the class of the unit you are currently using. Suffice to say, most of the ‘actions’ that you will be performing are about making the other guy die for his country. [...]

Now, if you are familiar with some of the classic western TRPGs – like Jagged Alliance or X-COM – you will be familiar with the term ‘Overwatch’ or ‘Reaction Fire’. The developers of Valkyria Chronicles decided to use a similar mechanic… minus the action points. While in Action Mode, if you get too close to an enemy solider that is facing your way, he will fire upon you even though it is not his turn (this does not apply to Lancers and Snipers). And he will keep firing until you get out of range, your unit takes too much damage and gets downed, or you shift into the aiming stance. This reactive fire mechanic, which applies to both enemy and player units depending on whose turn it is, successfully adds some dynamism to the gameplay and makes positioning crucial.

[...] Let's be clear, Valkyria Chronicles is not a perfect game. Its gameplay is noticeably flawed, it has limited replayability and a story chockfull of idiotic clichés. Yet even all those drawbacks combined cannot overshadow what truly is a good game. When it was initially released on the PlayStation 3, everything about it was new: the quasi-European setting circa 1935, the CANVAS graphics engine that resembles a watercolor painting in motion, the fresh take on turn-based gameplay. Well, maybe except SEGA’s marketing – which could explain the poor sales – that still aspires to the golden standard of ‘fuck all, why bother’ even after these six years, if this latest release is anything to go by.

Thankfully, this time SEGA only had to release the game and watch the money roll in. An established loyal fanbase and years of positive word of mouth made sure that on the first day, Valkyria Chronicles topped Steam charts ahead of blockbuster hits like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Assassin's Creed Unity that were also launched back then. Furthermore, the port was way, way better quality-wise than anyone dared to expect at the time, particularly based on previous experience. Now if only SEGA continues this trend, there could be a pretty penny for them to earn, and it would make a lot of people happy, myself included.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Valkyria Chronicles

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RPG Codex Preview: Blackguards 2

Preview - posted by Grunker on Thu 11 December 2014, 23:24:35

Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; The Dark Eye

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We have to admit: we liked Daedalic's 2014 RPG Blackguards a lot. It was a turn-based, tactical, combat-oriented RPG with encounters that made us feel like they were crafted by a passionate GM leading a P&P campaign.

A lot of Codexers loved Blackguards. Some people from the outside (*shiver*) thought the game's pretty straightforward character system was "insanely complex." Fortunately, Daedalic said "fuck 'em!" and released the game without dumbing it down. In other words, Daedalic were bros. Yes, Blackguards was undocumented as fuck, which might have led more than one popamole casual-fag to stab himself in the eye with frustration. But after RPG Codex user felipepepe wrote an informative guide for the game, everything was just peachy.

In short: we couldn't wait for Blackguards 2. And now it's almost here! We were bursting at the seams with expectation when Darth Roxor received a preview copy of the game and started writing about the marvels we could expect.

So, without further ado, let's have a sneak peak into what he has to say:

Why? For fuck’s sake, WHY?!

...uh-oh.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Blackguards 2

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RPG Codex Review: Legend of Grimrock II

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 6 December 2014, 20:54:54

Tags: Almost Human Games; Legend of Grimrock 2

It would be fair to say that, at the time of its release back in 2012, the success of the original Legend of Grimrock took not just any one of us, but everyone by surprise. A first person tile-based dungeon crawler in the vein of Dungeon Master? An RPG without BioWare-like epic plot or any NPCs to speak of, taking place in a single underground dungeon? What is this, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of Mad Overlord (which, as a prominent RPG designer told us, wouldn't even be considered an RPG if it was made today)? And still, it proved to be a smashing success. Surprisingly, yet deservedly so. Yes, it was streamlined compared to Dungeon Master. No - I might add - it did not have the same sense of danger or the same feel of a living, breathing dungeon that Chaos Strikes Back had. In any case, though, it was a good dungeon crawler.

However, when your first title is so successful, how do you go about making the sequel? Playing it safe, or expanding upon it? Thankfully, Almost Human went for the latter - while also acknowleding the limitations that are pretty much necessary to make a focused game. No NPCs or branching dialogue, just non-linear exploration. No C&C, just exploring the varied world not limited to a single dungeon anymore.

In this review, esteemed community member Decado elaborates on that, and introduces LoG II in general to those of you who, for whatever reason, haven't played it yet. Here's just one good excerpt:

Almost Human have turned up the level of environmental interactivity, and it really shows in both the puzzles and the exploration. You can now equip a shovel and dig for buried treasure, and the different terrain heights make for some great moments, such as an Indiana Jones-esque leap into the abyss that ends with a sturdy magical bridge under your feet. Secret areas can be found by resting in certain spots, and gold keys and treasure await the intrepid canal diver. All of these mechanics work in harmony to not only spice up the normal game world travel, but the puzzles as well.

I have to point out: there were one or two puzzles that, in retrospect, seem particularly unfair. A hard puzzle is one thing, but a hard puzzle with no clues -- or worse, no indication that you're in a puzzle at all -- can be infuriating. And more than once I ran into game-stopping puzzles, e.g. things you had to figure out to proceed, as opposed to figuring them out for a hidden item or some nice loot. These weren't absurdly difficult for me personally, but they would probably be showstoppers for some other people. Finally, sometimes the visuals themselves could make a puzzle difficult. It is hard to know that you should throw a rock onto yonder pressure plate if you can't see the goddamn thing. And I don't know about you, but I don't have a bunch of free rocks to be throwing around. Rocks don't grow on trees, for chrissake.

The only other big hiccup in the game is the navigation. LoGII is a pretty big world, and even the improved minimap cannot fix the lack of narrative direction. You eventually figure out you're supposed to be collecting these floating crystals, and you get pushed towards a foreboding castle that somehow requires all of these things to enter, but that's it. Some scattered, smart-assed notes from a hooded jerk-off are all you really get by way of instructions. Now, I don't want my hand to be held the whole way through, and I suspect most people playing this game don't want that either. But the lack of a journal or some kind of overarching story besides "You're stuck on this island!" presents a big hole in the presentation, especially because LoGII is such a huge game. In the first game, you were limited to a certain number of squares per dungeon, and you always knew you were heading down so, getting lost was virtually impossible. The second game, with its huge outdoor maps and multiple connection points between areas, requires a more robust framework. I like wandering around, but I don't like wandering around because I don't know what the hell else to do. [...]

When you put it all together, you get a hell of game. Challenging combat, an interesting skills mechanic, great visuals, terrific music, intelligent level design, and an overall feel for developing a living, breathing, dangerous world, puts Legend of Grimrock II quite high on my list of favorite RPGs. I will have to play it a few more times to be sure where I rank it, but it is probably in my top five of the last 15 years. Which means I will have to move Dragon Age II off of my list.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Legend of Grimrock II

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RPG Codex Review: Wasteland 2

Review - posted by Infinitron on Wed 19 November 2014, 18:25:47

Tags: Eric Shumaker; InXile Entertainment; Vault Dweller; Wasteland 2

During the months leading up to the release of Wasteland 2, many were the unbelievers who cast doubts upon the game's quality, and the matter of who would be reviewing it for the Codex was an issue of some contention. Luckily, all that changed when the game came out and turned out to be pretty decent after all. Former RPG Codex editor-in-chief and reviewer extraordinaire Vault Dweller, formerly a sceptic of Wasteland 2 himself, was now happy to make himself available to review the game. To make things even better, he teamed up with none other than Barkley 2 developer and Shoutbox savant Eric "cboyardee" Shumaker. And review they did!

It's now been exactly two months since Wasteland 2's release, and VD & Eric can't wait to finally show you how much they liked it. Here are their concluding remarks:

We can analyze the design to death and rejoice finding various shortcomings, but here is a simple and honest-to-God reason why I really liked Wasteland 2.

Like most people here, I play a lot of RPGs. Recently I played 4-5 games that shall not be named and couldn’t really get into them. Naturally, I suspected that maybe I lost my ability to enjoy games and get immersed due to age/kids/stress/etc.

Then I tried Wasteland 2 and couldn’t stop playing. The more I played, the more I wanted to. It’s a wonderful yet rare feeling that every gamer can relate to.

Does it mean that you’re going to like it? It depends entirely on your expectations. If you expected a long overdue sequel or a game that allows you to chart your own course, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you expected a game like [Fallout / Jagged Alliance / ‘best game evar’], you might be disappointed.

Fallout was a game where you explored the setting and could kick some ass if you chose to. WL2 is a game where you kick ass (i.e. combat heavy, which is the very definition of old-school design) and can explore the setting if you choose to. If you don’t, your mileage will vary.

Lastly, it's important to understand the context of Wasteland 2. RPGs have essentially been dead since 2005. Wasteland 2 is the second game and the instigator of what is probably an RPG renaissance. Wasteland 2 isn't just important for being a good game, it's important for being the first stepping stone on the way to Wasteland 3, Pillars of Eternity, Torment 2, countless other RPGs that would have never been made if inXile hadn't taken the risk to show that people still care about this genre. Wasteland 2 is the game that reopened the floodgates for RPG development.

Real RPGs.

Now, bring on that Red Boots DLC!​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Wasteland 2

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RPG Codex Review: WH40k - Dark Heresy, 2nd Edition

Review - posted by Grunker on Mon 10 November 2014, 10:35:16

Tags: Dark Heresy; Fantasy Flight Games; Games Workshop; WH40k

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The RPG Codex sporadically takes a look into the world of Pen & Paper RPGs. After all, this glorious hobby of ours was spawned directly from that cosmos. With the introduction of our beloved Gazebo, we started rolling out more tabletop content.

However, since Monte Cook's Numenera, we haven't been that active with the ol' pen n' dice, so we thought that now was the time to once again peek into the realm of soda cans and sweaty arm pits. This time, it is Darth Roxor taking a look at Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy, Second Edition:

RPG Codex doesn’t get nearly enough pen-and-paper-related content, so I decided to sit down and rectify that. And what better topic would there be to write about than the recently released second edition of Dark Heresy?

[...]

the main questions are threefold:

- Whether it managed to fix some of the original’s glaring flaws
- Whether the overall theme of roleplaying an inquisitor’s private retinue of investigators tracking down WITCHCRAFT, HERESY AND MUTATION was preserved.
- Whether Fantasy Flight Games managed to cherry pick some of the better additions from the previous supplements and offshoots.​

So how does that go, we wonder?

this entire system feels a lot like some sort of half-arsed fan attempt​

Uh-oh. Read more to follow the trainwreck to its station.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: WH40k - Dark Heresy, 2nd Edition

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RPG Codex Review: Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 30 October 2014, 15:01:00

Tags: Activision; Nihilistic Software; Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption

One game the Codex never got around to reviewing is Nihilistic Software's Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, published by Activision in 2000 (and currently available from GOG.com). Compared to the much more celebrated Bloodlines, Redemption has fallen into relative obscurity and isn't generally considered a very good game. In this special Halloween feature, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler considers whether that reputation is deserved. (Spoiler: he thinks it is.) In the conclusion, another esteemed Codexer, felipepepe, offers a brief addendum on the game's Storyteller Mode.

Here's an excerpt to get you started:

Another gripe that I have with Redemption is its lack of adherence to the Vampire: The Masquerade lore. The events that Christof is involved with in medieval times eventually result in an Inquisition against the vampire lords, but the timeline doesn't quite seem to match White Wolf's publications. Also, the clan of vampire you are born into dictates the set of disciplines (related categories of vampire powers) available to you in the tabletop version, but in the video game your party can run into books which impart upon the reader new vampire disciplines, like some sort of quick-read "Vampire Powers for Dummies" pamphlet.

I've played the tabletop version of the classic World of Darkness roleplaying game a handful of times, so while I'm not an expert, I know a bit about its Storyteller System ruleset. The Storyteller System was a d10 ruleset used by White Wolf for all of its World of Darkness titles, from Vampire: The Masquerade to Mage: The Ascension. The classic Vampire: The Masquerade rules that Redemption was based upon encouraged the use of skills for engaging in non-combat activities such as investigations and diplomacy. Often a group of Vampire players would investigate the activities of enemy Sabbat (the bad guys) agents infiltrating their city, or tread the interwoven politics of their own allied Camarilla (the supposed good guys). In Redemption, though, the designers went with the classic action RPG dungeon crawler formula, despite the fact that the Storyteller system was best suited for a less combat-oriented experience.

The game focuses on dungeon crawling and combat against larger numbers of vampires than would be reasonably expected to be residing in a single city. The skill system is completely tossed out - fighting is the only way of solving quests. There is also a bit of puzzle solving, which can be summed up as "find the hidden switch to open the next passageway". Instead of allowing you to explore the character of Christof and the world of which he is a part, the game takes the uninteresting Save The World route, without ever explaining how the big bad evil guy could take over the world when four vampires in trench coats can take him out easily enough.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption

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RPG Codex Preview: Underrail Re-Preview

Preview - posted by Grunker on Tue 21 October 2014, 19:29:29

Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail

IS IT IMPOSSIBLE TO TOTALLY AVOID COMBAT IN UNDERRAIL?

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It might actually not be, according to Blaine. It's been a long time since we last took a look at Styg's promising, upcoming game Underrail. Last time we did, we described it using such uncharacteristically bold language as

"Underrail has the potential to become a classic on par with the old Codexian favourite Fallout."​

Hm. Well, the game has come a long way since then. We're hardly likely to use such words again, now that the game is much bigger and reality is sinking in, are we?

Perhaps we are. Here's a bit of what Blaine had to say about it:

"Underrail is the second coming of the incline. The only reasonable conclusion to draw here is that you should either play the game now, or look forward to playing it later when it's officially released. Although the current version offers an enormous amount of content, is very stable, and doesn't feel "unfinished" (although it is, as you'll discover once you reach higher levels), it isn't quite done, so you may prefer to wait.

Having said that, the game isn't without its flaws. As JarkFrank mentioned in his preview, there are a lot of typos, and boy, there really are a lot of them. They're present in skill/item descriptions as well as dialog. In addition, and this is my personal opinion, some of the NPC dialog is a bit awkward or rushed and should be copyedited and cleaned up. This is a very manageable flaw (though no small task) that could turn into a big one if allowed into the final release.

Also, the game is a little bit (really just a scosche) light on NPC dialog and C&C at the moment, though there is a good bit of dialog and C&C. Of course, the game's not finished, so it's hard to make a solid judgement, especially on the C&C front.

In conclusion, this game is great, and if you don't like it, you're a tasteless waste of oxygen and should be removed from the Codex. Grunker and/or Infinitron, you'd better not cut this part! It's important."​

Alright Blaine, we won't. But what on earth does it take to make a Codexer use such strong, positive superlatives? Is Blaine a gushing fanboy, or is this game simply remarkably Codexian? Read the preview to find out! Who knows, maybe you'll be heading off to buy Underrail afterwards?

Read the full article: Underrail Preview MK2

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RPG Codex Report: Tokyo Game Show 2014, Barkley 2, and JRPGs

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 21 October 2014, 15:48:15

Tags: Barkley 2: Revenge of Cuchulainn; Falcom; Square Enix; Tales of Game's; Tokyo Game Show

An odd message arrived in the RPG Codex inbox in June. Codex user/lurker Math Fool was telling us he was going to the Tokyo Game Show, which was to take place September 18th to 21st, and that he could cover the show for the Codex if we wanted him to. Later, it turned out Tales Of Game's' and our very own eric_s' Barkley 2 was going to be showcased at TGS. And as you may know, we have been following that game fairly closely.

So we thought: okay, at least he'll take a look at Barkley 2 for us, and secured a press pass for Math Fool. Barkley 2 alone wasn't enough to make an entire article though, so we padded it out with general JRPG- and otaku-related stuff. You know, like we usually do here on the Codex.

Anyway, here's the excerpt on Barkley 2:

Barkley 2 is a direct sequel to the indie RPG Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden. Set 4000 years after the original game in the year 666X, the story focuses on a character who has lost his memories and adopts an identity to explore the world of Necron 7. The character creation process is very involved and can last as long as 30 minutes. One gamer at TGS actually died during this process, which then has a lasting impact on your character for the remainder of the game.

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Barkley 2 embracing its Japanese roots.

Your choices impact the story in Barkley 2, and no game is quite like another. There are over 20 possible endings in this 15-hour quest, and every action is tracked in the game. Not only how often you die but the types of death your character experiences will contribute to his overall fate. You can earn experience points by playing video games, or choose to keep games in their original mint packaging instead.

Combat occurs in real-time using a dual thumb stick interface. I played using an Xbox One controller, and the action is fast and furious. In addition to standard combat, there is also a turn-based tactical basketball strategy game that was reminiscent of Blitzball from Final Fantasy X. Finally, there is a detailed item breeding and creation process in which guns can evolve over time and pass down their characteristics to future generations.

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The turn-based B-Ball game

To be honest, I had never heard of Barkley 2 before coming to TGS. The story of both games are very unique, wacky and original. It’s the kind of game that normally falls under my radar screen, but it was good to play something that was not another big budget franchise sequel for a change.

Barkley 2 is coming initially to PC, Mac and Linux, with future ports to PS4 and XB1, and potentially the PS3 and Xbox 360. The game will be available “when it’s ready.”​

On a related note, eric_s aka cboyardee recently posted on the SA forums that Barkley 2's quests will basically blow all the Kickstarter games out of the water:

Not to knock Wasteland or anything, I think it's cool and I've really enjoyed it so far, but it's crazy how different it is from Barkley 2. I guess for the last few years I've had it in my head that Wasteland and all these other big kickstarter games are the metric by which we're going to be judged (I have no idea why) and obviously it excels in areas where Barkley can't even come close, like polish, but our approach to quest design and their approach are just different games all together. Kind of crazy to me, actually, that we're still O.K. with like straight up no-frills fetch quests. I haven't seen the whole game and I like everything I've seen so far, but I seriously hope every other RPG cannibalizes our quests.​

He also says "it's taking long because we want it to be really good." No pressure at all, Eric.

Finally, don't forget to check out the full article, if only for the numerous booth babes pics. That's why people attend these kinds of events, right?

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RPG Codex Interview: Seven Dragon Saga - A Return To Golden Boxes

Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 10 October 2014, 20:27:11

Tags: Seven Dragon Saga; Tactical Simulations Interactive

[​IMG]

Tactical Simulations Interactive, or TSI Games, were kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding their upcoming (spiritual) successor to the GoldBox RPGs of the late 80s and early 90s: Seven Dragon Saga. Set in a new fantasy universe and being based on different pen & paper ruleset, one may wonder if this game will be able to live up to the legacy of the classics. Well, I don't know. This is an interview; not a preview, not a review. You silly goose.

From this interview, we learn with certainty that TSI will indeed go the route of crowdfunding Seven Dragon Saga. Let this be a lesson to everybody seeking factuals from media outlets such as Kotaku. We also learn a thing or two about party sizes, combat, the world map and more.

A couple of cool snippets:

In the press-release, one bullet-point touches on the importance of choices and consequences in the game. How will these choices be present, and how are you keeping track of the consequences? Will you be using something like a reputation system? Also, will there be any moral or ethical dispositions for characters – something like D&Ds alignment system?

The player's party represents the Empire in a newly conquered land during a time of crisis, so the NPCs on all sides fall into factions, which we will track with a reputation system. Players' choices at critical junctures can also modify the relative strengths of these faction. For instance, if the player liberates a border fort, he may have the option to raise the flag of one faction or another, granting them control of the fortress and surrounding lands. Should they come to regret the choice, another conquest of the fort may be in order.

We are currently balancing out a Goals system for individual characters. During character creation, the player will be able to select from a limited list of Goals. When the resolution of a quest aligns with that character's goals, they receive a benefit. Not all quest resolutions will have the full range of Goal alignment, so simply having a 'Greedy' party will not provide an optimum solution. Choosing a range of sometimes conflicting goals provides the party a potentially greater benefit, but may begin to clash with the player's personal goals, or lead to the alienation of useful factions. ​

You have made it clear that Seven Dragon Saga is not another tale of a simple farmer's rise to power and glory. What exactly does this entail for the gameplay? Will the game still have the progression relative to a beginner's campaign, but cosmetically scaled up in power? Or will it be more like a playing a high level campaign off-the-bat?

Missing all of your attacks and having 4 HP simply isn't fun. Players can expect to start at a mid-level of proficiency with a reasonable set of skills and abilities to choose from. This means the player will not advance as quickly as some games where 10th level is only a couple of hours away, but endgame characters are more flexible and powerful. Part of this is through incremental improvements (spending points on abilities), part through acquiring new powers, and part through equipment (loot and constructed). ​​

Enjoy the interview and have a great weekend.

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RPG Codex Report: Wasteland 2 Release Party

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 29 September 2014, 12:11:35

Tags: Brian Fargo; Chris Avellone; Colin McComb; George Ziets; InXile Entertainment; Kevin Saunders; Nathan Long; Steve Dobos; Wasteland 2

Sometime in early 2012, when InXile's sequel to the 1988 cult classic RPG Wasteland was being crowdfunded, we at the RPG Codex ran our own fundraiser campaign for a Codex-themed in-game location and statue. When Wasteland 2 was finally released earlier this month, we got what we paid for -- have you found our in-game shrine already? -- which, incidentally, also included an invitation for two persons to attend the Wasteland 2 Release Party on September 19th in Newport Beach, CA, where the two lucky invitees would party, drink, and celebrate with the likes of Brian Fargo and Chris Avellone.

We wanted to find someone local to go on our behalf, but as it happens none of our staff or regular contributors live in California. So we turned to the esteemed community member MRY, who happens to live close to Newport Beach and who in his turn suggested the Californian artist/writer/music critic Daniel Miller (http://bydanielmiller.com/). Together, they went to the party on the Codex's behalf and also did two independent write-ups about what they saw and did there and how it all went. (With pictures! So be sure to read the full article.)

Here's a snippet from Dan's write-up...

What goes on in the darkened halls of the Codex? Told that I was there writing a report for the site, those that knew would produce a pained sort of smile, observe the impressive tenure or wide readership of the Codex, and admit their own varied past with the site. Then a pause, and remembrance of a place on the internet where good ideas (and decency) are harried, tortured, profaned, shredded and whittled to oblivion. Of course there was talk of the incredible depth reached in conversations on the site, and there was talk of diamonds in the rough (the handle Jaesun?). Brian Fargo likened RPG Codex to Howard Stern in that it had at some point gone off the cliff and never returned, and a wild-eyed whiskered fellow remarked that perhaps the in-game Codex statue should have had smaller genitals.

This fellow was promptly hushed by Joby Bednar, ready to regale me with feats of code. This man personally built a 6502 emulator to embed into Wasteland 2, which allows the tech-savvy player access to a 64k computer right from an in-game terminal. Thus, a player can insert their very own 6502 programs and use them within Wasteland. Beyond this, there are apparently hundreds of other little tidbits scattered throughout the game, but Joby was thankfully forthright with a hint exclusive to this article: In a missile silo, there is a console which allows for player input. Type the word ‘Joshua’.

With that, Joby drifted away, and I noticed that a few had occupied a booth away from the group. At this table was a prominent member of SomethingAwful, name of Quarex, who informed me that we were tacit enemies. Seated around him were the scripters, the soldiers, whom I was hoping would be eager to gripe. With hands flailing, Ben Moise confessed the great labor that went into making sure that everyone was killable in Wasteland 2. In fact, a few people had a complaint about that feature, and it ended up being a favored question of the evening.

It would seem that most employees grudgingly accept the freedom of murder as an expected feature of the series. Asking the question in a more general sense though, I found a great deal of discomfort on the topic. A couple of people asked me if their answers would be on the record. The self-purported moral compass of the group cited her experience as a parent. A few were more diplomatic, saying that freedom to kill is necessary according to the needs of a specific game. When I finally got my moment with Kevin Saunders, he made raised more practical concerns: the feature was costly in time and effort and precluded child characters, unlike in Tides of Numenera.​

...and a snippet from MRY's:

I never did beat Wasteland, even though I went back to it time and again over the years. As best I can recall, I stopped playing at the sewers. (For how many dozens of RPGs is that sad statement true?)

All the same, I could recount a hundred stories. Trying desperately to tie up Bobby's dog. Half-weeping as I had to shoot my way out of Highpool. Blood sausage. A misaimed howitzer. The best mayor a kid in DC could hope for. Dancing on tables. Faran Brygo. Sweating, unable to sleep, after reading a paragraph in the book that said I had been cheating and the police were coming to get me. Wondering for most of my life whether, in fact, you got to go to Mars at the end of the game. Scorpitrons. "Mom, what's 'herpes'?"

Now I'm 34 years old, and I'm recounting that last bit to Brian Fargo. "And that's how I learned about safe sex," I conclude, as he glances in horror toward his two young kids standing next to him. Shit. "How, exactly," he thinks, "do I get myself into these things?"

* * *

Talking to Fargo impresses several things upon me. The first is how young this industry is. Fargo's career seems to span most of its meaningful history -- I know, Chester Bolingbroke would say I'm leaving out decades of PLATO games -- and in fact covers my entire lifetime as a gamer, including almost every high point in it. And yet he's a youthful 50, and his kids are hardly older than mine. At various times over the night he describes himself as "just an entertainer" and "a gamer at heart"; in fact, he is at once an elder statesman and new frontiersman.

He's also, quite obviously, a shrewd businessman who has survived tremendous upheavals both in his own career and in the industry as a whole. At one point, he mentions that when doing a deal, he looks at the other side's headquarters on Google Maps and gets a feel for how lavishly they live. "It says one thing if they're in a strip mall. It says something else if they're in a palace." (*cough*Double Fine*cough*) I get the sense that he's had both sets of digs in his days.

The same savvy that has served him so well makes me cautious about drawing any conclusions about Fargo's inner character. He certainly seemed charming, sincere, generous with his time and attention, a doting dad, a gentle boss, a true believer in games, and so on. But, as the Bard wrote, "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain -- at least I am sure it may be so in Newport." Or something like that. I want to believe in him -- and I have no reason not to -- but I wouldn't stake my life on it.

Still, to listen to the man talk about games he's played, games he's made, games he's dreaming of making, it's hard not to fall a little bit in love. He complains passionately about reviewers who can't, or won't, understand complex RPGs, and vows that next time he's following Larian's lead and not distributing advance review copies. At one point, he declares that Sacrifice is the best multiplayer game of all time. Sacrifice happens to be one of my all-time favorites -- for the art design, the voice acting, the writing (which combines po-faced Soul Reaver-ism with sly subversiveness and lots of wordplay) -- but in my opinion the multiplayer is trash. I tell him as much, and he rolls his eyes. "I'm sure you weren't playing it 3 on 3." He's right. He launches into stories of thrilling matches over the years, of hustling kids in some tournament, of little cheats to juggle enemy wizards. The word "manahoar" rolls off his tongue with practiced fluency.

I want to believe.​

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RPG Codex Review: Risen 3: Titan Lords

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 15 September 2014, 17:58:53

Tags: Piranha Bytes; Risen 3: Titan Lords

It is something of a Codex tradition to have the esteemed community member Darth Roxor review Piranha Bytes' Risen titles. In this article, he shares his (mostly negative) thoughts on Risen 3: Titan Lords, concluding with the following rumination on the state of the Piranha Bytes of today:

To sum up my final impression of both Risen 3 and Piranha Bytes as a whole, I’d like to quote my very good friend Boethius:

But we will still speak concerning the nature of men, and concerning their pursuits. Though, then, their mind and their nature be now dimmed, and they are by that fall sunk down to evil, and thither inclined, yet they are desirous, so far as they can and may, of the highest good. As a drunken man knows that he should go to his house, and to his rest, and yet is not able to find the way thither, so is it also with the mind, when it is weighed down by the anxieties of this world.

That is the state of Piranha Bytes today, in a nutshell. They know that they must return to the old Gothic formula, and hell, they probably even want to do it, but they simply have no idea how. They grasp at the ideas and elements that were present in their most successful games, they announce that they are "going back to the roots", and they even attempt to fix the flaws that they've introduced, but they are not able to put those changes and fixes into proper context, nor design the same systems that once made them great. Thus, the final product is but a warped shadow of its original counterpart, a haphazardly glued-together Frankenstein’s monster that might be made of similar flesh, but can never be even one tenth as functional or “alive”.

Unfortunately, I doubt they will ever reach their past greatness again. This is made apparent both by the quality of their last two games, and by comparing the credits of Gothic 2 and Risen 3. Hell, even comparing Risen 1 to Risen 3 should be enough to draw the necessary conclusions.​

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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 3: A Misanthrope's Delight

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 2 September 2014, 17:46:36

Tags: Gamescom; Kai Fiebig

There are many ways in which one can attend a convention like this year's Gamescom in Cologne. One may get hyped and be a fan and spend most of the day in super long queues just to play a bit of the shown-off game(s). One may hate the entire thing and complain about the queues and say "never again." Or one may forgo all the queues, enter the convention through the business entrance, and talk to the devs about their game as well as about how the whole thing sucks. Combine the latter two, add some poignant pictorial commentary, and you get our very own agent Darth Roxor's report, now in Part 3, or, "How and Why I Enjoyed Gamescom 2014." Have a couple of tidbits:

After attending Daedalic's adventure game previews, I had a quick chat with their senior producer, Kai Fiebig. When he asked whether I was enjoying my stay at Gamescom, I replied that I had only just arrived. To which he smirked and said, “well, then you’re lucky”. At that point, I didn’t fully realise what he meant - the revelation would only hit me across the head with a club the next day. Before the Blackguards 2 presentation began, I talked with him a bit about the general feedback given by players of the original Blackguards. I already mentioned what Kai considered “good feedback” in Part 1 of my report, but it was also rather refreshing to hear him launch into a quasi-rant about casual gamers. Most developers just don’t bother commenting on people who hate their games for stupid reasons like “whoa, itz too hard!!”, but Kai seemed eager to tell me just how sour it made him to go through various internet forums and see people whining about mechanics that are clearly explained, not using all the tools they have at their disposal, etc. Before I left, he told me that while they are doing some streamlining for Blackguards 2, he still fully expects people to rise in uproar again about the absence of handholding and the tough difficulty. I really liked how his facial expression constantly shifted into that trademark Disgusted Clint Eastwood look when he talked about all this. [...]

I didn’t take part in any of those “hands-on” showcases, nor did I wait around for hours straight to watch the big presentations. Mostly because this is not an activity that I would consider:

a) Fun.
b) Conducive to proper information gathering.
c) An efficient use of my time, both free and “professional”.
d) Adhering to the basic principles of human dignity.

My only regret is that I didn’t actually get to play Pillars of Eternity. Maybe there was a communication error at some point, but I thought the presentation of it that I attended later was supposed to be hands-on, which was another reason why I didn’t bother standing around in those abysmal queues. But it wasn’t, so it wasn't, and so I was forced to nitpick its pseudo-paladins instead of taking apart its systems. [...]

At 3 pm I returned to Hall 4 to get ready for Hellraid, where I ran into Daedalic’s Kai Fiebig and Johannes Kiel, who had gone for a smoke. This time I had a longer conversation with them, about various topics but mostly about Gamescom itself. When I mentioned that I’d been to the Entertainment Area, they told me how glad they were that they didn’t have to set foot in that hive of scum and villainy. Kai explained that he was looking forward to the end of the convention, because the job of running the presentations is sheer hell. Imagine sitting in the same place for ten hours straight, repeating the same spiel again and again, and in a non-native language to boot. He said that he was glad that I'd found them, because he'd forgotten to mention one aspect of Blackguards 2 on the previous day. After hearing about that, I talked with them a bit about the gaming industry as a whole, and about some of the games that Kai had worked on in the past. When I brought up one of the games that I had seen at Gamescom, Kai told me how important it is to never trust anyone who claims he wants to deliver a game “made by the same developers as [classic]!”. He said that he hears that very often, but usually realizes after some checking around that these “same developers” who were the main driving force behind the [classic] are currently stationed in three different studios around the globe.​

Be sure to read the full report, and also take a look at the pictures. If anything, do have a look at the comic that Roxor took the effort to translate into English. ; )

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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 2: Futuristics and the Popping of Moles

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 28 August 2014, 20:48:24

Tags: Clandestine; Hellraid; Little Green Men; Logic Artists; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Raven's Cry; Reality Pump; Techland

And so esteemed community member Darth Roxor continues to recount his impressions of all things he saw at this year's Gamescom. (Part 1 can be found here.) This time he talks about Little Green Men's Starpoint Gemini 2, Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity, Logic Artists' Clandestine (omitting any mention of their super secret project, which is so super secret that Roxor can't even tell us what it is, the bastard), Techland's Hellraid and Reality Pump's Raven's Cry. Going for the most controversial and sensationalist snippet as we are wont to, here are some of the negative things he has to say about Pillars of Eternity:

You are probably wondering what a preview of Pillars of Eternity is doing in this article, a game that doesn't have much in the way of futuristics. The answer lies in the second part of the title, as well as in the warning placed in the introduction. [...] For all the talk about how different this system is from D&D, and how each class has its own unique abilities instead of just “left click to autoattack”, when observing the game I sure as hell couldn’t see that. The fighter and paladin stood around bashing the beetles (that is, when Adam didn’t forget to tell them to do that), the rogue stood around shooting her bow, and the mage cast some magic missiles. I’ve seen this stuff before more than once, with the only difference perhaps being that damage in PoE came in increments (Sassy was hit for 0.3 damage!). Furthermore, I can’t really say that these encounters looked very exciting or even tactical – the smaller beetles would die outright, and then the fight would boil down to 5v1 bashing of the big beetle, which not only refused to die, but would also readily maul the poor fighter. The same thing happened again in a fight against overgrown spiders, and the demo finally ended with a total party wipe when the quest target ogre proceeded to two-hit-kill all of the party members.

The party wipe at the end was actually a direct consequence of how buggy the beta build was. I don’t know whether it was the influence of my RPG Codex Aura of Trolling +3, but Adam and Josh said it was probably the craziest presentation they gave during their entire stay at Gamescom. They even ran into bugs whose existence they had no idea about. For starters, they had to restart the game right after accepting the “main quest” because one of the characters lost the ability to cast magic. Later on, when the fighter got knocked out by beetles, he refused to wake up, and only using one of the limited rests in the wilderness brought him back. And in turn, the resting did not recharge the characters’ used-up memorised spells and abilities, which meant the party arrived at the ogre’s lair seriously gimped. And to make matters even worse, the mage decided to just run off uncontrollably instead of casting spells during the final showdown, and by the time Adam regained control over her, it was far too late.

After the wipe, the presentation proper was over, and it was time for questions. Unfortunately, time was short, and I only managed to ask one question that interested me personally. After learning about the dreaded Bîaŵac ([bi:au:ak]) in a recent Kickstarter update, I wanted to ask about Sawyer’s background, and to get some references for the languages in Eternity. It may be that my question was unclear, because instead he explained how the internal lingua eternia is based on various real languages, like Welsh or Italian, but stripped of real world cultural context, and with some added game world dialectal modifications based on each land's and realm's neighbours. I found this information satisfying enough, but unfortunately, I wasn't able follow it up with more questions. Someone else asked whether Obsidian is marketing the game mainly towards players who played the original Infinity Engine games, or if they are also focused on newcomers. Josh replied that their goal is to create something which is “essentially a classic IE game, but a new and different game in fact”. He also said that the final game’s early areas will be a “big tutorial” of sorts, so that newcomers can get used to the entire deal. That was the last question before the devs had to close up shop.

As you may have guessed, Pillars of Eternity didn’t impress me much. I identified three chief reasons behind this, but I’m not sure which contributed the most. First of all, the overall bugginess, which obviously skewed the game’s image rather significantly. Second, how generic and unexciting everything felt mechanically. Third, the area chosen for the presentation. I mean, if you're showing the game to the press, your motivation should be to sell it. How can you expect me to have positive impressions of your showcase, when all you did was show me a generic_fantasy_village, some adventurers bumrushing a bunch of overgrown beetles and spiders, and a stereotypical ogre with a huge club? Maybe the full game will have plenty of cool-looking areas filled to the brim with creative enemies, memorable encounters and wizard duels, but I simply didn’t see that during the Gamescom presentation.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 2: Futuristics and the Popping of Moles

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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 1: Tacticool Goodness and Adventures Galore

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 23 August 2014, 22:51:19

Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; Fire; Gamescom; Paradox Interactive; Runemaster; The Devil's Men

It was a fine August day when, anticipating mountains of Doritos and rivers of Mountain Dew, esteemed community member Darth Roxor stepped into the nerd-filled halls of Gamescom 2014. Rest assured, he found what he was looking for, enough to write his report in 3 parts. In today's Part 1, Roxor recounts his 2-hour presentation with Daedalic Entertainment -- which included such games as the tactical RPG Blackguards 2 and the adventures Fire and The Devil's Men -- as well as his impressions of Paradox Interactive's Runemaster.

Since most people here are probably (hopefully) interested in Blackguards 2, I'll quote a snippet that has to do with that game:

Daedalic have introduced several changes to the The Dark Eye ruleset. Apparently, the spell failure and hit chance mechanics have been overhauled in some way, making it less likely to miss if a dude is just standing motionless next to you, although it beats me what the specifics of that are. Furthermore, Daedalic apparently got a bit sick of Aventuria's generic bestiary, so they introduced a bunch of their “own” creations – mostly demons, chimeras, shapeshifters, etc. Two of these were shown, one an insectoid creature with four arms (each one can hold a different weapon), and the other a “leaper” demon that loves to jump into mobs of characters and knock them down (careful around ledges!).

Big changes have also been made to the character system, though I must admit I’m not exactly sure of the specifics. Apparently, Blackguards' basic attributes were too confusing for the average player, so they've been streamlined into even more basic attributes like “offence” or “defence”, although Kai said the original stats are “still there” somewhere. Basically, they figured this was a better way of handling them because it was dumb how three different attributes could influence the same derived stat. This is something that I don’t quite like because, personally, I find abstract values like “offence” to be much more opaque than three different attributes that might (or might not) do the same thing, but are properly described. Maybe it’ll look better in motion. Nevertheless, you still get adventure points for battles, and you still assign them to talents and skills, just like in the original.

Taking into account these changes and the expanded bestiary, I asked how difficult it was to convince the Dark Eye license owner to incorporate them, considering how protective some of them can be (hello, Games Workshop), but apparently, it only took one long meeting of discussions and negotiations.

Now that we're done discussing the game's tactical layer, let’s say a few things about the geoscape. The original game’s chapter-based storyline is gone, replaced instead by what could be described as a “conquest mode”. The whole of southern Aventuria is now visible from the start of the game, and you must go on a blitzkrieg to conquer all of it and become its new ruler. Every location taken over will grant some bonus to your characters or mercenaries, and unlock further “nodes” that you can pillage. That doesn’t mean the “adventure” layer is gone, though, as each city you liberate™ can be entered and checked for quest opportunities, just like in the original Blackguards. Furthermore, you also get your own HQ in the form of a travelling base camp, where you can consult with your advisor, buy equipment, etc.

There are many significant things going on in the game's strategy view, as well. You are not the only force in the land, and just as you conquer lands, the enemy will try to reconquer them. If you fail at defending them, they will need to be re-reconquered, and these reconquest battles are meant to be very hard. I just hope this won’t devolve into GTA San Andreas taggin’ da hood – Blackguards edition.

The final part of the presentation was about the general changes to the narrative and reactivity. As I said, the game is no longer divided into chapters; instead, the storyline changes “dynamically” depending on the course of conquest you take. A playthrough where you first take the southern part of the map under your protection™ might be very different, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, from another where you first scorch the north. Moreover, over the course of the game, you’ll have to make many decisions that will impact the story and gameplay. Fiebig said that this time they are “real” choices, that may lead to all sorts of hilariously bad outcomes, and it’s “very easy to fuck up completely”. A few examples of these decisions include whether to torture prisoners during interrogations, and what to do with captured cities - raze them to the ground, intimidate their citizens through mass murder or leave them alone? Which is the best and why? Discuss!!!

That very much concluded the presentation. I was offered a hands-on of the demo, but it was cut short by the incoming unwashed masses with their scheduled presentations. I didn’t mind much, though - as I said, the game does pretty much look and play exactly like Blackguards, so I doubt I’d have derived any new information.​

For Darth Roxor's further impressions, be sure to read the full piece.

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Toshio Sato on StarCraft Inc., Phantasie IV and Tunnels & Trolls

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 20 August 2014, 14:12:19

Tags: Phantasie IV; Retrospective Interview; StarCraft Inc.; Toshio Sato; Tunnels & Trolls

Today, Japanese role-playing video games are usually associated either with "JRPGs", exemplified by the likes of Final Fantasy, or with niche Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawlers. The first Dragon Quest game may have been famously conceived as a cross between Wizardry and Ultima, but since then JRPGs have evolved in a different, distinct direction.

There was a time, however, when it seemed that some of the other, more "advanced" kinds of Western computer RPGs might also take root in Japan. The Japanese company that ported the early Ultima games to Japanese computers, StarCraft Inc., also localized other important WRPGs — from Might and Magic to Phantasie to The Magic Candle — which even sold fairly well in the Land of the Rising Sun. In this interview, we talk to Toshio Sato, who worked with StarCraft and programmed many of their important titles. In a way, this is a continuation of our interview with Winston Douglas Wood, the Phantasie creator, since Mr. Sato was part of the team that made the Japanese-only Phantasie IV (which Doug Wood designed himself). Aside from that, Mr. Sato worked on New World Computing's Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan, the only Western RPG to be coded in Japan first and then ported to the West, as well as on many of StarCraft's localizations. There isn't much information in English on StarCraft's history, so we also talk about that in the interview, as well as about the difficulties they had in porting English-language CRPGs to Japanese computer systems. Here are a few snippets:

RPG Codex: You worked on two projects that should be of particular interest to our readers, the Japanese-only Phantasie IV and the Japanese version of Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan. We have a question about Phantasie IV first. In his interview with us, Douglas Wood said that StarCraft were the ones to contact him about doing a fourth game. What were the reasons why StarCraft decided to reach out to Douglas Wood to make a new game - and why the Phantasie series in particular?

Toshio Sato: In comparison to the Japanese RPGs of its time, the Phantasie series had plot, dungeon crawling, events, etc., that were miles better than what was being done then. It was also featured a lot in magazines, and thus its popularity was on the rise. StarCraft ported the Phantasie series starting from the first game. Phantasie III especially got a Macintosh Plus-like interface with icons, mouse and windows which caught the eye of the users. I heard it also received praise from SSI.

With such potential, responding to the fans' enthusiasm, the director made the decision to continue releasing sequels and thus, after the release of Phantasie III, I believe he went into negotiations with SSI and Doug.

RPG Codex: On the projects that you were involved with, what were the main challenges when it came to localizing and porting the Western role-playing games? Was it mostly a smooth process, or did it involve many technical or other difficulties?

Toshio Sato: One of the company's mottoes was "Never make lifeless copies". At that time, Japanese PC monitor resolution was quite high. It felt like a waste to simply port the games, so the main challenge was to make something that would surpass the original [from the technical standpoint].

We had some technical problems with the memory size and the drawing speed. As the resolution was higher, we had more graphical data to compute and so we needed to figure out how to make the drawing speed faster. Again, window and icon systems were new and experimental. We had to match the mouse cursor to the terminal's scan lines refresh timing, meaning we had to find a way for the process to take very little time. Oh yes, we also worked on the data organization to lower the number of floppy disks necessary.

There were other difficulties too. For example, in Might and Magic II, in order to learn how the experience system and the item selling calculations were done, we had to learn the 6502 assembly language from scratch.

Regarding the question about porting, at the time we couldn't just casually get in contact through the internet. We usually met once in America, and then the rest was done by fax... Isn't it hard now to believe how it was done back then?

RPG Codex: To what extent do you think these RPGs that you worked on managed to influence the Japanese video gaming landscape? In retrospect, what do you think came of StarCraft’s efforts to bring Western-style, non-Wizardry-like RPGs to Japan?

Toshio Sato: If you look at the Japanese game industry as a whole, I don't think my work had a big influence. However, I think what we did was make the yet-unknown game company New World Computing into a recognized name in Japan, although I don't think that's such an achievement.

RPG Codex: To build on the previous questions, although they were a huge fever in the late 80's and early 90's, Western RPGs' popularity in Japan seems to have declined afterwards. What changed, the games or the audience?

Toshio Sato: I cannot tell you much about that, but I can at least tell you three things:

-First, the RPG genre was getting overcrowded, game development was rushed and the product quality dwindled.
-Secondly, the new fad was simulation games.
-Then there is the hardware. In the 90s, Sega and Sony changed their business from consumer goods to game development platforms. Nintendo also released the Super Famicon, but as far as small development companies are concerned, the fact was that the best platform to develop for became the Playstation.

Furthermore, as the players' age group shifted, mature RPGs became less and less popular.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Toshio Sato on StarCraft Inc., Phantasie IV and Tunnels & Trolls

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RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin

Review - posted by Angthoron on Sat 16 August 2014, 23:49:39

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin; Larian Studios

Divinity: Original Sin, the latest entry in Larian Studios' series of Divinity games has finally been released from its Early Access status, and the ever-speedy RPG Codex staff embodied by Angthoron has already provided a review a mere two months after the game's release. Is this game divinely good, sinfully bad or stuck half-way in purgatory? Here are but a few spoilers:

What did I expect a year or so ago when Larian Studios announced their Kickstarter campaign for Divinity: Original Sin? A fun, light-hearted isometric game with lovely music, lots of hit-and-miss humor, a fair bit of filler combat, hours of enjoyment to rival the chunk of my life that was torn out by Dragon Knight Saga and a meaningful co-op mode in which my partner would blow me up with well-placed fireballs and lightning bursts. Were my expectations fulfilled? Oh, yes. Granted, things like the absence of the mega-dungeon and the cut-short soundtrack are somewhat of a disappointment, and there seems to be a whole lot more than just a fair bit of filler combat, but overall, this is the game that all the subsequent Kickstarter RPGs will be measured against, and I admit that a part of me worries that some of the upcoming projects might not measure up quite that favourably.

The writing in Original Sin is by its nature fairly light-hearted and humorous as is common to Larian Studios’ style. [...] It does, however, occasionally suffer from jarring tone deafness and anachronistic expressions. Being addressed with “Sup, mate” by a rooster, or have a ram admire a cow’s derriere is certainly amusing, but not quite appropriate in a context of high adventure in the enchanted lands.

The character system in Original Sin is a simple enough thing that most RPG developers in the recent years have managed to screw up. Fortunately, Larian hasn’t, and the result is a simple and solid system based on genre-standard ability scores, skill points, slightly less standard traits as well as minor boosts coming from playing the characters consistently in dialogue.[...]

[...]The world is well designed, with distinct locations, appealing vistas and high attention to detail. Characters and objects clearly stand out from the backgrounds, effects are almost always obvious and visible and the secrets are obscured within reason. The side character models are also more detailed than certain models from Dragon Age 2 despite the isometric perspective instead of third person, so there’s also that. If it’s better than a game from the masters of the RPG genre, it’s gotta be good.[...]

The co-op multiplayer mode in Original Sin isn’t just a hasty afterthought – it’s one of the game’s major hooks. Larian’s intentions from fairly early on have been clear: they wanted to make an RPG that could be played together by friends, couples and strangers alike, where all parties involved would have their say at critical moments, and where all would find something to do. With but a few minor issues, their intentions can be considered a success. The multiplayer experience can be a great amount of fun thanks to the chances for distracting the NPCs (and stealing all their paintings), creating unexpected scenarios in combat and arguing through loads of dialogue[...]​

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

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RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 12 August 2014, 23:27:12

Tags: Lords of Xulima; Numantian Games

Last week, the isometric-meets-first person RPG Lords of Xulima got released on Steam Early Access. For this preview, I am joined by the esteemed community member felipepepe and we just talk and talk and talk about what the game currently has to offer. (We could've talked even more, but you have to stop somewhere.) Short version: we enjoyed it. Have a few snippets:

F: I’d say it took me about half an hour to go from disappointed to excited. As I invested myself and understood the logic behind each mechanic, I was impressed. I can’t sum Xulima up in just a few words. The exploration is similar to Geneforge, but much tighter and with Zelda-like elements, while combat is that of blobbers, with an added layer of formations and positioning. All surrounded by robust resource management. I can recognize the individual mechanics, but they are put together in a brand new way. The small Spanish team behind Xulima clearly played a lot of RPGs and carefully examined the mechanics behind each game, what worked, what could be different, and what they could offer. Xulima is the result of that, a careful collection of mechanics and gameplay elements. It feels familiar, but for every aspect of it, there’s a interesting twist.

Using a musical metaphor, Xulima isn’t a cheap "Best of RPGs" CDs done by a mediocre cover band. It’s one of those albums where a good musician makes readings of his favorite songs in a new, amusing coating. [...]

CB: It feels like every corner of the world has at least something interesting to it, something that makes it worth exploring and clearing out that fog of war. The only thing I kept wishing for was edge scrolling for the camera – sometimes you just want to have a good overview of the surrounding area, which the zoomed-out map can’t really give you. You can also explore in any direction, or venture into any dungeon, as long as you’ve found the key and/or can defeat the encounters in your way. I wouldn’t call the game fully "open world," since – similarly to Divinity: Original Sin, to use a recent comparison – enemies that are significantly higher-level can be essentially undefeatable, but it does give you enough freedom and sometimes even alternative paths to reach the same objective.

F: I also like that dungeons have a unique feel. Some are just combat areas, others a clever mix of traps, enemies and hazards, and some just one big elaborate puzzle. They aren’t very long, but usually entertaining. Inside, you’ll often spot traps (as long as your Perception skill is high enough). Some of them appear as red areas that can be disarmed, similarly to Baldur’s Gate. But there are also spikes, which should be carefully navigated around (you can even use the keyboard for more precise navigation), or hazards, such as a room on fire, webs full of spiders, or venomous gas, that you can either endure or neutralize by using expensive magic scrolls. [...]

F: Every action you perform, from simply walking to forcing doors open to resting, consumes food. Run out of food and you'll suffer a massive debuff, or even die of starvation on the Hardcore difficulty setting. And man, is food expensive. In fact, everything is expensive, especially healing your characters of status effects. In the early game, lifting the curse from two or more characters can mean selling a piece of gear to pay for the bills. [...] There are also various other ways to find yourself broke, as beside food you need torches, lockpicks, magic scrolls, and so on, and those blasted peasants keep raising their prices as you level up! (Not the most elegant of game mechanics, but it works well enough.) Not to mention the thieves roaming the roads, who will steal a fortune and run away unless you kill them quickly, or a vast desert requiring huge amounts of food to be crossed. I honestly don’t remember ever playing anything like this before, even 30 hours in I was still counting coins and thinking about the cheapest way to do stuff. [...]

CB: I had to stop playing the game after the second temple just so we could discuss it and do this preview, but I am really looking forward to what the rest of the game has to offer.

F: I’m happy to inform you that after the second temple things get even more diverse, and exploration opens up a lot. I could access three other temples at once, deciding which to face first. There were huge deserts, burning gardens, and some other nice surprises. Surprises that I hadn’t thought the game would be able to deliver.

This all goes back to what I think is Xulima’s main issue: the presentation constantly makes you think less of the game. A lot less.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima

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