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Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 February 2019, 01:29:30

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Two years ago, Darth Roxor wrote a fierce editorial where he tore into the various deficiencies of modern RPG writing. Unbeknownst to us, the esteemed MRY - creator of cult adventure game Primordia and the upcoming roguelite Fallen Gods - wrote a full-length response to Roxor's polemic, which he ultimately chose not to make public due to his then-recent involvement with Torment: Tides of Numenera, one of the games it criticized. Well, that was then. Recently MRY decided on a whim to share his editorial in a thread about the literary qualities of Planescape: Torment (which has since been derailed by random nonsense as Codex threads tend to be). It's a great piece, and so with his permission we've decided to give it a proper home. In truth, it's less a response to Roxor's editorial than it is an analysis of the issue at a deeper level. It attempts to explain why RPG studios find it so difficult to produce consistently high quality writing - and why we we should still cut them slack. Here's an excerpt:

Unlike in other fields, an RPG writer reaches a professional level in the near complete absence of coaching, junior leagues, and "practice" -- particularly with regard to the design and implementation of conversations.

The first point, about coaching, is the easier one to prove. I'm not a good basketball player, but to the extent I can play at all, it is because many better basketball players taught me, informally and formally, from the time I was very young. It's not necessary to be a professional basketball player to receive basketball coaching, and in fact totally inexperienced and untalented players receive coaching from relatively experienced and talented players all the time: for example, I received coaching, formal and informal, from a variety of college-level basketball players and one Olympic player, albeit before he played in the Olympics.

There is no such coaching for RPG writing. I have been, in one form or another, endeavoring to write RPGs for many years. But the only coaching I ever received came after I already had secured a job as an RPG writer (for Bioware, and later for inXile). To be sure, I have seen occasional instances over the years when experienced RPG writers advised amateurs, and I've tried to do that myself. There are few ridiculous for-profit trade schools you can go to and attend courses in game design, perhaps in RPG writing. There are lectures at conferences that you can stream on YouTube. There are message boards like the Codex where people debate and critique RPG dialogue. But the chance of having a skilled practitioner watch an amateur in action and provide advice over a sustained period of time, or even to "play against" or alongside an amateur, is essentially zero. I can't think of any other field of endeavor in my life (academic, legal, athletic, literary) in which this is true. (I'm sure there are other examples, but they aren't obvious.)

The second point about "junior leagues" is harder to prove because it is undeniably true that a form of junior league exists in the modding community. But in other fields what you see is a very wide base to a very tall pyramid, whereas in the field of RPG writing what you see is a very short inverted pyramid, with the top (i.e., professional RPG writers) larger than the base (i.e., non-professional RPG writers actually producing playable works). Millions of children play full games of basketball, write short stories to be read or listened to by dozens, compete in math Olympiads, play clarinets at concerts, and so forth. The opportunities narrow as the skill level increases: fewer will play high school varsity basketball, and fewer will start; fewer of those who start will play college ball, and fewer of those will start; a tiny fraction of those will make professional leagues, and fewer of those will start. But there is no comparable winnowing going on in RPG writing. A guy like me basically goes from unsuccessfully making an amateur RPG to working on Dragon Age: Origins, albeit with a mostly irrelevant interlude at TimeGate in the middle.

One reason for an absence of "junior leagues" is that RPGs involve many component other than writing. To make even a NWN module entails a number of additional skills (like map layout, encounter design, balancing, etc.). And you can't "play" at being an RPG writer by scripting once-off characters -- you need to build something larger and more complete. The result is that there are high barriers to participating in the kind of amateur development that could constitute such a junior league. Moreover, the junior leagues themselves lack coaching, rigorous feedback, and -- in many instances -- even non-rigorous feedback because most mods go mostly unplayed.

Finally, my point about practice is the least significant, but I think it's relevant all the same. In most professional endeavors, the ratio of performance time to practice (or preparation) time is skewed heavily toward the latter. Actors and musicians rehearse; athletes have many practice days before every game day and entire off-seasons of training; lawyers do moot courts and mock trials. But essentially everything an RPG writer does is performance, not practice. Indeed, the "writing test" I took to win a spot on the Torment team consisted of writing two conversations for use in the game. I believe the same is true of the test I did for Bioware on Dragon Age: Origins. (This would be equivalent to auditions being used in movies, right?)

What all of these factors mean is that the overwhelming majority of RPG writers will start out on professional projects without being seasoned in the craft. They may be good at writing in an abstract sense, and they may have a feel for RPG conversations from playing RPGs, but some of what you are seeing in commercial titles is the work of raw recruits. Of course, veterans take time to train and review that work, but the veterans themselves have writing responsibilities, so much of it is learn-by-doing -- you are seeing the equivalent of the failed Tolkien pastiche that some novelist wrote in college, rather than the third novel he wrote when such mischief was beaten out of him.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Editorial: Without Map, Compass, or Destination - MRY on RPG Writing

There are 99 comments on RPG Codex Editorial: Without Map, Compass, or Destination - MRY on RPG Writing

Fri 15 February 2019

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 15 February 2019, 20:53:21

Tags: Origin Systems; Raymond Benson; Richard Garriott; The Digital Antiquarian; Ultima VII: The Black Gate

The Digital Antiquarian has finally published his long-awaited retrospective article on Ultima VII: The Black Gate, considered by many one of the finest RPGs of the golden era. Once again, coming two weeks after his previous article, it's extra long and can be divided into three parts. The first part is about the game's development, which happened at a time when Origin was rapidly expanding and Richard Garriott was becoming increasingly disconnected from day-to-day operations, the second part is about the game itself, and the third part is about its critical and commercial reception, which was more mixed than many people realize. To the Antiquarian, Ultima VII's saving grace and indeed what makes it a classic is primarily its writing, which directed by the playwright Raymond Benson, a man whose background was considerably more urbane than that of Origin's army of overworked young coders. His team's work still stands up today, and for its time it was virtually without peer.

I’ve never cared much one way or the other about Britannia as a setting, but darned if Ultima VII doesn’t shed a whole new light on the place. At its best, playing this game is… pleasant, a word not used much in regard to ludic aesthetics, but one that perhaps ought to crop up more frequently. The graphics are colorful, the music lovely, the company you keep more often than not charming. It’s disarmingly engaging just to wander around and talk to people.

Underneath the pleasantness, not so much undercutting it is as giving it more texture, is a note of melancholy. This adventure in Britannia takes place many years after the Avatar’s previous ones, and the old companions in adventure who make up his party are as enthusiastic as ever, but also a little grayer, a little more stooped. Meanwhile other old friends (and enemies) from the previous games are forever waiting in the wings for one last cameo. If a Britannia scoffer like me can feel a certain poignancy, it must be that much more pronounced for those who are more invested in the setting. Today, the valedictory feel to Ultima VII is that much affecting because we know for sure that this is indeed the end of the line for the classic incarnation of Britannia. The single-player series wouldn’t return there until Ultima IX, and that unloved game would alter the place’s personality almost beyond recognition. Ah, well… it’s hard to imagine a lovelier, more affectionate sendoff for old-school Britannia than the one it gets here.

Yet even as the game pays loving tribute to the Britannia of yore, there’s an aesthetic sophistication about it that belies the series’s teenage-dungeonmaster roots. It starts with the box, which, apart from the title, is a foreboding solid black. The very simplicity screams major statement, like the Beatles’ White Album or Prince’s Black Album. Certainly it’s a long way from the heaving bosoms and fire-breathing dragons of the typical CRPG cover art.

When you start the game, you’re first greeted with a title screen that evokes the iconic opening sequence to Ultima IV, all bright spring colors and music that smacks of Vivaldi. But then, in the first of many toyings with the fourth wall, the scene dissolves into static, to be replaced by the figure of the Guardian speaking directly to you.

As you wander through Britannia in the game proper, the Guardian will continue to speak to you from time to time — the only voice acting in the game. His ominous presence is constantly jarring you when you least expect it.

The video snippet below of a play within the play, as it were, that you encounter early in the game illustrates some more of the depth and nuance of Ultima VII‘s writing. (Needless to say, this scene in particular owes much to Raymond Benson’s theatrical background.)

This sequences offers a rather extraordinary layer cake of meanings, making it the equal of a sophisticated stage or film production. We have the deliberately, banally bad play put on by the Fellowship actors, with its “moon, June, spoon” rhyme sequences. Yet peaking through the banality, making it feel sinister rather than just inept, is a hint of cult-like menace. Meanwhile the asides of our companions tell us not only that the writers know the play is bad, but that said companions are smart enough to recognize it as well. We have Iolo’s witty near-breaking of the fourth wall with his comment about “visual effects.” And then we have Spark’s final verdict on the passion play, delivered as only a teenager can: “This is terrible!” (For some reason, that line makes me laugh every time.) No other game of 1992, with the possible exception only of the text adventure Shades of Gray, wove so many variegated threads of understanding into its writing. Nor is the scene above singular. The writing frequently displays the same wit and sophistication as what you see above. This is writing by and for adults.

For all of the cutting-edge programming that went into the game, it really is the writing that does the bulk of the heavy lifting in Ultima VII. And it’s here that this first million-dollar computer game stands out most from the many big-budget productions that would follow it. Origin poured a huge percentage of that budget not into graphics or sound but into content in its purest form. If not the broadest world yet created for a computer at the time of the game’s release, this incarnation of Britannia must be the deepest and most varied. Nothing here is rote; every character has a personality, every character has something all her own to say. The sheer scale of the project which Raymond Benson’s team tackled — this game definitely has more words in it than any computer game before it — is well-nigh flabbergasting.

Further, the writers have more on their minds than escapist fantasy. They use the setting of Britannia to ponder the allure of religious cults, the social divide between rich and poor, and even the representation of women in fantasy art, along with tax policy, environmental issues, and racism. The game is never preachy about such matters, but seamlessly works its little nuggets for thought into the high-fantasy setting. Ultima VII may lack the overriding moral message that had defined its three predecessors, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say. Indeed, given the newfound nuance and depth of the writing, the series suddenly has more to say here than ever before.
Although the game was not a flop per se, the Antiquarian theorizes that Ultima VII's relatively underwhelming reception relative to its budget was the reason for the series' radical change of direction in Ultima VIII. Thankfully, Ultima VII Part Two was greenlit during its development and so we got one last good Ultima before that. For his next article however, the Antiquarian will be taking a closer look at the Fellowship, Ultima VII's antagonistic religious group, and its obvious real-life inspiration.

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Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 15 February 2019, 01:58:50

Tags: Blue Bottle Games; Daniel Fedor; Ostranauts

The survival-focused roguelike NEO Scavenger was one of our top games of 2014. Soon after its release, creator Daniel Fedor began working on a space-based follow-up, which became known as the "NEO Scavenger space prototype". Four years later, it's been formally revealed as Ostranauts, a "noir spaceship-life sim" set in the NEO Scavenger universe. It's not a direct sequel, though. The teaser trailer rather effectively demonstrates its relation with the original game:

Hey Folks!

I'd like to tell you about my latest game, Ostranauts.

Eight years ago, I began work on NEO Scavenger. And after five years of updates and ports, it was time to begin working on a new game. That game started as simply "space prototype," but has turned into quite a bit more.

So what is Ostranauts?

Ostranauts is a detailed simulation of owning and living aboard a spaceship, in a solar system where honest living is a slow death sentence. Set in the NEO Scavenger universe, where Earth has suffered cataclysmic collapse, the rest of the System lives on in a state of capitalistic dystopia.

Players will create their captain, build or customize their starting ship from the spoils of their career history, and find ways to keep their motley crew in line, fuel in their tanks, food on their plates, and the debt collectors at bay.

If this sounds interesting to you, you can learn more at the Ostranauts Steam page. Wishlisting it there will give me an idea how much interest there is in this game, and how much time I can spend on it.

And if you know anyone else who might dig this type of game, let them know! Spreading awareness is something everyone can do to help me continue to make games like this.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to seeing the stories you create in Ostranauts!

Daniel Fedor
Founder, Blue Bottle Games, LLC

PS: Is this a sequel to NEO Scavenger? Not directly. Think of it more as a parallel story involving different characters, but in the same universe. An official sequel, continuing Philip Kindred's adventure, is still on my wishlist of games to make.
Ostranauts seems to be more of a RimWorld-esque sim game than a traditional RPG, although as stated it does have a player character that you create. We loved NEO Scavenger, so I'm happy to give it some attention. You can wishlist Ostranauts here. According to the FAQ, it's coming out on Early Access later this year.

There are 12 comments on Ostranauts is a spaceship-life sim set in the NEO Scavenger universe

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Wed 13 February 2019

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 February 2019, 23:59:37

Tags: Charles Staples; Feargus Urquhart; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; The Outer Worlds; Tim Cain

As you probably know, the announcement of The Outer Worlds last year triggered a wave of schadenfreude towards Bethesda and their beleaguered Fallout 76 MMO. In yesterday's interview segment at Game Informer, Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky asked fans to cool it with the anti-Bethesda remarks. So did Feargus Urquhart, although he still says the game is totally going to be like Fallout: New Vegas. In any case, that's really not interesting, so let's move on to today's feature, which is non-video for a change. It's about The Outer Worlds' "science weapons" - particularly rare and wacky weapons that rely on your character's science skill instead of the usual combat skills. One such weapon is the shrink ray, which the article describes in detail. I quote:

According to co-director Tim Cain, science weapons are designed to have “inexplicable effects that we thought would be funny, and we didn’t care in any way if they were realistic.” The shrink ray is a perfect example of this philosophy: It collapses the space between atoms, causing creatures hit by its continuous beam to grow smaller (and stay that way as long as the beam remains focused on them).

The concept came from an unexpected place: huge monsters. Out in the wilderness of The Outer Worlds, you may encounter “mega-fauna,” which are especially large versions of specific creature types. Visually, these beasts are scaled up from their regular counterparts – but the technology that produces that effect goes in both directions.

“The scaling can be used for a lot more than what the artists were using it for,” Cain says. “The artists didn’t want to use extreme values on it, because then things can’t move around, then can’t get through doors.” So what happens when you experiment with those extreme values in the form of a handheld gun? A shrink ray.

In addition to making enemies very small, the shrink ray also increases the pitch of their sound effects and deals a small amount of damage. But the more practical benefit comes from reducing their damage threshold; in other words, enemies that are normally resistant to damage are much more susceptible to it the smaller they get.

“It changes effectiveness based on your science skill,” says lead designer Charles Staples. “As you gain a higher science skill, it shrinks them more. It reduces their damage threshold more.”

You might assume that an effect that powerful will not work on more powerful foes – that they might have immunities to shrink ray. That assumption is incorrect. If you want to use it on one of the formidable mega-fauna, go for it; you get what Cain refers to as a “mini-mega.” But what about the final boss? “Right now, yes,” Staples says. “But then it will just be a matter of making it balanced enough where it still feels like a meaningful end to the game for most players.”

What Can Other Science Weapons Do?

The team at Obsidian isn’t currently sharing any specific of science weapons beyond the shrink ray. However, we do know that one of the melee options is internally referred to as “the Ugly Stick,” so that hints at some interesting effects. We also know that the threshold for craziness is pretty high – you can’t just add some goofy ammo and make the cut. “We had one science weapon that didn’t go far enough, and now it’s a regular weapon in the game,” Cain says. “The Force Ultimatum. It was originally going to be a science weapon because it shot out bouncing fireballs. It’s fun! But it’s not crazy enough.”

How Do You Get Them?

Explore. Finish optional tasks. Go looking for trouble. Some science weapons are easier to find than others, but most of them aren’t handed to you through the course of the main campaign. “They’re a little rarer,” says lead designer Charles Staples. “They’re off the beaten path sometimes. But if you’re exploring, these are some pretty big rewards for finding those side quests.”

Who Should Use Them?

Normally, a weapon’s effectiveness is based on your character’s proficiency with its category – handguns, for example. But because science weapons draw from your science skill instead, traditionally combat-focused builds won’t get the most out them. ““These are designed by scientists, for scientists,” Cain says. “Because we were worried, like, ‘are they going to be able to hold their own in combat with science, engineering, and medical [skills]? What are they going to do in combat?’ Well, they find weapons like this.”

Alternately, you can give science weapons to your companions. In that case, you have less control, because you're at the mercy of your allies' whims in terms when/how they actually use the weapons. But if your own science skill is abysmal, this might be a more efficient way to deploy them.

Where Do They Come From?

Corporations are powerful in The Outer Worlds, and they like to put their logos and/or slogans on almost anything. “Everything else is branded, but the science weapons, not so much,” Staples says. “They’re sort of one-offs, and they’re not branded.” There’s a single exception to this. One weapon was made by a (currently unspecified) company as a prototype, but it proved too expensive to mass-produce – so it was hidden instead.

Can You Improve Them?

Yes. In addition to increasing your science skill to improve effects, you can also tinker with the science weapons (and other things). “Every item has a level, and if you tinker with it, you can make that level go up, and it makes its damage slightly increase,” Cain says. “So, scientists will almost certainly want to tinker with theirs and raise the level. These are just designed to make that sort of character super fun. So if you want to play Spaceman Spiff, we’ve got everything set up for you.”

How Many Are There?

Current plans include five science weapons – one for each category of weapon. Those categories are: light melee, heavy melee, handgun (this one is the shrink ray), long gun, and heavy gun. However, players may see more down the line. “If these turn out to be popular, we could easily put additional ones out as DLC, so instead of one of every category, maybe we’d have two or three,” Cain says. But at release, be on the lookout for those core five.
The article also has a few screenshots of the shrink ray in action, concept art and an up-close animated GIF of its model, but I'm out of room so you'll have to click the link to see those.

There are 4 comments on The Outer Worlds Feature at Game Informer: Science Weapons

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Game News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 February 2019, 22:46:01

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

Druidstone started out as a procedurally generated game, but in a new update published today Ctrl Alt Ninja reveal that even its combat mechanics are now fully deterministic. The goal is to make each encounter feel like a mini-puzzle. Enemy decision-making will be the only random element in Druidstone's combat, although right now even that is deterministic. The update explains:

Ok, that thing sorted out, let’s talk about today’s subject, which is randomness as a game design concept and how it affects Druidstone. Randomness can be found in many places and in many forms in a game. For example, are levels fixed or randomly generated (tried that, didn’t work for us)? Are combat values such as hit chance, damage, damage reduction and so on random numbers or fixed? Are enemies in levels randomized? What about loot drops and items? Is enemy AI based on random behavior or do they follow strict deterministic rules? Each of these questions can be answered independently, so you end up with a design space with a large number of different combinations, each with their own feel and effect on gameplay.

Even if it would be feasible to test every possible combination (it’s NOT), it’s not clear cut which particular combition is the best. So at this point it’s the job of the game developer to put the game designer hat on and apply some good game design principles… which usually really means making “intelligent guesses” based on the game designer’s preferences and experiences!

One interesting thought experiment is how far can you push on the extremes. What if everything was purely random? That would probably be a very chaotic experience, and a poor match for our goal of making a deeply tactical game. A more appropriate question in our case would be: what would a game without any random factors be like, where everything except the players input is basically predetermined? On the surface several games seem to be like that. For example, games like Into the Breach (an absolute masterpiece btw!), chess and Solitaire seem to have no randomness. But looking deeper even these games have randomness. In Into the Breach enemy moves seem to be randomly determined, which leads to surprising moments. In chess the decisions of the opponent, how he or she moves the pieces, while not necessary determined by a random process, provide unpredictability for the other player. In Solitaire the deck of cards is in a random order. The point of randomness in games is to produce unexpected events because unpredictability and being surprised is fun. I believe all games have some sort of randomness built in. If they don’t they cease to be games and become pure puzzles. In fact, a definition of a puzzle could be “a game without random elements” (this definition is problematic though: defining a game is even harder problem).

Ok, what does this all got to do with Druidstone? Hold on, we are getting there! For Druidstone the most important design decisions we have to make regarding randomness are:

1. Are the levels fixed or randomly generated?
2. Combat values (hit chance, damage, etc.): fixed or not?
3. Fixed or random loot?
4. Should enemies follow strict rules or be based on random numbers?

There are others but I think these are the most important ones, which have the biggest impact on gameplay.

Random level generation we have already scrapped and this has been covered in previous blog posts.

For the combat rules, we have actually tried both random and fixed variations. The initial design, following our initial gut feeling, was to make combat values, like damage and to-hit, randomly varying like in most RPGs. But once we tried constant values and set hit chance to always be 100%, the nature of the combat changed. Most importantly combat without random modifiers support planning and tactics better and using hero abilities in combos is more practical because you know the outcome of your actions. Druidstone does not have an initiative system, so you can activate your heroes in any order and interleave actions of your heroes any way you want. This combined with the no random numbers approach to combat rules turns the battles into sort of mini-puzzles, which we find more interesting than statistical approach. Using your limited resources and abilities becomes an integral part of solving these puzzles. For example, the thought process while playing could be “Ok, gee, there’s no way I can defeat that Dark Knight with high armor value… Hmm… maybe if Leonhard first charges and pushes him to Oiko’s range, then Oiko can teleport the Dark Knight on that trap, which explodes at the end of heroes round. But wait! To do that Aava needs to clear these critters first because they are blocking Oiko…” And so on. Written like this it may sound complicated, but with aids such as visualizing the outcome of attacks, enemy statistics being open information and being able to see enemy reaches, it becomes intuitive and natural.

I’ll leave the question on “fixed or random loot” for another blog post because explaining the design process of the items warrants a blog post of its own.

Finally should enemy behavior be deterministic or random? Currently enemy behavior in Druidstone is pretty much deterministic, because of the way how the AI is currently structured. And I actually think this is not ideal and we made a wrong decision somewhere along the way when designing enemy AI. Enemies should do unexpected things (the enemies are monsters, not robots following directives!) and ideally you’d have to react to and change your tactics based on what the enemies do. So this is something we are still going to fix. Fortunately the fix isn’t necessary that involved — adding randomness here and there to the decision making should do wonders. We look at board games for inspiration (more than computer games actually), and many co-op board games use cards to implement their enemy AI. So what we’re currently thinking is a system with a small random deck of monster actions per monster type. Each turn the enemy AI would draw a card for each monster and use that action or tactic this turn. Essentially we already have all those actions, it’s just a matter of making changes to the high level system which chooses when to use these actions. This could be the right ingredient we are missing to make the enemies even more interesting and varied.

This brings me to another great design tool for randomness: cards vs. pure random numbers. Both can be used to generate random values. A random number generator is pretty much like a die: every time you roll the die you get an independent random value. But a deck of cards has memory: as you draw cards the options will be gone until all the cards have been drawn, at which point you shuffle the cards to form a new deck. Most often this is exactly how you’d like randomness in games to work: you don’t want a long stream of misses or a long stream of hits, after all. For this reason, Druidstone is using virtual ‘card decks’ internally for many things.
Good stuff. All they have to do now is announce that loot is fixed and this will be lukaszek's game of the decade.

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Company News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 February 2019, 21:17:14

Tags: Deep Silver; Kingdom Come: Deliverance; THQ Nordic; Warhorse Studios

The sprawling THQ Nordic empire made another surprising expansion this morning with the acquisition of Warhorse Studios, developers of Codex GOTY runner-up Kingdom Come: Deliverance, for the fine sum of 33.2M Euros. More specifically, Warhorse is joining THQ Nordic's Koch Media subsidiary, better known to gamers as Deep Silver, which makes sense considering Deep Silver were the publishers for Kingdom Come. Some will rue the outspoken studio's loss of independence, but in the long run it might be better than remaining under the thumb of a Czech mobster energy magnate. Here's Koch's press release:


THQ Nordic AB’s indirectly wholly owned subsidiary Koch Media GmbH has today entered into an agreement to acquire the Prague based Warhorse Studios s.r.o., a leading game developer behind the successful award-winning title Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

February 13th marks not only the 1st anniversary of the release but also unlocks a new sales achievement for the game. Warhorse and Koch Media are proud to announce that the title has sold over 2 million copies across all platforms by now. Alongside this, the game has also won over 30 media, show and sales awards all around the globe.

The acquisition, which includes the development studio and all intellectual property rights, is a natural result of the previous successful cooperation between Warhorse Studios and Koch Media.

“Becoming part of THQ Nordic family is an important milestone for our studio. We began as a small start-up with a handful of employees who were enthusiastic enough to join this challenging project. The skills of our team members, trust and support of our main investor and passion of our fans, who supported development of Kingdom Come: Deliverance through a Kickstarter campaign, helped us grow to an international level. We believe that backing by THQ Nordic and Koch Media will give us an extra push in our mission to bring exciting games to our customers and extend the frontiers of the gaming industry,” says Martin Fryvaldsky, CEO Warhorse Studios.

Dr. Klemens Kundratitz, CEO Koch Media GmbH adds: “We are delighted to welcome the team from Warhorse Studios in the Family. The successful cooperation we developed during our journey with Kingdom Come: Deliverance linked both our companies already very closely and I am sure that our now even closer combined knowledge and experience will open up amazing new opportunities for both companies. Not only the 2 Million sold copies but also the motivation within the teams to create new ideas combined with the learnings from the past, are a rock solid foundation for future projects to build on.”

”Warhorse Studios is one of the leading independent studios in Europe and I am proud to welcome them to the THQ Nordic group. Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which has now sold over 2 million copies, has been a great success since the release exactly one year ago. I look forward to continuing to witness the owners run the studio and drive the creative process for many years”, says Lars Wingefors, CEO of THQ Nordic AB.

Some more numbers:

To bring perspective to what has been a journey back in time the team sat back and relaxed a bit, which is an achievement in itself given the fact that over 5.000 liters of coffee went into creating Bohemia 1403.

Looking back the devs want to share even more facts about Kingdom Come: Deliverance and the story that started as one of the most successful Kick Starter projects and grew into one of the most celebrated RPG experiences of the past year. The script alone fills over 2.200 pages of text, that’s 4.1 Million letters. The amazing journey took Henry and the team at Warhorse to over 40 public events around the world – meaning Henry travelled 4 times around the globe – not bad for the son of a 1403 blacksmith from Bohemia! 50 actors recorded more than 45.000 unique lines for the games amazing cut scenes. And while part of the team was on the road others dedicated one year of their life to create a in game monastery.
More details about the acquisition are available in an additional press release on THQ Nordic's investor site.

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Tue 12 February 2019

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 February 2019, 20:48:02

Tags: Charles Staples; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; The Outer Worlds; Tim Cain

The interview with Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky that Game Informer said they would publish on Friday as part of their month-long feature on The Outer Worlds turned out to be a four minute segment from a larger interview. In that particular segment, the interviewer asked Tim and Leonard whether they thought The Outer Worlds could live up to fan expectations. They did their best to tamp down the excessive hype surrounding the game, once again reiterating that it's not an open world title and that it may in fact be slightly smaller than Knights of the Old Republic 2. That wasn't too interesting, so we waited for Monday to see the exclusive new gameplay footage that Game Informer promised. It's a reel of various combat scenes, part of a segment about the game's combat featuring Tim and lead designer Charlie Staples. There are detail about the combat system's design goals, companions, weapons and special abilities. The combat is nothing special, but it seems a bit tighter than what we saw back in December. So here are both videos, now uploaded to YouTube:

It looks like there are going to be plenty more of these micro-interview segments. We'll post about them when they're interesting. Hopefully there'll be some more gameplay footage too.

There are 34 comments on The Outer Worlds Feature at Game Informer: Hype Control and Combat

Development Info - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 12 February 2019, 09:36:35

Tags: Heroic Fantasy Games; Knights of the Chalice 2

The development of Knights of the Chalice 2: Augury of Chaos has come far enough for a Kickstarter campaign to happen soon.
Blast your enemies with more than 700 spells, bull rush them into spike pits, trick them with your superior guile, or crush them with your enchanted greatsword! See them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women, as your valiant party progresses all the way from level 1 to level 21!

There's also a new update on the Heroicfantasy forums available, detailing the current state of affairs.

Here are the latest news about Knights of the Chalice 2. This should be the last update before Kickstarter! Post-KS, I will probably create two new forum sections, one dedicated to KotC 2: Augury of Chaos (bug reports, suggestions and tips) and one for KotC 2 Module Creators (help and ideas).

In the last few days, I created new web pages for the game. The new pages include the following: KotC 2 Screenshots, KotC 2 Features, KotC 2 F.A.Q., and KotC 2 About Us. Be sure to check them out!

I also created a Twitter profile and Facebook page and I updated my Youtube channel. Would be very cool to have more 'Likes' and 'Follows'!

In addition, I completed the Kickstarter new-project registration procedure. But I still need to create the KS video and fill up the KS page with information, graphics, reward slots and stretch goals.


I've added links to the Kickstarter page, Youtube channel, Twitter profile and Facebook page in the website's menus, as well as 'Recommend' and 'Share' buttons on the web pages for KotC 2 Features, KotC 2 Screenshots, KotC 1 Features and KotC 1 Screenshots.
Fasten your seatbelts boys, turn-based DnD is about to make a triumphant return.

There are 60 comments on Knights of the Chalice 2: Augury of Chaos Kickstarter soon

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 February 2019, 01:14:54

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Starbreeze Studios; System Shock 3

Underworld Ascendant's release back in November was just as disastrous as it appeared to be on launch day. The game reviewed horribly and has sold virtually zero copies. A month after its release, OtherSide published a pathetic mea culpa, finally revealing that their original funding partner had bailed shortly after the game's Kickstarter in 2015 and they they'd spent most of its four and a half years of development spinning their wheels. But no matter how bad Ascendant may have looked throughout its development, there'd always been reason to believe that OtherSide Austin's System Shock 3 would not suffer a similar fate, thanks to its seemingly ironclad $12M publishing arrangement with Swedish publisher Starbreeze Studios.

You know, the same Starbreeze that filed for administration and was raided by the authorities for insider trading back in December, following years of mismanagement. Yeah...for a while it looked like the System Shock 3 deal might actually survive all that, but today the inevitable happened. Not only have Starbreeze cancelled their arrangement with OtherSide, but they appear to be demanding all of their money back in exchange for returning the game's publishing rights. Here's their press release:

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN (February 11, 2019) – Starbreeze and OtherSide Entertainment have mutually agreed to sell back the publishing rights to OtherSide Entertainment for “System Shock 3”. Starbreeze expects to be fully reimbursed for costs the company has had in connection with development of the game.

Starbreeze acquired the publishing rights for “System Shock 3” in 2017 and has since then partly financed the development of the game. The title owner OtherSide Entertainment and Starbreeze have now reached an agreement whereby Starbreeze returns the publishing rights for the game to OtherSide and will be able to recoup the development costs.

“I believe this is the best solution for us, although it is sad that we cannot complete the project with OtherSide. System Shock 3 is a fantastic title developed in cooperation with the industry legend Warren Spector and I am looking forward to seeing the game released”, said Mikael Nermark, acting CEO Starbreeze AB.

As previously announced, Starbreeze will focus on its core business of games development and publishing. Starbreeze holds publishing titles for “Psychonauts 2” and “Ten Crowns”.​

Notice the absence of an actual quote from the other party in there. OtherSide have yet to publicly respond to these events, and I'm not sure they ever will. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like unless they have another published lined up they're probably toast.

There are 54 comments on Starbreeze cancel OtherSide's System Shock 3 publishing deal and demand their money back

Sun 10 February 2019

Game News - posted by Darth Roxor on Sun 10 February 2019, 17:37:14

Tags: Asymmetric; West of Loathing

West of Loathing, the greatly overlooked and underappreciated 2017 stick figure western parody RPG that for some reason has never been posted about on the front page because Infinitron is too busy with Obsidian's updates about updates about kickstarter updates, has just been upgraded with DLC. Reckonin' at Gun Manor is a short new adventure that will take you through a spooky haunted house.

A ghostly carriage arrives in Dirtwater. Only you can see it, and it only goes one place -- the mysterious Gun Manor.

A brand new West of Loathing adventure, full of all the things you've come to expect from the Loathing brand:
  • A few more hours of that sweet, sweet gameplay
  • Fiendish new monsters
  • Useful new items
  • Challenging puzzles (which are also new)
  • Scads of new goofs and gags
  • No new gulches (sorry, we're all gulched out)
Who can solve the mystery of Gun Manor? Is it you? It's probably you.​

You can pick it up on Steam for a grand total of 17.99 PLN (or something around $5 if you use imaginary money), and if you liked the first game, then you probably should.

There are 14 comments on West of Loathing - Reckonin' at Gun Manor DLC released

Fri 8 February 2019

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 8 February 2019, 00:44:18

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; The Outer Worlds; Tim Cain

The Game Informer crew recently visited Obsidian, where they were given an exclusive look at The Outer Worlds. The game is the cover story for the latest issue of Game Informer magazine and will be heavily featured on their website this month. They kicked off their coverage yesterday with a light-hearted "rapid-fire" interview with Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, featuring 131 questions in 12 minutes. Now that it's been uploaded to YouTube, I'll post it here alongside their Outer Worlds "coverage trailer". A more in-depth interview with Tim & Leonard will be published tomorrow.

Apparently there's going to be some new gameplay footage early next week. In the meantime, you might be able to glean some new details from today's episode of the Game Informer podcast. And from the magazine itself, of course.

There are 66 comments on The Outer Worlds Feature at Game Informer: Rapid-Fire Interview with Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky

Tue 5 February 2019

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 5 February 2019, 23:49:35

Tags: Kingdom Come: Deliverance; Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Band of Bastards; Warhorse Studios

The third of Kingdom Come: Deliverance's four DLCs, Band of Bastards, is out today. It's a combat-focused adventure where Henry joins up with a band of rowdy mercenaries to deal with Bohemia's bandit infestation problem. Alongside it, Warhorse have also released the "Combat Academy" documentary video that was promised in last year's DLC roadmap. It joins the game's Making Of documentary that they released in December. Here are the trailers for today's releases:

You can grab Band of Bastards on Steam or GOG for $8, which is $2 cheaper than the previous DLCs. I guess that makes sense, coming a year after the original game launched. You can read about the DLC's accompanying Patch 1.8.1 here.

There are 19 comments on Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Band of Bastards DLC Released

Sat 2 February 2019

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 2 February 2019, 00:12:20

Tags: Battle Brothers; Battle Brothers - Warriors of the North; Overhype Studios

The boys at Overhype are on a roll! A mere two months after the release of Beasts & Exploration, today they announced yet another DLC for Battle Brothers. It's called Warriors of the North and as you might expect, its main feature is the addition of a new hostile Northern barbarian faction to the game. It will also add the option to pick an "origin" for your company, which will affect all sorts of things over the course of a playthrough. That sounds pretty ambitious to me, but apparently Warriors of the North is meant to be a smaller thing than Beasts & Exploration. Overhype plan to release it within the next few months. Here's the announcement post:


We’re excited to announce that we’re working on another DLC for Battle Brothers. In other words, there’s going to be even more content for that game that you like. The name of the upcoming DLC is going to be ‘Warriors of the North’.

As the name suggests, the focus of the DLC will be on introducing a new human faction hailing from the north. This faction follows the old ways of raiding and sacrificing prisoners to cruel gods. They’ll bring more regional flavor to the northern parts of the map, as well as a different challenge to fighting brigands in the north at every stage of the game. This DLC will be focused on new content, and it will be smaller in scope than ‘Beasts & Exploration’. This also means that you won’t have to wait quite as long until you can play it!

Here’s the rough list of features we’re aiming for:
  • A variety of new human opponents with their own fighting style and equipment, providing a fresh challenge at every stage of the game, including the late game
  • Different origins to pick for your company, each with different starting characters, equipment and circumstances, as well as special rules that impact your campaign from beginning to end
  • New nordic and rus inspired banners, armors and helmets
  • A new legendary location
  • New contracts
  • New events
In addition to these major features, the DLC will also include countless smaller additions. Just like in the past, we’ll explain all major features and most minor ones in detail in future dev blogs as we go along, so you’ll always know what we’re working on and why. We expect to be finished within the next few months and will announce a release date and final feature list once we’re closer to the finish line.

Alongside the DLC, which will not be free, the game will also receive a sizable free update again. This update will contain a whole bunch of improvements, quality-of-life features and balancing changes, as well as some minor content additions.

Join us next week for our first dev blog on the new DLC!
I hope this means the Beasts & Exploration DLC sold well!

There are 34 comments on Battle Brothers - Warriors of the North DLC Announced

Fri 1 February 2019

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Fri 1 February 2019, 23:17:29

Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Iron Tower Studio; Vince D. Weller

I was hoping the first Colony Ship development update for 2019 might finally deliver some gameplay footage. Instead we have yet more screenshots from the combat demo. This time however the screenshots form a kind of mini-Let's Play with captions describing what's happening, so I guess we're getting closer. I'll post them in order:

[​IMG] [​IMG]
[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

Demo progress update:

We play the demo daily, ironman-style (since we don't any have save/load functionality yet), then report issues and observations. Naturally, it's a very important step that highlights balance and interface issues, and suggests better ways of doing things. In Jan we fixed a lot of bugs that were getting in the way, implemented textbox messages (now the player gets a full picture of what's going on), reworked feats, and did the first balance pass. Combat is very challenging and even a single opponent can put an end to your career. Going alone against 3 guys tends to result in a very quick death, cover or no cover. The AI flanks you like there's no tomorrow and uses a full range of attacks.

Grenades are done, but we're still working on the visual effects. Gadgets are still not done (didn't have time); we got about half the armor/goggles/gas masks modeled but not textured yet; and we only have a handful of portraits needed for the demo. The demo is in a better shape than it was in Dec, but we aren't there yet.

Anyway, this is boring to write and probably even more boring to read, so let me walk you through some screens instead:
  1. That's the first fight, so you start the demo with traditionally crappy weapons. The damage is about the same, but the rifle has a much better range and slightly better accuracy. As you can see the textbox gives you very detailed info now:
    - attack type (tells you how the enemy is fighting)
    - attack outcome: critical, hit, graze, or miss (explains the damage or lack thereof)
    - damage and DR breakdown (shows the effect of penetration on DR, among other things)
    - rolls (I assume it will be easier to accept 3 misses in a row if you see what you're rolling and the breakdown)
  2. I opened the character screen to see how my skills are doing. The character screen is also work in progress, we'll move things around, add more derived stats that should be there, move things driven by equipment like penetration to the inventory screen. Anyway, as you can see, the increase by use functionality is there. In the future we'll add this info to the main gui; here is a rough and somewhat disjointed mockup.
  3. Lucky bastard managed to pull off a headshot and scored a critical. Now Titus is dazed and confused, which isn't good. Also, it appears I learned everything John Doe had to teach me about armor (see the learn by use mechanics here).
  4. Things are not going well for Titus but the textbox messages keep me well apprised of the situation. Eventually I managed to kill the bastard, won the next fight against 3 guys (only took me 4 attempts), and moved to fight #3.
  5. After killing this gentleman who was harder than the 3 guys before him combined on account of his shotgun, I finally got me an eager legal assistant by the name of Billy.
  6. That's the aforementioned shotgun aka the Gatling gun: "A replica of the Gatling gun, named after a famous warlord of Old Earth. This multi-barreled tool of destruction brought Gatling great success in one of the home planet's many world wars". At least that's what it says on the box. Now that you got a party member, the portraits with HP/AP bars appear on the left side for your convenience. You can gain up to 3 party members in the demo; dead party members won't be replaced so you'll have to do your best to keep them alive.
That's about it, hope the next update will be a lot more interesting.​

Fingers crossed!

There are 64 comments on Colony Ship Update #34: More Combat Demo Screenshots

Thu 31 January 2019

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 31 January 2019, 00:42:25

Tags: Himalaya Studios; Mage's Initiation: Reign of the Elements

Himalaya Studios' adventure-RPG Mage's Initiation: Reign of the Elements is finally out today, after an incredible ten years in development. Although a fairly obscure title, some people might have high expectations for it. That's because Himalaya is run by the same people behind AGD Interactive, the group that produced several well-received Sierra remakes back in the 2000s, including an excellent VGA remake of Quest for Glory II. However, from what I understand, the RPG elements in Mage's Initiation are lighter than what you might expect in a Quest for Glory-like. I suspect it might be better understood as a kind of King's Quest/Quest for Glory hybrid, including in terms of tone. Here's the launch trailer:

We hope to publish a review of Mage's Initiation within the next few weeks to see how it measures up. If you'd like to check it out yourself, the game is available now on Steam and GOG for a low $15, with a 10% launch discount until next week.

There are 29 comments on Mage's Initiation: Reign of the Elements Released

Fri 25 January 2019

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 25 January 2019, 21:34:40

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

As promised, Obsidian have released Patch 4.1 for Pillars of Eternity II, the principal component of which is a turn-based combat mode, currently in beta. The full patch notes are available here. You've already seen the video included in the new Fig update, so I'll post some screenshots instead:

[​IMG] [​IMG]
[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

According to the update, Deadfire's development team is now "much smaller", and they plan to freeze the game's code at some point after February in anticipation of the console release. It sounds like development is finally coming to an end, yet there have been some indications that there might still be more DLC content on the way. I guess we'll see.

There are 23 comments on Pillars of Eternity II Fig Update #60: Patch 4.1 - Turn-Based Mode Beta

Game News - posted by Darth Roxor on Fri 25 January 2019, 18:27:42

Tags: Cleveland Mark Blakemore; Golden Era Games; Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar

If there is one man who knows not to rush perfection, it's Cleveland Mark Blakemore, and so RPG enthusiasts worldwide had to wait quite a bit for Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar to become truly complete.

However, the waiting is now over, as Grimoire V2 has been supplemented with a Grimoire Manual V1.0. Obviously, the release is not without its micro-issues, but fortunately the neanderthal-in-chief is well aware of them. To quote:

I had some problems getting the tables formatted in the output HTML but it is presentable. I'll fix it up as I go until it is ready for a hardcopy version. ​

Though if you're already starving for Grimoire Goodness, you can check the manual online here. I think it is fair to say that everyone should now go ahead and have a taste of Incline given that the game is finally exhaustively documented.

Is this finally the end of the Grimoire saga? A close look into some of the sections reveals mysterious notes:


What could this mean?

There are 39 comments on Grimoire now has a Manual

Tue 22 January 2019

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 22 January 2019, 22:05:32

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

Obsidian confirmed today that the Pillars of Eternity II turn-based mode they accidentally released last month is an official thing. It's coming out as part of Patch 4.1 later this week on January 24th. Josh Sawyer introduced the new mode in a video that was distributed to a number of news outlets, including and Shacknews. Here's MMORPG's copy:

Other articles released today include an interview with Josh at PCGamesN and a preview of the turn-based mode at TechRaptor. I'll quote the latter here:

Pillars of Eternity was supposed to play just like Baldur’s Gate. BioWare’s first CRPG popularized pausable real-time combat back in the 90s, successfully implementing the Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition ruleset. As the isometric CRPG genre evolved, some players have come to express a great distaste for this combat mode. Their arguments are usually that it doesn’t feel tactical enough, especially when played with the AI on. It’s often just buffing your characters up, selecting targets, and watching them hit-and-miss for a couple of minutes. We can see why Obsidian Entertainment decided to add a turn-based mode to their award-winning RPG Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.

My personal experience with the combat in Deadfire was actually very positive, though I do generally prefer turn-based combat in CRPGs. Compared with the first Pillars, Deadfire not only felt more engaging, it also felt more fluid and less hacky. I still like the first game, but, with Deadfire, the developers realized that there’s room to evolve beyond nostalgia. Despite Deadfire’s reportedly poor commercial performance, it was a step in the right direction. This direction points to a place where classic RPGs can still thrive in the current industry. We had the chance to do a hands-on preview, hoping that it adds a new dimension to the game. You can’t switch back and forth between the two modes. You also can’t use an existing save in real-time. When you start a new game you’ll get to choose either real-time or turn-based, then you can’t go back.

The player character and the companions still move in real-time, and you can still pause. You can also inflict stealth attacks in real-time right before you go into turn-based combat mode. In that sense, it resembles my experience with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, where I can set up my characters in advance before the actual turn-based battle. The difference is that there are no tiles. Movement is handled in in-game meters, with every character being able to move exactly 10.2 meters. There is currently no menu option to change it. Even if you run out of meters you can still execute an action. A melee attack requires close engagement with an enemy, obviously.

You can only do one Standard or Cast action per turn, alongside your movement. Clearly, you execute Standard actions instantly. Cast actions, you guessed it, involve spellcasting, and take up two turns. It’s awkward to watch magic users spellcasting with flailing arms waiting for the turn to release it, though it suits the feel of a classic RPG. There are also Free actions, mostly buffs or special skills, and apparently, there’s no cap on them. The general impression is that the spells and skills feel more essential in turn-based. If you can use a spell or skill to knock out an enemy, it’s one less nuisance to worry about.

On the whole, there is much to like in this implementation, though it’s too early to say how it’ll play like in an entire playthrough. There is the fact that, despite all its flaws, pausable real-time at least allows you go on autopilot when you have to face swarms of feeble creatures. Turn-based requires that you are always on alert for each battle, no matter how minor. There doesn’t appear to be fewer battles in this mode either. It’s also possible that, since the Pillars games meant to emulate the tradition of the Infinity Engine games, there’s an unpredictable element when you put a turn-based mode on top of it. It will take time to adjust, and some balancing patches will most likely be necessary.

My main gripe so far is that, since the movement system isn’t based on tiles, character positioning can look very awkward. Sometimes when you move a character, he/she pushes other characters to the side, making them slide out of the way. It just looks like they didn’t design the animation system for this, and it might need some tweaks. This also happens in real-time mode, but you don’t see it as much because in the fray of combat the characters tend to move a lot more as they tackle different enemies. Either way, it will take some getting used to, or a movement animation patch to make it look more natural.

It’s hard to say how the turn-based system differs in technical terms. You would have to replay the full game in both modes, paying attention to the stats and the combat log. Then you might be able to draw a conclusion as to which is better or more balanced. Or we could accept that it depends on personal preferences and that each system has its own strengths and weaknesses. What I can say is that it doesn’t feel like they just slapped it together and tacked it on top of the real-time mode.

As I fired up Deadfire to try out the turn-based mode I didn’t expect it would pull me in again, as it’s been less than a year since I played it for the review. It was surprising to find myself hankering to play one quest after another, and really enjoying it. Maybe not more than I enjoyed my first playthrough, but probably just about as much. This is the baseline to gauge how compelling and successful this mode can be in the long-term. I don’t know that it’s enough to attract a new playerbase, but it’s definitely enough to retain the current one, giving us a new combat experience.​

Although it sounds like it's already quite playable, the turn-based mode will initially be considered a beta. I imagine the plan is to finalize it for the game's console release later this year.

There are 107 comments on Pillars of Eternity II turn-based mode confirmed, coming January 24th

Mon 21 January 2019

Community - posted by felipepepe on Mon 21 January 2019, 12:35:09

Tags: GOTY 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the RPG Codex 2018 GOTY Award!

This year we had 773 voters, who rated a whopping 114 RPGs that came out in 2018, including DLCs, PC ports and remakes. Once again we had three categories: Game of the Year, Best Expansion/DLC and Best PC Port/Remaster.

For those of you who just want the TL;DR, here are the winners:

Game of the Year
1st - Pathfinder: Kingmaker
2nd - Kingdom Come: Deliverance
3rd - ATOM RPG

Best Remake/Port
The Bard's Tale Trilogy

Best DLC/Expansion
Battle Brothers: Beast & Exploration

For the full results and fancy graphs, just follow the link bellow.

Read the full article: RPG Codex GOTY 2018: Results & Cool Graphs

There are 254 comments on RPG Codex GOTY 2018: Results & Cool Graphs

Sat 19 January 2019

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Sat 19 January 2019, 01:08:04

Tags: Blue Sky Productions; Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer; Deep Space: Operation Copernicus; Doug Church; Lerner Research; Looking Glass Studios; Ned Lerner; Origin Systems; Paul Neurath; Space Rogue; The Digital Antiquarian; Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss; Warren Spector

The Digital Antiquarian announced last week that he was switching to a bi-weekly update schedule and so his promised article about Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss was published today, a week later than expected. It looks like he made good use of that extra time however, because the article is absolutely packed with detail. Not just about the development of Ultima Underworld, but also about the early history of Looking Glass Studios and its two original component studios - Ned Lerner's flight sim-focused Lerner Research, and Paul Neurath's RPG-focused Blue Sky Productions. At the end, with the help of Origin producer Warren Spector, Underworld was successfully finished and became an unexpected smash hit. I quote:

Blue Sky soon discovered that becoming an official Ultima game, while great for marketing purposes and for their own sense of legitimacy, was something of a double-edged sword. Origin demanded that they go back through all the text in the game to insert Ultima‘s trademark (and flagrantly misused) “thees” and “thous,” provoking much annoyance and mockery. And Origin themselves made a cinematic introduction for the game in Austin, featuring Richard Garriott, one of the industry’s worst voice actors of all time — and that, friends, is really saying something — in the leading role, bizarrely mispronouncing the word “Stygian.” It seems no one at Origin, much less at Blue Sky, dared to correct Lord British’s diction… (The British magazine PC Review‘s eventual reaction to the finished product is one for the ages: “I had to listen to it two or three times before I fully grasped what was going on because for the first couple of times I was falling about laughing at the badly dubbed Dick Van Dyke cockney accents that all these lovable Americans think we sound like. You know: ‘Awlright, Guv’noor, oop the happle un stairs!'”)

While Origin made the dodgy intro in Texas, Warren Spector got everybody in New England focused on the goal of a finished, shipped game. Doug Church:

Not only was he [Spector] great creatively to help us put finishing touches on it and clean it up and make it real, but he also knew how to finish projects and keep us motivated and on track. He had that ability to say, “Guys, guys, you’re focused in totally the wrong place.” He had that ability to help me and the rest of the guys reset, from the big-picture view of someone who has done it before and was really creative, but who also understood getting games done. It was a huge, huge win.​

It’s very easy in hacker-driven game development to wind up with a sophisticated simulation that’s lots of fun for the programmers to create but less fun to actually play. Spector was there to head off this tendency as well at Blue Sky, as when he pared down an absurdly complex combat system to something simple and tactilly intuitive, or when he convinced the boys not to damage the player’s character every time he accidentally bumped into a wall. That, said Spector, “doesn’t sound like fun to me” as a player — and it was the player’s fun, he gently taught Blue Sky, that had to be the final arbitrator.

At Spector’s behest, Neurath rented a second office in Boston — officially known as the “Finish Underworld Now” office — and insisted that everyone leave the house and come in to work there every day during the last two months of the project. The more businesslike atmosphere helped them all focus on getting to the end result, as did Spector himself, who spent pretty much all of those last two months in the office with the team in Boston.

Spector did much to make Blue Sky feel like a valued part of the Origin family, but the relationship still remained rocky at times — especially when the former learned that the latter intended to release Ultima Underworld just two weeks before Ultima VII, the long-awaited next title in the franchise’s main series. It seemed all but certain that their game would get buried under the hype for Ultima VII, would be utterly forgotten by Origin’s marketers. Certainly marketing’s initial feedback hadn’t been encouraging. They were, they said, having trouble figuring out how to advertise Ultima Underworld. Its graphics were spectacular when seen in motion, but in still screenshots they didn’t look like much at all compared to a Wing Commander II or an Ultima VII. Blue Sky seethed with frustration, certain this was just an excuse for an anemic, disinterested advertising campaign.

In Origin’s defense, the problem their marketers pointed to was a real one. And it wasn’t really clear what they could have done about the release-date issue either. The original plan had been, as they didn’t hesitate to remind Blue Sky, to release Ultima Underworld in time for the Christmas of 1991, but the protracted development had put paid to that idea. Now, Blue Sky themselves needed Ultima Underworld to come out as quickly as possible because they needed the royalties in order to survive; for them, delaying it was simply impossible. Meanwhile Origin, who had cash-flow concerns of their own, certainly wasn’t going to delay Ultima VII, quite possibly the most expensive computer game ever made to that point, for a mere spinoff title. The situation was what it was.

Whatever was to happen in terms of sales, Blue Sky’s young hackers did get the satisfaction in late March of 1992 of seeing their game as a boxed product on store shelves, something more than one of them has described as a downright surreal experience. Dan Schmidt:

We were a bunch of kids straight out of school. This was the first professional project we’d ever done. We felt lucky that anyone would see it at all. We’d go into a games store and see our game there on the shelf. Someone would walk up to it, and we’d want to say, “No! No! You don’t want to buy that! We just hacked that together. It’s not, like, a real game.”​

In the beginning, sales went about as expected. A snapshot from Origin’s in-house newsletter dated July 31, 1992, shows 71,000 copies of Ultima VII shipped, just 41,000 copies of Ultima Underworld. But, thanks to ecstatic reviews and strong word of mouth — Origin may have struggled to see how groundbreaking the game really was, but gamers got it immediately — Ultima Underworld kept on selling, getting stronger every month. “It was the first game that ever gave me a sense of actually being in a real place,” wrote one buyer in a letter to Origin, clear evidence that Blue Sky had absolutely nailed their original design goal. Soon industry scuttlebutt had it outselling Ultima VII by two to one. Paul Neurath claims that Ultima Underworld eventually sold more than half a million copies worldwide, an extraordinary figure for the time, and considerably more than Ultima VII or, indeed, any previous Ultima had managed.
The Antiquarian never did get around to writing his article about Ultima VII, but it seems he's just as enthusiastic about Ultima Underworld and the studio that created it. Looking Glass will be the topic of many more articles in the future, starting with a closer look at Underworld itself in his next installment.

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