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Vince D. Weller and Mark Yohalem RPG Mega-Interview by Chris Picone

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Vince D. Weller and Mark Yohalem RPG Mega-Interview by Chris Picone

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 3 February 2018, 18:45:44

Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Fallen Gods; Iron Tower Studio; Mark Yohalem; Vince D. Weller; Wormwood Studios

The freelance writer Chris Picone, who has previously interviewed Iron Tower Studio's Vince D. Weller and Primordia designer Mark Yohalem, has now published a massive interview with both. It's very much like an RPG version of our AdventureDex interview from 2013, which is even linked to in the footnotes. It covers all the frequently discussed RPG topics, such as inventory management, combat density, magic systems, resting, character death and save-scumming. There's lots of details about Mark's upcoming Fallen Gods, Vince's upcoming The New World and most interestingly, also the historical "Inquisition RPG" that Vince plans to develop afterwards. As you might expect, in the interview it's thoughtful Mark vs practical Vince. Here's an excerpt:

CSH: AoD was the first cRPG I’ve played in a long time where you’re totally on your own and not part of some adventuring party. I thought it odd at first, for no other reason than that it’s no longer the done thing. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In AoD, if you played as a fighter, you would experience a combat-heavy game and a number of experiences simply were not available to you since your character lacked the means to engage in those opportunities. Similarly, if you played as a merchant or lore master, you were forced to get creative about solving your problems because combat was not a feasible option. This concept was the foundation of pen-and-paper roleplaying because although you were part of a party, you normally only controlled one of those characters yourself, but is something that modern, party-based cRPGs seem to lack. The modern cRPG gamer is used to having their cake and eating it, too, but I feel like we’re losing out on some of the core roleplaying experience in the process. Is there a way to have a party-based cRPG and still have that character-centric experience?

Players love party-member interactions, which have grown in prominence and complexity as time has gone on. Certainly, they are among the most memorable and likable parts of RPGs for me. There’s a reason why Primordia features a “party,” and Clarity has intra-party dialogues that are modelled on the Biowarean (was it Bioware who came up with it first?) approach where you can talk a bit more every time you’ve made some main-quest progress.

Fallen Gods has a party, but it’s not the kind of party that people are used to. It is something more like the Clan Ring in King of Dragon Pass; maybe even thinner in terms of characterisation. Your followers have unique names, but currently generic portraits and sprites (one for each of the follower types: churl, woodsman, fighter, priest, skald, berserk, maiden, witch). While they chime in during events, and can be asked to undertake tasks during events, this chiming in is also generic. While only one of each follower type will quip per event node (the happiest of that type, typically), it’s not as if Ragnar the Fighter will ever say something different from Hrut the Fighter. And you don’t really interact directly with them – they speak, but you can’t talk back to them. You can give them items, as discussed above, which can make them happier, but it’s not like, say, Dragon Age: Origins where this unlocks deeper interactions. It’s all very superficial.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is that when I was working on the now-abandoned (and pre-empted by FTL) predecessor to Fallen Gods, Star Captain, I tried writing events where the crew (still fairly generic) were heavily integrated into the text and story. It turned out to ramify into impossible-to-imagine complexity very quickly. The second is that I wanted to keep the focus on the eponymous Fallen God, rather than the earthbound beings helping him. Said god is something of an egoist, anyway, and would not be interested in learning about Skadi the Churl’s tough childhood.

Third, another lesson I learned in working on Star Captain – a lesson that I think RPGs could often benefit from – is that it’s better when events or dialogue keep moving forward. The “hub” model of dialogue so common to RPGs, especially to lore dumpers, totally kills the game’s momentum. Because Fallen Gods is meant to be pretty quick-moving, it would be antithetical to let you go on a random dialogue digression with a follower. Finally, having the followers thinly characterised works well in a procedurally generated setting where followers die a lot. As noted earlier, FG is procedurally generated in terms of selecting what goes where, but the content is all pre-designed. Since there are dozens of followers to hire in a given game session, trying to make each one unique would be a huge amount of work. And it would actually tend to highlight the smallness of the game’s content when you encountered Bjorn the Berserk twice in a row, and he was exactly the same each time.

Anyway, I think this is one of many ways that Fallen Gods is likely to disappoint many players – especially fans of Primordia – who expect rich characterisation in an RPG. The characterisation is either non-existent (for many followers), generic (for, say, berserks and witches, who have strong but non-character-specific voices), or indirect (as with the god). And the NPCs you meet are really going to be characterised in at most a couple nodes of text, maybe a few words of dialogue. I think we’ve done a pretty good job with making that little bit count, more because of our great artists, narrator, and composer than because of our middling writer, but the proof of the pudding will be in the reading.

Vince: AoD was a solo game because working your way up in a faction to secure your future required a single character. You don’t show up for work with your five closest friends who don’t have anything better to do today.

TNW is more about adventuring and dealing with multiple factions at once (to ensure your own survival) which does call for a band of like-minded individuals. Not sure about the Inquisition game yet but we’re leaning toward party-based as well.

As for having that character-centric experience in a party-based game, it depends on the design and goals. For example, in games like Baldur’s Gate or Pillars of Eternity there are no non-combat classes, so any character you pick will be handy in a fight, thus a party of six will be able to kick a lot of ass regardless of its makeup.

Our approach is a bit different. In TNW you’ll increase skills by using them instead of gaining skill points and distributing them as you see fit.

Let’s say you’re a talker accompanied by three brutes waiting for your nod to crush your enemies. The problem is that unless your brutes get a regular workout, they won’t be very skilled. So you’re mostly talking your way through the game, your brutes won’t get regular workouts and will never be as skilled as a combat-focused party. They might be able to get you out of trouble but you won’t be able to fight your way through the game.

Essentially, you’ll have four types of parties:

· The warband (your typical western)
· The grifters (while you don’t need two talkers, you might need people with the right connections or ideas, think traveling with Miltiades in AoD)
· The infiltrators
· The jacks (of all trades), who won’t be as good at combat, diplomacy, or stealth as the specialist parties.

Plus, your Charisma determines how many followers you can inspire to tag along. If you want 3 party members, you need to have CHA 8 (out of 10), which is a significant investment.
This interview is a real classic, the kind I'd like to have done myself. Read the full thing there.

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