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Jennell Jaquays on EA's cancelled Bard's Tale IV project

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Jennell Jaquays on EA's cancelled Bard's Tale IV project

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 14 February 2015, 19:19:05

Tags: Electronic Arts; Jennell Jaquays; The Bard's Tale IV (EA)

Brian Fargo recently announced that his company's next project would be Bard's Tale IV, the first sequel to the classic franchise in 27 years. Back in the early 90s however, Electronic Arts were developing their own Bard's Tale IV - a project which would never see the light of day. Veteran RPG designer Jennell Jaquays, formerly known as Paul Jaquays, was one of those contracted to work on it. Last night, she revealed on Facebook what happened to the EA Bard's Tale sequel, finally bringing some closure to this small mystery. She even included some original plot documents! I quote:

The attached script is my last plot outline for Bards Tale IV, based on art assets that were already completed or near completion for the game.

25 years ago, Electronic Arts was working on a sequel to Bard's Tale III. As the owners of the license, they were able to call it ... well ... Bards's Tale IV. The version of the game that Interplay was making ended up having to be called Dragon Wars. Dragon Wars did something important to games that Bard's Tale IV did not: It was completed and shipped.

I was one of the last designers who worked on the game. The original story apparently came from Steve Englehart (primarily know for his work in comics), with later development by David Arneson (aka the Father of Roleplaying), and Elizabeth Langosy, a writer whose previous background involved working in games in the Zork series.

I was contracting to EA at the time on another RPG title and was pulled over to work on Bards Tale IV during one of my visits to work in house. I became the last designer on the game, in the role of script doctor and continuity editor to try and bring all the other contributor's work together, streamline it and write a final concluding scenario setting.

BT4 had changed the core direction and play of the Bards Tale series from a game about a party of unique characters created by the player to a scripted story line involving only pre-created characters (the sort of thing that's great for novel tie-ins).

While I worked on the project, it changed producers and lost it's tech lead.

My attempts to salvage and tighten ended up being pointless. The game's data engine was buggy. The graphics were already dated-looking and over complicated (three separate 2D graphic presentations, a first person point of view for for exploring, a side view or shadow box format for resolving encounters, and an isomorphic view for exploring the city. Each view required that characters be redrawn and re-animated (using EA's D-Paint software). And the project was over budget.

While I was working on script revisions, the producers made the decision to put it down. EA's Bard's Tale IV was put to rest.

The policy decision that EA made about contractors had a profound impact on the rest of my career. They would no longer work with independent contractors who didn't bring a full production team to make games. I didn't have those resources. EA had been my primary source of income for over a year. I chose to turn away from computer game design and focus on illustration and never worked for EA again (though five years later, I would be back working in the computer game industry at id Software).
The timing of this leak is, I suspect, no coincidence. Jennell's current company, Olde Skuul, which is led by Bard's Tale series programmer Rebecca Heineman, recently announced plans to create their own Bard's Tale quasi-successor - Dragon Wars 2. We'll post more about that once they actually have something to show, but in the meantime you can follow the discussion about it on our forums.

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