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Elaborate S.C.O.U.R.G.E interview

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Elaborate S.C.O.U.R.G.E interview

Interview - posted by Vault Dweller on Wed 10 November 2004, 22:43:50

Tags: S.C.O.U.R.G.E.: Heroes of Lesser Renown

1. Tell us about yourself, Gabor. Why are you making S.C.O.U.R.G.E.? What inspired and motivated you? What are your goals?

For me writing S.C.O.U.R.G.E. is a diversion from my usual duties as a beast handler of the citadel. (We live behind the Matachin tower, for those of you acquainted with Serverian and the torturers.) I develop the game after the animals have been fed and cleaned, usually in the late hours of the night. When my candles have burnt out and the generator imps of the Arcanum Mobile are exhausted, I pray that enough power is left still to be able to commit the changes to cvs.

I've always been fascinated by immersive rpg-s like Ultima, Wizardry, etc. As a teenager I used to try to make DOS games, but it wasn't until I found out about Linux and the Open Source movement that my hobby was given an ideology and a community. There is a lot of good code out there and S.C.O.U.R.G.E. would not be possible without the help of others. Writing the game is a hobby, but it's a serious one and (according to Linus) it's the best kind of hobby possible.

The goals of making the game is to create an off-beat, interesting, dungeon crawler that may eventually become a full-blown rpg (with non-random outside areas.) I found that my projects were often bogged down in details, so I focused on a feature set that enables fast development while skipping over (for now) areas that may take a long time to complete. A lot of the features commonly associated with roguelikes work for my advantage. For example, using random dungeons instead of having to write a "dungeon editor" or using md2 (quake) models instead of creating custom animations saved me a lot of time.

2. It's been almost 25 years since Rogue was released. How has the genre evolved? Have you paid attention to what other developers did, direction they took, features they added? What are your favorite rogue-like games?

Like I recently told my friend Rourgh (while cleaning out the refuse in the Mastodon-den), some of the established roguelikes are more than code: they're elaborate pieces of art, not unlike gothic cathedrals. I have played Angband quite a lot, but I also enjoyed NetHack, Crossfire and others. I've never played ADOM, but I hear that it is a masterpiece as well. I'm somewhat of a sucker for a graphical UI (it's something you may have noticed in S.C.O.U.R.G.E....) so I like mods like the Falcon's Eye.

I'm not an authority on roguelike games. However, what strikes me as their most enduring feature is the uncompromising focus on gameplay. While the professional industry appears to writhe under the heal of the console economy, roguelikes offer a unique experience that people still find enjoyable. I am not a gaming purist either way, so in S.C.O.U.R.G.E. I try to blend the best of both worlds.

Angband has been especially useful for coding. While S.C.O.U.R.G.E. is still in a very early alpha stage, Angband was the inspiration for its property files and some of the magic system. Like I said before there is a wealth of information available on the internet. For example, S.C.O.U.R.G.E.'s upcoming network play has borrowed a lot of ideas from netPanzer.

3. What sets S.C.O.U.R.G.E. apart from other rogue-like games? What are the distinctive features?

There are so many roguelike variants around, I'm not sure anymore which features of S.C.O.U.R.G.E. are really unique. Like Moria or Crossfire (which both have a "town"), S.C.O.U.R.G.E. has a "headquarters" level. This is where the shops are; here you can (will be able to) augment your party with new players, learn new skills, etc. The gameplay in S.C.O.U.R.G.E. is mission based. Each time you return to HQ, new missions are posted on the board. The idea is that while at first, the requests seem random (clean out dungeon X, retrieve item Y, etc.) eventually through returning clients and events that occur on your missions, a story will take shape. And since this story has not been written yet, I can tell you it will be a dark and moving epic. A powerful tale of staggering... uh, perplexity?

(Need to work more on the storyline.) The combat system (more on this later) will also be different from most roguelikes. Hopefully S.C.O.U.R.G.E. will have an atmosphere (sort of like Ultima VII) which will make some of the repetitive dungeon crawling more digestible.

4. Originally S.C.O.U.R.G.E. had a real time with pause combat system being the only RT rogue-like game. Why did you want to go with real time combat? What were the advantages? Considering that S.C.O.U.R.G.E. also comes with 3D graphics, were you trying to make a game more appealing for casual players?

If you count the Diablo games as roguelikes, they also had RT combat. Honestly though, the first combat system was hacked in by the Imps. I told them not to do it! There were beatings... crying... it was something we as beast handlers are not proud of and are trying to put behind us. However, I think a RT system can work. Especially since the game has an accelerated 3d interface, a fast-paced, "dirty" (as someone in a forum called it) combat system seems ideal.

The trouble started when users complained that combat was chaotic. Then I started to look at the code and decided that the battle system needed an overhaul and the Imps their beatings...

5. At some point you've decided to replace chaotic RT combat with a more traditional TB combat. Were you surprised at the reaction of people to RT who said it's too fast and confusing? What's your opinion on the RT vs TB conflict?

I've been getting a lot of complaints about the combat system. In response, I posted a forum entry on sourceforge (it's still there) for people to discuss the combat system and present their ideas. The basic issue is which direction to go with S.C.O.U.R.G.E.? Should it be more of a RT hack-and-slash like Diablo, or a thoughtful turn-based game? I think this is another benefit to making a game as a hobby rather than a profession: with deadlines based on time-to-market windows, projected sales for holidays, etc., most game developers can't afford to step back and let the people decide. (On the not-so-beneficial side, I also don't get paid...)

Personally, I'm a turn-based game fan. (I guess I'm just too old for RT games.) I like RT combat too, but it has to be at least somewhat tactical and having a "pause" feature is a must. Combat in S.C.O.U.R.G.E. will not be decided by who clicks the mouse faster. I hope that there are enough other features in the game to entice the casual player and turn them into a roguelike junky. ;-)

6. What are you plans for the TB combat system? How in-depth and tactical is it going to be? What successful TB implementations are you looking at for inspiration?

This is what I'm working on currently, so a lot of this may change still in the near future. What I'm hoping to accomplish is a loosely turn-based system. Basically, you won't have control over every step a character makes, you will only make suggestions on whom to attack, where to go, etc. The movement path is still determined by the AI algorithm just like when moving around. (This is likely to change if the fans vote it down.) Combat will pause for every player's turn, with the option to turn this feature off. In this case the game becomes a "turn-at-a-time real-time" system. When not in combat mode, the party moves around in real-time, like before.

Fallout was an rpg that implemented a similar system. In fact S.C.O.U.R.G.E. also uses an "action points"-based system. (Each time a character moves or attacks, AP-s are used up.) But since AP-s are rare and precious, having the computer decide on a movement path (and possibly waste points) may be too much for some users. Ideally (and if time permits) there would be 3 settings for combat: TB, loose TB and RT. In strict TB mode each step a character takes would be controlled by the human player.

7. Can you tell us more about the setting? We have a group of aging adventurers who clean up dungeons for a living while dealing with low confidence and losses of integrity. What part does humor play in the setting and the game?

The setting is very important in S.C.O.U.R.G.E. It's a tribute to the underdogs. The has-been, burned-out heroes of the game are given a second chance to save the world and through their adventures: themselves. I hope to add character monologue/dialogue somewhat in the vein of the characters of Monty Python or Ultima. The humor is self-deprecating: making fun of the game and us for playing it. There are games that go totally overboard with this (IMO) but I'm planning to keep it to a level that stays within the assumptions of the virtual world. (The writings of of Terry Pratchett are a good example of what I'm aiming for.)

8. S.C.O.U.R.G.E. is a party-based game, while many rogue-likes are focused on a single character. Why have you decided to go with a party setup? Have you designed your classes to augment each other?

I think so... like everything else the rpg aspect of S.C.O.U.R.G.E. is still changing. The game uses a skill-based system where everyone can learn any of the skills (Fighters can learn magic, etc.) but only to a certain degree. Some of the more exotic character classes are really just shades of skill-usage (fighting vs. magic, etc.) However, their usefulness lies in making the characters more customizable and if in the future S.C.O.U.R.G.E. does indeed become an "outdoors-also" game, having classes like "ranger" will definitely be useful. Also (at least currently) you can only play one race (human), so I had to use some creativity with the classes.

Having a party in a game helps the role play aspect to be more than just killing monsters. (Although arguably, that is what most computer-based rpg-s do...) I plan to make the characters talk to each other (for example when reacting to a new development in the storyline). It is however all to easy to believe that coding a party is a bed of roses. Sometimes (esp. in the wee hours of the morning before the Charcodonix is fed its first meat) doubts assail me, and I fantasize about cutting this feature. Usually it is not until the morning (after the ritualistic excrutiations, when I'm purged) can I return to planning party-related features like the inventory dialog.

9. Your site mentions that you are planning to add class-based special abilities. What do you have in mind?

I definitely plan to give the player more incentive when role-playing a class. One way to do this is to have the character gain new skills. I haven't given this a lot of thought yet, but I'll keep you posted.

10. Tell us about the magic system. You have a somewhat standard School of Nature, more extravagant School of Ambush Trickery and Deceit, and rarely heard of, but interesting School of History and Lore whose student can "create magic by observing patterns from historical records". How does that work? What kind of spells such a student would cast?

Ah yes, magic... poor Geoff never should have dabbled in it. Winter in the citadel is a dreary time. The stone floor is freezing, most of the animals hibernate and the salted rations unhinge many. In other words since there is not much to do, how can one fault poor Geoff for wanting something more? With much shaking of the heads we saw him off night after night to the Witches' Keep. Usually he was back by morning and although tired, excited by what he had learned. But on one gray morning, he was never himself again. He kept muttering about "Silent knives" and the "Burning stare"... now we keep him in the vacated Ogothme pen and let him out but once a year.

I give you this background to understand why I approach the subject of magic with considerable apprehension. Still, no rpg would be complete without it. Each school of magic will contain many different types of spells. Some are area spells, some target a single creature or item, and some are just totally weird. Schools function as the overarching theme of its spells and state which deity's power is invoked when casting. They also act as a kind of guide to alignments. (For example: school of Deceit.) The school of Nature contains mostly easy spells for beginners (idea from Angband), while some of the more flamboyant ones are for advanced players. I also plan to add special class privileges to casting spells of a certain school. (Loremasters casting school of history spells get a bonus, etc.)

Much later in developing S.C.O.U.R.G.E. I will add the idea of Deities. (Kind of like corruption in ADOM, it's always good to have paranormal activity in a roguelike...) Similarly to Greek gods, Deities will take interest in human affairs, especially of those of high levels, casting high level spells. The Gods will meddle in human affairs, acting with supreme favoritism, jealousy and occasionally hatred?

11. What role NPCs play in your game if any?

Most importantly they will serve as replacements for un-resurrectable party members. (Disintegrated, etc.) I'm also planning on adding missions of the type "talk to so and so...", where the NPC will inexplicably be placed in the lowest level of a hostile dungeon for your dialoging pleasure. (I'm not overly concerned with congruity.)

I definitely plan on adding NPC-s. They add a lot of depth to an rpg, as sources of information, general amusement, (quests?) and perhaps as sources of nourishment. In fact this reminds me of another winter-time tale from the citadel, however it may be too much for your sensitive readers. (If you meet Severian, ask him about a client named Zorpe, who after a successful escape, was found in some of the Gorg-pens.)

12. Traditional ASCII rogue-like games could throw many creatures at you, while you are being restricted by models and animations. How did that affect the development? What's on the S.C.O.U.R.G.E monsters menu?

Having to deal with Quake models has been a pleasure. As I noted earlier, it would have taken me a very long time to create pictures of animation frames by hand. Luckily (due to the immense success of Quake) there is a large amount of quake models on the internet. Most models come with multiple skins which adds more possibility. In S.C.O.U.R.G.E., I can make new monsters out of existing models by varying the size and color of the original. So far I've had no shortage of models and no one has contacted me regarding the legality of their usage.

After the 0.6 release (now in cvs) I've added many more creatures, from dinosaurs to aliens to deranged, undead monks. With each new model, I try to add at least 3 new creatures in the style of Might and Magic: minor-, major- and mega-.

13. Many players think that RPGs are all about stats and items. What kind of items do you have in store? Should we expect a traditional selection of weapons, armors, and potions, or would S.C.O.U.R.G.E. offer us anything unusual or class-specific?

Beyond the traditional medieval items, I'm planning to make "user configurable" magic items. I like the simplicity of the Might and Magic games in this respect. Any ordinary item can be upgraded with varying levels of extra functionality. For example the "Long sword of Divine Ice Storms" adds extra cold damage to its attacks. There will also be some pre-made special items that will further the story line or be used as mission objectives.

Thanks for the chance to do this interview! Soon it will be morning and time for the Charcodonix's first meat and cleaning (while it's in a digestive stupor; otherwise it is too dangerous to remain near). The headmaster doesn't tolerate tardiness and so I must be off. Please keep your comments/ideas coming! I appreciate any input I get, especially from those more experienced with rpg games.

Thanks, Gabor, for your time and very detailed answers.

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