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Knights of the Chalice 2 Pre-Kickstarter Interview

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Knights of the Chalice 2 Pre-Kickstarter Interview

Codex Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 5 March 2019, 11:29:11

Tags: Heroic Fantasy Games; Knights of the Chalice 2

1) Let's start with a question people ask time and again. And then again. When will KotC1 be released on Steam/GOG/EPIC Games store/insert other game store of your choice?

As soon as possible. Several people have said that I should get KotC 1 on Steam and GOG before launching a Kickstarter campaign. I've just finished making a trailer for KotC 2. Now I want to make a trailer for KotC 1 and a few extra videos for KotC 2. I need a good KotC 1 trailer in order to make a proper release on the game stores. Also, I'd like to fix a number of small errors in the KotC 1 code. And I know that for Steam, some extra code needs to be added.

2) Taking a look at the KotC2 FAQ and seeing the sheer number of classes, feats and spells listed, it's obvious the game is significantly more complex than KotC1. Great complexity usually goes hand in hand with a propensity for bugs. How do you tackle this challenge? Do you have any plans for an extended beta period, perhaps within the Steam Early Access framework after the Kickstarter is done?

Yes, it's true that complexity goes hand in hand with bugs. But I've already spent a long time fixing bugs in KotC 2, based on the principle that 'I fix it as soon as I see it'. So I think that the game is quite stable now. I expect that most of the remaining bugs will be associated with spells and psionic powers that I've not been able to test sufficiently so far. I'll fix all the remaining bugs once I get bug reports after the end of the Kickstarter campaign. After that, we can have a proper launch of KotC 2 Augury of Chaos on Steam. Steam Early Access is probably not needed in this case.

3) Unlike KotC1 the new game will feature skills, including social skills, a substantial amount of them actually. How important are those skills gameplay-wise? Where do they find application?

Skills are important as they give you access to more dialogue options. These extra dialogue options often grant benefits to the player's party. For example, with the [Nature] skill, you may be able to identify monster tracks, allowing the party to avoid being surprised when the monsters attack. You may also be able to collect herbs that allow the party members to recover Hit Points or their daily spells and psionic powers. With the [Mantis Light Sleep] skill, you may avoid a surprise attack taking place when the party is resting. At one point in the game, a Coven of Witches demands some blood from the party. Gameplay-wise, it means losing some Hit Points permanently. But if you have the [Bard Perform] skill, you can use it to avoid losing Hit Points. The party will not get blocked if it lacks any particular skill, but having more skills may make the experience more enjoyable.

4) Will the Augury of Chaos module be as rich an adventure as the first Knights of the Chalice, or is it more of a demo for the modding tools?

Augury of Chaos is as substantial an adventure as KotC 1, featuring many hours of gameplay. While there are fewer locations in Augury of Chaos than in KotC 1, areas in Augury of Chaos are packed with more content than areas in KotC 1. Combat encounters in Augury of Chaos typically take more time than in KotC 1 because enemies often come in waves. You cannot assess the difficulty of a battle simply by looking at the opponents that the party is facing in the first round, because more enemies may appear in subsequent rounds. More so than in KotC 1, in Augury of Chaos certain decisions taken by the player may have a large impact on how the rest of the adventure unfolds. You start thinking 'What would happen if I did things differently?', which gives a reason for playing the game again with a different party making different choices. Also, while KotC 1 only has a few puzzles, Augury of Chaos is packed with non-combat challenges. There are secret messages for the player to decode, riddles to answer and various other puzzles and non-combat situations to resolve.

5) Regarding the toolset, how much effort went into it? Judging by the toolsets of other games (the NWNs, Elder Scrolls etc.) the success of a toolset seems to hinge on its accessibility, i.e. how easy is it to handle for the non-programmer. What are your expectations for the KotC2 toolset in this regard?

Honestly, a tonne of effort went into building and debugging the toolset. It is my dream toolset. It's so easy to create a new adventure and add monsters, artifacts, dialogues, quest items, plot hooks, corridors, caves, dangerous areas, doors and portcullises, secret passages, puzzles and elaborate combat encounters. Also, I would like to record a few videos explaining certain aspects of module creation, such as how to create a two-wave combat encounter, how to create a new artifact, how to create a new monster, how to create a coded message or how to create a regional map. I want the KotC 2 toolset to be as accessible as possible for the non-programmer.

6) The main story of KotC1 was inspired by old-school modules like "Slave Lords" and "Against the Giants". What inspired KotC2?

KotC 2 Augury of Chaos is a brand new adventure which does not really borrow much from any particular classic D&D module. Parts of it may have been inspired by the classic D&D module White Plume Mountain, other parts by the Slave Lords series, and yet other parts by Planescape: Torment, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands and the Baldur's Gate series. Cryptographic challenges were inspired by the adventure game Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. However, for the most part, Augury of Chaos is the result of a number of cool ideas I've been writing down over the years.

For the Kickstarter module, KotC 2 The Dark Arena, and the other modules in the planned trilogy, my sources of inspiration include the D&D module Red Hand of Doom, the games Dark Sun: Shattered Lands and Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, the Baldur's Gate series, Conan books, Spartacus films, the book The Seven Serpents, the d20 module Mad Manor of Astabar and various classic D&D modules, such as Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Castle Amber, Castle Caldwell and Beyond, The Veiled Society and Lost Tomb of Martek (in it, particularly the Mobius Tower).

7) Tell us a bit about your encounter design. Will there be scripted battles like the early orc attack on the castle of the knights and the village attack later on in KotC1?

Nearly all encounters in Augury of Chaos are scripted in one way or another. They are not computer-generated random encounters like the ones you could find in the old Bard's Tale series. As a result, encounters often have some pre-combat dialogue or some other special feature such as a surprise round, enemies appearing in waves, something happening when a certain monster or NPC dies, enemies casting scripted spells, enemies running away when they are losing, or something more elaborate like fire or acid damage inflicted on the party members each round.

8) How, if at all, did the quest and story structure change in comparison to the first game? Did you go for a linear main story again with few to no sidequests?

Augury of Chaos has an overall linear story structure divided into four chapters. There are optional areas and encounters, but it's a good idea to go through all of them to get more experience points and items. Most of the game's non-linearity comes from the way the player handles each encounter. For example, one encounter may be resolved either through combat or dialogue, while another encounter may allow you to select out of two factions which one the party will support. In the final area, a particular NPC may or may not help the party, depending on player action earlier in the game. Another NPC may or may not appear and attack the party, for similar reasons.

9) Will the game feature a worldmap similar to the first game with random encounters?

While Augury of Chaos does not have a world map, I'm planning to have a world map or regional map in The Dark Arena and subsequent modules. I don't think that computer-generated random encounters would make the game a lot more fun, so I prefer to focus on hand-crafted encounters. That being said, hand-crafted combat and non-combat random encounters can be fun and I would like to have some of these in The Dark Arena and later modules.

10) Some people on our forum seem upset with the new graphics style. Then again, remembering the days of KotC1 people complained about the old graphics style too. But since this is the #1 complaint, let's address the subject by asking a few questions worried forum members came up with:

10-a) Is the current art a place-holder? What about PC portraits?

The artwork in the Screenshots webpage and in the KotC 2 trailer is the final one for KotC 2 Augury of Chaos. KotC 2 The Dark Arena and later modules will use a combination of the existing artwork and some new artwork. It's easy to change monster graphics or add new player-character portraits. I certainly would like to have a wider selection of PC portraits.

10-b) Why did you choose tiles rather than pixel art and sprites, when most of your audience are old-school gamers who liked the look of KOTC1 better?

KotC 2 displays the environment using large, hand-drawn 2D images, just like Temple of Elemental Evil, Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate. There are two reasons for using large 2D images as opposed to using pixel-art environmental blocks in the style of KotC 1. The first reason is that large 2D images offer a maximum amount of flexibility and variety. I can draw anything in Photoshop, save it as a PNG and immediately use it as a new background in the KotC 2 map editor. With the graphics engine of KotC 1, I can only build maps using the game's existing environmental blocks, just like everything in Minecraft must be built out of the game's existing blocks.

The second reason is that large 2D images just look better than pixel-art blocks, in my opinion. Of course, it also depends on how good the artist is and on the choice of perspective: flat or nearly-flat top-down as in Civilization 1, isometric as in Temple of Elemental Evil and Pillars of Eternity, oblique as in Ultima 7 and KotC 1, or a top-down bevel as in Dark Sun Shattered Lands and the Zelda games when you are exploring a room. Flat top-down is the graphical style that matches the style of the adventure maps of classic D&D modules, so Augury of Chaos uses that style. But in other modules, I may use maps that show more of the walls, using either the bevel style, isometric style or oblique style. Maps certainly look better when you can see at least some of the walls.

Now to the other part of your question: why not use sprites in the style of KotC 1 for characters and monsters?

The main reason for that is that single-image monster tokens are so much simpler and easier to create and edit, compared to animated sprites. As with environments, the use of monster tokens offers a maximum amount of flexibility and variety. I've always felt hugely limited by the requirements associated with the sprites of KotC 1. The difference in complexity is such that for the same expense of time and money, I could have either 100 monster tokens or ten sprites. With 100 monster tokens, I am free to create adventures with many different types of enemies and NPCs. With ten sprites, the same enemies and NPCs have to reappear in the game many times.

To be honest, I don't think that it would make the game better if I was using sprites or 3D models instead of tokens. 3D models are more expensive to create and they slow down the game when loading a saved game and when many 3D models must be displayed on the screen simultaneously. Large-size animated sprites can also be very expensive and difficult to create. In the end, they are just eye candy that does not improve gameplay to such an extent that it would justify the cost, in my opinion.

To people who are upset about the graphic style, I can only say this: please try the game anyway and see if you're having fun with it. You may be pleasantly surprised and come to realise that the graphic style is actually a non-issue.

10-c) Will there be a stretch goal during the kickstarter to hire an artist to improve the graphics?

I have not finalised the stretch goals. However, I don't think that it's a good stretch goal. I mean, a part of the funds will be allocated to creating new map backgrounds, new item graphics and new monster graphics regardless of any specific stretch goal. 'Improve the graphics' is too vague an idea for me. If someone was to ask me 'hire an artist to draw full-body tokens for all the dragons', then I would reply 'yes, that can be done'. I would not be throwing away the old dragon tokens, but the new tokens would be used to increase variety in the enemies faced by the party. And sure, if a new token looks much better than an earlier one, then I would use the new token a lot more often than the old token.

11) When it comes to designing RPG systems, what are your views on determinism and RNG?

I checked out the RPG Codex thread on 'Random numbers - essential in RPGs or not? Discuss!' before answering this. Chess and tic-tac-toe come to mind when talking about deterministic games. I love chess and I play it from time to time. But I'm firmly on the side of 'dice are essential in RPG combat systems'. I just think that dice are cool, their associated probability tables are cool, and RPG combat systems using dice are cool. For example, it feels good to score a critical hit. It's also good that you cannot predict the outcome of area-of-effect spells completely. Maybe your Sleep spell will affect the Orc or maybe it will affect the Troll. Each battle will feel unique and different depending on the ebb and flow of luck. You also get a wider range of weapons thanks to the dice-based damage system. For example, it's nice that you can choose between a Longsword that does 1d8 points of damage and a critical hit on a roll of at least 19, and a Scimitar that does 1d6 points of damage and a critical hit on a roll of at least 18. Of course, random rolls can be frustrating when you get too many low rolls in succession, particularly if you are rolling your Hit Point bonus when levelling up. That's why, for these rolls, I use the rule 'roll two times and keep the highest result'. These rolls are generated during character creation, so they do not change if you reload your saved game.

Notice how I mentioned the use of dice in combat systems only. I don't like randomness very much in non-combat systems, such as treasure awards and the use of character skills out of combat. Hand-crafted rewards are more interesting than randomly-generated rewards, in my opinion. Concerning the use of character skills, for me, the fact that you could reload your game until you succeed means that it's not appropriate to use a random system. Besides, I think that in most out-of-combat situations, the party members should succeed automatically when they use their main skills and abilities.

Other aspects of RPG random-number generation include whether to use dice or not, whether to use equiprobable values or a skewed probability curve, and whether to disclose probabilities to the player. As a player, I like to know how each number is generated, I like the simplicity of having outcomes be based on the result of a d6, d8, d10 or d20, and I like to know the percent chance of success of all combat actions, including attacks and spells. In KotC 2, the player is always given the percent chance of success of all actions that can be undertaken in combat. If you are targeting a spell that requires a ranged touch attack and has a saving throw, you are given both the percent chance of succeeding on the ranged touch attack and the percent chance of overcoming the target's saving throw. If you are targeting an area-of-effect spell that deals damage, on each target the expected damage is displayed. If your character is planning to move out of an enemy's threatened area, you are given the enemy's percent chance of hitting your character during the expected attack of opportunity that your character will trigger. If your character is planning to attack a monster in melee or ranged combat, when you mouse over that monster you are given the percent chance to hit the target, the expected damage range, the percent chance of scoring a critical hit and additional information that depends on the conditions affecting the monster.

12) What are your preferences when it comes to board games?

I really enjoy most board games. I enjoy chess, Taboo, Pictionary, Monopoly, Scrabble, Scotland Yard, Risk... A long time ago, I used to play Cluedo with my brother and my sister. But then I had the idea to write a Cluedo app on my programmable calculator. Each round, you would input everything that was happening on the board: for each player, you would select the room that they went into, the character they accused and the murder weapon they selected, and then you would input the name of the player who showed a card to the current player. The app was using absolutely all of the information available to determine as quickly as possible what cards each player was holding. So, what happened? Well, the app worked so well that it could win the game in about three rounds. So, from that point onwards, we stopped playing Cluedo, ahaha!

13) Do you still play video games? Any particular cRPGs you've played and enjoyed in the last couple years?

I do play video games infrequently. Usually, they are Nintendo DS games that I'm playing because I have to wait for something, or because I want a quick game of chess against Fritz Chess. On occasion I also enjoy playing the arcade game Out Run on the MAME emulator. I've always liked how the road forks at the end of each stage in Out Run. I have not had the time to play cRPGs in the last couple of years, with the notable exception of Age of Decadence and Dungeon Rats. I really enjoyed the combat in Age of Decadence with my hammer-wielding character.

14) When can we expect the kickstarter campaign to go online? Did you already settle on a specific funding goal?

Initially, I was thinking to launch the KS campaign after finishing work on the KotC 2 trailer and after finalising the KS page, reward tiers and stretch goals. However, there is good sense in trying to get KotC 1 on Steam and GOG first. So I'm planning to do that. Therefore, I need to spend some more time making a good video for KotC 1 and looking into Steam.

Regarding the funding goal, I don't want to set a specific amount, because if I did and we did not reach the goal quickly, it would make me anxious for the whole 30 days.

15) Finally, you said the development of the game is finished. Why even do a Kickstarter then, which is a platform to raise funding for projects that aren't yet finished, instead of starting to sell the game on Steam Early Access?

The Kickstarter is not for KotC 2 Augury of Chaos. It is for KotC 2 The Dark Arena and subsequent modules. Why, then, offer Augury of Chaos as a reward in the Kickstarter? Simply said, because I want the Kickstarter to succeed. Maybe I could raise the exact same amount simply by selling Augury of Chaos on Steam immediately. But there's no denying that the most appealing reward that a Kickstarter can offer is the immediate delivery of a complete game that is not yet available anywhere else. So I think that it makes sense for me to do a Kickstarter campaign now and offer Augury of Chaos to backers as one of the rewards.

Thank you for reading! I hope to see you all backing my Kickstarter! I also hope that everyone in the RPG Codex community will thoroughly enjoy KotC 2 Augury of Chaos and future modules. Games only exist to entertain the players who play them. Entertaining RPG players is my dearest wish. Making me as rich as Croesus in the process is just a secondary goal, albeit an important one, ahaha! Farewell!

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