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RPG Codex Interview: Malevolence - the endless RPG

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RPG Codex Interview: Malevolence - the endless RPG

Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 1 August 2012, 17:06:03

Tags: Alex Norton; Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox; Visual Outbreak

MALEVOLENCE: THE SWORD OF AHKRANOX, currently in development by Australian indie team Visual Outbreak, is a turn- and grid-based fist-person RPG set in an infinite, procedurally generated world. The game recently had a successful run on Kickstarter, raising over $30 000. We got in touch with Creative Director Alex Norton and asked him some questions regarding various aspects of MALEVOLENCE and crowdfunding.

You call MALEVOLENCE a turn- and grid-based first-person RPG from the golden age of PC gaming. However, the games mentioned as inspiration in MALEVOLENCE's description (EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, MIGHT & MAGIC, DUNGEON MASTER, STONEKEEP, etc.") are all different types of games with different gameplay. Are you going with a DUNGEON MASTER/STONEKEEPtimed pseudo turn-based system, or full turn-based like WIZARDRY and the early MIGHT & MAGIC games? Is the turn-based mode limited to combat, or does it extend to exploration as well?

It's turn-based through and through :) When referring to the other games such as STONEKEEP and DUNGEON MASTER, we're more referring to the way that the movement is done. People have to take turns standing in a particular "grid square" so to speak. But on top of that, MALEVOLENCE features proper turn-based gameplay. The monsters don't get a turn at moving until you've had one. But at the same time, we've set up the engine so that players unfamiliar with this style of gameplay can still hold down movement buttons and button mash during combat and it will respond very quickly.​

Moving on to the game being grid-based, does this mean grid movement on square tiles as in DUNGEON MASTER? Or a combat grid combining 3D and 2D views as in such games as AMBERMOON or AMBERSTAR? Is your character locked in his or her position once in combat?

Very much grid-based like in DUNGEON MASTER or the early MIGHT & MAGIC games. When you press forward, you move forward a step, when you turn, you do so 90 degrees at a time. If there is an obstacle in your way, however (that includes monsters) you won't be able to move into that square. The player is free to move during combat, but for every turn they take, the monsters get one, and the AI is clever enough to try and flank you, blocking you in!​

A dungeon screenshot featuring the slim version UI.​

The player does not control a party of heroes in MALEVOLENCE, which is otherwise quite common in turn-based RPGs. How do you make turn-based combat tactical and fun with a single character?

MALEVOLENCE is all about the character progression. Your abilities, spells, feats, etc, evolve in an infinite way during the game, meaning character maintenance/tweaking is a full-time job. Because of this, every aspect of your character comes into use while playing the game, but at the same time, everything you do has a consequence. As you practice and get better in one field, you will start to suffer in others. It's this balancing act that keeps things interesting for the player. But keep in mind, MALEVOLENCE is played in the style of a classic RPG, but is, in actual fact, more of a very advanced roguelike. Hence the single character aspect.​

You claim that MALEVOLENCE is almost entirely procedurally generated -- weapons, items, dungeons, cities, creature stats and even dialogue. Is the procedurally generated content based on the player character's level, on current quest objectives... or something else? How do you balance the game's challenge and how do you implement plot goals in a procedurally generated world? Are all quests going to be procedurally generated as well?

Yes indeed. All quests are generated by the game, and yes, they are somewhat based around the characters level. That being said, the game most certainly does not spoon-feed you. Many modern RPGs make it so that the game levels with the player. MALEVOLENCE does this, too, however it does so in a much more harsh way. At any point, no matter what level you are, you will be able to find things that are much too easy or much too difficult for you. That way, the player can choose their pace of gameplay and follow the path that is right for them.​

One thing about procedural generation is that it seems to be in danger of making the game too generic, both in its looks and its gameplay. How do you introduce enough variety in it?

Well the short answer is that in an infinite game, there's always going to be eventual repetition of 3D assets, voices, textures, etc. It's just the nature of it. However, we have a large variety of biomes, environments, buildings, dungeons, etc to keep the player occupied. Think of it like the DIABLO series. They would re-use the same assets, but rearranged in a different order and it had great replayability. Most people assume that we're making an infinite game so that people can play it forever, but that's not actually the case. We're making an infinite game so that people can play it for as long or as short a time as they'd like, rather than have to have it end. There's nothing worse than reaching the end of a game that you love and wanting more!​

What can you tell us about the game's character development system? What attributes, abilities and spells do you plan on implementing? Are there any non-combat abilities, such as social or thieving skills?

The answer to that is a long one, haha. What we have in MALEVOLENCE is a simplified front-end to a very complex back-end. On the front end, the player has six core stats. Everything in the game, every ability or skill, makes use of one or more of those stats. If you're swinging a sword at an ork, you're using Strength and Dexterity. If you're casting a spell, you're using Wisdom. If you're disarming a trap, you're using Intellect and Dexterity. If you're haggling with a merchant you're using Charisma and Intellect. The list goes on, but you get the idea. Some skills use one stat, others use 2, 3 or even 4. These six core stats are represented as percentages, rather than numbers. Instead of having a strength of 50, you'll have a strength of, say, 30%. As you keep performing feats of strength, that percentage will (very) slowly rise up and up. But the higher your Strength rises, the more other skills will fall. First things like Wisdom and Intelligence will start to suffer, then Dexterity and Charisma and so on. The reason that this happens is that all six stats, when added together, must always equal 100%. Instead of individual statistic numbers, what the player has is what is called a 'stat pool'. This number is based on what level you are. When you first start a new game, each of your stats is sitting at 16.67% (adding up to a total of 100%) and your stat pool is 100. That means, rounding up, that each statistic is worth 17. However, if you buff your strength up to 30% by using your muscles a lot in the game, your Strength value will be closer to 30, but your Wisdom and Intelligence will now be sitting at 10 each. You spent too much time practicing with a sword and your magic studies suffered for it. When you go up a level, your stat pool number increases, but your individual stat percentages stay exactly the same. This way, your stats DO go up, but the actual balance across them all stays put. That means everything you do in the game has consequences, however, the game is actually monitoring everything you do, and letting you be better at the things you do most, while atrophying the areas that you use least.

For a player who wants to be a straight fighter, or a straight mage, this is no problem, as they just have to play the way they play and things will just work out. But for someone who wants to multi-class, then they will have to actually train - just as in real life - to maintain the balance of their statistics. To speed up the process, however, or to correct deviations, you will be able to pay money at various guilds to train certain statistics up and get the most out of your character. An example is the Fighter's Guild. A warrior can pay to train his Strength and Constitution, or a ranger can pay to train their Dexterity, but other stats will suffer from it. It'll just mean you don't have to grind it out to get your stats where you want them.​

An early outdoors shot.​

Will there be any sort of challenge or hardcore mode, where the player only has one life, and maybe restricted saving and loading? On that note, some of the classic RPGs of old were quite challenging. How difficult do you want MALEVOLENCE to be?

Like we said earlier, MALEVOLENCE is - at heart - a roguelike, and no roguelike would be complete without a hardcore mode! :D When you create your character when starting a new game, you can opt to make the character a hardcore character. If you do, you'll still be able to save and load like normal, but if you die somehow, the death of that character is permanent, and the saved game will be deleted. This is, however, optional, as some people prefer to just be able to save and load wherever they please. MALEVOLENCE is a very, VERY unforgiving game, just like the RPGs of yesteryear, so if you can maintain a hardcore character then you're doing quite well!​

The FAQ on your website mentions expansion packs. What things would you like to expand on in a game that is already "infinite"? Do you have any plans for allowing mods or supporting fan-made content?

We make a lot of jokes that we're ostentatious enough to make an infinite game even bigger, haha. Our first expansion pack that we have planned introduces dimensional travel to the game, as well as adding new underground cities, more monster types, more items/weapons, etc as well as a few other new ideas that we're trying for. Currently mods aren't officially supported, but that's not actually because we're against them. It's more so that when we started work on this game we had no idea that it would be this popular, so we didn't work in easy mod support. If we end up doing a sequel we have plans to make it exceptionally moddable so that the community can really get their hands dirty with it!​

You ran a successful Kickstarter campaign - for which congratulations are in order - and raised over $30,000. What influence does having five times more money than you initially asked for have on the development of the game?

Actually, this links back into the last question. When we rocketed past our asking goal the pledgers started asking what we'd do with the extra money, which is what led to the designing of the first expansion pack. Basically, the extra money is going towards funding that, as well as adding even more polish to the initial game release :)

What are your thoughts on the recent crowdfunding boom in computer games? Do you think it is going to last? What games would you personally like to see crowdfunded in the future?

I think it's great! My personal view is that AAA titles are getting worse as time goes on. There hasn't been any real innovation in mainstream games for a long time. Most of what comes out seems to be the same thing as before with better graphics slapped on top. Many people seem to be happy with that, but I need something more. I like seeing bizarre, weird ideas for games. Things that shift your paradigm. Unfortunately, publishers don't like to take risks on such titles, and so the indies who develop them are left to their own devices to make them come to life. Crowdfunding really gives the PUBLIC the chance to approve the games they like, rather than relying on corporate publishers who don't seem to really know what they're on about. I love it and hope that the boom continues. I love living in a time where an average joe with talent can easily invent something amazing and bring it to the world with very little difficulty and without some sort of corporate proxy. If a game is out there, different, and fun for the sake of being fun, rather than in order to make money, I'd like to see it funded. After all, that's what MALEVOLENCE is. We're not making it to please people and make money, so we don't care if people don't like it. We're making the game that WE, as gamers, want to play, and that has resonated with people. I'm amazed more and more each day at how many people share my view of what a great game is. MALEVOLENCE may not be for everyone, but it certainly has a following, and it's amazing!​

Is there any way for non-backers to follow the development process (updates, videos, etc.) of MALEVOLENCE and maybe even pre-order the game?

Yes indeed. We're on Facebook, Twitter, IndieDB, Blogspot, YouTube and will very soon be opening pre-orders on Desura. It's going to be one very wild ride, and we'd love to have everyone along with us!​

We thank Alex for his time and wish him and the rest of the MALEVOLENCE team good luck with the game!

Thanks to fellow Codexers and staff member for questions and feedback. Special thanks to Luzur and Crooked Bee.

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