Visit our sponsors! (or click here and disable ads)
RPG Codex Interview: Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar
Interview - posted by Zed on Sun 28 October 2012, 15:42:40Tags: Cleveland Mark Blakemore; Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar
Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar is scheduled for released in May 2013. Even with tangible proof of its existence (in the form of an old beta floating around the internet and a dozen of gameplay videos on YouTube), there are still people who disbelieve it. Some even doubt the game's very existence. They see Grimoire as a hoax - a dreamy knockback to the golden age of dungeon-crawling never to be experienced by any living soul. You see, the game has been in development for over 17 years. It started in the mid 90s, during the true dawn of the information age. To put it in perspective, here are some of the events that have happened since:
Dolly the Sheep was cloned. Princess Diana died. Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, 7 and 8 were released. iMac. The Lewinsky Scandal. The Millennial Shift. All the presidential terms of Bush, and the first of Obama. The introduction of the euro currency (€). The decline of the euro currency. 9/11. Michael Jackson's child molestations and, much later, death. The 2004 tsunamis. Hurricane Katrina. All that shit in the middle-east.
Needless to say, a lot of things have happened over the years. While Grimoire was in development, we saw another rise of CRPGs in the late 1990s, and later the decline. Perhaps we might see Grimoire take its place in history as part of the mid-2010's incline of CRPGs, in between the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ to Earth?
The game's primary developer, a man living in Australia by the name of Cleveland Mark Blakemore, has a reputation to match the remarkable title he is working on. A legend of the RPG Codex and other CRPG internet-bastions, Cleve has over the years shared many of his exploits. Not only as a developer of RPGs but also as a life-adventuring alpha male of near supernatural powers.
However, in this interview, we will focus on Grimoire. The game has recently been put up on indiegogo, with Cleve looking for funds to enhance it before the May 2013 release.
What can you tell us about Hyperborea, the world the player explores in Grimoire? What sort of environments are there to traverse, and what manners of creatures inhabit them? What served as your greatest inspirations when crafting the world and its lore?
Hyperborea was commonly envisioned as a place where there was no sorrow. I began to think about the implications of a place that is perfectly serene and content all the time. Without some conflict, how would any progress occur? Then I imagined I was in charge of Hyperborea and I have been tasked to keep it intact. Would I make the mistake of thinking introducing a bit of trouble might actually be part of my job? Based on this initial premise, the entire story unfolded for me quite rapidly very early on. A recurrent theme present in my ideas about the world from a young age is the notion that humans often try to fix a world that isn’t broken and doesn’t need any intervention by them. In doing so they always manage to make things much worse, even intolerable and they don’t know how to recover what they didn’t appreciate they had. I have always believed that humans often have just enough brains to get themselves into dire straits they do not correspondingly have the brains to get themselves out of. This cycle is repeated in history until it is the rule, not the exception. Why shouldn’t the same mistakes be made in the mythical land of Hyperborea?
I have drawn on a broad assortment of legendary creatures and fantastic writings to populate this world from thousands of different sources. I have modeled characters in the game after figures from Rudyard Kipling, Ambrose Bierce, Kafka and Emily Dickinson. I have a rich interior and I didn’t cultivate it to impress girls. It is the result of hundreds of thousands of hours of reading, including the Western pantheon and all the other books they tell us are not worth reading anymore. I have a peculiar fondness for Cervantes' anti-hero Don Quixote and he appears in the game as a knight errant.
For Grimoire, you take inspiration from Wizardry 6 and 7, but not Wizardry 8. What makes the former superior to the latter, in your view?
Wizardry 8 was what flowed into the vacuum left behind by David Bradley and Anthony Greenberg at Sir-Tech. It was the absence of the good, which is the worse thing you can be as far as I am concerned. The absence of the good is worse than merely bad.
Tell us about classes in Grimoire and the class changing mechanics. Are there classes that you cannot select during character creation, or that require very high attributes like in Wizardry? If so, do these advanced classes overtake the basic ones like in Wizardry, or do the latter remain useful throughout the game?
The advanced character classes like Jester and Templar develop abilities as they progress that are much more impressive than those of other classes but of course require more experience points to move to the next level and they will require far better bonuses during character creation.
A small selection of sprites from Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar.
In general, as far as character development is concerned, how much does Grimoire have in common with Wizardry 6 and 7, and in what ways does it differ?
At level 10, class switching with penalties becomes available but advancement is more rapid early on for those new classes. I think that I have done a good job of balancing these career changes with certain drawbacks so as to make it less than convenient and as challenging as starting out with that profession.
The pitch video for the Indiegogo campaign has a thaumaturgist create a new ingredient through some kind of alchemical process, and also mentions enchanting. Could you describe these systems in some detail?
Another example of item manipulation in the video is combining a crab with a shell. It is mentioned that these combinations may not be always quest related. Just how many item types are there in Grimoire, and what are the things the player can do with them? Will we be able to experiment with combining items outside of alchemy?
One of the improvements in coming months will be building a grid editor for the merges that will provide a very powerful overview of what certain classes can merge and how. At present this data is in the item editor and part of moving it into it’s own editing system is essential to establishing the merge combinations in the game and the charts printed in the solution manual.
Earlier you showed us a video of the lockpicking process in action. Can you tell us more about the thief's role outside of combat? Apart from picking locks and spotting traps, do thieves have other abilities such as stealing or hiding in the shadows?
How do you approach puzzle design in Grimoire? How unique and how difficult do you want the puzzles to be?
Grimoire has been in development for over 17 years. Have you stayed true to a singular vision throughout these years, or has it been altered in any way?
During all this time of development and iteration, what has been the most challenging and time-consuming task? Has there ever been a time when you felt like abandoning Grimoire for good?
I would never abandon Grimoire. There were months in the past decade I was so disgusted with it I could not bear to touch it for weeks at a time but I always rebounded from these lapses and resumed my infernal meddling. I knew after the first two years I had designed my way into a monster. What had been simple to plan out at the start turned out to be the labors of Hercules in the implementation for one person. We are talking about mountains of work that would likely have been very tough for a single guy assigned just one aspect like the game editors. If you start to imagine me doing that guy’s job as well as that of ten other people working on the game and then you imagine that game being fifty times bigger than any other game you will start to see the size of it.
For your Indiegogo campaign, you have set the funding goal at $250,000. Can you break down this goal for us? How did you come up with it, and why this particular sum?
Thanks to Indiegogo's flexible funding scheme, you will receive all the money pledged even if the $250,000 goal is not met. However, you state that no matter the campaign's result, you are determined to ship the game in May 2013. What are the features you will prioritize if the campaign falls short, and how will you allocate the money?
The first thing I will fund if the money is there is new music and sound effects aimed at modern audio equipment. I love the MIDI and 8 bit sound effects but solid MP3 and 16 bit stereo sound would be a terrific development before it goes out. I will keep the option to switch to the original sound and music as an option in the configuration. I’d also like some voiceover work for the NPCs in several places just to enhance their primary dialogue.
New UI graphics and animated cutscenes for many different events in the game would be a close second but obviously if they don’t make it in there, it is not like these are things you can’t live without.
With or without making the goal, there is an awful lot of artwork standing by that I have paid for to be incorporated into the game that Grimoire fans have never seen. It is going to be a new game when it ships for certain.
An earlier screenshots from the indiegogo gallery.
In your Indiegogo pitch, you speak of your perfectionist trait that you ascribe to your "Neanderthal genes". Do you see this kind of perfectionism as a threat to the target release date of May 2013? How do you make sure the game does not end up being delayed again? And most importantly, how would you convince people that it is for real this time?
No new features. No improvisational ideas. No added work. In several places, I have cut the Gordian Knot and just made it work. The miniquests had been this nightmarish complexity for a while with three game editors involved. I slashed all that a couple weeks ago and had miniquests working in ten minutes in a far more simplified form.
I think most reasonable people would realize that after a long acquiescence the game has entered a phase now where the target has become clarified and bounded by a deadline to simply complete it and ship it. I am certain the people pledging have realized this may be a long bet with a pretty big payoff if they end up with exclusive copies of physical media for one of the biggest vaporware RPGs in human history that we know of at this time.
Do you have any plans to release a trial or demo version of the game? If you do, then at what point?
On the Indiegogo page you promise to start working on a sequel immediately after Grimoire's release. What do you have in mind for the sequel, and how different do you want it to be from the original game? Are there any features that you cannot implement in Grimoire for whatever reason, but would like to introduce in the sequel?
Heralds of the Winged Exemplar is the subtitle of the first Grimoire game. There were plans for a trilogy, but now Cleve is planning to end the story with the sequel.
You claim to have worked on Wizardry: Stones of Arnhem, a sequel to Wizardry 7 that never saw the light of day. Was it your first experience working on a CRPG? What did you do prior to Arnhem? Did you ever dabble in pen and paper games?
I ran campaigns for friends in Dungeons and Dragons for many years and enjoyed crafting storylines for them immensely, including science fiction and cyberpunk narratives. Many characters from these pen-and-paper campaigns ended up in Grimoire.
You have talked about it on our forums, but for the sake of this interview can you tell our readers a little about Wizardry: Stones of Arnhem? When and how did the project originate, what was your role on it, and why was the game never released?
The Grimoire physical box, as envisioned by Cleve on indiegogo.
You mention a Michael "Shams" Shamgar in the pitch video. You say he also worked on Wizardry: Stones of Arnhem. What is his role working on Grimoire, and what has he contributed?
Do you often go back and play classic party-based first-person CRPGs? What do you think makes these games special? Which one is your favorite (besides Grimoire) and why?
When you see the crowds guffawing at “Horse” getting hit in the testicles on America’s Got Talent, you could guess that this generation as a rule is not going to be producing great art and culture. It’s about the decline. Grimoire is about incline, plain and simple. It’s about monocles and lifting standards.
My ambition has always been to make a game of equal calibre that it could stand alongside the greats. I suppose we will find out if I succeeded in May 2013.
We thank Cleve Blakemore for taking the time to answer our questions. Again, here is a link to the indiegogo campaign, here is a link to Cleve's Golden Era Games website, and here is a link to the "The Grim Blog" (a somewhat whimsical development blog).
Hugs and kisses to Alex, Crooked Bee and Phelot for their help with the interview!