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2013: The Year in Review

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2013: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 22 February 2015, 01:47:21

Tags: bitComposer; Chaos Chronicles; Divinity: Original Sin; Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Paper Sorcerer; Shadowrun Returns; South Park: The Stick of Truth; The Year in Review; THQ; Wasteland 2

Since I took these on (as the official "owner" of the Codex, I'm mandated to produce at least one content item per year otherwise we have to hand the site over to Prosper), the 2013 year in review has by far been the hardest to write. The reason is I'm lazy pretty clear once we look at...

The PC RPGs of 2013

Yeah... 2013 was that bad.

There are really only three notable entries, the first of which is Shadowrun Returns, best summed up in our review:

Having raised $1,836,447, Shadowrun Returns is the first of the "big" Kickstarted RPGs to see the light of day. [...] I find it hard to provide a verdict for Shadowrun Returns. On one hand, it has clear flaws, some that are even glaring. It’s short as hell, and a playthrough will take you something around 13 hours tops. Its replay value is a bit questionable. It’s more of a fast-food kind of deal than an actual full-scale game.

On the other hand, you have to be fair and keep in mind the game's limited budget in the context of its flaws. Not to mention that the peanuts this game costs offer you a tremendous ratio of bang for your buck. There's also the prospect of fan-made scenarios coming out from the editor. And, finally, what I guess has the most (albeit subjective) say on the matter, is that I simply fragging enjoyed my time with the game. I'm keeping my fingers crossed tightly for the upcoming official campaign in Berlin that's supposed to have a more open world and more side missions.​

Paper Sorcerer is next, reviewed early in 2014:

The replay value is what makes the game addictive. With nearly a dozen different thralls to summon, you’ll be constantly experimenting with the composition of your party to support particular play styles. I can imagine fans of the game trying to beat it with a party consisting of no tanks or no healers, for example. At the end of the game you are given an epilogue for each character you have in your party, encouraging you to play again in order to see the various endings.

Although there has been very little press about it, Paper Sorcerer is a very good game. Surprisingly, it is the first title by Jesse Gallagher of Ultra Runaway Games, who had this to say about it: “Ultra Runaway Games was created when one man with no industry experience or programming training decided to make a PC RPG”. He should be very proud of what he has accomplished. Currently the game can be purchased DRM-free for $5 on his website, and is also available on Steam. Do yourself a favor and save some money by not purchasing one of the AAA games out there, and get this instead. You’ll have a much better time.​

... and finally, not forgetting (even though I actually did and Infinitron had to remind me) Expeditions: Conquistador. In a sign of the year that 2013 was, it first got delayed until February 28, before being postponed, then publishers getting involved (note bitComposer, we have more on them later), drama with publisher being resolved before game being released and reviewed:

To give a final overview of E:C is difficult, but I would sum the game up as a crowning first achievement for the Logic Artists. With a meagre budget, they have brought to our hard-drives a roleplaying-strategy-adventure hybrid which cribs from all the best of those genres. I found the turn-based combat compelling, and rarely boring. Each battle was a chance to test new tactical permutations, and because of the injuries your followers might incur in combat, I was often forced to use different combinations of followers in different fights. The resource management and exploration systems reward the player for engaging with the game world, and provide a steady challenge to navigating and discovering these foreign lands.

The over-arching narrative which communicates all the themes of the early colonial project—discovery, civilisation, proselytization, conflict, transformation, and adventure—is thoroughly engaging, and offers at minimum, two complete playthroughs of the Hispaniola—Mexico campaign. A complete run of an entire campaign takes about 30-35 hours in total, and I would argue that the structure of the campaigns is similar to a Pen & Paper progression, in which Hispaniola is the low-level (1-3) campaign in which you kit out your party and begin to improve their skills, while Mexico is a targeted at the medium levels (3-5), in which the party is already capable and must now put its capabilities to the test.

Overall, E:C is an excellent addition to the pantheon of turn-based cRPG hybrids, which stays true to the traditions of its forebears, while offering something fresh and exciting. I, for one, would dearly love to see E:C get the proposed Peru-Inca campaign expansion that was originally proposed as a stretch goal during the crowdfunding campaign.​

Not bad. Not bad at all. Now of course, plenty more was supposed to come out, but it all got delayed. Which is where the fun for 2013 really begins.

Delay of the Incline

If 2012 was the year that gave rise to the KickStarter, then 2013 was the year of delayed incline. For all those who thought release dates for KickStarter projects of just one year later were a tad optimistic, you were right, as several major projects got delayed.

Wasteland 2 was the first cab off the ranks. The original "Estimated delivery: Oct 2013" was pushed back with inXile saying:

Thanks to this new crowd sourced model of game production we have the luxury of working on a game that won’t be rushed out the door. Under the old process we would often have either retail or a publisher pressuring us to ship a game before we were happy with it. Or the more draconian measure of being sued or having the game handed to another developer to finish, (yes those clauses are fairly common) if we wanted to spend more time polishing our little gem… fortunately we have NONE of this.?

Once the beta testing begins in October and once we have enough feedback from testing, we can evaluate where we’re at and set a new release date. By that stage, over ten thousand of our backers will have gotten to play the game with us. In the end, quality comes before everything and fortunately the backers have been in line with us to make sure we get it right.​

Moving into non KickStarter projects now, The Dark Eye: Blackguards (a turn-based RPG with "grim storytelling" being made by Daedalic Entertainment) was next:

Of course we want to ensure the highest quality, even if we tread on new ground; and most of all, we want the players to enjoy the finished game.', Kai Fiebig says, Senior Producer of Blackguards.

'All the time we've gained now will be used to put as much effort as possible into improving the game. We'll optimize performance, implement new features and also polish the visuals.​

In November came the news that South Park (a game already in serious trouble, which we'll discuss below) was to be available March 4, 2014:

Originally scheduled to release this December, South Park: The Stick of Truth will now be available March 4, 2014.

Why the new delay? Well, when Ubisoft picked up the game, we thought: Easy. We’ll put some marketing muscle behind Stick of Truth, toss some additional development resources at it, then take it to the finish line with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The game’s almost done, anyways – so what more could we do?

Apparently, quite a bit more. “Within three weeks after acquiring the game, we sadly realized we had to turn this thing upside down if we hoped to deliver the experience everybody wanted,” says Ubisoft North America’s president Laurent Detoc. “It’s been such a major overhaul to get to the point where we are that we couldn’t let it go, even if that meant missing December.”​

And finally, Divinity: Origninal Sin, a game which was only partially KickStarted earlier in 2013 did "a repeat performance of what happened to Wasteland 2":

It’s the end of November, and we said the Divinity:Original Sin alpha was going to be out in November, so where is it?

Ah, I wish I could write that it’s out now, but sadly it’s not. We still need to sort out a couple of things, so a bit more patience will be needed. How much patience? Not that much, but still a bit. We’re working really hard to get everything done and we do expect the alpha to be out before our X-mas break, but ... well maybe you want to watch the big surprise first.​

More on that surprise coming later... First, let's go down to South Park.

THQ bites the dust

Founded in 1989 in Agoura Hills, California, THQ was an American developer and publisher of video games. Their initials meant "Toy Head-Quarters" from the time when the company was a toy manufacturer in the early 1990s.

At least, that's what I got from Wikipedia.

All we cared about was they had the publishing deal for Obsidian Entertainment's, South Park: The Stick of Truth. An RPG being developed based on the South Park series with none other than the creators of South Park itself.

... and they died. THQ that is, not Trey Parker or Matt Stone. The remains of the company were acquired by UbiSoft which, after some concern about what kind of limbo the game would end up in, did confirm they would complete the game.

What's really funny is if you read THQ's announcement from the end of 2012 with all of that in mind:

“When I joined THQ the company made a public commitment to quality titles. We always expected that in some cases this would mean that more time would be needed to make sure that every title is of the highest possible quality,” said Jason Rubin, THQ’s President. “Our fourth quarter releases are the first titles that I have had the ability to materially impact, and experience told me that the games needed additional development time to be market-ready.

“I believe South Park’s market opportunity is significant. It is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated titles of calendar 2013. It is also an expansive title, encompassing multiple television seasons’ worth of content. We have been working closely with the co-creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, to make sure all of the game’s content performs to the high standards of the TV show, and this takes time. THQ is committed to giving gamers no less than the rich South Park game they have been waiting for and deserve.​

How much did THQ's financial instability contribute to the delay of South Park? Nobody cares. The game is out now but I'll cover that when I get around to 2014's year in review in, oh, say 2028?

Early Access Surprise!

Here's a quick question for you: Why release a game at its normal price and have to put up with complaints about it being buggy and unfinished, when you can release a game early knowing it's full of bugs and charge everyone extra!

Ok, so that wasn't a question, but it's the story behind the rise of the Steam Early Access phenomenon. The second part to Steam's Greenlight process, Early Access allows gamers to knowingly pay for and buy a game that is woefully incomplete. So while Greenlight allowed games that weren't on Steam (or in some cases not even developed or even under development) to get enough votes so that they would appear on Valve's popular game buying platform / invasive DRM system (depending on your point of view), Early Access then allowed those games to be "released" and played while they under-went development.

And it's become a hugely successful model.

Long-time gamers would know that video games don't get finished, they just get released. Often in a horribly buggy and unfinished state that then requires multiple follow-up patches. In many cases, the game fails to sell enough copies, the patches never materialise (or some legal road block from the publisher gets in the way) and that's the end of that. You'll take your buggy unplayable piece of shit and you'll like it.

Not so anymore! 2013 finally saw the year when the standard industry model... actually became the standard industry model. And it pretty much happened that quickly.

The idea is quite simple, if you like playing buggy games that aren't finished, and are willing to pay extra to be a guinea pig and provide comment on the game as it develops, you can. The developer, with money in hand, can then continue to develop the game, usually releasing monthly updates.

It was a huge success for games like Prison Architect from Introversion Software, with the game becoming their most popular title ever:

"Prison Architect is currently in Alpha, which means we haven't finished it yet - it's full of bugs and glitches and you're not going to get a polished experience if you buy it at the moment. What you will get is early access to a bullfrog-style Prison Management Sim that over 30,000 gamers have already thought is worth a look at.

You'll enjoy exclusive access to GAME BREAKING BUGS such as:
  • prisoners eating in the canteen even though the room is on fire;
  • prisoners take their lunch to the shower blocks, get undressed and eat naked;
  • loaded a save game, every prisoner now has an electric drill;
  • prisoners heads replaced by random sprites from the sprite bank... this happens a lot more often than you might imagine;
  • register now and talk about the bugs in the forums, wiki about the bugs in the wiki and see all the bugs in the bug tracker... damn that's a lot of bugs;
  • ... and since this is Introversion Software we're talking about, we're likely to be in Alpha for quite some time."

With monthly updates and constant user feedback, Introversion were able to see what worked, what didn't, as well as what needed tweaking, and what were the priority issues. Two years later and the game is their most successful title ever. Not only were they able to focus on developing the game, but they were earning money as they did.

Other games that jumped onto this model included Blackguards, Grim Dawn, Project Zomboid, The Banner Saga, Underrail, Might & Magic X, Age of Decadence, Wasteland 2 and "surprise", Divinity: Original Sin.

It's clear the past 3 years with the birth of KickStarter and Early Access, has... I was going to say tipped the entire industry on its head... but who am I kidding? We've been playing buggy pieces of crap and paying for it for years. The gaming industry just decided to be honest with its customers for once.

How to fuck up an Enhanced Edition

Another popular phenomenon now is the Enhanced Edition. Probably most vividly brought to life with the original Witcher back in 2008, the "Enhanced Edition" is another take on the standard model of "release now, patch later".

Games that had their editions enhanced in 2013 included Realms of Arkania – Blade of Destiny, "a one-to-one remake of the 1992 original, adored by a generation of Role Players and one of the most successful German RPG’s of the 1990's" which promptly came out and tanked thanks to being unplayable and also sucking:

The charming part of the game has been totally gutted, and this is why I described the intro in such detail earlier. The jolly pixels have been replaced by the grim darkness of the 41st millennium where the sun never shines and the people are all cloned and have degenerate features. The visuals are generally completely unimpressive, and what’s even more amazing is that the game keeps stuttering all the time on maximum settings, even though it has the kind of graphics that would have been considered average ten damn years ago. So much for the "HD" part.​

Clearly they needed to get in on this Early Access thing.

Now, you know how I casually mentioned legal road blocks with publishers earlier, back when we were talking about releasing patches? Well that's exactly what happened with our other famous Enhanced Edition of 2013, Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition:

We recently removed Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition from sale on Beamdog and the Apple App Store. We've taken this step at our publishing partner's request as we attempt to resolve a number of contractual issues.​

It was apparently over unpaid royalties:

Apparently Beamdog hasn't paid Atari the royalties that they were owed, which led the publisher to ask them to pull the title from their services, and delay both Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition's patch and the release of the sequel's remastering.​

Thankfully those issues were resolved and the game was released. How was it though? Not too bad:

So, with all that said, my conclusions about Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition are probably not that surprising: the original game's still as good as ever, the new content is nice to have but isn't really necessary, the fixes and improvements are offset by the new bugs and crashes, and the price hard to justify paying for those who already own the game and are comfortable installing a few mods. Beamdog have won back some of my lost faith by bringing out a much more polished and higher-quality product this time around, but I still have my doubts whether the studio has it in itself to produce a game of its own at this rate, as seems to be the logical trajectory the studio's headed in.​

Oh wait... I should've read the conclusion of that review before writing the intro. Oh well.

The Knights of Chaos

Moving on to other legal stoushes and stories of inanity from 2013, we have Chaos Chronicles. It was supposed to be a turn-based, old-school, classic... and other buzzwords we like to hear... RPG under development by CorePlay. It started the year by putting its official forums on the Codex.

And it was all downhill from there.

First they got into legal trouble with their publisher, bitComposer:

I don't want to keep you guys from writing those excellent fiction, but the current unsettled situation with Chaos Chronicles is solely based on a conflict between us and bitcomposer. At the current state the completion and release of the game is uncertain since our last attempt to find some agreement failed due the disappointment that we haven't heard back from bitcomposer after holding a long (and constructive) meeting.​

After a bit of public back and forth between publisher and developer:

Due to wide ranging speculation concerning Chaos Chronicles, we have decided to issue a statement. For legal reasons, we cannot go into all the details. However, we would like to describe the current situation as best we can within the given limits:

Chaos Chronicles is a promising project for Coreplay as well as for bitComposer. The current dispute between the two companies has NOTHING to do with the actual developer team or with the project itself. Seeing as the development of the game is already at such an advanced stage, bitComposer would still like to complete and market Chaos Chronicles with the developer team from Coreplay. In September 2012, one of the founders and managing partners of Coreplay left the company—and this was a real surprise for us. Shortly thereafter, the former managing partner’s shares were taken over by a lawyer and an investor.​

We decided to get to the bottom of things ourselves (because hey, we were hosting them and we wanted to know how long that cash cow would last):

Let me also add that the huge number of comments on your forum and the online petition from GamesInquirer have encouraged us even more to find a solution to this unfortunate dispute. Of course, we also know the RPG Codex forum and their audience, and we agreed with Coreplay that they could use this platform to communicate freely about Chaos Chronicles and to get direct feedback from gamers. The same goes for the Chaos Chronicles Blog. We did this because we all know that a publisher would never get such an amount of credibility within these forums. In general, we have a lot of faith in our teams, and will not influence game design decisions in detail as long as the overall scope and timing is more or less ensured.​

None of it mattered, as in the end the dispute was unresolved and the Chaos Chronicles forums closed. I somehow managed to delete the most popular thread in the forum in the process and we all moved on to other drama...

... like how dumb indie developers can be. And they can be pretty dumb, right? Let's say you make a hugely relatively popular game and a big publishing platform wants to put your game in its store. You jump at the chance, right?

No, no you don't. Not before insisting they take your other crappy indie game nobody wants to play as well.

And that's what happened with Pierre Begue's, Knights of the Chalice:

Pierre Begue, creator of indie gem Knights of the Chalice, considered by some the best RPG since Mask of the Betrayer, was recently finally convinced to contact GOG for digital distribution of his games. Here's how things went down:

Borsook: I'd really love to be able to buy the game from a place I already use, and that takes care of some aspects of installation etc for me. So is there any chance the game will come to Steam, Desura (this might fit it's profile better) or Gog?

Pierre: Thanks for posting. I'm interested in having KotC on distribution sites.
But first I'd like to see if they can distribute Battle of the Sands. I contacted them recently about that.
In essence, GOG wants to distribute KotC but not BotS. My initial goal was more like the opposite.​

For the uninitiated, BotS is a really bad game that nobody wants. But that doesn't stop Pierre, oh no!

First off, VentilatorOfDoom, I would really appreciate it if you didn't come to my forum to tell me that no-one cares about one of my products (that's your warning). You have the point of view of the RPG player but that's not the only point of view out there. Being its creator, I obviously do care about BotS. Some RTS players may like BotS, in the same way that some readers may like my book. Your opinion is not the universal one and it's not the only one that matters.

In addition, anyone interested in seeing another game like KotC should care about BotS too, because the viability of any business depends on its sales. I've said it before, but I don't get paid anything for the humongous amount of work that KotC 2 requires. Financially, it does not make sense to do it. That's one of the reasons why I had to split the work between two games.​

Now where have I heard that before? Oh, that's right. Back when Interplay was dying 12 years ago:

In the BIS feedback forum Doomsayer/Visceris asked why should we be hoping for the success of Fallout: Brotherhood of Steal for the X-Box and PS2 systems, he got this answers , first from Damien "Puuk" Foletto:

Gosh, I don't know, maybe so we can have the funds to finish Van Buren? God you're thick, Vis. I like you, Vis, but sometimes even you can wear on my nerves with your narrow, short-sightedness. Let's cancel FOBOS, now. And when IPLY folds because we have no revenue from shipped products, I'll remember your beautiful words of wisdom when I'm getting my unemployment checks and take solice in the fact that the people at IPLY maintained artistic integrity (which, of course, is subjective)..​

J.E. Sawyer added this:

What's even better is that this is essentially the scenario:

1) BoS is in the final stages of testing. It's effectively done. It will get released.

2) If BoS does well, that makes the likelihood of a future PC RPG Fallout title better, and gives it more resources.

3) If BoS does poorly, that makes the likelihood of a future PC RPG Fallout title worse, and takes resources away from it.

Basically, BoS doing poorly basically insures that what Doomsayer doesn't want to happen will actually come to pass. Sound thinking!​

So Interplay is dependant of FOBOS to survive? I think we can pack our things and leave then...​

And leave us Interplay did.

Just in case you're unsure of what FOBOS was, here was my take on the "buy shit game to ensure good game gets made" argument at the time:

In hind-sight, I guess I am kind of thankful the KickStarter model came along.

Wrapping it all Up

So where did that leave us in 2013? Well, we had a new toy that will hopefully see developers take back more control from publishers. And a publisher died (once again, after taking on an RPG - although in this case I don't think that was THQ's major problem). We also had a lot of cool stuff to look forward to in the future, with succesful Kickstarters for:

... all slated for release in 2014. Along with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Geralt grew a beard but is still the shallow, gritty, brooding anti-hero only a bitter Polack could like), the long-rumored / speculated / informally announced Dragon Age 3 revealed as just Dragon Age: Inquisition, Project Eternity which became Pillars of Eternity, South Park: Stick of Truth postponed a million times and now slated for 2014 and some potentially good news in Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls with a new design team trying to fix the mess that was / is Diablo 3.

All of which left 2014 shaping up as the Year of Incline...

Oh, except for Deathfire. Guido Henkel's attempted KickStarter project which lived up to its name and died in a fire.

2013 Trends:
Title: Subtitle of Title.
Early Access.
2014 release dates.​

2013 Summary:
Everything will happen in 2014.​

2013 Top #20 Codex News Tags:
  1. InXile Entertainment, 97
  2. Obsidian Entertainment, 91
  3. Torment: Tides of Numenera, 68
  4. Pillars of Eternity, 62
  5. Ubisoft, 56
  6. Might & Magic X: Legacy, 53
  7. Limbic Entertainment, 50
  8. Wasteland 2, 49
  9. Kickstarter, 46
  10. Chris Avellone, 38
  11. Kevin Saunders, 33
  12. Brian Fargo, 30
  13. Divinity: Original Sin, 27
  14. Colin McComb, 27
  15. CD Projekt, 26
  16. Larian Studios, 25
  17. Iron Tower Studios, 21
  18. G3 Studios, 19
  19. Age of Decadence, 19
  20. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, 18

If you'd like to do some more reminiscing on what happened in 2013, check out the RPG Codex Top 10 PC RPGs of All Time, or any of our interviews with
Dan Vavra, Winston Douglas Wood, Limbic, George Ziets, Colin McComb, Josh Sawyer, Mark Yohalem and Steven Alexander, Michael Cranford, Warren Spector, Chris Bischoff or Marcin Kruczkiewicz.

And if that's not enough, check out the Codex' Dorito & Mountain Dew sponsored visits to Logic Arts, Larian Studios and Gamescom (Part 1, Part 2).

2013 may not have been a busy year for releases, but it was a busy year for us. So until 2014 then. Article coming sometime whenever I get around to writing about it.

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