Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Wed 26 September 2012, 03:09:53Tags: Almost Human Games; Legend of Grimrock
You may have heard of Legend of Grimrock. After watching a YouTube video and getting interested, then finding out that it was only $15, I thought I'd grab it and see what's it like:
This movement system did trip me up from time to time, hitting a wrong key and falling down a trap or trying to walk into a wall instead of running away and being killed as a result. And if you intend to play Melee characters, then you will be dancing like this with your enemies most of the time. Despite the quirkiness and confusion in sometimes getting turned around, it is pretty fun - at least a lot more interesting than playing whack-a-mole in your average Bethesda RPG. The only downside is that once you've got the hang of it, it can get a bit tiring. Some levels even have traps which you can take advantage of, such as luring opponents onto a pit and then triggering it to open so that they fall down to the level below (where you can eventually deal with them later).
Oh and be aware: If you're playing the game in Steam, Steam has an annoying habit of popping up it's messages "Dickwad is playing some dumb popamole game" RIGHT OVER THE WIZARD'S CASTING AREA. FUCK YOU HABA. I DIED BECAUSE YOU PLAYED DARK SOULS RIGHT WHEN I WAS TRYING TO CAST FIREBALLS.
Read the rest of our Legend of Grimrock review.
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Community - posted by DarkUnderlord on Fri 21 September 2012, 04:16:45Tags: Codex Eternity Fundraiser; Kickstarter; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity
MAJOR EDIT: Chris Avellone has agreed to draw personal troll avatars/pictures for those who contribute at least $250 to this donation drive! So if you wanted to but couldn't get on board this initiative back when we did the Wasteland 2 fundraiser, now you can do it. -- Crooked Bee
Project: Eternity is the new popamole RPG currently under development by Obsidian Entertainment. Because they're broke and nobody wants to fund them, they're doing a KickStarter - which has already raised their goal of $1.1 Million thanks to the large number of brain-dead idiots who'll throw their money at anything these days.
Well, now is your chance to join those idiots on behalf of the Codex! We should actually be doing a fund-raiser for a new server but fuck that, let's raise money for Obsidian's Project: Eternity instead. So we're aiming for the new community-focused tier goal:
Once again, silly game developers have allowed fans a chance to ruin a potentially otherwise shitty good game by adding silly in-house references and over-the-top stupidity. Once more, the Codex strides boldly into the fray to prove how much of a bad idea that is. Spectacle has already graciously reserved one of the spots for us - so as long as we raise the dosh, the opportunity for the Warriors of Diversity to rape assault you in-game is ready and waiting.
I was hoping to have our fancy-schmancy new payment system in place before we ran this but hey, Legend of Grimrock isn't going to play itself. So, to make it simple: You will get nothing, nothing for your money, other than the knowledge that you contributed to the Codex: Eternity fundraiser.
Anything that may and or may happen with copies of the game that may and or may not ever materialise or special ad-free bonuses that my accountant may or may not say we should be offering so that it counts as a "payment" rather than a "donation" and keeps the Australian Taxation Office from asking too many awkward questions, is up for grabs.
The expected release date is April 2014, because that's apparently how long it takes to fuck up perfectly good camera controls... but the KickStarter runs for another 25 days. Actual details of the Codexian NPC Group will be finalised if / when we're successful.
I'll update the list of donors in this article as I get around to it.
Preview - posted by Zed on Sat 8 September 2012, 14:59:07Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Logic Artists
Logic Artists' Expeditions: Conquistador now has four days left on Kickstarter, with little left to go to reach their target $70K goal. Codexer Tigranes has written a preview for you if you need convincing to pledge, based on some playtime with a press version of the game.
Here's a bit on character development in Expeditions:
The real focus is on the followers, who are disposable, pre-set characters with their own specialties and personalities. You begin by choosing ten followers from a static pool of 30, divided into five jobs (the Kickstarter page promises ten): doctor, hunter, scholar, scout and soldier. I didn’t get much use out of scholars in the press build, especially as they and scouts cannot fight, but the other three roles were very generic, falling into the tank / archer / healer stereotypes. In addition, they have a mix of personality traits like 'Pious', 'Narcissistic' and even 'Racist', and come with a short bio that knits it all together into simple but believable personalities. They might be best understood as a simpler version of Jagged Alliance 2’s mercenaries. Subsequently, I found two main ways of customising the followers. Each battle accrued a shared pool of experience, which I could expend on any follower to level them up. I don’t know if the press build hiked up XP gain, but I could generally level up one follower after two battles at most, and there were only 5 levels. Each level seemed to unlock a new skill, making it 5 skills per class. The doctor begins with a basic heal skill, for example, while the hunter begins with a double-shot then unlocks an aimed shot that negates the distance penalty. I could also find or purchase ‘equipment’, again a general resource I could use to increase a follower’s melee, ranged or defensive capabilities.
Thanks Tigranes for the write-up!
Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Expeditions: Conquistador
Interview - posted by Grunker on Fri 7 September 2012, 14:36:23Tags: Chaos Chronicles; Coreplay
VentilatorOfDoom and Grunker have interviewed Peter Ohlmann, Technical Director at Coreplay, on their upcoming turn-based cRPG, Chaos Chronicles.
The interview focuses mainly on the gameplay and unveils some of the core aspects of the game which Coreplay has not yet talked about.
Here are some tidbits from the interview:
RPG Codex: Going by the classes and stats you have already revealed to us, the game's character and combat systems seem heavily inspired by D&D?
RPG Codex: Do you employ level-scaling in monsters? In other words, do the monsters in the world level up along with the player?
RPG Codex: You cite P&P gameplay and earlier D&D cRPGs like the Gold Box games as well as Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE) as major inspirations for your combat gameplay. Can you elaborate on the differences and similarities between your game and those games? What improvements do you intend to make?
Read the full interview for more about the gameplay, Ohlmann's comments on Coreplay's involvement in Jagged Alliance: Back in Action and more!
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Chaos Chronicles
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 4 September 2012, 17:22:43Tags: Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura; Fallout; Interplay; Journey to the Center of Arcanum; Obsidian Entertainment; Retrospective Interview; Temple of Elemental Evil; Tim Cain; Troika Games
In this entry in the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we are happy to offer you an interview with Timothy Cain. At Interplay and then at Troika Games, Tim Cain designed some of the RPG Codex' all-time favorite CRPGs: Fallout, Arcanum, and Temple of Elemental Evil. The interview deals with Tim's career and his thoughts on RPG design, and even includes a question on Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. We are grateful to Tim for taking time to answer our questions in detail. Have a snippet:
I don't think criticizing Troika games for being buggy was unfair. They were buggy, and I think there were two big reason why that was so. First, we tried putting a lot of features into these games. We really needed to learn how to edit, because we would spend a lot of man-hours putting a feature into a game that hardly any of the players would ultimately care about. For example, Arcanum had newspapers that reported on major incidents that were caused by the player, but I don't remember a single review mentioning that. We spent a lot of time getting that working, and those hours could have spent balancing real-time combat, or fixing the multiplayer code.
Second, we kept our team sizes small, both for budget and for management purposes. This meant we had less total man-hours to work with, and all of the late nights and weekends couldn't make up for the fact that we only had about a dozen people working on the Arcanum and Temple projects. Looking back, I am amazed our games were as feature-rich as they were, but I am not surprised they were as buggy as they were. We should have made some serious feature cuts early in their development.
Troika got characterized as “always blaming the publisher” when something was wrong and I think this was unfair. We would always own up to the parts of the development process in which we had made mistakes, but it seemed that if we ever said “we messed up this, and our publisher messed up that”, some people just heard the latter part of the comment and would start screaming “Troika is blaming the publishers again!”. It got frustrating after a while, especially when I saw people at Troika quoted out of context. But I did gain quite an insight into the American political system, which seems to deal with the same kind of illogical, sound bite oriented system of criticism of its political candidates. People hear what they want to hear, and often make up their minds before seeing, or even in spite of, any evidence to the contrary.
Temple of Elemental Evil featured what is to this day the best translation of D&D to the PC. Sadly, there only was one game using that engine. Were there any plans to keep using it for other games, or perhaps license it to other developers, in a manner similar to the Infinity and Gold Box engines?
Yes, we had great plans for that engine. For the sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika proposed using the super-module GDQ: Queen of the Spiders, which consists of seven modules from the popular Giants and Drow series, plus the special Q-series module that completed the adventure. In fact, we were going to let the players bring their characters over from ToEE directly into the QoS, so they could simply continue playing with the same group of characters. Alternatively, we had suggested using the engine to create the long-awaited Baldur's Gate 3, and Obsidian had also expressed interest in licensing the engine to make D&D licensed games. Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.
In his speech at the 2012 Unite Conference, Brian Fargo claimed the industry has "come full circle" since 1980s, shifting away from the console model dominant since the late 1990s and back towards "2 and 3 man teams" empowered by new tools, crowdfunding, and new distribution methods. Do you agree with this kind of picture? How would you describe the way the industry changed over the years that you have been active in it?
Small 2 and 3 man teams may be able to produce a few PC and console games, but mostly they are making smaller games that have much less complexity or player time investment than full-sized games, and those latter games still need a team to develop them. I am glad to see crowdfunding add an alternative to the publisher model for many developers, and digital distribution creates sales channels for smaller companies that can rival the older physical distribution of large publishers. In short, I think variety and options are good things, in the game industry as well as in games.
I am concerned about the mid-tier developer being crowded out of the market by these new methods. It seems that we are increasingly seeing two types of games, ones made by small independent developers and ones made by huge, publisher-owned teams. The mid-tier developer, which have teams of 30-60 people, are shrinking, and small teams of less than 10 people and large teams of over 100 people are becoming the norm. I am worried what this means for the types of games that will be available over the next few years. Will they be either small casual games that you play for a few hours and then move on, or gigantic behemoths that you devote months of gaming time to, possibly investing in DLC to stretch the gap between sequels? It's as if books are disappearing, to be replaced with short story collections and lengthy book series, or movies are being replaced with TV shows and movie franchises. Is there no middle ground any more? I don't know, and that worries me because some of the best games have come from such development, and it would be a shame if it was lost.
The interview really covers a lot of ground, so I strongly recommend you read it in full.
Read the article in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Tim Cain on Fallout, Troika and RPG Design
Preview - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 29 August 2012, 13:11:04Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail
Underrail, the post-apocalyptic indie RPG which has a demo out and the developer posting regularly on the Codex, has been officially previewed by none other than me.
So, don't waste any time and go read that preview! (And play the demo if you haven't already.)
Read the full article: Underrail Preview
Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Fri 24 August 2012, 12:54:58Tags: Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Logic Artists
The developers of Expeditions: Conquistador have asked us nicely to interview them, and we answered by throwing a bunch of questions at them.
4. The Kickstarter description for the game claims that every character has a set of combat abilities. How many of them are there going to be, both per character and in total? Are these abilities determined by class or uniquely tailored for each character? Do you unlock them via some kind of skill tree?They still have more than two weeks to reach their goal, so get out your wallet and help them reach that kickstarter goal!
At present there are three abilities per character type plus one ability for the Sergeant rank and one ability for the Lieutenant rank (you may only have two Sergeants and one Lieutenant at a time). Since we have 5 Spanish character classes, that adds up to 17 abilities. Some of the Native classes share a few abilities with their Spanish counterparts, but most of them have different abilities, and if you allow a native character to join your expedition, you'll get to use those abilities as well. We really want to add character ability trees so you choose between 2 or 3 abilities when you promote a character, but it's a stretch goal - it depends on how much money we get from the Kickstarter. This is because all our abilities are active abilities, they're never passive, so they're somewhat time-consuming to implement.
Read the full article: Expeditions: Conquistador Interview
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 18 August 2012, 19:08:49Tags: Jon Van Caneghem; Might and Magic; New World Computing; Retrospective Interview
In this installment of the RPG Codex Retrospective Interview series, we are happy to present you with a Q&A session with Jon Van Caneghem, the creator of the Might and Magic series and a living legend among CRPG designers. Have some tidbits:
JVC: The biggest challenge for me was being the designer / creator of the games and the CEO of the company. This dual role always created personal conflict. On the one hand I wanted to make every game perfect, more features, better polish… and on the other I had to pay the bills. My ongoing compromise was: if I stayed profitable, I will always be able to make another game.
Doing something differently, would have to be not giving up programming. In the early days I did all the coding, but as the projects got bigger I had to focus on overseeing the teams. I really enjoyed programming.
RPG Codex: In what ways did you intend Might and Magic to be different from Wizardry and Ultima, design-wise? What did Wizardry and Ultima lack that you wanted to do in your games?
JVC: Wizardry and Ultima were great inspirations for me. But I wanted to make my own vision for a CRPG. I wanted more of an open world feel with quests, puzzles and an emphasis on exploration and discovery. I wanted party based tactical combat, tons of magic items to find and an ever increasing feeling of power as you leveled your characters. Most of all I wanted players to feel free to experiment with all the "tools" I put in the game so they could enjoy playing any way they wanted to.
RPG Codex: Regarding the Might and Magic lore, what gave you the idea to give prominence to the mingling of sci-fi and standard fantasy, when other series (such as Ultima) had dropped it? Were there specific games at the time that inspired you to do this kind of thing?
JVC: I have always been a big sci-fi fan as well as fantasy. Arthur C. Clarke coined the phrase "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This idea plus a Star Trek episode "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky" was the basis for the original M&M Lore. But I didn't want any sci-fi to get into the fantasy world until the very end of the game. I was hoping to create a more thought provoking ending like an episode of the old "Twilight Zones" and not be intrusive throughout the fantasy game.
RPG Codex: What gave you an idea to bundle Might and Magic IV and V together into World of Xeen in such a unique way, and why did you not handle any other games in the series in the same manner? To elaborate, usually expansion packs added something "on the side", but with World of Xeen you could tell that, when Clouds of Xeen shipped, all the connection points were already there.
JVC: I thought to myself as a player, what would be cool if a new version of this game comes out, so I came up with the crazy combining scheme that would be magical to the consumer. This was a monumental task especially in those days. But I thought it was an amazing idea and we keep working on the concept until we figured out how to do it. Thank you for recognizing that feature, we were very proud of that accomplishment and to this day I don’t think anyone has repeated it.
RPG Codex: Are there some kind of extremely obscure trivia or easter eggs in the Might and Magic games that nobody knows about? (Aside from the Star Trek references, of course.)
JVC: Wow, ok, so many games over so many years, there are tons. How about these 2 of the top of my head:
- "Sheltem" the main protagonist in the first few Might and Magic’s was named after my dog. He was a miniature Collie called a Sheltie. When anything was awry around the house I would always say it was "Sheltem"; that was his mischievous nick name.
- "Crag Hack" was one of my most played paper AD&D characters. He was a LVL 16 Human Neutral Fighter, 18/00 strength, used 2 one handed swords, acquired Psionics and among other things one of his hands was replaced with the "Hand of Vecna"... it’s a long story. : )
JVC: Besides stand alone CRPGs being completely overrun by MMOs, the move towards "movie games" is worrisome to me; I enjoy game systems, open worlds and exploration. I like to play games, not watch them.
We are grateful to Jon Van Caneghem for taking time out of his demanding schedule to answer our questions!
Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Jon Van Caneghem
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 16 August 2012, 11:19:48Tags: Dungeons & Dragons; Monte Cook; PnP Interview
In this installment of the RPG Codex Pen&Paper Interview series, we offer you an interview with Monte Cook himself. The questions are all Alex's. We are grateful to Monte Cook for taking time out of his schedule to answer them.
Have a snippet:
MC: Planescape was wildly imaginative -- I loved the creative freedom it offered. It encouraged thinking so far out of the box that every day was a new challenge. I loved working on that team -- it was both rewarding and a hell of a lot of fun.
Faction War was never meant to be the end of PS. There was supposed to be a follow-up adventure/sourcebook that rebuilt things. But the line was cancelled before it could come out. A real shame. In later years, however, I was able to produce a sort of Planescape reunion product for Malhavoc Press called Beyond Countless Doorways. I brought together Zeb Cook, Michele Carter, Colin McComb, Ray Vallese, and Wolfgang Baur, some of the core minds that PS came from, and we put together a d20 sourcebook about planar travel that I'm really proud of.
RPG Codex: After Rolemaster, you worked on the second edition of AD&D, on various sourcebooks and modules. Could you tell us a little about how different the design culture between the two games were? Specifically, it seems to me AD&D at that time tried focusing on settings, the overall impression being that it was trying to outdo White Wolf in their own game. Do you agree with that impression, and if so, did this clash with the old philosophy they had, of making games that were more sandbox oriented?
MC: I don't think anyone at TSR was thinking about WW when designing a strategy. TSR was extremely isolated in its thinking. It was top dog and didn't feel much need to pay attention to the rest of the industry. This didn't change until the release of Magic: The Gathering, and that wasn't an rpg issue at all.
TSR and ICE were very, very different. ICE was small and the president was as likely as not to have lunch with the lowest employee. TSR was structured and the creatives steered well clear of the executives. Both places, however, were very fun, very enjoyable environments with good people. ICE ran into financial troubles, which darkened things, but in the end so did TSR, so in those ways they were similar too.
You're right though, TSR was focused on setting and adventures at the time, and ICE (at least as far as RM goes) on rules. It's a very different kind of design, but I enjoy both.
RPG Codex: Since leaving Wizards, you have gone back to your own endeavor, the Monte Cook Games site. From your blog, it seems like you are working on a new system already. Could you tell us a bit about what you have in mind and how it differs from your previous work?
MC: It's a game called Numenera, and I have been, and will continue to write extensively about it. It's a post-apocalyptic science fantasy set in the far distant future. The game focuses mainly on the story and the action, and less on the rules. It's a game that empowers both GM and players over the rules as written in many ways. In many ways, this is a return to my roots, both in its approach to gaming (very similar to the way I ran games back in early D&D) and in its relationship to things like Planescape, where the cool setting and amazing ideas took precedence over things like tactical combat and super-detailed rules. I hope people will take a look at both montecookgames.com and numenera.com for more on the new game as it takes shape.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Monte Cook on Dungeons & Dragons and RPG design
Review - posted by Grunker on Fri 3 August 2012, 17:03:38Tags: Blood Bowl; Cyanide Studio; Dungeonbowl
Dungeonbowl is Cyanide Studio's newest release in the Blood Bowl franchise. In this review, Grunker takes a stern look at Dungeonbowl in an attempt to find out whether Cyanide has learned from the mistakes they initially made with Blood Bowl, or if they have fallen into the same traps as before.
The board game Dungeonbowl is a variant of Blood Bowl in which two teams of fantasy creatures play American Football against each other with a violence only mirrored in Australian rugby and Ukrainian parliamentary meetings. However, instead of the traditional football-field known from Blood Bowl, Dungeonbowl takes place in a dungeon, with all the shenanigans that entails: pits of lava, teleporters, treasure chests, narrow corridors and so on. The perfect setup for an even more brutal take on the favorite American college pastime. Players can level up, and teams be developed, just as in the regular Blood Bowl. The game is turn-based, and actions, beyond simply moving unhindered, are resolved by dice rolls. You serve as your team's "coach", controlling the actions the individual players attempt.
Dungeonbowl is a fun variation of Blood Bowl. It is more random, more brutal, more violent and faster than regular Blood Bowl, mirrored in the 2 minute turn limit for all turns. You can pull off insane plays using the narrow dungeon corridors, bridges over lava, or teleporters – plays that you could never do in standard Blood Bowl. In the same vein, it has never been easier to mess things up for yourself. An innocent trip through a teleporter can end up killing your star player, and a safe block can suddenly get deadly if you stand too close to a lava pit. As passing is of limited use in a dungeon, avoiding the bashing game for more agile teams becomes an interesting run-and-gun experience where the coach, heart in his throat, dances around pits of lava and exploding chests to secure the touch down. Games can sometimes stall as bashier teams block entry-ways and paths around the dungeons, but teleporters do a good job loosening this up.
Read the full article: RPG Codex reviews Dungeonbowl
Interview - posted by Zed on Wed 1 August 2012, 17:06:03Tags: Alex Norton; Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox; Visual Outbreak
Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox is an indie turn- and grid-based first-person RPG being developed by Aussie team Visual Outbreak. In this day and age, just hearing it's turn-based might spark an interest in some. But Malevolence does something different as well. The game procedurally generates the game world, creating an infinite experience - and not just geographically.
After some buzz on the glorious Codex forums, we got in touch with Creative Director Alex Norton to see if he could shed some light on various aspects of Malevolence and how the game will play in practice. Here's a peek:
Read the entire thing right here!
Competition - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sat 28 July 2012, 23:04:58Tags: Good Old Games; RPG Codex; Short Story Competition
On - or near enough to - this day, the 28th of July in the year 2002, the RPG Codex began life with its very first news post:
And so, in celebration of the Codex' 10th Anniversary - and in grand Codex tradition - we're holding a short-story competition. Help us honour this momentous occasion by writing a short story on one of the following:
2. A Date with the Codex: A mock conversation where-in a poster has created a "dating advice" thread, asking for assistance on how he can improve his relationship with the Codex.
3. A Decade of Decadence - 10 Whole Years of Decline. A retrospective look at the events (or perhaps just one event) of the last 10 years. What struck you the most? What is your fondest memory?
4. Speculative fiction: What if we did scale to your level? A story on how the Codex might have turned out, if only things had been different...
5. Ten Prosperous Periods of Posting: A Poem.
Stories should be approximately 500 words (although strictly speaking, there is no limit on length and all entries will be accepted).
Our esteemed panel of judges (DarkUnderlord, baby arm and probably the rest of the staff in some sort of group therapy session) will pick the 2 best entries from each category. Winners will receive a game of their choice from Good Old Games and +2 years of ad-free Codexian browsing (assuming you have an account here).
- We have #10 games to give away so the "best" two stories from each of the topics above will win a prize.
- Contestants are allowed to enter a story for all topics as well as make multiple entries within a topic.
- You can only be the winner of one free game. So even if you have the "best" story in multiple topics, you'll only be winning one free game. Share the love and all, yo?
- Winners will be able to choose the game they want from anything in GOG's catalogue.
- You don't have to be a member of the Codex to enter, as we are accepting entries from anyone. RPGCodex staff members are the only people excluded from entering winning (they can submit something in honour of this great occasion should they feel so inclined).
- Be sure to include the topic your story is about in your entry.
- Judges decisions are final and no correspondence shall be entered into, though bribes may be accepted. Preferably by buying Codex T-shirts and / or Mugs.
How to Enter
Entries can be made in one of the following ways (in order of preference):
- By replying with your short story in the comments thread for this item (thus allowing other members to brofist your entry, which may assist in swaying the judges).
- Through the RPGCodex contact form.
- Private Messaging DarkUnderlord.
- Via e-mail to: darkunderlord at WHAT IS THE NAME OF THIS WEBSITE AGAIN LULZ dot net (replace the ALLCAPS part with rpgcodex).
We'll run the competition for a month, with entries closing on the 28th August 2012. Winners will be announced sometime after that, once we've bothered to read everything.
Happy 10th Anniversary!!
The entries received so far can be found here.
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 26 July 2012, 20:41:59Tags: Broderbund Software; Ian Boswell; Martin Buis; Retrospective Interview; The Dark Heart of Uukrul
Corrupted by the evil wizard Uukrul, the underground city of Eriosthe is but a shadow of its former self, its passages now twisted beyond a mortal's understanding. The Dark Heart of Uukrul, a first person turn- and party-based dungeon-crawling CRPG with top-down Goldbox-like combat released by Broderbund in 1989 for Apple II and PC, entrusts you with a single task: cleanse Eriosthe of evil, no matter the cost. And the cost will be high, probably higher than you imagine; Uukrul knows you are coming, and he will be prepared.
In this installment of the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we present you with an interview with Dark Heart of Uukrul's co-designers, Ian Boswell and Martin Buis, as well as a brief retrospective introducing the game. I will quote generously from the interview for you to have a taste of it:
Ian Boswell: We didn’t want the maze to be constrained in a box, made up of levels, with each of them square. That seems very artificial. We wanted it to sprawl and spread out, including going up and down as well, like real caves and tunnels would. With a simple grid co-ordinate trick, we were able to implement this. It makes exploring the dungeon regions a lot more mysterious, even scary, because you have no idea where it’s going to lead or how far you are from your goal. For the player, mapping it becomes really challenging too.
Some of the regions are small, some are huge. Each has its own flavour, supported by the story narrative, and a design approach which makes each region feel different as you explore it. [...]
Martin Buis: The levels also tell a story and have a real location, so we wanted to convey a real sense of space through their spralling layout, or indicate that you’d reached a new area by a change in architecture. We were too constrained to do much with the visuals, so that was conveyed in the layout. [...]
Dark Heart of Uukrul is widely considered one of the most challenging CRPGs out there. Was it your intention right from the start to create an expert level scenario? What prompted that decision, and why the emphasis on puzzles?
Ian Boswell: [...] Both Martin and I were fond of puzzles and intellectual challenges, so we imbedded some of our favourites into the game, and created new ones of our own. The very best puzzles, I find, are ones where you see the pieces, but the “big picture” is hidden from view until you put the pieces together the right way, and then the logic dawns on you and everything makes sense.
Martin Buis: One of the design points we really wanted to get across was that dying was a really big deal in Uukrul, and that this would drive combat and exploring to be more emotionally charged and encourage times when the player would be aggressive and times when the player would be cautious. This meant that there had to be consequences to death, and even some fatal traps that you couldn’t escape. We were loathe to allow backups and reincarnation as these would weaken that feeling. Playing the game, and reading walk-throughs, I’m pleased that this aspect of the game comes through.
We both enjoyed puzzles a lot, and that was a big differentiator for how we thought about the game. A lot of the pleasure in games is about learning the rules of the game, and then discovering how to exploit them. So we tried to incorporate that at all levels of the gameplay. There are little puzzles, like how to explore an area, puzzles with longer arcs, like how priests work, and the overall game story. For the harder puzzles we worked to ensure that there were multiple solutions, so that you didn’t always need to solve them intellectually.
Dark Heart of Uukrul's character development is quite unorthodox, especially as far as magic users are concerned. Both the priest and the magician gain not only in levels, but also in the number and quality of rings equipped, each dedicated to specific deities or magic arcana. Obtaining new rings is a different form of character progression, woven in tightly to exploration and combat. What were the influences and the rationale behind this system?
Ian Boswell: I remember that whole system came to me while I was waiting at a bus stop, and there was a woman waiting there who was wearing these big, gaudy rings on every finger. In the game, the rings give a tangible measure of progression through magic powers, or spiritual powers, more structured than the usual D&D spell progression. Each finger represents a discipline or deity, and the metal of the ring on that finger represents the level of spells or prayers you can access.
Martin Buis: We also wanted to make a strong differentiation between rewarding the player for magic and prayers. We hit upon the idea of making the wizard very deterministic, and the priest very non-deterministic. I’d done psychology and was interested in exploring how Fixed Response and Variable Response schedules might be used in a game, and this worked. I think that it worked out pretty well. I particularly like the way the priest starts out frustrating and a liability to the party, but by the end is a mighty fighting machine.
Can you describe the reception the game got and your reaction to it? In retrospect, would you have changed anything about the game? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Ian Boswell: When Broderbund signed us up, there was a window where computer RPGs were hot property, but the window didn’t stay open long enough. It took us too long to complete the game, and I’d say we missed the market by 6-12 months. Broderbund published it, but by then RPGs were “last year’s model”. They did little to promote or advertise the game, and it sold only modestly, something around 5,000 copies.
The reception from the public however, from the few people that actually know about the game, has always been really positive. Even now 25 years later, I still get an occasional email from somebody telling me how much they enjoyed the game, especially the puzzles!
Martin Buis: We had aimed at beating the technical sophistication of Wizardry when we started, but it was a moving target and by the time we delivered we were a little behind the start of the art. I think that the lack of sound was probably a big factor in the game being overlooked in the market place. About the time Uukrul came out Id released Wolfenstein, and everyone’s expectations of what you could do with computers changed. Really, the whole genre of thoughtful games seems to have disappeared, and casual gaming seems to be pushing things further down the ‘stateless’ approach to gaming. [...]
We are grateful to Ian and Martin for their time! I would also like to thank Alex, Jaesun, VentilatorOfDoom and Zed for their comments on an earlier version of the retrospective.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Ian Boswell and Martin Buis on The Dark Heart of Uukrul
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 23 July 2012, 18:00:17Tags: D&D Next; Mike Mearls; PnP Interview; Wizards of the Coast
For the third installment in the Codex' P&P RPG interview series, we reached out to Mike Mearls, Head of the Dungeons & Dragons Research and Design team at Wizards of the Coast and Lead Developer on D&D 4th ed. as well as the upcoming D&D Next. In this interview, Mike discusses his career, D&D Next and D&D in general, as well as RPG design. The questions were contributed by Alex. Have a snippet:
As far as I know, 4th edition was the first set of rules to look to videogames for inspiration. I wasn’t involved in the initial design meetings for the game, but I believe that MMOs played a role in how the game was shaped. I think there was a feeling that D&D needed to move into the MMO space as quickly as possible and that creating a set of MMO-conversion friendly rules would help hasten that.
What we’ve learned since then is that the specific RPG rules aren’t very useful for making other games. Instead, the world lore, feel of the game, distinct features of each class, race, and monster, and so on are much, much more important. If you look at our current boardgames, they don’t use the same exact rules as the RPG but they evoke a similar feel. That’s really the key to us. We want to be able to have a clear, easily understood definition of what a wizard or paladin is. We can then transfer that definition into other games. As long as the feel and key story beats are there, the specific rules are secondary.
One aspect that was important for some fans in 4e is how the game is "balanced". Some see this as such an important aspect that they have stayed away from introducing house rules that could break this balance. What is D&D Next's approach to this? Are you still trying to carefully balance the powers and abilities each character can have? Does the modularity aspect of the system work against this? Conversely, do you see the modularity as helping people to tweak their own game, creating new rules, classes, skills, abilities and what not?
When we talk about balance, we want to make sure that the character classes are roughly equivalent in effectiveness across the three basic pillars of D&D play: combat, exploration, and interaction. Some classes might be better in one area that another, but the gap is never so huge that players feel ineffective.
From a monster stand point, the key to balance is to make sure that we can give DMs clear guidance on a monster’s power level and XP value. If a DM throws an ogre at the party, the DM should have a sense of how much of a challenge that might be. We don’t really care how the DM uses these tools. A DM might want to run lots of easy fights, one big fights, or put in monsters that the PCs aren’t meant to fight. We just want the DM to have a good idea of the relative power between characters and monsters.
For modularity, the key is to let DMs know how a new rule can change the game. We trust that DMs will alter the game to fit what they and their groups want out of D&D. If we have a lethal, gritty hit point option, we’re not worried about maintaining balance across everything because the DM has opted into that. To some groups, balance is meaningless, so there’s no point in trying to enforce that in all cases.
If we keep the core simple and transparent, I believe that it will be much easier to create new content. Precise balance is really only possible through lots of playtesting, but I think that if DMs use our existing content as a guide they’ll find it easier to create new stuff.
We thank Mike for his time and Alex for the questions.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Mike Mearls on Dungeons & Dragons and D&D Next
Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Tue 10 July 2012, 05:55:37Tags: Avadon: The Black Fortress; Deus Ex: Human Revolution; Dragon Age II; Dungeon Siege III; Dungeons of Dredmor; Fallout: New Vegas; Frayed Knights; Minecraft; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings; The Year in Review; Two Worlds II
Once more we look back at the year gone past (... or should that be passed? I'm so confused) and remiss:
It also took a light-hearted approach to the genre - the title itself for instance, "The Skull of S'makh-Daon" is pronounced "The Skull of Smackdown". Now I personally didn't enjoy the demo (you can take your old-school and you can shove it and any game that makes NPC interaction a core component without having "drown", "murder" and "rape" "kill" NPC options is unforgivable) but the general Codex consensus is "not too bad". If you're into that sort of thing that is, or are looking for something different. It also had an interesting "Drama Stars" system, designed to prevent save-scumming (stars earned were lost if you didn't reload exactly where you left off before). Although I'm not sure if it worked.
Read the whole thing here: 2011: The Year in Review
Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 3 July 2012, 19:22:08Tags: Piranha Bytes; Risen 2: Dark Waters
When Piranha Bytes, the brains behind the Gothic series, released Risen in 2009, Darth Roxor went ahead and reviewed it, favorably. Needless to say, he was giddy like a schoolgirl at the prospect of more Risen goodness and agreed to review the sequel for us, Risen 2: Dark Waters.
Risen 2 picks up a year or so after the events of its predecessor. Once again you’ll take control of the nameless dude and proceed on a mission of glorious titan smashing. There are, however, a few problems that stand in your way. First is the fact that after joining up with the Inquisition, the protagonist has become a total bum, seeking refuge at the bottom of the bottle, which has made him pretty much forget all the skills he’s learned before, as well as making him a total wimp. Second problem is that, apparently, the whole civilised world is on fire because Ursegor, the lovely chap whose gear you needed to defeat the fire titan in Risen 1, has gone berserk. That’s why the last human remnants decided they need to evacuate as soon as possible to the “new world”. This is where the third problem arises – all long-ranged sea travel is completely impossible, since the sea titan, Mara, has been awoken, and she’s not much happy about it, that’s why she keeps sinking all human ships that want to go anywhere. This is where you come in – a rumour has it that four pirate captains managed to obtain powerful artifacts that can control, or even destroy Mara. The player character is thus sent as a secret agent by the Inquisition to find the captains and get the artifacts from them, or even persuade them to join the fight against the titan.Read the full article: RPG Codex reviews Risen 2: Dark Waters
As you can see, changes have crept into the world of Risen. Lots of them, in fact. Probably the most visible change is the shift into a pirate themed setting – but that will be addressed later on. What first needs to be discussed is what the hell was Piranha Bytes thinking when they designed the game’s mechanics.
Let’s start by taking a look at the character system. The typical Gothic formula of learning points has been almost completely scrapped. Instead, you’ve got something vaguely resembling skill trees – the character has 5 main attributes: Blades, Firearms, Cunning, Toughness and Voodoo. Each of these attributes has 3 different skills assigned to it, as well as a number of talents. You raise attributes with glory, the local equivalent of experience that you get for just about everything you do. Skills are raised by attributes and certain talents. To get talents, you need to find specific teachers and pay them – if your assigned attribute is high enough.
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 22 June 2012, 07:41:08Tags: Faster Than Light; Subset Games
Faster Than Light, the space simulation roguelike(-like) focused on the internal workings of the ship (you may remember the interview we did on it), has recently seen the release of a closed beta limited to the game's Kickstarter backers who were generous enough to go for the beta tier. Among them was our very own Ulminati, who has already played the beta extensively and offers his thoughts and impressions in this review. Here's a snip:
It is during combat that the game really shines. Your systems, crew and abilities are simple when looked at individually. But combat forces you to tweak all of them simultaneously and it is a pleasantly frantic experience at times. Further complicating things there are environmental effects such as nebulae that limit your sensors or asteroids that will bounce off of your ship's hull if your shields aren’t up. You rarely get through a combat without losing some of your resources in the form of hull durability, missiles, drone parts, or crew members. Having piloting and engines crewed gives your ship a percentile chance to evade incoming fire but actual range and maneuvering is abstracted. You get to pick what to shoot at with your weapons, but the game takes care of the aiming. Also, while you can order your crew to board/fight boarders, the actual fighting consists of watching health bars grow smaller and sending people off to the med-bay if they get close to dying. The focus is mainly on managing the interior of your ship and making sure it doesn’t fall apart before the other ship does. Doing well in FTL is often an exercise in damage control and making sure the payoff from a fight exceeds the repair bill you are footing at the other end. Sometimes your best option is to divert power to shields and send your crew scurrying to perform damage control until your FTL drive spools up and you can jump away. The randomly generated nature of sectors also means that an unlucky series of jump events can see your ship rapidly spiraling into a catastrophic state where you are barely holding together as you limp on, desperately praying for a friendly trader at the next FTL beacon.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Faster Than Light Beta
Thanks to Zed and Jaesun for their feedback, and to Sovard for his help with editing the article!
Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Sat 16 June 2012, 14:58:04Tags: Annie VanderMeer; Brian Mitsoda; Dead State; DoubleBear Productions; Indie; Kickstarter; Oscar Velzi
The Codex has interviewed the developers of Dead State, the zombie-RPG by independent developer DoubleBear Productions, which has just recently launched its Kickstarter campaign.
The interview includes questions about the game's setting, gameplay, and RPG mechanics, as well as definite proof that Brian Mitsoda is Vault Dweller!
Annie: I love lots of game genres, but RPGs are my favorite, and since we knew we'd be working with the Age of Decadence engine, it seemed the wisest choice as a initial project. So it was part practicality and part personal inclination.
You're dead-on that RPGs are insanely tricky to define, but it's the character development (both in the mechanics of building skills and in the actual personality of people) that I find the most enticing about the genre, both as a player and as a developer. Writing an average townsperson in a generic fantasy game is okay, but writing someone who's under constant fear for their lives and who might have lost a family member to a zombie attack? A lot more interesting of a challenge right there!
Brian: Not the old “what is an RPG?” question already! Fair enough, we are calling it one. So, let’s see - stats and skill tweaking is a given, wooden stick to horn of alpha gorillas weapon progression sure, lots of items to sort and fuss over, yeah we have those. But I kind of feel ripped off if an RPG doesn’t have some actual choices in the story and the dialogue that has actual reactivity and payoff on character and story outcomes. That’s one of the things we have dedicated a lot of time to and where our years of development experience really pays off. And if we’ve done it right, each player will have a different story to tell.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: DoubleBear on Dead State
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 June 2012, 12:46:52Tags: Arnold Hendrick; Darklands; Josh Sawyer; Microprose; Retrospective Interview
Darklands, released by Microprose in 1992, is a party-based "sandbox" computer role-playing game set in the Holy Roman Empire during the 15th century, and one of the most important titles in the history of the genre. In today's installment of our RPG Codex Retrospective Interview series, we present you with an interview with Lead Designer on Darklands, Arnold Hendrick himself, as well as a retrospective on Darklands written by our guest contributor, Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, Lead Designer on Icewind Dale II, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, who also kindly agreed to serve as a guest co-interviewer, Darklands being, as he writes in the article, "one of the CRPGs closest to my heart." Have a snippet from Josh Sawyer's retrospective:
It also bucked so many CRPG conventions that it took me a while to wrap my head around it. Instead of making a party of characters of different races and classes, you developed them along life paths, Traveller-style, in five year increments. You could, in fact, have a party with a grizzled knight, a young bandit, a hapless mystic of affective piety, and an 80 year-old alchemist (whom you most certainly would not abandon for his potent potions five minutes into gameplay!) And as previously mentioned, there were no alignments, no levels, no experience points – just a learn-by-doing skill system and a big open world. I felt like the game gave me the freedom to explore “Greater Germany” as I saw fit.
Not that it was a forgiving exploration. Darklands was a wonderful open world game, one that rarely warned travelers about dangers lurking in a Raubritter's castle or what you might encounter while stumbling through the Black Forest. You could find yourself arguing with a demon in Latin at the Devil's Bridge, fleeing from the Wild Hunt after you've interrupted the witches' High Sabbath, or praying for a saint's intercession as you await public execution in a town square.
As well as from the interview with Arnold Hendrick:
You’re correct, my academic training is in history, and my specialty is military history. However, any decent military historian should be aware of the social, political and economic issues surrounding warfare. At the very start, I wanted the Darklands' “hook” to be that it would be use some beliefs from the era to “justify” fantastical elements, rather than trotting out the usual bog-standard wizards, clerics, bards, etc. Where possible, I like my game designs to provide an insight into history – a “you are there” feel. When searching for tactical tradeoffs and interesting details, why goof around conjuring up stuff when there is plenty of interesting historical material to use?
I was also aware that no RPG set in a pre-medieval era had been successful. This meant the earliest conceivable period was the Dark Ages after the fall of western Rome. Given how risky the project already was, I decided the time period had to include some things familiar to fantasy gamers. This included all types of armor up to and including full plate. This in turn meant a full panoply of weaponry, from swords, axes, maces and bows, to hammers, bills, halberds, crossbows and longbows. This virtually required the game to be set in the late 1300s to 1400s.
If the game were set in France or Britain, it would inevitably be drawn into the events of the Hundred Years War (1330s to 1440s), on which I lacked sufficiently detailed material at that time. Germany’s chaotic “robber knight” (raubritter) era became an obvious choice, especially since the very chaos of the period gave me consider “historical license.”
RPG Codex: You probably had a lot of plans and ideas for a possible sequel to Darklands that had to be left unrealized, or at least a lot of ideas that did not make it into the game due to time and resource constraints. What were some of the things that had to be cut or that you planned for a sequel?
A true sandbox game would have more quests and activities than the characters could perform in any normal lifetime! I had originally hoped to have many quest storylines, not just one apocalyptic one. However, that was impractical given the growing time and cost. If the game had become an instant smash hit, then we could have done sequels with more storylines.
There is a lot more you can do with German history in that period. You can also add in things about the Hussites in Bohemia, the power of the Hanseatic League, the fall of the Teutonic Order, and rising Polish kingdom under the great Jagiellon dynasty. Adventures involving the struggle between the various papal factions could have been very interesting: the catholic church had three competing popes in the early 1400s.
Meanwhile, starting the late ‘90s, Jonathan Sumption has been slowing putting out an absolutely incredible multi-volume historyof the Hundred Years War. It is one of those seminal works that will be the defining history of the period for decades to come, much like S.E.Morison’s history of US Naval Operations in WWII or Oman’s history of the Peninsular wars. Armed with Sumption’s work, some great RPGs set in the Hundred Years War period are now possible.
I strongly suggest you read the interview in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Arnold Hendrick on Darklands (with Retrospective by Josh Sawyer)
We are grateful to Arnold and Josh for their time! Special thanks are also due to Jaesun, Monolith and Zed for their feedback and suggestions.
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 11 June 2012, 11:56:19Tags: Blizzard Entertainment; Diablo III
Blizzard's Diablo 3 is the biggest release of the year and fastest-selling PC game of all time. But is it any good? In this detailed review, Mrowak relates his feelings about the game. The feelings are decidedly mixed. Have a snippet on loot:
As a consequence of gear taking precedence over character development, the importance of the player’s skill and ability to plan his character ahead is significantly diminished. Whereas in Diablo 2 a competent and at least somewhat reasonably geared player could outclass a better equipped but less able teammate, both in PvP and core gameplay, this now proves virtually impossible, since the power of your abilities is determined exclusively by the properties of the items you wear. In other words, Diablo 3 is not the kind of game where you build the most effective character, but where you get the best gear for them.
Even on Nightmare difficulty, this design proves to be problematic because of the randomized loot generator: there is no guarantee that the equipment obtained in the course of one act will suffice for smooth, enjoyable gameplay in another. It appears to be a conscious decision on the part of Blizzard who actively encourage grinding for the best items. This effect actually enhances gameplay due to the online nature of the game. In Diablo 3 enemies drop separate sets of items to each of the active players. Thus, it is a common practice to form parties to increase effectiveness of item-scavenging by trading the equipment with teammates during gear-hunts.
And here are some concluding thoughts:
First are the continuity issues. Diablo 3 is a Diablo game in name only. Save for a few core tenets and keywords it doesn’t share anything substantial with its predecessors. Meaningful character progression is no more: you don’t get to choose your attributes, and planning your character is close to pointless. It was substituted by MMO-like item farming, with gear lacking the balance and variety of Diablo 2. In fact, there are whole groups of items missing, removed from the game for no apparent reason. There is no PvP and no LAN option - the mainstays of the two first games. Instead, we have been presented with a forced ‘always online’ mode and sometimes faulty Battle.net servers. There is no gothic atmosphere and sublime charm - they were superseded by sensationalism and colourful explosions supported by a mawkish and annoying story. It is telling that all of the features worked perfectly fine in the previous game, and that they were removed in order to appeal to a mass audience. It is disheartening to see such levels of condescension and intellectual bankruptcy, even in something as simple as Diablo series.
Second, there are the structural considerations. Diablo 3 resembles an enormous construction site. There are plenty of features, but most of them are overblown and end up spoiling the experience with their obtrusiveness. They are created with everyone’s interest in mind except your own. Those features make the game look important and impressive, but under the cover of hype they hide a very basic structure, a simplistic hack and slash with entertaining and addictive but ultimately shallow gameplay. One can't but wonder if all those years of development went into options that not only do not benefit the player, but spoil his enjoyment instead. Indeed, at the end, I am left thinking: how much exactly of the 60€ I spent on Diablo 3 translated into the actual game?
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Diablo 3