Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 31 July 2014, 15:31:32Tags: Josh Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity
On June 17th, esteemed community member Sensuki sent a number of miscellaneous questions to Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, project lead on the upcoming fantasy RPG Pillars of Eternity. As you may know, a backer-exclusive beta of the game is coming next month already. Now that the work on the E3 presentation and the gameplay video has been finished, Josh got back to Sensuki with the answers.
Sensuki has also added his comments to some of the replies, and incorporated a few of Sawyer's recent tumblr and forum posts into the interview where relevant. Have some snippets and then read it in full.
Number of overall areas is getting close to BG2. I think we now have over 150 maps with a healthy split between cities, dungeons, towns, and wilderness maps. I'm happy with the number of wilderness areas we have. I think there will be good content density in them and there are enough of them off the critical path that players will feel rewarded for exploring.
Sensuki: For the record, BG2 has over 275 maps in the original game. I counted them the other week in Infinity Explorer. However, BG2 has stacks of tiny interiors such as houses or child areas of main dungeon levels, so the size of the game may well be getting close to BG2.
The Stronghold update revealed that Pillars of Eternity would use an Act structure instead of a Chapter structure. The IE games used Chapters and generally had up to seven of them. An act structure is common in ARPG games because of Diablo 2, but I can't help but wonder if the use of Acts refers to literal acts in a story, such as a three-act or five-act story structure. Can you elaborate on the use of Acts instead of Chapters for PE?
Eric [Fenstermaker] chose to use acts to consciously follow the classical (Aristotelean/Horatian) concepts of an act structure within a story. His feeling was that chapters do not have the same implications of dramatic progression that acts do.
While Races will give players different bonus attributes, what kind of mechanical bonuses can players expect from choosing a Cultural Background in Pillars of Eternity?
The only mechanical bonuses currently afforded by culture are attribute modifiers and class-based starting equipment sets. We are open to modestly expanding those bonuses based on feedback.
Regarding encounter design, is there anything in Pillars of Eternity that rivals or surpasses the complexity of some of the encounters in Icewind Dale 2 (Orc Shamans beating War Drums to summon reinforcements, Goblins falling off Worgs)? Will there be pre-stealthed enemies? Are there any new scripting features that were built for PE that made things possible you couldn't do in the IE games?
Honestly, I think it will take us a while to exceed the complexity of IWD2 fights. IWD2 and BG2 were built with a lot of tried-and-true scripting functions that programmers and designers developed over previous titles and expansions. Like any other feature, AI in PoE is being built from the ground up, so we have to add layers of complexity over time.
Did any "C priority" features or assets make it into the game besides character/creature art?
I don't use C-priority on the projects I direct. I require the developers on the team to divide requests into "must have" and "would really like to have" (A/B). If by some miracle we complete everything we need and everything we would really like to have, we can discuss third string ideas. This has literally never happened. That said, we did get a healthy amount of B-content in (mostly art).
The full interview also discusses stances, talents, the combat idle, spell FX, the Gilded Vale location, and some other things.
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Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 July 2014, 11:04:33Tags: Pyrodactyl Games; Unrest
Unrest is the Kickstarted adventure RPG set in a fantasy version of ancient India, developed by Pyrodactyl Games and released just a couple of days ago on Steam and GOG. In this review, esteemed community members Deuce Traveler and VioletShadow tell you about the experience they've had with the game - what they have, and haven't, enjoyed about it.
Have a snippet:
Deuce Traveler: The world of Unrest is certainly a kind of medieval fantasy setting, but different enough to interest players tired of the all-too-familiar pseudo-European fare. The architecture is eastern, as is the dress of the people. The culture is post-Gupta Indian, featuring an entrenched caste system and Hinduism with nary a hint of Buddhism or Islam. The game's story fleshes out the motivations of its various characters, including the villains, who believe that they were right for making the bloody decisions that propel the plot, despite the catastrophic results. This is not a story of noble heroes pushing back darkness, but instead a tale of survivors with opposing viewpoints going through their lives, which are interrupted on occasion by short outbursts of charity or wickedness.
[...] Finally, there are some major decisions you can make in the game that seem to have little effect on the overall story. In one playthrough, I decided that I was going to put my character in harm's way for the sake of diplomatic niceties. That character was killed. On the second playthrough I decided to be especially conceding during the diplomatic discussions, but then rigidly refused a request for my character to put himself in harm's way. This caused my character to step down from her diplomatic station and retire. In the character's narrative this made a huge difference, since she was now alive rather than dead. But from my perspective as a player the result was the same, since the character would have no further impact on how the story unfolded.
Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Unrest
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 20 July 2014, 17:15:56Tags: Cryptic Comet; Elder Sign: Omens; Fantasy Flight Games; The Occult Chronicles
Last year, two somewhat similar games, The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens, were released for Windows within an interval of a few months. Both feature board game mechanics and settings inspired by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. With such a unique premise, esteemed community member Gragt decided to review both of them in the same article.
Have a few snippets on both games:
[...] this is a terrific little game. It features no animation at all, yet manages to convey a tense and heavy atmosphere thanks to its excellent design. Zane Reichert’s drawings illustrating the various events fit the game’s pulp fiction atmosphere very well, striking a good balance between comic-book and creepy. The slow and brooding music by Stian Stark, who also composed the music for Solium Infernum and Six Guns Saga, is perfect for this kind of game; there are no memorable tunes to speak of, but it sets the tone without intruding. While every adventure follows the same basic structure, there is a decent amount of randomly generated content to experience, and I am still surprised to see events that I missed, connected to quests that weren’t available before. As a horror and occult-themed roguelike, I guess the closest thing to it would be the bona fide roguelike Infra Arcana, but the board game aspect makes it fairly unique. If you can get past the clunky interface and obtuse ability descriptions, there are many hours of quality entertainment to be had. A game takes only a few hours to complete, the atmosphere is thick, the challenge is high, and the different backgrounds and scenario options keep it replayable.
[...] The second game is Elder Sign: Omens by Fantasy Flight Games, released for Windows in November 2013, a mere three months after The Occult Chronicles. This is actually a port of the 2011 game for Android, Apple, and Kindle Fire. Now, it may seem weird to review a game with such a dubious pedigree, but humor me for a while.
The reason it is reviewed here alongside The Occult Chronicles is that both games share many similar elements, from theme and setting to the board game-like gameplay. Of the two, Elder Sign: Omens plays the closest to a traditional board game, which is par for the course considering it is an adaptation of an actual board game, Elder Sign. There are some differences between them, but for the most part Omens is quite faithful to its cardboard sibling. This also makes it a much simpler game than The Occult Chronicles, if only because it could be easily set up on a table with cards, tokens, and dice, whereas The Occult Chronicles, just like other Cryptic Comet games, would be a nightmare of cyclopean proportions to play that way. The basic scenario has you control a team of four investigators in the ’30s, of various backgrounds and talents, who must prevent the awakening of an Ancient One from the Cthulhu Mythos. To achieve this goal, you must explore the Miskatonic University Museum at night to gather supplies and artifacts, including the titular Elder Signs required to seal the cosmic horror. This time the game makes direct use of the Mythos, and you will encounter familiar figures like the Deep Ones, Ithaqua and even Cthulhu himself. Truth be told, the Mythos is used here more as a coat of paint to give a strong and familiar theme to a horror-themed board game that is light on plot, but it does the job rather well. It may not be as involved as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, but it's good enough to give you your Lovecraft fix as long as you don’t expect a great plot, great characters, or great dialogue — which isn’t something usually found in a Lovecraft story anyway. [...]
Both games have their flaws and merits, and while none ascends to greatness, they are well worth a look, especially if you need a fix of horror and Lovecraft pulp fiction.
Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 13 July 2014, 18:44:59Tags: Hanako Games; Long Live the Queen
Back in the decline-plagued year of 2011, with no proper RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin or tactical RPGs like Blackguards in sight (and with Age of Decadence remaining the all-too-easy subject of "vaporware" jokes), our very own Darth Roxor did a review of the CYOA RPG Academagia. Our readers generally prefer "full-fledged" RPGs, or at least those with good combat or interesting "choices & consequences" (C&C for short), so Academagia didn't really gain a lot of traction around these parts. However, CYOA RPGs are still RPGs, at least to some extent, and so it shouldn't be too surprising that another one, Long Live the Queen!, has caught our attention.
In this quick review, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler tells us what's good about the game -- but also what's bad, and not particularly exciting, about it. Have a snippet:
That brings me to my final point. Long Live the Queen is a fine story as seen through Elodie's eyes, and the character works as a quirky slate for the player. However, the supporting cast is full of unsympathetic arseholes. Even Elodie's father hides critical information from her, despite having a vested interest in her survival. Her friends are fickle, the nobility behave as vultures over a rotting carcass, and the peasants are either dull or violent. With so many unlikable characters, I often found myself playing Elodie as a martial character, mastering warfare, weapons, and magic. To the game's credit, however, you can play as a much more cultured and peaceable character and still win. I have read, for instance, that there is a winning path for someone who becomes a master musician. You can also develop romantic relationships with many of the different characters, despite a range of ages and genders. Because of this, the game has some replay value for those willing to work through its trial-and-error gameplay loop.
Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Long Live the Queen
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 7 July 2014, 18:08:43Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; Kai Fiebig
As you may recall, we quite enjoyed Daedalic's tactical RPG Blackguards. Its unique combat design and difficulty have already earned it a prominent place among this year's released or to-be-released oldschool RPGs (which also include Might and Magic X, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity). Next year is promising to be interesting too, and not only thanks to Torment: Tides of Numenera's release, but also because Daedalic has recently announced a sequel to Blackguards, Blackguards 2, to come out in 2015 as well.
For this interview, we reached out to Kai Fiebig, producer on Blackguards and Blackguards 2. Have a snippet:
My personal inspiration for Blackguards was mainly good old pen & paper combat, with the ambition to put as much of the diversity of tactical options and creative use of the environment pen & paper combat can offer into a video game.
Ideally, every single battle fought should tell a small story in itself, with the player „writing“ the part of his heroes. The game presents only the challenges and a huge variety of abilities, spells and environmental interactions the player can choose from, combine and improvise with, to overcome those challenges.
This ideal remains an ideal, as video games cannot accomplish the same level of interactivity as pen & paper games. But getting as close as possible is a great motor for making these kind of games.
The press release talks about "faction-based" gameplay and the need to conquer lands and defend them. It sounds like a big change from the first game. Could you elaborate on how that is going to work, exactly? Is Blackguards 2 going to be more open-ended, or do you prefer to continue focusing on tactical turn-based battles at the expense of non-linearity?
Yes, in Blackguards 2 the goal is to conquer a small province in the south of Aventuria. We are not operating on a military scale with huge armies, though; more like clans or war bands. The main goal is to capture the capital of the province. How many and what kind of fortifications, cities or other strategic points the player conquers before attacking the capital is all up to them. Every conquered point on the map gives the player certain bonuses, so it's a good idea to choose a route that grants bonuses matching the personal play-style and preferred tactics. Once the walls of the capital have been breached, there are multiple endings with different outcomes for each of the heroes, depending on player's choices.
The press release also mentions some "revisions and simplifications" to the RPG system. Understandably, many of our readers (who were quite happy with the first game) are worried that you might remove complexity instead of adding or iterating on it. Could you go into some detail on the "simplification" part?
Like already mentioned above - we have absolutely zero intentions to lower the level of complexity. We love complex turn based combat. We are just going to simplify the character sheet so players know which knobs to turn to improve in which discipline of combat.
In fact, we even increase the complexity a bit by introducing Stamina, which basically works like Astral Points, only for warriors and their special abilities. There will be attacks and spells that drain Stamina, and of course Special Abilities that increase the Stamina regeneration.
Although Blackguards was about scoundrels and anti-heroes, the storyline was quite heroic and featured some pretty altruistic moments. What are your own thoughts on the original game's balance between the heroic and the non-heroic stuff? How dark of a journey can we expect this time?
Blackguards 2 will be darker. And the player will be presented with some really fucked up moral choices.
Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Blackguards 2
Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 16 June 2014, 23:14:09Tags: Dr. Dungeon; Madman!
Esteemed community member Deuce Traveler has written up a short preview for the upcoming Ultima-style retro RPG Madman! by Robert "Dr. Dungeon" Deutsch. (We have a dedicated thread about Dr. Dungeon's games on our forums, in case you didn't know.) Here's a snippet:
The game also has puzzles, which are better than its combat. You'll really have to pay attention, even with the game's very effective quest log system. Although at times the quest log practically walks you through the steps of your current quest, in general the clues you receive tend to be vague, and you will often find yourself having to go back to the quest giver and pay greater attention to his dialogue in order to piece together what you must do. The game has plenty of fetch quests, but there are also puzzles which pose a larger degree of intellectual challenge. For instance, at one point you're required to insert artifacts into some niches in the ground. You are not given much of a clue as to where these artifacts are, but if you've been paying attention you might realize that some seemingly worthless artifacts you saw before have the exact same shape as the tiled niches. Some quests can be frustrating in their logic, however, such as when you're required to leave the domain of a strange race, who send you to solve a series of puzzles before you can get an important quest item from them. I found this particular set of quests to be quite nonsensical. But then I remembered that the game was called Madman! - nonsense is kind of the point. [...]
So, would I recommend the game? It depends. Action-RPG fans are not going to be comfortable playing this game and should probably avoid it due to the interface, graphics, and simple plot. However, I think that those who enjoy firing up the early Ultimas or Might and Magics would be comfortable here. Also, if you've played any of Dr Dungeon's Ultizurk games you will be right at home, as his unique writing style and sense of humor is instantly recognizable. There is even a suggestion in-game that your character in Madman! is the same person as the protagonist of the Ultizurk series, though with a scrambled set of memories.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Dr. Dungeon's Madman!
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 27 May 2014, 04:39:23Tags: DreamForge Intertainment; Sanitarium
It's been a while since we posted any AdventureDex content, hasn't it? In this review, esteemed community members Deuce Traveler and VioletShadow cast a look back at DreamForge's horror adventure game Sanitarium (1998). Here's a snippet from the full review:
There were a couple of action sequences which involved using an object on enemies while avoiding their attacks. These weren't much of a challenge, as failure meant the character was 'reborn' and free to try again without losing any progress. My favorite puzzle was a maze, which tends to be a headache in many other adventure games but in this case was nicely challenging and fun to complete.
Deuce Traveler: Some of the puzzles in the beginning were so simple that the game nearly felt like a visual novel where you are focused more on reading dialogue than gameplay. The difficulty picks up a little bit more after the initial chapter, but never really becomes challenging to a player who is willing to click on everything he or she sees, or use every item in the inventory on every object and person in the environment. There is a lack of real death in the game, which reduces the tension of the experience. A limited inventory and smaller, contained locations reduced the amount of actions you had to employ to solve the puzzles. This is definitely one of the easier adventure games I have ever played. Your enjoyment in solving puzzles won't come in feeling how clever you are in defeating them, but instead their bizarre nature. For that reason, I enjoyed some carnival challenges the most.
VioletShadow: Now, as for the interface it isn't awful, but has several flaws that may frustrate players to no end. Firstly, sometimes the character must be standing in a certain position to be able to interact with objects and maneuvering him until he is at the right place can take several tries and become a minor annoyance. Secondly, click/hold RMB to slowly walk didn't work that well and the character often ended up moving in the wrong direction. This takes me to the next issue: stairwells. *Screams*. Whenever the character walks in the wrong direction and gets close to a stairwell, he will go into the 'stairwell animation' and you have to wait for him to finish walking up or down. Many stairwells in the game plus awkward movement controls equaled lots of frustration for me.
Deuce Traveler: Heh. I didn't find the interface nearly as rage-inducing. In fact, I thought it was beautiful in its simplicity. If I had issues with anything, it was the lack of solutions to puzzles. There was always a certain item that had to be used in a certain way to progress, which admittedly is a frustrating staple of such adventure games. For example, I couldn't electrocute a creature with jumper cables, but had to find an artifact to use as a conduit. Said artifact was in a small pool of water and looked to be within easy distance of an adult arm, but the game forced me to locate a fishing rod in order to retrieve the object.
Unfortunately, the pathfinding in this game is nearly non-existent, so when I try to talk to someone the game often tells me I can't reach him or her to do so, even if I am standing next to them. This is because the game's animation requires the conversation to occur at a different angle from where I made the attempt.
Read the review in its entirety: AdventureDex Retrospective: Sanitarium
Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Thu 22 May 2014, 21:48:55Tags: Adam Heine; Colin McComb; George Ziets; inXile Entertainment; Jeremy Kopman; Torment: Tides of Numenera
What was first meant to be a catch-up interview with George Ziets, now the Lead Area Designer for Torment: Tides of Numenera, turned into a much broader interview as we also managed to get a hold of a few other game designers as well. So, for this interview, George Ziets is joined by Creative Lead Colin McComb, Design Lead Adam Heine, and Crisis Designer Jeremy Kopman. Holy moley.
Here's a slice of it:
This is partly a matter of personal taste, but I place much less value upon familiarity in new settings. Audiences are a lot more flexible than we often think. To me, it’s more important that character motivations and emotions feel believable and identifiable, regardless of setting. If you create characters who feel and act in a believable way, have problems that players can identify with, and are likable, audiences will tolerate a lot of weirdness in setting details.
Presentation is also a major issue to consider in a new setting. If you try to throw a lot of unfamiliar setting details at a player in the first ten minutes of gameplay (or, worse, in a convoluted opening cinematic), you’re likely to lose your audience. If, on the other hand, you drop them into a world that is full of mysteries, and the player is learning about the new world as an integral part of gameplay and story, their unfamiliarity with the setting can actually be an asset – it encourages a sense of ongoing discovery that can help keep the player engaged throughout the game.
I think problems arise in new settings when characters are flat and boring, stories are clichéd, the audience isn’t emotionally invested in what’s happening, and the creators are relying upon the details of the setting itself to interest the audience. A lot of hard science fiction falls into this trap. Writers can become so focused on communicating the details of the setting that they fail at job #1, which is creating an engaging story.
Josh is a really smart guy, and he’s right that many gamers place a great deal of value on familiarity so that they have touchstones on which to base their experience with a game. Using standard fantasy tropes is a great way to get people to ease into acceptance of the stranger aspects of the setting – for instance, the novel soul mechanics of Pillars of Eternity. This is the right decision for their game, which deliberately takes on some of the trappings of a magical, medieval setting. Given their vision and the experience they’re targeting, it would be a mistake for them to introduce too much abstract weirdness into the early part of the game.
Our vision was about something else altogether, and I think – I hope! – that we made our backers aware of just how weird and wonderful our setting is. Part of why we chose Numenera in the first place was because we want to deliver a setting that is intentionally strange and mysterious to our players, and one that will come to make coherent, internally consistent sense through the course of the game. We’ve said before that the game takes the player through the life of the Last Castoff, and we meant that. When the player enters the game, he or she will do it as an infant to the world. The world should be unfamiliar, just as it is to a newborn. The player will gain familiarity through experience.
That said, sure, a game could get too abstract or too weird. But I believe that if we create strong characters with believable motivations, realistic choices, and interesting situations, the strangeness of the setting becomes an inextricable part of the pleasure of the game.
Planescape: Torment had some very combat-oriented zones, particularly in the late game, while other parts of the game remained relatively combat-free. These combat zones could cause problems for socially invested characters. Is this something you're looking to address in Torment: Tides of Numenera?
Because the Crisis system leads us to build fewer but more expansive turn-based, tactical portions of the game, we don’t plan to have any areas densely populated with groups of mobs you are forced to fight. While all Crises present tactical challenges, some are more likely than others to lead to combat, and at times combat will be the most straightforward solution to the problem at hand. But even if the player finds him/herself in a spot where they have no choice but to fight, non-combat build options (Skills, Esoteries, Tricks of the Trade) will frequently offer a benefit. Players can attempt to converse with intelligent enemies, using their PC’s features to broker peace, frighten their opponents into losing morale, or simply distract them so their allies can gain the upper hand. In addition, many esoteries grant Fettles (the TTON term for status effects) that could weaken opponents’ resolve and leave them more susceptible to conversation options, disable them long enough to flee, or even charm them into helping the party. If your party is still in danger, exploration abilities and skills can be used to open paths to escape or inflict damage on the enemy without any attacks (as in the gantry example in the Crisis question above).
As we’ve stated before, we plan for it to be possible to complete TTON without engaging in combat at all. Players can finish or avoid every Crisis using social, stealth, and exploration abilities. Having said that, we haven’t promised that it will be easy. It will likely require very careful decision making and smart character build choices to complete the whole game without throwing a single punch/self-propelled energy projection device.
You really ought to read all of it, like, right now.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Torment: Tides of Numenera
Community - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 10 May 2014, 23:05:55
Back in January, esteemed community member felipepepe staged a vote so we could find out what our community's all-time best computer RPGs actually are these days. As a result, we got a hefty list, with graphs and stuff, of 70 titles - or actually a bit more: some games were tied, so you may notice that this Top 70 list features more games than just seventy. Then we asked our users to submit mini-reviews for the games that made it on the list. Around 50 Codexers and one Watch spy took the call, and here's what came out of it.
I'll quote the winner here for you, but be sure to check out the full list.
Jasede: Ah, wretched Planescape: Torment, always Planescape: Torment. This game is so hard to sell. I've many times attempted to get people to play it, only for them to get bored before leaving the mortuary or the bar outside it. If they do keep playing despite that, they are met with terribly shallow encounter design and an RPG system that seems more like a strange cross between Choose Your Own Adventure books and an adventure game, based around puzzles and conversations. Even calling it an RPG is almost a matter of some debate. So why then does this game hold such a high place to so many of us?
The biggest reason is that this game has shown us that story-based games can work. Often likened to a playable novel, PS:T tells the engrossing tale of a man in search of his past - or pasts. Starting from the tired cliché of amnesia, PS:T quickly draws those who will accept it for what it is, warts and all, into an engrossing tale of redemption, love and treachery, covering succinctly many of man's desires and shortcomings. While nobody is going to suggest this is the same level as classic literature, this is the game that showed us that video game writing can be above average, can indeed conjure up fantastic worlds and allow us to visit them. Not one NPC in PS:T does not have an interesting story, not one description of text or snippet of party banter an enticing tidbit that teaches us about the odd, foreign world that the tale occurs in.
PS:T invites us to a strange journey, and those who accept the invitation will, if they have the patience to read the game's copious walls of text, find themselves drawn to into an experience that they are not likely to ever forget.
MicoSelva: Probably the best story in any video game ever, Planescape: Torment is much more than just that. Allowing the player to explore one of the most unique worlds in the history of computer RPGs and interact with some of the most interesting characters ever created, PS:T is also a very solid game underneath it all. Everything you do in this game matters: how you create your character and develop it, how you approach people and what you say to them, what you do and what you decide not to do.
Torment will destroy your assumptions about what to expect from a fantasy RPG, as it comes with zero elves, zero dwarves and only two swords in the whole game, and it will also leave you wanting more from every RPG you play afterwards. Obviously it's not perfect (nothing is), with combat especially in need of some improvement, but so far it is as close to perfection as it gets.
Grunker: This game is unlike anything I'd ever played before or have played since. Everything was strange, and you never knew what to expect. One of the things I miss the most about games from the years past is the feeling of being thrust into a completely alien world, where nothing can be expected and everything is new and surprising. Oh yeah, and "DON'T TRUST THE *spoiler*". That moment was singed into my brain; it's probably the most memorable gaming moment for me.
Planescape: Torment is a game unlike any other, and thoroughly deserves its top spot on this list.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Top 70 PC RPGs (Now with User Reviews!)
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 7 May 2014, 17:47:54Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; South Park: The Stick of Truth; Ubisoft
It's been around two months since the release of the Obsidian-developed and Ubisoft-published RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth. It reviewed well and, we assume, sold well, too. Now that the initial hype storm has passed, Zed and I sat down to discuss what the game did right and what it did wrong. Our impressions are mixed -- in a sort of positive way, but mixed. For details check out the full review, but meanwhile here's our conclusion:
Crooked Bee: Well, like I said, I personally enjoyed the overdone absurdity. The mechanics though, not so much. Quests, combat, exploration, it’s all very easy to get into – mostly thanks to the writing – but ultimately also very repetitive. That's why it’s a good thing the game is only 12 hours long; but also a bad thing, because I believe the full price is too high for that. (Thank you, Ubisoft, for a review copy.)
Zed: Yeah, while being a subjectively funny game, it’s not very good in terms of mechanics and systems. The social media stuff seems half-forgotten in the later segments of the game and there are rarely any reasons for you to re-visit locations. It’s like a long South Park episode coupled with the gameplay and interactivity of a Newgrounds flash game.
Crooked Bee: Wow, that’s harsh! (Says someone who did nothing but complain about the mechanics for the entire review.) But sure, if we are to judge it as an RPG – this is the RPG Codex, after all! – and not just an interactive South Park episode, it’s definitely lacking, a mixed bag made up of addictive and monotonous in equal measure. Some aspects (writing, atmosphere, loot, animations) are brilliant; the RPG core, however, the combat, quest structure, and character development, are very simplistic. The lack of any kind of non-linearity or improvements to the tired Paper Mario formula is a big downer, too. The flip side of this being an interactive TV show episode, I guess…
Zed: It is what it is, and as that good ol’ Codex saying goes, it’s “good for what it is.” I highly recommend this game to fans of South Park (especially fans of the more juvenile stuff) and fart enthusiasts (like Germans). I can’t really recommend it to grimdark serious-face CRPG players looking for something deep and rewarding. They will find none of that here.
Crooked Bee: Yeah, it’s an ultra-casual RPG lite, albeit a very solid one at that. Despite my nitpicking, however, this is also the best, and most skilfully written, comedic RPG I’ve played. If you can disregard that this is supposed to be an Obsidian game, you’re bound to enjoy it. It is a shame, however, that I can’t help but associate the excellent content with Matt and Trey, and the underwhelming gameplay and design with Obsidian. It may, of course, have been South Park Studios or the evil publisher Ubisoft who demanded that Obsidian should make the actual RPG side as unimaginative as possible, but given Obsidian’s best titles, I refuse to accept any blame for wanting the game to have been something more. Mr. Chris Avellone once mentioned he’d like to design a High School RPG some day; if this were it, I would be highly disappointed.
Zed: It’s a bit funny how Obsidian are often profiled as the CRPG developer, when they haven’t exactly got a lot of releases under their belt to show for it. Imagine us in a year or two, reviewing Armored Warfare and going “Tanks?! Real-time?! Where are mah choices?! We expected more from you – Chris Avellone!”
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 4 May 2014, 19:44:05Tags: Kickstarter; Lunar Enigma; Prisonscape
As you may have guessed from its title, Prisonscape is an RPG set in prison. Featuring the traditional "indie game" pixel art and influenced equally by Japanese and Western RPGs, it aims to be complex in its mechanics and focused in its scope. Recently, Prisonscape's developers launched a Kickstarter to help them devote more time to the game, with the funding goal of $49,500. Unfortunately, so far it has only managed to collect about a third of that sum, with just 4 days left to go.
We reached out to Prisonscape's designer, Pekka Kallioniemi, to ask him some questions about the game's concept and the Kickstarter campaign. Here's a snippet:
We are two Finnish guys who decided that developing games could be our thing and decided to give it a try. Tuomas used to be in QA of a Finnish gaming company, Universomo, but I had no prior experience in game development. As a designer, I draw a lot of inspiration from pen and paper RPGs, such as AD&D 2nd edition, Twilight 2000 and Cyberpunk 2020.
Originally, Tuomas (the programmer) wanted to do an arcade/action game similar to the hospital scene in the Amiga classic It Came from the Desert. Eventually the game evolved into an adventure/roleplaying game. We felt that prison from the inmate's perspective was something that wasn't done properly before. Thematically the biggest inspiration comes of course from HBO's Oz, but also from classic prison movies like Shawshank Redemption, Midnight Express and Escape from Alcatraz (see a pattern here?).
Before this we have said that mechanics-wise most of the inspiration has come from classic JRPGs, but this isn't really true anymore since we moved from 1 vs 1 / ATB battle system to grid-based, tactical combat with henchmen, and there aren't many other similarities between classic JRPGs and Prisonscape. The current combat system is probably closer to Fallout, but actually most of the stuff we've come up with comes from pen and papers. This is a bold statement, but I think that AD&D 2nd edition with the Player's Option expansions is THE best combat system ever made, it just needs a lot of adjustments so that it fits in a cRPG taking place in modern prison.
Among the non-combat skills on the stats screen, there is a skill called Literacy. I'm curious: what does it do? There's also a screenshot on your Kickstarter page that shows the main character "reading up on some high school materials" in order to raise different attributes - is Literacy connected to that? How does training and raising your skills and attributes work?
Literacy is kind of a 'hard mode' - when you start the game, you can select your background and there's an option for being illiterate. Many of the jobs require you to be able to read and/or write, but the main story doesn't require this, and you can try playing the game through as an illiterate inmate if you want. This also limits your Intelligence score as you can't get all that knowledge that's available in the books. You can also learn to read inside the game if you start it as illiterate.
Skills and attributes can be increased by training - the most effective method being actually using them. For example, getting into melee fights exercises your Fighting skill and trading with other inmates exercises your Haggling skill. This is the most effective way to learn, but there are others, too. After every game turn (about a week in prison) you can choose what you want to do during being locked inside your cell or at rec time. These are related to either training your attributes or skills. Attributes are better in all-around stuff, whereas training skills gives you expertise in more specific areas. You can also get trainers to boost your training by hiring them or getting them through jobs.
Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Prisonscape
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 1 May 2014, 16:28:34Tags: Crystal Shard; Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok
Just when everyone had used to the thought that the Quest for Glory series would never see a worthy successor, and the Coles themselves went a seemingly unrelated way with Hero-U, a whole three new Quest for Glory-like adventure RPGs were announced - Quest for Infamy, Mage's Initiation, and Heroine's Quest. The latter was the first one to be released, and for free to boot! (Download it on Steam.) Quality never came at a lower price.
Having nothing to do with mind-altering substances, Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok follows the adventures of a female protagonist in a Viking-themed land. It also follows the Quest for Glory formula almost to a tee. In this review, esteemed community member Aeschylus tells you why you should abandon whatever it is you're doing and go download Heroine's Quest right now, especially if you're a Quest for Glory fan. Have a snippet:
Heroine's Quest is a game that does not so much politely borrow from Quest for Glory as it does tackle it and steal its stuff. Thankfully, it does so for the most part without damaging any of the elements that made QFG great; most everything from the originals is still there, including the three character classes, connections to real-world mythology, adventure game puzzles, stat-building through practice, exploration of a large, hostile forest, goofy, awkward humor, and multiple solutions to almost every situation. The only real difference is that your character has lady-parts. Because of all this it is almost inevitable that Heroine's Quest will be played through heavily tinted nostalgia goggles, but it is also a game that is worthy of consideration on its own merits. The borrowed mish-mash of features for the most part comes together successfully independent of its influences, though not without a few stumbles along the way. There are many elements to discuss, so let's get to it.
[...] The overall difficulty of the puzzles, aside from the few previously mentioned, is fairly moderate. You'll have to think a bit and explore the world carefully, but there are no puzzles that are so out-of-this world logic-wise that they're likely to be a major stopping point. That plus the fact that you generally have a fair number of things to do -- there is a large amount of optional content in the game, though it's only 100% optional for the Rogue -- mean that being completely stuck is likely to be a rare occurence. Getting full points on the other hand is quite challenging and requires you to always do the things appropriate to your class; a Rogue should always steal when possible, a Sorceress should strive to use spells, and a Warrior should always enter combat and search for new weapons. It's worth trying to max out your score, as you're likely to find a few interesting optional sections you would have otherwise missed.
So, after all that, is it worth playing? The answer is very much yes, particularly given that it's free. Heroine's Quest is of a good enough quality that it could be considered a proper entry in the original Quest for Glory series, and that is high praise indeed. It's a well-crafted look back at an era of games that we haven't seen for a long time, but it can very much stand on its own independent of any nostalgia.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Heroine's Quest
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 April 2014, 17:59:14Tags: Carrie Patel; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity
You might be surprised to hear that Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity has other people besides Josh Sawyer, Chris Avellone or Eric Fenstermaker working on it. One of these people is the narrative designer Carrie Patel. She is also a writer, and is publishing her first book, "The Buried Life," in July.
Esteemed community member Hormalakh has reached out to Carrie to ask her some questions about Pillars of Eternity, RPGs, as well as various narrative design and writing-related things. Have a snippet from the resulting interview:
It's hard for me to pinpoint who I actually emulate, but I'll tell you who I'd love to follow. I love Neal Stephenson -- his books are funny, smart, and thrilling all at the same time, and I'm convinced that the first two pages of Snow Crash would hook anyone. I loved Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose for the way it bound a fascinating mystery, two surprisingly lovable characters, and interesting theological questions. And I'd also have to mention Dune. I liked the story, and beyond that, I loved the way it fleshed out an entire universe of political and economic conflicts.
On the games front, my big formative experiences were with the old Sierra adventure game series -- King's Quest, Quest for Glory, the Colonel's Bequest. I loved playing through stories that were also puzzles, and it was always satisfying to explore, explore, and explore again and finally find the thing (an old boot, a soup bone) your character inexplicably needed. It was fun even though it was way too easy to play yourself into an unwinnable corner without realizing it.
I've also loved Morrowind -- it was the perfect blend of sandbox and story in a nontraditional world, and it just goes to show that you don't need to play a plumber to travel a world with giant mushrooms. I had tons of fun with both the combat and the storyline of the Mass Effect series, and I loved stealthing my way through Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For something a little different, Braid and The Stanley Parable did amazing things with experimental storytelling while unfolding their narratives with unique but fitting gameplay. The Stanley Parable is one of the funniest games I've ever played, and even though it's brief, I was as engrossed in it as I've ever been in bigger, more produced games. And the end of Braid is one of my favorite "aha" moments in any game. And, of course, Planescape Torment is a great example of a unique and immersive narrative -- even though character customization is limited, the choices presented to the player make the experience every bit as personal as if you'd built the character from scratch.
What do you find the most difficult aspect of writing for a video game like Pillars of Eternity?
Accounting for all of the extremes of player agency is challenging. One of our goals is to create a story that people can play however they want, but that means that when you're writing and scripting, you have to consider all of the secondary ways someone could try to complete the game. What if the player kills this NPC? Would exploring this area too early break the story? You don't want players to feel shackled, but you don't want to create situations where they might end up with an unplayable mess. So you set up failsafes to guide them through the key moments so that they can ultimately play however they want and still enjoy the full game.
Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Obsidian's Carrie Patel on Pillars of Eternity
Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 21 April 2014, 18:17:28Tags: Chris Roberts; PAX East; Star Citizen; Tim Schafer
Have you ever been to a gaming convention? You know, one of those events where gamers, cosplayers, and developers meet, and panels are held that no one really cares about? If you ever felt you might be missing out, don't: the Codex's most famous person with a disability, esteemed community member mindx2, has just recently returned from this year's PAX East (held on April 11-13), and is here to tell you why it proved to be a disappointment for him. Here's a Tim Schafer-related anecdote:
I walked up and explained that I had been tasked by the RPG Codex to report on my PAX experience, and he went “Who?”
“It’s a prestigious magazine/forum.” I said. He just stared blankly at me.
“We thought the game was too easy.”
He looked down at me, clearly not expecting criticism and said, “No it's not. You say that or they say that?”
“Well, the consensus was that that the puzzles were too easy,” I replied.
I will always remember his response to that. He said, “Tell them they're playing it wrong.”
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2014
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 11 April 2014, 20:36:12Tags: Anachronox; Ion Storm; Tom Hall
Remember Anachronox, the best non-Japanese JRPG? We sure do. That's why we offer you this retrospective feature on Tom Hall's RPG masterpiece, written by esteemed community members Deuce Traveler and VioletShadow. (A word of warning: contains spoilers!) Have a snippet:
Deuce Traveler: Let me answer the most important question: Is the game worth playing? I have to say that it is, and I have to thank VioletShadow for suggesting the game to me. I really did not have high expectations going in, and I wasn’t sure I would enjoy playing it, since I usually care more about the gameplay and combat than about the story and graphics. While there were some tactical options in the game's combat system that helped make the experience more enjoyable, ultimately the story and setting are its biggest selling points, and they are done incredibly well. This is a science fiction game with a certain degree of technobabble, but lots of it is actually based on scientific theory, and the game definitely expects a bit of intellectual maturity from its audience. I also liked the characters, and the way in which the story was told. It is a shame that we will never see a sequel, as it is quite obvious that the tale was meant to continue. I finished the game with about half of the side quests done, around the 35 hour mark.
VioletShadow: Anachronox is a wonderful game; weird, charming, unique, and original in its presentation. I’m glad that I chose this game for Deuce and I to play. Despite a bit of a slow start and often repetitive combat, it manages to provide an engaging experience with superb writing, storytelling, setting, humor, music and voice acting. I had a blast playing it and highly recommend it, especially for those with a soft spot for the bizarre and unconventional. Even though there’s hilarity at every turn, the game also explores serious topics such as corruption, bureaucratic ineffectiveness, the infinite nature of the universe and more, and not half-heartedly.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Anachronox
Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Mon 31 March 2014, 05:54:44Tags: Serpent in the Staglands; Whalenought Studios
It was just before this weekend when Whalenought Studios' Serpent in the Staglands caught the attention of the Codex by showcasing its lovely-looking pixel art graphics and name-dropping genre classics Darklands and Baldur's Gate in their Kickstarter pitch. It was a great pitch too, but it left us pondering about a few things, so we got in touch with Whalenought for an interview.
The interview mainly covers the game in question and its mechanics and design. Here's a few Q/As to wet your appetite:
Thank you! That was absolutely what we were going for (and budgeted for). We’re keeping the art gritty and ground in some amount of realism.
Similar to their classless skill system, our system involves building your character by selecting any combat, spell or aptitude skills you’d like. This allows for a vast amount of customization and personality — rewarding creativity with your own custom build types. The Darklands combat is frenetic and pretty ruthless and we’re trying to capture that as well. Nothing was more satisfyingly demoralizing than failing to best some bandits and getting told they stole all your equipment and money and left you for dead. Their story scenes were the original inspiration for our Aptitude creation and uses outside combat.
On the Kickstarter page, you mention a few locations such as Emerald Mines and the forest domain of the Wandering Lady. Will the player travel seamlessly between these areas or do you use a world map system like the one found in the Infinity Engine games? Is the progression linear or can the player choose which areas to visit and in what order?
We designed a system that’s completely open for the player to explore at will. Enemies and conflicts don’t level with you, so there isn’t necessarily an order, but general areas are safer out of the gate than others.
Similar to other crpgs, maps are individual scenes that you can exit near the edges that will bring you to an overworld map with markers that you manually traverse. You can have random events and ambushes take place while traveling, along with uncovering secret locations.
Where do you see Whalenought heading with Serpent in the Staglands? It's a certainly a departure from your earlier, perhaps more accessible, mobile games. Are you looking to become the next Spiderweb Software or Basilisk Games, focusing on throwback CRPGs?
Our plan is to continue to explore the world of Vol (where the Staglands lies) in future games. We have a lot planned for other continents to explore and are excited to continue unraveling the lore in other campaigns.
If you think this game sounds balls-off-the-court awesome after having read the interview, be informed that the Kickstarter is still ongoing!
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Serpent in the Staglands (Now on Kickstarter)
Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 25 March 2014, 21:43:28Tags: Deus Ex: The Fall; Eidos Montreal; Square Enix
Back in 2011, Eidos Montreal, a Quebecois development studio owned by Japanese publisher Square Enix, released Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a sequel/prequel to the long-dormant Deus Ex series. Although it had its share of detractors, it can be said that Human Revolution surprised gamers worldwide by actually being fairly decent. Unfortunately, our hopes that the world had acquired a new good-for-what-is AAA game developer were dashed when Eidos Montreal proceeded to "restore balance to the force" by sodomizing the Thief franchise. But still, not all was lost! The core Deus Ex team at Eidos, consisting of individuals such as charismatic art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête ("JJB") and talented narrative designer Mary DeMarle, were not involved with Thief. No, they were working on a new Deus Ex title, a title that would surely be revealed soon...
Well, fortunately, that turned out to be true. Unfortunately, it turned out that what they were working on was Deus Ex: The Fall, an iOS-exclusive mobile game. Released last July, The Fall was subsequently ignored by every gamer smart enough to know that you don't play shooters on a tablet, a description that happens to fit most of the Deus Ex fanbase. I have no idea how well it actually sold on Apple's platform, but as it happens, the game was pushed to Android in January, before finally finding its way to PC last week. Now fully within our sphere of attention, we realized that we had to bite the bullet and give Deus Ex: The Fall a closer look. Expecting the worst, but hoping for at least some redeeming qualities, we dispatched our Expert On Popamole Affairs™, DalekFlay, to play the game and write a report on his findings.
Without further ado, I present...
A Review by DalekFlay
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Deus Ex: The Fall
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 14 March 2014, 17:37:57Tags: Harebrained Schemes; Shadowrun Returns; Shadowrun: Dragonfall
The recently released DLC (but actually more of an expansion) to Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, promised to improve on the original campaign by making gameplay less restrictive and more open-ended. But did it deliver on those promises? Read this review by Darth Roxor to find out. Here's a snippet:
[...] I did say difficulty was still a problem, and unfortunately, two significant issues with it remain: the Heal Wound spell is as broken as ever, and the enemy AI is as retarded as ever. I have absolutely no idea who the hell decided to keep the hard-coded routine that makes enemies never use more than one offensive action per turn, but he should be yelled at. Seriously, I mean it. There’s nothing that keeps the difficulty down more than this – even if you are severely outnumbered, your team still effectively has more actions per turn than the enemy, and it is downright absurd when you see a foe shoot you once and end his turn, even though you know he has 4 action points because a flashbang that hit him on a different occasion for -3AP didn’t knock him out. If the AI was actually using its potential to the fullest, Dragonfall might have actually been a very challenging game. I have no idea why they couldn't make the “Very Hard” difficulty setting remove this "enemy action limit".
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 8 March 2014, 19:49:06Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft
In January Ubisoft and Limbic Entertainment released Might & Magic X: Legacy, the newest installment in one of the most venerable RPG series. In a detailed review you've all been waiting for, esteemed community member and Might and Magic connoisseur Sceptic examines just to what extent MMX departs from or improves on the previous games in the series. I'll quote his conclusion here, but be sure to read the full review for his analysis:
[...] In summary, MMXL does not quite live up to the expectations that I had when reading everything that was released by Limbic about the game, as well as the Codex previews. Perhaps no game could have lived up to the expectations one builds after 12 years of waiting for the next entry in a beloved series, an entry that no one ever expected would see the light of day. The game departs from the M&M formula where it matters the most, the overworld exploration. Additionally, it has quite a few flaws in its combat system. But it also preserves and improves core M&M tenets. The character system, the dungeons, the puzzles, the Relics, and yes, even many aspects of exploration have been lovingly recreated to please fans of the series, but also improved - something that the old series excelled at doing in almost every new iteration. Despite its flaws, the game's combat can be a lot of fun and it is certainly the most serious attempt at tactics that the series has attempted in a very long time. What matters is that none of the game's flaws are serious enough to warrant depriving oneself from the pleasure of playing it. After all, the Codex's favourite games are all flawed gems. We have always preferred games that try for challenging and tactical combat and for meaningful non-linear exploration, to ones that give up and go for typical modern formulae and restrictive cinematic experiences. MMXL certainly tries very hard, and it often succeeds. Even the exploration, despite being such a departure from what M&M did best, is excellent if divorced from the series' expectations and taken on its own terms.
The final verdict should be obvious by now: MMXL is a must-buy and a must-play. Limbic did a superlative job in bringing together many beloved elements from the series, improving where they could and not dumbing down where it matters. The flaws are immaterial in the grand scheme of things; Limbic have proven they can make a real (and good!) M&M game, and they have certainly proven that they can make an excellent turn-based tile-based blobber with all the joyful gameplay elements that entails. All Ubisoft needs to see is that there is a market for this kind of game, no matter how niche. MMXL may not be the best M&M game to date, but it's more than good enough, and if Limbic can iron out the flaws in the combat system and improve exploration and other aspects, then MMXI will really be something special. I'm certainly looking forward to it.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Might & Magic X: Legacy
Codex Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 28 February 2014, 23:39:56Tags: Blackguards; Daedalic Entertainment
Daedalic Entertainment's Blackguards took us by surprise. Who would have expected a German adventure game studio to make a great tactical RPG, of all things? And yet, as you may recall, our early preview of the game was, nitpicking aside, positively glowing. It's taken us long enough since that preview and the game's official release in January, but we are now ready to present our final verdict on Daedalic's RPG debut, penned again by Darth Roxor and felipepepe. Have a snippet on encounter design and then be sure to read the full review:
You see, Blackguards seems to have a different design philosophy behind it compared to other RPGs. When you think about “difficulty” in other games in the genre, the first thing that comes to mind is usually those shitty solutions used by incompetent developers, like enemies with ridiculously bloated HP that kill you in one hit. Others will just keep the one-hit-kill part. More competent ones will come up with superior enemy AI and varied combat encounters. Daedalic obviously went for the last solution, but even then, their approach is still considerably different from other tacticool games you might have played, since it supplements mixed groups of enemies possessing different strengths and weaknesses with complex environmental interaction, that makes many of the game's fights feel a lot like puzzles. You will often be outnumbered and outgunned, against enemies armed with things like poisoned weaponry and traps, but you'll be able to offset that with careful tactical consideration and tool management. [...]
Felipepepe: I said it in the preview, and I’ll repeat it here: Daedalic’s vast experience in adventure games can be fully felt in the way they approach encounter design. Baldur’s Gate 2 is often praised for its vast bestiary and great encounter design. I dare say that Blackguards has equally great encounter design, although from a different “school”.
Since every encounter happens in a unique arena specifically designed for it, the developers had the freedom to play with various things. There are holes that spawn enemies, time limits, movable and destructible objects, healing orbs, falling chandeliers, mechanical blades, flying dragons, falling stalactites, rotating fire traps, swamp gas, giant tentacles, mind-controlling plants, draw bridges, collapsing passageways, a giant cage on a crane… there is not a single RPG out there that offers so many interesting things to do during combat. Honestly, Blackguards is a lesson in encounter design that every RPG player AND developer should experience, to see what a creative team can do when thinking outside of the genre's standard templates. Daedalic even had the guts to make skeletons properly immune to arrows and swords, as they should be.
Read the article in full: RPG Codex Review: Blackguards