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RPG Codex Review: Wasteland 2

Review - posted by Infinitron on Wed 19 November 2014, 18:25:47

Tags: inXile Entertainment; Wasteland 2

During the months leading up to the release of Wasteland 2, many were the unbelievers who cast doubts upon the game's quality, and the matter of who would be reviewing it for the Codex was an issue of some contention. Luckily, all that changed when the game came out and turned out to be pretty decent after all. Former RPG Codex editor-in-chief and reviewer extraordinaire Vault Dweller, formerly a sceptic of Wasteland 2 himself, was now happy to make himself available to review the game. To make things even better, he teamed up with none other than Barkley 2 developer and Shoutbox savant Eric "cboyardee" Shumaker. And review they did!

It's now been exactly two months since Wasteland 2's release, and VD & Eric can't wait to finally show you how much they liked it. Here are their concluding remarks:

We can analyze the design to death and rejoice finding various shortcomings, but here is a simple and honest-to-God reason why I really liked Wasteland 2.

Like most people here, I play a lot of RPGs. Recently I played 4-5 games that shall not be named and couldn’t really get into them. Naturally, I suspected that maybe I lost my ability to enjoy games and get immersed due to age/kids/stress/etc.

Then I tried Wasteland 2 and couldn’t stop playing. The more I played, the more I wanted to. It’s a wonderful yet rare feeling that every gamer can relate to.

Does it mean that you’re going to like it? It depends entirely on your expectations. If you expected a long overdue sequel or a game that allows you to chart your own course, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you expected a game like [Fallout / Jagged Alliance / ‘best game evar’], you might be disappointed.

Fallout was a game where you explored the setting and could kick some ass if you chose to. WL2 is a game where you kick ass (i.e. combat heavy, which is the very definition of old-school design) and can explore the setting if you choose to. If you don’t, your mileage will vary.

Lastly, it's important to understand the context of Wasteland 2. RPGs have essentially been dead since 2005. Wasteland 2 is the second game and the instigator of what is probably an RPG renaissance. Wasteland 2 isn't just important for being a good game, it's important for being the first stepping stone on the way to Wasteland 3, Pillars of Eternity, Torment 2, countless other RPGs that would have never been made if inXile hadn't taken the risk to show that people still care about this genre. Wasteland 2 is the game that reopened the floodgates for RPG development.

Real RPGs.

Now, bring on that Red Boots DLC!​

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RPG Codex Review: WH40k - Dark Heresy, 2nd Edition

Review - posted by Grunker on Mon 10 November 2014, 10:35:16

Tags: Dark Heresy; Fantasy Flight Games; Games Workshop; WH40k


The RPG Codex sporadically takes a look into the world of Pen & Paper RPGs. After all, this glorious hobby of ours was spawned directly from that cosmos. With the introduction of our beloved Gazebo, we started rolling out more tabletop content.

However, since Monte Cook's Numenera, we haven't been that active with the ol' pen n' dice, so we thought that now was the time to once again peek into the realm of soda cans and sweaty arm pits. This time, it is Darth Roxor taking a look at Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy, Second Edition:

RPG Codex doesn’t get nearly enough pen-and-paper-related content, so I decided to sit down and rectify that. And what better topic would there be to write about than the recently released second edition of Dark Heresy?


the main questions are threefold:

- Whether it managed to fix some of the original’s glaring flaws
- Whether the overall theme of roleplaying an inquisitor’s private retinue of investigators tracking down WITCHCRAFT, HERESY AND MUTATION was preserved.
- Whether Fantasy Flight Games managed to cherry pick some of the better additions from the previous supplements and offshoots.​

So how does that go, we wonder?

this entire system feels a lot like some sort of half-arsed fan attempt​

Uh-oh. Read more to follow the trainwreck to its station.

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RPG Codex Review: Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 30 October 2014, 15:01:00

Tags: Activision; Nihilistic Software; Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption

One game the Codex never got around to reviewing is Nihilistic Software's Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, published by Activision in 2000 (and currently available from GOG.com). Compared to the much more celebrated Bloodlines, Redemption has fallen into relative obscurity and isn't generally considered a very good game. In this special Halloween feature, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler considers whether that reputation is deserved. (Spoiler: he thinks it is.) In the conclusion, another esteemed Codexer, felipepepe, offers a brief addendum on the game's Storyteller Mode.

Here's an excerpt to get you started:

Another gripe that I have with Redemption is its lack of adherence to the Vampire: The Masquerade lore. The events that Christof is involved with in medieval times eventually result in an Inquisition against the vampire lords, but the timeline doesn't quite seem to match White Wolf's publications. Also, the clan of vampire you are born into dictates the set of disciplines (related categories of vampire powers) available to you in the tabletop version, but in the video game your party can run into books which impart upon the reader new vampire disciplines, like some sort of quick-read "Vampire Powers for Dummies" pamphlet.

I've played the tabletop version of the classic World of Darkness roleplaying game a handful of times, so while I'm not an expert, I know a bit about its Storyteller System ruleset. The Storyteller System was a d10 ruleset used by White Wolf for all of its World of Darkness titles, from Vampire: The Masquerade to Mage: The Ascension. The classic Vampire: The Masquerade rules that Redemption was based upon encouraged the use of skills for engaging in non-combat activities such as investigations and diplomacy. Often a group of Vampire players would investigate the activities of enemy Sabbat (the bad guys) agents infiltrating their city, or tread the interwoven politics of their own allied Camarilla (the supposed good guys). In Redemption, though, the designers went with the classic action RPG dungeon crawler formula, despite the fact that the Storyteller system was best suited for a less combat-oriented experience.

The game focuses on dungeon crawling and combat against larger numbers of vampires than would be reasonably expected to be residing in a single city. The skill system is completely tossed out - fighting is the only way of solving quests. There is also a bit of puzzle solving, which can be summed up as "find the hidden switch to open the next passageway". Instead of allowing you to explore the character of Christof and the world of which he is a part, the game takes the uninteresting Save The World route, without ever explaining how the big bad evil guy could take over the world when four vampires in trench coats can take him out easily enough.​

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RPG Codex Preview: Underrail Re-Previewed

Preview - posted by Grunker on Tue 21 October 2014, 19:29:29

Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail



It might actually not be, according to Blaine. It's been a long time since we last took a look at Styg's promising, upcoming game Underrail. Last time we did, we described it using such uncharacteristically bold language as

"Underrail has the potential to become a classic on par with the old Codexian favourite Fallout."​

Hm. Well, the game has come a long way since then. We're hardly likely to use such words again, now that the game is much bigger and reality is sinking in, are we?

Perhaps we are. Here's a bit of what Blaine had to say about it:

"Underrail is the second coming of the incline. The only reasonable conclusion to draw here is that you should either play the game now, or look forward to playing it later when it's officially released. Although the current version offers an enormous amount of content, is very stable, and doesn't feel "unfinished" (although it is, as you'll discover once you reach higher levels), it isn't quite done, so you may prefer to wait.

Having said that, the game isn't without its flaws. As JarkFrank mentioned in his preview, there are a lot of typos, and boy, there really are a lot of them. They're present in skill/item descriptions as well as dialog. In addition, and this is my personal opinion, some of the NPC dialog is a bit awkward or rushed and should be copyedited and cleaned up. This is a very manageable flaw (though no small task) that could turn into a big one if allowed into the final release.

Also, the game is a little bit (really just a scosche) light on NPC dialog and C&C at the moment, though there is a good bit of dialog and C&C. Of course, the game's not finished, so it's hard to make a solid judgement, especially on the C&C front.

In conclusion, this game is great, and if you don't like it, you're a tasteless waste of oxygen and should be removed from the Codex. Grunker and/or Infinitron, you'd better not cut this part! It's important."​

Alright Blaine, we won't. But what on earth does it take to make a Codexer use such strong, positive superlatives? Is Blaine a gushing fanboy, or is this game simply remarkably Codexian? Read the preview to find out! Who knows, maybe you'll be heading off to buy Underrail afterwards?

Read the full article: Underrail Preview MK2

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RPG Codex Report: Tokyo Game Show 2014, Barkley 2, and JRPGs

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 21 October 2014, 15:48:15

Tags: Barkley 2: Revenge of Cuchulainn; Falcom; Square Enix; Tales of Game's; Tokyo Game Show

An odd message arrived in the RPG Codex inbox in June. Codex user/lurker Math Fool was telling us he was going to the Tokyo Game Show, which was to take place September 18th to 21st, and that he could cover the show for the Codex if we wanted him to. Later, it turned out Tales Of Game's' and our very own eric_s' Barkley 2 was going to be showcased at TGS. And as you may know, we have been following that game fairly closely.

So we thought: okay, at least he'll take a look at Barkley 2 for us, and secured a press pass for Math Fool. Barkley 2 alone wasn't enough to make an entire article though, so we padded it out with general JRPG- and otaku-related stuff. You know, like we usually do here on the Codex.

Anyway, here's the excerpt on Barkley 2:

Barkley 2 is a direct sequel to the indie RPG Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden. Set 4000 years after the original game in the year 666X, the story focuses on a character who has lost his memories and adopts an identity to explore the world of Necron 7. The character creation process is very involved and can last as long as 30 minutes. One gamer at TGS actually died during this process, which then has a lasting impact on your character for the remainder of the game.

Barkley 2 embracing its Japanese roots.

Your choices impact the story in Barkley 2, and no game is quite like another. There are over 20 possible endings in this 15-hour quest, and every action is tracked in the game. Not only how often you die but the types of death your character experiences will contribute to his overall fate. You can earn experience points by playing video games, or choose to keep games in their original mint packaging instead.

Combat occurs in real-time using a dual thumb stick interface. I played using an Xbox One controller, and the action is fast and furious. In addition to standard combat, there is also a turn-based tactical basketball strategy game that was reminiscent of Blitzball from Final Fantasy X. Finally, there is a detailed item breeding and creation process in which guns can evolve over time and pass down their characteristics to future generations.

The turn-based B-Ball game

To be honest, I had never heard of Barkley 2 before coming to TGS. The story of both games are very unique, wacky and original. It’s the kind of game that normally falls under my radar screen, but it was good to play something that was not another big budget franchise sequel for a change.

Barkley 2 is coming initially to PC, Mac and Linux, with future ports to PS4 and XB1, and potentially the PS3 and Xbox 360. The game will be available “when it’s ready.”​

On a related note, eric_s aka cboyardee recently posted on the SA forums that Barkley 2's quests will basically blow all the Kickstarter games out of the water:

Not to knock Wasteland or anything, I think it's cool and I've really enjoyed it so far, but it's crazy how different it is from Barkley 2. I guess for the last few years I've had it in my head that Wasteland and all these other big kickstarter games are the metric by which we're going to be judged (I have no idea why) and obviously it excels in areas where Barkley can't even come close, like polish, but our approach to quest design and their approach are just different games all together. Kind of crazy to me, actually, that we're still O.K. with like straight up no-frills fetch quests. I haven't seen the whole game and I like everything I've seen so far, but I seriously hope every other RPG cannibalizes our quests.​

He also says "it's taking long because we want it to be really good." No pressure at all, Eric.

Finally, don't forget to check out the full article, if only for the numerous booth babes pics. That's why people attend these kinds of events, right?

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RPG Codex Interview: Seven Dragon Saga - A Return To Golden Boxes

Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 10 October 2014, 20:27:11

Tags: Seven Dragon Saga; Tactical Simulations Interactive


Tactical Simulations Interactive, or TSI Games, were kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding their upcoming (spiritual) successor to the GoldBox RPGs of the late 80s and early 90s: Seven Dragon Saga. Set in a new fantasy universe and being based on different pen & paper ruleset, one may wonder if this game will be able to live up to the legacy of the classics. Well, I don't know. This is an interview; not a preview, not a review. You silly goose.

From this interview, we learn with certainty that TSI will indeed go the route of crowdfunding Seven Dragon Saga. Let this be a lesson to everybody seeking factuals from media outlets such as Kotaku. We also learn a thing or two about party sizes, combat, the world map and more.

A couple of cool snippets:

In the press-release, one bullet-point touches on the importance of choices and consequences in the game. How will these choices be present, and how are you keeping track of the consequences? Will you be using something like a reputation system? Also, will there be any moral or ethical dispositions for characters – something like D&Ds alignment system?

The player's party represents the Empire in a newly conquered land during a time of crisis, so the NPCs on all sides fall into factions, which we will track with a reputation system. Players' choices at critical junctures can also modify the relative strengths of these faction. For instance, if the player liberates a border fort, he may have the option to raise the flag of one faction or another, granting them control of the fortress and surrounding lands. Should they come to regret the choice, another conquest of the fort may be in order.

We are currently balancing out a Goals system for individual characters. During character creation, the player will be able to select from a limited list of Goals. When the resolution of a quest aligns with that character's goals, they receive a benefit. Not all quest resolutions will have the full range of Goal alignment, so simply having a 'Greedy' party will not provide an optimum solution. Choosing a range of sometimes conflicting goals provides the party a potentially greater benefit, but may begin to clash with the player's personal goals, or lead to the alienation of useful factions. ​

You have made it clear that Seven Dragon Saga is not another tale of a simple farmer's rise to power and glory. What exactly does this entail for the gameplay? Will the game still have the progression relative to a beginner's campaign, but cosmetically scaled up in power? Or will it be more like a playing a high level campaign off-the-bat?

Missing all of your attacks and having 4 HP simply isn't fun. Players can expect to start at a mid-level of proficiency with a reasonable set of skills and abilities to choose from. This means the player will not advance as quickly as some games where 10th level is only a couple of hours away, but endgame characters are more flexible and powerful. Part of this is through incremental improvements (spending points on abilities), part through acquiring new powers, and part through equipment (loot and constructed). ​​

Enjoy the interview and have a great weekend.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Seven Dragon Saga - A Return To Golden Boxes

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RPG Codex Report: Wasteland 2 Release Party

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 29 September 2014, 12:11:35

Tags: Brian Fargo; Chris Avellone; Colin McComb; George Ziets; inXile Entertainment; Kevin Saunders; Nathan Long; Steve Dobos; Wasteland 2

Sometime in early 2012, when InXile's sequel to the 1988 cult classic RPG Wasteland was being crowdfunded, we at the RPG Codex ran our own fundraiser campaign for a Codex-themed in-game location and statue. When Wasteland 2 was finally released earlier this month, we got what we paid for -- have you found our in-game shrine already? -- which, incidentally, also included an invitation for two persons to attend the Wasteland 2 Release Party on September 19th in Newport Beach, CA, where the two lucky invitees would party, drink, and celebrate with the likes of Brian Fargo and Chris Avellone.

We wanted to find someone local to go on our behalf, but as it happens none of our staff or regular contributors live in California. So we turned to the esteemed community member MRY, who happens to live close to Newport Beach and who in his turn suggested the Californian artist/writer/music critic Daniel Miller (http://bydanielmiller.com/). Together, they went to the party on the Codex's behalf and also did two independent write-ups about what they saw and did there and how it all went. (With pictures! So be sure to read the full article.)

Here's a snippet from Dan's write-up...

What goes on in the darkened halls of the Codex? Told that I was there writing a report for the site, those that knew would produce a pained sort of smile, observe the impressive tenure or wide readership of the Codex, and admit their own varied past with the site. Then a pause, and remembrance of a place on the internet where good ideas (and decency) are harried, tortured, profaned, shredded and whittled to oblivion. Of course there was talk of the incredible depth reached in conversations on the site, and there was talk of diamonds in the rough (the handle Jaesun?). Brian Fargo likened RPG Codex to Howard Stern in that it had at some point gone off the cliff and never returned, and a wild-eyed whiskered fellow remarked that perhaps the in-game Codex statue should have had smaller genitals.

This fellow was promptly hushed by Joby Bednar, ready to regale me with feats of code. This man personally built a 6502 emulator to embed into Wasteland 2, which allows the tech-savvy player access to a 64k computer right from an in-game terminal. Thus, a player can insert their very own 6502 programs and use them within Wasteland. Beyond this, there are apparently hundreds of other little tidbits scattered throughout the game, but Joby was thankfully forthright with a hint exclusive to this article: In a missile silo, there is a console which allows for player input. Type the word ‘Joshua’.

With that, Joby drifted away, and I noticed that a few had occupied a booth away from the group. At this table was a prominent member of SomethingAwful, name of Quarex, who informed me that we were tacit enemies. Seated around him were the scripters, the soldiers, whom I was hoping would be eager to gripe. With hands flailing, Ben Moise confessed the great labor that went into making sure that everyone was killable in Wasteland 2. In fact, a few people had a complaint about that feature, and it ended up being a favored question of the evening.

It would seem that most employees grudgingly accept the freedom of murder as an expected feature of the series. Asking the question in a more general sense though, I found a great deal of discomfort on the topic. A couple of people asked me if their answers would be on the record. The self-purported moral compass of the group cited her experience as a parent. A few were more diplomatic, saying that freedom to kill is necessary according to the needs of a specific game. When I finally got my moment with Kevin Saunders, he made raised more practical concerns: the feature was costly in time and effort and precluded child characters, unlike in Tides of Numenera.​

...and a snippet from MRY's:

I never did beat Wasteland, even though I went back to it time and again over the years. As best I can recall, I stopped playing at the sewers. (For how many dozens of RPGs is that sad statement true?)

All the same, I could recount a hundred stories. Trying desperately to tie up Bobby's dog. Half-weeping as I had to shoot my way out of Highpool. Blood sausage. A misaimed howitzer. The best mayor a kid in DC could hope for. Dancing on tables. Faran Brygo. Sweating, unable to sleep, after reading a paragraph in the book that said I had been cheating and the police were coming to get me. Wondering for most of my life whether, in fact, you got to go to Mars at the end of the game. Scorpitrons. "Mom, what's 'herpes'?"

Now I'm 34 years old, and I'm recounting that last bit to Brian Fargo. "And that's how I learned about safe sex," I conclude, as he glances in horror toward his two young kids standing next to him. Shit. "How, exactly," he thinks, "do I get myself into these things?"

* * *

Talking to Fargo impresses several things upon me. The first is how young this industry is. Fargo's career seems to span most of its meaningful history -- I know, Chester Bolingbroke would say I'm leaving out decades of PLATO games -- and in fact covers my entire lifetime as a gamer, including almost every high point in it. And yet he's a youthful 50, and his kids are hardly older than mine. At various times over the night he describes himself as "just an entertainer" and "a gamer at heart"; in fact, he is at once an elder statesman and new frontiersman.

He's also, quite obviously, a shrewd businessman who has survived tremendous upheavals both in his own career and in the industry as a whole. At one point, he mentions that when doing a deal, he looks at the other side's headquarters on Google Maps and gets a feel for how lavishly they live. "It says one thing if they're in a strip mall. It says something else if they're in a palace." (*cough*Double Fine*cough*) I get the sense that he's had both sets of digs in his days.

The same savvy that has served him so well makes me cautious about drawing any conclusions about Fargo's inner character. He certainly seemed charming, sincere, generous with his time and attention, a doting dad, a gentle boss, a true believer in games, and so on. But, as the Bard wrote, "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain -- at least I am sure it may be so in Newport." Or something like that. I want to believe in him -- and I have no reason not to -- but I wouldn't stake my life on it.

Still, to listen to the man talk about games he's played, games he's made, games he's dreaming of making, it's hard not to fall a little bit in love. He complains passionately about reviewers who can't, or won't, understand complex RPGs, and vows that next time he's following Larian's lead and not distributing advance review copies. At one point, he declares that Sacrifice is the best multiplayer game of all time. Sacrifice happens to be one of my all-time favorites -- for the art design, the voice acting, the writing (which combines po-faced Soul Reaver-ism with sly subversiveness and lots of wordplay) -- but in my opinion the multiplayer is trash. I tell him as much, and he rolls his eyes. "I'm sure you weren't playing it 3 on 3." He's right. He launches into stories of thrilling matches over the years, of hustling kids in some tournament, of little cheats to juggle enemy wizards. The word "manahoar" rolls off his tongue with practiced fluency.

I want to believe.​

Read the article in full: RPG Codex Report: Wasteland 2 Release Party

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RPG Codex Review: Risen 3: Titan Lords

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 15 September 2014, 17:58:53

Tags: Piranha Bytes; Risen 3: Titan Lords

It is something of a Codex tradition to have the esteemed community member Darth Roxor review Piranha Bytes' Risen titles. In this article, he shares his (mostly negative) thoughts on Risen 3: Titan Lords, concluding with the following rumination on the state of the Piranha Bytes of today:

To sum up my final impression of both Risen 3 and Piranha Bytes as a whole, I’d like to quote my very good friend Boethius:

But we will still speak concerning the nature of men, and concerning their pursuits. Though, then, their mind and their nature be now dimmed, and they are by that fall sunk down to evil, and thither inclined, yet they are desirous, so far as they can and may, of the highest good. As a drunken man knows that he should go to his house, and to his rest, and yet is not able to find the way thither, so is it also with the mind, when it is weighed down by the anxieties of this world.

That is the state of Piranha Bytes today, in a nutshell. They know that they must return to the old Gothic formula, and hell, they probably even want to do it, but they simply have no idea how. They grasp at the ideas and elements that were present in their most successful games, they announce that they are "going back to the roots", and they even attempt to fix the flaws that they've introduced, but they are not able to put those changes and fixes into proper context, nor design the same systems that once made them great. Thus, the final product is but a warped shadow of its original counterpart, a haphazardly glued-together Frankenstein’s monster that might be made of similar flesh, but can never be even one tenth as functional or “alive”.

Unfortunately, I doubt they will ever reach their past greatness again. This is made apparent both by the quality of their last two games, and by comparing the credits of Gothic 2 and Risen 3. Hell, even comparing Risen 1 to Risen 3 should be enough to draw the necessary conclusions.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Risen 3: Titan Lords

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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 3: A Misanthrope's Delight

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 2 September 2014, 17:46:36

Tags: Kai Fiebig

There are many ways in which one can attend a convention like this year's Gamescom in Cologne. One may get hyped and be a fan and spend most of the day in super long queues just to play a bit of the shown-off game(s). One may hate the entire thing and complain about the queues and say "never again." Or one may forgo all the queues, enter the convention through the business entrance, and talk to the devs about their game as well as about how the whole thing sucks. Combine the latter two, add some poignant pictorial commentary, and you get our very own agent Darth Roxor's report, now in Part 3, or, "How and Why I Enjoyed Gamescom 2014." Have a couple of tidbits:

After attending Daedalic's adventure game previews, I had a quick chat with their senior producer, Kai Fiebig. When he asked whether I was enjoying my stay at Gamescom, I replied that I had only just arrived. To which he smirked and said, “well, then you’re lucky”. At that point, I didn’t fully realise what he meant - the revelation would only hit me across the head with a club the next day. Before the Blackguards 2 presentation began, I talked with him a bit about the general feedback given by players of the original Blackguards. I already mentioned what Kai considered “good feedback” in Part 1 of my report, but it was also rather refreshing to hear him launch into a quasi-rant about casual gamers. Most developers just don’t bother commenting on people who hate their games for stupid reasons like “whoa, itz too hard!!”, but Kai seemed eager to tell me just how sour it made him to go through various internet forums and see people whining about mechanics that are clearly explained, not using all the tools they have at their disposal, etc. Before I left, he told me that while they are doing some streamlining for Blackguards 2, he still fully expects people to rise in uproar again about the absence of handholding and the tough difficulty. I really liked how his facial expression constantly shifted into that trademark Disgusted Clint Eastwood look when he talked about all this. [...]

I didn’t take part in any of those “hands-on” showcases, nor did I wait around for hours straight to watch the big presentations. Mostly because this is not an activity that I would consider:

a) Fun.
b) Conducive to proper information gathering.
c) An efficient use of my time, both free and “professional”.
d) Adhering to the basic principles of human dignity.

My only regret is that I didn’t actually get to play Pillars of Eternity. Maybe there was a communication error at some point, but I thought the presentation of it that I attended later was supposed to be hands-on, which was another reason why I didn’t bother standing around in those abysmal queues. But it wasn’t, so it wasn't, and so I was forced to nitpick its pseudo-paladins instead of taking apart its systems. [...]

At 3 pm I returned to Hall 4 to get ready for Hellraid, where I ran into Daedalic’s Kai Fiebig and Johannes Kiel, who had gone for a smoke. This time I had a longer conversation with them, about various topics but mostly about Gamescom itself. When I mentioned that I’d been to the Entertainment Area, they told me how glad they were that they didn’t have to set foot in that hive of scum and villainy. Kai explained that he was looking forward to the end of the convention, because the job of running the presentations is sheer hell. Imagine sitting in the same place for ten hours straight, repeating the same spiel again and again, and in a non-native language to boot. He said that he was glad that I'd found them, because he'd forgotten to mention one aspect of Blackguards 2 on the previous day. After hearing about that, I talked with them a bit about the gaming industry as a whole, and about some of the games that Kai had worked on in the past. When I brought up one of the games that I had seen at Gamescom, Kai told me how important it is to never trust anyone who claims he wants to deliver a game “made by the same developers as [classic]!”. He said that he hears that very often, but usually realizes after some checking around that these “same developers” who were the main driving force behind the [classic] are currently stationed in three different studios around the globe.​

Be sure to read the full report, and also take a look at the pictures. If anything, do have a look at the comic that Roxor took the effort to translate into English. ; )

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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 2: Futuristics and the Popping of Moles

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 28 August 2014, 20:48:24

Tags: Clandestine; Hellraid; Little Green Men; Logic Artists; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Reality Pump; Techland; Vendetta - Curse of Raven's Cry

And so esteemed community member Darth Roxor continues to recount his impressions of all things he saw at this year's Gamescom. (Part 1 can be found here.) This time he talks about Little Green Men's Starpoint Gemini 2, Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity, Logic Artists' Clandestine (omitting any mention of their super secret project, which is so super secret that Roxor can't even tell us what it is, the bastard), Techland's Hellraid and Reality Pump's Raven's Cry. Going for the most controversial and sensationalist snippet as we are wont to, here are some of the negative things he has to say about Pillars of Eternity:

You are probably wondering what a preview of Pillars of Eternity is doing in this article, a game that doesn't have much in the way of futuristics. The answer lies in the second part of the title, as well as in the warning placed in the introduction. [...] For all the talk about how different this system is from D&D, and how each class has its own unique abilities instead of just “left click to autoattack”, when observing the game I sure as hell couldn’t see that. The fighter and paladin stood around bashing the beetles (that is, when Adam didn’t forget to tell them to do that), the rogue stood around shooting her bow, and the mage cast some magic missiles. I’ve seen this stuff before more than once, with the only difference perhaps being that damage in PoE came in increments (Sassy was hit for 0.3 damage!). Furthermore, I can’t really say that these encounters looked very exciting or even tactical – the smaller beetles would die outright, and then the fight would boil down to 5v1 bashing of the big beetle, which not only refused to die, but would also readily maul the poor fighter. The same thing happened again in a fight against overgrown spiders, and the demo finally ended with a total party wipe when the quest target ogre proceeded to two-hit-kill all of the party members.

The party wipe at the end was actually a direct consequence of how buggy the beta build was. I don’t know whether it was the influence of my RPG Codex Aura of Trolling +3, but Adam and Josh said it was probably the craziest presentation they gave during their entire stay at Gamescom. They even ran into bugs whose existence they had no idea about. For starters, they had to restart the game right after accepting the “main quest” because one of the characters lost the ability to cast magic. Later on, when the fighter got knocked out by beetles, he refused to wake up, and only using one of the limited rests in the wilderness brought him back. And in turn, the resting did not recharge the characters’ used-up memorised spells and abilities, which meant the party arrived at the ogre’s lair seriously gimped. And to make matters even worse, the mage decided to just run off uncontrollably instead of casting spells during the final showdown, and by the time Adam regained control over her, it was far too late.

After the wipe, the presentation proper was over, and it was time for questions. Unfortunately, time was short, and I only managed to ask one question that interested me personally. After learning about the dreaded Bîaŵac ([bi:au:ak]) in a recent Kickstarter update, I wanted to ask about Sawyer’s background, and to get some references for the languages in Eternity. It may be that my question was unclear, because instead he explained how the internal lingua eternia is based on various real languages, like Welsh or Italian, but stripped of real world cultural context, and with some added game world dialectal modifications based on each land's and realm's neighbours. I found this information satisfying enough, but unfortunately, I wasn't able follow it up with more questions. Someone else asked whether Obsidian is marketing the game mainly towards players who played the original Infinity Engine games, or if they are also focused on newcomers. Josh replied that their goal is to create something which is “essentially a classic IE game, but a new and different game in fact”. He also said that the final game’s early areas will be a “big tutorial” of sorts, so that newcomers can get used to the entire deal. That was the last question before the devs had to close up shop.

As you may have guessed, Pillars of Eternity didn’t impress me much. I identified three chief reasons behind this, but I’m not sure which contributed the most. First of all, the overall bugginess, which obviously skewed the game’s image rather significantly. Second, how generic and unexciting everything felt mechanically. Third, the area chosen for the presentation. I mean, if you're showing the game to the press, your motivation should be to sell it. How can you expect me to have positive impressions of your showcase, when all you did was show me a generic_fantasy_village, some adventurers bumrushing a bunch of overgrown beetles and spiders, and a stereotypical ogre with a huge club? Maybe the full game will have plenty of cool-looking areas filled to the brim with creative enemies, memorable encounters and wizard duels, but I simply didn’t see that during the Gamescom presentation.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 2: Futuristics and the Popping of Moles

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RPG Codex Gamescom Report, Part 1: Tacticool Goodness and Adventures Galore

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 23 August 2014, 22:51:19

Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; Fire; Paradox Interactive; Runemaster; The Devil's Men

It was a fine August day when, anticipating mountains of Doritos and rivers of Mountain Dew, esteemed community member Darth Roxor stepped into the nerd-filled halls of Gamescom 2014. Rest assured, he found what he was looking for, enough to write his report in 3 parts. In today's Part 1, Roxor recounts his 2-hour presentation with Daedalic Entertainment -- which included such games as the tactical RPG Blackguards 2 and the adventures Fire and The Devil's Men -- as well as his impressions of Paradox Interactive's Runemaster.

Since most people here are probably (hopefully) interested in Blackguards 2, I'll quote a snippet that has to do with that game:

Daedalic have introduced several changes to the The Dark Eye ruleset. Apparently, the spell failure and hit chance mechanics have been overhauled in some way, making it less likely to miss if a dude is just standing motionless next to you, although it beats me what the specifics of that are. Furthermore, Daedalic apparently got a bit sick of Aventuria's generic bestiary, so they introduced a bunch of their “own” creations – mostly demons, chimeras, shapeshifters, etc. Two of these were shown, one an insectoid creature with four arms (each one can hold a different weapon), and the other a “leaper” demon that loves to jump into mobs of characters and knock them down (careful around ledges!).

Big changes have also been made to the character system, though I must admit I’m not exactly sure of the specifics. Apparently, Blackguards' basic attributes were too confusing for the average player, so they've been streamlined into even more basic attributes like “offence” or “defence”, although Kai said the original stats are “still there” somewhere. Basically, they figured this was a better way of handling them because it was dumb how three different attributes could influence the same derived stat. This is something that I don’t quite like because, personally, I find abstract values like “offence” to be much more opaque than three different attributes that might (or might not) do the same thing, but are properly described. Maybe it’ll look better in motion. Nevertheless, you still get adventure points for battles, and you still assign them to talents and skills, just like in the original.

Taking into account these changes and the expanded bestiary, I asked how difficult it was to convince the Dark Eye license owner to incorporate them, considering how protective some of them can be (hello, Games Workshop), but apparently, it only took one long meeting of discussions and negotiations.

Now that we're done discussing the game's tactical layer, let’s say a few things about the geoscape. The original game’s chapter-based storyline is gone, replaced instead by what could be described as a “conquest mode”. The whole of southern Aventuria is now visible from the start of the game, and you must go on a blitzkrieg to conquer all of it and become its new ruler. Every location taken over will grant some bonus to your characters or mercenaries, and unlock further “nodes” that you can pillage. That doesn’t mean the “adventure” layer is gone, though, as each city you liberate™ can be entered and checked for quest opportunities, just like in the original Blackguards. Furthermore, you also get your own HQ in the form of a travelling base camp, where you can consult with your advisor, buy equipment, etc.

There are many significant things going on in the game's strategy view, as well. You are not the only force in the land, and just as you conquer lands, the enemy will try to reconquer them. If you fail at defending them, they will need to be re-reconquered, and these reconquest battles are meant to be very hard. I just hope this won’t devolve into GTA San Andreas taggin’ da hood – Blackguards edition.

The final part of the presentation was about the general changes to the narrative and reactivity. As I said, the game is no longer divided into chapters; instead, the storyline changes “dynamically” depending on the course of conquest you take. A playthrough where you first take the southern part of the map under your protection™ might be very different, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, from another where you first scorch the north. Moreover, over the course of the game, you’ll have to make many decisions that will impact the story and gameplay. Fiebig said that this time they are “real” choices, that may lead to all sorts of hilariously bad outcomes, and it’s “very easy to fuck up completely”. A few examples of these decisions include whether to torture prisoners during interrogations, and what to do with captured cities - raze them to the ground, intimidate their citizens through mass murder or leave them alone? Which is the best and why? Discuss!!!

That very much concluded the presentation. I was offered a hands-on of the demo, but it was cut short by the incoming unwashed masses with their scheduled presentations. I didn’t mind much, though - as I said, the game does pretty much look and play exactly like Blackguards, so I doubt I’d have derived any new information.​

For Darth Roxor's further impressions, be sure to read the full piece.

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Toshio Sato on StarCraft Inc., Phantasie IV and Tunnels & Trolls

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 20 August 2014, 14:12:19

Tags: Phantasie IV: The Birth of Heroes; Retrospective Interview; StarCraft Inc.; Toshio Sato; Tunnels & Trolls

Today, Japanese role-playing video games are usually associated either with "JRPGs", exemplified by the likes of Final Fantasy, or with niche Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawlers. The first Dragon Quest game may have been famously conceived as a cross between Wizardry and Ultima, but since then JRPGs have evolved in a different, distinct direction.

There was a time, however, when it seemed that some of the other, more "advanced" kinds of Western computer RPGs might also take root in Japan. The Japanese company that ported the early Ultima games to Japanese computers, StarCraft Inc., also localized other important WRPGs — from Might and Magic to Phantasie to The Magic Candle — which even sold fairly well in the Land of the Rising Sun. In this interview, we talk to Toshio Sato, who worked with StarCraft and programmed many of their important titles. In a way, this is a continuation of our interview with Winston Douglas Wood, the Phantasie creator, since Mr. Sato was part of the team that made the Japanese-only Phantasie IV (which Doug Wood designed himself). Aside from that, Mr. Sato worked on New World Computing's Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan, the only Western RPG to be coded in Japan first and then ported to the West, as well as on many of StarCraft's localizations. There isn't much information in English on StarCraft's history, so we also talk about that in the interview, as well as about the difficulties they had in porting English-language CRPGs to Japanese computer systems. Here are a few snippets:

RPG Codex: You worked on two projects that should be of particular interest to our readers, the Japanese-only Phantasie IV and the Japanese version of Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan. We have a question about Phantasie IV first. In his interview with us, Douglas Wood said that StarCraft were the ones to contact him about doing a fourth game. What were the reasons why StarCraft decided to reach out to Douglas Wood to make a new game - and why the Phantasie series in particular?

Toshio Sato: In comparison to the Japanese RPGs of its time, the Phantasie series had plot, dungeon crawling, events, etc., that were miles better than what was being done then. It was also featured a lot in magazines, and thus its popularity was on the rise. StarCraft ported the Phantasie series starting from the first game. Phantasie III especially got a Macintosh Plus-like interface with icons, mouse and windows which caught the eye of the users. I heard it also received praise from SSI.

With such potential, responding to the fans' enthusiasm, the director made the decision to continue releasing sequels and thus, after the release of Phantasie III, I believe he went into negotiations with SSI and Doug.

RPG Codex: On the projects that you were involved with, what were the main challenges when it came to localizing and porting the Western role-playing games? Was it mostly a smooth process, or did it involve many technical or other difficulties?

Toshio Sato: One of the company's mottoes was "Never make lifeless copies". At that time, Japanese PC monitor resolution was quite high. It felt like a waste to simply port the games, so the main challenge was to make something that would surpass the original [from the technical standpoint].

We had some technical problems with the memory size and the drawing speed. As the resolution was higher, we had more graphical data to compute and so we needed to figure out how to make the drawing speed faster. Again, window and icon systems were new and experimental. We had to match the mouse cursor to the terminal's scan lines refresh timing, meaning we had to find a way for the process to take very little time. Oh yes, we also worked on the data organization to lower the number of floppy disks necessary.

There were other difficulties too. For example, in Might and Magic II, in order to learn how the experience system and the item selling calculations were done, we had to learn the 6502 assembly language from scratch.

Regarding the question about porting, at the time we couldn't just casually get in contact through the internet. We usually met once in America, and then the rest was done by fax... Isn't it hard now to believe how it was done back then?

RPG Codex: To what extent do you think these RPGs that you worked on managed to influence the Japanese video gaming landscape? In retrospect, what do you think came of StarCraft’s efforts to bring Western-style, non-Wizardry-like RPGs to Japan?

Toshio Sato: If you look at the Japanese game industry as a whole, I don't think my work had a big influence. However, I think what we did was make the yet-unknown game company New World Computing into a recognized name in Japan, although I don't think that's such an achievement.

RPG Codex: To build on the previous questions, although they were a huge fever in the late 80's and early 90's, Western RPGs' popularity in Japan seems to have declined afterwards. What changed, the games or the audience?

Toshio Sato: I cannot tell you much about that, but I can at least tell you three things:

-First, the RPG genre was getting overcrowded, game development was rushed and the product quality dwindled.
-Secondly, the new fad was simulation games.
-Then there is the hardware. In the 90s, Sega and Sony changed their business from consumer goods to game development platforms. Nintendo also released the Super Famicon, but as far as small development companies are concerned, the fact was that the best platform to develop for became the Playstation.

Furthermore, as the players' age group shifted, mature RPGs became less and less popular.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Toshio Sato on StarCraft Inc., Phantasie IV and Tunnels & Trolls

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RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin

Review - posted by Angthoron on Sat 16 August 2014, 23:49:39

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin; Larian Studios

Divinity: Original Sin, the latest entry in Larian Studios' series of Divinity games has finally been released from its Early Access status, and the ever-speedy RPG Codex staff embodied by Angthoron has already provided a review a mere two months after the game's release. Is this game divinely good, sinfully bad or stuck half-way in purgatory? Here are but a few spoilers:

What did I expect a year or so ago when Larian Studios announced their Kickstarter campaign for Divinity: Original Sin? A fun, light-hearted isometric game with lovely music, lots of hit-and-miss humor, a fair bit of filler combat, hours of enjoyment to rival the chunk of my life that was torn out by Dragon Knight Saga and a meaningful co-op mode in which my partner would blow me up with well-placed fireballs and lightning bursts. Were my expectations fulfilled? Oh, yes. Granted, things like the absence of the mega-dungeon and the cut-short soundtrack are somewhat of a disappointment, and there seems to be a whole lot more than just a fair bit of filler combat, but overall, this is the game that all the subsequent Kickstarter RPGs will be measured against, and I admit that a part of me worries that some of the upcoming projects might not measure up quite that favourably.

The writing in Original Sin is by its nature fairly light-hearted and humorous as is common to Larian Studios’ style. [...] It does, however, occasionally suffer from jarring tone deafness and anachronistic expressions. Being addressed with “Sup, mate” by a rooster, or have a ram admire a cow’s derriere is certainly amusing, but not quite appropriate in a context of high adventure in the enchanted lands.

The character system in Original Sin is a simple enough thing that most RPG developers in the recent years have managed to screw up. Fortunately, Larian hasn’t, and the result is a simple and solid system based on genre-standard ability scores, skill points, slightly less standard traits as well as minor boosts coming from playing the characters consistently in dialogue.[...]

[...]The world is well designed, with distinct locations, appealing vistas and high attention to detail. Characters and objects clearly stand out from the backgrounds, effects are almost always obvious and visible and the secrets are obscured within reason. The side character models are also more detailed than certain models from Dragon Age 2 despite the isometric perspective instead of third person, so there’s also that. If it’s better than a game from the masters of the RPG genre, it’s gotta be good.[...]

The co-op multiplayer mode in Original Sin isn’t just a hasty afterthought – it’s one of the game’s major hooks. Larian’s intentions from fairly early on have been clear: they wanted to make an RPG that could be played together by friends, couples and strangers alike, where all parties involved would have their say at critical moments, and where all would find something to do. With but a few minor issues, their intentions can be considered a success. The multiplayer experience can be a great amount of fun thanks to the chances for distracting the NPCs (and stealing all their paintings), creating unexpected scenarios in combat and arguing through loads of dialogue[...]​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin

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RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 12 August 2014, 23:27:12

Tags: Lords of Xulima; Numantian Games

Last week, the isometric-meets-first person RPG Lords of Xulima got released on Steam Early Access. For this preview, I am joined by the esteemed community member felipepepe and we just talk and talk and talk about what the game currently has to offer. (We could've talked even more, but you have to stop somewhere.) Short version: we enjoyed it. Have a few snippets:

F: I’d say it took me about half an hour to go from disappointed to excited. As I invested myself and understood the logic behind each mechanic, I was impressed. I can’t sum Xulima up in just a few words. The exploration is similar to Geneforge, but much tighter and with Zelda-like elements, while combat is that of blobbers, with an added layer of formations and positioning. All surrounded by robust resource management. I can recognize the individual mechanics, but they are put together in a brand new way. The small Spanish team behind Xulima clearly played a lot of RPGs and carefully examined the mechanics behind each game, what worked, what could be different, and what they could offer. Xulima is the result of that, a careful collection of mechanics and gameplay elements. It feels familiar, but for every aspect of it, there’s a interesting twist.

Using a musical metaphor, Xulima isn’t a cheap "Best of RPGs" CDs done by a mediocre cover band. It’s one of those albums where a good musician makes readings of his favorite songs in a new, amusing coating. [...]

CB: It feels like every corner of the world has at least something interesting to it, something that makes it worth exploring and clearing out that fog of war. The only thing I kept wishing for was edge scrolling for the camera – sometimes you just want to have a good overview of the surrounding area, which the zoomed-out map can’t really give you. You can also explore in any direction, or venture into any dungeon, as long as you’ve found the key and/or can defeat the encounters in your way. I wouldn’t call the game fully "open world," since – similarly to Divinity: Original Sin, to use a recent comparison – enemies that are significantly higher-level can be essentially undefeatable, but it does give you enough freedom and sometimes even alternative paths to reach the same objective.

F: I also like that dungeons have a unique feel. Some are just combat areas, others a clever mix of traps, enemies and hazards, and some just one big elaborate puzzle. They aren’t very long, but usually entertaining. Inside, you’ll often spot traps (as long as your Perception skill is high enough). Some of them appear as red areas that can be disarmed, similarly to Baldur’s Gate. But there are also spikes, which should be carefully navigated around (you can even use the keyboard for more precise navigation), or hazards, such as a room on fire, webs full of spiders, or venomous gas, that you can either endure or neutralize by using expensive magic scrolls. [...]

F: Every action you perform, from simply walking to forcing doors open to resting, consumes food. Run out of food and you'll suffer a massive debuff, or even die of starvation on the Hardcore difficulty setting. And man, is food expensive. In fact, everything is expensive, especially healing your characters of status effects. In the early game, lifting the curse from two or more characters can mean selling a piece of gear to pay for the bills. [...] There are also various other ways to find yourself broke, as beside food you need torches, lockpicks, magic scrolls, and so on, and those blasted peasants keep raising their prices as you level up! (Not the most elegant of game mechanics, but it works well enough.) Not to mention the thieves roaming the roads, who will steal a fortune and run away unless you kill them quickly, or a vast desert requiring huge amounts of food to be crossed. I honestly don’t remember ever playing anything like this before, even 30 hours in I was still counting coins and thinking about the cheapest way to do stuff. [...]

CB: I had to stop playing the game after the second temple just so we could discuss it and do this preview, but I am really looking forward to what the rest of the game has to offer.

F: I’m happy to inform you that after the second temple things get even more diverse, and exploration opens up a lot. I could access three other temples at once, deciding which to face first. There were huge deserts, burning gardens, and some other nice surprises. Surprises that I hadn’t thought the game would be able to deliver.

This all goes back to what I think is Xulima’s main issue: the presentation constantly makes you think less of the game. A lot less.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima

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RPG Codex Retrospective: Roguey dismantles white privilege in Tim Cain's Temple of Elemental Evil

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 8 August 2014, 01:28:57

Tags: Temple of Elemental Evil; Troika Games

In the year 2003, if you were a serious RPG fan, and you weren't interested in playing Neverwinter Nights expansion packs and console ports from BioWare, or in playing slam dunks from Black Isle while watching all their good games get cancelled, Troika Games was your only hope.

Founded by the trio of developers behind the original Fallout, Tim Cain chief among them, Troika's obvious raison d'etre was the development of further roleplaying games of that type. That meant heavy on choice and consequence, extremely non-linear, and perhaps most importantly, possessing a fresh and original setting and premise - at least for an RPG. For that reason, it must have been odd when in that year, Troika released The Temple of Elemental Evil, a turn-based dungeon crawl based on the classic D&D module by Gary Gygax.

Although generally praised for its faithful implementation of the 3rd Edition D&D ruleset, to this day TToEE remains in the eyes of many the black sheep of Troika's oeuvre. But there is one man on the Codex with a keen interest in isometric dungeon crawls. One man whose idol would not get a chance to develop his own game to completion again until 2010. One man who is always eager to share his controversial opinions on video games. And although I would have preferred if he continued his survey of the career of J.E. Sawyer, we'll just have to make do with this.

That's right, it's time to gripe about...


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Sensuki Interviews Josh Sawyer about Pillars of Eternity

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 31 July 2014, 15:31:32

Tags: 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.

In a recent interview with Norwegian gaming site gamer.no, Pillars of Eternity was stated to be "larger, yes, easily larger, than Icewind Dale. We're not quite up to Baldur's Gate 2 size, but it's close". What elements of Pillars of Eternity are up there with Baldur's Gate 2 specifically? (e.g. Length of the crit path, Amount of optional content, Number of Exterior Areas, Quest Complexity, etc.) How would you say you've done regarding Wilderness area scope? Which in the stretch goal thread was slated to be "slightly larger than BG2".

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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RPG Codex Review: Unrest

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 July 2014, 11:04:33

Tags: 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:

VioletShadow: The concept of seeing the Bhimra's unrest through the eyes of several different main characters worked very well. Not only were the individual segments intertwined in terms of their actions and consequences, but the personal perspective of each of them served to ground the world and make it feel very lived-in. Some of my favorite segments were the ones that involved the peasant. Even though she was only loosely connected to the main plot, her story and the circumstances she found herself in helped illustrate the disconnect between the lower castes and those at the top. Her immediate preoccupations, and those of the other peasants, involved problems directly related to their status in society, such as lack of food and the need to marry into higher castes, rather than political instability or the trade treaty, which for the most part they hadn't even heard of. It made me think of how the isolation of the lower castes created the conditions for problems such as the slums' rioting. This ties into your point regarding events outside the characters' control. Looking back to the segment with the naga, I felt a strong sense of helplessness; there was really nothing she could do to make the situation better. I agree that it made the game world believable, and a much more immersive experience than if some chosen one could erase history and its consequences with eye-rolling heroics.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 20 July 2014, 17:15:56

Tags: 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:

The first of the duo is The Occult Chronicles by Cryptic Comet, released in August 2013. As fans of his previous games Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum already know, Cryptic Comet pretty much means Vic Davis. Davis is a one-man designer/programmer team and a visionary who specializes in developing games for the very small niche best described as “board games specifically made for computers”. By moving tedious elements like bookkeeping and frequent calculations to the computer, these games are able to feature much more complex systems than traditional board games, without alienating players. Coupled with Davis’ terrific sense of style, this has allowed him to craft some great and memorable games, and his latest work is no exception. While his previous games were straight strategy games, The Occult Chronicles deviates from his canon by being a mix of board game and roguelike with a focus on exploration. Davis later regretted calling the game a roguelike as it apparently gave players the wrong set of expectations, but despite his feelings on the matter, in my opinion The Occult Chronicles is much closer to a traditional roguelike than many of the games that have popped up in recent years and claimed the genre for themselves.

[...] 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

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RPG Codex Review: Long Live the Queen

Codex Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 13 July 2014, 18:44:59

Tags: 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:

And this is my biggest issue with Long Live the Queen. There is no way for you to predict the various skills that you will need to survive. In one playthrough, I had done well building up my courtly skills, only to fall victim to an arrow that I could not avoid due to a lack of archery skills, nor treat the resulting wound due to a lack of battlefield medicine skills. So, I loaded a previous save and pumped my skills up just enough to be able to live through the attack and move on. The game is won on the basis of trial and error rather than any tactical decision making on part of the player. It really is just a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) visual novel. Due to its lack of randomization or tactical considerations, the skill checks are simply another CYOA element. Even the somewhat similar skill building simulator, the infamous Slave Maker 3, has more randomization, and that game is a fan project.

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

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RPG Codex Interview: Blackguards 2

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 7 July 2014, 18:08:43

Tags: 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:

Could you talk a bit about the inspirations behind the first game, and how they have changed (if they have) for the sequel? One of our reviewers compared Blackguards to "a European version of Final Fantasy Tactics" - to what extent was that one of your inspirations, and to what extent do you intend to keep your inspirations the same for Blackguards 2?

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

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