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Broken Roads - turn-based Australian post-apocalyptic RPG with "unique morality system"

Harthwain

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Joined
Dec 13, 2019
Messages
2,776
  • Narrative driven RPG... Meaning it's going to be like The Banner Saga? JRPG with a lot of unskippable videos/cutscenes? Better ? Even Worse?
Icewind Dale 1 is clearly narrative driven. You go from location to location as the story develops, in a straight line. In contrast Baldur's Gate 2 gives you a lot more room to do other things, despite still being obviously narrative driven (you are supposed to follow the main quest as it develops and that's how you win/finish the game). Planescape: Torment is heavily narratively driven as well. I mean, the questions of who you are, what is going on and what you can do about it is the main driving force for the player to explore the game and its universe. Fallout 2 is more tricky - the game gives you an ultimate goal and reminds you of it, but you can take your time doing whatever you want, so it is much less strictly narrative driven in my opinion. The task is more akin to a push to give you an excuse to go out into the wide wild world.
 

cyborgboy95

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Aug 24, 2019
Messages
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https://www.brokenroadsgame.com/dev-blog/sid-thompson-from-concept-art-to-in-game

SID THOMPSON, FROM CONCEPT ART TO IN-GAME

This week, Drop Bear Bytes’ art team run you through the creation of a character - Sid Thompson, a wasteland scavenger and fuel merchant - from the earliest ideas through to placing him in game.
STEP 1: CASSY LEE, JR CONCEPT ARTIST HANDLES THE FIRST STAGE, ONCE A CHARACTER BRIEF IS PROVIDED BY THE NARRATIVE TEAM.
sidblog1.jpg



“When tackling a new character design it usually begins with a kick off call with my art director to get a basic idea of the expectations involved. I then take some time to read through the brief to gain insight into the character’s backstory, his current role and purpose, and the overall look and feel of the character.

My role in this design process is primarily focused on creating outfit iterations, so I will make some specific notes for myself on the most important details that I need to include in his attire.

From here I go about gathering some reference and then I will draw up a basic pose for the character. In this case Sid is a middle aged man who is gaunt and sickly and the harsh life of a post apocalyptic world has taken its toll. Based on this I made a quick sketch of a slightly stooped figure that shows some aging.”

sidblog2.jpg

“The next step is to create the different outfit iterations.

I will create one iteration that hits the most important points. In Sid’s case, this is a long grey oil coat, a hat, smeary goggles and wellies. I then copy this iteration across, making small adjustments as I go to provide some variety in the design.

I try out different styles of goggles, change up the type of hat he’s wearing and play with the length of his coat and pocket details. I also spend some time on little details such as shifts in hue and saturation, and adding in little rips and tears to his clothing to show age and weathering.

The purpose of these concepts is not to make a pretty picture, but to quickly and clearly convey an idea, so I do not spend any time on rendering. I will however, add in some textured brush strokes here and there to indicate dirt and soiling.”

sidblog3.jpg

“Once an iteration of this outfit has been decided upon, it is now time to create the orthographics.

For this I create clean line drawings of each item from an orthographic perspective. When necessary I will do a turn around and cutaways to help make certain details clear for the 3D artist.”

sidblog4.jpg

“In this case, Sid’s Drizabone coat needed to be drawn from the front, side and back so all the details of the collar, pockets and layers of fabric can be understood from all angles.“

STEP 2: ONCE THESE ARE DONE, SID IS OFF TO BIANCA ROUX, OUR 3D MODELLER.
sidblog5.jpg

“I start off by studying the concept art and go on a reference hunt. I was given a picture of an elderly gentleman that the art director liked the look of, I then reverse image searched his photo and found some more profiles and expressions of him. I needed to find a good reference for wellies, goggles, hats, dog tags and ripped clothing. It is important to reference from real life as the viewer’s eye will quickly pick up that something looks off. It is not referenced correctly as clothing and faces are something we see every day. Next, the iconic ozzy drizabone.

As a South African this isn’t something I am very familiar with. On my research hunt I actually discovered that drizabone originated from the phrase "dry as a bone"! This is super fitting as Sid is a scavenger and spends a lot of time outside, so the drizabone is perfect for this character. He may have radiation poisoning, but at least he’s warm and dry!”


sidblog6.jpg

“I then move over to zbrush where I begin with a base model of an old man that I sculpted prior so that I always have a starting point for an older male.”

sidblog7.jpg

“I then focus on his facial features and give Sid his grumpy and worn down features. Next, he gets his clothes and vanity items, and lastly his drizabone. I block-in rough shapes for the clothing and then start adding creases with one of my favourite brushes, Orb Cracks. I then proceed with the Orb Flatten Brush and hard polish brush to achieve the stylized, painterly effect we are going for.”

sidblog7-2.jpg

“Lastly I pop on some basic colours I was given in the concept and see that all is working well. The model then gets looked at by the art director, we discuss any changes and the model gets improved and polished.“

sidblog8.jpg

“And voila! My high-res sculpt is complete!”

sidblog9.jpg

“The next step is optimizing for game. Sid gets retopologized in maya and the high res detail is projected on through substance painter. I then hand over the low poly model, with Ambient Occlusion and Normal Maps, to the texture artist. I then wait in excitement to see Sid come to life in colour!”

STEP 3: AT THIS POINT, SID IS SENT TO SARA LAUBSCHER, OUR 2D/3D ARTIST
sidblog10.jpg

“Sid is suffering from radiation poisoning, so I wanted to make his complexion look sickly and uneven.

His darkened eye sockets and blue splotchy face also gives the impression of a haggard and disheveled man.”

sidblog11.gif

Cold shadows and warm highlights with/without

“The only reason that I can get away with such liberties is because of the extremely painterly style and stylized lighting. This just helps to enhance the form and show off those sculpted details that may get lost from a distance. The shadows and highlights also create a really nice grungy look which works well for our roguish character, Sid.”

sidblog12.jpg

“As you can see, even though this texture map is very simplistic, I make sure that separate materials have contrasting levels of roughness - the hat string stands out from the skin, the buttons stand out from the jacket and the jacket stands out from the shirt. This all helps to keep objects readable from a distance and creates visual interest through dynamism.

I kept the roughness maps very basic like this to keep it from looking too realistic and breaking the painterly style. The slight changes in roughness only help to distinguish materials and make the form ‘pop’.

White represents areas that are dull and the darker grey areas represent areas that are shiny/oily.”

sidblog13.jpg

“In the next point I will explain how we communicate changes in secularity and damage.”

sidblog14.jpg

“Made use of textural details such as rough splashes and loose painterly strokes to show details that would otherwise be indicated through a change in secularity or height.“

sidblog15.jpg

“This is the visual language we are using in the game as we wanted to make it feel like these characters are existing within a painted world, hence tattered fabric or dirt would be expressed as an artistic splash. This also helps with readability from a distance in the game’s isometric view.”

STEP 4: SID THEN GOES TO JAMES GILES, OUR RIGGER AND ANIMATOR
“Using an add-on for Blender called Auto-Rig Pro, I can quickly generate a skeleton and assign parts of the 3D model to the bones.”

sidblog16.jpg

“For a humanoid like Sid, this provides an excellent starting point. It only requires an hour or two of polish to make sure that Sid and his clothes will deform correctly when he moves.”

sidblog17.jpg

At this point, I can use this rig to create animations - even ones that other rigged characters will use!”

sidblog18.jpg

STEP 5: PORTRAIT
Our Art Director, Kerstin Evans, then creates a portrait for the grumpy old guy, and he’s ready to be placed in the scene and hooked up to the dialogue system in articy:draft (but that’s a topic for another blog!).

sidblog19.jpg

STEP 6: PLACING THE CHARACTER IN A SCENE
And here we are with the end product: We meet Sid in Kokeby Waystation, getting some much-needed shade, and have just brought him some drinkable water:

broken-roads-kokeby-sid-july2021.jpg

We hope you enjoyed this look at the steps involved when our art team makes a character for Broken Roads. Thanks for taking the time to check it out!

- The team at Drop Bear Bytes
 

Craig Ritchie

Drop Bear Bytes
Developer
Joined
Oct 7, 2019
Messages
36
Craig Ritchie
Let's the abuse begin then:
  • How would you compare your game Itemization with Fallout 1 one?
  • What about the Quest design? Fetch quests festival or more like Fallout, Arcanum or even better, Prelude to Darkness?
  • About the combat, how much did you work on the encounter design and the "bestiary"? Should we expect good and challenging combat? (Comparable to Temple of Elemental Evil or Knights of the Chalice)
  • Narrative driven RPG... Meaning it's going to be like The Banner Saga? JRPG with a lot of unskippable videos/cutscenes? Better ? Even Worse?

Itemization
(Because this can mean slightly different things, I'll try answer and then give some clarifications if this is not what you're asking) There's actually a lot of similarity in how things are working to what you see in Fallout 1, although we have more stat-affecting items (or perhaps that should be expressed as 'items which affect more stats') with both benefits and penalties. Focus on balance has been on a core experience which we're then going to simplify a lot for a 'story mode', where some things just aren't required. Characters who have played through the Barter Crew origin story will have some unique options related to items (no, not revealing more until this is finalised so that what we describe publicly is what actually makes it into the launch product). Trade/bartering can be important but doesn't have to be, depending on how you want to approach the game.
We're not planning item crafting but there will be ways to get 'recipes' (think getting components for Cromwell in BG2) for certain characters to create unique items or upgrade existing items.

Quest design
Mix of all - I've not played Prelude to Darkness but others on the team may have (weekend now, will see next week). We've got a very wide range of quests that range from nothing but a fetch quest because this is a CRPG, through to some serious complexity and interweaving mid-game quests where you can hop allegiances and Do Interesting Things. Some are straight mercenary 'go kill this guy' and some are more in depth 'go kill this guy but oh wait, events occur!'. Some are a series of conversations that affect key game moments. There is time in the game but we're avoiding timed quests for the most part. (trying not to give away too much here)

Combat
Lots of work on the go right now. Encounter design is a big deal - combination of locations and enemies. What do you meany by 'how much did you work on the encounter design and the "bestiary"?' - elaborate a bit so I can give a proper response, as much as I can at this time. Yes, normal/core mode has challenging combat, story mode of course much easier.

Narrative driven RPG
Meaning that players should expect a lot of dialogue and reactivity more so than dungeon crawl. If we use Infinity Engine games as a spectrum, IWD is on one end and PS:T on the other, with BG in the middle, we're way closer to PS:T than the rest. There are a *lot* of non-violent resolutions, either through skills or dialogue as well. Not at all JRPG and not like Banner Saga, but of course there are cutscenes/cinematic moments ala Sarevok killing Gorion when you first leave Candlekeep, and scripted interactions ala Pillars 2/Torment: Tides of Numenera which play out like choose your own adventure + stats + images.
 

Acrux

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Jul 1, 2019
Messages
762
It's sounding very good. I would like to point out that IWD does have a lot of reactivity for a linear dungeon crawl.

What I mean by that is that class, race, and stats (and skills in IWD2) can all have an impact on dialogue responses, reward outcomes, and micro-quests, beyond the typical investment in speech or persuasion. For instance, a bard might be asked to rally troops with a song (giving xp), or a drow might understand goblin language (increasing a quest reward), or putting points in alchemy might let a character interact with a "teacher" npc to upgrade potions (better items).

It sounds from your response that you are incorporating these kinds of things, too, so good on ya. Keep up the incline!
 
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Darth Canoli

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Jun 8, 2018
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Combat
Lots of work on the go right now. Encounter design is a big deal - combination of locations and enemies. What do you meany by 'how much did you work on the encounter design and the "bestiary"?' - elaborate a bit so I can give a proper response, as much as I can at this time. Yes, normal/core mode has challenging combat, story mode of course much easier.

Thanks for your answers, i have to say i had a good feeling about your game from the get go but the latest video didn't impress me, particularly the combat which was over in 5 seconds after one character throws a grenade.

What i mean by encounter design and bestiary:
  • Enemy diversity, even if you mostly fight humans, factions, equipment and eventually mutations can provide some diversity and also the wildlife or are we going to fight 3 generic goons over and over turning into 6 generic goons late game? Fallout 1 & 2 offers a good enough bestiary, for example, Wasteland 2 was alright too, i guess, even if some monsters were a disappointment, like the giant metallic scorpion.
  • Encounter design, first, about handcrafted maps: not just good looking but interesting combat wise and involving different tactics, some with choke points, some with a lot of cover, some with no cover, some with a mix of all of this, some of the best Wasteland 2 maps comes to mind in the red scorpions area and the gang junkyard citadel nearby which was close to a masterpiece.
  • Encounter design is also about handcrafting enemies positions and AI, do they start with cover, spread out? Is there some ambushes planned? Is the AI going to use cover, try to flank the party? ...

Mix of all - I've not played Prelude to Darkness but others on the team may have (weekend now, will see next week).

It's not exactly easy to play on recent computers but there is a couple of threads about it on the Codexand it's worth enduring the crashes (if you get any, there is apparently a way to avoid them) just for the quest design, it should be played by anyone going into the video games industry.

Edit:
Also, and I know i'm pushing it because nobody did it yet in a good (or even decent) TB and party-based good CRPG but what about real ambushes both by enemies or by the party?
Meaning being able to hide under/behind the vegetation or even under a dead leaves mattress to surprise your enemies? Each party member (or enemy) in a different spot, of course.

In some games, you can be hunt down by a NPC party, which is really interesting already, with some ambush options (if you can spot them) i'd just be the cherry on top.

Or you could hunt down foes, get past them while they camp and ambush them when they go on with their journey. Or the other way around.
 
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Verylittlefishes

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If we use Infinity Engine games as a spectrum, IWD is on one end and PS:T on the other, with BG in the middle, we're way closer to PS:T than the rest.

OK you have my attention.
 

jackofshadows

Magister
Joined
Oct 21, 2019
Messages
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we have more stat-affecting items (or perhaps that should be expressed as 'items which affect more stats') with both benefits and penalties.
You mean stat-sticky items like in Diablo series?
Yes, normal/core mode has challenging combat
Could you try to compare it with some other games? Challenging for your average Divinity OS fan or for some of local genre-veterans?
 
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LESS T_T

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Codex 2014
This is picked up by Team17: https://store.steampowered.com/news/app/1403440/view/2972925916155588058

Team17 Presents... Broken Roads
A narrative-rich, isometric, turn-based role-playing game set in an unforgiving, post-apocalyptic Western Australia


A post-apocalyptic narrative-driven RPG set in Australia, this is Broken Roads.

The wastelands of post-apocalyptic Western Australia reveal their stories in Drop Bear Bytes’ emotive and branching isometric role-playing game coming to Steam and console platforms in 2022!

Have a squiz at our post-apocalyptic Land Down Under:



We are delighted to confirm the development of Broken Roads alongside Drop Bear Bytes, an original and narrative-rich, isometric, turn-based role-playing game set in an unforgiving, post-apocalyptic Western Australia. Scheduled to launch on Steam in 2022, Broken Roads presents a post-apocalypse with real-world locations and landmarks serving as the backdrop for the complex stories of Australia’s survivors.

1YuIJ5F.jpg

Kokeby Waystation – Wherever you’re from and wherever you’re going, you’ll find it all here.


At the heart of Broken Roads’ thoughtful and mature storylines is a deep and meaningful morality system – the Moral Compass – that influences quests, dialogue, and character development. The system is shaped along four different philosophical paths: Humanist, Utilitarian, Machiavellian, and Nihilist, each with their own unique traits. As the journey begins, players will be asked a series of questions – moral quandaries – that determine their starting position on the compass. Decisions made throughout the game will then shift their philosophical leaning and affect future choices, quests, and reactions from the people they meet.

KkGumDY.jpg

Embarking on the wreckage, something isn’t right here… Planes haven’t flown here since Before.

ZxOu2Dk.jpg

Broken Roads’ unique morality system is based on four areas of moral philosophy: Utilitarianism, Nihilism, Machiavellianism and Humanism.


Broken Roads Key Features

  • Deep and compelling:
    Broken Roads builds on classic single-player role-playing games, blending traditional gameplay with original mechanics and experiences
  • Moral Compass:
    A unique system that influences both story and gameplay as the plot unfolds
  • Authentic setting:
    Explore real-world locations across a post-apocalyptic Western Australia filled with intriguing and emotional stories
  • Unique visual and musical styles:
    Hand-drawn visuals and a soundtrack composed with instruments constructed from everyday objects help make the world of Broken Roads vibrant and alive


voEqIWK.jpg

Welcome to Brookton Pub — the main socialising place in town; a popular gathering spot in the evenings!


4xBmcLj.jpg

Sid Thompson, a wasteland scavenger and fuel merchant
 

Alienman

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Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2
RIP.

Considering what they did to Hell Let Loose (another genre completely but still).
 

Infinitron

I post news
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Messages
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RPG Wokedex Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Kingmaker
Sponsored content (as if there's anything on PCGamesN that isn't): https://www.pcgamesn.com/broken-roads/reveal

In Broken Roads, there’s no such thing as a ‘right’ choice
If you've ever wondered which way your moral compass truly points, Broken Roads may well help you find out

broken-roads-900x506.jpg


If the apocalypse happened tomorrow, what kind of person would you become? Would you do everything in your power to protect the people you love, even if it meant killing others? Would you run off and save your own skin? Or would you simply give up, accept the pointlessness of your fate, and wander the wastes with no purpose? These are the questions asked by Broken Roads, a new game from Drop Bear Bytes and Team17, coming to PC and consoles in 2022.

Broken Roads is a narrative-rich RPG which sees you navigating the wasteland of a post-apocalyptic Western Australia, carefully crafted to bring authentic parts of the present-day countryside to this darker, desolate future.

It’s being crafted by a team with serious pedigree in the world of isometric RPGs – creative lead Colin McComb sports credits on genre-defining games like Fallout 2, Wasteland 2, and Torment: Tides of Numenera, the latter of which he worked on with Drop Bear Bytes narrative lead Leanne Taylor-Giles, who has also written for triple-A titles like Watch Dogs 2 and Rainbow Six Siege.

Scenarios in Broken Roads are designed so you can approach them any way you like, including talking your way through via extensive dialogue trees, or attempting to shoot your way out of a bad situation in tense, turn-based combat, if you think you need to. You’re free to build your character however you want – there’s no class system, so you can kit out your party with whatever tools you need at that moment. You shape your character’s future at the very beginning of the game by answering moral quandaries related to their backstory, to which there are no right or wrong answers.

Indeed, this post-apocalyptic world is almost entirely devoid of right answers. There’ll be plenty of difficult choices to make as you wend your way across Western Australia, all of which will have an effect on the relationships you have within your party and the endings you’ll be working towards. A choice that may seem trivial in the moment could well come back to haunt you later on and alter the very path you’re heading down as the non-linear story weaves your decisions – and their consequences – into the tapestry of the world.

But don’t expect the typical good-or-evil binary. In Broken Roads, your morality is represented by a literal moral compass, with four quadrants defining your character through their actions.

Perhaps you’re choosing to roleplay as a humanist, upholding the dignity of everyone in your party. Or your choices may steer you toward a nihilist attitude in your pursuit of the self, forgoing everything that doesn’t lead to achieving your own goals. Perhaps you’re a little Machiavellian, using cunning to achieve your aims but ultimately searching for the best option for everyone, inadvertently steering further into the utilitarian quadrant.



Your worldview will shift and react as the game moves on, with choices linked closely to your current moral beliefs – sometimes opening up unexpected options or encouraging you to reconsider what you thought a quadrant might stand for. Holding certain beliefs will open up specific traits suited to your morals, allowing your roleplaying to go even deeper.

But the moral compass element won’t lock you into one style of play. Major choices that go completely against type may be kept from you – you can’t expect to do a full heel turn in the last act after saving everyone you meet, after all. But small choices won’t be locked out completely. Even the most nihilistic, pessimistic people can find a reason to work with others from time to time.



It’s not all doom, gloom, and philosophy, of course. No matter where your moral compass is pointing, Broken Roads will pull you in with its gorgeous, hand-drawn artwork and accurate, authentic depiction of Australia, right down to the characters you’ll meet. You may never have been to Kokeby in real life – and you’ll certainly never have seen it like this before – but the team have ensured that these locations are brought to life in the wasteland while remaining true to reality.

If creating your own character however you please, following your own moral compass, and exploring a world oft-forgotten in games is an experience you’ve been looking for, then Broken Roads will be the game for you. Look forward to its release on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series consoles in 2022.
 

Craig Ritchie

Drop Bear Bytes
Developer
Joined
Oct 7, 2019
Messages
36
Hey. Been a crazy week with the announcement. Very happy with it, though.

So is this game pozzed?
You mean like woke/politically correct?


we have more stat-affecting items (or perhaps that should be expressed as 'items which affect more stats') with both benefits and penalties.
You mean stat-sticky items like in Diablo series?
Yes, normal/core mode has challenging combat
Could you try to compare it with some other games? Challenging for your average Divinity OS fan or for some of local genre-veterans?

This isn't really a loot-em-up and we're basically drawing nothing from Diablo and its ilk. I simply meant that the items in the game (wearables and equipment, I mean) not only have their basic function but also can bring stat bonuses and penalties (not real example: Hat of Codex Trolls, +1 Strength and -5 Charisma, +5% initiative)

And in terms of combat challenge, I'd say 'not brutal'. I mean, challenge really is subjective. Probably closer to 'challenging for average Divinity OS fan' if I am reading you right.
 

Craig Ritchie

Drop Bear Bytes
Developer
Joined
Oct 7, 2019
Messages
36
Combat
Lots of work on the go right now. Encounter design is a big deal - combination of locations and enemies. What do you meany by 'how much did you work on the encounter design and the "bestiary"?' - elaborate a bit so I can give a proper response, as much as I can at this time. Yes, normal/core mode has challenging combat, story mode of course much easier.

Thanks for your answers, i have to say i had a good feeling about your game from the get go but the latest video didn't impress me, particularly the combat which was over in 5 seconds after one character throws a grenade.

What i mean by encounter design and bestiary:
  • Enemy diversity, even if you mostly fight humans, factions, equipment and eventually mutations can provide some diversity and also the wildlife or are we going to fight 3 generic goons over and over turning into 6 generic goons late game? Fallout 1 & 2 offers a good enough bestiary, for example, Wasteland 2 was alright too, i guess, even if some monsters were a disappointment, like the giant metallic scorpion.
  • Encounter design, first, about handcrafted maps: not just good looking but interesting combat wise and involving different tactics, some with choke points, some with a lot of cover, some with no cover, some with a mix of all of this, some of the best Wasteland 2 maps comes to mind in the red scorpions area and the gang junkyard citadel nearby which was close to a masterpiece.
  • Encounter design is also about handcrafting enemies positions and AI, do they start with cover, spread out? Is there some ambushes planned? Is the AI going to use cover, try to flank the party? ...

Mix of all - I've not played Prelude to Darkness but others on the team may have (weekend now, will see next week).

It's not exactly easy to play on recent computers but there is a couple of threads about it on the Codexand it's worth enduring the crashes (if you get any, there is apparently a way to avoid them) just for the quest design, it should be played by anyone going into the video games industry.

Edit:
Also, and I know i'm pushing it because nobody did it yet in a good (or even decent) TB and party-based good CRPG but what about real ambushes both by enemies or by the party?
Meaning being able to hide under/behind the vegetation or even under a dead leaves mattress to surprise your enemies? Each party member (or enemy) in a different spot, of course.

In some games, you can be hunt down by a NPC party, which is really interesting already, with some ambush options (if you can spot them) i'd just be the cherry on top.

Or you could hunt down foes, get past them while they camp and ambush them when they go on with their journey. Or the other way around.


OK, that's a lot of questions about encounters and combat. We're of course going to reveal a lot more about combat and so on soon. Dev blogs, video etc. You're asking about some things I don't want to talk about yet :)
 

cyborgboy95

News Cyborg
Joined
Aug 24, 2019
Messages
1,738
https://www.escapistmagazine.com/broken-roads-interview-craig-ritchie-drop-bear-bytes/

Broken Roads Challenges Your Philosophy in Innovative Ways in a Doomed Australia – Interview
By DAMIEN LAWARDORN 2 days ago1


Broken Roads may be a journey through post-apocalyptic Australia, with turn-based strategic combat and plenty of classic CRPG questing, but it’s also going to dig deeper into critical thinking, morality, and philosophy than any trek through the apocalypse you’ve had lately.

“I want them to have fun with it,” said Craig Ritchie, game director of Broken Roads and founder of developer Drop Bear Bytes. “I want them to have amazing experiences. I want them to laugh. I want them to be like, ‘Wow, that was a really tough decision. It was really interesting to be put there. What would I do if I was actually there?’”

Long before Ritchie got into game development, he worked in the realms of journalism and PR. Along the way, he had opportunities to gain familiarity with the ins and outs of development, ranging from QA to production, including running pre-alphas for EVE: Valkyrie during a stint at CCP Games.

This bowerbird-like gathering of skills over the years was one of the things that pushed him into action when a developer friend asked him, “Why don’t you actually try to give it a go and start your own studio?” That was December 2018, and Ritchie knew exactly the kind of game that he wanted to make — a project that would take advantage of his experience, familiarity with CRPGs, and good old business sense.

“I did a lot of making-ofs of classic RPGs,” he said of his time in journalism. “I spoke to a lot of the developers of many of my favorite games and really got a feel for how things are done, watched a whole bunch of projects, some successful, some unsuccessful.”

Those journalistic pursuits introduced him to some of the complexities of making games, but RPGs had always been Ritchie’s passion, as he said, “It’s what I know and love. It’s a niche genre that I’ve spent more time playing than any other.” Ritchie would back that claim up throughout the conversation, name-dropping and drawing comparisons to RPGs as thematically and temporally disparate as Disco Elysium, Jagged Alliance, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

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Granted, the CRPG genre has largely been consigned to the graveyard by major publishers, but its crowdfunding-driven renaissance through the last decade has proven that a game like Broken Roads is still financially viable. After all, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Pillars of Eternity, and Wasteland 2 remain among the top 10 most backed and highest-funded video game projects on Kickstarter.


To assist with production, Drop Bear Bytes has been fortunate to receive Australian state funding and support, and Ritchie sang the praises of those systems.

“I hope that people appreciate just how much these Australian bodies are doing to allow Australians to stay competitive in a world where the barrier to entry for making games is incredibly low,” he noted. He went on to say, “I can absolutely say that Broken Roads would not be where it is without the support of Film Victoria and people like that. … It’d be good for people to hopefully have their states (offer) the same kind of support.”

Fully embracing the niche space that CRPGs occupy, Broken Roads basks in its philosophical occupation and distinctive setting, and one of its major mechanics is the “Moral Compass” system. Morality systems aren’t new in video games, but the one in Broken Roads is a reaction to the binary delineations that underpin so many games. “I was thinking, ‘How can we do something that is more organic?’” said Ritchie. “We wanted to have a thing that limits but adapts at the same time.”

As a result, the Moral Compass is a circle with 36,000 positions, broken into quadrants that reflect ways of being in the real world: humanism, utilitarianism, Machiavellianism, and nihilism. Even then, though, one challenge was avoiding the perception that the quadrants on either side of the compass are opposites, though “they do have opposing premises on which they’re built and then opposing ways that, if you see the world this way, you’re going to have a totally different value system.”

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The Moral Compass is a massively complex beast in order to capture the moral nuance the developers strive for. The borders between the quadrants are permeable, with the options available at any decision colored by those influences. As an example, Ritchie outlined that a given decision may be “either humanist but very close to utilitarian, or it might be humanist but actually more close to nihilism, and you’re not so focused on the greater good – you’re more interested in yourself.”


As such, the player’s moral alignment will usually fall across two or three quadrants, narrowing or broadening depending on your choices. That, in turn, influences your gameplay experiences, as options outside of your current worldview are locked away – unless they fall within the sphere of your moral memory. Evidently, there are a lot of moving parts, and it took more than a year and a half to lock in the core functionality and design of the system, with minor tweaks still ongoing.

The team is determined to get it right and has brought the talent on board to make sure they do. Ritchie himself has two post-graduate philosophy degrees, and several other senior team members boast similar credentials. As such, the team has an abiding interest in “philosophy and ethics and morality and metaphysics and all the interesting things that if you’re into that you might be familiar with those terms. And if you’re not, I hope people who read this go look them up.” Nevertheless, Ritchie was adamant that “you don’t need a philosophy degree to play and enjoy Broken Roads. You won’t have a philosophy degree when you finish Broken Roads.”

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That depth is one of the game’s attention-grabbing highlights. The other is the setting. Broken Roads takes place in the aforementioned post-apocalyptic Australia, a setting well served in film by Mad Max, The Rover, and Cargo, but largely overlooked in video games.


That wasn’t Ritchie’s original intention. At first, Broken Roads took place in an anywhere-apocalypse, but a combination of novelty, distinctiveness, and Ritchie’s move to Australia in 2017 made the country a natural fit. To begin with, the country has a conflicted culture. On one hand is the ridiculous slang and outrageous larrikinism. On the other are the troubling realities of colonialism, genocide, and ongoing trauma.

That mixture, according to Ritchie, allows for the setting to tap into the CRPG legacy of balancing “humor and fun and levity with serious, adult themes, cerebral moments, dark moments, tough questions, tough choices … ideas of justice and morality and trying to avoid right and wrong and good and evil.”

The core journey of the game would originally have taken players across the continent, from Perth in the southwest all the way to the Daintree Rainforest in the far north, but early scoping reduced that mad ambition to the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. It’s an arresting part of the world that Drop Bear Bytes is desperate to do justice through color palettes, recreation of flora, landmarks, and respectful stories featuring the Noongar people of the area.

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When it comes to putting these pieces together, Ritchie acknowledged that it doesn’t constitute a blockbuster. It’s too personal for that: “Australia, philosophy, all these things, the genre. These are all things that mean a lot to me, mean a lot to my co-founder, mean a lot to a bunch of people, senior people on the team. We know it’s a niche. … We know what we’re after.”


That niche points to a particular setting and a particular experience, but it also raises the question of the deeper why. Ritchie approached that question with the same eloquence and pragmatism as his descriptions of his own past and the technicalities of the project:

“We’re not pushing any particular political or social agenda. I think that there’s far too many self-appointed arbiters of morality shouting from the rooftops how we should behave. We don’t need to join that mad chorus of voices. We want to encourage critical thinking … and really just reduce the divisive, small-minded thinking that I think we see a lot on social media. … I hope that people will take something away from this, to explore the world that is out there, that isn’t on their phone, that isn’t triggering anger or, you know, ‘I better make up my mind very quickly and have a position very quickly. I better signal that to everyone.’ People need to go, ‘It’s actually okay to not have a position until you have sufficient knowledge to have a reasonable stance.’”

Broken Roads will launch in 2022 on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms.
 
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