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

Zed Duke of Banville

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Infinitron

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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
https://www.brokenroadsgame.com/dev-blog/kokeby-progress-update

KOKEBY PROGRESS UPDATE
broken-roads-kokeby-july2021-dev-blog.jpg



Hey everyone,

We wanted to give a quick progress update on one of our favourite scenes from early in the Broken Roads adventure: Kokeby Waystation.

This trading hub brings together people from all the nearby settlements, as well as the odd scavenger or water merchant who wanders in from further afield. If you start the game as a member of a Barter Crew, you’ll begin your origin story here, but all characters will be able to visit Kokeby at some time or another.

In late 2019 when we first revealed Broken Roads, Kokeby Waystation was one of the locations we showed off in our earliest videos and screenshots:

old-kokeby2019-dev-blog.jpg

Kokeby Waystation as it was in October 2019

The art team have been hard at work on bringing our environments to life better than ever before, and we’re incredibly proud of the progress made since then.

broken-roads-old-kokeby-new-kokeby-comparison.jpg

October 2019 vs July 2021

We hope you enjoy this glimpse of things to come.

- The team at Drop Bear Bytes
https://www.brokenroadsgame.com/dev-blog/australias-national-reconciliation-week-2021
 
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0wca

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https://www.brokenroadsgame.com





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Debut title from Australian indie studio named Drop Bear Bytes.

Australian indie studio Drop Bear Bytes announces Broken Roads, an all-new post-apocalyptic RPG

Torquay, Australia, October 1, 2019 – Broken Roads™ is the upcoming debut title from Australian indie studio Drop Bear Bytes. Blending together established as well as all-new role-playing elements into a traditional isometric RPG, Broken Roads will see players traveling through authentic Australian locations in a desolated future.

Broken Roads’ pre-alpha reveal trailer can be found at https://youtu.be/1szow-dCPzc

The game tells the story of a group of companions as they make their way across Western Australia, encountering new friends, overcoming terrible enemies, and uncovering a mystery behind ever-stranger happenings in the Never Never.

Broken Roads’ real-time exploration and turn-based combat is beautifully illustrated with hand-drawn artwork throughout, with the goal of offering an experience of playing in concept art – 3D characters, VFX, 2D environments and props all follow this painterly style.

“As a fan of computer RPGs since the 80s, it’s been amazing getting Broken Roads to this point,” said Craig Ritchie, Founder & Game Director at Drop Bear Bytes. “Being able to put our own spin on the post-apoc genre and get experimental with philosophy and morality has been a lot of fun. It’s been a busy year getting us to this point and I’m incredibly proud of what the team have done.”

The game also presents players with an original morality system: the Moral Compass. This novel design sees dialogue options and questing decisions influence, and be influenced by, a character's philosophical leaning. Player decisions will shift a character’s philosophical leaning and alter their future choices, as well as open up Moral Traits which can help or hinder.

Broken Roads will be shown off for the first time at PAX Australia between October 11-13, and is scheduled for release in 2021. Drop Bear Bytes is comprised of industry veterans and talented newcomers, with alums from the likes of CCP Games, Riot, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and Torus Games. The environments and props are being produced by Mighty Vertex, the art studio behind the isometric graphics in Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun series of RPGs.

Join the Drop Bear Bytes discord at https://discord.gg/W9UZzrk

Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dropbearbytes

Follow on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/dropbearbytes/


Features:
  • All-new post-apocalyptic setting
  • Unique morality system influencing dialogue, quests and character development
  • Authentic Australian locations and environments
  • Blend of traditional and original RPG mechanics
  • Up to 6 party members
  • Turn-based tactical combat
  • Hand-drawn artwork
  • A content-rich and densely-crafted world
About Broken Roads

Born of a love for traditional computer role-playing, Broken Roads is an upcoming isometric post-apocalyptic RPG providing a rich, engaging narrative and an all-new morality system. Using fixed-camera, hand-drawn isometric props and environments, the game will allow players to experience a ravaged future in a story of survival, introspection and community as they make their way across a desolated Australia.

About Drop Bear Bytes

Headquartered in Torquay, Australia, Drop Bear Bytes was established in early 2019 and has a team comprised of developers, artists and writers from Australia, South Africa, Canada, UK, USA and China. The studio was founded by Craig Ritchie, a former games journalist turned marketing and brand manager who has worked on titles such as EVE Online, the Vampires: The Masquerade MMO, DUST 514, EVE: Valkyrie and Freya and the False Prophecy.

Little bit on the morality system: https://www.brokenroadsgame.com/moral-compass

BROKEN ROADS’ MORAL COMPASS PRESENTS AN ALL-NEW APPROACH TO ROLE-PLAYING GAME CONSEQUENCES

Broken Roads’ unique morality system is based on four areas of moral philosophy: Utilitarianism, Nihilism, Machiavellianism and Existentialism. In a 360-degree chart of possible options, players are able to choose from those within a certain range of their character’s core alignment.

Your decisions and dialogue options will shift your leaning and thus alter your possible range of future choices.

Broken-Roads-Moral-Compass.jpg

We believe this will enhance the game’s roleplaying realism - you can not take an evil option and then immediately follow up with the most noble option. Decisions will not be clear cut good and bad – we want to present real moral dilemmas that players will have to carefully consider.



It looks more like a documentary on contemporary life in Australia.

All kidding aside though, this looks pretty cool. I like how explosives are powerful and not nerfed into oblivion.

Digging the soundtrack as well.
 
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0wca

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Thanks for your patience - after PAX a few of us some time off, and I'm just getting back into things now. I'm actually writing a full dev blog about the Moral Compass at the moment and will get that up later today, and link it here. In brief:

Yes, they are in a way exclusive, but only because your alignment is what is covered by your World View, which is what we are calling the golden arc that determines which actions, dialogue options etc which your character can take:

Broken-Roads-Moral-Compass.jpg


So, if you look above, you can see your exact location on the moral compass shown by the white dot. There is a golden area on each side of it, and thus you could take certain decisions at the edge of the utilitarian and nihilist quadrants, and everything within the existentialist quadrant. Because in this instance the white dot is in the outer bound of the existentialist quadrant, this character is able to have a high level existentialist moral trait ('Condemned To Be Free'). By being further out towards the edge of the compass, the golden arc is a little narrower than some other characters' might be. What this does is allow some characters to be broadminded and others to be narrowminded - that is, if you want to have a lot of options available to you, you sacrifice the high-level traits but allow a wider World View. Conversely, if you want to focus on a particular philosophy, your World View (golden arc) narrows.

In terms of how these affect gameplay, the most easy to show is that during dialogue, certain options which would fit into one of the above quadrants become available at different points in a conversation. Not every choice is going to be a moral one or have any philosophical significance, and we are also having dialogue options with skill checks, dialogue options dependent on past decisions, and so on. But where your character's philosophical leaning is at any one point can affect which quests become available, and how you resolve the different challenges in the game. We are also working on combat influences, where different philosophical leanings allow certain skills and abilities and even weapon choices (you have to be a pretty mean bastard to use a nail grenade for instance, whereas only certain type of people might allow someone who begs for mercy to go free, and those people might give you specific rewards, information you could otherwise have gained and so on).

As I mentioned, all this information and more is in the dev blog I plan to post later today. I'll share the link when it's up.

This sounds like a great idea, I just think that it shouldn't narrow a player's choices at any point, but merely promote or incentivize them to stick to their world view. The reason why I think it shouldn't limit your choices is because as human beings we do tend to shift our responses to a situation due to the nature of that situation. This is because we sometimes opt for options that don't agree with our philosophy but choose it anyway due to the circumstances at hand or because its the lesser of two evils.

What I mean is, you should always have all four of those dialogue choices available, but if you stick to the one that corresponds with your world view, it should reward you by pushing you further in that direction giving you the ability to unlock those specific traits. Also, it could also reward you by expanding that particular dialogue option, which otherwise wouldn't happen if you didn't stick to it.

For example, if I have a utalitarian philosophy and opt for the utalitarian option, it should push me further in that direction and if I'm already far in that direction, open up an 'advanced' utalitarian dialogue option if I follow through it. For instance, if I'm trying to convice a guy that I want to keep the items he wanted me to retrieve for him, the initial utalitarian option could be that I keep one of them. If I already have a utalitarian world view, it could open up a 'greater' utalitarian option in which I can keep all of more of the items.

This way, you don't limit player agency and you instead incentivise players for staying true to their character and their moral beliefs.

Just a thought :positive:
 

fantadomat

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It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.
 

0wca

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It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.

But a machiavellian/utalitarian/nihilist/libtard will not always opt for the option that corresponds with their belief.

Example: A friend of yours is kept hostage by a raider. You prefer non-violence and wish to end the resolution peacefully. The raiders aren't having it. You pull your gun and shoot them, thereby saving your friend. You opted for the violent solution because the situation warranted it, even if doesn't correspond with you philosophy.

If the default morality of this game would be in place, the game would go: "No you can't choose the option of shooting them. You have to surrender.", which severely limits your choices.

Your overall philosophy should be a reflection of the choices you made in the game by totaling the sum of each, seeing what the moral tendency for that character is. Kinda like how they did it in Suzerain. You choices reflected the overall nature of your policies (centrist, authoritarian, liberal, etc.).
 

Desiderius

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It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.

It’s (obviously) both.

C’mon man, theory and practice inform one another. If they don’t you’re just a gnostic eloi or an unreflective brute.
 

fantadomat

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It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.

But a machiavellian/utalitarian/nihilist/libtard will not always opt for the option that corresponds with their belief.

Example: A friend of yours is kept hostage by a raider. You prefer non-violence and wish to end the resolution peacefully. The raiders aren't having it. You pull your gun and shoot them, thereby saving your friend. You opted for the violent solution because the situation warranted it, even if doesn't correspond with you philosophy.

If the default morality of this game would be in place, the game would go: "No you can't choose the option of shooting them. You have to surrender.", which severely limits your choices.

Your overall philosophy should be a reflection of the choices you made in the game by totaling the sum of each, seeing what the moral tendency for that character is. Kinda like how they did it in Suzerain. You choices reflected the overall nature of your policies (centrist, authoritarian, liberal, etc.).
No.human's "philosophy" affects the way you approach obstacles in life. Sure some times people are forced to act against their believes,but that doesn't change their "philosophy". For example the machiabelian cunt will accept their demands as ploy to get close and kill them or what not,or sneak in and free him,or he could just leave him because he have no use for him. The utalitarian will just shoot them or blow them up,the nihilist will fuck off because he doesn't know the random dude because he have no friends. The libtard also doesn't have friends and will die trying to be obnoxious.


C’mon man, theory and practice inform one another.
I agree,but this is a game,doubt that they could make such a complex system. But i said the system is bad because for example shooting some bandits won't affect the "philosophy" views of an individuals,but the reasons for doing it could change them. The actions are unimportant but reasoning behind them is.

Also people not as flexible as you thing,sure with more life experience and encounters with other's "philosophy",your views get refined and maybe changed in some aspects. But you won't have a radical change of view just like that, glorious cock sucker won't just one day change in to a guy that wants to see all the homos burned because they are creatures of the devil and affront to any thing good in this world.
 

Desiderius

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It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.

But a machiavellian/utalitarian/nihilist/libtard will not always opt for the option that corresponds with their belief.

Example: A friend of yours is kept hostage by a raider. You prefer non-violence and wish to end the resolution peacefully. The raiders aren't having it. You pull your gun and shoot them, thereby saving your friend. You opted for the violent solution because the situation warranted it, even if doesn't correspond with you philosophy.

If the default morality of this game would be in place, the game would go: "No you can't choose the option of shooting them. You have to surrender.", which severely limits your choices.

Your overall philosophy should be a reflection of the choices you made in the game by totaling the sum of each, seeing what the moral tendency for that character is. Kinda like how they did it in Suzerain. You choices reflected the overall nature of your policies (centrist, authoritarian, liberal, etc.).
No.human's "philosophy" affects the way you approach obstacles in life. Sure some times people are forced to act against their believes,but that doesn't change their "philosophy". For example the machiabelian cunt will accept their demands as ploy to get close and kill them or what not,or sneak in and free him,or he could just leave him because he have no use for him. The utalitarian will just shoot them or blow them up,the nihilist will fuck off because he doesn't know the random dude because he have no friends. The libtard also doesn't have friends and will die trying to be obnoxious.


C’mon man, theory and practice inform one another.
I agree,but this is a game,doubt that they could make such a complex system. But i said the system is bad because for example shooting some bandits won't affect the "philosophy" views of an individuals,but the reasons for doing it could change them. The actions are unimportant but reasoning behind them is.

Also people not as flexible as you thing,sure with more life experience and encounters with other's "philosophy",your views get refined and maybe changed in some aspects. But you won't have a radical change of view just like that, glorious cock sucker won't just one day change in to a guy that wants to see all the homos burned because they are creatures of the devil and affront to any thing good in this world.

No sometimes they do.

Zeal of the convert.
 

0wca

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It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.

It’s (obviously) both.

C’mon man, theory and practice inform one another. If they don’t you’re just a gnostic eloi or an unreflective brute.

Well yeah it's both, so you can't really opt for one or the other. It thought the game did kinda do both by having decisions you make give you points towards a certain philosophy and in turn, that gives you more advanced dialogue options that correspond with that philosophy.

If I'm not mistaken that's kinda how this system works already.
 

cyborgboy95

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https://retroware.com/2021/08/09/in...1Gzpbbc304oMqN4NffnOJFjNOuSukLYEh5H2UhFLGIE3g

Interview: Broken Roads Co-Founder Says “People Still Love These Games”

“I reckon I’d land in the Humanist quadrant of the Morality Compass but with quite a bit of Utilitarian and trace amounts of Nihilism,” Drop Bear Bytes co-founder Craig Ritchie tells me, “Depends on which sphere of life, though.”

I’ve been following Broken Roads since its announcement back in 2019. At the time, I was running a university project for my journalism course called ‘The Cross Button,‘ an all-things indie website. I’d interviewed the developers of Roki and Daggerfall Unity to name a couple but I never interviewed Drop Bear Bytes, although we interacted plenty on Twitter. I’ve always sought to remedy that.

Jump ahead three years and here I am with my degree hastily tucked away in my draw, a lukewarm coffee to my left, typing out an email at midnight on my laptop – time zones can be tricky. Ritchie got back within the same night and we got to talking about how he got into game development, the way that the classics have inspired Broken Roads, and how the game is going above and beyond even its own influences, expanding on some of those ideas from way back when.
WHAT ARE BROKEN ROADS’ INFLUENCES?
The original Fallout has an eerily dark comedic air about it, an appropriately cynical commentary on society, capitalism, and the nuclear arm’s race that sparked a still-ongoing feud between Russia and America. It’s an unsettling insight into what would happen if the kettle did pop and the lid flew off, kicking us into another world war as each powerhouse ropes in their reluctant allies to hit their big red buttons.

That’s what Black Isle Studios’ ‘90s RPG showed us, a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by nuclear… Well, fallout – fitting name, aye? It’s a commentary on ‘50s consumption culture, the dangers of the atomic bomb, and the rampant fear of China and Russia – the Red Scare – that finally boiled over in the ‘60s with the Vietnam war, a gruelling example of American cruelty.

It was unique in the gaming space and went unchallenged in its bold storytelling for years. Meanwhile, a pre-Dragon-Age and Mass Effect BioWare was releasing Baldur’s Gate and its sequel. The ’90s were the golden age of RPGs.

Fallout-2-1024x576.jpg

Fallout 2: surrounded by corpses, bison, and dead woodland, the player speaks to the town’s simpleton.
These games redefined what the RPG genre could be from Fallout’s karmic justice to Baldur’s Gate’s lively re-enactment of a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop session. They paved the way for the likes of Morrowind, The Witcher, and Gothic.

This context is important to note because Broken Roads aims to encapsulate that peak era of the ‘90s when western RPGs were in their stride. It’s an isometric return to roots jaunt but the distinctive difference is that it takes Fallout’s dystopian what-if and applies it to modern Australia. It’s untapped territory, for sure.

“Connecting with fans of the genre – as in Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, and Planescape: Torment – has been super important to us from the beginning. They will look at our game and its interface and immediately recognise what we’re going for.”

Broken-Roads-Moral-Compass-1024x576.jpg

Broken Roads’ Morality Compass.

HOW BROKEN ROADS EXPANDS OF FALLOUT’S KARMA SYSTEM
However, Fallout’s karmic system – while a huge staple of the series that was unfortunately gutted in 4 – is simplistic. There’s morally good and morally bad. You’re either going up or down based on various acitons, shifting the way that you’re viewed by certain characters. Barring reputation, there isn’t much more to it. Broken Roads aims to overhaul the karmic system, giving it a new lick of paint, expanding on its influences.

“We’re trying to make choices significant not just so that there’s fun reactivity later in the game, but also so that we have some kind of personality-defining outcomes of player choices,” Ritchie tells me,” There might be vastly different routes one can take based on if you don’t mind harming a small group of people to save a much larger group of people versus if you’re motivated by favouring your party and companions’ interests regardless of how much harm it causes others.

“I don’t want to give too much of the story away but in terms of interactions with systems, there are things you can only do in combat if you’re of a particular philosophical leaning. Your companions have their own world view as well.

“The main thing is getting away from the light side and dark side – good versus evil. Having a linear spectrum between two poles works but we’re having a lot of fun with having a broader range of options and problems to locate on the Moral Compass.”

Craig-Ritchie-Drop-Bear-Bytes-1024x512.jpg

Drop Bear Bytes’ co-founder Craig Ritchie, a South African journalist turned game developer residing in Australia.

HOW CRAIG RITCHIE GOT INTO GAME DEVELOPMENT
Ritchie got his start back in the ‘80s, preceding the classics we’ve talked about. To paint a picture, this was the era of Rogue, The Bard’s Tale, Final Fantasy, and Dungeon Master to name a few. Star Wars headlined the silver screen while Slice Soda of all things took off.

Bad haircuts were all the rage and pop culture was booming so much that now, we can’t stop hammering back to the good ol’ days a lot of us haven’t even lived through. Besides that, RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons were beginning to take off. Although parents and conservatives were smitten by the satanic panic. All the while, a young Ritchie was whirring away, learning the trade.

“I took a bit of a roundabout route getting into game development, having played games since I was very young – first programming little text adventures on an Acorn Electron and ZX Spectrum in the ‘80s. While I always played games, I ended up getting into journalism and freelance writing mostly for surfing magazines and a few clothing brands. I did that for about 15 years with some game magazine writing toward the back half of that.

broken-roads-dreamer-april-2021-1024x576.jpg

Broken Roads’ dialogue menu.

“When things started moving more and more online with social media and digital marketing, I found a lot of the skills were transferable. In 2011, I moved from surf into tech with a marketing role at NVIDIA. Not long after, a suitable role came up with CCP games and I’ve been in the industry ever since.

“A former manager from CCP suggested that I give running my own studio a go. I spoke to my long-time friend Jethro Naude [Drop Bear Bytes co-founder] who I’ve worked with on a couple of startups before. He reckoned this plan had legs. We got some ideas and basic concepts down and secured early funding to build a prototype of Broken Roads for PAX Aus in 2019.

“I played around with a number of ideas for the name and chatted to some people to brainstorm some things. It took a few days and there were a lot of possible names but when a friend suggested ‘Drop Bear’ – I loved it. I did some googling for similar companies or projects using the name to make sure we weren’t treading on anyone’s trademarks while I also wanted to make sure we didn’t have something that was just “Title-Games,” or “Title-Studio.” The bites/bytes thing worked for that.

“The fact that there’s an official entry for Drop Bears at the Australian Museum’s website is just icing on the cake.”

Divinity-2-1024x576.jpg

Larian Studios’ Divinity 2, an isometric turn-based RPG.

HOW DID MODERN ISOMETRIC RPGS INFLUENCE BROKEN ROADS?
In that timeframe, Disco Elysium and Baldur’s Gate 3 launched but even just before that, Divinity and Pillars of Eternity were keeping the isometric Dungeons & Dragons inspired sect of RPGs alive, embracing tradition. It had become a niche subgenre of role-playing games that was sustainable, proving that there was still a hankering for that approach. Looking back exclusively to the ‘90s would be impossible – there were modern reference points now for what Broken Roads could be.

“There are so many leaps forward that have been made in terms of visual and tech and we’re taking advantage of as many of them as we reasonably can,” Ritchie tells me, “We’ve got the traditional fixed camera perspective and a mix of 2D and 3D elements in a fully 3D space which allows for lighting and elevation features that weren’t even possible in some of those classic titles.

“We’ve absolutely looked at how they [Larian Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, etc] have done a number of the quality-of-life improvements I mentioned earlier and of course emulated a ton of things that those games do in order to capture the essence of classic computer RPGs

“This includes elements such as the UI, dialogue system, inventory management, how characters heal or recover from injuries, resting, overworld movement vs fast-travel considerations, random encounters, and a whole lot more

“It really is fantastic that these studios have proven that the genre is still alive and well. People still love these games.”
 

Harthwain

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Example: A friend of yours is kept hostage by a raider. You prefer non-violence and wish to end the resolution peacefully. The raiders aren't having it. You pull your gun and shoot them, thereby saving your friend. You opted for the violent solution because the situation warranted it, even if doesn't correspond with you philosophy.
Maybe I misunderstand something, but if you opt for a peaceful resolution and the raiders aren't having it (thereby forcing you to pull your gun and kill them), then it's not you who "opted for the violent solution" - it's the others who forced you into that kind of situation. You'd be opting for a violent solution if you had been the one to pull your gun and kill the raiders of your own volition.
 
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Infinitron

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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
Interview by the prestigious CSH Picone: https://www.cshpicone.com/gaming/interviews/drop-bear-bytes

Drop Bear Bytes

Chris Picone - CSH Picone
Craig Ritchie - Founder, Game Director

gjRXzLVkYzUqS0qSTStaoI1p6_69snqivzzSAdTa3yqTK0KTOKwAN5aFWQ4pQwqYMvv-scVTQeaKGQD_VKijx34egS8qDDBJBdOjO8_LYW4JJwVYU0C5u4p7ST0xPOiJaw=w1280


We have a special guest today; Craig Ritchie, founder of Drop Bear Bytes and director of Broken Roads, an isometric post-apocalyptic RPG set in Australia and one of my absolutely most-anticipated games of all time. We got to have a long chat about his team, what it takes to run an international game studio, their experience with Film Victoria, marketing plans, and of course, Broken Roads.

***

CSH: First tell us a bit about your studio. I’ve been keeping an eye on your dev blogs and couldn’t help notice that you have managed to gather what looks like an incredibly talented team with loads of gaming experience and qualifications - but this is your debut game, so what’s your secret?

Craig: Thanks a lot. Yes, we are incredibly proud of the team we have. I think it’s really just come down to having been in the industry for a while prior and having been lucky enough to get some good recommendations really early on. Jethro Naude, co-founder of Drop Bear Bytes, and I have been friends since we were like 14 years old and he’s got a ton of experience in start-ups and finance, as well as previously having worked as a game economist.

I was recommended our art director, Kerstin Evans, by a mutual friend and I also spent a ton of time looking at and reviewing many, many CVs and resumes over the last two and half years. Most recently we’ve had the incredible fortune to attract even more experienced talent in our narrative lead, Leanne Taylor-Giles, and her husband James Giles, another gameplay animator, who both joined us this year from Ubisoft Montréal.

Some people were hired because I saw them post some of their work on Twitter, others posted to Reddit boards for game devs looking for work, while others I just reached out to out of the blue to see if they liked the look of the project want to work with us. I’m really happy with how the team has grown and continues to attract great talent.

CSH: It seems fortune has smiled upon you more than once: You have also been blessed to receive a grant from Film Victoria. What’s involved with that? What set your game apart from other applicants? Has the grant imposed any requirements or limitations on your game? What have you been able to do that you wouldn’t have been able to without the grant?

Craig: We were incredibly happy to get funding from Film Victoria – twice, in fact – and we literally would not be where we are now without them. There is a very lengthy application process: a series of meetings and interviews, full budget breakdowns, information on the team, acquittal reports, milestone updates… It’s an incredibly structured program that happens to mirror the requirements for things such as platform partners, game publishers or investors/financiers, which in itself is good experience for game studios to use to get used to this kind of thing.

In terms of what set us apart, well, I think we’re doing something new and interesting with a really solid team that can execute on the plan. A lot of people think ‘If I only had the money I could do X,’ or ‘If only I got funded I could do Y…’ That’s true in some cases, but really not for all. There are many projects out there and there is a lot of competition and in fact we got turned down by Film Victoria the first time we applied for funding. We were not at the point yet where they were confident that we were the best choice for them to back, and fair enough.

I’m seriously grateful to them though. They have believed in us, and I’m very happy we happen to live in a state that has such good government support for the games industry. Not only does Film Victoria support us, but so does Creative Victoria, which gave us a grant to take part in PAX Australia in 2019 and provided us with a further grant for PAX Online last year.

They haven’t actually imposed requirements and limitations beyond a few things like including their logo as well as certain other contractual obligations, and of course they have a code of conduct, a diversity statement, and a few other things that are very reasonable about studio culture, values, and many other things that – quite frankly – if you are not doing them, your studio’s probably got larger problems anyway. We touch on some very heavy themes and we’re not backing away from some very serious topics; Broken Roads is for mature audiences and puts players in some very difficult ethical quandaries, and Film Victoria have been nothing but supportive of that.

In terms of what we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do without their support… well, keep the studio going, keep the lights on, and keep the team paid. There was a period last year where it was Film Victoria alone that kept us going. It is no exaggeration that Broken Roads would not exist the way it is today without them.
CSH: One more question before we get to the meat. Your website also mentions that, while you’re based in Australia, your team is spread across the globe – South Africa, Canada, and even China. What’s it like working with such a scattered team?

Craig: Yes, pretty much all of us work remotely across many countries and time zones. We’ve largely gotten used to this the whole way through development, and not only since lockdown, as many of us have been freelancing or running our own home offices for years anyway.

It takes a different kind of discipline and also a certain type of temperament to be able to sit alone in a room and focus for most of your day. There are definitely personalities better suited to having people around them all day, and I certainly feel for how they have had to handle the world as it is at the moment, but for most if not all of the Drop Bear Bytes team, the way we’ve got everyone set up works well.

CSH: I imagine trying to synergise across the timezones must be a nightmare. Are there any systems or programs you use to help manage the team?

Craig: We use Slack, Google Workspaces, Confluence, JIRA, Skype, smoke signal, carrier pigeon. All of our assets and data for the game are in the cloud, so things such as BitBucket or Google Shared Drives, which a lot of studios use even if they are located in the same physical location anyway and work just as well for a distributed team. There are so many good collaborative tools these days that you just have to find works for you. In past projects we’ve also used Basecamp, Dropbox, Asana, Trello, HacknPlan and numerous others, but we’ve got a pretty good set up at the moment – mostly thanks to our excellent producer, Jess!

CSH: Onto the game then! Let’s start with the fundamentals. In this day and age, why did you opt for isometric? Why turn-based?

Craig: For quite a few of us on the team, isometric RPGs are our all-time favourites. It really is as straightforward as that. It’s a proven approach that has worked incredibly well for decades now, again looking all the way back to the Ultima games and many others from the late 80s and early 90s, through to the giants such as Fallout and Planescape: Torment, and more recently Shadowrun and Pillars of Eternity. I love the perspective; I love the way it can both inspire nostalgia and still have room for innovation. Isometric RPGs allow for, in my opinion, the best instantiation of tabletop role-playing on a computer. The raised position view of a single portion of the map, seeing a little bit more of the world at a time, adventuring through and uncovering the fog of war… We love all these things and we know that the kinds of players we’re connecting with love them too.

Broken Roads is turn-based quite simply because we all prefer more cerebral combat and the strategic & tactical thinking which that style of gameplay offers, where your decisions and your smarts matter more than your reaction speed. There is absolutely room for awesome action RPGs and other action titles or fighting games where it’s all about how good you are with the controller, how well you can react in a moment, and so on. We love those games too, but we knew from the outset we wanted Broken Roads to feature turn-based combat and be a narrative-driven, very story-heavy game.

CSH: What else can you tell us about the inspiration behind Broken Roads? You’ve already mentioned Fallout and Planescape: Torment. Mad Max and Disco Elysium are obvious influences as well but what else? Any specific historical events? Other literature?

Craig: Well, you listed some of the big ones, but we are also really influenced by games going as far back as the Ultima series, the original Baldur’s Gate games, the Fighting Fantasy game books, and many others. As for Disco Elysium, those comparisons are somewhat unavoidable. The developers completely raised the bar so that every isometric RPG/adventure game from now on will be compared to it for a very, very long time. That team did some amazing things with that game.

As for historical events, there’s a whole load of stuff that happens in the game obviously influenced by world and Australian history, but players can find that out for themselves. I don’t want to spoil that for them.

In terms of other literature, sure. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books have influenced the team over the years. As well as our respective educations, mine in particular was studying philosophy, which our creative lead Colin McComb also studied; Jethro has a Masters degree in economics and a background in environmental economics; Kerstin studied psychology; and the list goes on. We want to touch on a wide range of ideas, theories, philosophies, and works from so many great thinkers around the world.

CSH: This seems like an opportune place to segue into one of Broken Roads’ flagship features, the Moral Compass. You’ve talked about it lots elsewhere, but I gather it’s changed over time and you’re still looking at further changes. Can you talk about that?

Craig: Sure – the Moral Compass was our way of bringing more flexibility and depth to morality systems than the usual alignment/good vs bad/light side vs dark side split we’ve seen before. We wanted something that not only constrained player’s choices but also adapted to each of those choices in turn, just as someone’s world view can change based on experiences in the real world.

And yes, there definitely have been a number of new ideas and improvements since we first designed it. I mean, the biggest change to the mechanic was changing one of the four quadrants from existentialist to humanist, but there’s also been the addition of moral memory (which may still be renamed of course!) which are sort of like tendencies or inclinations towards other ideologies that fall outside of your worldview, a significant change to moral traits over the last little while (again, something we are not revealing too much about right now!) and the way that characters’ morality can play in to combat. We are still honing, refining, testing, balancing – all the time – and deepening many of the moral dialogues in the game so that you don’t simply make one utilitarian choice and there you go, but rather open up a flow that can result in an entire philosophical argument before it’s done.

Wait a while… We will have a lot more to show soon.

CSH: Speaking of characters, who can we expect to meet in Broken Roads? You’ve kept pretty mum on the topic so far.

Craig: Well, I don’t want to go into the characters too much right now; I think one of the joys of these sorts of games is meeting the major characters and discovering companions as the story unfolds.

What I can say is that we’ve tailored a number of the companions to suit traditional RPG archetypes, even though we have a classless system, while also focusing very heavily on giving them a lot of depth. Companions have a real history and backstory; inter-party dynamics; party banter; an opinion of the player’s character; an opinion of each other, and so on. This means that players not only can enjoy the different skills that companions bring to the experience, but also the relationships that form along the way.

So for instance, there’s Sean, who has grown up as a farmer; Jess, who is a cameleer; a number of hired guns collectively known as the Scouts, and who each brings with them a range of skills; Cole, who is a tinkerer/repairer/engineer, and others who players will get to meet soon.

CSH: I can’t wait! What about the setting? Mad Max was one of your main inspirations and you’re based in Victoria, so I was surprised to hear the game was based in Western Australia?

Craig: WA is just so right for doing something post-apocalyptic. It’s got dry and barren areas as well as an abundance of farms, the red ground, the little towns dotted around the landscape… The place has interesting old architecture and so many beautiful locations.

CSH: You’ve mentioned Kalgoorlie to Brookton specifically. What drew you to this area? Are there specific features or history that drew your interest?

Craig: The game starts off in Brookton and covers a lot of the wheatbelt region, such as Merredin, Kalgoorlie and Southern Cross, as well as a number of locations off the beaten track. Because we wanted to make things as authentic and true to Western Australia as possible, I drove around there for three days and took over a thousand photographs for reference material. We were not able to put nearly as much in the game as we would like!

CSH: That sounds amazing. I’ve always wanted to visit WA but I’ve never quite made it there. You’re nearing the end of this project - relatively speaking, of course. Any plans for the future?

Craig: There’s a lot we want to do, and we’re often banking ideas on our internal wiki. We’re full steam ahead on Broken Roads and are just fully focused on making the best game we possibly can! We’ve still got a long way to go, and release isn’t necessarily the end of development these days…

CSH: Most indie developers struggle to gather any kind of media attention but Broken Roads has been something of a media darling. How did you manage that? Did your own marketing background help?

Craig: Thanks – yes, we’ve been seriously stoked with how much coverage we’ve got and the attention that the game has garnered thus far. We had a plan to come out with a splash from the first reveal on 1st October 2019 and put a lot of effort into PAX Australia a couple weeks later. We worked very hard on establishing a media relations database and responding to individual emails and accepting all interview requests the early days, no matter how small the outlet.

Many, many indie game developers don’t appreciate how powerful and impactful building a brand and having a marketing plan is. I think too many people think, ‘Oh if I’ve got a good-looking game or an interesting premise it will just get a ton of attention anyway’, or the ultimate wrong approach of, ‘I’ll market it when the game is out’. None of this is news, by the way, but it’s still surprising how many people ignore this.

The short of it is we worked very, very hard in the lead up to October 2019, and I’m sure that resulted in what a lot of people call ‘luck’, which my experience has shown is directly proportionate to the effort you put in.

CSH: As anyone who’s ever read any of my work knows, I’ve made a point of finishing every interview on the same question. So to wrap this up: Making something as lengthy and in-depth as Broken Roads is a process of learning as much as creation. What mistakes did you make? What would you do differently knowing what you know now?

Craig: We are always learning, seriously. We’ve made mistakes in nearly all areas of the game, but thankfully none are catastrophic and all have been learning opportunities. These range from simple narrative decisions where we’ve had to throw out a few weeks’ worth of work because we changed the story, through to design ideas that sound great when pitched, look awesome once designed, but just don’t feel good when you test them in game.

The mistakes also happened just in general studio management as well as in making the game itself, but again, there is always something to take from them: learning how to hire with company culture in mind, having Slack on my phone (it’s now deleted, thankfully) through to lockdown preventing us from being able to travel to WA on multiple occasions. Knowing what I know now, I’d advise my team not to have Slack on their mobile devices, and I definitely won’t be purchasing non-refundable plane tickets ever again.

***

Thanks so much for your time, Craig! Marketing and funding are crucial but often-overlooked aspects of indie game development, and I think there are a few valuable lessons here that any budding indie dev can learn from. And I’m even more excited for Broken Roads now than ever! I guess I’ll have to go back to stalking your Twitter account for updates on your Dev Blog for now, and I eagerly await the release. The hype, as they say, is real.

Links:

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1403440/Broken_Roads/

Website: https://www.brokenroadsgame.com

Drop Bear Bytes on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DropBearBytes

Broken Roads on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brokenroadsgame
 

Craig Ritchie

Drop Bear Bytes
Developer
Joined
Oct 7, 2019
Messages
36
Hello, nerds. Been a long time since I caught up on this thread but will be checking it out and responding to messages/trolls/questions over the next little while. I hereby open myself up to the torrent of abuse I deserve for posting. Have at me, Codex.
 

Craig Ritchie

Drop Bear Bytes
Developer
Joined
Oct 7, 2019
Messages
36
For all that this game sure looks good, and looks like it might be cool, if they don't present the moral compass in an authentic way it'll all have been for naught. How far will they be prepared to step outside the bounds of wokeness? We'll have to see.

Wokeness is not what we go for, not part of our company culture, not integral to the content of Broken Roads. The team has changed and evolved over the last 2.5 years. I am well aware of what this forum's impression is, based on the comments, so all I can say is wait and see (I would say "trust me" but hey, like I said some time back, I have been on RPG Codex for many years prior to creating this account, so...)

Looks great. Time to put more post- in post-apocalyptic.

For sure - the game plays out in a very intentional journey where the start may not be the depth of Fallout-like aesthetic many may be expecting from a game in this genre.

It looks like pretty stupid system. Ideology is not shaped by your actions,but by your life experience and understanding of the world. If anything actions are shaped by ideology lol. For example the bandit thing. A machiavelian will join the band and poison them or some such shit gain their place and power,a utalitarian will set up an ambush and kill them off with other people, nihilist will just fuck off and the libtard will just die because it is useless.

lol, wut? I don't think you understand what the intent for the Moral Compass is. It is all about being about your actions being shaped by your world view (what you're referring to as ideology). It absolutely goes both ways.


Well yeah it's both, so you can't really opt for one or the other. It thought the game did kinda do both by having decisions you make give you points towards a certain philosophy and in turn, that gives you more advanced dialogue options that correspond with that philosophy.

If I'm not mistaken that's kinda how this system works already.

Yep, exactly - by adding in 'moral memory' (name will likely be improved) it's not just what is in the golden arc / your world view, but you also have other options available. These will have a larger shift on rotating your world view and maybe reduce the moral memory of the opposite quadrant. Still feeling it all out and have months yet to refine it.

I agree,but this is a game,doubt that they could make such a complex system. But i said the system is bad because for example shooting some bandits won't affect the "philosophy" views of an individuals,but the reasons for doing it could change them. The actions are unimportant but reasoning behind them is.

Absolutely - it's all about the reasoning behind those actions.
 

Darth Canoli

Arcane
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Messages
5,269
Location
Perched on a tree
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?
 
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