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Editorial Inquisitor: The Sins of Old-School Design

VentilatorOfDoom

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Tags: Cinemax; Eric Schwarz; Inquisitor

Gamebanshee and Gamasutra's Eric Schwarz penned an editorial on the recently released Inquisitor, analysing its design. Snippet:
This lack of direction is a problem throughout almost the entire game. There are many, many cases in Inquisitor where it is unclear where to go, what to do or who to talk to, not because I'm an especially thick-headed person who can't get obvious hints, but rather because oftentimes the sequence of events to complete a relatively simple task is very, very specific, but the player could easily and logically skip one of those steps. Often it's as simple as needing to talk to a given NPC before getting a dialogue option to open up, even though there's no indication that the player needs to talk with that NPC at all. Much of my time in Inquisitor was spent wandering from X to Y, checking and re-checking conversations to make sure that I hadn't missed anything... not out of compulsion to complete every single piece of content, but because it's usually the only way to proceed.

Additionally, due to the game's focus on drilling every NPC for as much information as possible in order to advance its plot threads, eventually it's possible to just run out of things to do. Once you've spoken to all the NPCs in a town, explored all the areas of the game world, and so on, where else do you go? Sometimes the game expects a very specific and sometimes non-ideal sequence of events to play out, which are portrayed as optional but are in fact mandatory (such as accusing someone of hersey - even if you aren't sure of their guilt, you'll have to interrogate them to get the evidence you need to continue the game). Other times, the solution to advancing the plot will be difficult to find - such as a broken bridge in the Iron Mine dungeon at the end of act 1 requiring either the Levitate spell or finding a very well-hidden secret door - and suddenly the game grinds to a halt until you've completed that requirement, even if that means you are stuck with grinding respawning enemies for five hours to level up enough to get a spell you need.

It's a common complaint about modern games that they don't trust players to figure out how to proceed properly - that the quest compass or objective marker is the lazy developer's way of telling the player how to proceed in the game. But it's also worth remembering that sometimes not including hints on where to go and what to do can lead to a needlessly frustrating play experience. Guiding players is an art - a quest compass might be a brute-force, lowest common denominator method, but at least it works. Without such aids, if the rest of the game's design can't direct the player properly, then that's a failure, old-school or not.
 

Kaiserin

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What I find really stupid about the article is that he blames old school design for these problems when there are tons of old games which don't have the issues that Inquisitor does.

I am about 20 hours into Inquisitor and enjoy the dialogue and exploration aspects a lot. However, the combat is a trainwreck of stupidity and attrition. There's nothing 'deep' about kiting around chugging potions, it's just a chore.
 

Commissar Draco

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It is just game with too long tunnels full of trash mobs... Nothing to do with being old school but this was not criticised in AAA ''jewels'' like DAO.... Remember Derp Roads or F3 Underground? OP Article author is Jew and Faggot.
 

Morkar Left

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There's a lot to criticize about Inquisitor. It makes it really easy to bitch about. Because of that I'm intrigued that he still comes up with the most moronic and stupid bullshit explanations no man with half a brain could come up with:

Fucking roads, how do they work??? OH MY GOD HOW SHOULD I EVER FIND A CHURCH IN A VILLAGE WITHOUT MY QUESTCOMPASS??? DEVELOPERS ARE GRUESOME!!!!

Seriously, is that his trademark or something? :?
 
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I'm at the beginning of the Act II and so far this game is a mixed bag. The dialogs are interesting, and so is the world, even if a bit too close mythologically to plain old christianity. I love the art style of buildings, especially churches. The whole inquisitor mechanic is interesting, although I don't enjoy the screams during torture.

The above stuff is, at best, 1/4 of the game. Rest of the time it's combat. And combat sucks in this game terribly. It's just clicky-clicky but somehow it's not as fun as diablo (the first one) clicky-clicky. Probably something to do with rather crappy animations. Loot also sucks - there is very few graphics for loot, and not many effects. It's boring.

I do enjoy this game overall, although I'm not glued to the monitor like I was with Fallout, PS:T, or Arcanum.
 

Castanova

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Unfortunately, probably Sea's worst article for Gamasutra. Conflating Inquisitor's problems with those of some ethereal, monolithic "old-school RPG" design is just not going to cut it. And, even if you can forgive this premise, the article feels needlessly rant-like and one-sided despite the apologetic hint at a future article which will outline the game's positive aspects.
 

Mrowak

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I have to say that all of sea's observations reverberate truth about this game, even though my conclusions would be different.

I do think that sea extrapolated a little bit too much - I wouldn't ascribe all of the game's failings to "old school" game design - rather, inability to capture what those "old school" games did with the mechanics they had got right and Inquisitor failed to utilised.

Inquisitor got me thinking that the presence of certain mechanics alone is not enough for the game to become effective. They need to have their place. They need to have focus. They need to reflect what gameplay is about. They are important - no questions there - but on their own, when connected in haphazard fashion they cannot follow their overriding directive - to make the game fun. And this is the true problem with Inquisitor. Huge portion of it is not fun, because the mechanics serve wrong purpose, and this is because the game doesn't know what its purpose is. It totally lacks focus... and lacking focus is not something what genuine "old school classics" can be characterised by.

I will agree, however, with many of his conclusions. Especially the following one struck a cord with me:

Challenge is one of those things that only really works when it accomplishes something. Challenge as a means to an end can be compelling, but usually only for a fairly small subset of gamers, and even then, many of them overstate their desire for insanity-inducing difficulty. When challenge becomes equated with tedium, or is simply a complete lack of fairness, or extremely skewed balance, the fun inherent in overcoming a difficult battle tends to disappear very quickly. Inquisitor features old-school challenge, but that challenge is often of the most frustrating, ill-conceived sort, and it only serves to pad out its already overlong dungeon levels.

It is also evident that much of Inquisitor's weakness comes from the lack of "modern" mechanics or sticking to the "old", nonsensical formulae that won't fly in modern times. An example of that is quest design which is totally out of place giving the character of the mission the story puts you in. Some things - like fetch quests, or inquiry-response dialogues - could have worked in the time of Ultima I-V, but cannot be considered a good solution these days.
 

Kaiserin

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Does anybody else feel like they could have simply cut mana and stamina costs in half and the game would have been a hundred times better for it? I mean, even THEN, you couldn't 'spam' without chugging potions, and it would still be a much slower paced game than Diablo or Divine Divinity. As it stands though it's 'buy potions to spam longer.'
 

zeitgeist

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I'd expect this kind of an article from one of those bloggers who want to sell their so totally oldschool but not oldschool oldschool you silly person, newschool oldschool, so you can say you're oldschool while still being newschool games like Vogel for example. It's filled with various "old games were like this and that" stereotypes that have been commonly pushed in order to excuse "streamlining" in recent years and simply aren't true. Why would someone who's not even selling anything write something like that?
 

Morkar Left

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I'm shocked this is actually sea (I would have been nicer otherwise). Not for him criticizing the game but things he mentioned in general to gaming. Really, I can't believe it...

Does anybody else feel like they could have simply cut mana and stamina costs in half and the game would have been a hundred times better for it? I mean, even THEN, you couldn't 'spam' without chugging potions, and it would still be a much slower paced game than Diablo or Divine Divinity. As it stands though it's 'buy potions to spam longer.'
It would help but not fix it. Additionally there needs to be more hp in general, especially the paladin, and stamania should regenerate while walking. But there are other tweaks needed, too, like a lot more durability for armor and weapons. Plus your companions need more hp in general.

But all in all nothing that couldn't be easily fixed from the developers. Or mods if possible.
I really wish the developers would redo the balancing as a fan service and to further increase sales. It's more or less the big complaint you here everywhere about the game.
 

godsend1989

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The above stuff is, at best, 1/4 of the game. Rest of the time it's combat. And combat sucks in this game terribly. It's just clicky-clicky but somehow it's not as fun as diablo (the first one) clicky-clicky.

Just play on easy the game feels just right on easy, don`t punish yourself playing it on other because you will get the same thing.

Probably something to do with rather crappy animations. Loot also sucks - there is very few graphics for loot, and not many effects. It's boring.

In fact every piece of loot has normal better perfect green blue and yellow quality, not only are more powerful but they even look different and badass, also stats on items are random.
 

sea

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What I find really stupid about the article is that he blames old school design for these problems when there are tons of old games which don't have the issues that Inquisitor does.

I am about 20 hours into Inquisitor and enjoy the dialogue and exploration aspects a lot. However, the combat is a trainwreck of stupidity and attrition. There's nothing 'deep' about kiting around chugging potions, it's just a chore.
Well I guess it's a) a hook for the article and b) the game's marketing was basically centered around how brutally old-school the game was. I also feel that was probably the goal of the developers - to make a game that was difficult, expansive etc. The problem is they went for all the "old school" tropes without always understanding how to implement those ideas well.

I guess there's also a little bit of "old school = bad design" thinking implicit in there, which to be honest is often true of some older titles, as great as they are (i.e. poor direction during quests), but my goal wasn't to conflate the two.

Fucking roads, how do they work??? OH MY GOD HOW SHOULD I EVER FIND A CHURCH IN A VILLAGE WITHOUT MY QUESTCOMPASS??? DEVELOPERS ARE GRUESOME!!!!

Seriously, is that his trademark or something? :?
My point there is basically that the game does not do a good job of introducing its world or mechanics. It's all there, and admittedly this is not a huge problem with the intro of the game or anything, but let's consider other titles which obviously inspired Inquisitor:

  • Ultima VII spawns you right in town, speaking to a critical NPC, and your first objective and plot hook is sitting right there.
  • Baldur's Gate spawns you standing in Candlekeep, an almost perfectly safe environment designed as a big tutorial, and specifically right next to the tavern, a D&D staple, instantly reinforcing the mood of the game.
  • Likewise, Diablo starts you out in Tristram, not far from all the major quest giving NPCs. Critically, you have to pass through all of them before you reach the Cathedral, almost ensuring that players will learn the story, objectives and functions of all the town NPCs (shops, healing, etc.).

Inquisitor does not do this. It spawns you well outside town, then immediately sends you into (very lethal) combat against enemies without so much as an explanation of the game mechanics. If players don't open their inventory they won't even notice they start with a few potions to help them out (they should have been placed in the quick slots by default). It was a bad choice, and they really should have just started the player in front of the church, or have the guards escort the player to it from the gate, or something. As it stands it sidetracks the very first moments of the game, which are some of the most critical to get right, and that is not a good thing in my opinion.

And no, from there the game definitely makes a lot of mistakes. There are lots of quests where critical NPCs that everyone talks about are hidden out in the middle of nowhere and require that the player explore every single nook and cranny of the map to simply proceed with the main story. There are many quests where the game won't let you ask NPC X or Y about a specific topic until you head over to a second NPC and say the correct thing, leading to lots of backtracking. This is made worse by the fact that often players will logically deduce that they should, say, go to the quest giver to turn in a quest, instead of the local sheriff.

Such things aren't restricted to side-quests, but are necessary to advance the plot even early in the game, and sometimes the only way to move things forward (arbitrarily unlock a plot door, or let you accuse the obvious heretic) is to speak to every single NPC, complete every single quest, etc. Much of the time, these relationships can feel quite arbitrary, and the game rarely justifies them. None of this is "challenging" or "complicated" gameplay - it's just bad design through and through.

Inquisitor got me thinking that the presence of certain mechanics alone is not enough for the game to become effective. They need to have their place. They need to have focus. They need to reflect what gameplay is about. They are important - no questions there - but on their own, when connected in haphazard fashion they cannot follow their overriding directive - to make the game fun. And this is the true problem with Inquisitor. Huge portion of it is not fun, because the mechanics serve wrong purpose, and this is because the game doesn't know what its purpose is. It totally lacks focus... and lacking focus is not something what genuine "old school classics" can be characterised by.
This is exactly what I was trying to explain there but I think you worded it better. So you get a brofist! Thanks.
 
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Divine Divinity has gameplay that is paced 10 times better and is 10 times as fun. I've had enough of this tedious game, I haven't seen anything quite as bad tedium wise for as long as I can remember. There are only so many hours in the day to bear inane interrogation of all the NPCs, clues that are super hard to find, and hours of grinding respawning monsters. What an unbalanced, horridly designed mess.
 

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I've only played this game for around 15 minutes so far, I won't try to judge it just yet. My first impression is not very good, though.
 

Commissar Draco

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After being overhelmed by Hordes of Rogues and Foodpats... (Seriously who place bandits who outnumber all City NPCs 10 to 1 and Royal Garisone 100:1? they could take the Glatzburg anytime) I cheated my Paladin to ungodly high level and play it as Adventure game. (you can still die in 10 seconds when facing ghosts and Mages even with Magic and elemental resistance close to 100) but this way I need to stuck with 1000 Stamina and health potions potions only once before venturing into dungeon... and Combat is melee not kiting. Mechanism auto using those potions when beneath 20% of health/Stamina/magic would be nice, same as option to cast buffs on the portraits of your companions... in close melee you can end up buffing your opponents instead. :lol: Not to mention some buffing and healing Priests Companion.
 

Morkar Left

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My point there is basically that the game does not do a good job of introducing its world or mechanics. It's all there, and admittedly this is not a huge problem with the intro of the game or anything, but let's consider other titles which obviously inspired Inquisitor:

  • Ultima VII spawns you right in town, speaking to a critical NPC, and your first objective and plot hook is sitting right there.
  • Baldur's Gate spawns you standing in Candlekeep, an almost perfectly safe environment designed as a big tutorial, and specifically right next to the tavern, a D&D staple, instantly reinforcing the mood of the game.
  • Likewise, Diablo starts you out in Tristram, not far from all the major quest giving NPCs. Critically, you have to pass through all of them before you reach the Cathedral, almost ensuring that players will learn the story, objectives and functions of all the town NPCs (shops, healing, etc.).
Inquisitor does not do this. It spawns you well outside town, then immediately sends you into (very lethal) combat against enemies without so much as an explanation of the game mechanics. If players don't open their inventory they won't even notice they start with a few potions to help them out (they should have been placed in the quick slots by default). It was a bad choice, and they really should have just started the player in front of the church, or have the guards escort the player to it from the gate, or something. As it stands it sidetracks the very first moments of the game, which are some of the most critical to get right, and that is not a good thing in my opinion.

And no, from there the game definitely makes a lot of mistakes. There are lots of quests where critical NPCs that everyone talks about are hidden out in the middle of nowhere and require that the player explore every single nook and cranny of the map to simply proceed with the main story. There are many quests where the game won't let you ask NPC X or Y about a specific topic until you head over to a second NPC and say the correct thing, leading to lots of backtracking. This is made worse by the fact that often players will logically deduce that they should, say, go to the quest giver to turn in a quest, instead of the local sheriff.

Such things aren't restricted to side-quests, but are necessary to advance the plot even early in the game, and sometimes the only way to move things forward (arbitrarily unlock a plot door, or let you accuse the obvious heretic) is to speak to every single NPC, complete every single quest, etc. Much of the time, these relationships can feel quite arbitrary, and the game rarely justifies them. None of this is "challenging" or "complicated" gameplay - it's just bad design through and through.


I think the game does a good job at introducing its world. The game has a manual that tells you everything you need to know about the world on two pages. You get a video introduction and an opening text that explains your backstory and what you have to do. In this regard it's actually exactly like BG. The only thing it is missing are popups like "use left mouse button and click on target to attack".
The bats can kill you but they are really easy and I had no problem a priest in melee. In BG the assassins in Candle Keep could kill you, too btw. Last but not least they are optional at the start anyway. Personally my first reaction playing as a priest in the name of the inquisition was to tell the guard if he knows to whom he’s talking about and that he should get out of the way.
I had no problem figuring out walking two seconds along the road till the guard approached me. It was intuitive for me right from the start. And reaching a foreign town/village comes always with disorientation and only resembles how your char experiences the situation. Not that I would mind exploring the town or that the town as hard to navigate.
I prefer this over just spawning in the middle of a town you should somehow being familiar with because you already walked into it but in reality you aren’t.
Your first mission is to go to the Inquisitor and the guard even tells you that he is – logically – in the church; the biggest and most impressive building you really can’t miss. And – again – logically and historically placed at the market. The Inquisitor gives you all the info you need – even gameplay related info.
Of course from there you are on your own. But that is how it is meant to be. The game doesn’t want to hold your hand for obvious reasons. Experiencing the story through investigation (which mainly is talking to people) is one of the gameplay elements and not unsimilar to Ultima in this regard.
Complaining that your potions are not in the quickslots at start and you don’t know that you have potions? For every rpg in the past 15 years the first thing I do is opening the inventory and look what’s there.
Another point is you arguing that you didn’t understand the trade-interface or overlooked the instant-buy button. That is hardly the games fault but just your own oversight. The buttons are there on the bottom, they have tooltips and they are mentioned and explained in the manual.
I think you are just trying too hard to make a point. At least I hope that's it.
Regarding to balance and that the quests could have more c&c and statchecks I wholeheartly agree. That Diablo-style combat isn't the best for such a investigation setup I agree, too.
 

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