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Codex Interview RPG Codex Interview: Ars Magica: Years of Conquest (Now on Kickstarter!)

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Ars Magica; Ars Magica: Years of Conquest; Black Chicken Studios; J.E. Sawyer

From Black Chicken Studios, the creators of Academagia, comes a single player turn-based computer adaptation of the pen and paper RPG Ars Magica, Ars Magica: Years of Conquest, currently running its Kickstarter campaign. We've been intrigued about it, not least because the world needs more PnP-based CRPGs, and odds are, thanks to Kickstarter the future will bring at least some. So, as usual, we decided to run an interview about it.

For this interview, we have (again) teamed up with Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, lead designer on Fallout: New Vegas and Project Eternity and a connoisseur of the PnP Ars Magica, to find out what exactly we can expect from Years of Conquest; the questions in the interview are ours and Josh's combined. How close will it be to the pen and paper game? How will the Covenant gameplay and the combat be represented? And what influence will the folks at Atlas have over the game? Have some snippets:

You call Ars Magica: Years of Conquest a "Medieval Simulation and Role-Playing Game." Usually, a CRPG combines exploration, interaction and combat from an isometric or first-person perspective. Will Years of Conquest be a traditional CRPG in this sense, or rather a game in the style of Academagia, with a text-based CYOA-like interface and tons of skillchecks? How different do you want the presentation to be from that of Academagia, and what other video games could you compare it to?

If we had to liken it to another game, we'd say King of Dragon Pass: the majority of player activity is in the Covenant simulation, but it's punctuated by text quests, adventures and judgments, which themselves can give rise to our Combat engine. The Combat engine plays out rather uniquely (see below), and has a definite old school feel- it's not isometric, though. As for Academagia, that was a menu-driven sandbox raising game, and is a different beast altogether- the UI for Ars Magica is much more contextual, much better organized, and has a lot less in it: that's a by-product of the fact we are using the 5E Ars Magica mechanics, though. ; )

Early next week, we're producing a concept screenshot for a Dialogue, which will show the direction we're taking the UI.

Ars Magica has a distinctive "wizards as scientists" feel, much more so than something like D&D, by virtue of emphasizing the way a wizard researches his spells and conducts his arcane experiments. How important is that going to be in Years of Conquest?

It will be as important as the player chooses to make it. Certainly, if they do not engage in these kinds of activities, their mages will not be as powerful as they have the potential to be. Of course, an enterprising player can get around this through trade with other Covenants, but even if you want to do nothing but focus on your grogs and companions, you can reach the end of the game by doing just that. Don't expect to do very well in the Magic or Faerie realms, though...

How will Years of Conquest's turn-based combat be presented, and what combat mechanics do you currently have in mind? Is it single character or party-based? What are the options the player will have in combat, and how does your environment come into play?

It's a pretty unique party system, adapted from Academagia Year 2. As mentioned earlier, it is very old school: your foes are presented on one end, and your party on the other, and you act according to 5E initiative. What sets it apart, however, is the Environment. This is a pool of factors, constantly changing and refreshing, which advantages and disadvantages all combatants. Where you go in the Environment, and what you do there can provide you the means of survival- only the most hardy or well protected warrior can ignore the Environment, and even then, probably not for very long. It also turns on and off Spell/Spontaneous Magic options- if an opponent is sniping from a bush, you can set it on fire. If an opponent has taken shelter in a building, you use the furniture to attack them. Is it raining? Change it to acid. And so on.

To conclude this interview, what have you got planned as far Kickstarter updates are concerned? Do you intend to release screenshots of Years of Conquest's gameplay or UI before the campaign is over? And most importantly, have you got a plan B in the unfortunate case that your Kickstarter falls short of the funding goal?

We have quite a few more updates in the works, in which we introduce the gameplay concepts, especially for players new to Ars Magica. We'll be producing a set of concept screenshots, as well, with the first out next tuesday. This one will be showing what a Dialogue looks like, and how Spontaneous Magic options will appear. In a way, we already have Plan B under steam: we are presently working on Academagia Year 2, along with an unannounced project, now in the editing phase. Unfortunately, we would not be able to proceed with an Ars Magica game without funding- it's a costly endeavor. We feel confident so far: KickStarter is the place where the indies of the indies can succeed, and if the fans want an Ars Magica game done *right*, this is the way to accomplish it. So far, we've heard from some very passionate fans, and that gives us a lot of hope that the people we want to make this game for are out there.​

Read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Ars Magica: Years of Conquest (Now on Kickstarter!)
 

Grunker

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It sounds really, really good, but I have great difficulty envisioning this game (ultimately the reason I didn't donate to Shadowrun).

If they said "KoDP-like" straight out maybe I'd understand, but this sounds a lot like Academagia. Except the combat system, which sounds crazy, and all the places where they distance themselves from Academagia. So yeah, I'm a bit at a loss. Will keep following, and come payday we'll see how it looks.

Very cool that Sawyer gave a hand with this interview. You are a gift to this fucking site Bee, even if we've had our differences of opinion.
 

Morkar Left

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Josh Sawyer an ArM fan? Cool! But now that I think about it not surprising because it's in a historical setting.

Damn, codex needs a doublebrofist option. Good questions. Thanks CB and Josh Sawyer!

As mentioned earlier, it is very old school: your foes are presented on one end, and your party on the other, and you act according to 5E initiative. What sets it apart, however, is the Environment. This is a pool of factors, constantly changing and refreshing, which advantages and disadvantages all combatants. Where you go in the Environment, and what you do there can provide you the means of survival- only the most hardy or well protected warrior can ignore the Environment, and even then, probably not for very long. It also turns on and off Spell/Spontaneous Magic options- if an opponent is sniping from a bush, you can set it on fire. If an opponent has taken shelter in a building, you use the furniture to attack them. Is it raining? Change it to acid. And so on.

This sounds pretty awesome even if you don't give a damn about Ars Magica or King of Dragon Pass :bounce:
 

Mrowak

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Excelent interview and great input by Josh. :salute:

I would love to support these lads, but Project Eternity exhausted my gaming funds for three months. :(

Aren't you ashamed Josh? ;)
 

clemens

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Great interview. It made me feel more confident they can pull this off...
 

Turjan

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I love Ars Magica, it's a great game. I have a hard time figuring out how this would work as a computer game, though. The boardgame was already a big letdown.
 

OSK

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Sounds cool, but I'm not entirely sure about this one so I jumped in at the $20 tier.

I have yet to contribute to a kickstarter that didn't meet its goal. Almost looks like this one might be the first.
 

Morkar Left

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Yes. it doesn't look that good at the moment. I think the main problem is that it isn't a good time to kickstart a new game with all the major industry vets doing kickstarters right now.
Additionally people seem to have serious problems to imagine how or what the game is supposed to be. Basically all the information is there (even very detailed) but little audio and visuals to attract people not familiar with Ars Magica and it is not your typical dungeon grinding run-of-the-mill rpg-style.

They changed the kickstarter video and added an update about the covenant mechanics and general structure of the game:

First, we have to talk about Resources. In the tabletop game, the most important Resource is raw magic (Vis; which is used by mages for research, item creation, and other magical purposes.) In Years of Conquest, though, you’ll have access to many more: Corruption, Piety, Presence, and several others. Collect a lot of these, and they have the potential to become defining characteristics of your home, leading to greatness or destruction. During Covenant Gameplay, you are able to send out your characters to gather these Resources, which in turn become the fuel for other kinds of actions.
These actions are known as opportunities, and they are sometimes procedural, sometimes fixed. The procedural ones are determined by your Covenant Abilities, and pop up for a short time only. These all have a cost in Resources, but can lead to Spells, Items or rare Resources. More importantly, they can offer experience in skills which otherwise cannot be trained or obtained. The fixed opportunities are available for a longer span, and lead to quests of various stripes. You’ll want to be undertaking these before they expire, if you are interested in the unique rewards they hold.
All these actions appear in one of two maps. First is a top-down floorplan of your Covenant, which contains all the actions tabletop players will be most familiar with: spell creation, enchantment, training, library work, and so on. You are also able to upgrade, and build, from this map- if you have the right Resources. Opportunities of a more domestic nature are also present here, along with any pending judgments. The second is a top down map of the lands surrounding your Covenant. Here, you’ll find all the resource gathering actions, opportunities, and special actions related to the movement of agents, armies and other significant figures.
Finally, there are Covenant Abilities. In the tabletop game, these are generally called Boons and Hooks. In Years of Conquest, these Abilities represent unique things about your Covenant: how closely you are tied to the local Faerie Lord, whether you have been cursed, whether your Covenfolk are loyal, how good your relationship is with the mundane world, and so on. The presence of these Abilities, coupled with their strength, determine which opportunities are available to you. Demonic influence may lead you to an extremely unpleasant end...but you’ll be tempted by all the very good opportunities it affords you at first...
These four things form the basis of Covenant Gameplay, and cover the essentials of the tabletop long-term event experience. From here, you can develop your land the way you wish, interact with the outside world, become corrupted, and maybe redeem yourself, too. ;)
 

SCO

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I wonder if the guys that did KotDP are up to a kickstarter....


KotDP2 on another zone... i'd be all over that.
 

Grunker

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I wonder if the guys that did KotDP are up to a kickstarter....


KotDP2 on another zone... i'd be all over that.

Even though I'd really like a KotDP2, I suspect I would even throw a ton of money after a remake. I've just recently played KotDP, but I'm a KotDP-slut already :(
 

clemens

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a073f5921ec585f11eac0baa8d0ede85_large.jpg



Looks good to me...
 

CappenVarra

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Damn it, the funding progress doesn't look like it's going to work out... And I'm all out of kidneys to sell.
 

Mrowak

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The kickstarted the campaign at the wrong time - PE gathered too much attention and money. Shame. :(
 

Morkar Left

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Can't see the picture here at work. But the description seems to be the real interesting part for me anyway. And it reads extremely cool. Basically exactly what I'm looking for.

Shit, it looks good but I've no idea how it might meet its goal. :(

To reach the goal they would have to make around 13.000 $ each day. If there doesn't come a major PR push out of a sudden it's a lost case... :(

And I have the feeling the game would have turned out really good... DAMN!

The kickstarted the campaign at the wrong time - PE gathered too much attention and money. Shame. :(

Pretty much this. Really bad timing.
 

Trash

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I for one am incredibly stoked about this one. Their previous games have all been interesting in their own right and this one rings all the right bells. Pedigree aside the strong King of Dragon Pass feel on this is neat. Hope this one makes it. Pledged.

And frankly, kickstarters are also very much about crowd dynamics. If people start moaning that something won't make it you can bet it will become a self fullfilling prophecy. Will see how this goes. It looks brill and they keep updating and doing interviews.
 

Zed

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The kickstarted the campaign at the wrong time - PE gathered too much attention and money. Shame. :(
I think the main reason they failed was because of the bad presentation.
For $290 000 they will have to explain the gameplay a lot better.
 

Grunker

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Black Chicken Studios always do game in that kind of genre, so if KoDP is your cup of tea, rejoice.

Bullshitz, dear sir.

If they said "KoDP-like" straight out maybe I'd understand, but this sounds a lot like Academagia.

Academagia was a few original and a few KoDP-like ideas bundled with INTERFACE SUCKFEST EXTREME and way, way, waaaaaaaaay too much grinding. More than half of the game consisted of clicking around menus assigning stuff to your calendar that would raise your stat but there was no gameplay connected to it. Just a chore of "let's raise this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this and click OK." Like those sucky jRPG/adventure game hybrids where you go to the gym to click a button that raises your strength. Don't get me wrong, I liked a lot of the ideas in Academagia, but it's really very little like KoDP except for the text adventures.
 

laclongquan

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Grind is just a way to play. Even KoDP has grinds, or at least the way I play it. Grind the heroquest to increase tribal leaders' stat. Grind the battle by only invade to capture land, grind the blood by blessing the Earthblood.

KODP, at rock bottom, is a stat-driven game. You have a core of stats, and many actions you take or being the target for are from those stat.

And so are the games made by Black Chicken Studios. Stat-driven games are what they do, and doing great at that.

Finally, for a hard and bitter truth: the KODP developers lucked into making it based on an existing IP. They wont have the stamina for making the second KoDP, no indeedy. Compared to the professional multiple-original-games BCS, they are bunch of amateurs.

EDIT: anyway, Academagia is of the raise-character genre. Of course there's grind. Then again, if you dont want to grind there's also ways to play it. It's just not very successful.
 

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