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Editorial RPG Codex Report: A Codexian Visit to OtherSide Entertainment

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands 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: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Tags: Chris Siegel; Jeff Kesselman; OtherSide Entertainment; Paul Neurath; Scott Kimball; Tim Stellmach; Underworld Ascendant; Will Teixeira

If you were a computer RPG fan of a certain type in the 1990s, your preferred brand of gaming came in two distinct flavors. There were the top-down/isometric RPGs, such as Origin's Ultima series in the early 90s, and the RPGs from Black Isle and BioWare later on. And then there were the first person games from Looking Glass Studios - Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief - which would form the foundation of the genre that Warren Spector would retroactively dub the "immersive sim". Despite the seemingly wide differences between these two genres, they would end up following strikingly parallel paths. Both would place an increasing emphasis on developing the concepts of player choice and reactivity, and both would suffer a precipitous decline in the early 2000s, due to destructive trends in the gaming industry which have been heavily discussed in our forums and elsewhere.

With the rise of big budget crowdfunded gaming in 2012, isometric RPGs made a huge comeback. But that other type of RPG, the Looking Glass-style first person immersive sim, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, people reasoned, this was due to the fact that producing a good-looking first person game requires more budget than even a successful Kickstarter can possibly provide. Or maybe it was because the veterans of Looking Glass and successor company Ion Storm Austin had scattered to the four winds - to Irrational Games, Arkane Studios, Valve, Bethesda and Zynga. It would seem that the implosion of the latter company due to the bursting of the social gaming bubble was what finally changed the situation for the better.

Back in July 2014, we first learned of the creation of OtherSide Entertainment by Paul Neurath, founder of Looking Glass Studios, after his departure from Zynga. Joining him was Tim Stellmach, lead designer of Ultima Underworld II and the Thief series. Their first project would be "Underworld Ascension", a successor to the Ultima Underworld series. After six months of quiet behind-the-scenes preparations, which would see the project renamed to Underworld Ascendant, the inevitable Kickstarter was finally announced in late January. It's now been three weeks since the Kickstarter's launch, and while it will clearly make its $600,000 goal, it's not the huge success some may have hoped for. I can think of any number of reasons for that, but that's outside the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, the same people who thought a first person Kickstarter game was a non-starter due to budgetary reasons are likely to be skeptical about the viability of this one.

Regardless of the Kickstarter's success or lack thereof, the prospect of a Looking Glass Studios revival is a matter of the utmost importance to a site like ours. For that reason, several weeks ago, we made arrangements for a personal visitation by stalwart Codexer mindx2 to the humble headquarters of OtherSide Entertainment in Boston, Massachusetts. That visit took place last Friday, and mindx2 would spend the entire subsequent weekend compiling his discussions with Paul Neurath and the rest of the OtherSiders into a lengthy interview/report. I don't know if this report will change anybody's mind about pledging to Underworld Ascendant, but you'll definitely view them more sympathetically after reading it. Without further ado...


Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: A Codexer visits OtherSide Entertainment!
 

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands 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: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
mindx2 also managed to get answers to some additional questions via email after his visit:

mindx2 said:
Here are just a few follow-up questions that I did not have time to ask and would appreciate your or Tim's response to:

- Will there be a UI on the screen besides the Character Screen? Will there be any visual indicators such as UU's glowing eyes or the gem in Thief?

Yes, but these will be lightweight UI elements. For example, while we will have a small UI of the character (perhaps semi-translucent), you’d only get the “paper doll” zoomed-up detail if you clicked on this UI element or such. That is, we would not always be showing the full paper doll UI as you walked around. Details still being sorted out.

- Will you be able to backtrack? And will initial areas evolve as you progress through the game, like in underworld 2?

Yes, very much. Backtrack, take alternate routes, take options side routes. Notably more freeform exploration of the Stygian Abyss than what most other RPGs do these days. And as we discussed, we’re ok to let the player getting into deeper trouble than they probably should; their choice.

- Are you planning full movement, like leaning, crouching, jumping, climbing, swimming and as we talked about they will be affected by skill level/points?

More-or-less yes. Trick is to not to have any of these turn into twitch-style 3D “shooter” mechanics. This is a RPG, and while it is real-time and 3D, the pace will be slower and the real-time mechanics notably more forgiving that a 3D shooter style game for sure.

- How large and complex are you planning the levels to be (as compared to UU) and what kind of mapping are you planning (a mapping skill like in Wizardry 7, auto map with the ability to make notes as the original UUs)?


Larger and more complex and varied than in the original UU, but with a loosely similar physical layout of the Abyss in terms of things getting more dangerous as you explore deeper and to more remote areas.

No firm decision on mapping, but likely quite similar to UU auto-map with notes, which we still like ;)
 
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Tigranes

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The other thing about game design that I’ve learned is that I view it as sculpture. It’s about bearing down to get to the essence of what makes a great game.

:love:
 

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The other thing about game design that I’ve learned is that I view it as sculpture. It’s about bearing down to get to the essence of what makes a great game.

:love:
This is one of the main things I walked away from after talking to OtherSide. They still have that Looking Glass mentality of stripping away the excess and refining the "core game experience." It's one reason I felt much better about their budget than I did before walking into their office.

As I said in my conclusion... this is a game I want them to make... they need to make because they are literally Looking Glass 2.0!
 

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And like I said in the other thread

I weep rivers of tears for this game's funding level :negative:
 

nikolokolus

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Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Neurath's answer after the Peter Molyneux/Godus question was great :)
 

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Excellent read, thanks mindx2 and Otherside. :salute:


edit: Is this a typo?

mindx2: Hopefully, you would keep that for only the intelligent creatures and not say like charming a lurker?

Paul: How spells apply, yes it would be that one spell will apply to every situation.

Should that not be "wouldn't"?
 
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mindx2

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Excellent read, thanks mindx2 and Otherside. :salute:


edit: Is this is a typo?

mindx2: Hopefully, you would keep that for only the intelligent creatures and not say like charming a lurker?

Paul: How spells apply, yes it would be that one spell will apply to every situation.

Should that not be "wouldn't"?

That is a typo. Paul was pretty clear that "mind control" spells would/could only affect more intelligent creatures as well as other spells not being good for all situations/creatures/environmental interaction.
 
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aDrR2C5.jpg


Also,

RLt2rL7.png
 

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Will Teixeira: So I think a big realization point for that going away from the whole “on rails” experience is that… the PS4 came out with this little button on the controller, the Share button, that shared the last 30 seconds of game play. So you hit that button and in most of the games that are out now… (laughter from around the table)… you immediately realize that you’re sharing basically the same video as everyone else around you.

Chris: 10,000 other people have already shared…

Will: … and then you feel dead inside.

:updatedmytxt:
 
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I find myself looking for justification in why I visit this digressive shit hole and it is excellent write-ups like this that is the saving grace. Very good work, mindx2 & Codex editor/s.
All in all this has made me more confident that they will deliver what we crave, but there are some things I'd like to address:

VI. LEVEL PROGRESSION/STATS/SKILLS

mindx2: So you have "moved away from D&D-style stats and appear to have replaced them with what is likely a more simplistic skills & perks combination. Is that where you’re going? Will it be player skill based or stat based?

Paul: So with the original Underworld it had one leg in traditional DD stat based, partly because it started as Underworld and then halfway through we signed a publishing deal with Origin and it became Ultima Underworld. So we borrowed some of the tropes from the traditional Ultima games which were which were even more rooted in D&D style stats, Strength, Dexterity, intelligence, the classics. So we kind of adopted that but I always felt it wasn’t a great fit. So a lot of the other leg Underworld had was stepping away from pen & paper in the sense that this is a computer game. You can have a different kind of experience than a pen & paper game. There’s great stuff to learn from that form but in terms of stats and character progression we wanted to start moving away from the strict pen & paper. We felt it was a different kind of experience. D&D and those games with dice made sense to do it that way. I’m not rolling dice in the Underworld. So we’re going to move you even further so we don’t want to have traditional stats and traditional character progression. If I “level up to level 3” those are artifices that made sense 30 years ago in a pen and paper context. I don’t think of it as simplifying or making it accessible to causal players. I don’t think that’s the lens we’re really looking at it. In a more holistic sense. What if we’re really this fantasy character in this Stygian Abyss and who gained these capabilities? Learned to fight these kinds of creatures? You collected runic spell capabilities and you refined that and improved it. What would that really feel like? Well I wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ve got a 17 strength.” I mean that’s kind of silly. Or you wouldn’t say “I’m up to a 4th level mage.” That would feel very artificial. That’s not how it would really work in this fantasy world. We’re going to try to create a more holistic, authentic fantasy experience.

mindx2: … but how do you put that into a practical sense? How do you tell the player, “If I start here… in the original Underworld, which I’ve played multiple times, if I put more points into my jumping skill there was a waterfall that I could jump up to that and I didn’t even know there was anything behind that area. So as you go along in the game you will get better at things if you put points into it?

Tim: That’s actually a good example because it’s more about playing to the strengths of the medium. With the computer doing a lot of the gaming mechanics as Paul says it doesn’t surface a lot of the number crunching. People value seeing those numbers go up and that’s great but the computer is a little harder at delivering on that value just because you’re not the one rolling the dice, not the one doing the math. But there are other things that the medium does well and does better than pen & paper games like getting across the physicality of the character. So investing in acrobatic skills where now I can jump farther or now I can do a maneuver in the game that I couldn’t do before. We have some other movement modes like rope swinging and something as simple as swimming with qualitative differences where now I can do this thing I couldn’t do before or quantitative differences that are large enough that quantity has a quality of its own that you can feel how much farther you can jump. So the problem of not surfacing the numbers isn’t there. So there definitely will be character progression in abilities but it will be more about the strength of the medium.

Paul: … and if you think of acrobatic maneuvers, you can learn extra maneuvers as you gain skills in that area that are expressed through, “OK, now I can do this cool flip which can give me an advantage in combat or “Now I have clambering ability I didn’t have before so I can much more readily clamber around vertical landscapes that I couldn’t before.” So it “feels” tangibly different. It’s not, “I have an agility 16 and I now roll against a 16 and if I make my roll, I win.”

Chris: … and a thing pops up on your screen and says, “Dodged!” How exciting (sarcastic)

mindx2: But will there be a character screen where you can click and see here is my acrobatic skill level so the player can get that feedback?

Paul: Absolutely. We haven’t sorted out all the details on how we express that or show that. I’m a big fan of the paper doll approach that we took. I think there’s just something about looking at your character and looking at all the stuff you have. It’s fun!

Is it just me or was the reasoning given here not satisfactory? Reasoning such as:

"With the computer doing a lot of the gaming mechanics as Paul says it doesn’t surface a lot of the number crunching. People value seeing those numbers go up and that’s great but the computer is a little harder at delivering on that value just because you’re not the one rolling the dice, not the one doing the math."

I'll focus on dealing damage: the value was delivered in Deus Ex via inventory item descriptions (base damage * skill mutiplier). In System Shock 2 there was a health bar, which obviously shouldn't be replicated in UA. In Arx and Underworld the math was not easily decipherable beyond "I'm attacking enemy X and it is still not dying" as well as a general idea gained from the item type and your skills & attributes, which I think is adequate enough. Why is there great importance in the player knowing the exact values? It was adequate before it is adequate now.

"Well I wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ve got a 17 strength.” I mean that’s kind of silly. Or you wouldn’t say “I’m up to a 4th level mage.” That would feel very artificial. That’s not how it would really work in this fantasy world. We’re going to try to create a more holistic, authentic fantasy experience.

So we're now going to say "Hey, I've got the agile sneaker perk/skill". How is that any different in this regard?

"We felt it was a different kind of experience. D&D and those games with dice made sense to do it that way. I’m not rolling dice in the Underworld. So we’re going to move you even further so we don’t want to have traditional stats and traditional character progression."

I think the transition of these systems to computer games was a brilliant one. Indeed there was no/rarely any random number generation involved with any of the RPG systems in any LG game. Gameplay was primarily player-driven action even in those that used PnP-inspired systems, yet I see no logical reasoning here as to why it must be skills and perks over traditional systems, unless my reading comprehension is poor today. Also, why not attributes, skills AND perks even?
The only justifiable reason to simplify RPG systems in my POV would be for the purpose to make gameplay even more player-skill based, more player authored yet this aspect is not expressed (clearly, at least) by Otherside.
I think Arx and System Shock 2 did PnP-inspired systems very well, balancing issues aside, and I don't see what the issue is here. Underworld's systems were not as good, but as Looking Glass grew and branched out so did their design in some instances.

I may not understand the reasoning here, but skills and perks (augs) worked rather well in Deus Ex at least, terrible balancing aside. Perhaps they can surpass that level of quality while maintaining the quantity.

I also don't get the "console" relation to Arx's drawing, nor action games. Your games are all action RPGs. Real-time simulated magic casting as opposed to "click on rune", I don't understand how you can dismiss it so. Why not instead address what you believe to be the flaws of it instead?

I'm not satisfied with what was said there at all. Everything else however sounds fantastic. It seems they have indeed still got it: dedication, passion, perspective. I respectfully disagree with those above points, however.
 

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Will Teixeira: So I think a big realization point for that going away from the whole “on rails” experience is that… the PS4 came out with this little button on the controller, the Share button, that shared the last 30 seconds of game play. So you hit that button and in most of the games that are out now… (laughter from around the table)… you immediately realize that you’re sharing basically the same video as everyone else around you.

Chris: 10,000 other people have already shared…

Will: … and then you feel dead inside.

:updatedmytxt:

For as young as he is (compared to the rest of the team) that was a great moment in my interview. It gave me hope that perhaps all is not yet lost with the younger generation of game developers!
 

Metro

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It definitely seems like these guys 'get it,' I just hope they can translate that ambition into a great game. Also, as much as I loved Arx I do agree that the spell drawing was more of a gimmick than anything central to the gameplay/experience.
 

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"Well I wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ve got a 17 strength.” I mean that’s kind of silly. We’re going to try to create a more holistic, authentic fantasy experience.

So we're now going to say "Hey, I've got the agile sneaker perk/skill". How is that any different in this regard?
To me there's a big difference between saying "I am agile and sneaky" and "I get a +22% to stealth because my Agility is 16". This seems like a good compromise: you still have something on the character sheet you can look at - so you can tell the difference between a character who's sneaky and one who isn't, for example - but the text is descriptive rather than statistical. I'm into it.
 
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:argh:

The rune drawing was the next logical step.

"Well I wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ve got a 17 strength.” I mean that’s kind of silly. We’re going to try to create a more holistic, authentic fantasy experience.

So we're now going to say "Hey, I've got the agile sneaker perk/skill". How is that any different in this regard?
To me there's a big difference between saying "I am agile and sneaky" and "I get a +22% to stealth because my Agility is 16". This seems like a good compromise: you still have something on the character sheet you can look at - so you can tell the difference between a character who's sneaky and one who isn't, for example - but the text is descriptive rather than statistical. I'm into it.

Again, you can have perks alongside traditional systems.

Again, you can have perks alongside traditional systems.

The best examples being System Shock 2 (the perks being OS upgrades, implants & weapon mods) and Fallout: New Vegas (the actual perks, implants & weapon mods). These were alongside the more traditional skills and attributes, and they really add to the experience in both cases.
 
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"Well I wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ve got a 17 strength.” I mean that’s kind of silly.
So we're now going to say "Hey, I've got the agile sneaker perk/skill". How is that any different?
To me there's a big difference between saying "I am agile and sneaky" and "I get a +22% to stealth because my Agility is 16". This seems like a good compromise.
Again, you can have perks alongside traditional systems.
Of course you can, but that doesn't mean that a fully descriptive (as opposed to fully statistical or hybridized) character sheet can't work. You asked the difference between words and numbers.

EDIT: seriously dude, just edit your posts. Quoting yourself is pretty obtuse, particularly with your 400 tags, which I know aren't your fault, but they sure don't make your annoying habit more excusable.
 

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Paul: So with the original Underworld it had one leg in traditional DD stat based, partly because it started as Underworld and then halfway through we signed a publishing deal with Origin and it became Ultima Underworld. So we borrowed some of the tropes from the traditional Ultima games which were which were even more rooted in D&D style stats, Strength, Dexterity, intelligence, the classics. So we kind of adopted that but I always felt it wasn’t a great fit. So a lot of the other leg Underworld had was stepping away from pen & paper in the sense that this is a computer game. You can have a different kind of experience than a pen & paper game. There’s great stuff to learn from that form but in terms of stats and character progression we wanted to start moving away from the strict pen & paper. We felt it was a different kind of experience. D&D and those games with dice made sense to do it that way. I’m not rolling dice in the Underworld. So we’re going to move you even further so we don’t want to have traditional stats and traditional character progression. If I “level up to level 3” those are artifices that made sense 30 years ago in a pen and paper context. I don’t think of it as simplifying or making it accessible to causal players. I don’t think that’s the lens we’re really looking at it. In a more holistic sense. What if we’re really this fantasy character in this Stygian Abyss and who gained these capabilities? Learned to fight these kinds of creatures? You collected runic spell capabilities and you refined that and improved it. What would that really feel like? Well I wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ve got a 17 strength.” I mean that’s kind of silly. Or you wouldn’t say “I’m up to a 4th level mage.” That would feel very artificial. That’s not how it would really work in this fantasy world. We’re going to try to create a more holistic, authentic fantasy experience.

:popamole: detected.

There is a very good reason a "first person immersive sim was nowhere to be seen" on KS. Because a "first person immersive sim" of today is bioshock and oblivion, and that was the only road it could ever take (and that's generous in TES open world case, they could have very well remained dungeon FPSes forever).

Not an RPG. Not interested. :obviously:
 
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CyberP

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Traditional PnP systems & descriptive words were never mutually exclusive. Perks offer nothing different in this regard.
 

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