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Codex Interview RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Arnold Hendrick on Darklands (with Retrospective by Josh Sawyer)

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Arnold Hendrick; Darklands; Josh Sawyer; Microprose; Retrospective Interview

Darklands, released by Microprose in 1992, is a party-based "sandbox" computer role-playing game set in the Holy Roman Empire during the 15th century, and one of the most important titles in the history of the genre. In today's installment of our RPG Codex Retrospective Interview series, we present you with an interview with Lead Designer on Darklands, Arnold Hendrick himself, as well as a retrospective on Darklands written by our guest contributor, Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, Lead Designer on Icewind Dale II, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, who also kindly agreed to serve as a guest co-interviewer, Darklands being, as he writes in the article, "one of the CRPGs closest to my heart." Have a snippet from Josh Sawyer's retrospective:

The Magic Candle was the most unusual CRPG I had played to that point, but I wasn't prepared for Darklands. It used 15th century history for almost everything: canonical hours, Medieval currency, alchemical formulae, Catholic saints, practical arms and armor of the era, period-accurate names and spellings for cities, traditional music, mythic conceptions of satanic Templars – the works.

It also bucked so many CRPG conventions that it took me a while to wrap my head around it. Instead of making a party of characters of different races and classes, you developed them along life paths, Traveller-style, in five year increments. You could, in fact, have a party with a grizzled knight, a young bandit, a hapless mystic of affective piety, and an 80 year-old alchemist (whom you most certainly would not abandon for his potent potions five minutes into gameplay!) And as previously mentioned, there were no alignments, no levels, no experience points – just a learn-by-doing skill system and a big open world. I felt like the game gave me the freedom to explore “Greater Germany” as I saw fit.

Not that it was a forgiving exploration. Darklands was a wonderful open world game, one that rarely warned travelers about dangers lurking in a Raubritter's castle or what you might encounter while stumbling through the Black Forest. You could find yourself arguing with a demon in Latin at the Devil's Bridge, fleeing from the Wild Hunt after you've interrupted the witches' High Sabbath, or praying for a saint's intercession as you await public execution in a town square.​

As well as from the interview with Arnold Hendrick:

Josh Sawyer: Your background is in military history, but there's a fair amount of social history in Darklands. When you set out to design Darklands, did you always intend for it to be set in the 15th century Holy Roman Empire, or did you consider other times and places? What about the setting most appealed to you?

You’re correct, my academic training is in history, and my specialty is military history. However, any decent military historian should be aware of the social, political and economic issues surrounding warfare. At the very start, I wanted the Darklands' “hook” to be that it would be use some beliefs from the era to “justify” fantastical elements, rather than trotting out the usual bog-standard wizards, clerics, bards, etc. Where possible, I like my game designs to provide an insight into history – a “you are there” feel. When searching for tactical tradeoffs and interesting details, why goof around conjuring up stuff when there is plenty of interesting historical material to use?

I was also aware that no RPG set in a pre-medieval era had been successful. This meant the earliest conceivable period was the Dark Ages after the fall of western Rome. Given how risky the project already was, I decided the time period had to include some things familiar to fantasy gamers. This included all types of armor up to and including full plate. This in turn meant a full panoply of weaponry, from swords, axes, maces and bows, to hammers, bills, halberds, crossbows and longbows. This virtually required the game to be set in the late 1300s to 1400s.

If the game were set in France or Britain, it would inevitably be drawn into the events of the Hundred Years War (1330s to 1440s), on which I lacked sufficiently detailed material at that time. Germany’s chaotic “robber knight” (raubritter) era became an obvious choice, especially since the very chaos of the period gave me consider “historical license.”

RPG Codex: You probably had a lot of plans and ideas for a possible sequel to Darklands that had to be left unrealized, or at least a lot of ideas that did not make it into the game due to time and resource constraints. What were some of the things that had to be cut or that you planned for a sequel?

A true sandbox game would have more quests and activities than the characters could perform in any normal lifetime! I had originally hoped to have many quest storylines, not just one apocalyptic one. However, that was impractical given the growing time and cost. If the game had become an instant smash hit, then we could have done sequels with more storylines.

There is a lot more you can do with German history in that period. You can also add in things about the Hussites in Bohemia, the power of the Hanseatic League, the fall of the Teutonic Order, and rising Polish kingdom under the great Jagiellon dynasty. Adventures involving the struggle between the various papal factions could have been very interesting: the catholic church had three competing popes in the early 1400s.

Meanwhile, starting the late ‘90s, Jonathan Sumption has been slowing putting out an absolutely incredible multi-volume historyof the Hundred Years War. It is one of those seminal works that will be the defining history of the period for decades to come, much like S.E.Morison’s history of US Naval Operations in WWII or Oman’s history of the Peninsular wars. Armed with Sumption’s work, some great RPGs set in the Hundred Years War period are now possible.​

I strongly suggest you read the interview in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Arnold Hendrick on Darklands (with Retrospective by Josh Sawyer)

We are grateful to Arnold and Josh for their time! Special thanks are also due to Jaesun, Monolith and Zed for their feedback and suggestions.
 

SCO

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There is a lot more you can do with German history in that period. You can also add in things about the Hussites in Bohemia, the power of the Hanseatic League, the fall of the Teutonic Order, and rising Polish kingdom under the great Jagiellon dynasty. Adventures involving the struggle between the various papal factions could have been very interesting: the catholic church had three competing popes in the early 1400s.
:rage:
 

grotsnik

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Damn fine stuff. Codex content really seems to be on a roll of late. (Also, I'd love to see a Hundred Years War RPG). Quite interested to know how this all came together - did you ask JS to write up the retrospective, and then once he heard about the interview he volunteered to ask Arnold some questions as well, or...?
 

Crooked Bee

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So did you ask JS to write up the retrospective, and then once he heard about the interview he volunteered to ask Arnold some questions as well, or...?

The other way around, kind of. It was, I believe, Jaesun and Monolith who came up with the idea of asking JS to contribute a few questions to the interview. For the heck of it, I also took the liberty of asking him if he'd be willing to write up a retrospective. He kindly agreed to do both.
 

Alex_Steel

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Good interview!

Why can't more RPGs have different ideas for a setting? History and mythology are so interesting and we have to endure the same generic Tolkien-jerk-off settings again and again.
 

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:incline:

Too bad Arnold has fully bought into the TABLET FUTURE OF MANKIND.
 
Last edited:

kaizoku

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Josh Sawyer said:
For those reasons, [Darklands] will always be one of the CRPGs closest to my heart.
:love:



Arnold Hendrick said:
... so I’m once more job hunting!
...
Armed with Sumption’s work, some great RPGs set in the Hundred Years War period are now possible.
Ni11q.jpg
2


rpgcodex's inexhaustible jewgold
pIrzS.png



kickstarter
1SSCp.jpg
(what image were you expecting on this one anyway)



mmmmm... I wonder if.... :hmmm:










WE MUST COMBINE OUR POWERS!

AND BECOME....














cfiPF.jpg




I'm not one for remakes, but I would happily pay for this one.
And add some of that new content and branching mechanics you talked about and the codex will rejoice.




fake edit:
ok, after reading those last questions it is clear it will never happen. He has lost the flame that kept him going.

But maybe Sawyer and Obsidian would be willing to kickstart a "Darklands 2"?
 

abnaxus

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Has the Codex ever landed an interview with Neal Hallford (nealiios) ? The man posted here it twice I believe, and is actually interested in a remake of BaK via Kickstarter...
 
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Excellent interview. Now this is the kind of stuff that makes the Codex a worth place to post and read. Thanks for this!

*Installs Darklands again*
 
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Tablets... MMORPGs... The way he describes TB ("spending action points each “turn” to do various things with each character") and his conviction that the current state of the market proves he was right back then...

He is too far gone to have any relevance for us, today. Especially not for another CRPG. He would probably do a shitty Biowarian game given resources and control, except even more dumbed down. For the tablets, you know.

But he would perhaps be useful if hired by a team in a consulting role.
 

Crooked Bee

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Has the Codex ever landed an interview with Neal Hallford (nealiios) ? The man posted here it twice I believe, and is actually interested in a remake of BaK via Kickstarter...

He's on my list of people to contact. So maybe someday.
 

Anthony Davis

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Excellent interview. Now this is the kind of stuff that makes the Codex a worth place to post and read. Thanks for this!

*Installs Darklands again*

Shame on you for ever uninstalling it.

I even have it on my iPad.

Also, fantastic read! Thank you!
 
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Strap Yourselves In Codex+ Now Streaming!
Great read!
Kudos and thanks to all the people involved in bringing all this cool content on the codex front page. I remember not so long a ago we had a long period with very little content besides newsposts, but since a few months now you guys keep the good stuff coming. I'm afraid to say it, but the codex is actually turning...prestigous.

Anyways, great read, I'm looking forward to more.

:love:
 
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Excellent interview. Now this is the kind of stuff that makes the Codex a worth place to post and read. Thanks for this!

*Installs Darklands again*

Shame on you for ever uninstalling it.

Nah, it was deleted in a reformat/reinstall Windows shenanigans. I just don't installed all the games that I had before the incident, but it's time to do it.
 

Infinitron

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Tablets... MMORPGs... The way he describes TB ("spending action points each “turn” to do various things with each character") and his conviction that the current state of the market proves he was right back then...

He is too far gone to have any relevance for us, today. Especially not for another CRPG. He would probably do a shitty Biowarian game given resources and control, except even more dumbed down. For the tablets, you know.

But he would perhaps be useful if hired by a team in a consulting role.

He talks like somebody who's been burned one too many times by the creative side of things and now wants to be as savvy as possible on the business side so he can live an easy life. Though apparently he's too timid to do even that properly.

Oh well, the game is the game.

 

commie

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I greatly admired Baldur’s Gate (1998) and its sequel. I consider them the finest and most polished “control a party” RPGs ever made.

Why do people dream of him making another RPG again?


But maybe Sawyer and Obsidian would be willing to kickstart a "Darklands 2"?

Why bother? Without the original team doing things the same way it makes as much sense as making a Jagged Alliance 2 remake without SirTech. Why not just make a Medieval low fantasy game without the 'Darklands' baggage? Obsidian could of course do something similar, given their experience regarding Storm of Zehir and NV, but of course it would be sufficiently different from Darklands to really cause a lot of fanboi butthurt here if they called it 'Darklands 2'.
 

Infinitron

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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
I greatly admired Baldur’s Gate (1998) and its sequel. I consider them the finest and most polished “control a party” RPGs ever made.

Why do people dream of him making another RPG again?

Of all the things he said in the interview that could discredit him, you chose that?
 

commie

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I greatly admired Baldur’s Gate (1998) and its sequel. I consider them the finest and most polished “control a party” RPGs ever made.

Why do people dream of him making another RPG again?

Of all the things he said in the interview that could discredit him, you chose that?

The other bits were already said. Why repeat them? Everyone else likes to take the 'what devs like as games' bits to discredit anyone from MCA to Tim Cain, so why not join the fun? Seems that most devs love Bioware games the most...:M

Besides, I think suggesting that those clusterfucks of party control are the 'finest and most polished examples' of the party RPG really shows a distinct lack of understanding as to what makes good party combat. Which of course isn't surprising as Darklands had similar shit combat. I'm surprised that so many defend this game as something unbelievable when it fails as a RPG on so many levels. It's a fine sandbox adventure simulator though.
 

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