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Opinion: Are RPGs too long?

Jay Barnson has an opinion piece up at the Rampant Coyote blog exploring the possibility that RPGs are just too long. A snippet:

The real problem isn’t so much that the games are too long as a whole. But eventually any games (or stories of any other medium) will begin to drag in the middle. The beginning may be great, the ending may be fantastic, but at some point the middle will have simply gone on too long. This happens with RPGs more often than not, in my opinion.

But that’s just the story side of things. Some novels and movies have the same problem. The power of games is that they are much more than a storytelling medium.  Solid, compelling gameplay will keep people (like me) playing with only the barest hint of an end-goal in sight, let alone an actual quality plot. Hey, some of my most recent indie favorites – like Din’s Curse, Legend of Grimrock, and Knights of the Chalice – are exactly like that. Story-wise, there’s really not a whole lot there in any of them. But there’s enough interesting things to do and challenges to face that I keep playing. Whether it’s the Diablo-style feeder bar of constant leveling and items that increase my power, or the need to constantly revise my tactics to react to interesting puzzles or tactical challenges, I can go for hours with the most threadbare of narratives.

My own feeling is that there are two issues being addressed here that aren’t entirely related.

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Eldgame announced

Word has reached my ear of Eldgame, a single-player sandbox roguelike in development for Windows. I quote from the developer, Eld:

The game is going to be a procedural sandbox singleplayer experience focused on exploring, gathering, crafting/building and npc interaction. Exploration will be achieved by hopping between different worlds by finding portals, different worlds contain different floras, different temperatures and new exciting monsters.

Any plant that grows should be harvestable and regrown as long as the environment is correct, everything is persistent in the way that things keep on happening in other worlds while you’re not there, every piece of terrain is breakable and rebuildable as long as you have the tools to do it.

Intriguingly, there is also this:

As for challenge, I intend to have some kind of permanent death if so chosen, with some inheritance system where you’ll get or adopt children/pupils to be your successor when you eventually die or grow old, where skills and belongings could be transfered in some matter, be that via training or something else.

This is far from the only game of this sort being developed in the indie scene right now, but it is the most overtly RPG-like one I’ve seen lately. The inclusion of permadeath and multiple generations of characters is just icing on the cake. The developer has been good enough to post a video showing off some gameplay–take a look:

Although Eld is writing Eldgame for Windows to start, he states that he’s using libraries that should make Mac and Linux ports easy to do when the time comes. No word yet on a release date, but I’ll be keeping at least one of my eyes on this.

Old release: Dreams Chapter One

Hey folks! I’m going to tell you about a little game called Dreams Chapter One. This isn’t a new release; in fact, it’s pretty damn old. And I don’t have a “new to me” excuse to offer here, since I’ve known about this game since the day it released, way back in 2006. But you know what? This title is pretty neat and not that well-known, so I’m going to tell you about it anyway.

Dreams features a surreal art style with some noticeable influence from Salvador Dali. It’s rare to see an RPG with a setting so deliberately odd, so it stands out. The combat system is really interesting as well. In battle, you switch between two characters with drastically different ways of fighting: one shoots in first-person with a rifle, while the second runs across the battlefield in side view, smashing enemies with a hammer. Every turn is timed, so you have to parcel out those precious seconds wisely.

It’s a little hard to describe, so I took the liberty of recording a video of Dreams gameplay (so far as I know, this is the only video of the game currently in existence). I don’t claim to be particularly great at playing Dreams, but this should give you the idea:

Dreams has that optimistic “Chapter One” appellation, which might lead you to believe that there is a Chapter Two. There isn’t–or at least, there isn’t one yet. The developer, Leo Dasso, has been working (sporadically) on a follow-up for years, but he appears to have taken a shootery, side-scrolling detour with the successful funding of his Kickstarter project College-Ruled Universe. Here’s hoping he revisits the Dreams universe afterwards. In the meantime, you can play Dreams Chapter One for free right here.

Deepest Dungeons of Doom announced

The name is so absurd that it almost sounds like a parody, but indie developer MiniBoss seems quite serious about its upcoming three-button action RPG Deepest Dungeons of Doom.

DDD features three classes: the crusader, the witch and the shadowblade. Each dungeon is linear and partially randomly generated, with combat primarily a matter of timing attacks and blocks against a single opponent.

They’ve been making good progress on the game, as you can see from the gameplay video below:

MiniBoss have yet to announce an estimated release date for this game, but given the interface, it seems clear that this game is going to get a mobile release sooner or later.

MiniBoss write in to let me know that this game is estimated for release on Windows, Mac and Linux within the next few months, to be followed by a port to Android, iOS and Blackberry.

Interview with Brian Fargo

It seems like only yesterday when inXile, following hot on the heels of adventure game studio Double Fine, raised roughly a gagillion dollars* in the pursuit of funding for Wasteland 2.

*$2,933,252 actually, but who’s counting?

Brian Fargo, founder of inXile (and the guy responsible, directly or indirectly, for a surprisingly large number of the most important wRPGs ever brought to market) has been pretty vocal about his reasons for going with a Kickstarter campaign. If there was ever any doubt that publishers no longer want to greenlight turn-based RPGs, Fargo banished it with his acerbic Kickstarter video. He had two options: let go of ever making Wasteland 2, or go indie.

So now we’re in the unique position of having a high-profile veteran game designer eschewing publishers and joining the ranks of the indies (for one game, at least). Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I promptly emailed Fargo with a few burning questions I had about his approach to designing Wasteland 2. Hit the jump for the interview!

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Mechlore announced

Word has reached my ears of Mechlore, an indie Diablo-alike that ditches linearity and procedural generation and opts for a robot-centric sci fi setting. In other words: it’s an action RPG with classes, branching skill progression, an isometric perspective, and lots of clicking. From the game’s website:

MechLore takes place in a large non-linear world. You can explore and fight enemies and bosses that you choose to fight, in any order you wish. As you progress through the game, you will collect loot, encounter randomized monsters with special abilities, solve puzzles and play mini-games.

Here are a couple of teaser trailers showing the game in action; the more recent one is up top:

The non-linear progression, focus on distinct areas with attendant boss battles at the end, and player skill progression based on defeating bosses all makes me think of Mega Man. Come to think of it, so does the idea of a robot warrior running around defeating other robots. And that health bar

Creator Jesse Norman has been working on Mechlore for quite some time already (3 years at last count), and has estimated a PC release “shortly after summer 2012.”

Symphony of the Origin announced

Matteo Conti of Kemco Games has written in to announce that Symphony of the Origin, a prequel to the Android/iOS jRPG Symphony of Eternity, is now in development.

Once upon a time, humans, elves and dwarves lived on the earth. Under a treaty of nonintervention, world peace was protected without any conflict… until that all collapsed suddenly. The tribes of darkness came out of the underworld and began attacking the kingdom of humans. The humans were forced both to accept battle and to go on the defensive. The humans saw the huge power of the tribes of darkness and called them ‘ Evils of the Earth-depths’…

It is during a ferocious attack of the Evils that Ryle, a young soldier of the kingdom, faces his destiny by activating a golem sleeping in the basement of the castle. The young hot-blooded guy sets off on a journey, strengthening his ties of friendship, and meeting new friends and foes- characters which will take part in this immense and legendary adventure story.

Cue incredi-cheesey J-pop trailer in 3…2…1…

According to Conti, Symphony of the Origin “is planned for before the end of 2012, first for Android™ OS and then for iOS platforms.” I’ll be sure to post when that happens!

New release: Warlock’s Bounty

Emil Bakalinov of Attic Squad writes in to announce the release of a unique new game called Warlock’s Bounty for Android.

The narrative premise is simple:

You are a mighty wizard, once apprenticed to the sorcerer Corax Whiteraven, guardian of the lands of Lloegyr. When Whiteraven’s familiar appears out of the blue carrying an urgent message from its master, you embark upon a mission that will test your mettle and magical abilities to the full. For Lloegyr’s guardian – the greatest sorcerer of them all – is in danger, and needs your help!

Nothing new there. Where it gets interesting is in the game’s structure. The developer describes Warlock’s Bounty as “A Choose Your Own Adventure Gamebook with Collectible Magic Cards Combat.” There is a pretty detailed rundown of how it works on the game’s page. You can get a bit of a sense for how this looks in action via the trailer below:

You can grab the full game for a mere $2.65 on Google Play.

New release: Monster RPG 2

Trent Gamblin of Nooskewl writes in with word of Monster RPG 2, a jRPG where…you recruit an elephant? You guys see that too, right? That’s not just me? Okay, cool.

Here is the plot, as summarized by the developer:

The game opens on a girl and guy picking mushrooms in the forest, and they find an old wizards staff which then possesses the guy and chaos ensues as the girl tries to rescue him from the staff. The story develops from there into new things.

Sooo…it’s pretty reminiscent of the plot from Dragon Quest VIII. Whatever. This game has an elephant, people. You want an original plot on top of that? What a bunch of whiners you are.

Monster RPG 2 has evidently been out since 2010, but it was just recently released for Android for the first time, giving me a perfect excuse to write about this as a new release! (Perfect.)

Oh, look: a trailer.

Those are some pretty nice battle graphics, actually. I have to give the game credit there.

Monster RPG 2 is available for Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac and Linux for $2.99–pretty cheap if you’re looking for an excuse to build up a party while taking turns whacking things that aren’t the same species as you.

Interview with Brian Mitsoda

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Mitsoda–formerly of Troika, Black Isle and Obsidian–and currently one half of Doublebear, the indie studio creating Dead State.

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