Thoughts on isometric view in RPG

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Shawn Delahunty
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Ok, I'm throwing this out there for everyone to chime in on, so please don't be shy. How many folks would still be interested in an isometric viewpoint CRPG? I'm talking a commercial indie release here, not a fan or hobby-level project.

Diablo 1&2, Planescape: Torment, Baldur's gate, Avernum & Exile series from Spiderweb Software, Eschalon: Book 1&2, and so forth

There are pros and cons to it, obviously, but I am very much interested in what folks here think. Do you like it? Why? Do you HATE it? Why?

I tend to prefer the Diablo rendering viewpoint, as the other examples I gave tend to look a bit more wonky to my eye--to much of a top-down view. (This was taken to what I consider an awkward and bizarre extreme in Ultima 6 and Ultima 7. I _HATE_ the viewpoint in those games--whenever I try to play, I feel as though I'm "tipping over" somehow. This view angle was "fixed" in Ultima 8, but I hated the awkward and twitchy control scheme.)

I'm considering crafting an engine which allows a "rotatable" isometric viewpoint, much like Syndicate used. (However, even it was too much of a top-down view for my taste.) This solves some viewability/hidden-item problems, and allows some interesting effects.

Thoughts? Opinions? How much would you pay for a good CRPG? Do you think that an "isometric view" merits a lower price?

Thanks,
-Shawn

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Shawn Delahunty
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Thanks again

I really appreciate the clarification Bill, on all of your thoughts. I saw the pricing on GrimRock, and frankly think they're selling a bit too low. But then again, that's the tricky bit.

I have no real "CRPG plan" at this point, I'm still just mulling ideas and dipping my toes in the water... My first game releases will actually be some side-view platformer type things... FAR easier to churn out art, music, and animation assets and finish the engine code with a 1-person shop + some contract work. But it's a slow slog, as I've got contract work, the book to finish, a possible upcoming full-time job doing 3D-sim + kinetics work, and a host of other projects... (I really need to figure out how to live to be about 670... that should almost be enough time to get it all done...)

I'm just considering options down the line a bit, as I've got a rough outline for a genuinely unique story (from a western perspective anyway...) which would fit within a CRPG milieu.

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Bill Loguidice
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Shawn Delahunty wrote:

The only Phantasie I saw on YouTube looked very similar to the earlier Ultima 3,4,5 stuff and the Telengard viewpoint, where the view was "overhead", but the sprites/icons were drawn in side-view. Is there a later Phantasie release that looks more like the above Ultima6 shot?

And thanks for the input & help.

-Shawn

I was not referencing Phantasie I - III (and to a lesser degree, the Japan only IV) as an isometric game, so forgive the confusion. I was referencing it as an example of a top-down game like the early Ultima's like you mention.

As for pricing, I was specifically referencing "Legend of Grimrock" http://www.grimrock.net/ , which is an indie reimagining of the classic Dungeon Master, and is presently selling at a pre-order price of $11.99, and will go up to only $14.99 after its official release. We're talking a game with very high production values (relatively speaking) for a relatively low price. While I don't doubt your abilities, I also doubt you (or any other single person or even a couple of people) would be able to get anywhere near said production values, regardless of the game type, which is why I suggested at minimum, sub $10 pricing. If it were just about any other game type, I'd say you'd have to hit a .99 - 2.99 price point to get any chance of recognition, but a solid CRPG could get away with a little bit more because the potential audience is rather more hardcore and dedicated.

With all the above in mind, I see no practical way of getting notice and/or making money given the present gaming environment of plenty for cheap, so I don't think that can necessarily be the goal. That's why I'd suggest a more modest first effort, something like the equivalent of a videogame short story and see what happens and then go from there with future installments. At least you'd have the engine and have minimal investments otherwise.

Obviously, with all the above said, I don't know all the details of your plan...

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Shawn Delahunty
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The "tipping" point

Bill,

I never played Phantasie, but I'm thinking I wasn't clear on the "weird, tilted, off-balance top-down-but-not-quite perspective" of Ultima 6/7 which drove me crazy. Here's a screenshot of what I'm talking about....

Ultima6_scrnshotUltima6_scrnshot

The only Phantasie I saw on YouTube looked very similar to the earlier Ultima 3,4,5 stuff and the Telengard viewpoint, where the view was "overhead", but the sprites/icons were drawn in side-view. Is there a later Phantasie release that looks more like the above Ultima6 shot?

And thanks for the input & help.

-Shawn

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Shawn Delahunty
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Thanks for the inputs! Anyone else?

Thanks to all for replying. If folks have any other thoughts or inputs, I welcome them.

I'm also hoping to get more inputs concerning:

- what people think of pricing levels vs. amount/time content in the game
- is episodic content preferred, rather than an all-at-once? (I mean from a player's perspective here). How much is "too little gameplay" per episode?
- other "viewpoint related" frustrations/dislikes--much like Clok brought up, there are issues and complications and awkward over-simplifications which sometimes result from the 'pseudo 3D' approach of an isometric-view game. Not all of them are related to strategy/tactics either...
- What "pet peeves" people have concerning combat systems, stats systems, skill-trees, class-based vs. skill based...

Really, I'm not looking to re-hash discussions of strong-points or weak-points of any given system. I'm hoping to glean some insight into, "...the ONE THING which ruined XYZ, or the ONE THING which really redeemed XYZ..." The kind of stand-out features that polarized peoples opinions on classic/infamous games.

@Clok: GRIMROCK is absolutely on-topic! I've been watching the development of this one for a LONG time, and can't wait to play it. I'm going to pre-order this one on GOG.

@Bill: I suspect most gamers feel and reason precisely the way you do on pricing. I personally believe this is thanks in part the Apple App Store, and the race-to-the-bottom on pricing. The problem is, a $2.99-$4.99 price is simply utterly un-workable for a good, "full length" CRPG by a small indie. Jeff Vogel at Spiderweb Software has multiple blog postings about this kind of thing, and he worked out a pretty good formula for a minimally sustainable 1-2 person-shop. $25 x 5000 customers = $125,000 gross income. To then account for business expenses, insurance, minimal ads, taxes, and such.... 125,000 X 0.6 = $75,000 annual "profit". That then has to be chopped up on a personal level into salaries, IRAs, health-funds, savings, etc.

Plus, that's assuming about a 1-year effort to put together the whole game--which is likely too short for the first-effort. (Sequels can re-use a good number of assets, engine tech, etc.) If the 'expected' price per-game is dropped to $2.99 it then becomes necessary to find nearly 42,000 regular customers to have any hope of releasing more than 1 game---a full factor-of-10 more. (Granted, if a game turns out to be a pile of stinkeroo, the studio doesn't deserve to stay open... such is the free market.)

Now getting the game out on more than just PC/Mac platform on a small business website can have huge benefits. Vogel himself wrote that he was "stunned" by the reaction/sales of porting his latest CRPG series Avadon onto the iPad, and priced the game at $9.99 for the App-Store. But as you pointed out Bill, there is some serious game-glut happening... with all that, it's extraordinarily difficult to get eyeballs on a product.

(I'm not surprised, in case anyone wondered. Just mildly disappointed. If $3.99 is really all that folks think they will pay, there's no point in my bothering with the effort--my time is far better spent writing a different type of software for a completely different market.)

Thanks, and PLEASE keep posting thoughts on this.

-Shawn

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clok1966
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well as somebody who 'plays"

well as somebody who 'plays" around with art i can see where isometric may be easier. 3D is harder in my opinion. If you look at the casule market STATIC art is even fine.. There is easily a market for a well done RPG combat game. BUT if you do plan on rotation (real rotation then 3d may be easier) if you are just talking 3 view points north, south, east and west.. well you already will have to do every sprint for those directions.. so flipping views is not to big a deal. you add time for art assests as all the background will need 4 views too (where unlike most ISO games you just need one side for art).

I love those types of games but you really need to bring somthing worth playing to the table.. that IMHO is the big sticker point. cutting edge graphics... who cares.. a good combat system that hasnt been used a 1000X something more then the standard story.

One thing i hate about those games.. the grid with a few spots you cant travel over is the best way they can simulate tactics... or grids with a bush in it gives cover defence of 25%... and most are like 10X10... very small.. I would love to see some type of evalations sytem where say a group of archers with a an advantage could take out 2 groups of footmen.. or of course the party system.. where one archer "could" if on the high ground maybe take out 2 enemies.. OF course the real tirck is balanceing that so you dont end up with a party fo 5 archers something like that..

Personlay there is room for any good game.. no matter the view..

and on an unrelated note.. GRIMLOCK (GOG AND STEAM pre orders are up i heard).

Matt Barton
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I don't see a reason to have

I don't see a reason to have an isometric fixed perspective anymore. Just do it in 3D and give the player some control over the angle and perspective of the camera. NWN did a good job IMO.

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Bill Loguidice
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Well, it sounds like

Well, it sounds like Wasteland 2 will be using some type of isometric viewpoint, so you're not alone in your thinking. Frankly, I *like* the "weird" POV of classic RPGs like Ultima and Phantasie. Anyway, I don't see a huge difference between the perspective in Diablo and the other games you mentioned.

My biggest concern with any game is clarity. I don't care what the viewpoint is, I don't care if it's 2D or 3D, I don't care about the core technology, but I want to be able to see the playing field clearly and be able to easily identify all the components. I think if you nail that then the perspective and/or relative angle of said perspective is probably irrelevant.

Considering some big indie RPG games are going to be released at the $9.99 price point, I couldn't see myself paying more than the $2.99 - $4.99 range. There's just too much competition from all games on all platforms. Again, I don't think perspective per se has anything to do with that, just game glut. With that said, I think a good RPG can actually command a premium over other indie games, so you could probably see some success at the higher end of the spectrum. Making an RPG is no longer the domain of a single individual, though, particularly if you can't devote years to the development... Certainly one way to combat the monumental nature of the task is to make the thing episodic in nature, so it can be released in smaller, more manageble chunks. The price would have to be lowered accordingly, though...

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