This week, I'm pleased to present a very special guest: Richard "Lord British" Garriott, the father of computer role-playing games. I'm sure this man needs no introduction with you guys. We talk mostly here about his Shroud of the Avatar kickstarter, which you definitely don't want to miss if you're a fan of Ultima and Ultima Online. The game will offer some really neat innovations, including a scalable multiplayer option and tons more interactivity than we've grown accustomed to. I'm in at the $125 tier for the box and cloth map.
Download the mp4.
Hi, guys! I'm back this week with another fan request: Eye of the Beholder! Produced in 1991 by Westwood Associates for SSI, EOB was an attempt to wed AD&D rules to Dungeon Master-style gameplay. The finished product wasn't the best--apparently the second game is much better--but it's still a fun game well worthy of an episode. If nothing else, you get to watch me flip out about R.A.T.S.!
Download the mp4 here.
P.S. Indie Retro News has a DOS version of EOB with an Automapper and mentions a special Amiga AGA version that also had this feature (who knew?).
In my book Dungeons & Desktops, I wrote in the introduction that I think CRPGs are the greatest learning tools ever designed. To my shame, however, I did not properly defend that statement--at least, not directly. While I think most of us would agree that the basic mechanics of a CRPG teach us valuable transferable skills like resource management, long-term planning, team management, statistical analysis, and so on, what makes them better than other learning tools, including other types of videogames?
This week I'm back with Josh Sawyer to continue our chat about his history and game design philosophy. Josh started off as a web master at Interplay, but made such a positive impression on the management that he was soon designing his own games. Josh and I (and I suspect YOU!) have a lot of the same games that inspired us, like Pool of Radiance. Josh also talks about some cancelled projects, such as Project Jefferson (BG III) and the Aliens RPG.
You can download the video here.
Modern CRPGs are console shooters. And that pisses me off. But how did they get this way? Last week I wrote about some features I'd like to see in a classic-style CRPG. I've been thinking more along these lines, thinking carefully about all of my favorite CRPGs and attempting to isolate the elements that so endeared them to me. What I've discovered is that this exercise is futile. You cannot create a good game simply by taking out the best gameplay mechanics from different games--what's more important is how well a designer has been able to build an attractive and coherent homology. I don't much like the term, but I like how Barry Brummett defines "stylistic homology" as "the signifying system that is a style is held together by formal properties such that one could look at a new article of dress, for instance, newly designed, and identify it as Edwardian." I think we could easily do the same for individual games or even whole game franchises, assuming it's well-designed. For instance, World of Warcraft has such a coherent homology that I'm sure most players would be able to look at screenshots of a city they hadn't personally visited--such as the Undercity--and realize it was from WOW and not Guild Wars 2. If you bear with me a moment, you can also see that this concept extends beyond just artwork and into gameplay. Even before you ever played a monk in WOW, for instance, if you're familiar with the other classes then you already have a pretty good idea of how the talents, abilities, and so on will play out. I think it's the sign of a great game when you can introduce something as radical as an entirely new class and not have the rest of the game fall apart.
Unfortunately, the problem is that such coherence comes at a cost. The same factors that allow us to already have a pretty good idea of what the monk will be like are the same factors that lead to boredom and disinterest. And man oh man, am I bored with WOW and Skyrim.
By now, I'm sure everyone has heard about how Brathwaithe and Hall pulled the plug on their Shaker RPG Kickstarter. I had pledged $100 to this one, mostly because the rewards were great and I have a lot of respect for everyone involved in this project (though I've yet to interview either). The gist of it all is that they went into this with a plan to do something "old school," but didn't get into enough specifics about what their game would actually be like. Sure, we all remember how great the old days of Wizardry, Ultima, Pool of Radiance, and Bard's Tale were...but after whipping up everyone into a gonad frenzy, they ran out of the room before anybody got to cuddle.
They've promised to come back with a stronger pitch. I doubt that any of them give a rat's squeal what yours truly would like to see in that pitch, but what the hell. I know they (amongst others) have the talent and experience to make me a very happy gamer, so here's what I would like to see in the next big Kickstarter classic CRPG pitch.
Hi, guys! This week I decided to interrupt my Sandy Petersen interview (don't worry, he'll be back next week) to bring you an update from Josh Sawyer on the Project Eternity kickstarter project. Josh is working with Tim Cain and Chris Avellone on what is probably best described as a modern take on Icewind Dale II, though a lot is still in the planning stages. There's a little over a week left on the Kickstarter, so you'd better pledge now if you want to secure some goodies.
Download the episode.
Jeff McCord, developer behind the classic VIC-20/C-64 title Sword of Fargoal (reviewed here), has launched a Kickstarter program to fund development for a sequel. The sequel sounds FANTASTIC, featuring character classes, "action cards," and the ability to share dungeons, as well as huge amounts of great artwork and music. A $8 pledge gets you the game as well as a DRM-free version of the soundtrack. Go up to $50 for a T-shirt and $100 for a bunch of other goodies. Please, please, please, go right now and make your pledge. You will pay NO MONEY if this project doesn't make, and we really need to act NOW to make this happen. We've got two weeks left on the Kickstarter and over $32,000 left to go, so get your ass over there RIGHT NOW and donate. I'm going to be mad as hell if I'm not playing me some good ol' Sword of Fargoal 2 with all the bells and whistles Jeff and Paul P. have put together here. If you were one of the millions who played a pirated version of this game back in the day, Jeff has promised to absolve you of all your sins if you pledge even $1 to this.
Now, seriously, get over there and pledge. This is EXACTLY the kind of project we SHOULD be funding, not just the ones from famous people. If you don't know anything about the game, he's put the first one up for free so you can try it out. This is the updated release for the iOS, mind you, but it's still got all the classic gameplay we fell in love with back in the 80s.
I have a special treat this week for all of you indie CRPG fans! Chad Mannicia, programmer/designer of the upcoming Tales of Illyria game, was kind enough to sit down for over an hour to chat about the new game. Bill Loguidice and I have already pledged, but you guys need to step up! We're talking turn-based party combat, an epic story, and, best of all, an Oregon Trail-inspired resource management component! The minimum pledge is eight bucks, so get your butt over there and pledge pronto! We can't let talented people like Chad go un-funded, especially when they have such a promising yet modest Kickstarter.
Download the podcast here.
This right-after-the-fact casual blog posting will be about the rarest known version of Telengard, one that has not previously been documented in otherwise exhaustive historical accounts, so bear with me a bit as I set the scene... Since I lack any real electrical engineering skills, I recently sold off the non-working portions of my Otrona and Heathkit collections. Both collections went to fellow collectors who should be able to get the various systems working. While it was difficult to part with even those non-working portions of my 430+ system videogame and computer collection, this will give me more room and time to focus on all of the items that do work, and at least shows that psychologically I'll be able to part with more redundant and/or non-working portions of my collection going forward. One item in those groupings that I didn't sell off was my Zenith Z-100 all-in-one, which is the pre-assembled version of the Heathkit H-100, able to run Heathkit-branded versions of CP/M and MS-DOS thanks to its dual processors. As you may or may not recall, I was trying to get my low profile (same system, no built-in monitor) to run way back when. Long story short, among many other hurdles and much fact finding, and after acquiring an unnecessary replacement power supply and a necessary replacement disk controller board, it had a memory error on boot-up. So, I sold it along with various other Heathkit items. However, when I was going through my saga of acquiring those replacement parts, I was able to acquire a working all-in-one version, the Z-100. Now, I obviously love old technology, but truth be told, I was most interested in running the aforementioned rare versions of the official Avalon Hill games on the system. Interestingly, these ports run on the Heathkit/Zenith Z-90 or H/Z-100, as long as they're running CP/M-85 and MBASIC. Now, I did not have a copy of CP/M-85, but I was able to acquire a replacement set (among other disks) from a gentleman who provides that service for a modest fee. Unfortunately, the Avalon Hill games require MBASIC, which was NOT included by default with the Heathkit/Zenith systems apparently. Luckily, a gentleman from the SEBHC mailing list was able to come through with a copy for me. Here is what went down, told casually, as it happened a little while ago, complete with equally casual photos and videos (by the way, check out Matt Barton's old interview with the late great author of Telengard, Daniel M. Lawrence, here):