Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

RPGs and Fear of Commitment

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 29, 2015

mm3_adOnce upon a time, computer RPGs were expensive. Retailing for as much as $79 – which was around $150+ in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars – they were a serious money commitment. They tended to stay reasonably close to full price until the sequel was released – maybe dropping down as low as $45 (which is still $80-$90 by today’s rates).

And in terms of time? Hey, if you were gonna lay down 80 bones for a game, you wanted to squeeze every dollar’s worth out of it. So these games had to be big, beefy, and offer around an hours’ worth of entertainment for every dollar. When you invested in an RPG, you were in for a long-term commitment. Not only would it kill your game budget (well, they did for me), but they would represent weeks – maybe months – of effort to complete.

These RPGs were going to become your world for a while. And they did. I think that’s why I have so many fond recollections of these old-school games. I lived in these worlds for a while.

One does not simply walk into Mordor… or Xeen… or Britannia… or Lost Guardia… or Faerûn…

By contrast, you have the roguelikes. These have been around as long as their full-fledged RPG counterparts (arguably even longer, as some of the oldest RPGs would look a lot more like roguelikes today), but with permadeath lurking around every corner and potentially in every morsel of food, when you start up a roguelike, you do so with the expectation that your entire gaming experience is unlikely to last more than about fifteen minutes. More if you are an expert at that particular game, less if you are new to it. Like the old arcade games, while there may be a theoretically achievable ending (or at least a kill screen), it’s generally just a case of seeing how long you can beat the odds and survive.

If full-fledged RPGs are a long-term commitment, roguelikes are… I won’t even call them a single date. They are more like flirting at a party.

I wonder if that may be part of the reason for the rise in popularity of roguelikes lately is due in no small part to this. They offer a bit of the entertainment value of  a full-fledged RPG, but without the commitment. Because the bottom has virtually dropped out of the pricing on games these days,  I wonder if the time requirement has become an impediment… particularly for the Internet-addicted, social-media-trained audience we’re becoming. Where one game once had to last us for weeks, we can buy a bundle of indie games for less than a dollar a title. I dunno about you, but I get what would once have been considered a years’ supply of games when Steam or GOG.COM have a big sale.  I have a multi-year backlog now.

So committing to a game is psychologically much harder to do. Choose a game out of dozens and dozens with which I’m going to have to be pretty exclusive for a while? That’s difficult!

But worth it?  I dunno. Sure, if it’s an old classic or a popular recent release, I have reason to believe it’ll be worth investing the time and effort into the story, learning the game system, making my characters, and wading through all the introductory material before getting to the “good stuff.” Then it’s only a matter of “settling down” for a few weeks (given my limited playing time) and getting to business. But which one?

And there are all these promising, rarely-covered old and new indie RPGs that somebody ought to try. Seriously. One of my all-time favorites, Knights of the Chalice, received very little acclaim outside of a few outlets, yet it proved to be a couple dozen hours of pure tactical, old-school joy on my end. What if I’d missed it because I was too busy playing the more popular, critically-acclaimed or “classic” titles? Honestly, I played a good deal of the greatly-lauded Bastion and tried to like it (I certainly enjoyed the narration and the music!), but in the end it left me flat, and feeling like I wasted my time.

But is that really so different? Back in the day, there were still plenty of choices, but they weren’t so easy to access. It was a matter of investing both time and a serious chunk of change.

All I can say is that no, making RPGs shorter is not the answer. At least not as a general rule. I’m fine with playing “short” 15-hour-ish RPGs, but I still do love the good ol’ epic quest. Once I finally, like Bilbo Baggins, find myself persuaded to step out the door.

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Appearance: Salt Lake City Comic Con Fan Xperience

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 28, 2015

TerraMechanicaCoverI’m going to be at the Salt Lake City Comic Con “FanX” convention this weekend at the Xchyler Publishing booth. At least part of the time. Sadly, I’m fighting off a cold right now, but I hope to be in good shape at least by Friday. Not sure about Thursday yet.

There won’t be any demos of Frayed Knights 2 this time, I’m afraid. That sucker has its guts still on the floor of the garage, getting souped up for something a bit more… complete. Also, sadly, the new anthology – Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology – doesn’t release for another month. Bummer. But I’ll be there with some copies of Terra Mechanica.

If you’ll be there, come say hi. We’ll be in booth Purple 8.

There’ll be other people to see there, too, or so I’ve heard. Folks like Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, and Billie Piper. Christopher Lloyd. Brandon Routh. Nichelle Nichols. Carrie Fisher. People you might have heard of. :)





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Daggerfall in Unity?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 27, 2015

There have been several projects to remake Daggerfall. But this is… different. Although I know it can’t be as good as I imagine, I am excited about the potential of this toolset. I guess that’s how I know I am a game developer at heart. I see something like this, and I don’t think, “Ooh, I could play a Daggerfall remake!” I think, “Holy cow, what could I make with this?” Of course, given all the other stuff that has to be made to turn something like this into an actual RPG, what I might make might be suspiciously similar to Frayed Knights: The Khan of Wrath right now.

The toolset is really intended for people to make their own Daggerfall re-creations / spinoffs / whatever. It reads in the actual data files from the original game (which is free from Bethesda) and allows you to do all kinds of stuff with it. Mainly in the style of the original, 20-year-old game.  There’s a lot you can do without any coding, and even more you can do if you don’t mind writing a little code, incorporating more content / code from third parties (like AI packs), or using some of the tools developed by the community.

For those who missed it, one of the killer things about Daggerfall (even moreso than its predecessor, Arena) was the scope. You want to talk about procedural / sandbox worlds? The world of Daggerfall was immense. There were some semi-custom towns, NPCs, and dungeons in the game (including some trippy alternate dimension stuff) if you followed the main plot, but following the main plot wasn’t even just optional… the game actively tried to derail you. Fail to be in the right spot at the right time, and you might never be able to “finish” the main storyline. Not that it mattered that much. Daggerfall was kind of a fantasy-world simulator where you just made your own way.

But – with this toolkit – there could be some new life left in that antique world. Like the holy grail of Daggerfall fans in the mid-90s… multiplayer! Yeah, adventure in the actual dungeons of the second Elder Scrolls game with a partner. That would be… kinda cool, if not exactly the bomb now in 2015.

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Shut Up And Take My Money: Yet More Classic RPG Series Reboots

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 26, 2015

I have faith. Proven teams & talent. The IPs… maybe a little less so, mainly because it’s been so long. But if the success of Wasteland 2 or Might & Magic X: Legacy are any indication, a committed team dedicated to classic old-school games can create worthy successors. Now we have two more classic RPGs that will soon have crowdfunding campaigns for their triumphant return.

I have a tough time containing myself. This is the kind of thing that seemed like an impossible dream ten years ago.

Underworld-Ascendant---DwarFirst up: Some of the original Looking Glass folks putting together the new Ultima Underworld, sans the “Ultima” part but otherwise very much the third in the series (the second one was more tightly tied to the Ultima IP – it was just tacked on at the end in the original). The Kickstarter begins February 4th. I can’t be part of this fast enough, if only in a very peripheral way.

Underworld Ascendant by Otherside Entertainment

Ultima Underworld was one of the “holy trinity” of games that came out at around the same time from Origin that made me decide to try a career in game development. The other two, naturally enough, were Ultima 7 and Wing Commander (well, really, Wing Commander II). It is one of my all-time favorite games and my favorite RPGs. I feel in some ways, it still hasn’t been matched / exceeded, and I’m really thrilled to see what Paul Neurath and company have planned for this new title.

And then, hot on the heels of this game having a Kickstarter launch date, Brian Fargo made the announcement I’ve been kinda waiting for over the last few weeks:


Yes, I’ve been expecting this one. They’ve had the license for The Bard’s Tale forever, and many of us were disappointed when inXile released the comedy game by the same name several years back (which actually wasn’t a bad game, IMO… just unhappy that it was called “The Bard’s Tale“). I can’t say that the original games were really that influential on me. The best thing about them was Tales of the Unknown Volume I: The Bard’s Tale (the real title… it was supposed to be the “Tales of the Unknown” series, but that didn’t stick) that they beat Wizardry I to release on the Commodore 64. I had been anxiously waiting the chance to play Wizardry I on my own computer – which never actually happened back then – and then a friend tells me all about this awesome new game that was “just like Wizardry, only better!”

And sure enough, graphically, he was right…  it was clearly superior. The dungeons and city streets were kinda-sorta “textured,” and the enemy encounters were partly animated. It took me forever to make a party strong enough to walk around the city streets without dying, however.  I wondered what kind of game designer made it so your party of adventurers can’t go outside their front door without getting slaughtered.

Still, it was a fun game, and though I never completed it (and probably never will), it was a pretty influential title for me back in the day. Anyway, there’s more news on it here:

IGN: Brian Fargo Announces First Bard’s Tale Sequel in 27 Years

Actually, they have the date wrong – the original game came out around 30 years ago. Dunno where 1988 came from – I think that was when Wasteland 1 released. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Bottom line: Dungeon crawling, pulling from the original for ideas, and some interesting ideas for non-traditional but still turn-based combat.

I’m in.

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Utah Indie Night, January 2015

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 23, 2015

Indie Night this month was at my alma mater, Brigham Young University. It was cool to hit the ol’ stomping grounds again – I spent many, many hours at the James E. Talmage building getting my Computer Science degree. It seems smaller, now.

But mainly it was cool.

Anyway, the night was kicked off by Lyle Cox giving a talk on finding motivation as an indie… although it covered a variety of subjects concerning health and well-being. He talked about finding life balance, avoiding burnout, maintaining focus, controlling your environment, scheduling, maintaining perspective, self-improvement, and yes, motivation.

It was an idea-packed half-hour. I’m not too much into the touchy-feely side of things, but a lot of the talk made sense. Even the basics – getting enough exercise, and filling your brain with better “brain food”, and discovering a bit more about what motivates you and makes you tick – was valuable information to be reminded of.

After that there were the games, and networking. I got a chance to play the latest version of Eidolon Games’ Flame Warrior, which totally kicked my butt several different ways.  It has changed a lot since last summer’s demo, with a very different interface. And it’s clearly more challenging.

Some other old favorites were there – Script Kiddies, Dub Wars, etc.  But as usual, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to other game devs and get a feel for how things were going among my fellow indies. Sadly, it’s pretty rough and crowded out there. But it was once again great to draw on their experiences and learn from them, swap ideas, and talk about things that fellow game developers all understand. It was, as always, equal parts educational and motivational.

Big thinks to Greg Squire of Monkey Time Games for organizing things, as always. And thanks to my fellow indies. I had a great time, and I think I really needed the chance to hang out with other game devs for a while and remind myself why I keep doing what I’m doing. We’re all passionate about games, for different reasons sometimes, but we’re passionate enough that it drives us to keep at it in spite of all the other things we could be doing with our time. (I noted that very few indies were caught up on current television shows…)

I’ll end with a couple of quotes from Lyle – one might have been him quoting someone else, but they go like this:

#1 – “You will never influence the world if you try to be like it.” Be unique. Find your own purpose and measure of success. Do something awesome. And:

#2 – “You probably suck at what you are doing right now. So work on self-improvement and keep working on becoming the expert in your craft.” (Probably misquoted, but that’t the gist).

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Human Extinction Simulator

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 22, 2015

HumanExtinctionHuman Extinction Simulator. As I’ve heard it, that was only a working title, until Dave Toulouse of Machine 22 came up with a better one. But the truth was… that was a pretty awesome title. So he kept it.

And it’s finally released.

Human Extinction Simulator is a turn-based tactics game of space fleet battles with a Chess-style flare, fully deterministic.  Meaning – no random results. Again, like Chess.

Unlike Chess, you’ve got 30 different ship types instead of 7, each with different movements and weapon patterns. And 34 different scenarios to play through. Not a small game.

In the full disclosure department – yes, I’m friends with Dave. He’s a great guy, a fellow struggling indie, the maker of the way-more-fun-than-I-expected Bret Airborne, and I am just as personally excited for him as I am for the release of this game.

You can buy the game direct from Steam or… even better… buy it directly from Machine 22 and get a Steam key to go with it. The latter is clearly the better deal.

You can grab it here:

Human Extinction Simulator at Machine22

And you can watch the trailer to see if it’s your cup of tea:

Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

The Era of Enhanced Game Re-Releases

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 21, 2015

MI2SpecialCompareI remember in the “good old days” (which were neither that good nor that old…) how we’d wish that somebody would remake an old classic game with no changes except improved technology for modern (at the time) systems. Of course, nobody ever did that. If you got a “remake,” it was a complete reboot. There were a handful of exceptions, such as a version of Wing Commander 1-3 redone for Windows 95, or a spiffed-up version of X-Wing or TIE Fighter.

But now, in the middle of the twenty-teens, it’s a Thing. We just had a massive overhaul of the original Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers released.  The first two Monkey Island games got a very nice high-resolution makeover with the addition of voice-overs and commentaries not too long ago. Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 have gotten “enhanced editions” that run much better on modern systems and higher resolutions, and have some added content of somewhat reasonable quality, and Icewind Dale 1 just had a similar update.  I can frequently be found playing the new Rise of Nations Extended Edition, which is exactly the same as the original game and its expansion which I already own, but with some minor graphical improvements and Steam integration – and built-in functionality for live streaming of a game via Twitch TV. We’re getting lots of “HD” games enhanced for modern screen resolutions and mobile platforms, tiny machines that are far more powerful than the original platforms the games were intended.

I’m already dreading my loss of productivity I know I’ll experience when Heroes of Might & Magic III: HD releases for Android in a few days.

On the indie front (although a lot of these remakes / modern enhanced re-releases are being done by smaller, indie studios), Spiderweb Software is on its second “remake” of the Avernum / Exile series. I haven’t played the newest updates, but from the sounds of it they are quite a bit more than a graphics upgrade.

So here’s the question: That’s what I remember asking for all those years ago. “Just give me <Game X> with modern graphics, no other changes!” And now that’s what we’re being given. Is this a good thing? I lament how Hollywood has gotten itself stuck in a rut of sequels and reboots – how it’s becoming a creative wasteland in that respect. Are games going the same direction? Is it a problem at all?

I dunno. I’m getting what I asked for, so that’s nice. I’ve enjoyed the remakes I’ve played, even if I am replaying almost exactly the same game I played several years ago (then again, whenever I play a “new” FPS, I often feel the same…) I don’t see them limiting the flow of brand-new titles. At least not yet. And I felt my daughter got to enjoy the full impact and awesomeness of the Monkey Island games just fine.

I guess I could worry that we’re taking a step back in gameplay – losing 15+ years of experience in making better games – but let’s get real, here. While I won’t quite all rose-colored-glasses and say that games were all better prior to 2000, but I will certainly say that things haven’t universally improved in that time.

So what’s your take? Are we enhancing the past and providing classics in new packaging that can finally be considered timeless, or are we exposing how creatively bankrupt we’ve become as an industry with these enhanced editions?


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The Indie Gold Rush: Ending with a Bang or a Whimper?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 20, 2015

There have been a few articles recently about the demise of the small indie game developer. Jeff Wofford’s “The Rise and Fall of the Lone Game Developer” probably made the most rounds last week, but “How Do You Make Money Making Games Again?” is another excellent post on the subject.  At Gamasutra.com, Kris Graft notes in “As the Game Market Floods, Publishers are Back in Style” that in the most recent developer surveys, there’s been a very notable drop in self-published titles this last year.

This is all stuff I have talked about before. And I’m hardly the only one. The bubble pops in slow motion.

I noted last week that many of the “best” indie RPGs last year were made by moderately-sized “big indie” studios, often those that have worked with publishers in the past. I worry about the little indie studios (which would include me) getting crowded out, even as much as I’m impressed by these higher-budget offerings that have made a larger-scale effort to bypass traditional publishers.

It’s a quandary. The market is deluged with games, and as Woffword says, on some platforms (like mobile) it’s so crowded that you can’t give your game away. Even on PC, bundle deals and steep discounts rule the market. There’s a race to the bottom on price, which is driving the creation of very small, short games. But the popular buzzword of the day is “sustainability,” and this sort of trend is not sustainable.

I can’t pretend I’m an expert. I’m a part-timer, though I have been somewhat “involved” in the whole indie thing for a while. While in some ways it’s tempting to despair in my discovery of all of the unanticipated consequences of the indie revolution, and there’s no doubt it makes things rough, I think I can also provide a few glimmers of hope.

First of all – this isn’t the second time of the “fall” of the lone (or small-team) game developer. I’m not sure how many times it has happened, but I saw it happen in the shareware space in the early 90s, and in the casual space around 2004 – 2005. In being involved with the “indie community” for so many years I have often seen posts about how the best time to be an indie was… two or three years ago. It’s the same story, every time. There’s some new way or niche for the tiny developer to actually get their games to their audience and make enough money doing it to make it worthwhile. Once word gets out, there’s a pile-on. The channel / niche gets crowded, and then only the top-tier games actually make any profit at all. So then the race gets on to improve quality to better the chances of becoming one of the top 5% that makes 95% of the money. This means bigger budgets, bigger teams, and more vicious competition. The little guy gets squeezed out, again and again.

We’ve seen this happen several times, at different levels. I have no reason to believe it won’t happen again. Opportunities come and go, and if you are quick enough to cash in while the getting is good, you can do pretty well for a while. This industry is cyclical.

Secondly, even in the darkest days of the giant studios with deep pockets ruling the marketplace, exceptions have always existed. Some little guys manage to keep cranking out the titles and make consistent money so they can afford to keep doing what they do. Long after the gold rush ends, some settlers remain. Some do quite well.

Thirdly – well, the nice thing about the post-gold-rush era is that the folks who stick around are the ones who have a real reason to do so, beyond a simple desire to line their pockets. While I’m not seeing much of that in certain game genres (particularly the ones that are harder to create), a lot of the crap out there – especially for IOS – reek of by-the-numbers cash grab. Not that their employees might not love making games for a living (remember, that was exactly what Notch was doing in the years before Minecraft, during the height of the web-game popularity). Sadly, not all of the companies that fail to survive extinction will be the ones deserving a quiet death, but many of the ones that will disappear will the riff-raff heading for the exits to pursue the next Big Thing, or the ones that were never serious about it in the first place. That leaves slightly more breathing room for the dedicated few several many.

So yeah – maybe I don’t have the unbridled optimism about the indie world that I once did. It’s definitely frustrating. But I don’t see the end of the world, either. Indies will still be here. Honestly, I think the really cheap prices will stay with us, too, although maybe not quite to the give-away levels they are at now.  Things will stabilize. And yeah, I think there’ll be room for the low-budget indie to thrive, too. But it won’t be so “easy” (as if it were ever easy). At least not until the Next Big Thing hits.


Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Frayed Knights: Spell-Checking

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 19, 2015

Frayed_cover_finalI think I have the coolest, weirdest spell system ever in Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath. Of course, I’m biased.

It’s not that I literally have an infinite number of spells. For practical purposes, for each spell class there are probably four or five dozen meaningful spell variants per level without going into the combo spells. I mean, seriously, how many different ways can you inflict blindness upon your opponents? Okay, let’s look at it:

1. There’s a single-target inflict blindness

2. One that effects both enemies within a certain “rank” (distance away),

3. One that inflicts blindness on a primary target and up to two targets behind the primary

4. One that “explodes” – which means the primary target is hit for the full effect, and everyone else in the group for half the duration (if they don’t avoid the effect)

5. A “group” spell that does full blindness to all enemies.

Okay, there’s five. And then within a spell level there’s a range of durations – figure plus or minus maybe a turn.  And some minor variations on the endurance costs and attack accuracy. They could be mildly interesting if you had to choose between two variations at some point, but ultimately they aren’t really meaningful differences.

What the mechanic really comes down to is that you’ve severely limited one or more targets in their ability to attack for a period of time. What matters is how many targets, and for how long. For how long has a pretty narrow window of interest as well.  If the average combat lasts around five turns (sort of my target for the game), anything significantly greater than five turns becomes meaningless as well. At least, it is for the players using the spell. For enemies using it against the player characters, that could be a different story, as blindness can persist into the second or third combat if left uncured.

All of this stuff is still getting balanced and tweaked, and some of that has led to some fundamental design changes.  For example, inflicting blindness is obviously far more effective at neutralizing a front-line enemy than a mere stat drain. Even if it is easier, faster, and less costly in endurance to drop an enemy’s strength than to blind them, blinding a hard-hitting enemy is still the “best” solution, so that’s only a partial way to balance it out. The other part is to make it easier to resist or cure blindness or other conditions, and to make sure the enemies have some access to these things too.

This feeds back to the central concept for the massive variety of spells (and spell-casting equipment) in Frayed Knights 2.  Does blindness not work on this enemy? Try something else. So – yay for the core design.

But all this in turn multiplies my interface woes. How do I make all this manageable for the player? Just like real life, too many options can confuse when the pressure is on.

I’ve simplified a few things. Like the idea of selectively beefing up spells to more powerful versions – that’s gone. I’m toying with a skill that will automatically do that on a more limited scale, but really – in a game with (semi-)infinite spells, why would I want the player to invest in sticking with their old, moldy spells instead of constantly finding bigger and better abilities as they progress?

The thing is – all of these factors are interrelated and as I tweak one, it changes the flow of everything else.  I don’t think perfection is attainable in this case, but it does seem like things get better with each iteration.

Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

RPG Codex Picks their Top RPGs of 2014

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 16, 2015

RPG Codex has released their top picks for PC RPGs of 2014, including audience picks, editor’s votes, and individual editor picks. They also have a short list of the most anticipated releases for 2015.

RPG Codex 2014 Game of the Year Awards

Not exactly the same picks, but a very similar grouping from RPGWatch’s choices. And my own.

Everything I said yesterday applies equally here. But here’s something else worth commenting on: For those of you familiar with the site, RPG Codex is not noted for their optimism about the state of the genre (or gaming in general). Or for watering down their opinion for the sake of politeness. They are a passionate and knowledgeable crowd, although their preferences are nowhere in the same zip code from each other sometimes.

From the opening paragraph, you get this:

“I took the liberty of calling them Role-Playing Games of the Year, because we’ve finally had a year that didn’t suck balls. In fact, this year has been so good that one of the most common issues has been people not having time to play all the titles.”

For RPG Codex, this is pretty dang complimentary. If that doesn’t signal a potential sea change for the genre, I’m not sure what does.

But I’ll join them in hoping this trend continues.

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RPGWatch names the best 3 RPGs of 2014

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 15, 2015

If you are a fan of classic western style computer RPGs – the kind that seemed to be in an unending supply from companies like Origin, SSI, Sir-Tech, Mindcraft, Westwood Studios, and Interplay – then for a while, it may have seemed like the golden age of computer RPGs was far behind us. Through the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, we were fortunately drip-fed some nice role-playing experiences. Some of them were even pretty awesome. But it was nothing like the heyday of the late 80s and early 90s.

DOS_0006Except… arguably, now it is. 2014 saw dozens upon dozens of indie releases (which I talked about last week in my 2014 Indie RPG Round-up Part 1 and Part 2). Between those and the mainstream releases, and some of my personal favorites like Dead State, and some off-beat but interesting titles like Steam Marines, The Banner Saga, Heroes of a Broken Land, and NEO Scavenger … I’d have to say that 2014 was a banner year for RPG fans.

Although it did seem to me that the mainstream RPGs for the PC were somewhat… diminished… compared to past years. Not by much, but at least the indies (and “big indies” – straddling the gulf between the big publishers and the little homebrew shops) picked up the slack.

RPGWatch held votes for the best RPG of the 2014. The audience and the editors actually agreed for once:

Game of the Year Awards – 2014 (RPGWatch)

Now, bear in mind that RPG Watch is for PC role-playing games, which is why you won’t find any console exclusives, and more of a classic / western RPG bias. Hey, when the rest of the gaming world seems to think that Square Enix invented the role-playing genre, someone’s got to take that stand.

WL2_dialogConsidering the audience, the only mild surprise was in whether Divinity: Original Sin or Wasteland 2 would come in first place. Third place was a little more interesting, with Dragon Age: Inquisition taking third place, and followed by Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut and then by Might & Magic X: Legacy.

A year where something like Might & Magic X: Legacy won’t even place in the top three? Where Dragon Age: Inquisition only takes third? You can argue for exact positioning all you want (I know many of you reading don’t get the attraction of Divinity: Original Sin), but to me this speaks to it being a year of stellar quality as well as amazing quantity of titles.

RPGWatch has also published the votes for the most promising PC RPGs of 2015. Sadly, Frayed Knights 2 wasn’t on the list to be voted on, but given the circumstances and delays, I can’t blame them.

p_eternityMost Promising RPGs of 2014  (RPGWatch)

With Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher 3, the just-released Avernum 2: Crystal Souls, the full release of Shroud of the Avatar, possibly (? Can I hope?) Torment: Tides of Numenera, hopefully Frayed Knights 2 and Age of Decadence, I’m hoping for just as great a year this year as an RPG fan…

HAH! As if I’ll have time to play. I’ll still be playing catch-up on 2014’s games, I’ll bet.

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Interview at City Weekly

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 14, 2015

vwboxintermediateOkay, I don’t think anything here is news to any long-time readers here on the blog, but it was fun to talk about Rampant Games as well as reminisce about the old days at SingleTrac in this interview I did with Salt Lake City Weekly.

You can check out the interview here:

Rampant Games: Talking with local video game designer Jay Barnson at City Weekly

An excerpt:

Gavin: What made you go for the turn-based combat system compared to simulation or instant combat?

Jay: Because the mainstream publishers (and many indies) were already making those kinds of games. I don’t want to make just another Diablo clone or whatever. If I had something really cool to contribute to that style of game, something that would set the game apart or really have something interesting to say, then sure, I’d do it. But I wanted to go back and explore a different style of gameplay and thought I had something interesting to say there. Also, it is very difficult to control an entire party of characters in a real-time action game. Not without losing a lot of the focus on individual actions. A more thoughtful pace made sense.


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When Radio Shack was cool…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 13, 2015

It’s funny. As mush as I might embrace change and improvements, there’s still a part of me that still expects the world to be exactly the same as it was when I was fifteen. At least the parts I interact with. When I walk into a mall, a part of me still wants to seek out the once-ubiquitous arcade.

And part of me still thinks I might walk into a mall as part of daily life…

There’s a Radio Shack store in a shopping strip near my house that I pass by almost daily. I go there pretty infrequently (although more frequently than I visit a mall…), and it’s mainly a place to get overpriced home theater and stereo equipment, cell phone accessories, remote control vehicles, battery chargers, and HDMI cables. Although towards the back, I was gratified to see that they still sell fuses, some solid-state electronic components, and – much to my surprise – a couple of electronic project kits for kids.

That last discovery, several months ago, was a pleasant one. When I was a kid, that was what Radio Shack represented. It was a hobbyist electronics retail shop. They had computers (the famous TRS-80s… the “TRS” stood for “Tandy / Radio Shack”), a bunch of electronic gizmos and toys, computer software, electronic project kits galore, and of course a bunch of components and cables for wiring up your home electronics. It was a store I’d visit just to browse. I’d spend hours looking over their catalogs and mailers each year. I had a couple of their electronic project kits, and learned a little bit about electronics that way. Mainly, I learned what would happen to a microchip that was core to one kit if you decided to pour extra power into it via a model train transformer. Oh, and I learned what burned electronics smell like that way, too. You never forget that smell.

I bought parts from the Radio Shack as an older teen to build a device that would transform the electricity from a 9-volt battery into a muscle-curling hundreds of volts for use as a practical joke – or a way to prove one’s macho-ness in the most non-macho, geekly way possible.

Like its sister company Tandy Leather, Radio Shack was a retail store for the Do-It-Yourselfers. And maybe it was what it represented that was so exciting to my young mind. It was the idea that this stuff did not belong inside some ivory tower of academia or inside the white clean-rooms of industry, but there in your garage or basement workshop, or up in the bedrooms of twelve-year-old kids. In that way, maybe it helped instill the “indie spirit” in me. For that, I owe it.

Not enough to buy any more HDMI cables from them, though. I could get two of ‘em for the same price from Office Max or Amazon.

But hey, maybe I’ll buy a heliquad from ‘em someday or something…


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

Productivity: The Group of Three

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 12, 2015

The middle 50%+ of game development is the hardest for most people, I’ve found. At the beginning of the project, the game is being built up from nothing and is making rapid improvements daily. It’s exciting and motivating. And at the end, even though it’s a hard slog, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But in the middle, apparent progress is minimal, and there’s just a lot of crap to get through to get it from that early prototype to a finished product.

Back when I was working on Void War, I came up with a methodology – well, a dumb little trick – to help me get through the less exciting phase of game development. I was talking with some people last week about productivity tricks and staying motivated, and thought I’d share this again (since it was lost with the old blog). Honestly, I’ve felt lately that I need to go back to it, just because I’ve been slogging along in a lot of boring work for a while and the game hasn’t made a visible improvement in a while, which can be demoralizing. It works for me. Maybe it will for you.

Maintain a Task List

Number one, you need to maintain a task list. If you aren’t doing that, and have been flying by the seat of your pants, then you’ve already got something critical to fix if you want to get your game done.

I’ve found that simple task lists – occasionally prioritized, but really nothing more complicated than a straight-up list (possibly marked by category – see below) – is the easiest, best tool for me. I’ve used them since the SingleTrac days, and they seem to work better than more sophisticated tools. Ideally, the tasks should be broken down into jobs that will take a short, reasonable time to complete. For me, that means tasks that I can complete in one day or less. If a task is much bigger than that, I try to break it down into smaller sub-tasks. But not too small. If they are less than a quarter of a day in length, I group similar tasks together.

Plan Task Transitions

When I’ve tried to track my progress, I’ve found my biggest waste of time is always on task transitions. Still. I end up spinning my wheels at the end of the task, poking around for little things to tweak, or I end up hunting down a distraction which eats up more time than the original task. It’s a sad commentary on my own laziness, I guess.

This is something I still need to work on. But the “Group of three” helps (at least cuts down the transitions somewhat). Part of it for me is to make sure I already have the next task “queued up” and ready to go, so as soon as I’m finished with my current task, there’s no question about what to do next. I can roll right into the next one. This means taking time at the beginning of my day (which, as a part-time indie, means “night”) and plan out I’m going to work on, in order. I can change the order later, if I choose, but otherwise I have a default plan and no excuse to break my stride and hunt down distractions. Or to waste time gold-plating what I’ve already finished.

The Group of Three

Because I love making games, there are many game-making tasks that I really look forward to doing for one reason or another. They are fun. They are exciting. They are intellectually stimulating. Whatever. We’ll call these the fun tasks.

Then there are some tasks that are really going to visibly improve the game. By “visibly” I really mean “apparent to an outside observer” – so it could be audio or something else, even a layer of polish that will really make things “feel” better. I’m going to call these “visible tasks.”

Then there are some tasks that are just going to be painful or dull, but they have to get done. Often they’ll involve rewriting prototype code or something else that is neither fun nor will make much of a difference to the playable game – they are just things that must get done. We’ll call these “tedious tasks.”

My trick to getting through the long haul of development is to group one task from each category together, and force myself to complete all three before I can move on to the next group. It’s motivating for me, because I want to move on to the next “fun” task… but I have to finish a visible task and a tedious task before I’m allowed to do so.

The other motivational trick is that by grouping the visible tasks in there as well, I force apparent progress. I may not be very excited about them individually, but it does mean that team members and outsiders get to see progress in the game – and I get to feel good about the visible progress. So that’s a longer-term win and motivation.

Now, there are some tasks that might fall into two categories – you can pick a category for them based on whatever list is starting to run low on items. You may need to double up on one category to make it a group of four or whatever. Fortunately, by the time you have to do this, you are getting near the end of development.

Filed Under: Game Development, Production - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Steven Peeler on Traits in Zombacite

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 9, 2015

Steven Peeler of Soldak Entertainment – the dude behind Depths of Peril, Din’s Curse, and Drox Operative, has a bit to say about a new mechanic in the fantasy-zombie-apocalypse RPG in development, Zombacite. The mechanic is traits – special passive abilities that can be acquired via increased stats. He hopes that it will help encourage people to level up some statistics that they might not normally increase for a particular character class (like intelligence for a warrior).

“Traits can significantly change your character. This is because they have major positives, but also because they all have negatives. You will need to take into account the positives and negatives and make a difficult choice to take the skill or not. Since you still need to use a few skill points to get the skill, getting the skill is not automatic when you meet the attribute requirement.”

More information can be found here.

One of the trickiest things when balancing a game is making sure that an option doesn’t become a “non-decision” because it is too useful, too useless, or simply doesn’t make enough of a difference with other options.  It looks like he’s addressing that.

Personally, I’m not so sure about the negatives with his examples, but I imagine that will come out in playtesting. I don’t know if a projectile continuing on to hit other targets is worth a 15% hit to damage, especially when I have to pay skill points for the privilege of the damage reduction across the board… but I’m sure Steven does. If killing things at a range to avoid infection is such a major deal, and enemies tend to come in hordes rather than single ‘boss’ type monsters, then it might make lots of sense.



Filed Under: Design - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

The Indie RPGs of 2014, Part 2

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 8, 2015

Here’s the rest of the list of indie RPGs released for the PC in 2014. If you missed part 1, you can read it here: The Indie RPGs of 2014, Part 1.

Do I have a favorite indie RPG of 2014? Honestly, I haven’t been able to play these games enough to really make an informed decision, but Divinity: Original Sin and Wasteland 2 are definitely on my short list. I feel a little bad about this, because I worry about these big-budget indie titles crowding out the smaller, lower-budget titles. But the people behind these games have clearly had as much passion and personal investment in their titles as any other indie, and I have to give credit where credit is due. Do the higher production values give these titles the edge over someone’s earnest 8-bit-style roguelike? Yeah, but (for me) it’s not that tremendous of an advantage. Maybe I’m just too much of a jaded retrogamer.

Let’s get to it, shall we? Here are 30 more indie titles rounding out the PC indie RPG releases of 2014:

Legend of Grimrock II (Almost Human) – the sequel to the hit first-person dungeon-crawler in the vein of the Dungeon Keeper and Eye of the Beholder series, Legend of Grimrock 2 lets the players adventure outdoors as well as in the dungeon, with more puzzles and combat heavily dependent on timing, precision, clever solutions and careful exploration.

Legends of Persia (Sourena Game Studio) – Action / RPG / Adventure game (Diablo-like) involving Persian mythology

Legionwood 2: Rise of the Eternal Realm (Dark Gaia Studios) – An RPG Maker title geared for hard-core, experienced RPG players.

Lisa the Painful RPG (Dingaling Productions) – Side-scrolling post-apocalyptic (and pretty much gonzo) RPG made in RPG Maker “about survival, sacrifice, and perverts.”

xulimaLords of Xulima (Numinatian Games) – Epic indie RPG with turn-based combat, isometric world, and a classic old-school feel on a lost continent.

Madam Extravaganza (John Wizard Games) – an RPG Maker title from the very talented John Wizard Games,  makers of the Dawn’s Light and Lilly & Sasha series.  Bring your life savings to the inn in the Monsterville, defeat the monsters, and you may return home with more wealth than you can imagine. What could possibly go wrong?

Neo Scavenger (Blue Bottle Games) – Post-Apocalyptic survival RPG. Major emphasis on survival.

Pier Solar and the Great Architects HD (WaterMelon Co.) – Quite a story for this one, originally a homebrew release for long-obsolete Sega consoles, it has now come to the PC (and many other platforms) after many years of development.

Prologue: A Guardian Story (Senshi Labs) – An RPG Maker title that parodies jRPG cliches.

Quest of Dungeons (David Amador) – Turn-based graphical roguelike.

Reflection of a Fallen Feather (Forepawsoft) – An “adventure-RPG” hybrid in the 16-bit jRPG style.

The Secret of Qwerty (Gryphon) – A simple 8-bit style RPG combined with a typing tutor. Edu-rpging!

Sacred Tears True (AlphaNuts) – A card-battle jRPG using the RPG Maker engine.

Smugglers5Exp_Screenshot2Smugglers V: Secession (Niels Bauer Games) – Man, I haven’t even been able to play Smugglers IV yet! While more on the periphery of RPG-ness, this is a long-running turn-based game of space trading.

Smugglers V: Invasion (Niels Bauer Games) – Stand-alone expansion to Smugglers V: Secession

Sproggiwood (Freehold Games) – A story-driven, turn-based roguelike set in a humorous world inspired by Finnish mythology.

Star Nomad (Halfgeek Studios) – A real-time combat, 2D, space trading sim / RPG. Yeah, there’s a lot in that mix.

Steam Marines (Worthless Bums) – Squad-based tactical roguelike aboard a steampunk spaceship. There is just too much awesomeness in that description.

Steel & Steam: Episode 1 (Red Meat Games) – Steampunk fantasy in a 16-bit jRPG style.

Subterra (Warfare Studios) – In a vicious underground world, a young man must brave danger to unseal the portal to long-forgotten Earth to save his sister from a deadly disease.

Sweet Lily Dreams (Rose Portal Games) – An RPG Maker title. Save the world of dreams and fairytales from being consumed by a terrible nightmare.

The Tale of a Common Man (Aldorlea Games) – The latest RPG Maker game from Aldorlea Games, this is the story of a common farmer who becomes embroiled in extraordinary circumstances.

Seasons-of-the-Wolf-Character-SkillsTales of Aravorn: Seasons of the Wolf (Winter Wolves Games) – Taking place in the same world as the previously released Loren: Amazon Princess, this title includes a number of improvements, including an isometric map and a larger world to explore.

TinyKeep (Digital Tribe Game) – An action-roguelike with cartoony graphics. The big twist with this one is an emphasis on using the environment, traps, and enemy rivalries to defeat enemies indirectly, rather than always opting for a head-on confrontation.

Transistor (Supergiant Games) –  A stylish, artistic sci-fi themed action-RPG by the makers of Bastion.

Undefeated (Aldorlea Games) – Another RPG Maker title by the prolific developer Aldorlea games, you play three soldiers who must solve the mystery of an encroaching wasteland.

Unrest (Pyrodactyl Games) – An RPG set in ancient India played from the perspective of an ordinary person, almost exclusively through nonviolent interaction.

Valiant: Resurrection (Amaranth / Lone Wolf) – Previously entitled “Asteria,” and probably had its name change due to another game by the same name released earlier this year (which a friend of mine worked on). This is an RPG Maker title. The game’s plot centers around a hero named Argos who is seeking to bring his lost love back from death.

Wasteland 2 (inXile Entertainment) – The sequel (of sorts) to a classic RPG released twenty-five years ago. Wasteland 2 is set in a somewhat less-than-serious post-apocalyptic world. If it sounds like the Fallout series, you’d not be incorrect – Fallout was actually something of a spiritual sequel to the first Wasteland. Wasteland 2 stays true to its old-school roots with challenging turn-based, tactical combat but with deep, interesting decisions and more modern production values.

Wind Child (Warfare Studios) – An RPG Maker title. A quest to save a young girl from an ancient sorceress brings together four great heroes who may have a greater connection with each other than they had imagined.

There you go! That’s a grand total of 56 indie RPGs of 2014 – more than one a week of what I’d consider reasonable quality! Did you miss some of these? Most of these? All of these? Well, now you can hunt ‘em down and give some of ‘em a try.

What did I miss? What was I in error in counting? Should something not really be considered “indie” or is it still not “released”? Let me know in the comments!

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

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