Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How to Revive a Legacy RPG. Or Not.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 27, 2010

The newest game in the Wizardry series is apparently entitled Wizardry: Town of the Imprisoned Spirits or something like that. According to what I could glean, it is something of an upgrade / sequel over a previous release subtitled Dungeon of the Imprisoned Souls. It’s a budget, downloadable release in Japan that has a chance of actually making it to U.S. shores. Alas, it’s currently planned as a PS3 exclusive, so I won’t be playing it any time soon. (I never did pick up Forsaken Land for my PS2, so I guess I really don’t have room to complain).

The screenshot could actually be from the previous game – I’m not sure, lacking the ability to read the Japanese website.

*Sigh*. It does look like it might be fun. But it saddens me a little that a series that was once a signature example of the “western RPG” is literally a jRPG now. Particularly since Wizardry 8 proved to be such an awesome swan song for the North American series. But Acquire owns the license and IP rights now, and so it’s now their legacy to continue, exploit, or destroy.

The parody reboot of The Bard’s Tale a few years ago… well, it’s in the eye of the beholder whether that was better or worse. I played the demo and thought it amusing, but felt it had nothing to do with original series. The Ultima name has been slapped on a web-based strategy game that bears no real gameplay resemblance to its namesake. The 2001 attempt at reviving the old Gold Box series with Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor was almost universally considered a bug-plagued dismal failure, particularly with the amusing uninstall bug that could wipe out the system files on your hard drive. It doesn’t get much better than that, kids!

So here’s a little thought exercise. Let’s say, by some great happenstance, you happen to find yourself in a possession of a classic game license.  Preferably RPG or Adventure genre, but I won’t hold you to that. While you picked it up for a song – probably because, let’s be serious, there just aren’t that many old-school gamers left who would form a pre-built audience to satisfy modern industry requirements – and you don’t have to worry about marketing budgets, you still don’t have a lot of money to produce the series revival. Better than your average indie budget, but still not up there with a mainstream title. You will not be able to compete against Dragon Age 2 or Elder Scrolls V– you’ll need to pick your focus carefully. You can’t be everything to everyone.

So here are my questions:

1. What license would you choose? Why?

2. How would your new game be re-envisioned? As a web-playable game? Console release? XBLA? iPhone?

3. What would you focus on to provide an experience that is both true to the original game and palatable for modern audiences? I don’t mean mass-market audiences, just busy people who’ve grown accustomed to modern conveniences like in-game help and being able to save somewhere besides the inn at the beginning of the game.

I’m kinda curious as to just who’ll be gutsy enough to try and answer this one… 🙂

Filed Under: Biz, Design - Comments: 18 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    Gut’s is my middle name… well… thats a lie.

    I actually think about this on a regular basis, part of my daily dev training.

    Honestly, I’d be afraid to touch something on the scale of Ultima because it IS Richard Garriot. So many of the character’s are based on him, so much of the world created by him… All through the series you can see signs of him. You can see what happened on the games where he had less pull.

    I’d rather choose something that has a fanbase or clear potential… not a raging horde. Possibly something like Times of Lore for this example.

    The next step is to determine what makes the original unique and loved. Through playing the game, watching LPs of the game, reading forums about the game… you can find the games core. This core is what fans of the series will be looking for. Whether it’s extremely tactical combat or a quirky little world… let the fans know that they are still loved with the new series.
    Times of Lore was intended as in introduction to Origins RPG’s. The biggest draw that I got while playing that game was the feeling of complete freedom. It had a fairly large world to explore and alot of people to talk to. It also featured a cool system that allowed both melee and ranged combat.
    It’s weaknesses were that their were no sidequests, so the game became linear when following the story. It also only had about 3 items to purchase meaning that money was practically non-existant.
    So I’d probably work on something like “Oblivion Junior”. It won’t have the scope of it’s big brother, but it will mirror the mechanics. Between the addition of sidequests and new items, you could spend alot of time exploring and having fun,

    Sadly, reviving a series is dangerous… and therefor I’d stick with a budget release. This will allow me to test the waters and see whether people would still be interested in the license.
    Without a doubt I’d write it in XNA, because that will allow extremely easy distribution on both Steam and XBLA. The Electronic Distribution tends to work far better on game’s that have small budgets… Multi-platform is good for trying to hit my target sales.

    *Bonus Features*
    On a side note… I just played the Wizardry for PS2 last week. It’s actually rather nifty. Hardcore enough to demand tactical thought, yet still plays fast enough that I didn’t get bored.

  • tfernando said,

    Strategy game (I’ve been listening to the Three moves ahead podcast) but…

    1: Harpoon. Had three versions, original is still playable but while it needs a graphics refresh, it can use very stylized graphics rather than hyper-realistic 3d stuff. Has a known niche audience, which is older thus has more money than the 18-35 guys, which leads to…

    2: PC/Mac/Linux… physical copy only, dongle for DRM. Allow one dongle to authorize all copies on a LAN though, for the purposes of one game. Ship the stats database on the dongle rather than the CD and make it bloated so a no-dongle crack on a torrent needs to be 30GB. 🙂 Price high ($150+) and never come down ala Matrix/Paradox. Have a good printed manual.

    3: In addition to the classic blue water US/USSR scenarios, develop littoral scenarios between developing nations, etc. Commit to producing scenarios quickly in response to current events and provide them free (some portion of that price tag needs to be banked against continued development). Provide development tools and distribute user scenarios. Provide scaling difficulties (on easy fuel isn’t accounted for, etc). Rank players against each other..

    Bascially build the ultimate stats driven naval warfare game, and then charge through the nose for it. Hopefully would be able to position the game so owning it and being good becomes a prestige item for its niche (‘man, you must be a serious wargamer if you own and play =that=’). The casual players wouldn’t be interested in it even if it were inexpensive. (of course, point 4 is sell 3 copies and go bankrupt 🙂

  • Greg Tedder said,


    Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana. The first deserves better, and the latter has been abused terribly.


    PC and/or major consoles.


    Probably a cross between Fable and KOTOR. The Fable scenery and land would be perfect, and the pause and command combat would be incredible. For the PC I would kill the chase cam, and go with overhead, I hate chase cams for PC, kind of like them on the XBox.

    I would make stats editable at the beginning of the game and probably do a some skills and a perk section. The party size would remain 3, I would use the original Chrono combat track re-mastered, and you would fly on a pink elephant through a psychedelic time and space. OK, maybe not so much that last sentence, but could I afford the legal fees of gargoyles that insult you?

  • Craig Stern said,

    I will tell you the one thing that I would not do: take a game with turn-based tactical gameplay and turn it into a Diablo / God of War clone. The newer entries in the Shining Force series, for instance, have all been abysmal little action RPGs where you run around and attack-attack-attack. Fallout 3 is another offender, though I hear that VATS was a half-decent compromise.

    In short: if you don’t like the core gameplay of the original games, why would you want to make more of them? Just go make something else. (Unless, of course, the idea is to cash in on the goodwill generated by the original games.)

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Craig – Oh, gee, you mean like the upcoming X-Com reboot? 😛

    @tfernando – Woah. I still have Harpoon. Or is it Harpoon 2. A friend at work gave it to me when he got a free copy at a trade show. I installed it twice, tried to play it… but never really did. That one takes some serious dedication. I’ve done it for some games, but not for that one.

  • Joshua Paul Smyth said,

    Phantasy Star V – For sure, the last real Phantasy Star was made in 94(ish) without looking it up. I think you could do a true to the original series on a fairly low budget. I’d probably keep the 1st person dungeons from the first game with an Isometric overhead view for the overworld/towns.

  • Whiner said,

    It’s hard for me to answer the question because being in a situation with a budget, ANY budget, is so foreign to me! So I’m assuming here that it’s not ME doing it personally, but a studio that I’m directing to create this project for me.

    Quest For Glory.

    What I’d Keep: It would still be a 2d (V doesn’t count) adventure/RPG hybrid that you could play as either a Fighter, a Mage, or a Thief. It still would be gently humorous fantasy.

    What I’d Change: Female main character obviously. Probably shifting to a more cartoon animation style instead of pixels. Chapter-based gameplay, so that there are lots of clear stopping points and no need to back up looking for one damned pixel at the beginning of the game you forgot to click on. That would have other knock-on effects and probably require drastically changing the way character advancement works, shifting to a more level-based system rather than improving skills through grind, in order to keep it balanced. Or if I’m evil enough, keep the grind and allow people to BUY SKILL POINTS WITH CASH. Chapters could be sold individually on super-cheap platforms like the iphone or delivered on a regular basis to computers via website subscriptions; larger collections of chapters could be bundled.

  • getter77 said,

    1. Shadowrun, of the Sega Genesis stripe. Reasoning is the same as all my P&P rants—such games simply SHOULD exist to be enjoyed as functional video games given how much hard work and creativity has already gone into them.

    2. PC release and other platforms too if they can swing it in and out. Given the…ephemeral…nature of other platforms, the PC would be the root from which fresh versions could spring down the line as time/tech moves onward. If the “walled garden” stuff ratchets up insanely down the line, to the web it goes.

    3. The hook is simply to turn the dial on virtually everything in the Genesis version up to 11, while updating with the best of everything from all the various rulesets/books—and continue to so so over the years. Hash things out with international localization and modularity as easy as possible—with player modules encouraged to have a NWN-ish doggedly persisting community. Round it off with a death or bankruptcy clause that has the whole thing go open source/public domain/etc while ALSO being well commented so that it may ramble onwards indefinitely and perhaps spur all manner of crazy things like the Freespace situation.

    Price it at $10-30, with expansions at 1/2 the price and micro doings possible, but just in the form of enjoying certain things a bit early. To avoid the trap of too many expansions clogging up the tubes, the solution is to roll all of Expansion #1 into the base game as a free upgrade upon the eve of Expansion #2 going on sale–and so forth as it goes.

  • Milkman Dan said,

    About Forsaken Land, I snatched it a while back and enjoyed it, even if I eventually stopped playing it. It had that “explore as far as you can, but not so far you can’t come back” quality that the Wizardry games tend to have, especially the early ones.

  • Craig Stern said,

    “Oh, gee, you mean like the upcoming X-Com reboot?”


  • sascha/hdrs said,

    Brand abuse anywhere! Not only games but also hardware (seen the recent C64 and Amiga ‘remakes’?) Sometimes it’s better to let the dead rest instead of trying to revive a horrible zombie mutation!

    That said, there is one game that I would pick up and if I’d own the license I would try to make something great out of it, hopefully a great franchise. That game is Hired Guns! Not a particularly famous game or even a great game by average standards but the well designed characters and the background story of that game scream for an epic, fantastic RPG license!

  • skavenhorde said,

    1. I’d love a Betrayal at Krondor reboot or anything from Fiest. That’s probably never going to happen though. so how about Starflight then. A proper reboot and not these idiotic revisionings that publishers keep dishing out like The Bard’s Tale, this Jagged Alliance 2 monstrosity or X-Com FPS in the 50s (FALLOUT RIPOFF). Space Rangers 2 was close, very close, to what made Starflight 1 & 2 great. They just need to add the Spemin and it would have been perfect 😉

    2. For Starflight it has to be PC indie. Maybe with Jeff Vogel style art. Starflight wasn’t great because of the graphics. The exploration, story, trading, combat (Yes, it was basic but fun :)) is what made that game great. So keep the graphics simple and focus on the gameplay and story. Add quests and sidequests to the game. Have a good economy based system and definitaly improve the combat. Space Ranges 2 style combat would be just fine.

    3. This was sorta answered in my #2. There is definietly a market for games that focus on gameplay. Jeff Vogel and Victor Davis being prime examples of how a good game can overcome graphics problems. Though those are anomalies in this industry since it’s expensive, time consuming and risky to make the type of game I’m talking about. Expensive for someone on their own not for a proper publisher, but this wouldn’t make millions of dollars a proper publisher wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

    The most likely that I would like to see is Wasteland. If the owner of that da@# IP would get off his bum and use it (here’s a hint as to owns the IP. He also did The Bard’s Tale reboot ;)) I would like to play a campy post-apocalyptic game without a 50s theme too it.

    Still all of these are pie in the sky. I’m just glad there is someone like Jay really making a game like Frayed Knights or that Jeff Vogel, Vic Davis, Thomas Riegsecker and Steven Peeler are still out there making some great indie games.

  • Bad Sector said,

    Btw, as far as Wizardry is concerned, it seems that Wizardry has set a parallel path in the Japanese market with Japan-only titles being around since 1991


  • Andy_Panthro said,

    My heart says “remake Ultima!”, but my head suggests that may be too big a task. After all, do you remake all of them? How do you deal with the differences between each game?

    If I wanted a one-off project, I’d pick Megatraveller.


    The general mechanics and plot are all good, it just needs a little graphical update and a much better interface.

    The license surely shouldn’t cost much these days either…

    It would take rather a lot of work to do though.

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  • Leopold said,


    Either do a stand alone game that takes place in greater Italy or up in Scandinavia *or* tie in to the original game so you can travel from Germany to the new region and back. Add a new conspiracy in the new area.

    PC only — I have been (probably irrationally, these days) an anti-console snob since I had an Atari 800 and sneered at the Atari 2600.

    I’d update the tactical engine a little bit and improve both sound a graphics to semi-modern standards. I’d really like to delve into historically accurate money, politics, and alchemy.

    Updating the Dark Sun franchise would be neat, too — good ol’ 2nd Edition D&D!

  • Mndrew said,

    Just imagine picking locks, fighting minataurs, and throwing knives at swinging tagets, with the Wii-mote!

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