Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 25, 2011
Time for another update on the development of Frayed Knights, the indie computer RPG series that is to the CRPG genre what Dogs Playing Poker was to the world of fine art.
When I realized that the size and scope of my “quick and dirty” RPG Frayed Knights was becoming bigger than the longest-winded Final Fantasy title, I decided to break it into three games (apparently a methodology with a long and notable history in both indie and mainstream RPGs, though it took me longer than most to throw in the towel).
The problem – but a good one – is that doing this meant that all three games had to have self-contained stories. It also exposed some significant weaknesses in the story as a whole – I’d been letting things get pretty drawn out. A lot of the work I’ve been doing over the last three weeks has been trying to make changes and give it a little more compelling narrative. It’s not going to be amazing anybody with its literary quality, particularly as I’m fairly insistent on allowing the player to do things out of dramatic order wherever possible, but I hope people will like it.
Now, some people have been puzzled by what this game is really trying to be, given the fact that it’s premise is light and funny, but the underlying game is a little on the hard-core side. To which I say – if hardcore RPG fans don’t have a sense of humor, something’s wrong. My approach to the humor of the game is quite a bit different from, say, Mark Leung’s game or some others. My goal is to achieve something a little closer to Knights of the Dinner Table, Order of the Stick, or the movie The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even Friends. It’s more character-driven, and focuses a little more on what should feel a little like four adventurers running through some guy’s home-brewed campaign world. Like most RPG game worlds, an awful lot of it doesn’t make total sense, and these adventurers find their own way of rolling with it.
Not all of the game is done up for comedy. While I hope there will be some laugh-out-loud moments, I’ve never really tried to make every single dialog contain humor. Some parts are actually a little (*gasp*) serious.
Some of the story / setting issues I’ve been facing recently:
1) The story has evolved over the course of a long time. During this time, details have changed. Characters have gravitated different directions than intended. Details of plots have changed. Names have changed. After a while, I really don’t read the dialog very much any more, and I fail to notice that certain things are no longer valid. Or that I’ve had to change the names of certain individuals and are still calling them by their old names. The end-game, in particular, sounds a muddled mess, as I did it in a hurry a long time ago and pretty much everything about it has changed.
2) My choice of doing entire conversations for dialogs has bitten me in the butt. In retrospect – well, I’d probably do it the same way, but I’d be more aware of the problems. Having full conversations based on current game state is AWESOME when it works. You can talk to an NPC, and the characters take note of the fact that you have done A, but not B, and that you are still in the middle of the C. Well, if A, B, and C are all 3 stage states (Not Started, Incomplete, and Complete), that’s 3 x 3 x 3 = 18 variations that need to be accounted for! That is a LOT of friggin’ dialog to write… and to test! It would have been much easier to take a more traditional approach, where the dialog is one-sided and delivered piecemeal.
But it’s cool, it’s fun, and worth it, and I am taking shortcuts where I can (only 7 dialogs instead of 18, copying and pasting chunks of dialog, woot!). I really didn’t think that would be much of an “innovation” in this game, but it’s becoming something of a signature piece. So much so that, as my uber-tester DGM has pointed out, it gets disappointing when something interesting happens that doesn’t spawn a commentary from the characters.
3) Dead space is bad. No not the game (I haven’t played it) – I have something of an allergic reaction to walking too far without something interesting to do / check out. There are still some fairly uninteresting stretches in the game that I need to fill in. My vision of a proper RPG world is one in which there is adventure behind every bush and around every corner. There’s just not enough time to quite achieve that goal, but I’m trying to make it closer.
4) Quests, quests, and more quests – I’ve converting a new, *LONG* (second longest in the game) quest that was previously completely optional into a mandatory quest line, which has required some serious rejiggering of the principal quest line and the game ending. And I’m having a lot of fun throwing in a lot of little optional side-quests too. The goal here is that players shouldn’t have to depend on “grinding” to get ready to face the final encounters in the game. Alas, some of these are simple “fetch” quests, sometimes involving finding something that has been hidden (requiring searching). In some cases, I’m allowing players to find the object both by performing a search in the right area (with the “hot / cold” messages indicating proximity), or by finding the spot with their mouse (displaying the name of the interactive area).
This weekend, I hope to be playing the entire game through, start-to-finish, with some significant combat rules tweaks and a bunch of the new quests, a new dungeon, and story changes. We’ll see how it hangs together, or if I can even make it to the end.
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