Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 1, 2011
Time for an update on Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, that dumb little humorous indie RPG that was supposed to be knocked out in a hurry, and ended up becoming a big ol’ epic project.
News from the Front:
Our first beta release has gone pretty well, and did what it was supposed to do. Which is to say, it generated a lot of bug reports which I still haven’t managed to completely address. I could blame crunch mode at the day job for the last two weeks, but… well, okay, yeah, that’s a main culprit. It’s just not really possible for me to put in a 12+ hour day and then another 6+ hour evening working on FK. I’m lucky if I get two.
The beta has been very limited so far, but the non-bug feedback has been extremely positive. I’m beginning to think this game might not have been a waste of four years of my life after all.
Brian “Skavenhorde” Critser managed to be the first player to finish the full game without needed (or even possessing) developer codes and cheat menus. He proved it could be done, and also demonstrated that I’d spent so much time trying to make the first part of the game not *too* tough that I neglected to balance the latter half of the game very well. I had “boss” enemies that were weaker than rank-and-file enemies in the same area, and high-level magic-using threats that were actually quite low-level and severely lacking in magic. And by “severely lacking” I mean I forgot to give them spells to use. But they died so fast that Brian hadn’t actually noticed.
There are a couple of quests that have confused players and have caused extra backtracking and hunting for something that might have been missed. While that theoretically extends play-time, that’s not fun gameplay, so I’m trying to fix those. I’ve taken those as work items, adding additional hints in conversations, journal pages, or environmental clues to make sure other players don’t find themselves getting too lost. I love throwing adventure-game style puzzles into the game, but I don’t want them to be too difficult. One interesting tidbit is that DGM (my other epic-tester) found the minotaur maze to be frustrating, whereas Skavenhorde (who maybe is used to being run through a maze, I dunno…) thought it was pretty easy and not very maze-like. (Neither of them were playing with auto-maps, since those haven’t worked since the pilot. I know, they are on my “to do” list…)
There have been a several significant changes to the game that have either evolved or been deliberately put in place as a result of feedback. Most will be meaningless to you, but a few I’ve talked about here. Spellstones are gaining importance. You will want to make sure your party has an ample supply spread among the casters. Most group-based spells will require them. At least one of the merchants has an unlimited supply, and they are frequently found as treasure, so they aren’t exactly hard to come by. But putting an entire opposing force to sleep is going to require some cash expenditure.
Upgraded spells are becoming a bigger and bigger element in the game. For a while, I didn’t have enemies using spell upgrades. As with spellstones, if you ignore that aspect of casting, you are really limiting your party’s potential. I realized this applied just as well to enemies, and they are definitely more effective for it.
The Reason Why
And finally, there’s a question I’ve answered a few times, but the answer bears repeating. I’ve had several people ask me why I’ve bothered working so hard to provide a hard-core, old-school, serious game system as the foundation for what is a fairly light-hearted, comic, story-heavy game. It seems like a waste, right? All this work into something that people are going to play because it’s kinda funny and stuff. Or something that hard-core gamers won’t play because it’s kinda funny and stuff.
The answer is that, fundamentally, I want to have Frayed Knights stand on its own as a game (series), even if the humor fell completely flat. I want it to be a great game that happens to be funny. I mean, it’s a low-budget indie title, so it’s not going to win any beauty contests with the latest Unreal 3 Engine – powered extravaganza. But a solid, entertaining game doesn’t need a big budget, and so that’s where I’m focusing my effort. And for me, while a “great RPG” can mean a lot of things, in this case I wanted a game that captured the feel of the old games that made me fall in love with the genre in the first place. I wanted a game that made me feel like I was only seeing a piece of a really deep, “crunchy” world with lots and lots of detail, and that I was only scratching the surface. I wanted that detail to be as much on the system level, to appeal to me intellectually, as it was at the world level to appeal to me emotionally.
Maybe it’s a bad combination, but I really don’t think I would be satisfied with a “lite” RPG. Not at this time. Sure, someday in the future I’d enjoy tossing out a jRPG-style game with simple mechanics that are mostly there just to make you work for the story, but not today. Frayed Knights is kind of a hard-core game with old-school sensibilities that just happens to have its tongue planted in its cheek much of the time. But for all that it doesn’t take itself (or the genre) seriously, it has a serious game under the hood. I hope you’ll like it.
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