Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 23, 2014
Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon releases TOMORROW on Steam. Assuming all goes well and there’s no surprises. At least no major ones. There are always surprises. Wish me luck. And tell your friends!
I did a series a long time ago called “How CRPGs Warped My Brain.” I could just about revisit that entire series and demonstrate how they influenced Frayed Knights‘ design. But I figured I’d just go into some specifics… maybe five of the most influential games, the ones with a particular vibe I was trying to channel.
I’d say the biggest influence on the design is a game I never finished – or even got THAT far in playing: Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant. This is a game that is permanently in my “I want to finish some day” list. It’s awesome. It’s deep. It’s huge. It took some risks. It was beautiful – even today. And of course, it was a first-person perspective game with a party of characters, with the additional old-school vibe of having a pedigree going back to one of the earliest commercial computer RPGs.
A lot of the very interesting things it did – like having a faction system with competing parties, diplomacy, and a text parser for conversations – I didn’t really run with in Frayed Knights. But it was a part of why I was in awe of the game when it was released. But it all contributed to making the world feel much more alive, which is something that is important in any CRPG. But perhaps more important was the variety of actions, puzzles, and approaches to problems you could take to move forward in the game, down to which factions you ally with. And of course, there was the classic Wizardry “phase-based” combat system which required some prediction and risk assessment. It wasn’t great, but it was good and challenging.
For me, Wizardry 7 was kind of the standard. Possibly because I hadn’t played much of the Might & Magic series at the time I started work on Frayed Knights… but that’s another story.
Next – there’s Ultima Underworld. Both games, but particularly the original. This was the first of the “true 3D” first-person RPGs, the predecessor for the Elder Scrolls series. I even went so far, at one point, in creating a control scheme similar to Ultima Underworld‘s for Frayed Knights during the early prototype stage. Then I recognized how terrible it was, and instantly repented.
While Underworld’s gameplay is nothing like Frayed Knights‘, I really liked the more intimate, detailed dungeons, and – like Wizardry 7, it had a world that really came alive a number of ways. It was detailed. The world, the levels, the NPCs all had a solid backstory. There was a plethora of things to do besides just kill monsters. There was again something of a simulationist, open-ended design to some tasks. For example, you could either find the key to a door, or beat the door down. You could negotiate, or take.
But one of the things I most liked about the game was that it felt… fresh and maybe a little bit raw. The designers created it without the type of limitations that frequently infected the other RPGs of the era. It felt a little more like the kind of game they’d make for their table-top gaming group, full of weird ideas that more experienced designers would have nixed in the planning stages because they were too complicated to implement. Not that Paul Neurath was a total newb at this point, but it does feel like they were a little more wild and free with their design. I totally wanted that in Frayed Knights.
In the old classics arena, the Eye of the Beholder series – particularly #2 (the only one I played to completion), was also an influence. Sure, it was derived heavily from Dungeon Master (which I also played, on a friend’s Amiga). I liked how they took the real-time, exploratory, interactive world of Dungeon Master, mixed it with the D&D rules, and gave it some story. And yes, like the other two games, part of my delight was in the interactivity of the world, the variety (to a point) of environmental puzzles and the look of the world.
(And as a side note – when are we going to get that series on GOG.COM? Just askin’….)
I’d never played Wizardry 8 until I was knee-deep in development of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. I fell in love with it almost immediately. I grew to hate the length of combats, however (I timed them at one point, in the late-game stages, and found myself spending almost an hour in a single fight, even using a hack to speed up the combat animations and spell effects). But it represented almost everything I loved about Wizardry 7. Plus, a true 3D environment. It was too late for it to have a serious influence over my design, but since both drew upon its predecessors for inspiration, I guess it’s unsurprising that there’d be some similarities.
But as so much time had passed since I had played much of Wizardry 7, playing its immediate (if a decade removed) sequel was a great refresher course in what I loved about the series.
Likewise, Might & Magic VII – in fact, the whole Might & Magic series – was a late discovery that I only came to appreciate after Frayed Knights was in development. I’d played a little bit of Might & Magic III way back in the day, but hadn’t gotten into it as much as some of its contemporaries. And I’d read so much about the Xeen games that I knew what to expect, more or less. But really getting into the games for the first time, many years after their creation? What a fun experience. And I couldn’t help but draw upon these as an influence in Frayed Knights. In particular, the ability to increase your characteristics with objects you find in the game world was something I borrowed -mainly because it was a really fun, rewarding mechanic.
I’d be hard-pressed to find a favorite CRPG that didn’t wasn’t something of an inspiration or influence (if only as an example of what not to do). These are the five games I drew from the most as I was trying to distill all the things I remembered from classic CRPGs that made them so fun.
Perhaps the biggest influence is that, in spite of years of experience, I still thought that somehow with modern technology I could make a stupidly huge RPG with all kinds of cool features with a tiny team and a shoestring budget. While I will be the first to admit that I landed somewhat short of the mark I’d envisioned in my mind’s eye when I started, I’m pretty dang proud of what was accomplished. We learned a lot, we grew a lot, we created something unique and original that still hearkened back to the classics of an earlier era, and which is – most importantly – fun.
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