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Game Announcement: Aveyond - Gates of Night
The newest installment in the hit "casual" RPG series, Aveyond: Gates of Night, is now out and available at the Rampant Games store.
Unlike other games in the series, this one is a "true" sequel in this sub-series entitled "The Orbs of Magic." The story is a direct continuation of the storyline begun in Aveyond: Lord of Twilight. You don't need to have played Lord of Twilight to enjoy this game - Amaranth has done an admirable job of getting the player up to speed in a hurry, with the events of the previous game becoming backstory for this one.
However, all things being equal, I'd recommend starting with Lord of Twilight.
And I just have to add that as lush and beautiful the title screen was for Aveyond: Ean's Quest, I think this one is my favorite. First of all, I'm partial to stories about rogues / thieves, and this one has Mel front-and-center. Well, front-and-to-the-right, but that's beside the point. But the whole standoff-in-hiding between her and the mysterious cloaked figure (most likely a vampire...) is just cool.
Anyway, check it out - give the free demo a try. Or Lord of Twilight. Or something. :)
Download Aveyond: Gates of Night
RPG Design: Encounters as Boundaries
In spite of having a week's vacation, I've still not yet beaten Aveyond: Lord of Twilight. I'm running around the world with a team that includes sunscreen-coated vampires and a main character with a bit of an attitude. And surprisingly, I frequently find my butt getting handed over to me. More than any other Aveyond game to date, this one is letting me get in a little over my head. (At least this one provides an escape mechanicsm from non-boss battles that are clearly going badly).
Granted, Aveyond: World of Twilight is still not a landmark of free-form exploration, but it seems to have at least reduced the size of the training wheels. Since the game is the third of the Aveyond series (or fourth, if you include Ahriman's Prophecy), perhaps it was assumed that the average player is a bit more experienced than in earlier installments.
Now, I don't exactly relish stepping into a cave and having my virtual lungs fed to me by guys who can do over half my total hitpoints in a love-tap. But it is a bit of a change of pace compared to many other games of the jRPG style, including earlier installments in this series. Even some of the more modern western RPGs have made a significant effort to keep the player from encountering anything clearly out of his or her league.
Granted, most RPGs (even the older western RPGs, which seemed to take great glee in beating you to death with your own legs) make some effort to at least geographically separate content beyond your lackluster pay-grade. If nothing else, you had to survive part of level 2 before you could make your way down to the more dangerous level 3. But, typically, they weren't over-zealous in preventing you from going to level 3 until you'd proven yourself on level 2 first. They didn't prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot and making a race for the bottom of the dungeon if you felt so inclined.
In a lecture at the Life, The Universe, and Everything symposium many years ago, author and game designer Tracy Hickman talked about approaching (pen-and-paper) adventure design with "soft limits" and "hard limits" to player actions. The "soft limits" were basic carrot-and-stick incentives to keep the players somewhere in the vicinity of the main storyline and the geography the designer had actually developed. Then, outside of those boundaries, you put harder limits - the impassible cliffs or whatnot (or, in CRPGs, what Shamus Young termed the "Plot-Driven Door") as a last resort.
His philosophy - which I adhere to - is that it is far better for the players to choose to follow the prepared course of the game than to be forced to do so.
More powerful enemies in CRPGs are one example of a (sometimes frustrating) "soft boundary." The player isn't prevented from making a run into the deep end of the pool while still in the early stages of the game, but the difficulty of the encounters may convince her that it's more profitable to go back to an earlier area to pick up some quest threads. But the possibility of heading into more dangerous territory remains open ... maybe to make a mad dash to another town that sells more powerful equipment. Why not? In the past, these kinds of self-initiated quests have proven to be among the highlights of several games I've played.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to the audience. A novice player will probably find himself frustrated if the game allows him to get in over his head, while a more veteran RPG player will probably recognize what is happening and adapt.
Aveyond 2 and Fatal Hearts
Rampant Games has two new titles available in the Adventure & Roleplaying section of the site... Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest and Fatal Hearts. One is an RPG, and the other is an adventure game - of a non-traditional sort.
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest is the next latest epic in Amaranth Games' role-playing game series, which began with the freeware Ahriman's Prophecy (link temporarily unavailable) and continued with the best-selling indie RPG Aveyond. The series uses the RPG Maker engine, and is reminiscent of the classic 16-bit SNES / Sega console RPGs of the early 90's. It has cute characters, lots of dialog, turn-based combat (and LOTS OF IT), a BIG storyline, and a very playful sense of humor that doesn't stop it from getting serious at times.
In Aveyond 2, you control a party centered around the main character, an elf named Ean. Ean comes from an elven community in a place called the Vale that has been magically secluded from the rest of the world. But when your best friend, Iya, disappears without a trace, and everyone's memory of her but your own has been completely erased - as if she'd never existed - it is up to you to leave the safety of the Vale and rescue her from the clutches of the Snow Queen. And that's only the beginning! Your quest soon gets you embroiled in events that threaten the entire world.
Many moons ago, I had an interview with Amanda Fitch, the creator of this game. She's an awesome person to chat with, and is frankly an example to me of what an indie game developer ought to be. She's driven, professional, and yet devoted to her community and fans. If you missed the interview, I recommend checking it out here:
Interview with Amanda Fitch
The other game is Fatal Hearts, by Hanako Games, the studio behind the other hit "casual" RPG, Cute Knight. I would describe Fatal Hearts as being more on the "Adventure Game" side of the fence, but even that doesn't begin to describe the game. It could be described as a "visual interactive novel" done in anime style.
For me, I draw the parallel with the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series of the 1980s - stuff I kinda grew up with, back in the days where the "home computer" concept was still waiting to catch on. Well, okay, I could play Zorks and Ultimas on my computer, but I still read / played the books. In the books, you'd read a page or two of story, and then you'd be presented with a choice. Your choice would have a page number you'd be instructed to turn to in order to continue the story.
Fatal Hearts does the same thing, but with the advantage of memory of past actions. So your actions may not have a major impact on the story immediately, but may come back to haunt you later. In addition to this, there are several challenge sections - often puzzles are clue-hunting adventure sections - that you may need to solve. For example, you may come across what appears to be a journal, but it is locked with a concentric-ring combination-lock style puzzle.
Fatal Heart's story deals with a fifteen-year-old girl with mysterious dreams, the supernatural, and murder. Because of its subject matter, it is not recommended for young children. The developer has recommended it for teens and above. And older male gamers like me might find it a little trickier to get in touch with their inner teenaged girl mindset of the game. But hey, I can imagine myself a battle-hardened athletic super-soldier with supernatural speed and resistance to damage in dozens of games, so how much more of a stretch is it?
I've interviewed Georgina Bensley, the principle designer / developer of Fatal Hearts, in the past. She complained before the interview that she didn't think she actually had anything interesting to say about herself, but then immediately proved herself wrong. If you missed the interview, you can catch it here:
Interview With Georgina Bensley
If either of the above game descriptions tickle your fancy and you feel you'd like to try them out, you can download the demos and try them out right away. Let us know what you think!
Download Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest
Download Fatal Hearts
(Vaguely) related opinions offered absolutely free and worth every penny:
* Aveyond 2 First Look
* What Makes a Good "Casual" RPG?
* Guest Post: Survey of Top Indie Graphic Adventure Games
* The Evolution of Computer RPGs
You can post comments here, or in the forums.
Aveyond 2 First Look
Aveyond 2 now available!
Amanda of Amaranth Games graciously provided me with a preview copy of the upcoming indie RPG, Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest (a late beta / release candidate, so it may not exactly match the final version). I had no time to play this weekend, but I played it anyway. I'm about two-and-a-half hours into the game, and I think I finally finished the "introduction."
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest is, naturally, the sequel to the best-selling indie RPG, "Aveyond" (AKA Aveyond 1: Rhen's Quest) I've talked about Aveyond quite a bit in the past, and you already know most of what I've had to say about it has been pretty complimentary. Aveyond 2 is a different story in the same world, using the same core engine, and so far feels like it has improved over the previous game in nearly every area.
Like the newly-released indie RPG Eschalon: Book 1, Aveyond 2 begins with an amnesia story. Only this time, it's an interesting twist: Overnight, your best friend, Iya, disappears. Strangely, nobody in the village but you can remember her - even her own parents. It's up to you, a young elven lad, to rescue a girl with only a ribbon as proof that she ever existed.
One thing I do like is that the game doesn't string you along too much to achieving your initial goal - I've already found Iya in this time, but the situation has become more complicated, and the stakes have escalated. The plot continues to twist. That's what I like in an RPG, and I think I've now been sucked in. Things are progressing at a good pace. One of Aveyond's strengths was its story, and Aveyond 2 seems to be continuing that tradition.
Naturally, the game also has some of the weird quirks common not only to its prequel, but to the RPG Maker game engine and the typical RPG traditions (particularly "jRPGs" - Japanese [eastern] RPGs) Weirdness like cute wildlife capable of slaughtering you (including the deadly "wild chickens" that plague Rhen in the early stages of Aveyond 1). And the same cute little wildlife mysteriously drop things like baked goods, berries, and gold coins on their demise. And then there are things like inn prices that seem to rise linearly the further you get from your home village. The quest journal is minimalist, the new mouse interface is a little bit on the twitchy side, you can't flee combat once it is joined (that I can tell), and the resolution is still limited to 640 x 480.
But these are mainly minor quibbles. I love smacking passing little fuzzy animals for gold, after all, even though I have no clue where they carry their change-purse. Insert Monty Python quotes about swallows carrying coconuts here. Really, it's all good fun, and is as much of a tradition in many RPGs that I often chalk up to some kind of abstraction on bounty or something.
Overall, the game carries even more polish than the first, but will be immediately playable to anyone who played through even the demo version of Aveyond. For those with no experience with these kinds of games, Aveyond 2 includes a tutorial to get you through the basics - you'll talk to people, activate objects, get a quest, form a party, battle monsters, get treasure, solve the quest, and even level up all within the tutorial. You can also choose not to go through the tutorial, though I haven't tried that option.
Graphically, Aveyond 2 seems superior to the previous game. The music, as in the first game (if you got the free music pack upgrade for Aveyond 1), is excellent. The mouse interface is new, and addresses what was probably the biggest complaint in the original game. I personally found myself going back to the keyboard interface that I was used to, and I felt it was a little "twitchy" clicking on destinations in a moving, scrolling area (particularly since your party will do no pathfinding, ignoring clicks to destinations they can't see, as in Eschalon). But that was probably a result of familiarity with the controls from Aveyond 1 and The Last Scenario.
A good RPG should have a few adventure-game style challenges (IMO). So far, Aveyond 2 does not disappoint. The game mixes up standard combat (of which there is plenty) with some less violent challenges. Early on, I faced a timed "puzzle" challenge to trap a monster that I (in theory) could not hope to beat in combat - after all, I was still vulnerable to being two-shotted by a Wild Chicken at that point. The puzzle and timing were not at all difficult, as I pulled it off on the first try. Even though it wasn't difficult, these kinds of puzzles are always very satisfying... probably because they make me feel far more clever than I really am.
From a challenge standpoint, the game starts out pretty easy, and allows you to set your own pace as it ramps up. Go far too quickly, and you may find yourself in combat over your head. Each town (so far) has offered improvements in equipment over the previous one, and it has proven absolutely critical that I buy those upgrades before attempting to move on with the game. While leveling up makes a big difference, too, upgrading from a hunting knife to leather claws, or from no armor to leather armor, made the single biggest difference in my survivability. Otherwise, I found myself running through healing items and trips to the local inn almost too fast to afford anything else.
While the party's size, level, and equipment were primary issues in determining success or disaster in combat, there is still some tactical decision-making and resource management factors that must be considered and may mean the difference between success and reloading a saved game. Nothing that will bake the noodle of a hardcore wargaming grognard, but enough to make combat interesting once you get some powers, items, and extra party members.
While it's still too early to know for sure, so far I'm really pleased with Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest. It has all the magic of the original, but with a number of improvements and better production values - and of course, a whole new story. Most importantly, it has proven fun and compelling. I really had to force myself to call it quits as I saw the time push past midnight, as I found myself pushing to complete just one more quest, or just to just get to the next village.
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest will be available on Wednesday, December 5th from Amaranth Games, December 11th from Big Fish Games, and January 11th from seedy Plimus affiliates like me. (UPDATE: Yep. Here's the latest version of Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest )
(Vaguely) related pseudo-literary meanderings:
* Interview with Amanda Fitch, Indie RPG and Casual Game Designer
* What Makes a Good "Casual" RPG?
Forum Discussion: Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest!
Indie RPG News Roundup, November 7
This week, we've got a couple of independent computer roleplaying games coming up quickly for release, which is always a good thing. Well, almost always. Unless they are actually secret robot-brain programs which, once release, will power up an army that will destroy civilization and harvest humans for food or batteries or something. But it's been years since that last happened, and I'm digressing. Here's the indie RPG news o' the week... and it's good stuff! I think... :)
Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest
Amaranth is reporting that the sequel to the hit "casual" indie RPG Aveyond completed alpha Monday night, with the last of the alpha bugs cleared out. Beta begins... this morning. Due to delays, I'd not expect Aveyond 2 to make it out this month, but we could still see it before the end of the year.
The Broken Hourglass
Planewaker Games has a conversation with game music composer Rob Howard, who explains how he went about composing music for the world and how he was introduced to Turkish banjo. The interview includes an excerpt from one of the game's character themes.
Read the Interview with Rob Howard
Eschalon: Book 1
Eschalon: Book 1 is a tile-based, turn-based, "old-school" RPG that reportedly requires the good ol' fashioned RPG skills like tactics and resource management to survive, not rabid button-clicking talents. The first part of the planned very indie RPG trilogy now has a release date set for November 19th - twelve days from now. This initial release is only for Windows, however, Basilisk Games has announced a Mac version soon afterwards, and a Q1 2008 release for the Linux version.
Get More Information about Eschalon: Book 1 Here.
This is a small "platform RPG" that is very much a Final Fantasy fan-based project. The equivalent of Fanfic in the indie RPG Realm? Still, it could be worth checking out. Thanks to Terry at rpgdx for the heads-up.
UPDATE: There's a review for Final Vision by Patrick Dugan at Play This Thing. Thanks for the heads-up, Patrick!
Download Final Vision
The Demon Within
Version 1.01 of this small indie action-RPG has just been released, and the author (Carl Karlsson) has begun work on a new expansion for the game.
Check Out The Demon Within Here
As announced yesterday, Frayed Knights is currently leading the MyDreamRPG game-in-a-year competition.... by a nose-hair. It is also staffing up a little more, with James McEwan added as a 3D modeler, and a tentative arrangement with Mike Nielsen for music. The latter will mean that we can finally rip out that stand-in music borrowed from Commodore 64 game remixes.
Got a tip? Got a question? Let's help keep each other posted here!
Interview With Amanda Fitch, Indie RPG and Casual Game Designer
This month, I interviewed Amanda Fitch, the author of the hit indie RPG, Aveyond, and founder / owner of Amaranth Games.
Aveyond (now re-christened "Aveyond I: Rhen's Quest") appeared at the beginning of the year with little fanfare (at least from what I could tell), but found itself popular with both fans of “old-school” console role-playing games of the Super Nintendo era, but also with a brand new audience. In particular, female gamers of all ages have become involved in the story of Rhen, a young farm girl with a mysterious past and a fateful destiny. Because of its success amongst "casual" gamers, this fantasy RPG has managed to occupy top-ten positions for several weeks on major casual portals, something normally reserved for match-three style puzzle games like Bejewelled.
I asked Amanda to share some of her thoughts on indie game design and development, how she got involved in the business, and the two new games that are currently under development. In particular, I got some tidbits about the soon-to-be-released Grimm’s Hatchery, a casual game that may appeal to fans of Aveyond, and the upcoming sequel to Aveyond, entitled Aveyond II: Ean’s Quest.
---== The Past ==---
Rampant Coyote: So how did you end up becoming an indie game developer? And why Role-Playing Games (RPGs)?
Amanda: I wanted to play a game like Kings Quest VI, but I found out that game companies weren't making these sorts of games anymore. I rolled up my sleeves and decided to make the game that I wanted to play. After I finished my first game, Gaea Fallen, I wanted to play an RPG like Final Fantasy VI, but alas, I had the same problem. No one seemed to be making them anymore. So I made Ahriman's Prophecy. Both games were freeware and Ahriman's Prophecy was popular enough for me to consider making games for a living.
Rampant Coyote: Game development is a fairly male-dominated industry. Has that been an issue with you at all as an active member of the indie game development community? Or have you found it advantageous to bring a different perspective or stand out as one of the few female indie game developers? Or does it even matter?
Amanda: The guys have been really cool and very supportive. I do think that I tend to look at games at a different angle than most of them. I look at the story, art, and music first, and then worry about the underbelly of whatever I'm making. I don't care if the ground shakes when my characters jumps up or down; I'm much more interested in their social interactions with each other.
Rampant Coyote: What games have you played that you would consider your biggest influences, if any?
Amanda: Kings Quest and Final Fantasy are my hands-down favorites.
Rampant Coyote: Ahriman's Prophecy was your first role-playing game, to my knowledge. At least the first one you finished and released to the public. In many ways, it sounds like it was practice or a "dry run" for Aveyond. What sort of lessons did Ahriman's Prophecy teach you?
Amanda: I used Ahriman's Prophecy to learn how to present a game to the public and market. I practiced uploading it to sites, and learned a lot about software submission. I also created two versions. The second one was much better than the first.
Rampant Coyote: What did you change in the second version of Ahriman's Prophecy to make it better?
Amanada: I recreated the battle system, all of the menus, and made much better maps.
Rampant Coyote: How much time did it take to complete Ahriman's Prophecy? How about Aveyond?
Amanda: Ahriman's Prophecy took 1 year and Aveyond took 1 1/2 years.
Rampant Coyote: Aveyond was your first commercial game. I'm not privy to your sales numbers, but by most indicators you really hit one out of the park on your first try. Aveyond has not only made it onto several major portals, but has also spent some significant time on their top-ten lists - a place usually held by match-three style games. You have a large number of affiliates, and a healthy community at your site. To what do you attribute your success, and what is it going to take to maintain it?
Amanda: Lots of marketing, a good, long story, and a niche with no competition. I offered something different and it made a splash. Now, I need to figure out how to turn a splash into a tidal wave. :D
Rampant Coyote: Aveyond has been described as a "casual RPG." Was that your intention when you started working on it, or did it just evolve that way?
Amanda: When I started working on it, I didn't know that the indie game market had fragmented into casual and non-casual. Most of the casual games looked cute and light-hearted, so I figured Aveyond would fit right in.
Rampant Coyote: Now that Aveyond has been out for a year or so, what sort of lessons are you taking from it to apply to future games? Is there anything you wish you'd done differently?
Amanda: I wish I had marketed earlier and not made so many changes later on. I was constantly updating the game from January to July and some updates were drastic. In the future, I'm only going to make bug fixes to games that I've already released. If new features are added, they will be part of a goodie pack that players can download from my site. I also didn't have a professional logo for the game until April. I should have done that before the game ever went live.
Rampant Coyote: You've used some pretty high-end toolkits for creating your games - specifically RPG Maker for your two RPGs. Some people get a little funny about that. On the one hand, some people treat it as if it's somehow cheating - that it is both overly constricting and somehow "too easy." Yet there are very few finished games out there using these engines, let alone polished, commercial-quality games of the quality and scope of Aveyond. So what does it really take to create a polished, commercial-quality game using a higher-level engine? If it's much harder than it sounds, is a higher-level engine even useful?
Amanda: I knew that when I released Aveyond that I was stepping into the briar patch. I was very worried about how the development community would feel about my approach. I repeated to myself over and over again that my goal was not to please developers, but to please players.
I also wanted to break the ice and bring attention to Game Creation Systems. I don't think they are The wave of the future, but I think they are A wave in the future. If game creation systems continue to gain popularity, this could be a bit threatening to some developers who like to program everything from the ground up. It would be a bummer to find out that the artist next door made the same match-3 that you did in a fraction of the time with better art, eh?
Actually, there are loads of games that have been completed with Game Creation Systems! The problem is that most of these game makers only show off the games on freeware sites (Game Hippo) or in the communities devoted to the Game Creation Systems. For example, if you go to the Adventure Game Studio site, you will see that there is a huge list of finished games.
Many Game Creation Systems stink, and you will probably never see anything completed with them. The easiest way to find out if a Game Creation System is good is to check out its community. RPG Maker XP, Game Maker, Adventure Game Studio have huge active communities. It's a shame that most of the people who have created amazing games with these systems are afraid to sell what they make or step forward. This is changing, however. In fact, a commercial game was just finished with Adventure Game Studio, and the second indie shareware game is on the way. I also know that indie developers have made shareware games with Game Maker. Too cool!
My guestimate is that 97% of projects never make it to completion with the good Game Creation Systems. This may sound alarming, but it isn't since 97% of all indie game projects fail anyways.
Hey, here's a fun Q&A:
Q. What hugely popular commercial RPG series was build with a 3D game
A. Elder Scrolls!
Q. What is the name of this game creation system?
Q. How much is Gambryo?
A. More than most of use make in two years!
Rampant Coyote: Are there any little secrets in Aveyond that most people never discover that you'd like to share?
Amanda: The cash cow, secret portal stones, and lots of other hidden goodies that players probably won't find unless they go to Amaranth Games and find them in the section called “Goodies.”
---== The Present ==---
Rampant Coyote: So, tell us about your next game! Don't spare the gory details!
Amanda: The next game is called Grimm's Hatchery, and it involves caring, breeding, and selling of magical pets. This isn't an RPG, but the game takes place in Candar, a village in the Aveyond universe. I'm also working on Aveyond II: Ean's Quest, which I seriously think is going to blow Aveyond I: Rhen's Quest away.
Rampant Coyote: With the success of Aveyond, and players hungry for more, why did you decide to make a casual game before moving on to the next RPG of the series?
Amanda: I needed a break from RPGs, I wanted to work on a short 5-month project, and I wanted to draw more casual gamers into my world of Aveyond. The conversion rate for Aveyond is very high, and I think a lot of players haven't played this sort of game because it is completely new to them. I hope that Grimm's Hatchery will help me convert more of these players. I want them to fall in love with the characters in Grimm's Hatchery (a traditional casual game), and feel brave enough to try out Aveyond II so that they can experience their favorite characters again.
Rampant Coyote: Do you think the new game will appeal to fans of Aveyond?
Amanda: Oh yes! It's just a bit lighter than Aveyond. There are lots of quests around the village, so there's quite a bit to do besides raising pets and chasing off monsters. I think Adventure lovers are especially going to love this game. Like King's Quest and Monkey Island, each area has a beautifully rendered 2D background, and you can use your mouse to explore each area in the village, just like you would in your typical adventure game.
Rampant Coyote: When should we expect to be able to play the new game?
Amanda: Grimm's Hatchery will be released to the players on my site around December 15th and to the rest of the world on January 11th. Aveyond II: Ean's Quest will be released next September.
Rampant Coyote: It sounds like the original Aveyond is getting a name change. Sort of like how Raiders of the Lost Ark is now "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark." Do you have plans to re-release it with the name change?
Amanda: Yep, I've already re-released it on my site. I figured that I needed a way for people to distinguish between the two games. This is it for big game changes in the future. :)
Rampant Coyote: I understand Grimm's Hatchery is being made with the Torque Game Builder (TGB). How do you like working with TGB? How does it compare to working with RPG Maker XP?
Amanda: I like it! Both game creation systems have rich scripting systems, and both are great for the type of games they are intended to make.
RPG Maker XP has the best editor for making RPGs period. I've been seriously spoiled by it, and I've not yet found anything that compares. Torque Game Builder is great for the casual game that I'm making (Hatchery). I'm glad that I didn't try to use RPG Maker XP to make Grimm's Hatchery, and I'm crazy glad that I didn't try and use Torque to make Aveyond.
Rampant Coyote: So once Grimm’s Hatchery is released, you will be back to work on Aveyond II: Ean’s Quest. Can you talk about it at all at this point?
Amanda: Sure! Here's a quick overview:
Ean (m) and Iya (f) are two young elves who live in a far away place called the Vale. One day, Ean wakes up to find that Iya, his best friend is mysteriously missing and that no one remembers who she is. Not only that, but a very strange thing has occurred... snow has fallen in the Vale. Ean sets out on a quest to find his missing friend; a quest that will take him away from his beloved home to the mainland below. And on his quest, Ean will find that dear Iya has been swept away by the Snow Queen, and that her heart is slowly turning to ice. Ean must save his friend and Iya must learn to control her wild powers that the Snow Queen desires for herself. The fate of Ean and Iya are the key to defeating the Snow Queen's terrible plot to cover the world in ice.
Rampant Coyote: So how do you approach game design? What goes into a design document for an Amaranth game? Do you involve others in the design process?
Amanda: At this point, I'm the only one in the design process, but when I get suggestions from those I work with, I tend to implement them. To begin, I write the story, then I decide how many quests that the game needs to have, what areas need to be in the game, and then I fill the rest in as if I was writing a novel... layer by layer by layer.
Rampant Coyote: A lot of the older mainstream games, particularly RPGs and adventure games - were the work of very small teams, and were often designed by a single designer. In fact, the name of their designers were in some ways a brand for those games, and a lot of people felt that the tiny design and development team allowed the creators to inject a lot of their own personality into their games. Do you feel that is the case with your own games? Is there anything you could point to - or that has been pointed out to you by friends - that seems to be "signature Amanda Fitch?"
Amanda: Absolutely! I love being devious to my characters in a light-hearted way. For example, in Aveyond, militant squirrels are out to rule the world, and you can join them and follow the Way of the Nut. Of course, no matter what you do for the militant squirrel commander, he will always find a reason to whip you.
Rampant Coyote: What makes a great RPG?
Amanda: For me, a good story, lots of quests, lots of villages, and loot!
Rampant Coyote: What games are you playing right now (if any)?
Amanda: Drats! I've been caught... Er, none at the moment. I've cut myself off from everything until I finish Grimm's Hatchery.
Rampant Coyote: Are there any other indie games out there in the market right now that you are particularly interested in or admire?
Amanda: Cute Knight!
Rampant Coyote: Me too! I’m really hoping her fans will talk her into making a sequel! So, is there anything else you'd like to add?
Amanda: Thank you so much for this interview! If anyone wants to keep up-to-date on the progress of Grimm's Hatchery, my new super-secret Amaranthia Kingdom web project (sssshhh!), or Aveyond II: Ean's Quest, please check out my designer journal, which I update every week: http://www.amaranthia.com/journal
Rampant Coyote: Awesome. Thank you, Amanda, for taking the time out to do this interview. I hope this hasn’t impacted the release date of Grimm’s Hatchery! :)
(Vaguely) related Tales:
· Interview with Scorpia
· Interview with Mike Rubin (Vespers 3D, 3D Interactive Fiction)
· Aveyond 2.0 Released!
· Tales from the Road: Cute Knight
· Pre-Teen Game Designer Poised To Take Over the World
· The Evolution of Computer RPGs
· Torque News
Aveyond Music Pack
I was checking my stats for the last couple of months, and I found that only about 1 in 8 people who download the fantasy RPG Aveyond also download the free music pack that goes with it.
The music pack works just fine with the demo. I promise! :)
Okay, there's an ulterior motive at work, here. The music to Aveyond is pretty high quality - especially the intro music during the opening credits. It's really sweeping and epic-sounding without being overblown or overly dramatic. Quite appropriate for a game that starts with a village farm-girl who is about to get sucked into world-shattering events. In fact, I've heard from some people who said that the opening credits with the soundtrack was what got them hooked on the game from the outset.
Since I know how addictive the game can be, I wish to encourage that all I can. More free music packs getting downloaded could equal more sales or something like that. After all, it's only bandwidth, and this insignificant little website doesn't come close to consuming all it can. And maybe more sales will help pay for that unused bandwidth or something. So if you've downloaded Aveyond but not the music pack, please feel free to do so.
You can download the music pack by clicking on this link.
If you haven't downloaded either, well, I really suck at marketing. But you guys already knew that. But you can check out the Aveyond page by clicking on the link below:
Aveyond: Almost Certainly 2006's Indie RPG of the Year
(Not only because it rocks, but because there were so few indie RPGs that came out this year. And I'm not helping that any! I'm such a slacker!)
Aveyond Sequel Announced!
In an interview with GameZebo, Amanda Fitch announced an upcoming sequel to the best-selling "casual RPG" Aveyond. Tentatively titled "Aveyond 2: Ean's Quest," it will follow a "a cute, casual simulation game that involves pets" which is apparently next in the pipeline.
Aveyond took 1.5 years in development. With the pet-sim game currently in the works, I wouldn't expect to see Aveyond 2 before 2008. But I know I'll be looking forward to it!
Aveyond 2.0 Released!
Just in time for a fun weekend of adventuring: the top-selling indie Roleplaying Game, Aveyond, has a new version.
Amanda sent me the latest built last night, and pretty much killed my productivity for the evening.
A lot has changed - many of the suggestions by players over the last six months have been added to this new version, as well as some bug fixes. Besides improved graphics with tighter art direction, there are new and modified maps, new items, new and expanded quests, in-game hints and tips to help new players get started, and enhanced functionality. One thing I noticed immediately (besides the new title graphics) is that in the lower left-hand corner you are now told what area you are in, and how much gold you have. Both are very handy little tools to have access to.
Unfortunately, the downside is that saved games and the "goodies" from the first version won't work. This is to be expected with all the quest changes. But if you aren't far along in the game yet, it may be worth your while to start a new game with version 2.0.
If you've already purchased the older version, this new one is a free upgrade.
I also HIGHLY recommend downloading the free music pack to go with the game. The higher-quality music just sounds MUCH better.
Interview With Aveyond's Developer
The Indie Game Developer's Podcast has an interview with Amanda Fitch, creator of the awesome indie RPG Aveyond.
Interesting point: She started making an adventure game in college because she wanted to play a particular type of game (the King's Quest style), but nobody else was making those types of games anymore. So she did it herself, and made the type of game that she wanted to play.
That's the way it ought to be. Not that it's any guarantee of success - her first attempt was brutally panned, in spite of it being a free offering to the community. That oughta be a lesson about.... something...
Thanks to GBGames for the heads-up.
The Purple-Haired Women of Rampant Games!
I think it's a conspiracy.
The purple-haired women of Rampant Games conspiracy!
What could it mean?
Aveyond Tops the Charts
Well, not entirely, but while I was distracted by another RPG called Oblivion, Aveyond has been turning into a real indie hit. And it should - it's a great game! Though if you have been following this blog for a while, you already knew that, and already downloaded the demo for ten free hours of play. Well, okay, that last part is optional, but it's worth your time. :)
A lot of old-school gamers really like the "classic" style of the game. What's even more interesting to me, anyway, is that it has really been well received by "casual" audiences... the ones that have been pigeonholed as only liking match-three type games. Turns out this audience may have a been broader taste than some folks believed. Of course, I like to chalk it up to evidence of a theory I suggested a few months ago. I still believe that - casual is an adjective, not a genre. There's a lot more that can be done to appeal to the so-called "casual" gamers than just throwing yet more match-three games at 'em.
I already suggested once that Aveyond was something of a "casual" RPG - at least more casually oriented. And that's proving itself out. Why?
Amanda F., the game's designer, suggested the following on the indiegamer boards:
"Like a lot of casual games, it's very easy to learn and very easy for the
player to start and stop. It has a nice little journal feature that the player
can use to get back into the game if they've been away for sometime. I have a
lot of players who open up the game just so they can wander around and enjoy the
"In my opinion, there is a certain style of game that is popular on casual
game portals. Take a look at the best sellers. You'll notice a lot of them look
friendly and cute. You'll also notice that the cute games are usually on top of
each catagory be it puzzle, action, arcade, etc. Perhaps the market is more
interested in the style, not the type?"
Cute? Maybe. Non-threatening? Definitely. And maybe that's a big key right there.
Look at the covers of most mainstream, 'hardcore' games, and they tend to show off the challenge of the game. I mean, the Void War 'box art' (not that we have a box) is a perfect case in point - two ships locked in mortal combat. They kind of taunt and challenge you to play. Contrast that to the marketing message of most casual games, which seem to try to "invite" you into entering this cute, fun, and relatively safe world.
I dunno - maybe I'm grasping at straws here. But it's late and I'm tired.
But Aveyond really is a lot of fun. Even for someone who's been all jaded with playing Oblivion (which probably cost a hundred thousand times more to make than Aveyond, but I guarantee isn't a hundred thousand times more fun!)
What Makes a Good Casual RPG?
Okay - the term "Casual RPG" is practically an oxymoron. Computer Role-Playing Games are normally pretty intense, hard-core affairs requiring a great deal of commitment, familiarity with the genre (generally sword & sorcery style fantasy), and a head for stats that matches that of a hardcore baseball enthusiast.
But I know Aveyond has had some definite success amongst non-core gamers... particularly women who have never really played Role-Playing Games before. And Cute Knight was also designed to appeal to a first-time audience. So I was curious what they did to meet the demands of a "first-timer" audience.
Cute Knight Casualness
For Cute Knight, there were some comments from Papillon, the game's designer, on the RPGDX.NET forums. Some of her efforts included:
* Trying to avoid giving "too much" information, for fear of intimidating her audience in a sea of stats
* Using more everyday words instead of gamer terms. For example, "Outfit" instead of "Equipment" or "Inventory," and "Skills" instead of "Statistics."
A Casual Gamer's Take on Aveyond
I have a friend, Kelly, who generally only plays "casual" games (Chuzzle is a fairly recent favorite). She became addicted to Aveyond and played it to completion (I still haven't finished it yet!). So I asked her about what she thought, liked, and disliked about the game. Apparently she ALMOST quit on the game early on, but once she got past a level of confusion she thoroughly enjoyed the game and played it constantly for a couple of weeks.
Some of her observations:
* She nearly quit at first because it seemed the game was following a script that didn't give her any options. I find this particularly interesting because common wisdom has it that new players are confused and intimidated by having too many options. At least in Kelly's case, that became a frustrating factor --- maybe because she felt she didn't have a copy of the script and didn't know her lines (or exactly what she was required to do next).
* She got annoyed killing the easier critters over and over again. If the fight would be trivial, the monsters shouldn't attack.
* Lack of mouse controls was frustrating at first, because she's very used to using a mouse in games.
* One frustration factor was "Wishing that my character would figure things out as soon as I do."
* Forgetting where she put her boat, and forgetting the details of certain quests was a frustration factor.
* She LOVED having lots and lots of choices as the game progressed.
* She also loved seeing all the different relationships between the characters play out.
* She enjoyed having the variety of experiences and ways she could interact with the world - like buying her own ship, buying a manor, getting PETS for the manor, flying around on a dragon, and getting optional characters to join her party (particularly a vampire).
* It didn't seem to challenging (which would be frustrating) or too easy (which would be boring),
The most interesting thing to me is that in general, her likes and dislikes match that of the hard-core gamers, too! We love having lots of options, but we hate getting confused about what we're supposed to do next. We (usually) like seeing the personal lives of our characters play out. We love having a variety of activities and ways of interacting with the world - even the useless, silly ones. And of course we like the challenge to be "just right".
Is A Pattern Emerging?
I don't know how successful the efforts were to make Cute Knight more accessible by beginners, but rumors have it that the game has sold fairly well. So I think the simplifications paid off.
And it sounds to me that there's not THAT big of a gulf between the hardcore and the casual with respect to what we enjoy and don't enjoy in RPGs. Our likes and dislikes are fairly universal.
Sounds like these principles could be wrapped into some kind of "Red-Line Analysis" for an indie RPG... "At what point did I get `lost' and unsure of what to do next?" "Were there any moments that made a particular NPC seem more 'real' to me?"
Fun stuff to ponder. Now if only there were more indie RPGs being made and finished!
Low Commitment Games
This weekend was busy, but I did manage to get some actual game PLAYING in. After the whirlwind action of starting a new job, and preparing for the demo for Apocalypse Cow for the Utah Indie Game Developers' Meet, I didn't find much time over the last two weeks to actually enjoy playing a game.
But this weekend I managed to get in some quality Guitar Hero time (I nailed 5 stars for Bark At The Moon on Medium, which felt like an accomplishment!). One of the things that makes Guitar Hero awesome among Playstation games is that it's possible to plug it in, play, make progress, and save your game with only ten minutes to play. Now, once I'm going and playing, I usually put in a full half hour or more. But I find that I've got many games I just haven't bothered to try and play for months because I realize it requires a half-hour commitment JUST to get to a save point. But the seductive nature of Guitar Hero is that you can rip out a song or two, MAYBE improve over your previous best performance, and call it done --- though once you do that, you tend to go for "Just One More Song." But the lack of commitment gets me to play it.
Consequently, I'm going to be snagging Guitar Hero II the day it hits the shelves. I can't say the same for the sequels of some of these other games I've never finished because getting to the save points was too painful.
I also played a bit of RPG, Aveyond, for much the same reason. The game has no restrictions (so far as I have seen) to when you can save except for combat. It's easy to jump in and play because you only want a five or ten minute distraction in hopes of pulping a few monsters for gold and experience points. Then I get sucked in by the story, or find a new area, and the next thing I know I've lost a half an hour or an hour to this little roleplaying game. It seems it is very popular among non-hardcore gamers (for some of whom this is their first RPG)... It's another "Low Commitment Game."
It's not just the ease of saving the game that makes these games "low commitment" - it's the fact that if you play, you are only going to "improve" your game. If I were to jump into a saved game of Civilization, for instance, and might not have time to devote the attention to it that I should, there's a good chance I'll find my next saved game a worse situation than the previous. But in an RPG - or a game built around short sessions like Guitar Hero or Dance, Dance, Revolution - there's a high likelihood that I'll profit and improve my game in a measurable way even with a very short time commitment. So the reward is pretty constant even for "uncommitted" play.
This may be all old-news to Casual Game players and developers, but for me it's kind of an interesting observation of my own motivations and behaviors.
While I've been spending a lot of time WRITING games the last couple of weeks, I confess I've also been playing a few too. No, I still don't have Oblivion. I'm saving that one for a new computer that I'll be getting "soon." But I've been playing a couple of indie roleplaying games that I have really enjoyed.
The first is, of course, Cute Knight, but I've told you about that one before.
The other one that has been hurting my productivity is Amanda Fae's excellent "Aveyond." This game is in the style of the classic 16-bit console RPGs. It's a story-heavy title with over 50 hours of gameplay. It's HUGE. No, I haven't finished it yet. But I'm really enjoying the game. And no, it may not be Chrono Trigger, but it's got a story and style all its own. This is important! I've seen a few "demos" (so few of these indie RPGs ever get finished!) of these kinds of games that really seemed to be nothing more than "fanboy" imitations of past favorites. Aveyond goes beyond that, building on the style and structure of the genre to create something different. It's still very much a console fantasy RPG, with the usual monster-killing and dark secrets and characters with angsty backgrounds. But it tells a story that is at once familiar and new.
Aveyond is a game I wish I had made. The graphics are good. The story sucks you in, with an immediate mystery that gets revealed only slowly. The characters are - well, cute, as they always have been in console-style RPGs, but that's not a bad thing. The game is *meaty* with lots of quests, hidden areas, places to explore, problems to solve, and people to talk to. It boasts over 50 hours of gameplay, and I've nothing that I have seen has given me reason to doubt that value. It's BIG, Jack!
And as I mentioned above, the other thing Aveyond has in spades is PERSONALITY. I don't really know Amanda other than some exchanged emails, but I imagine that if I did I'd see a lot of her personality in the game. That's one of the very cool things about indie games, created by very small teams. Without the dillution of so many people involved in the design, development, and decision-making, the people working on the game have a chance to let their own style and individuality shine through.
Aveyond is a very impressive indie offering. I recommend at least trying out the demo - it clocks in at TEN HOURS of free game play. You can check it out at: