GameBanshee points out that the above video features a glimpse of the game’s protagonist making use of a magical wand of some sort, and so links to a forum post offering some information about how Risen 2 will handle magic.
Voodoo will, evidently, be the main magical school in the game, and there will be no mage class to speak of.
Voodoo magic in the game is governed by the attribute “Black Magic” and consists of these elements:
You can make real Voodoo dolls of your enemies. You will need something of them (like hair) and some other ingredients (herbs, animal teeth, etc.) which you can either collect yourself or buy from the local Voodoo dealer. The dolls are made at an altar and allow you to control the people they represent. This is used at certain, pre-defined points in the game as an alternative solution for problems. There are also curse-dolls which weaken someone. But like all Voodoo magic, it does not deal direct damage. Dolls disappear after they have been used.
Sceptres work similar to wands in D&D games like NWN. They have a specific function that can make your life easier. They can be used multiple times but like the dirty tricks, they have a cooldown period. Sceptres also do not directly damage an opponent but provide support for certain situations (causing fear, help with stealing, freezing time etc.).
This is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Apparently, this was mentioned in “GameStar TV” (a video stream for subscribers/payers of the German magazine GameStar). They discovered this in the character screen as a skill. But it was not available to them and they did not know what it would do. I am not even entirely certain it is really a part of Voodoo but it seems plausible, of course.
It’s an interesting way of handling things, I suppose, and more consistent with the pirate/Caribbean vibe that Piranha Bytes are going for with the game. The lack of a formal offensive magic-using character is an interesting choice for a them to make in an RPG, but it probably works better with the game’s lore.
Mr. Pankratz is evidently the project director for Risen 2, and the interview confirms that the magic system in the game is very different from that of Risen (among other things):
Hooked Gamers: One of the major drawbacks of Risen was its awkward combat system (not a strength of the Gothic games either). The automated target selection felt like it was in the way more often than not, often causing you to attack different enemies than intended. How does combat work in Dark Waters, has this been improved?
Bjorn Pankratz: The combat system has been totally reworked for Risen 2. As we have added muskets and pistols and completely changed the magic system, combat will be very different. For example, muskets are two-handed ranged weapons, and pistols can be used left-handed while wielding a cutlass in your right hand.
Also, a nod to classic RPG fans. Or is it a nod? Perhaps it’s a cautionary note:
Hooked Gamers: An oft-heard comment on Risen was that it was a very old fashioned RPG, which was not necessarily a complaint. Still, we’re sure many fans are eager to learn what advancements Dark Waters will bring. What would you say is the biggest innovation you have made?
Bjorn Pankratz: There are a lot of new elements in Risen 2, but as our fans are used to a rather classic fantasy setting, the biggest innovation is probably the fact that this is a pirate RPG. In this connection, firearms and voodoo are another change, as are the many cutscenes we added to support our storyline.
Really, though, the pirate thing should have been obvious by now.
I’ll leave it as an exercise to the readers to guess what that rating might be, based on the following:
As players explore tropical environments, they use pistols and swords to engage in melee-style combat with pirates and wild creatures (e.g., monkeys, sea monsters). Battles are highlighted by sword-clanging sounds, slow-motion effects, cries of pain, and brief splashes of blood. Players also have the ability to attack pedestrians, leaving them unconscious. During the course of the game, alcoholic beverages (e.g., rum, grog, bloody marys) can be purchased and consumed to improve players’ health; one sequence allows players to engage in a drinking contest with another character, resulting in blurred screen effects and slurred speech (e.g., “Wass good drinkin’. Now iss time for some shootin’.”). The words “f**k,” “sh*t,” and “c*ck” can be heard in the dialogue.
The Treasure Isle add-on will evidently be released for free to anyone who pre-orders the game, and can be acquired by everyone else for $10. As you might expect given the name, it involves a side quest to recover a hidden trove of treasure, and which will feature the reappearance of a particular plot item from Risen.
Well, Noah “Spoony” Antwiler has posted his review of Ultima 8: Pagan. And well…he doesn’t like it. Though at least Master of Orion 3 still ranks worse in his mind:
Unplayable? I passed it.
To be fair, he actually does raise a valid point about the game’s packaging and themes. Pagan was controversial in my house too because of that damn box art, although my parents didn’t really follow in-game content that closely. But let’s face it: Ultima 8 does make you do some rather unvirtuous things.
Anyhow, this one wasn’t as laugh-inducing as some of his other stuff has been, so…enjoy it for what it’s worth (there are a couple decent laughs), but also take it with a grain of salt. He utterly lambastes the game, far more than it deserves.
Fearyourself has posted a pair of updates to the Back to Roots website detailing the progress he has made over the last week or so with his Ultima-inspired game engine.
In the first post, he talks about his progress on triggers, as well as another feature he has begun implementing:
Before I go to the main point of the entry, I?ve added in the handling of fountains (before I just had the rendering of them), now you can go drink from them and either get healed, cured, poisonned, or wounded.
I?ve been working on finishing the dungeons for U5 and have been working on the fact that daemons can summon other daemons. Now, if you remember the original game, this required a type of fade in of the new daemons and I implemented something that would look like that.
Of course, the original trigger mechanism is automatic and you don?t see a fade in, I?ve put one in now just to show how it works. I think it probably looks better than just automatically applying the trigger information.
Naturally, he released a video — two, in fact — showing his progress off:
Searching a dungeon!
In his most recent update, Fearyourself also noted that he had fixed a bug allowing corpses to be picked up, in addition to implementing entry into the Underworld and the requirement to know the correct Word of Power to enter a dungeon with.
And of course, there’s a video showing all that off:
Words of Power!
As usual, Fearyourself continues to make excellent progress on Back to Roots, and it sounds like he will have all of Ultima 5 supported in it very soon!
Sergorn Dragon likes giving me more work to do, it seems. Because really, a site such as this should put at least a bit of attention on games that are, either in whole or in part, clones of — or heavily inspired by — entries in the Ultima series. And while I certainly like the idea of occasionally making mention of all sorts of games like that…I am rather maxed-out as far as my ability to track and follow games is already.
Now, since you’re probably all wondering what the heck I’m on about, allow me to explain. This all stems from a question that Sergorn Dragon posed on Twitter yesterday. First, he asked:
So Internet, tell me: what games whether old or new, classics or unknown, full fledged, indie or shareware would count as #Ultima clones ?
And then he answered his own question, tossing out several possible suggestions. Along the way, his thinking morphed from looking at games which were straight-up Ultimaclones, and turned into an analysis of games that had taken inspiration from the series:
The Magic Candle series is an one of of the most obvious one of course, you can’t get more classic Ultima than that!
For my own contribution to the discussion, I told Sergorn I’d look up various iOS games (eliciting a “GAH!” from him in response) that might count as Ultima-inspired. Now, short of buying Akalabeth for iOS, there’s not really an exact match for Ultima to be found in the iOS app ecosystem. At least, I have failed to notice any such thing.
Still…I’ve come up with a few titles that are worthy of mention:
Amusingly, the developer also makes a sex games app. This title could work for either app.
I also tripped across this Ultima Online “soundboard” app during my search, which claims to feature all the classic songs from UO. It’s free, and was listed as compatible with my Nook Tablet, so I’ll try it out and let you all know whether it’s worth a look.
Finally, and here again I have to apologize to someone, I’d like to mention Dark Disciples 2, by the oddly-named Dodgysoft. But, as a certain Mr. Steffen Hagen told me some months ago, when first he brought the game to my attention:
Dark Disciples II…is a tile-based RPG with some pretty extensive dialogues, [which] certainly has been inspired by Ultima. It looks quite a bit nicer than Ultima V, though…and it has an easy-to-use editor to boot. Just as NWN 2 wins because of all the premade objects, DD2 has a wide range of complex events predefined. So for those who’d like to create something on a smaller scale than Lazarus this would be definitely worth a visit…uh, and apart from that, it’s also a nice game in its own right.
I think this is a dungeon...
So, yes…Dark Disciples 2. Mr. Hagen, my apologies for my tardiness in getting mention of that one onto the site. I have created a project entry for the game and its prequel, since the editing toolkit may in fact be of some interest to Ultima fans contemplating doing a project with an “old school” look and feel.
Anyhow: There’s a pretty exhaustive list of games, Dragons and Dragonettes, which either are or at least seem to be clones of and/or inspired by one Ultima game or another. If there are any others you can think of which you feel merit mention, please do sound off in the comments with your thoughts.
Bonus question: Which, if any, of these Ultima-inspired/Ultima-clone games do you think Aiera should either include amongst its listed projects and/or track news for?
Produced by: Dodgysoft Website:Dodgysoft Releases:
* coming soon…
The Dark Disciples series is a two-entry RPG series that prides itself on a comprehensive dialogue system, which arguably takes Ultima as its inspiration.
Dark Disciples features an unknown number of levels and areas to explore, and also ships with a rudimentary editor which can be used to create more such areas. The editor is evidently rather finnicky, however. The games also focus less on intricate, energetic combat, and more on the presentation of many non-combat puzzles to solve and interesting locations to explore.
Dark Disciples 2 boasts 130 levels and areas in its default installation, and also comes with a much more stable and versatile editor, which can be used to create new quests, levels, and suchlike. Indeed, the level editor can now be used to develop an entirely standalone campaign for the game!
Gameplay is non-linear and exploration of the game’s world is encouraged. A skill system comprising eleven skills is included, and the game boasts an enhanced monster AI and the addition of missile weapons, something its prequel lacked.
Also included in the level editor, apparently, are a number of pre-built events, some of which are apparently quite complex in nature. Thus, Dark Disciples 2 could probably be used to craft a quite decent homage to Ultima in a reasonable amount of time, and on a manageable scale.
Our friends at Good Old Games have added another classic Looking Glass Studios title to their battery of games: Thief. It’s the “Gold” edition of the game, which includes numerous bug fixes and three additional levels and the game’s DromEd editor.
In THIEF GOLD, you have a wide range of equipment at your disposal: a blackjack, a sword, lockpicks, holy water, explosive mines, flash bombs, and seven types of arrows to assist you on 12 treacherous missions in a steampunk-medieval metropolis called the City. The game’s FPS mechanics are a big change from then-traditional DOOMlike “shoot and run” to the unthinkable “it’s quite amazing how much fun it can be to avoid action”. The game received much critical acclaim…with reviews ranging from “immersive gaming experience”, through “bloody good”, to the quite expected “my favorite game of all time”.
To say nothing of the fact that, as far as I’m aware, no game has yet topped the excellent stealth mechanics that Thief offers.
In keeping with a pattern I kicked off last week, and because in addition to most things Ultima I do try and put some focus on other RPG series, I’ve decided that each Monday from here on will feature a post which aggregates any news about BioWare, their various sub-studios, and their various RPG titles and series. That will include interesting details about their most recently launched title, Star Wars: The Old Republic, as well as any other titles they have either published or have in the works. Like, you know, Mass Effect 3.
Where’s the interest for Ultima fans? Mostly in the kinds of stories that BioWare crafts. BioWare titles aren’t open world epics, and don’t typically feature heavily interactive worlds. In fact, BioWare worlds tend to be fairly static things. What BioWare does well, however, is tell stories, especially ones which place moral choices of varying weights on the shoulders of players. This is something, as has been noted both recently and in the distant past, for which Origin Systems can take no small amount of credit, thanks to various entries in the Ultima series (Ultima 4 most notably).
Oh, and it’s BioWare, ultimately, that currently controls the Ultima franchise. That too.
Someone on the BioWare Social forums posted some details from German gaming magazine GameStar and a preview of Mass Effect 3 that they did. Take note, Ultima fans, because from the sound of it, Mass Effect 3 is going to add a very welcome-sounding tactical element:
(1) On Mars, Shepard will be looking for a Prothean secret weapon which may be useful against the Reapers. Casey Hudson is quoted with saying that this doesn’t mean the story is about THE McGuffin what will win the war, but more about “searching the whole galaxy for pieces of useful knowledge and war assets”.
(3) War assets can be all kinds of things from fleets to single people. Their contribution will of course be of drastically different sizes.
(4) If you enter Reaper-controlled territory, there’s a chance the Reapers will try to hunt you down and you must do something to avoid them. That’s referred to as a minigame.
Also, I like the sound of this:
(11) There will be no “Reapers win” scenario, based on the reasoning that such an ending is unsatisfying for players and would lead to re-loading a saved game anyway. There will, however, be endings where whole species become extinct and many worlds are destroyed, including Earth.
Vega is evidently one of the new squadmates introduced in the game. Freddie Prinze Jr., whom some of you may only recognize as the husband of Sarah Michelle Gellar, was also the actor who portrayed Christopher Blair in the Wing Commander movie.
I hereby predict that the comments will now become a debate about the merits (or lack thereof) of said movie, rather than a discussion about anything to do with BioWare.
If you happen to purchase one of the limited edition Mass Effect 3 figures that will be launching soon (April or May), you’ll evidently receive a code that will unlock something extra in the game’s multiplayer mode.
The randomised codes “could include powerful new weapons and new characters,” according to a post on the Bioware store, or they could contain “character boosters, weapon modifications, and weapon upgrades to make your multi-player squad stronger.”
The four figures can be pre-ordered ahead of shipment in April/May for $75 on the Bioware site. The Big Bad Toy Store has eight figures listed available for $17.99 each including Shepard, Tali, Thane, Garrus, Legion, Miranda, Mordin and Grunt. If you have $650 knocking about, there’s also a full size replica of a Mass Effect assault rifle…
BioWare has pushed out the v1.05 patch for those who are playing Dragon Age: Origins on OS X. Notable fixes include corrected DLC authentication, graphics performance on DirectX 10 video cards, and…a fix for the installer that corrects where the game key is stored in the Windows registry?
Well, I guess if one was playing the game in Boot Camp…
Deckard, missing in action since early November of last year, put up a post explaining that he is not, in fact, dead and gone, nor is his site. Though he does appear to be struggling to keep the site up and running a little bit, and laments the lack of assistance he’s getting from the community.
This is a sculpt of the Avatar from the Ultima video game series. The statue is about 12″ tall with a 4″ base and was sculpted out of apoxy sculpt clay. This remains my favorite game series and I tried to capture some of the Ultima universe in my sculpt. I would love to hear some feedback, especially from my fellow Ultima fans. I want to sell some reproductions if enough people are interested. Please let me know what you think and if you would like to purchase a statue. Reproductions would be done in white resin or cold cast bronze. Thank You.
Well, Ultima fans…he wants feedback, so please offer him your feedback! The statue is, as I said above, marvelously detailed, and given the presence of the Blackrock Sword is meant to be a representation of the Avatar at about the time of Ultima 7. The Ankh and Silver Serpent feature prominently on different pieces of his armour, which I must admit reminds me slightly more of Ultima 8 than Ultima 7, but still works very well in the composition.
Xar Dragon has quite a lot of talent as a sculptor, if I do say so myself!
As noted, in the description above, he’s also looking to sell reproductions, so if you’d be interested in one of those, I’d suggest leaving a comment directly on the piece’s deviantART page. Feel free to offer up your general thoughts on the work either there or here, however.
Note: In asking about whether people would want reproductions, he is also looking for fans to suggest what they feel would be a fair price for a statue of this size and detail. I’ve talked with him about his material and production costs a bit, and from that I’m of the opinion that the per-statue price should be at least $60, if not in the $75 range. Because after all, we wouldn’t just by paying for the materials that make up the statue; we’d also be paying Xar Dragon for his time and investment of his (considerable!) talent in his love of Ultima.
Stephen Emond has kindly released a sample of the contents of his recently published book, Ultima: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide. In keeping with the release history of the Ultima series itself, he has chosen to allow the Ultima 4 section of his document to be released in full, for free:
This section gives a very good idea of just how comprehensive the guide is, as it steps through over forty different release versions of Ultima 4 across numerous platforms, examining in detail both the unique items that were included with each, as well as the subtle variations in things like maps and manuals that existed between versions and systems.
You can download the fifty (50)-page document above, or read through it and download it at the gallery page I’ve created for it. Many thanks to Mr. Emond for releasing this sample, and for all the hard work he has put into cataloguing all the many different in-box items that came with each release and re-release of Ultima 4.
And don’t forget: you can pick up copies of Ultima: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide at Createspace or Amazon.
A new post on the Bioshock Infinite blog describes the new mode. “With every choice you make, there are irreversible implications,” the post says. “If your choices guide you down a path not suited to your play style, you will suffer for it.”
Bioshock’s distant cousin, System Shock 2 was released in 1999, and the new difficulty mode promises strict resource limits that may prove familiar to long-time Shock fans. Combat specialisation will be an important factor, too. Irrational say that “you’ll need to develop them efficiently and effectively throughout the story; any weapon will be useless to you unless you have that specialization.”
The post also says that your health will be “set to an entirely different baseline.” Unlike some hardcore modes, your progress won’t be wiped on death, however. Ken Levine says “there are game saves, and you’re gonna f***cking need them.”
Who needs SOPA and PIPA? It would seem that extant laws are quite suited to taking file-sharing websites offline as is!
I’m of two minds about the takedown, personally. One one hand, MegaUpload was a visually offensive monstrosity that I never quite felt save grabbing files from, no matter how convenient it was that the service was there. On the other hand, I’m not exactly a huge piracy fan, am I…and I am well aware that there was lots of pirated material being hosted through the site. There was also lots of legitimate material, and I’m not trying to say that the takedown was the right thing to do…but neither am I saying that the authorities involved lacked for a case according to extant laws.
I…okay, here, I have no words. As an amateur photographer, I recognized Kodak as an icon of the photography industry (although, as a digital photographer shooting on a Canon system, I haven’t actually had a use for Kodak products since the last millenium).
Gamasutra looks at results from a recent “player motivation factors” survey conducted by Relentless Software and Vertical Slice. For those of you wondering what Richard Garriott is probably thinking about on a fairly constant basis in regard to his upcoming “Ultimate RPG”, this is a decent article to read through.
Eleven new publishers and some number of non-EA games have been added to Electronic Arts’ digital distribution service.
My question is: can I import keys for non-EA games available through Origin from other digital distribution services? I only ask because every EA game I purchased through Impulse could be added to my Origin account simply by providing the game’s registration key. It would be cool if I could do that with any non-EA games I own which Origin has for sale.
And yes, I know that’s a tall damn statement, but let me explain.
You see, with Apple’s newly-launched iBooks Author application, you have two choices as an author looking to distribute your new work that you’ve just completed with it. You can distribute it through any other digital bookselling service beside’s Apple’s…but you can only do so by offering the work for free. If you want to charge for your work, you have to use Apple’s iBooks storefront…exclusively. You can’t later start selling your work through another service, once it’s hit the iBookstore.
Ars Technica smells a possible antitrust suit. I’m inclined to agree.
Okay, 1UP wasn’t dumb enough to actually assert that the nasal-voiced Rastafarian Gungan was the element — the necessary change-up, the dramatic shift — that kept the Star Wars series from sliding into obscurity and the dustbin of history.
But they did just publish an article arguing that Diablo saved CRPGs. Which is basically saying the same thing, only in a way that doesn’t sound so obviously stupid.
Tomorrow, they’ll be publishing another feature expounding on the reasons why Star Trek: Nemesis saved the sci-fi franchise Gene Roddenberry created. Okay, not really…but it’d be fitting if they did. You know, in keeping with the “stupid” theme they have going now.
One of the very few choices we have left in this world is the ability to put a picture of family, friends or favourite frags on our desktop backgrounds, but even that facsimile of free will is being withdrawn. According to an interview over at our sister site TechRadar, customisation of Windows 8′s new Metro interface will be limited to decisions about the solid colour background.
The reason given is that a photograph wouldn’t scale and slide as the icons shift beneath your fingertips — although as the owner of an Android tablet I’m pretty happy with the way Google’s got around this issue. Android simply makes the desktop smaller than the image, so that it moves in the background as you scroll.
Thanks to iOS, though, desktop customisation is going out of fashion fast and it’s not surprising that Metro introduces more limits. Even Linux is becoming more proscriptive by the day.
It’s worth noting that iOS still allows you to use a bloody background image!
This is a conundrum: I am actually a really big fan of the Metro UI concept, but it’s still nice to have customization options available in case I feel like messing around. I’m big on workspace personalization, and that applies as much to my virtual workspaces as my actual one.
In keeping with a pattern I’ve tried to kick off this week, and because in addition to most things Ultima I do try and put some focus on other RPG series, I’ve decided that each Friday from here on will feature a post which aggregates any news about Obsidian Entertainment and their various RPG series, the most recent of which (apart from Fallout: New Vegas DLC) is Dungeon Siege 3, and the next of which will be a South Park RPG.
Where?s the interest for Ultima fans? Mostly in the kinds of worlds that Bethesda crafts. Obsidian titles aren’t necessarily open world epics, don’t necessarily feature weighty moral quandries, and don’t always tell hugely compelling stories…but they are almost always distinctive, inventive, and just a little bit different than the RPG mainstream. And there is, I submit, a very Origin Systems-like spirit at work there.
Here’s one of the more interesting questions they put to him:
What are your thoughts on the PC-console “rift”? Are you a “PC gamer” or a “console gamer”? How do the differences between the platforms affect the design process if at all?
I am both. It affects the design process mostly in terms of controls (each has a limited number of controls per platform) and memory management (memory and lag on a console needs to be carefully monitored to prevent the game content from slowing down the game).
What is your favorite video game (not a game you’ve worked on)? Why?
There’s a bunch. If I had two it would be (1) Wasteland for the unique character building system and the world design, and (2) System Shock 2 literally for almost everything — skill trees, enemy design and pacing, mood, and level design.
Of the games you have worked on, which one are you the most proud of, and why?
Planescape: Torment because it moved beyond traditional narratives and was able to include philosophy and new perspectives on existing RPG themes and cliches.
If you were to ask me why I say that Obsidian is able to offer something just a little bit off the RPG mainstream, I’d point you in the direction of Chris Avellone.
Chris Avellone took some questions (and offered some answers) about the game in a post on his blog.
In many RPGs, including the Fallout games you’ve worked on and the tabletop games that are Planescape: Torment’s genesis, the design seems oriented towards giving the player a “blank slate” to play as. But PS: T has the player inhabit a fairly developed character. Why did the team choose The Nameless One as the main character?
So it was a juggling act — how do you give a player as much freedom to create a character while knowing you don’t have the art resources to create a lot of customization for that character? We purposely chose a single template and then used the narrative of amnesia and the curse to explain the role-playing range the character could have (each time you wake up, your personality has a chance to shape itself in new directions based on the player’s experience) and also changed the “armor/costume accumulation” in most RPGs to gathering tattoos and other items that wouldn’t drastically change the character model. Note that many of the companions had similar limitations, accounting for their largely static appearance throughout the game.
Note that if I’d had the resources, we would have had a much larger range of character customization options. It wasn’t our desire to limit it to a single character look, and while it did work, at the same time, it didn’t give you as much freedom as we would have liked.
It’s an interesting point he raises, detailing how budget limitations and the inability to create a wide range of character model-related assets shaped the nature of character development in the game. Not that it isn’t nice to have several hundred different pieces of armour in a game that can be combined to create a nearly infinite number of “looks” for a character…but it isn’t always necessary. And I would even argue that in some ways, the wide range of customization options is used as a stand-in for genuine character development and relatability.
Motherboard has a lengthy interview with Ultima creator and private astronaut Richard Garriott, which bears the amusing title “Life’s a Game and Then You Die on Mars”. As has been the case with most interviews Garriott has given over the last little while, this one focuses both on Lord British’s journey into space and his career as a game developer. What’s different is that much of the space-related portion of this interview focuses on Garriott’s passion to see humans reach the surface of Mars one day.
He’d even volunteer to go himself and help settle the place! And failing that, he has a couple of backup plans:
It may or may not be able to occur within my adventuring lifetime, but if it were, I’d be one of the first people headed over to Mars. I’d take a one-way trip to Mars to help settle a new planet.
That being said, there’s still plenty of opportunities left on Earth. I’m going back to the Titanic this summer for the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking. I hope to — I’ve been trying to get it for a few years now and haven’t made much progress — but another big terrestrial adventure I’ve been trying to put together is visiting disappearing indigenous populations of the Earth.
There’s really very few truly remote and isolated civilizations, but there are some. Before they’re all completely absorbed, I have a strong interest in seeing some truly non-Westernized cultures and really understanding some of the differences of cultural identity and belief and organization has evolved in the earliest forms of humanity.
The article gets into great detail about a variety of science & technology issues that Garriott is passionate about, such as the X Prize, and also touches on Lord British’s concerns with how scientific research is funded and encouraged in America. I’ll leave it to all of you to read the section for yourselves — it’s quite interesting, and I wouldn’t do it justice with an excerpt — but I will say that the point he raises that I find most intersting is that there needs to be a quicker, more direct path between scientific discoveries and a market/private usage application thereof.
Random factoid I was unaware of:
Some cosmonauts lost their lives during those landings.
But that was 35 years ago, very, very early on in the program. The Soyuz is actually now considered a hundred to a thousand times safer then the Shuttle.
Naturally, the interview shifts gears toward the end, and puts some focus on Garriott’s history as a game developer and what he has planned next in that space. Interestingly — though I suppose not surprisingly — Lord British has not played the most recent game that has been favourably compared to the Ultima series: Bethesda Softworks’ Skyrim.
What have you been doing on the gaming front since your departure from NCSoft in 2008?
We’re working on a variety of names already. Either Akalabeth or Lord British’s Ultimate Role Playing Game, just to do a tie back to the past. I have a game in production now that will set the stage for a ten-times-larger audience, aiming to do what we did before with MMORPGs, bringing ten times more people into role playing games.
Have you played some of the hot new RPGs, like Minecraft or Skyrim?
Love Minecraft. Haven’t played Skyrim, but from what I know it?s also phenomal. What I love about Minecraft is that it’s an open ended sand box that I enjoy making and playing personally. Skyrim has absolutely first class production valeus, but the company seems devoted to a depth of storytelling that I am, so I’m a big fan of both of those.
Anyhow, Dragons and Dragonettes, do read the whole thing; it’s a brilliant interview, easily the best one Garriott has given in recent months (and he has given many in that time!).
That is, in essence, the core of Rowan Kaiser’s thesis in his latest article at Joystiq, as part of a new series focusing on “‘Western’ role-playing games: their stories, their histories, their mechanics, their insanity, and their inanity”.
Hey there. Whatcha playing? No, actually, don’t tell me. You’re playing Ultima. You don’t know you’re playing Ultima, but you are. If you’re playing an open-world game, you’re dealing with Ultima. If you’re playing a massively-multiplayer game, you’re dealing with Ultima. If you’re playing a game with a morality system, Ultima. Even something as simple as three-dimensional graphics — either in perspective or overall representation — have ties to Ultima.
The article has elicited much praise on Twitter, and incited no small amount of controversy in the comments threads at Joystiq. Be that as it may: Kaiser is essentially correct to argue that Ultima is a foundation on which much of gaming in general — Western and Japanese alike, and then beyond just the RPG genre — has been built.
Here’s just one example Kaiser gives, concerning open-world gaming (it also concerns Ultima 6, so naturally I would choose to cite it!):
From the beginning, the Ultima games took place in worlds which were as big as possible given the tech constraints. You traveled across swamps, oceans, and hills, discovering what the world had to offer. The world was rarely “gated”, letting exploration proceed in a non-linear fashion. What’s more, the developments of open-world gameplay throughout the course of the series presaged the open-world games to come.
Ultima VI (1990) may be the most important open-world game of all time. Previous games in the series had switched perspective based on your context — dungeons were first-person, combat was top-down, and exploration on the world map had a completely different scale than exploration of towns. In Ultima VI, perspective was consistent. Your party walked into a town in the same way that it walks through a dungeon. It was a seamless, consistent world, that felt lived-in, and that open-world games from Grand Theft Auto to Skyrim owe a huge debt to.
Kaiser’s essay seems almost too brief by half, although it covers most of the major points in favour of his argument. Ultima 4 and its impact on both RPG gaming in general (for breaking the hack-and-slash mold of its predecessors) and morality as a system in gaming gets a mention, as does Ultima 7, which Kaiser praises for its purely mouse-driven interface and almost-fully-interactible world.
If there’s one thing the piece lacks, it’s a discussion of Ultima 9 and how the 3D engine and open world from that game offer players certain elements that have all but vanished from modern RPGs. Building interiors on the same map as exteriors is a good example here; even something like Skyrim, for all the power its engine offers, doesn’t have this feature. And then there’s one of my personal favourite “little details” in Ultima 9: objects in chests and other containers were 3D as well.
When you opened a chest, you didn’t get an inventory pop-up; you saw the objects sitting in the chest, and could pick them up and drag them to your backpack. Yes, in your backpack, they were represented by 2D icons, but when you dragged those icons back out of your backpack, the item again became a 3D object, which you could then toss into the world. The same was true of loot drops from enemies, although gold coins couldn’t actually be discarded again once you collected them.
We haven’t seen something like that in any 3D RPG that I can think of which has been published since Ultima 9; most games opt to just show you inventory screens (or similar). The use of 3D objects to fill 3D containers in Ultima 9 was a very logical evolution of the experimentation Origin did with container capacity in Ultima 7‘s gump-driven interface, but it is something which has largely been abandoned by RPG developers since that time.
That aside, there is much to be found in modern RPGs that was pioneered by Origin Systems in Ultima 9, including things like its inventory interface and its “behind the player” camera angle.
Anyhow:Do read the whole thing, Dragons and Dragonettes, and chime in with your thoughts on the piece either here or at Joystiq proper.
Deus Ex is without a doubt one of the best, most influential games in history. PC Gamer and PC Zone both have named it the best PC game of all time. It has received countless numbers of “Best”, “Greatest” and “Top” game awards. The story of JC Denton is a perfect fusion of RPG, FPS, and adventure. The world of Deus Ex is immense, the storyline is ambitious and layered, and the freedom of choice guarantees high replayability.
Ancient conspiracies, secret agendas, political intrigues, twisted plots, nanotech-augmentations, difficult moral choices, twenty-four weapons, intense action, deep character customization – it’s all here and it truly combines into a cohesive whole. The depth of the in-game experience and interaction will engage you on a level unparalleled by any other game.
It’s the Game of the Year Edition, the same as can be found on other digital distribution services, and it is rather competitively priced at $9.99. It should include the latest game updates as a result, as well as an editing toolkit, the soundtrack, and a newspaper clipping (scanned, of course) describing recent events in the world the game is set in. If it doesn’t include at least these elements, Dragons and Dragonettes, complain loudly.
Don’t look now, Dragons and Dragonettes, but Stephen Emond’s epic tome, Ultima: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide, has gone on sale. Amazon has knocked 22% off the book’s price, bringing it down to $39.20.
Actually, wait, check that. Do look now, and pick up a copy while you’re at it!
In keeping with a pattern I’ve tried to kick off this week, and because in addition to most things Ultima I do try and put some focus on other RPG series, I’ve decided that each Thursday from here on will feature a post which aggregates any news about Bethesda Softworks and their excellent RPG series The Elder Scrolls, the latest entry of which is the fifth, entitled Skyrim. (As though anyone needed me to tell them that!)
Where’s the interest for Ultima fans? Mostly in the kinds of worlds that Bethesda crafts. Beginning with the third game in the series (Morrowind) and especially in Skyrim, Bethesda has made real strides not only in creating and presenting players with massive open worlds that are often quite fun to explore, but in populating those worlds with dynamic characters and situations.
Their current game, Skyrim, has soared to new heights in this regard, with its Radiant AI imparting to the game’s world a real sense of presence, of being alive, that has been sorely lacking in most Western RPGs since the days of Ultima. And, of course, it features a massive, gorgeously detailed open world to explore.
PC Gamer offers you a guide to help find them, in the form of a video.
The article also includes some basic pointers on how to modify Skyrim’s configuration files and use its console commands to perform various functions which may be of use to any aspiring Skyrim filmmakers.
IGN attempts to answer the question. Here’s one thought they have:
Removing the arbitrary good/evil meter so many other games employ is a step in the right direction, but there’s nothing taking its place. Instead, in order to let you meander about as an RPG Main Character at leisure, Skyrim opts to be a static, consequence-free world that revolves around you. And so, every being with vocal chords won’t let you take two steps without jumping at the chance to spew some canned catchphrase in your direction.
This sort of thing works in, say, Modern Warfare, where meticulously linear scripting rules the day, but in Skyrim’s wide-open reaches? Not so much. And that’s just the beginning.
I’ve heard that there are a few quests in the game which you can’t pass in any way that does not involve committing some form of evil action, which has understandably upset some players. I would count that as a failure on Bethesda’s part, as well.
As should be obvious to frequent visitors of the site, I’m rather stoked about the upcoming RPG from Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. And why shouldn’t I be? It’s an open-world RPG headed up by Ken Rolston (of Oblivion fame), with a dazzling artistic look provided by Todd McFarlane, a deep backstory provided by R.A. Salvatore, and gameplay design by none other than Ian Frazier, whom most of us know as Tiberius Moongazer from the Ultima V: Lazarus project.
There is, in other words, a ton of potential, and a very real possibility that this game will deliver some of that good old RPG feeling we’ve all been missing.
In keeping with something I set in motion yesterday, then, I have decided that each Wednesday from here on will feature a post which aggregates any news about Big Huge Games and/or 38 Studios and the Reckoning series.
A lot of the discussion seems to focus on the size of the game’s world, which those of us who played the game’s demo only got the slightest taste of because of the time restriction that came into effect after completing the opening quest.
IF: It’s big. Really, really big. And perhaps more importantly, it’s incredibly dense — there’s nowhere you can go in the Faelands (the part of Amalur focused on in Reckoning) where you won’t find a ton of different peopleto talk to, quests to do and things to discover.
Beyond that, something we’re really proud of is the sheer amount of visual variety in the world — we’ve got five exterior regions that each have their own very different biome and mood, from dank swamps to arid deserts to the strange crystalline landscape of Alabastra, so you get a lot more variety than is the norm for open-world games.
360: How big is the open world, both in terms of mileage and number of dungeons?
IF: I couldn’t tell you the exact square footage of the overworld map (that’s a hard number to nail down due to how our playable space is technically constructed), but I can tell you that it takes over half an hour to sprint at full [speed] across the map, even if you somehow avoid all combat.
As for dungeons, there are around 130 of them in the game, and each one is hand-crafted (we never reuse dungeon layouts).
So just how does a Major League pitcher wind up at the helm of an RPG development studio?
As a professional baseball player, “I had a glut of disposable income, and I traveled and was alone a lot,” he said. “I was perfectly suited to be a hardcore gamer and if you look at the sports world today, I think there are more gamers than not, now, in professional sports by a large margin.”
Schilling said he was using a computer and helped design software to help him become a better pitcher when most players and teams were using videotape. Of course, the computer also doubled as his gaming rig during his days off.
Using his connections, Schilling was able to bring in author R.A. Salvatore to write the story, designer Todd McFarlane to do the art and animation, and Ken Rolston, the lead designer of “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” and “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” to act as the executive designer. This all-star line-up formed the backbone for the work on “Reckoning.”
“I had no interest of getting into the industry to build games,” Schilling said. “This has never been about me. We’re not making Curt Schilling’s game. This is not a vanity project, and it never has been.”
“Every bit of my focus was getting in the industry to help an intellectual property change the way people get entertained and be the best in the world at it. If you’re not going to try and win it all, I really don’t feel like playing.”
Schilling was, apparently, a rather big fan of World of Warcraft, and the initial vision of 38 Studios was the creation of an MMORPG. That project is still underway, evidently, under the code-name “Copernicus”…and Big Huge Games’ Reckoning will serve both as the means of establishing the land and lore in which “Copernicus” will be set, and also as a means of attracting an initial fanbase.
You know, in addition to injecting some fresh vigor into the fantasy RPG genre.
The Reckoning website is featuring two “Visionary Newsletters” (not to be confused with the Amazon videos). I’m going to violate good blogging manners for a bit here and quote both newsletters in full. Here’s the first, from R.A. Salvatore:
World-building is, mostly, an exercise in philosophy and logic. Every culture has creation and destruction myths; building a world means exploring these and, perhaps, determining if one of them might actually be true. In any case, these myths, or religions, are often shaped by the environment, both political and physical, and they, in turn help shape cultures. Mark Twain once noted that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes. If you study history, you see the truth of that. Cultures follow a pattern, human needs demand certain systems, and there is a beautiful symmetry to be found in putting one culture beside another.
So take our own human history viewed through an honest prism. Now turn that prism just a bit to the side — for example, pretend that one of the more primitive creation-destruction myths is actually true (consider the 2012 Mayan craze currently hitting pop culture). In this skewed vision, add in elements to fit the new “truth” of history, the way Dan Brown did in “The DaVinci Code,” (and many others did before him) and you’ll find yourself amazed at how well those elements “fit” into the question of what really happened versus what we know from textbooks.
This is the secret of world-building, whether you’re recreating or reinterpreting our world history, or creating an entirely new entity. And a second secret: it’s a blast. I mean that. You are, in effect, concocting a gigantic conspiracy theory, and admit it or not, people love conspiracy theories.
This is the essence of Amalur. My team put in place the creation-destruction myth of the world and the logical, historical construct that supports the world in its game-state, whether with Reckoning in the Age of Arcana, or the MMO, Copernicus, 2,500 years later. This was my role and my stamp on Amalur overall, and it will reflect in all of its products, or at least, it had better!
My role in the specific endeavors of Amalur varies. I’ve been very involved in the MMO, of course, having spent almost four years in the office with the teams and advising on everything from narrative (world history and meta-story) to content (individual quests and zones that reinforce the larger world), to the art style and even the class and mechanics’ teams. All of it, every system and discipline, goes to support the meta, the larger world of Amalur, with its history and development.
We ask questions like, “If you can throw a lightning bolt, would you invent a gun?” or “If you can teleport, or facilitate swift travel to distant points, would you go through the laborious process of creating a highway system or airplanes?” You might go to a certain point — riding horses and plowing fields — perhaps, but the cost and time and slog from there to air travel? Would it be worth it? Similarly, I’m always asking, all the time, “How does it fit?” An idea might be cool, very cool, but how does it fit with the history, logic and philosophy of Amalur? If we can’t come up with suitable answers, the cool idea gets put off to the side for another day and another project.
The advent of Big Huge Games as a part of 38 Studios brought dramatic changes, fears and trepidations, honestly. All of a sudden, our carefully controlled hiring and team-building and micro-management of the IP got hit with the addition of nearly a hundred new workers, most of whom none of us knew, and with an RPG engine in development over which none of us at 38 Studios had any input. As we sat down to discuss the acquisition and the role BHG would play in the IP of Amalur, there was more than a bit of skepticism, and I have to admit, most of it was coming from me. This was my baby and Curt went out and adopted a sibling!
But the more I got to know the folks in Baltimore, the more realized these were great people in a creative environment and with pride and joy in what they were building. Still, when we came to realize that Amalur, which we had been working on for several years, would make its public debut through a single-player RPG from the newly-acquired Baltimore studio rather than through the MMO we were building in New England (near my home), I was, of course, terrified. Honestly, it didn’t initially help that the “visionary” of the Baltimore studio was certifiably insane — lovable, but insane. I didn’t know Ken Rolston, though I certainly knew his work, all the way back to paper game days. I also understood that he brought enough well-earned cachet to fight me, if that had been his choice.
All of those fears went away about an hour after I met the guy. I spent the first 50 minutes trying to figure out just how crazy he was, then finally realized that I was confusing “crazy” with an incredible love of life, a curiosity beyond anything I had ever witnessed and a level of honesty that was truly refreshing. Ken Rolston lacks pretense. He puts it out there with complete honesty. He is who he is, unabashedly. I’ve come to love the guy, and respect his intellect and creativity and most of all, his curiosity. It wasn’t enough for him to simply look at the IP we had created and pull out facts from it. No, no, he had to dig deeper and seek out the mysteries built behind the events, logic and philosophy of our timeline.
So now BHG had our timeline and the primer on Amalur. They went out and concocted a meta-story for their game, and pulled from our timeline a space and time that best supported that story. Then they came to Massachusetts with their concoction, and I and that team I had helped form at 38 Studios went over it and began asking the questions and offering the suggestions the same way we had done with our own internal fights and collaborations during the primary building of the IP. It wasn’t all happy roses, of course. Creative people like to argue, and become wedded to their ideas as passionately as a bulldog holds fast to a bone. But we got through it, and the end result was a sum greater than the individual parts each of us were bringing to the table.
Since then, my role with Reckoning has been more in the role of mentor and editor, from afar. One of my favorite days since the beginning of 38 Studios was when the entire narrative team from BHG, including Ken, flew up to Massachusetts to sit down around a table and present their side quest lines to me. This epitomized what has been the true joy for me as the old hand on the project: being able to work with wonderfully creative younger writers and artists and help guide them, and pull from them their very best efforts.
This is what an editor does. I don’t rewrite their stories, I force them to justify what they’re doing, force them to ask the questions at the second level, the third level, and so on, so that when they dig their heels in, they can say, without any doubt, why and how what they’re doing is important to the world of Amalur, why it fits and why it enhances. That day around the table, I sat and listened to each presenter (and I love that some of them were clearly nervous — I felt like a professor ready to pass judgment). Then I hit him with a barrage of questions, forcing him to justify how what he was doing fit the world. After that, when each young writer had fought back with passion, we got into the collective questioning, taking what had been presented and offering a different perspective on how those quest storylines might be tightened or expanded or otherwise improved.
And in the end, as always with 38 Studios, it became the province of the individual creator to make the final calls on how his quest line would play out, because in the end, this is truly a team project, and truly shines when you hire talented people and let them be talented. The last thing I or Todd McFarlane or Ken Rolston or Curt Schilling wants to do is stifle the creative input of the team. Our stamps are on this world, but so are the stamps of everyone involved in the creation of Amalur, at both studios. This works because we all bought in. We all came to know early on that we were doing something special here, and now we can’t wait to prove it.
Now I can righteously smite evil… and have boatloads of fun doing it!
What a delicious discovery! I’m in a heroic tale? And I get to CHOOSE what I do next?
That was the thrill of my first role-playing game experience, long before I was a game designer. Long before computer games. Long before professionally published RPG game rules. Back when I played from typewritten, mimeographed, stapled amateur rules. When the Earth had just barely cooled.
At that point, I was just telling my gamemaster what I wanted to do next. And he took care of all the details. We had big dungeon maps on graph paper, but we never had figures or tactical maps or anything like that.
Those were more innocent times. Unlike those who came to role-playing from a wargaming and miniatures gaming past, it didn’t occur to us to have tactical movement rules or a tabletop display. In later years, I came to love tabletop battles, with all their pageantry and glorious hand-painted miniatures.
What I did NOT love, not even a little bit, was the glacial pace of combat, and the endless squabbling and rules-lawyering involved with tactical movement, first in miniatures wargames, and later in paper-and-pencil role-playing tabletop battles.
Then, when computer RPGs appeared, I was so grateful to have the computer handle all the complex rules of initiative and movement, it never occurred to me how slow and limited my combat movement options were. It was SOOOO much better than tabletop rules.
And, as time passed, and we graduated from turn-based RPGs to real-time movement, and then to more immersive third-person and first-person movement, I was so grateful to be freed from the bonds of turn-based combat that it never occurred to me to ask for more.
Like Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon, I had grown to love my familiar chains.
Because I am older than dirt, I never played console games. I owned personal computers from the earliest days, from the Apple ][ and its successors through the early Macs. But those were for WORK... not for games. I wrote my paper-and-pencil games with word processors and graphics programs on personal computers, but I never played games on them.
And later, when my moral fiber had frayed sufficiently to allow me to play computer games, I was perfectly happy with mouse and keyboard. It didn't occur to me to try console games. Because those were clearly for kids... not for adults like me.
It was only late in life, after I was working on The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, that I stooped to play my first console games. Because I HAD to. I was MAKING a console game, see, so I had to understand them. Unlike most of my colleagues then, I was completely ignorant of consoles and console controllers.
And even once I had learned to play console games, I strongly preferred the PC platform to consoles. Because... who would be stupid enough to play a shooter with a controller? That's just silly. Everyone knows a mouse and keyboard is better for shooters.
So, like most role-playing gamers, I came by my ignorance honestly. Because my expectations were shaped, first by the slow, awkward, limiting pace of tabletop role-playing, and later by the faster, but still relatively slow and awkward... and physically and tactically limiting interface of the mouse and keyboard... I was perfectly happy with computer and console role-playing games.
At the same time, however, I was studying the philosophical notions of what a great computer game might be, and from people like Chris Crawford, I was developing a notion that the ideal computer game would have you make the largest number of significant decisions per unit time. And for most decisions in role-playing games, you don't want to change your mind very often per unit time. Now and then you'll change weapons, and now and then you'll expend a rare resource like a scroll or potion, but most important decisions in a role-playing game happen over long periods of time... like what class you'll play, and how you'll develop your character, or what narrative choices you'll make.
The one exception I could think of was tactical movement. I always wanted to change where I was moving relative to my enemies and relative to the positive and negative possibilities of the current combat space. I was always trying to be in the rear or flank of my enemy... because those systemic advantages made so much intuitive sense to me. I always wanted to have my back to a wall or a companion. I always wanted to fire missiles and spells from high ground or behind obstacles that put multiple enemy attackers at a disadvantage. Again, those ideas made so much sense to me.
In turn-based computer games, I could make a lot of those decisions... but not in real time. And battles took a looong time to resolve, and, more importantly, they were in a not-at-all tactile, or visceral, or immersive, interface.
To the computer role-playing game audience, it may seem obvious that I should have been looking all along to action games for inspiration. But obvious as that seems, it overlooks the massive design and technical challenges involved in adapting action game systems, mechanics, conventions, and presentation to the complex and familiar world of heroic fantasy role-playing gaming.
I can't explain the design and technical challenges to you. They are beyond my comprehension. As a narrative designer, I have only modest skills as a system designer. And I am profoundly ignorant of the gameplay of action games, much less the systems, mechanics, conventions, and presentation of action role-playing games.
That is why it is a Good Thing that Big Huge Games has assembled such a stellar team of system, combat, and animation developers. And why it has been such a delight for me... the realization of a role-playing gamer's fantasy that I was too timid and conventional to have imagined... to play Reckoning's combat.
The first time I could play Reckoning's combat, even in its early, limited form, I could tell how amazing it was... how much better than I could imagine. I could dodge and roll and dash for handy corners, keep my enemy off-balance and moving to re-target me. And everything happened so fast. It took me a while to adjust. I've never enjoyed console action games, so it was a steep learning curve.
That first experience with an early build was the answer to all my role-playing tactical movement dreams. But it didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the other RPG combat delights that Reckoning had in store for me.
Because I am a child of the tabletop RPG and PC RPG generation, it would never have occurred to me to teleport through an enemy. That's just not an experience that translates well to a tabletop or turn-based game. And that we would poison an enemy each time we teleported through them? Or that we could zip back-and-forth through one enemy, or through a whole room full of enemies... that just never would have occurred to me.
And magical Frisbees? That's just silly. But that's just what our chakrams are. Chakrams are my favorite Reckoning weapons. In D&D, the most imaginative mage-based ranged physical weapon attack we could imagine was thrown darts, or slings. But now we throw these amazing magical things in super-complicated boomerang arches, slicing and dicing opponents, shocking, frying, and freezing them. It is not only extra effective as a weapon... it looks totally awesome.
It's been a long journey from my first tabletop RPG to Reckoning. Most of the time I've been so happy bashing evil things with a hammer that I forgot to look forward. And even when I felt like I wanted something better, it was hard to see what shape that "better" would take.
And even knowing what I wanted better wouldn't have been much help... except finally, with Reckoning, I was lucky enough to work with the Big Huge team of system designers, combat designers, and animators, who were kind enough to create something delightful and stick it in my hands.
Yes, many years ago that first role-playing game was certainly a thrill, but nothing to compare with the thrill of having the Reckoning controller in my hands with a working build for the first time. I'll never forget, even for a moment, what a charmed life I've led, simply to have my hard-working, tragically clever companions at Big Huge making my dreams come true. I can only hope that you get the same thrill when you have the Reckoning controller in your hands.
Presumably, we'll be hearing from other key people on the project in due time. For now...well...Salvatore is right: Rolston just puts it all out there, unfiltered, doesn't he?
In an interview with Eurogamer, Ian Frazier discusses the bugs that some people evidently encountered in the course of the recent Reckoning demo:
"There's a lot of tension about the demo, which we didn't build in-house," Frazier told Eurogamer. "It was branched off our code about three months ago. It got a lot of bug fixing. We sent them what we had, but there are a lot of bug fixes they didn't get. So we're all nervous, like, the demo's really buggy.
"But all the time the demo was worked on is time we spent de-bugging the main game. It should be clear from the reviews the main game is in way better shape. That's been a source of nervousness."
"I'm not going to say the game's bug free - no game is. But it's pretty darn solid. Final code will show it's way better across all three platforms than the demo build. The demo didn't see the advantages of the last home stretch of bug fixing, which is a little bit painful."
"Don't get me wrong - they did a good job with little support from us. I'm not trying to poo-poo those guys by any means. But in order to get it to fit to be a reasonable size download that would actually meet Microsoft and Sony's requirements, they had to cut everything that wasn't needed for the demo, like extra art and audio assets, and they cut a little much. They cut some audio that actually is in the demo. So if you talk to something and that clip's not there, you'll just see the words flicker across the screen."
Well...that's good to know! Though in all honesty, I didn't notice anything I'd call a bug in the game, apart from a handful of graphical oddments that I just chalked up to my mid-grade ATI Radeon card being, well, mid-grade. I also didn't notice the audio cutting out...but then, I think I mentioned in my review of it that I was playing while the kids were sleeping and my wife was working, and so was keeping the volume rather on the low side anyhow.
GameBanshee offers up what I think is their own take on the promise of Reckoning:
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is based on an original fantasy world created by veteran author R.A. Salvatore, whose work in the Dungeons & Dragons franchise has been reflected in a number of other games, such as Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. Being a brand-new game world, however, Amalur instead opts for a tinge of Irish mythology rather than the traditional fantasy tropes. References to Fae (non-mortal “fairy” races), the Tuatha (in Amalur’s case, a race of demonic Fae waging war on the mortal realm), and other concepts out of folklore help to give Reckoning an original background. While it never feels particularly alien, it’s always nice to play an RPG with a slightly different source of inspiration, even if it comes from the father of so much D&D canon.
At the center of Reckoning is the notion of Fate — that all beings have predetermined lives and outcomes. A warrior-monk order, the Fateweavers, exist to read the threads of Fate and advise the inhabitants of the world in how to deal with their lives best. As the player character, you change all that. Resurrected from total death by a Gnomish experiment, the Well of Souls, you awaken in the midst of a Tuatha attack, escape from their grasp, and shortly learn from a Fateweaver that unlike every other mortal, you have no Fate whatsoever — and more, that you are able to bend the threads of fate to your will.
While it’s impossible to go into more details based on the sampling of gameplay we tried out, Reckoning holds a lot of promise both in its interesting folklore-tinged game world, and in its story setup, which to a degree recalls Planescape: Torment. Though the game doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, there’s still more here to latch onto than most other action-RPGs, and we’re eager to see where things go in the full game. There is a lot that can be done with this kind of setup, and it’d be nice to see Reckoning play it boldly rather than safely.
Do read the whole thing (if, that is, the GameBanshee site loads properly for you).
It starts off mostly as a “first impressions” look at the game, but the second installment gets a bit more into the nitty gritty details. Their impressions of the game’s rampantly fun combat mechanics echo my own:
Reckoning’s superb combat mechanics keep me happy, however, leaving mild asides like the one mentioned in the previous paragraph in the periphery of my mind. Reckoning feels almost arcadey in its combat, something that seems totally out of place in a game like this, and yet something that remains utterly refreshing. Many other like-minded RPGs feel outright clunky and archaic compared to Reckoning, and I truly believe that combat may very well be this game’s strongest aspect.
Indeed, I’ve begun to realize the importance of strategy as I wage battle. The beginning of the game lulls you into a false sense of security, and Reckoning begins to feel like a button-masher. But it isn’t. When you start encountering enemies that are more difficult, more intelligent and more aggressive than ones very early in the game, you’ll start to understand the utmost importance of using your shield and the parry button.
It really is hard to pin down an analog to Reckoning’s excellent combat system. On the one hand, it’s very action-packed, almost explosively so, and full of visual flair. Outwardly, it looks like glitzy, flashy, fluffy console-oriented combat. But it isn’t, somehow. And you realize that the first time a new enemy knocks you on your flat on your ass — repeatedly! — after you try and use the attack style that worked against the last three foes you encountered.
GameFront managed to get just a bit of the designer’s time. Here’s just a taste, something which may address — or exacerbate — a perennial concern amongst Aiera readers who, like me, eschew console gaming:
GF: Obviously, Skyrim is the RPG on everyone’s mind right now. One of our readers’ biggest complaints about Skyrim was that the PC version was an obvious port. How is 38 Studios structuring the PC version to avoid the issue, and will there be PC exclusive content? Also, how does Reckoning differ from Skyrim; what makes it unique?
KR: Hmm. Personally, I was perfectly happy with the Skyrim PC experience. But remember… I LOVED Morrowind and Oblivion… and loved seeing them on consoles. In fact, I feel they were too slow to embrace the potential delights of the console interface.
Am I the enemy? Do you hate me?
That would be bitter… because I was always a hardcore PC gamer, and had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from the PC towards the Xbox for Morrowind. I credit Todd Howard with the Genuine Visionary Lunacy to inspire that transition, and I am ashamed that Tood often had to drag me along behind him, on his Pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
Now I love the consoles. And though I admit to playing almost exclusively on PCs, even today, I am more and more plugging in console controllers for action games [except shooters] wherever I can.
Reckoning doesn’thave PC-exclusive content. Reckoning was developed simultaneously on each of its three delivery platforms [PC, Xbox 360, and PS3], and designed, and aggressively user-experience- tested and revised, for all three platforms. Big Huge Games has always been crazy passionate about user experience, and I share that passion.
Here’s one example of an awesome platform design detail. When playing on the PC, the game senses immediately when you move from a controller to the keyboard, and vice-versa. That is, you seamlessly and effortlessly slide back and forth between the two interfaces. The PC keyboard is better at handling text, of course, and the utility bar is easy to use in that interface, but I like the tactile feel of the controller for combat. So far, I’m really liking the hybrid experience, and wondering why it never occurred to us before.
I’m told that some people found Reckoning easier to play with a controller than with keyboard and mouse. Lacking a controller for my PC (and lacking one of the consoles the game will also be released on), I can’t speak to that, but as I noted in my review of the demo, I didn’t find the controls particularly strange. Big Huge Games did something a little different with WASD, but it’s a change that works really well in combat…and it doesn’t take that long to get used to when exploring.
But don’t take my word for it; I seemingly don’t notice control issues like this. It was the same with Dungeon Siege 3, the PC version of which was lambasted for having control issues related to it having also been designed for consoles. Personally? I failed to notice, at all…and in fact rather quite like how DS3 controls. So too, Reckoning.
Crowley has been busy and finished a few custom shapes such as the Yew staff. The Yew staff can be equipped and used in combat as a normal staff. He’s finished a few different colours of the Yew staff also that will correspond to what type of spell the staff will be charged with.
Sythifuge has been working on a Hydra shape and a grave shape to contribute to the mod.
AgentOrangeGuy has been working on a few usecode things, finished the Spider cave, Moonglow crypts except the last level, and will be working on a few side quests. Mandrake and his mishaps with the stones of virtue…
ZygonDragon has been cleaning up the mountains and forests around Britain. Still quiet a bit of map work to go but we’re getting closer to an official release.
He also posted some wonderful before and after screenshots from the original Ultima VI and their new version using Exult. Check them out! There’s a lot of great work going into this project, and everything seems to be progressing rapidly.
I personally can’t wait to get my hands on their first release! I wonder what kind of new quests they have planned, and how Ultima fans feel about changes to the original Ultima VI? I personally feel, if done well, it could add a lot of life and fun to the game.