Expeditions: Conquistador [Review]

This month I was busy playing Expeditions: Conquistador, a strategy RPG set in the 16th century where you play as (of course) a Spanish conquistador plundering the New World.

It’s a truly intriguing RPG with an interesting setting and choices with consequences that actually matter. I loved it and I’d highly recommend any hard core RPG nuts to pick this one up ASAP.

Check out my full review at SteamFirst.

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Dead State [Review]

I have mixed feelings about Kickstarter RPGs. Sometimes, as was the case with Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns, crowd funded development is a great way to get old-school inspired games into a market where they normally wouldn’t do very well. If Kickstarter didn’t exist, I would never have been able to experience such gems.

Other times, it doesn’t go so well. What begins as a fantastic idea simply runs out of steam. A fairly lackluster Early Access release follows, and then a buggy, half finished shell of an RPG finally limps its way onto the shelves. After months — sometimes years — of hype, some Kickstarter games end up as disappointments.

While Dead State doesn’t exactly fall into either of these camps, it definitely doesn’t live up to its hype. I enjoyed playing it, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was so much untapped potential — and that is a disappointment. It’s a decent enough old-school style RPG that should interest anyone who loves either George Romero or the old Fallout games, but it doesn’t do either of these inspirations justice.

At its coreafaeffbcc5e2c49efe8a4e50ca93694a_large, Dead State is nothing more or less than a turn based isometric RPG similar to the classics of the late 90s. The best way to summarise it in a sentence would be “Fallout 1 & 2 with zombies.” It hits all the notes of a classical style RPG. You begin by creating a character, spending a meager pool of EXP on attributes and skills. A short tutorial walks you though the basic controls and familiarises you with the combat system. You arrive at a hub, pick up some introductory party members and engage in some dialogue tree based characterisation. After all this, the meat of the game begins – you are placed in charge of the day to day running of a shelter during the first weeks of the zombie apocalypse and — in true Fallout fashion — you spend most of the game simply exploring a huge open map, unlocking new locations and getting bits and pieces of story along the way.

Dead State‘s non-linearity is addicting, in a way. There is no “main quest” or critical path to follow. The only goal in the game is to survive and make sure your shelter has enough supplies and power to keep running. You’re free to go wherever you like and do whatever you like, as long as you get back home before 3 am. In the first half of the game, the exploration is fantastic. Zombies are a real threat and there’s a constant sense of urgency and desperation as you try to scavenge whatever you can just to live another day. Occasionally, a conflict or crisis will arise back home and, as leader of the shelter, it’s up to you to mediate and keep the peace, which provides a much needed break from the looting and combat aspects of the game.

maxresdefaultUnfortunately, it all falls apart in the second half of the game, where any feeling of danger completely disappears . Your character becomes so powerful that he’s able to cap out 5 of the game’s 8 skills about halfway through. You find armor so powerful that zombie bites and enemy bullets deal no damage at all. You stockpile enough food, medicine and fuel that you can comfortably sit inside your shelter for weeks on end — not ever stepping foot outside — and still have manage to keep everyone happy. At this point, the only incentive to keep playing the game is the characterisation; even though there’s no more shelter upgrades to build and no thrill left in the exploration, waiting for the next big drama among your allies is still quite fun. It’s sad that the game basically devolves into endlessly skipping forward to the next day just to see these scenes, however.

Ultimately, there’s quite a lot to do in Dead State, but none of it is terribly well designed. There are 70+ unique locations to explore, but you’ll have found all of them by the half way point in the storyline. There’s a complex backstory to uncover with 150 pieces of data to find and decrypt, but in the end it’s a fairly standard Romero-esque zombie apocalypse tale. There are more than 50 characters to find and recruit, but very few of them have a memorable personality and it’s hard to get emotionally connected to them. There’s a robust character progression system, but since you’ll have mastered everything by the end your choices are mostly meaningless. The whole game is full of things that could have been better if they were more fleshed out, but unfortunately they never were.

Dead State could have been the RPG that every zombie fan has been waiting for. Instead, it’s a momentary distraction, something to play in between two much better games.

What a shame.

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Heroes of Legionwood Devblog # 5: Beta Testing/Release Dates

Greetings once again, adventurers. It’s been a pretty big week so far for Heroes of Legionwood. As of this Monday, Act 1 began pre-release beta testing and – save for some last minute bug fixes and additional polish – is basically done. I’ve also been overhauling the Dark Gaia Studios website to add Heroes of Legionwood info to it.

With that said, there is one main thing I’d like to announce in this update: the release date for Act 1 has been set, and the game will be available for digital download from June 1st, 2015. It will cost $6.99 (the $1 price increase is, unfortunately, in response to recently introduced laws in Australia mandating a tax on digital products) and will be available through my website, Steam, Desura and the usual RPG Maker portals. Overall, Act 1 contains 10+ hours of gameplay, so it’s still a worthy purchase.

Since the release date has been decided and is drawing ever closer, I’m currently also in the process of finalising a playable demo for everyone to try out before the full game hits the shelves. It’ll likely cover the first hour or so of the game and give you a good look at the game mechanics and dialogue features. I’m not sure when the demo will be available, but keep an eye out for it within the next two weeks.

Happy adventuring!

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Heroes of Legionwood Devblog #4: Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences (or, as some hardcore RPG gamers refer to it, “C&C”) – the ability for a game to change in response to a player’s decisions. It’s something that’s bandied about quite a lot among players of Western RPGs, and something that AAA studios such as Bioware, Obsidian or Bethesda tout as a core philosophy of RPG design.

Bioware's Mass Effect series is full of C&C.

Bioware’s Mass Effect series is full of C&C.

It’s a concept that has been in the forefront of my mind during the development of Heroes of Legionwood, and one of my main goals — at least in regards to introducing cRPG elements into the Legionwood formula — is to make the player feel as if their choices really count. I previously experimented with this concept in Mythos: The Beginning (and Legionwood 2 to a lesser extent, where your choices culminated in the ending you received) and I’ve since come to realise that meaningful choices are, logically, the core of a good role playing game; a game world that actually reacts to your character – reacts to the role you’re playing.

Here’s an example of one choice in Heroes of Legionwood from late in Act 1:

The party needs a Dynastland Gem to divine the location of a plot mcguffin. You have two potential ways to get one – you can plunder the nearby ruins for one, or you can steal one from the local tyrant’s collection. There are several basic differences between the two options. Raiding the tyrant’s house is the “easy” option, resulting in an easier boss fight and a handful of powerful Runecrafts. Plundering the ruins is the “hard” option, containing less valuable treasures, a much more complex dungeon to go through and a more difficult boss.

It sounds pretty simple, but – unknown to the player – there are actually consequences to this decision. Taking the “easy” route seems to be the obvious option, but it turns out the tyrant the party is stealing from is actually a powerful associate of a group out to destroy the party – this choice ultimately results in drawing the ire of the tyrant’s allies, which will create complications later on in Act 2 when visiting the home-city of the group. Meanwhile, the “harder” option yields less immediate rewards, but prevents the player from making an enemy who will try to foil them throughout the rest of the game.

As if that’s not all, the player’s party is essentially torn by this decision – half of them would prefer to steal the gem, while the other half consider the ruins a “safer” option. No matter which choice you make as the player, you risk alienating your companions, potentially ruining a useful alliance or shutting off a romance. The seemingly simple decision of where to procure a gem ends up having consequences that may significantly affect the course of the game.

There are a few such decisions to make throughout Heroes of Legionwood, with the general idea that, while it’s impossible for a lone developer to make something on par with Mass Effect, there are enough meaningful “big” decisions that different players will experience the game’s events in significantly different ways.

How do you feel about Choices and Consequences?

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Heroes of Legionwood Devblog #3: Episodic Content

So… with Heroes of Legionwood progressing at a nice rate, and release day drawing ever nearer, it’s time to explain something that has been on many people’s minds.

You should have noticed by now that the game’s official title is Heroes of Legionwood: Act 1. It’s been pretty clear from the start that Heroes of Legionwood is an episodic game, but a lot of people have asked me to clarify what, exactly, that means.

Am I asking you guys to pay for an incomplete game? Well, yes… and no. Heroes of Legionwood: Act 1 is the first installment in a three part saga. It’s incomplete in the sense that — in a similar vein to Telltale’s The Walking Dead — you won’t get to see the entire story unless you take a character through all three episodes. Despite that, however, my plan is that each episode of Heroes of Legionwood will be able to stand on their own as complete adventures. For $5.99, you’re getting a sizable 5-6 hour long mini-RPG, with multiple quest paths and an ending that (while not resolving the main conflict) gives you a sense of closure.

HoLRobotThe idea is that you’re free to buy any or all of the three games in the saga and still be able to feel that you’ve purchased a complete game. You’ll be free to start in Act 1 and take your character through all three episodes, experiencing the story from beginning to end, or you can choose to start off in Act 2 with a new character, or just choose not to play any of the future episodes at all. Decisions you make in earlier episodes will carry over into subsequent ones, but if you never played the earlier episodes, you’ll still be able to choose from pre-set (or randomly chosen) histories for your character.

There are at least two other commercial RPG Maker games (that I know of) that use this model: Aldorlea’s Millennium and Amaranth’s Aveyond 3, which are split into six and four episodes, respectively. Furthermore, you can buy each and any of the installments of these games and each one is capable of standing on its own. In this sense, Heroes of Legionwood isn’t doing anything new and unheard of. The best part of doing an episodic game is that the development cycle isn’t nearly as long as it would have been, which is the main reason why I’ve decided to release Heroes of Legionwood in this way – considering that the first two Legionwood games took nearly 3 years each to complete, releasing the entire game at once just wouldn’t be viable business-wise. It’s much better to release three smaller games every few months instead.

So, that’s about it, really. Now you know how Heroes of Legionwood‘s episodic release is structured and how the three episodes interact with each other. My hope is that this will allow me to bring more Legionwood to you guys sooner and that it will give me the time and freedom to flesh out each part of the game much more than I would have otherwise had a chance to.

Keep an eye out for Heroes of Legionwood: Act 1‘s release details very soon.

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Heroes of Legionwood Devblog #2: Dialogue and Role Playing

In my last development update, I outlined some of the ways in which I’m bringing Western RPG elements into Heroes of Legionwood. One of the most important of these elements — and one that seems to be the most contentious among some fans — is the addition of a proper “dialogue system” to the game, and the ability to actually define the protagonist’s personality, something which was (for the most part) absent in the previous two Legionwood games.

I thought I might elaborate on Heroes of Legionwood‘s dialogue system today. Here’s an image of a “dialogue tree” in action:

The above is a typical example of a conversation in Heroes of Legionwood. You don’t get a list of fully worded responses like you would in Mythos: The Beginning, or a classic cRPG like Baldur’s Gate. Instead, the dialogue system in Heroes of Legionwood is modeled on the “choice wheel” that appears in Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Alpha Protocol. You don’t get to choose exactly what your character says, but you can determine his/her general attitude, which will affect the outcome of the conversation. Occasionally, you get an extra option based on your character’s class (hence the Magus option in the picture above), which represents knowledge that comes from your character’s background.

It’s important to note that, in Heroes of Legionwood, you don’t create a “blank slate” character. While you get to choose Locke’s gender and background, you’re still playing a pre-defined character who already exists within the game world and who has their own personality. It’s for this reason that I elected not to give the player fully worded dialogue choices — Locke doesn’t represent you as the player, and you’re not role playing as yourself. Rather, you’re guiding Locke through his/her story, and the dialogue choices evoke different facets of Locke’s personality.

So, that all sounds simple enough, right? But how does this affect the game? Do these dialogue choices actually have consequences? Yes, they do. Much like in a Bioware RPG, Locke’s attitude will affect his/her reputation with NPCs and party members, which in turn will subtly influence the events of the game. There aren’t any “good” or “bad” choices in Heroes of Legionwood. Instead, each character you speak to will have preferred or disliked attitudes. For example, a certain character may like when you choose Snide responses, but dislike Casual ones. At the same time, you may be talking to a different NPC who hates Snide responses, but loves Casual ones. Keeping them both happy with you is a subtle balancing act. That’s only if you want to keep them both happy, though; an NPC who dislikes you will also be useful in a number of ways.

The majority of this social engineering stuff comes into play when conversing with your party members during cutscenes or while resting at the party camp or an inn, but it does play a small part in your interactions with generic NPCs as well. The way you talk to a questgiver, for example, may influence or change which reward you’ll receive, or open and close different paths through a questline. Ultimately, even though the morality system from Legionwood 2 is gone, Heroes of Legionwood is still just as reactive to your choices.

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Heroes of Legionwood Devblog#1: New Beginnings

Originally posted here.

Hey, look at that – it’s 2015 already! The holiday season is finally starting to wind down and, being all partied out, I’m buckling down to resume development on Legionwood 3.

So, what’s new? The first thing you’ll probably have noticed is the name change. What was called Legionwood 3 in 2014 has been reborn as Heroes of Legionwood. I’ve already received a couple of emails asking about the change – why has the number been removed? Is this game still a sequel to Legionwood 2? Have I decided to reboot the series?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. Allow me to explain.

Heroes of Legionwood is still very much a Legionwood game and yes, it does continue the story of the previous title, but as the core mechanics and concepts of the game have started to come together, I’ve noticed that it’s undergoing what TV Tropes helpfully calls a Mid Development Genre Shift. The core of a Legionwood game is there (as in it’s set in the same world, references the same events and locations and all of the nomenclature for spells and classes is unchanged), but where the first two Legionwood games were Final Fantasy inspired J-RPGs, Heroes of Legionwood is more of a casual cRPG that pulls from everything from D&D to Mass Effect.

There are a lot of things in Heroes of Legionwood that stray from the J-RPG structure of Legionwood and Legionwood 2. There’s a day and night cycle and a need for your characters to eat and rest regularly. The stat and equipment systems have been entirely rewritten and the numbers are much smaller. There are dialogue trees during conversations, and NPCs that can react to your past choices, your class and the way your attitude towards them. It’s not so much an evolution from Legionwood 2 as a reboot in terms of gameplay mechanics, and as such I don’t think putting a number 3 in the game’s title does it justice.

Ultimately, I’ve realised that Heroes of Legionwood is its own thing. This is a game that’s designed to be a new beginning which takes the series in a brand new direction, but it’s also a love letter for long time fans as well. I want to restore the light hearted sense of wonder and adventure that people loved in Legionwood 1 and overhauling the gameplay mechanics is just one way to do that. I want to shift away from J-RPGs into a genre more reflecting of my changing tastes since when I first discovered RPG Maker, and Heroes of Legionwood is that transition.

What would you like to see in the game?

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Mythos Director’s Cut DLC now available!

Hi all.

The free Director’s Cut DLC for Mythos: The Beginning will soon be live on Steam, adding a number of player requested features and general polishes to the game.

This huge update includes the following additions:

  • Two new mid-game monsters, the Long Neck and the Flesh Eater.
  • New puzzle solutions and ways to bypass obstacles.
  • New skill checks have been added throughout the game, giving you more opportunities to use your character’s Talents.
  • EXP system has been slightly tweaked.
  • Support for Steam Trading Cards (to be available very soon).

Basically, this DLC adds a whole bunch of stuff to the game that I was forced to cut due to time constraints, but always intended to patch in later. The new skill checks in particular enhance the role playing aspect of the game and make the gameplay far less linear – there are now many more ways to bypass obstacles that don’t just involve hunting down a key or solving a puzzle.

This DLC will download automatically the next time you launch Mythos. After the update is completed, your game should be version 1.0.0 DC.If you don’t have the Steam version of the game, you can get a manual installer by clicking the link in your purchase email.

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Legionwood 2 Bardsong DLC released!

Greetings, adventurers!

The Legionwood 2 Bardsong DLC went live last week, adding a sizable chunk of new stuff to the game. This brand new free DLC adds a new optional dungeon, the Ancient Ziggurat, and implements the much requested Bard class to the game, complete with its own set of unique Techs that open up a bunch of new strategies.

The new dungeon is located in the game’s second act, becoming accessible after completion of the story events in Ferrum. At this point in the game, your characters should be at a high enough level to try the new content, but if you want an easier time you do have the option of playing it later. All in all, there’s about an hour or so of new content to explore.

The Bardsong DLC will download automatically when you launch Legionwood 2 in Steam, provided you have Automatic Updates turned on. The DLC also includes a handful of tweaks and bug fixes, so while it is a fairly large update, it’s highly recommended you allow Steam to download it.

For those who have the DRM-free version of the game, you can just download the game installer through the link in your purchase email. Be sure to back up your save files before proceeding.

Happy adventuring!

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The Horror Has Arrived!

I told you it was coming. I told you, but you didn’t believe me. Now it’s here, and you have to answer for your ignorance. It’s waiting for you, lurking in the darkness, and you have no idea what you’re getting into. The horror has arrived.Mythos: The Beginning has finally been released into the world. As of this time of writing, the DRM-free version of the game is live and ready to purchase from the Dark Gaia Studios website. That’s not all, though. From now until this time next week (October 6, 2014), you can get your copy of Mythos for only $4.99 by using the discount code MYTHOSROCKS.

So, yeah, that’s it. After four whole months, my latest game is finally ready the masses. The real question is… are you ready for Mythos?

At the current time, the game is only available via direct download from the Dark Gaia website, but — just like with Legionwood 2 — other portals are in the works, including Desura and Steam, which should be live within a few weeks. In short, if you’re one of the DRM faithful, you’ll eventually get your chance to play Mythos as well.

Bleh!

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