Against RPG Decadence: Vince D. Weller Interview

By Kieron Gillen on February 1st, 2008 at 4:04 pm.

Graphics!

While I’d been following Fallout-but-in-fallout-of-Roman-Empire indie-RPG Age of Decadence’s development at a comfortable distance, its world collided with Rock Paper Shotgun when Walker posted a little combat teaser the team behind this indie-RPG had released. The thread exploded with readers rejecting its turn-based formality, and then there was a counter-reaction to that. It basically turned into a debate about what the RPG should be in the modern age, and so when outspoken Lead Designer Vince D Weller started chatting behind the scenes, we decided an interview may be a worthwhile thing.

The results are a slowburn towards something incendiary. Vince is angry at many things, from the industry to the modern RPG, from the expectations of audiences to… many things. In fact, it’s somewhat appropriate for a man who steadfastedly believes in multiple-possibilities in the role-playing game, that there’s multiple targets for his ire. In fact, there’s a good chance that Vince is angry with you, specifically, but his J’accuse ranges further than that. Fireworks are lit beneath the cut.

Graphics!

RPS: Big one first – why? Deciding to throw yourself into an indie-game requires a certain sort of mind. Trying to make an enormous multi-pathed RPG from pretty-much scratch… well, that’s another. There’s not many things as demanding, in terms of content you have to make, game in the world. Why you doing it?

Vince D. Weller: A long time ago I reluctantly installed my first RPG and the concept instantly hooked me up. Ever since then I was an avid and passionate RPG fan. The problem with being a passionate fan of a dying genre is that waiting periods between games worth playing become longer and longer, creating a lot more free time than a gamer knows what to do with. Some people start drinking, I decided to amuse myself shaping some ideas I’ve had into a game.

In the best role-playing traditions a few similarly minded folks had noticed my efforts and joined me on my quest, forming a party and Iron Tower Studio. So, why are we doing it? For the same reason a writer decides to share a story with the world and an artist picks up a brush and starts painting a naked woman. As for “why RPGs?”, it’s a genre we like, understand (read as “analyzed to death”), and care about the most.

RPS: Following from that, care to tell us a bit about your basic background. Who are you? Who is the team? How did you get together?

Vince: I use the name Vince, because my contract doesn’t allow me to manage other businesses openly. Besides, my colleagues wouldn’t understand it… I’m a Vice President, Sales & Marketing of a well-known Canadian company. I’m 37 years old and I clearly failed at that growing up thing that everyone’s raving about.

Nick’s our programmer. He’s about to graduate from a university (Computer Science and Math). He wrote an isometric 2D engine as his first year project, won several math Olympiads (he thinks that math is fun), and scored a full scholarship. Nick’s godlike programming powahz and dedication made a lot of things I could only dream of possible.

Oscar is the artist. His job is to make the game look pretty. Oscar is mostly known for his work with Oblivion mods, including the most popular Oblivion Overhaul mod, and his Civ 4 mods. Firaxis even used Oscar’s work in the Civ 4 expansion, which scored higher on his “personal achievements” chart than his MBA degree.

The rest of the team includes a modeler, an animator, and a professional composer who did some work for several Russian games.

RPS: That’s an interesting position – is it a bit like living a secret life? By day, mild-mannered VP of Sales & Marketting. By Night… Vince, all powerful Indie RPG designer? Is it difficult to keep the two parts fully demarcated in your head?

Vince: No different than having any other hobby. I know people who put a lot more effort into playing golf or drinking every day.

RPS: Well, RPS put a lot of effort into drinking every day. Er…. well, linking back to the first question, when observing your actions, part of me thinks you’re driven by a sense of necessity. No-one else is making the game you want to play, so we may as well go and bloody well do it yourselves. Is that a right impression?

Vince: Not really. There is a huge difference between making games and playing them. It’s not like I can finish the game, install it, and go “Finally! A game I want to play!”. We are making it because we believe we have some good ideas that are worth sharing with people. Considering the interest the game has generated worldwide – from many publishing offers to Future France distributing our video on their magazines’ cover CD, I’d say that our ideas were met with interest.

RPS: That’s not quite what I meant. I mean, clearly, doing a game and playing one is a different thing. But… well, a comparison. Bands form making music they’d like to hear in the world, despite the fact they can never appreciate their band like they could if they were listeners… they feel the need to make their music come into existence, because there SHOULD be music like theirs in the world. I was wondering if it was at all like that for you guys. That there should be a game like yours, that there isn’t enough annoys the hell out of you, so you have to do it your bloody selves. Does that make sense?

Vince: I humbly disagree, but you get a point for persistence. Even if everyone was making games like AoD, we would have still tried to make one and hope that it would stand out. Not because there should be a game like this, but because we really like to share our ideas with the gaming world. I have no idea how it works with music bands, so I’ll take your word for it.

Graphics!
RPS: Okay – Influences then. What influenced your thinking about the game – and I mean, in specifics rather than generalities. In what ways did other games open your eyes, make you realise this is what games could be and why were they wonderful?

Vince: Fallout – a masterpiece that redefined role-playing and set a new standard.
Planescape – reading in a game has NEVER been so much fun, and according to Avellone, never will be.
Darklands – it’s easier to list what you couldn’t do in that game than what you could do. It saddens me that a game of that caliber won’t be made again, but hey, who needs gameplay when you can look at shiny next-generation graphics? m i rite?
XCOM – The king of turn-based gameplay. If you haven’t played it, stop reading this crap and go play it right now.
And finally, Prelude to Darkness, a brilliant indie game that nobody played:

Prelude to Darkness featured an original, very detailed setting, great TB combat system, multi-solution quests, branching main quest, and many innovative design elements. That was the game that inspired me the most. It has shown me that indie projects can easily compete with and even beat “commercial” games in the gameplay and design departments.

RPS: Of the list, Fallout was the one I was sure of. Not just because of the game’s mechanics, but because what the setting brings to mind is the post-apocalypse model applied to the fantasy/medieval RPG. That is, a society that is collapsing, and has been for some time – and the player is thrown into it. Is that the impression you were aiming at? Why was this interesting to you?

Vince: Yes, I’m a Fallout fan. *waves at Bethesda* As for the other questions, yes, that is the impression we were aiming at. Why is it interesting to us? It adds another layer to the story and overall atmosphere. It makes a setting more alive as the past in post-apocalyptic games is more than a dry background. It gains shape and become an ever-present ghost of what once was. Besides, when societies collapse, it strips people from artificial restrictions of civilization and reverts them to their natural state, which is always fun to explore.

RPS: What’s the problems with the modern RPG? How does Age of Decadence deal with it?

Vince: The problem is simple. Nobody is interested in making dialogue-heavy, turn-based RPGs loaded with meaningful choices and multiple paths. A game like Diablo will always sell more than a game like Planescape: Torment, and games like Torment are much harder to make. So, no publisher is interested in making games like Torment that may or may not sell enough to break even when you can make guaranteed hits like Diablo or Oblivion.

That creates a niche – a market too small for big companies to care about, but big enough for indie developers to play at. Since we can’t match the multi-million budget visuals, we go back to the roots – we focus on gameplay.

Graphics!

RPS: I’ll agree that there’s an unserved demographic there, and while probably not enough to support a megabudget game, it’s enough to support a game. This is as true in the turn-based expansive RPG as it is in any of the other niches which are no longer properly provided by the mainstream (wargames, most flight sims, etc). Do you think we’re going to see more people exploring the space you are? How do you see the future of the indie-RPG? How would you like it to be?

Vince: I see the indie industry exploding and successfully competing with the “commercial” games. If we are lucky, maybe it will even bring some long overdue changes. The publishing system must be changed if we want to see original designs and fresh, risky by definition, ideas. Right now it reminds me of a loan-shark operation. You are a fan of Looking Glass Studio, aren’t you, Kieron? How are they doing, I wonder?

Anyway, the foundation for the indy industry is there: good tools, affordable engines, affordable high-speed internet, powerful digital download delivery methods, etc. Now we need more people willing to go the distance.

Spiderweb Software has been making indie RPGs for years. The graphics can blind 75% of your audience – we don’t want that, do we? – so don’t post any screens. Mount & Blade features the best mounted combat to-date and was made by two people. Escape Velocity Nova, a space trader game, had 6 main story arcs. Six. Main. Story. Arcs. Let’s stop for a second and think about this concept. Silently.

Then we have the aforementioned Prelude to Darkness, Fate, Depths of Peril, Eschalon: Book 1, etc. More games are in development – The Broken Hourglass and Purgatorio are good examples. The indie scene is pretty much alive and kicking, and all signs point to increased growth.

RPS: Okay – the thing which caused that mass-pile in the previous RPS thread was the turn based combat, specifically how it looked. I think there’s a problem in that it becomes more noticeably odd the more graphics effort a developer makes. The videos you’ve been releasing demonstrating the combat have that sense of distance due to sitting back and watching the attacks bounce between character to character – but if you treat them as immobile pieces (like, say, in a hex based game) it doesn’t phase the gamer. Is this a fair analysis? Or am I full of it? If so, why?

Vince: Have you played Silent Storm? Temple of Elemental Evil? Both games featured excellent turn-based combat and great graphics. Detailed 3D models and animations didn’t create any “odd” feelings but made gameplay more enjoyable, as one would expect.

Your comment implies that you’re looking at TB from the “it doesn’t look real” point of view and that’s where you’re mistaken. RPG combat systems, turn-based or real-time, is no more realistic than hit points (do you really think that someone could recover from a two-handed axe blow and continue fighting like nothing happened?), carrying enough junk to fill a warehouse, spells memorization, rechargeable mana, etc. Frozen in time characters patiently taking blows and waiting for their turns are no more odd or weird than RT’s single characters fighting thousands of enemies and destroying entire armies. These mechanics aren’t about realism, they are about fun.

Now, fun is a very subjective concept. Some people think that playing chess is fun. Some people think that playing in traffic is fun. Go figure. So, if tactical chess-like combat filled with “what happens if I do A vs what happens if I do B vs. …” decisions sounds like fun to you, then you won’t find TB odd or slow. If you prefer non-stop, mindless by definition, action requiring nothing but manual dexterity and fast reaction, then RT is your friend.

Most people see turns as a some kind of relic from the days long gone, a throwback to the old days when electricity wasn’t invented yet and computers were powered by candle light. Some morons even compare turns to a pause, but we shall blame the education system for that.

The main difference between turns and pauses, so brilliantly illustrated by XCOM, is that when your turn is over, someone else’s turn starts, and if you didn’t prepare for that, well, mostly likely you are dead and it’s “game over” for you. In RT it’s perfectly acceptable to run toward a door, open it, hit pause, review the situation, pick targets and start kicking ass in an unbelievable but visually pleasing fashion. In XCOM if you open a door when your turn ends, and a hostile character is in the room, you are dead. What you may see as a flaw is actually a quick test of your tactics employed during your turn. If you fail, your character dies. You need to carefully plan your actions and then you’ll have a chance to beat games like XCOM or Jagged Alliance. Only a chance. I played XCOM for 6 months on my first playthrough. I beat Heavenly Sword in a few days. It’s an amazing looking game, but it doesn’t require much brainpower. If you can hold a controller, you can play and beat the game. See the difference?

Graphics!


RPS: Regarding your thorough take on turn based… well, I take your points (and generally agree) but that’s not quite what I was really chasing after. I tend to think most real-time combat in an RPGs can trigger a disconnect as much as a turn-based one – but that’s a slightly different issue. What I was trying to draw a line between is the actual feedback on the actions you’ve ordered – that an animated character taking turns swiping at each other can create that disconnect more than two pieces with no animation just standing by each other, with the game information of attacks being offered in a more symbolic fashion. I’m trying to talk about why some people had that odd response to the video you released, if that makes sense. Do you think the audience just need re-educating of what games can be? Explaining that this system offers so much more to them than a more kinetic presentation would allow?

Vince: Let me ask you one of them rhetorical questions. Is turn-based for everyone? No. Will chess appeal to anyone? No. Casual players prefer to load a game, hit a few buttons and watch their characters kick some ass. They don’t want to play games like XCOM where a single mission can easily take a few hours. Yes, a few hours to kill 20 aliens. Should we be really surprised that in an age of weapons with DPS stats – that’s damage per SECOND – and avg expected kills of 10-15 monsters per minute, spending 2 hours to kill twenty aliens doesn’t sound like fun to some people?

As for the comments in that “let’s laugh at turn-based combat together” article, look at what some guy named Kieron said – “I was fine with the turn-based combat, in terms of it being an indie-game and all…”. See, he was fine with TB combat because it’s an indie game, but if it wasn’t an indie game he probably would have written an angry letter to his congressman or maybe even shot someone. Imagine that.

And yes, I understood what you were chasing after, but I guess I failed to explain my point properly. Let me try again using the most important discovery and technological breakthrough of the century – bullet time. Remember Matrix? The first scene, where that cop points the gun at Trinity and says “English, motherfucker! Do you speak it?”, and Trinity says “my turn lolz”, slowly jumps into the air, hangs there for a few seconds, while the cop blinks, and then kicks him? Tell me with a straight face that when that happened you didn’t stare at the screen with an open mouth but said “I call bullshit! That shit is clearly turn-based and it just done ruined my suspension of disbelief!” Tell me that, and being a gentleman, I’ll admit that you have a point.

Now, let’s go back to the responses to that article and take a look at the points your audience made:

“I’d rather puke a lung, to be honest. It would probably be more fun.”

“I am a discerning gamer of the modern age. I demand heads that smush like rotten melons, over then top rag doll death animations and screams recorded live from Nike sweatshops.”

“They took their combat model from Bookworm Adventure. Snore!”

“This is for those times when you want to sit back in your chair and only click the mouse once every 10 minutes.”

“Taking turns fighting may be something “classic” and “niche” audience, but it’s “niche” for a reason, people are looking to new things, and while rolling dice worked for pen and paper, we don’t have to do that anymore and for most people, it’s just not all that fun. Real time is just more immersive for most that want to deal with something that feels more like a real world, not a jumble of numbers and calculations on screen, the illusion is maintained with it off screen, happening in real time while people move and fire freely aiming where they want, when they want, how they want.”

“Wow, I will never play a game like that, ever. I loathe turn-based games, which is the main reason why I refuse to play any Final Fantasy game. It takes me straight out of the immersion of a game when everyone lines up and takes TURNS swiping at each other. Give me something that involves my skill. I absolutely hate it when my hit chance relies on some random dice roll. That is pure and total BS.”

When you have time, Kieron, how about writing an article explaining the difference between RPGs and shooters to your audience? Or maybe an article mentioning that the first computer games were real-time, not turn-based, and disputing the popular opinion that RT is more advanced than TB? I mean, it’s nice that your site tries to attract morons and makes them feel at home, but shouldn’t you be educating them too? It wouldn’t take much to double their IQs, so if you want, I can give you a hand there.

Graphics!


RPS: Okay – Some of your answers seem genuinely angry, or at least frustrated. Who are you most angry at? Are you worried about alienating people who would be interested in your game by showing that, or do you think that your real audience at the people who would empathise and completely understand it? Or do you just not care either way, and would rather speak your mind?


Vince: I’m a big fan of the “honest and blunt” approach. An internet reader has a right to visit a game site and read “Did Oblivion really suck or what?” or “Molyneux has gotta be on drugs!”, don’t you think? Instead every journalist pretends that Oblivion was a 10/10 brilliant masterpiece, that Molyneux isn’t a lying old kook, and that Dungeon Siege wasn’t a screensaver. Then Chris Taylor says that he’s making Space Siege even simpler and everyone nods in agreement: Right on, man! It’s about time someone makes a game for the amputees. BRA-VO!

And no, I don’t really care who’d think what and how my comments would affect sales. I’m making this game on a bold assumption that there are some people out there who are interested in complex games that aren’t made for retards. Btw, did I mention that I was the editor of RPG Codex for 4 years? Perhaps you’ve read my Oblivion review and other critically acclaimed articles/interviews? Now you probably understand where I’m coming from a bit better.

Overall, I’ve witnessed the trend from simple graphics-amazing gameplay to amazing graphics-simple gameplay. Can’t say I’m too happy about it. Take X-COM for example:

1994: It took 7 people to make X-COM: UFO Defense. Two guys who did both design and programming, 2 artists, 2 music/sound guys and a project manager.

1996: It took over 30 people to make a “more of the same” sequel. Now we have 4 assistant producers, 12 artists, 6 level designers, etc.

1997, XCOM: Apocalypse, a game that kinda sucked. Over 50 people team. 5 sound guys. 21 artists. An army of level designers. We even have a brand manager now. Good times are about to roll.

2001: X-COM: Enforcer or Say Goodbye to the Series. Great job managing the brand, assholes.

Do you see my point? I mean, what are the odds of seeing games of X-COM or Darklands caliber again? Let’s end the interview with your own thoughts about the state of the gaming industry. *passes the microphone to Kieron and opens a bag of popcorn…

RPS: From the mainstream industry as is? Not a chance in hell, unless the industry crashes in flames and we begat a new mainstream on a completely different basis. In terms of an indie dev? Hell, yeah. As you point out, it took 7 people to make X-COM – and I was following the Gollops all the way through the eighties, and love what they did with even fewer people (I don’t really have a favourite game of all time – I’m against it in principle – but if I’m asked, I normally mention the Gollop’s Chaos). There’s
indie teams working with that number of people. Why can’t they produce something similarly brilliant? They’re not any less talented. They require an infrastructure – which is building – and an attitude change in gamers – which will follow when there’s games that walk it like they talk it.

(I’ll stress that I’m taking “Caliber” to be a literal case of “Sharing the same qualities that made UFO and Darklands great”. I think the mainstream industry has had successes in completely different areas. I also disagree that those reasons are as easily dismissed as shallow as you do – but I am and always have been a generalist in my interests in games, including just about everything.)

In really short: Will there ever be a game of X-com or Darklands caliber again? That ball’s in your court. Play it.

Thanks for your time.

Age of Decadence will be released when it’s done. That’ll probably be this Fall.

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252 Comments »

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  1. rob says:

    What an incredibly polite interview.

  2. Ohle says:

    VD, you communist, go back to Russia! :)
    Good interview, and nice to see this mildly opinionated fellow get some screen time.

  3. VDweller says:

    Hey Tom, long time no see. How are tricks?

  4. twb says:

    Best. Interview. Ever. Seriously, that’s some fantastically unrepressed Speakers’ Corner craziness in there. “Weller” has obviously put so much of himself into this thing that he’s beyond rationality.

    And now I’m going to buy his game. Obsession should be rewarded.

  5. Meat Circus says:

    He’s brilliant. FACT.

    Can we keep him please, Mummy RPS? I promise to feed him and not let him crap on the comments thread.

    Regardless of wrongness or otherwise, I always admire somebody who finds things to get fired about.

    Rant on, melonfarmer.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Twb: You remind me to add the ETA to it. It’s a done-when-it’s-done thing, but is probably around Fall.

    KG

  7. Phoenix says:

    What an arrogant [Man – RPS censorship Ed]. Being passionate is one thing. Insulting everyone who thinks differently is another.

  8. Butler` says:

    Rofl – that’s the most entertaining interview I think I’ve ever read. What a legend.

    Unfortunately, I still think he’s the kind of guy that would argue that “CS is for retards”; a point of view that only the uninitiated would hold.

  9. Filipe says:

    Good to see a candid interview. While I don’t agree with all the points, it’s always nice to see some honesty.

  10. twb says:

    That’s a lot sooner than I expected to see it appear. In all seriousness, a six-man indie team bringing a content-heavy 3-D CRPG to market at all is a huge (possibly unprecedented) event, and I applaud them for every bit of vitriolic obsession they bring.

    Although I would note that Darklands had pseudo real time combat. So there.

  11. VDweller says:

    @Butler:

    “…I still think he’s the kind of guy that would argue that “CS is for retards””

    Nope. I would only argue that it doesn’t belong in RPGs.

    @ Phoenix:

    “What an arrogant piece of shit. Being passionate is one thing. Insulting everyone who thinks differently is another.”

    The irony here is obvious.

  12. Dinger says:

    Awesome.

    Vince: Not really. There is a huge difference between making games and playing them. It’s not like I can finish the game, install it, and go “Finally! A game I want to play!”. We are making it because we believe we have some good ideas that are worth sharing with people.

    That’s cool. Remember some teacher in your youth who told you that writing was about “finding your inner voice.” S/he was wrong. Nobody cares about your inner voice.
    Ideally, you make games (or rock and roll) because you believe they are “worth sharing”: that others will find value in it. If you’re making an indie game, you sure as heck better love it yourself, and want to play it, at least up to the point it hits beta.

    I’m not sure TB will catch fire, but he’s right that it allows for more natural pacing of the action: You can have a 4-hour-long (in simulated time) battle and not worry about players getting fatigued from the epic experience. But the bit about Trinity in the Matrix constitutes the ravings of a madman. No, we didn’t scream “Oh my God! That’s Turn-Based!”, because it wasn’t. On the other hand, we didn’t sit back and say, “she’s interacting naturally with the environment,” because the point was that she was not.

    In other words, “realism” is an illusion, but some illusions are more believable than others.

  13. davidAlpha says:

    Very nice to see that someone can get so passionate about RPG’s. Make sure your game has a “windowed” option Mr Weller.

  14. Schadenfreude says:

    Nice to see someone else who likes Darklands as much as I do (Seriously, if you haven’t played it then get ye to your DosBOX).

  15. Meat Circus says:

    In other words, “realism” is an illusion, but some illusions are more believable than others.

    I’m not sure I like the way you have made that an absolute. Which illusions are most believable is largely cultural.

    Gaming is about the suspension of disbelief. There’s no reason that turn-based combat need be any more troublesome for belief-suspension than any action-RPG mechanic.

    It’s just that an entire generation of gamers culturally have lost their familiarity with this particular suspension because turn-based RPGs became unfashionable.

    Now, as it happens, the original video didn’t bother me because it was turn-based, it bothered me because it was laughably polite. Lacking in any kind of punch, of aggression…

    I mean, the videos for Penny Arcade Adventures: OtRSPoD look ace, despite being turn-based, whereas decadence just looks a bit silly.

    If I were them, I’d find a way to turn up the silly-polite factor a notch and make it a game marketing feature.

    Claiming it’s ‘ironic’ might be a way to lure an unsuspecting follower of fashion who might otherwise not touch such a desperately outre game mechanic with a shitty stick.

  16. mujadaddy says:

    ++ to “a six-man indie team bringing a content-heavy 3-D CRPG to market at all is a huge (possibly unprecedented) event, and I applaud them for every bit of vitriolic obsession they bring.”

    There are people out there who want content, and don’t look down their noses at turn-based interaction.

    However, I also agree with this: “the original video didn’t bother me because it was turn-based, it bothered me because it was laughably polite. Lacking in any kind of punch, of aggression…” — I think that Final Fantasy VII had a good indication of “turn-based pausing” but some disagree and hated it. They probably would dislike AoD’s combat even more.

  17. Meat Circus says:

    Also, can we get some kind of official rule that being GRATUITOUSLY RUDE to Kieron always wins double points in RPS interviews?

  18. Nallen says:

    The way he lashes out at every criticism reminds me of the last Jack Thompson interview I read. Perhaps he should spend some time considering the fact that playing CoD4 and enjoying it doesn’t have to mean you have the IQ of a jug of water. We didn’t come and say he’s a half comatos physical incompetent because he doesn’t champion twitch shooters.

    That said, I don’t think he needs to apologise on any level for making the game the way he wants (that’s said as a statement of opinion not some patronising attempt at ‘letting him off’ for being rude) but I don’t see why he can’t explain himself by detailing what that video didn’t show and putting it in to the wider context of the games interactive nuances, (see how I avoided saying gameplay, huh?), and validating what he saw as the merits of that style.

    Instead the impression I got was he’d rather shout “it’s slow because it’s complex, morons” and “you kids just don’t get it” at us, the stupefied population of the Internet. We know why UFO was good, we all played it (I hope). We also know why that trailer didn’t appeal; it was, taken as something of its own merit, in no wider context flat out dull and uninspiring. Perhaps if he feels it was criticism unfairly aimed at him because of the indie nature of his game he should give the Duke Nukem trailer thread a once over.

    I think in the age of portal saying a game looks dull because it’s deep in some what ridiculous. As for the matrix analogy, perhaps if his trailer had just delivered one of the most iconic moments of genre redefining footage seen in a decade he wouldn’t be getting panned.

  19. VDweller says:

    “Nallen says:

    The way he lashes out at every criticism…”

    Every criticism?

    For the record, I agree that the animations look too “polite” and lack impact. It was a mistake which we may not be able to fix now, unfortunately.

    I thought I clearly indicated in the interview (see the quotes) what kind of comments I “lashes out at”. No?

  20. Okami says:

    I still don’t believe the bullshit about RPGs having to be turn based. If I want to play turn based games, I play strategy or tactics games. Heroes, Fantasy Wars, Armageddon Empire, Master of Magic, Age of Wonders, etc…

    What I’d like to see (and what Mass Effect was trying to do) is a deep role playing game (unique NPCs with personalities, large explorable world, choices that have consequences) with a really good action combat system. Baldur’s Gate meets Severance.

    Turn Based is fine, really. But I really can’t stand those “OMFG if it isn’t TB it’s no RPG!!”” purists.

    I’ve got a soft spot for indies and at first I liked Vince. But when he started raging against the readers comments, I started to dislike him.

    When you have time, Kieron, how about writing an article explaining the difference between RPGs and shooters to your audience?

    Has anybody ever explained the difference between RPGs and tactic games to you?

    are no more odd or weird than RT’s single characters fighting thousands of enemies and destroying entire armies.

    Most turn based RPGs are about three to five characters fighting thousands of enemies and destroying entire armies. They are just doing it turn by turn.

  21. VDweller says:

    You guys know how to read?

    “Okami says:

    I still don’t believe the bullshit about RPGs having to be turn based.”

    Where does it say that? There were and are many great real-time RPGs. Dungeon Master, Darklands, Gothic, Bloodlines, etc.

    “I’ve got a soft spot for indies and at first I liked Vince. But when he started raging against the readers comments, I started to dislike him.”

    Did you actually read those comments?

    “Has anybody ever explained the difference between RPGs and tactic games to you?”

    Are you saying RPGs can’t be tactical?

  22. ExcitingJeff says:

    There is literally nothing more exciting than a Roman-themed turn-based RPG. I am salivating in anticipation, and I can’t even COMPREHEND someone who thinks it sounds stupid.

  23. davidAlpha says:

    your name should be ExcitedJeff

  24. twb says:

    mujadaddy — agreed that the combat lacks a certain viscerality. In fact, from watching the demo reel again, I realized that I couldn’t tell the difference between an actor dodging and an actor getting hit. A lack of visual cues (blood sprays, little red numbers floating up, etc.) and a blandness in the “hit” animations do that, I think.

    On the other hand, some of the animations are very good, very exaggerated (and in this sort of game they have to be exaggerated, in the same way that a theatre stage is not a television screen), so I think this is a matter of tweaking.

    As far as I’m concerned (or at least as I’m hoping), do some rework on the animations, add a few particle fountains, foley in the sound effects and all’s bob for that.

    But, let’s face facts, people — as long as we wax rhapsodic about Dwarf Fortress and Geneforge, do we have any room to complain about model animation?

  25. chesh says:

    @Butler

    How about “CS is for idiot-savants”? ;)

    That said, what a great interview. I really want to play this game now, even though I’m ashamed to admit I really don’t have any experience with any of the games mentioned.

  26. Kieron Gillen says:

    twb: The point I tried to put was that less convincing animation is more distracting than no animation.

    KG

  27. Zell says:

    That was kind of condescending. Anger is more interesting when it’s zest for something. This seemed to be mostly about how stupid everyone is. I’d have liked to see Kieron call bullshit once or twice.

  28. Ohle says:

    Right… I think that if anything should be addressed in the combat, it’s the animations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with turn-based combat, but as Kieron said, the original video was a bit too “You cut me! That’s not very nice. Here, I shall cut you in return!” But in the end, it’s not excitement in combat that these guys are going for… if it were a more mainstream title, you’d see a ten-second epic fight animation play out, with flips and blocks and all that jazz, and then see the “you hit centurion for 2 points of damage.”

  29. mujadaddy says:

    @twb: “a matter of tweaking.” agree.

    …methinks VDweller (sounds like a level boss, no? :D ) needs a drink :)

  30. twb says:

    Kieron — That’s absolutely true, and I suppose that mentioning DF’s purely abstract interface is an unfair comparison to both games. Certainly an Armageddon Empires (say) or a Darwinia becomes immersive because of, not in spite of, its iconic nature.

    Nonetheless, I’m willing to give AoD a pass on some visual elements just because the developer is obviously punching far, far above its weight. It’s totally insane.

  31. malkav11 says:

    Personally, I’d like working links to Prelude to Darkness and The Broken Hourglass. The first one goes to their site, where they have a “download this free” link that goes to megaupload which then informs you that the link is invalid, and a download page with a “1.6” version (demo? Full? doesn’t say) link that’s also dead. And I can’t tell for sure but it doesn’t look like the apparently free full version is on any major file repository. Or a 1.6 patch, for that matter.

    And the Broken Hourglass link plain doesn’t work.

  32. Janek says:

    Malkav: There’s working PtD links on the forum. The first Megaupload link given definitely works.

  33. VDweller says:

    Zero-Sum, Prelude to Darkness’ developer, is out of business, hence the megaupload link:
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=B4OWJFO0

    It’s a full game. The latest version tends to crash a lot, but if you can handle that, you’ll find an outstanding RPG there.

    Not sure why TBH site is down, but here is a recent (two days ago) interview at GameBanshee:
    http://www.gamebanshee.com/interviews/thebrokenhourglass1.php

  34. Gnarf says:

    mujadaddy: VDweller doesn’t sound quite as much as a level boss as, say, Vault Dweller.

    The bit about Dungeon Siege is very good, btw. Very correct. I am going to agree with it a lot.

  35. mujadaddy says:

    “VDweller doesn’t sound quite as much as a level boss as, say, Vault Dweller.”

    Oh, you youngsters with your spaces in Names of Things…

  36. malkav11 says:

    Thanks for the links. Downloading Prelude to Darkness now…can’t say for sure when I’ll get stuck into it, my schedule and plate full of games being what they are, but hopefully soon.

  37. Okami says:

    @VDweller: No, I’m not saying that. But neither do they have to be. A game can have FPS combat (Bloodlines) and still be an RPG, it can have very deep tactical combat and still be an RPG. It’s just that the combat isn’t the defining part of an RPG.

    Yes, I’ve read the comments and I cringed at quite a lot of them. So, the whole anger is understandable, but the comment about FPSs and RPGs still had a very arrogant ring to it…

    Maybe I’m a bit oversensitive, because I’m an RPG developer myself. When it became clear that we would use Baldur’s Gate style RTS combat mechanics and not TB based ones, our fans started ranting and raving on our boards.

    Every day I check the forums (I don’t know why I even bother) there’s another complexity nazi raving about the good old times of yore, when RPGs were something you had to put work in and couldn’t just enjoy.

    I’m just sick of the elitism displayed by other hardcore RPG players. I write “other” because I consider myself a hardcore RPG player myself and I just don’t want to play those old, slow and cumbersome games anymore.

    Too many designers (and fans) have the misconception that bad UI somehow makes for deep and complex gameplay. We need more buttons and more stats!!

    No, we don’t!

    We need story and character development and branching story paths, interesting missions, believable NPCs and beautifull worlds that we can explore and discover.

    The funniest part, for me at least, is when those hardcore RPG players start listing their favorite RPGs which included none of the above, they were just glorified excel spread sheets with an infinite amount of randomly generated monsters you’d kill in an endless array of turn based combats (I’m looking at you: Bard’s Tale, Might&Magic, Wizardry, early Ultimas, etc..).

    EDIT: I’m actually looking forward to Age of Decadence, by the way. The whole setting has me hooked and I can enjoy turn based combat, even if I don’t really like it in my RPGs… Just wanted to make that clear.

    And I don’t really dislike Vince because of his comments. It’s just that he lost a few faction points with me. Stupid foreign languages and my inability to exactly express myself in them…

  38. Elhoim says:

    @”“VDweller doesn’t sound quite as much as a level boss as, say, Vault Dweller.”

    Oh, you youngsters with your spaces in Names of Things…”

    Besides, VDweller is just in the 8 char limit. Perfect for old school.

  39. Okami says:

    EDIT: There seems to be a problem with the EDIT function.. I just double posted…

  40. nobody says:

    @Okami

    “Too many designers (and fans) have the misconception that bad UI somehow makes for deep and complex gameplay. We need more buttons and more stats!!”

    More buttons or stats does not mean bad or worse UI. Neither does turnbased combat. And no one asked for more games with bad UI, either. I really wonder where this came from.

  41. Jives says:

    Turn based games are good fun and all, but jesus that guys a tit. I like the way he completely misunderstood/ignored the questions about the video and ranted about XCOM instead

  42. Pace says:

    @”“VDweller doesn’t sound quite as much as a level boss as, say, Vault Dweller.”

    Oh, you youngsters with your spaces in Names of Things…”

    Besides, VDweller is just in the 8 char limit. Perfect for old school.

    Is that all we can get from the name VDweller? VD? VD?!? I think if my initials were VD I’d find a different username. Not a great way to introduce yourself to the ladies at the bar either. “Hey, I’m Vince but you can call me VD”. Or, “uh oh, here comes ol’ Venereal Disease.”

    (hey, if he can insult us, surely we can fire back a bit??)

  43. Section8 says:

    Great interview. There’s nothing really revealing here for someone who has been following the game for a long time, but I love the fact that this actually sounds like an interaction between a couple of strong personalities – a great change from the copy pasted press release responses and such we seem to see everywhere else.

    It seems all the major players elsewhere in game development/media are about causing no offense to anyone and trying to offer something to everyone. Vince comes out and talks about how he sees RPGs and how that dictates the sort of game he’s making, in no uncertain terms.

    And he’s right about the vast majority of action games. As someone who has no prejudices against any type of game, and someone used to favour FPSs above all else, I’m horribly disappointed that too many games require little effort or patience, just time. I think one of the best games I’ve played in recent years has been N by Metanet, simply because I get so butthurt by it every time I play. I would not be at all surprised to see the police show up at my door on a domestic violence call, given the screaming obscenities I hurl at this inanimate object that wrongs me so, yet compels me to keep coming back.

    Halo 3 and Bioshock on the other hand? Meh. I ended up reading plot spoilers since the only thing compelling me to play either was “to see how it ends”.

    But I can see why we get games like that. Not everyone is a seasoned gamer who misspent their entire youth playing everything under the sun, and not everyone wants to be challenged. I think predominantly, gamer expectations are for a cinematic experience that is interactive enough to get the ego-wank of being part of it all rather than just observing.

    Is that wrong? Not necessarily, but it shouldn’t negate all other preferences simply because it’s more profitable, and it saddens me whenever I see message board posts espousing a point of view that basically amounts to “I don’t like , they should make it more like everything else.” Apparently that which makes me sad makes Vince angry, and good on him for arcing up about it.

    Anyway, long story short. Good interview guys. :D

  44. mujadaddy says:

    Pace — you moron. No one thought of “VD” but you. say it with me “Vee-dweller” like some denizen of the dark places.

    back@Elhoim: I miscounted, otherwise I’d have brought up the 8-character-ness, too. I saw that name & was immediately brought back to skimming my little brothers’ Nintendo Powers with the game walkthroughs and pics of every flavor of enemy…

  45. Homunculus says:

    That segued into a wonderfully refreshing blast of invective; like a spearmint tornado to the face. The existence of an ever-widening niche for games containing nuanced choices and consequences (yawning chasm by now, though, I think) can’t be in doubt.

    Personally, I blame Jim’s woefully misunderstood graphics are great Devil’s Advocate of yore.

  46. Section8 says:

    Also:

    We need story and character development and branching story paths, interesting missions, believable NPCs and beautifull worlds that we can explore and discover.

    That’s all well and good, but where’s the game? I’m not going to begrudge your opinion, because I think you’ve made a pretty decent summation of some key RPG features, but I don’t think you can ignore some kind of balance with gameplay components. It certainly doesn’t need the “glorified spreadsheet” bias of early RPGs, but I don’t think anyone benefits from Baldur’s Gate style combat because it mainly exists as a gap filler. You need look no further than Planescape: Torment as a game that satisfies every criteria of what you’re after – and as a game that would have been better off without the BG style combat. Arguably it would have been better off without combat at all.

    I definitely agree that RPGs should not have tactical combat as a necessity, but I think they need a worthwhile gameplay component. Tactical combat does a pretty good job at satisfying that need. It interacts well with a statistically defined character, and at its heart is a problem solving exercise – a concept very much in line with the key elements of RPGs.

    But really, give me anything. I love tactical RPGs, I love games like Bloodlines or System Shock 2, I’d play an RPG rhythm game, driving game, interactive fiction, etc. Just give me some gameplay component, and not the pointless time sink that Baldur’s Gate/KOTOR/etc represent.

  47. dhex says:

    i don’t know if i’m going to like the game, but i am going to buy it.

    “Then Chris Taylor says that he’s making Space Siege even simpler and everyone nods in agreement: Right on, man! It’s about time someone makes a game for the amputees.”

  48. Phoenix says:

    It’s interesting how much kinder and gentler the RPS commentators are towards VDweller than any other game-creator despite the man being more abrasive than David Jaffe and Denis Dyack put together.

    Maybe it has something do with the guy responding and actually reading the comments. Just a thought.

  49. MEOW says:

    I think this Weller geezer is a gem. I like these outspoken designers. At least they’re not just knocking out games to put big numbers on graphs that the suits can feel proud of. I’ll take Romeros over the alternative any day.

    Face it, Mr/Mrs RPS. You love interviews like this! What’s more boring than a dev replying with 1 line stock answers? what’s more exciting than a rabid, angry game-dev? They’re Gold. Pure Gold!

    On another point: I’m really glad someone ELSE played Escape Velocity Nova! What a great game. There’s been a lot of guff over a game called Transcendence in the indie crowd recently. Whilst it is a a good, fun game. I basically see it as EVN crossed with Nethack.

  50. Brokenbroll says:

    All FPS games are the same, and easier to design than RPGs.

    There is no difference between Metroid Prime, Far Cry, and Serious Sam, and they were far easier to design than Wizardry.

    Planescape:Torment is the best game ever, because it has a Terry Brooks level story.

    Only morons play and design action games. The real intelligent folk play RPGS. Like Might and Magic.

    All shooting games are easy to make, Vince could make them in his sleep. They all play the same.

    Vince can also out do Nintendo at platformers, as only idiots make those, and Vince is no idiot. His views of the world are absolutely right, and cannot be questioned, unless you want to see him launch into a whining rant about how dumb you are, and how very right he is.

    Its too bad, I very much wanted to play your game. Had I acquired it before finding out what close minded know-it-all you were, I could have overlooked that and just enjoyed the product. Now, I doubt I could ever play it without hearing you, as voiced by Shawn Elliot’s Ralphie character, crying in the background about how great it is.