Unknown Pleasures 2009: Age of Decadence

By Kieron Gillen on January 21st, 2009 at 4:43 pm.

'Hello' 'I am in an RPG' 'Splendid' 'Are you chaotic evil?' 'No' 'That is good'

It’s a name which is already on the lips of many who pine after a classical school of RPGs. But not nearly enough, for our reckoning. The last time we talked to designer Vince D. Weller, he proved himself the indie-RPG equivalent of the early Manic Street Preachers in a I-hate-dumbed-down-RPGs-more-than-Hitler sort of way. Is he similarly angry today? Not really. But he’s still more outspoken than any forty other given developers and takes time to shares his and his team’s vision of what the RPG should be.

RPS: It’s been a while since we’ve last talked. Care to bring RPS’ readers up to date with what you’ve been up to? What’s Age of Decadence’s progress?

Vince D. Weller: We are slowly getting there. A combat demo should be released in a few months. The demo will be set in an arena district of one of the towns and will show what the game looks like. You’ll fight different opponents, ranging from local scum and captured criminals to gladiators and professional fighters looking for easy coins. You’ll fight against single fighters and groups; fast, lightly armored opponents and heavy, ironclad juggernauts. This should give you a good feel of the combat and give us plenty of feedback to work with.

In unrelated news, the game was voted as the second most anticipated RPG by RPG Watch readers. We were offered a good publishing deal by a large North American publisher, although I’m not sure if that’s the direction we’d take. And a French gaming magazine did a several page AoD article/interview. Needless to say, we appreciate this support.
I want to make a vital statistics gag here, but I can't think of what that wouldn't get Leigh slapping me.

RPS: The team have all loved RPGs for years. Has actually constructing one made you appreciate different parts of the genre or other games more or less?

Vince D. Weller: Not really.

Being puzzled by the question, I asked Oscar, our artist extraordinaire, to contribute. Here is his answer:

“Well, it certainly changed my views on RPGs. Seeing how RPGs work and how easy it is to do simple checks (see Vince’s lore and reputation examples) and add some depth to gameplay, made it harder for me to accept and enjoy shallow gameplay. I subconsciously look for missed opportunities where you can insert choices and options without increasing the overall workload.

Vince used this example in some interview:

“Let’s take “The Witcher” as an example. For storytelling reasons your character is arrested when he tries to enter the city and thrown in jail. In the jail your character is asked to kill a creature in the sewers where he meets an important NPC. That’s the drama- and twist-filled story. It works great in a book format where the reader is following adventures of the main character, but it’s too restrictive in a game where the player IS the main character.

A better design would have been to offer an alternative. Allow the witcher to enter the city via the sewers (after fighting the guards and escaping or after being warned about the ambush as a reward for developing relationship with the villagers) and then run into the above mentioned NPC who will offer you to join him to kill the creature. As you can see, it’s still the same overall story and direction, and the alternative doesn’t require new art assets and tons of development time. It reuses the same situations – the arrest, the creature in the sewers, the knight NPC, the same villagers, and the same sewers, but suddenly you get an important choice instead of a forced situation that you are unable to avoid.

That’s our design “philosophy”, for the lack of a better word.”

That’s what I’m talking about. There was a time when I thought that Final Fantasy 7 was the greatest RPG ever, but that time is long gone.”

RPS: What’s the key important parts of RPGs for you? Why? And how does Age of Decadence deliver on them?

Vince D. Weller: I’d say that role-playing is probably the most important aspect of role-playing games. I know it sounds crazy, because these days RPGs offer anything but role-playing… What? No. Playing a role is not role-playing, son. Role-playing means freedom to do whatever you want within the boundaries of a storyline. I’m not talking about abandoning the storyline Bethesda style and exploring the world. I’m talking about a game giving you a general goal and letting you complete it in different ways, using different skills and abilities. See this article creatively called What’s a role-playing game? for more info.

Why is it important? Take Baldur’s Gate 2, for example. It has a lot of great qualities, but it’s not really a role-playing game. It’s more of an action adventure game with adjustable stats. Yes, I know. I’ve really done it now. Sir, can you please put the pitchfork down? Thank you. Anyway, if one were to replay BG2 one would have exactly the same experience, give or take few meaningless choices. Games like Fallout and Arcanum, on the other hand, can create very different experiences and let you do things differently when you replay them. That’s one of the AoD’s main features.

There are many different, logically fitting ways to complete quests, there are little things like Streetwise and Lore checks that can completely change your perception of situations and add new options, and then there are reputation checks that can change NPCs reaction. Here are some examples:


As you can see, here we have two very different outcomes of the same situation. Mind you, even this situation is optional and a direct result of you intimidating a powerful NPC and trying to get something for nothing. Should you be more reasonable or find a way to handle your objective without this NPC involvement, this conversation wouldn’t happen.

Here we have 3 different lore-based variants of the same conversation.



Like I said, role-playing.

If you want to see more, here is a direct link to 27 dialogue screenshots illustrating different options within a quest.

RPS: What do you think people’s response to Age will be?

Vince D. Weller: Some people will like it. Some people will hate it. The usual. If I have to guess, I’d say that most people would ignore it because hardcore RPGs with lots of text and a decade-old graphics don’t tend to sell a lot. However, there are people who like such games and I really hope that they’ll enjoy AoD. Our aspirations don’t go further.

RPS: What are you looking forward to in 2009? And predictions or trends you see coming? What about the RPG? Better or worse than 2008?

Vince D. Weller: Well, it’s shaping up to be a great year. Dragon Age, Divinity 2, Diablo 3, Risen, Alpha Protocol, and maybe even the Alien RPG. Plus another NWN2 expansion (hopefully with George Ziets on board) and Fallout 3 extra content. Plus indies – Eschalon: Book 2 and Geneforge 5. Best year since 2002.

Predictions? I’ll be playing a lot of RPGs in 2009. I can’t tell you how I know these things, so don’t ask.

Anyway, thanks for the opportunity, Kieron. Thanks for reading, folks.

RPS: Our pleasure. Thanks for your time, Vince.

Age of Decadence will be out in the future.

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99 Comments »

  1. Brother None says:

    And he didn’t even insult anyone! :P

    Well ok maybe BGII fans…

    Great stuff, a succinct summary of why one could look forward to AoD if your tastes so incline (mine do!)

  2. qrter says:

    Looking forward to this one.

  3. Rickman says:

    Although i agree with his tastes and will definitely get this game, saying that a game is only an RPG if it has choices and consequences is a bit silly. Very few games before Fallout did it, and classic titles like the Might and Magic and Wizardry or Eye of the Beholder series had none. They were mostly dungeon hacks.

  4. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    Hmmm, sounds interesting, and in my mind stat heavy, turn based, and multiple paths and solutions are all good things, but cannot exist in isolation. (And I realise that the first two of those will be major turn-offs to some. But don’t assume I’m asking for all games to be like that.) Multiple paths through a bland story can ultimate end up feeling meaningless as you care not for their context. And stats are only good if you can understand them, and they have a real impact on how you play the game.

    Oh, and you may want to add a spoiler tag at the begining of the bit on the Witcher. Although its possible that I’m the only person on these boards who hasn’t got inside the city. (I know the best stuff is supposed to be later, but at the moment I’m not feeling enough love for the game to get stuck in.)

  5. Pags says:

    Milk of horse, like wine! Game of Weller, like Planescape!

    I wasn’t around when Vault Dweller managed to insult everyone on RPS so I’m allowed to look forward to this. And I am.

  6. Therlun says:

    2009? Ahh… the blind optimism of the youth.

  7. Gauntt says:

    Sounds awesome.

    Although I just wasted way too much time reading through all the dialogue in the link he suggested

    Interesting stuff, the conversations and options seem to be pretty well written.

  8. Acosta says:

    Vince sounds… less angry, and I celebrate it because from angry man full of interesting things to say about RPG, now I see “only” a man with a powerful vision about the genre that I really like. Definitely looking for AoD this year.

  9. Jonas says:

    Put down my pitch-fork!? Not bloody likely!

    Heh, it sounds interesting, though obviously a lot of what he can do is only feasible because most of his character interaction is based on text descriptions. That’s one take on the medium, and it sure worked well for Torment, but I’m glad most RPG’s depend more on visual and audio assets – even if it means the scope of character interaction must be more limited.

    Still, diversity, eh? Love it! Bring it on :D

  10. Subject 706 says:

    Very much looking forward to this one. Quite interesting that a major NA publisher was even interested in a game like this though. It kind of goes against everything publishers seem to think will sell nowadays.

  11. Fumarole says:

    I am very much looking forward to this game. He’s right about roleplaying games versus action games with stats. There is indeed a difference.

  12. Ging says:

    Subject 706: Major publishers need stuff to fill out budget lines with.

  13. Ian says:

    Is this an FPS?

    Anyway, looks interesting and the writing appears solid based on the screenies there.

  14. thefanciestofpants says:

    It’s got my money, can’t wait.

    Also less rage was appreciated.

  15. Kyle says:

    I think stats are fundamental to RPGs, much more so than being able to select between a ton of dialogue choices; and stat-based action games have every bit the same amount of choice and consequence in them as Wasteland (known as Fallout to the younger crowd) ever did – they just have more immediate choice and consequence ie. go left and live or go right and die, with some stats influencing either outcome.

  16. Rosti says:

    Hurrah for Arcanum appreciation.

    Shall also be watching this ‘un.

  17. suibhne says:

    Good stuff, and definitely on my watch list for this year. We’ve had a few halfway-decent RPGs in recent years, but only a few – and we’ve had almost no decent turn-based combat, so I’m eager to see how that turns out.

  18. Larington says:

    I do tend to be far more intruiged by the options that say, the skills system in Deus Ex open up or close down what kind of character I’m playing than by stories which try to be massively choice oriented (Partly because the range of choices are all too often disapointing). Fortunately, Deus Ex had both. So yeah, stats can inform your decisions and role in the game world, which makes it easier to define and nail down the aspects of your character during play.

  19. Markoff Chaney says:

    Good Show! Personally, I’ve always been a big proponent of actually, ya know, playing a role when playing a role playing game. I fear it’s a relic from my pen and paper days, but it’s still there in my head. Not that I can’t enjoy RPGs as of late, but a lot just quite aren’t as engaging. I still feel that Planescape: Torment has set the benchmark in allowing the game to play out differently (I’ll play you one day Arcanum) and the nearest since then was most of the first bits of V:tMB and, to some extent, Deus Ex. I look forward to seeing how y’all balance the need for progressing the narrative with freedom of choice.

    I’m glad some people out there still have the love for traditional RPGs and the desire to prove that they can create product superior than what is offered currently, even if it is a throwback to a bygone era.

    Keep up the great work and I look forward to playing through y’alls game a time or three.

  20. Xercies says:

    Yay for old school RPG love. Though I do have to say he is kind of right about the RPG fact, but it sometimes doesn’t make it a bad game. For example sometimes I don’t mind linearity if its got a great story attached to it.

  21. MetalCircus says:

    I am really really looking forward to this now.

  22. Vince says:

    Thanks, guys!

    Re: “I think stats are fundamental to RPGs, much more so than being able to select between a ton of dialogue choices; and stat-based action games have every bit the same amount of choice and consequence in them…”

    Let’s add stats to Doom. Does it magically become an RPG? No, of course not. Warcraft 3? The heroes had stats and a 10lvl hero was much better than a 3lvl hero. Yet it’s not an RPG, obviously.

    What I’m trying to say is that a feature that can be added to any game in pretty much the last minute does not an RPG make.

  23. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    I also have no love for stats-in-themselves. ANd this argument over what constitutes an RPG is interesting. I would say Thief is a far better role playing game than a game with a lot of pre-scripted dialogue in terms of the game making you play a role. This argument about what is the true and only definition of RPG is smells a bit of posturing to cover insecurities.

    I’m also aware this is probably not the first time this argument has been thrown about, so I will stop by saying Vince’s effort to make a game the way he truly thinks a game should be is really kind of awesome.

  24. Pantsman says:

    Good to learn a bit more about this game. Those examples of skills affecting conversations are great, and if they’re indicative of the game as a whole then we may be in for a real treat.

    Of course, that’s assuming it sees release in my lifetime.

  25. Vince says:

    “…if they’re indicative of the game as a whole…”

    Recommended reading:
    http://www.rpgwatch.com/show/article?articleid=79&ref=0&id=2
    http://www.rpgwatch.com/show/article?articleid=82&ref=0&id=2
    http://www.rpgwatch.com/show/article?articleid=90&ref=0&id=2

    This is a “let’s play AoD” thread. I wanted to show the assassins questline to our forum members, but they started making decisions and took it in a completely different direction. So, that’s the actual game, not what I wanted to show. Take a look.

    “Of course, that’s assuming it sees release in my lifetime.”
    We are very, very close.
    Every decision you see there was made by our forum members

  26. Azazel says:

    Yes! YES! Coverage of this is what I’ve been long wanting! Along with the game obv.

  27. Will says:

    I’m going to buy it.

    And I’m actually bankrupt.

    So, you see, it is high on my list of priorities.

  28. Paul B says:

    I look forward to any new RPG, but I’m slightly concerned that it looks like you only control the one player (yourself) in this game.

    Can anyone confirm whether this will be party based or just based around one person, as I personally enjoy the interactions between party members and levelling up four-six people rather just the one?

  29. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    he proved himself the indie-RPG equivalent of the early Manic Street Preachers in a I-hate-dumbed-down-RPGs-more-than-Hitler sort of way

    Funny thing, the first time Vince told me the game’s title, I smiled and humoured about how it was a game about glam rockers and the decadence inevitably associated with them :)

    As his friend, I wish him the best of luck with the game.

    :never forget:

    :salute:

  30. Kestrel says:

    well, since you are in the comments, Vince – If you did go the major publisher route – you could do worse than Stardock and this seems like their cup of tea..

  31. Bremze says:

    This bit from the LP sold me on this game:
    Successfully passing the streetwise check takes you backstage and introduces a very interesting – in my opinion, of course – design element. It successfully alters your character’s perception of what’s going on. In one playthrough you are led to believe that you have a great artifact (which is a standard fare in RPGs these days, so most players will buy that story if the streetwise line isn’t shown). Later on you take it to Lord Antidas where master Feng will explain the awesomeness of the artefact and will suggest that perhaps you’ve been chosen by fate.

    If you didn’t have the chat above, you’ll believe that and play the game without realizing that you are being manipulated. If you did, you will understand what’s going on and why.

    We use that a lot in AoD.

  32. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    @Bremze

    That does sound cool, but I imagine it makes later steps somewhat more difficult in terms of design. In many games, I’ve done something which I know is essential to the plot progression, but will ultimately be detrimental. In most cases by character has no real way of knowing that; I have the benifit of knowing the rules of narrative and game design, or having read the blurb on the box. When the player knows, it becomes far more difficult to control their movement through the plot. Either the plot line branches, or you need to find other ways of railroading the player. The former is a lot of work, the latter feels un-natural if done too often.

  33. Naurgul says:

    I’m also looking forward to this game and I’m also of the opinion that stats, although being part of many (if not all) RPGs, are not their core. Actually, I’m going as far to say that you can have a RPG without having stats at all.

  34. Funky Badger says:

    Stats aren’t inherent to an RPG (Amber for a table-top example), choices are. So Deus Ex is an RPG and Mass Effect is less so…

    Also, this sounds fantastic, one question if Vince is still around, will you be able to play a fireman with a bucket full of urine? (Damn my latin, forgotten the proper name of them…)

  35. Swimsuit Places says:

    Do want.

  36. Hmm-hmm. says:

    Oh, I’ll definitely be looking at this. Those conversation shots convinced me of that. Whether I’ll actually purchase it remains the question, however.

    I’ll have this to say in favour of BG2, though. It may have had a rather fixed main storyline, but for the rest it felt very much like a roleplaying world. I don’t hear Vince saying he think it’s a bad game, but even were he to think so, there’s more to a successful roleplaying game than offering relevant and meaningful choices.

  37. Funky Badger says:

    Vigiles! They’re called Vigiles!

  38. SofS says:

    Stats by any other name are still stats. You could have an RPG where the protagonist was as unchanging as Mario, but he’d still have definitions of how high he could jump, how fast he could run, and the damage caused by jumping onto someone’s head. Light RPG systems like FUDGE rate character abilities on a scale of words, but it’s still a seven-point scale and it acts like one. Totally freeform roleplaying is the farthest thing I can think of from having stats (even then, though, there are effective limitations on ability).

  39. Meat Circus says:

    Unknown pleasures?

    Yeah, right. Cos Vince is such a quiet, publicity-shy introvert.

    But srsly, Vince. I am 167% stoked for this bitch. If it isn’t as amazing as I unilaterally expect it to be, I WILL KILL YOU.

  40. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Funky Badger: Far be it for the likes of me to say this, but…

    Maybe there’s such a thing as being too historically accurate.

  41. Meat Circus says:

    @Pags:

    I was looking forward to this before Vince insulted everyone in the world. Then I wanted it even more.

  42. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    @ Meat Circus

    You need to learn from the best.

  43. Gaph says:

    It’s so refreshing to hear someone with an actual opinion, instead of trying to straddle the fence and make everyone happy.

    I feel the same way about games these days. Give me games developed by people who love the games they make, even if other people don’t get it.

  44. Ian says:

    I would happily play an RPG with awesome writing, good (and plentiful) choices but with a limited stats system.

    I’m not saying that’s what this is, just thought I’d toss in my ten penn’orth on the whole choices/stats mini-discussion.

  45. Vince says:

    “Can anyone confirm whether this will be party based or just based around one person”
    Single character.

    “That does sound cool, but I imagine it makes later steps somewhat more difficult in terms of design. … Either the plot line branches…”
    The plot line branches.

    “I’ll have this to say in favour of BG2, though. It may have had a rather fixed main storyline, but for the rest it felt very much like a roleplaying world.”
    What’s a role-playing world?

    “I don’t hear Vince saying he think it’s a bad game, but even were he to think so, there’s more to a successful roleplaying game than offering relevant and meaningful choices.”
    It’s a very good (great?) game, just not a role-playing one. As for “there’s more to a good RPG than choices”, what does make a good RPG? Inquiring mind wants to know.

    “But srsly, Vince. I am 167% stoked for this bitch. If it isn’t as amazing as I unilaterally expect it to be, I WILL KILL YOU.”
    Sounds reasonable.

  46. Quirk says:

    For those talking about stats: Masq.
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/03/24/masq-interview/

    I defy any of you to claim that Masq is not an RPG. You have more real influence on what your character does than in a thousand other games. Provide a false alibi for a friend, or be dishonest; be faithful to your wife, or sleep with the new girl in the office; get involved with a shady deal with your wife’s boss, or kick him to the kerb; confront someone making you serious trouble, or tail after them by way of reconnaissance – those choices and hundreds more were thrown your way. As far as freedom within the constraints of the storyline goes, it’s stellar.

    There’s not a stat in sight, though. Not one. To be fair, it doesn’t really need them; it defines the general type of person you are and leaves you to fill in the details, the moral code and mindset. A game with a broader focus might find stats more useful. Masq, however, is definitely a game about exploring a time period and place, weaving a story out of player choices; in that sense, it’s a lot closer to the original concept of the RPG than are the “tactical” dungeon hacks with nearly or wholly linear progressions.

    The problem is that we lump games that are trying to give a player a means of exploring a story or setting from multiple angles in with games in which the story is largely an excuse to string a large number of combat encounters together and call them both RPGs. This is somewhat understandable. RPGs have been a bit confused about the role of mass murder in storytelling since the advent of D&D. Nonetheless, even the most pointlessly gory of pen and paper RPGs was centred round a Game Master who had to make his world react to the players’ decisions. Without something analogous to this, you’ve just got another breed of combat strategy game. It may be a good combat strategy game, but it’s doing something fundamentally different than the term “RPG” describes.

    I think Vince is right on the money here. I await Age of Decadence with interest, and some hope.

  47. SofS says:

    Well done, Quirk. Perhaps the crux of the issue is this: does an RPG need random chance to come into success or failure? Is that part of what seperates it from adventure games? If every character in an RPG had a flat 50% rate to succeed at any available action, would it be less of an RPG?

  48. Filipe says:

    Aside from the BG2 dig, I enjoyed this piece. I’m definitely going to pick this one up.

  49. Meowington T Cat says:

    One of the biggest things I loved about the old CRPG games like Fallout, Planescape, and Baldur’s Gate were the fantastic writing and dialogue. I’ve played a few similar styled RPGs since, and they always bored me with extremely generic fantasy-based descriptions and interactions. Games like the above mentioned had encounters that allowed you to choose clever ways to solve a problem, or included witty dialogues that would give you a good laugh or just make you tingle with amusement. I think those parts moved me more than any other RPG aspect of those games. Rambling aside, this looks like a definate buy. I’ll still be crossing my fingers that the writing will be up to par.

  50. Tom Davidson says:

    Hey, Vince, I couldn’t help noticing that the dialogues in the screenshots have more than a few obvious typos in ‘em. Do you already have someone willing to edit the mountains of text for you, or would you be interested in volunteers?