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.
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.