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Top Ten @ Obsidian


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#1
Fionavar

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With the mod squad working diligently away at your suggestions, the following are the Top Ten for Chris. The thread will initially remain closed while Chris adds his reflections and responses. At that time, the thread will be opened for general discussion that will likely last approximately a week.

I am grateful for the suggestion that this concept be opened to the rest of the devs and I hope in a few days to start a new brainstrorm/input thread for the next dev to play the Top Ten game. And so I know I have shared the Big Green's constructive posting schpiel, this discussion will be monitored closely for spam/flaming/and general trolling mayhem. Do feel free to enjoy yourself, but remember that respectful and constructive posting is hoped for from the Obsidian community.

And now, here we go:

1)

With the influence system (in Kotor2) alot of people instead of just roleplaying the system started to meta-game the system in order to get the most background/XP/bonusses from them and to "jedify" them as fast as possible. Is there any alteration done to the NWN2 Influence system to have people more focus on the roleplaying aspect of the influence system or is meta-gaming the system not seen as flaw and still included to do?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

2)

How much writing would you say NWN2 has compared to previous titles you've done (eg. PST, KOTOR2)?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

3)

Reading up an old review I noted how there was mention how due to the use of the Infinity engine (painted backgrounds) PS:T could be made how it could never be made with an engine that actually uses 3D backgrounds. Also in the earlier days of PS:T one could get away with a "she kneels down, close her eyes and starts to pray" line; while in these days you have to actually show it...taking it far longer to create an actual scene. So here is the actual question:

Do the modern graphical engines and graphical expectations disallow you from putting as much creativity as you wanted into a game?
(both in term of actual scenes as the using of creative maps/chars/weaponry etc.)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

4)

Of all the games credited to your name so far, which one are you most proud of, and why?

It is Descent to Undermountain, isn't it?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

5)

As a designer/writer of game stories, do you ever contemplate over the responsibility you have towards the gaming public in general? Do you ever feel like rebelling against the ESRB and its policy that basically boils down to "violence is ok, natural human relations is not", or are you in total agreement with the current attitude toward computer games?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

6)

Question: From your experience, what makes a NPC character compelling to players?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

7)

Q: What type of character, or character exploration do you feel is impeded by aiming to avoid M ratings.  How would the exact same game with a M rating compare to a T rating from a writing/playing perspective?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

>_<

Do you believe computer games as a medium, will ever enter into the world of art like film has done- or will it always have to remain a form of more or less commercial entertainment? Do you think that perhaps in 10 or 20 years from now, people will be ready for the game equivalents of Bergman or Truffaut?

And would you consider yourself as an artist or a craftsman?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

9)

How's this one?

Avellone: if games get an increasingly large slice of the entertainment industry, then the folks who create these games must expect a greater social profile.  While that is not yet the case, what impact do you think larger budgets and a more diverse following will have on future developers?  Do you see yourself becoming something like the writers, directors, and producers of today's films?  ...Or do you see your current status as a computer geek head and shoulders above other geeks as part of your unchanging role.  ...Or do you even see yourself as a dying breed of designers who's rarified skills cater to the narrower tatstes of the elite CRPGer?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

10)

Is it possible to give new life to CRPGs without leaving the old skool RPGer behind in the past?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



#2
Chris Avellone

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With the influence system (in Kotor2) alot of people instead of just roleplaying the system started to meta-game the system in order to get the most background/XP/bonusses from them and to "jedify" them as fast as possible. Is there any alteration done to the NWN2 Influence system to have people more focus on the roleplaying aspect of the influence system or is meta-gaming the system not seen as flaw and still included to do?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Just wanted to warn you guys that my answers may trickle in slowly, since there's been a marketing flood this week in addition to the Neverwinter Nights 2 standard work load.

Influence System - I realize that happened in K2. Still, if at least one of those people stopped for a moment to consider the role-playing opportunity as well (so that's why Kreia's such a cranky witch), then perhaps it was a good thing in the end.

I don't know if there's anything wrong with it either - if that's how folks want to play, that's totally fine with me, we just provide the option to roleplay if they want. I guess I consider the XP and Jedifying a bribe, saying "hey, there's tangible benefits to role-playing with these CNPCs." Also, being a roleplayer I enjoy getting tangible benefits for interacting more with my companions - and because I have no real friends of my own.

In NWN2, however, it does work differently - we don't award experience points or stat bonuses, although it may affect class switching in rare cases and who stays/who leaves at certain key moments in the game. The results are more role-playing based as a result than in K2, but ideally we like to do both when we can (both tangible gameplay benefits and more role-playing opportunities).

BTW, to answer Baley's question from the original thread, yeah, I liked Amelie a lot. I didn't want to go see it when it came out, but I was dragged there because I was dating one of our super cute Titus French interns, but I was pretty fascinated five minutes in. It's one of the few DVDs I own because I've liked Jean-Pierre Jeunet ever since City of Lost Children (I didn't realize Amelie had the same director) - and I liked a Very Long Engagement, too.

#3
Chris Avellone

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How much writing would you say NWN2 has compared to previous titles you've done (eg. PST, KOTOR2)?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Probably about half of PST, and roughly the same as K2. That's more of a gut instinct answer, since I don't have the word counts in front of me.

I will say it's much harder in today's development cycle to write a lot for games whether dialogue or otherwise, just because of the localization and audio costs of having to do voice acting.

Bonus Answer from Original Thread: (Fenghuang) Do I still have a passion for blonde European women? Sure, if they're cool and won't steal my car or cyberstalk me. I'm cool with physical stalkers, though.
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#4
Chris Avellone

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Reading up an old review I noted how there was mention how due to the use of the Infinity engine (painted backgrounds) PS:T could be made how it could never be made with an engine that actually uses 3D backgrounds. Also in the earlier days of PS:T one could get away with a "she kneels down, close her eyes and starts to pray" line; while in these days you have to actually show it...taking it far longer to create an actual scene. So here is the actual question:

Do the modern graphical engines and graphical expectations disallow you from putting as much creativity as you wanted into a game?
(both in term of actual scenes as the using of creative maps/chars/weaponry etc.)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Modern engines do provide some limitations - I would disagree that modern engines couldn't pull off the Planescape universe, though (and I think they could do it better with a 3D engine), a claim of which was basically the fault of my seven year old designer brain back in '99 being incapable of wrapping itself where modern technology would go.

In terms of character interaction, that's a little of a thornier issue, since getting that facial and animation complexity in some of our current games has been tough, resource wise (it can require a lot of animators and modelers to get it right) - it is much easier to describe it than show it, but our goal should ultimately be to always show it rather than tell the player what's happening.

So basically, I think as far as environments go - no, as far as complex character interactions - yes, you can't really have as many with that depth of character movement and facial expression as we did in Planescape, but the fewer that you can pull off with the tools provided (Half-Life 2) I think are more than worthwhile.

With these limitations, however, come other advantages. When you have a fully or mostly voice acted game, the information the NPCs (and CNPCs) are conveying comes off stronger and it's easier for people to be immersed in what's going on. Also, there's things voice actors can do with lines that will add far more emotion and drama than anything you could write.

Anyway, hope that answers the question.

#5
Chris Avellone

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Of all the games credited to your name so far, which one are you most proud of, and why?

It is Descent to Undermountain, isn't it?


No, but it's not the team's fault, since they were in an unusual situation all around. That was actually the second project I was drafted on to, and then I asked Ferg if I could leave and work full time on Planescape (I think this was a year before DTU finally shipped). He agreed, since at the time, I didn't ask for much. Not long before that, I actually was asked to leave DTU to work on Fallout by Tim Cain, but I felt bad, so I didn't. Huge mistake.

Torment's the game I'm most proud of. I feel like it said a lot of what I wanted to say about how role-playing games could be - and the setting just encouraged it. We also had a great team, TSR was pretty happy with what we were doing, and even if the hours sucked, everyone really pushed hard to make the game what it was. I still thank Eric Campanella daily for actually reading our design documentation and actually coming back to us with suggestions for how to improve the ambiance, character look, etc, based on the personality of a character he read (all of the character designs he took from 2-3 paragraphs of description and then he fleshed them out).

I do see a lot of the flaws with it as well which comes from having worked on it so closely (pacing problems, combat issues, and balance issues), and I was pretty terrified it would crash and burn once people got their hands on it, but it was encouraging to hear the feedback on it.
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#6
Chris Avellone

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As a designer/writer of game stories, do you ever contemplate over the responsibility you have towards the gaming public in general? Do you ever feel like rebelling against the ESRB and its policy that basically boils down to "violence is ok, natural human relations is not", or are you in total agreement with the current attitude toward computer games?


Rebelling against the ESRB - Yeah, I feel that way much of the time, and the rest of the time I am sleeping. It's hard to make a game that's meaningful when there's certain modern-day subjects (and age-old dawn-of-time subjects) that you can't bring up without getting the ratings slash. I do want freedom to create with as few restrictions as possible, and sometimes having to fight for a mature-rated game (and not for the sake of simply being immature and painting blood and sex everywhere, but for other topics) is a pain in the ****ing ass.

Not to be totally one-sided about it, though - I do think there should be some information on the package that lets the buyer know what they're in for, since I think folks deserve to be informed, but the restrictions are chafing at times.

(BTW, I just previewed this and noticed ****ing gotting censored. See? They're everywhere).
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#7
Chris Avellone

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Question: From your experience, what makes a NPC character compelling to players?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I'll do companion NPC characters because I understand them the best: They need understandable motivations (or hidden, but understandable motivations), unpredictability, some element of mystery, effective in the game, and a good voice actor.

(Note that I have generated this list in five minutes, so it's possibly I have forgotten something. Anyway.)

Motivations: People like characters they can understand or sympathize with. Part of my love of Hellboy and Robot Man in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol is that when they are confronted with a weird situation, they go "hunh?" and then they punch it repeatedly. This is an understandable, sympathetic motivation.

Unpredictable: Cliches being what they are, familiarity breeds contempt. If you come across a character archetype you immediately recognize and know exactly what his personality and character arc is going to be, he immediately becomes less compelling.

Mystery: Characters become more interesting when there is an element of mystery about their personality or motivations - then they become a mini-game that you want to unlock and find out why they are doing the things they do. The more these mysterious agendas revolve or focus around your player character, the better.

Effective in the Game: Any character that does not perform an effective support role in the game is pretty much doomed by any non-roleplayer, which you should assume is everyone. Myron from Fallout 2 - ineffective. Cassidy and Bonenose from Fallout 2 - effective. I sometimes call this the "Final Fantasy III Test" - every character in Final Fantasy III had a different, yet very effective combat ability, which made them all worthwhile to use in the game.

Voice Actor: Poor voice acting can breed hatred faster than anything, especially if their combat lines or selection lines are annoying or shrill.

One last thing - any NPC who disparages your character or doesn't acknowledge that the main player is super cool on some level, even if it's grudgingly, is generally not as well liked as other companion characters.

Sorry for the delay on this, we were in Dallas showing Neverwinter Nights 2 at A-Kon. Expect pix soon. If you want to see informal pix, go to:

Informal A-Kon pix.

#8
Chris Avellone

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Q: What type of character, or character exploration do you feel is impeded by aiming to avoid M ratings.  How would the exact same game with a M rating compare to a T rating from a writing/playing perspective?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I guess it's much the same question you would put on characters and character exploration in a PG-13 movie vs. an R-rated movie. Sometimes to explore some characters in a certain genre ("true crime," survival horror, or otherwise) requires you have access to a toolbox of taboo subjects to reinforce the ambiance you're trying to create.

Game mechanics are generally more impeded than most character development (mostly combat mechanics, for obvious reasons), but numerous topics in today's culture with character development also get the hamstring with the ESRB. This includes mature sexual content and commentary, strong profanity as a character's ego signature, intense drug addiction themes, and even more potentially taboo topics (religion, abortion, interrogation/torture).

I guess I mostly chafe under these restrictions because some characters and locations in a game have a certain "voice" when you create them, and to hamstring that diminishes the creative edge to those areas. I'm not saying that there should be blood and gore covering the walls followed by a parade of orgies, but sometimes elements of a character or location arc take on a certain strength when you are allowed to use these elements.
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#9
Chris Avellone

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Do you believe computer games as a medium, will ever enter into the world of art like film has done- or will it always have to remain a form of more or less commercial entertainment? Do you think that perhaps in 10 or 20 years from now, people will be ready for the game equivalents of Bergman or Truffaut?

And would you consider yourself as an artist or a craftsman?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Computer Games as a medium - I think it will absolutely enter into the world of art, and I think it already has, whether people realize it or not. I think the primary role of comic books, for example, were to be solely commercial entertainment, but I think a number of them have easily transcended into an art form.

Artist or craftsman - it depends on the stage of the product cycle. At the beginning, definitely more an artist, then when the hardcore implementation begins, it's time to craft away (although there's also an argument for artistically crafting something, but that gets more complicated and makes my tiny monkey brain hurt).
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#10
Chris Avellone

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9)

How's this one?

Avellone: if games get an increasingly large slice of the entertainment industry, then the folks who create these games must expect a greater social profile.  While that is not yet the case, what impact do you think larger budgets and a more diverse following will have on future developers?  Do you see yourself becoming something like the writers, directors, and producers of today's films?  ...Or do you see your current status as a computer geek head and shoulders above other geeks as part of your unchanging role.  ...Or do you even see yourself as a dying breed of designers who's rarified skills cater to the narrower tatstes of the elite CRPGer?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I will say that, higher social profiles aside, the larger budgets will make landing projects with publishers more difficult, and make them prone to wanting to bank on the safe project as opposed to the risky ones, since the cost of making a mistake and bringing a potentially low-selling title to market is now HUGE.

I think social profiles for developers are expanding right now, actually - the future is now and has been for a few years. When I hear Fatal1ty being interviewed on NPR and promoting his own line of video cards, or see Cliffy B getting his picture snapped with Paris Hilton, see Stevie Case posing on the cover of PC Accelerator and getting shots of herself for Rolling Stone, Rob Pardo making Time magazine, or John Romero doing... well... anything, you see some game development folks touching the spotlight more and more. I also think Will Wright is on his way to becoming the Steven Hawking of the game industry as well.

I feel that designers either fade away, take a permanent hiatus, lose their cutting edge skillset, abstract out (and when I mean this, I mean they start giving in to philosophy or abstract concepts and begin to distance themselves from real game design and focus more on design theory), or if lucky, keep the energy going all the way to the end and they die from a coffee overdose. While I think my skillset isn't always useful when dealing with the interactions of the combat mechanics of a three hit combo with a dynamic light source or setting up the most efficient scripting arrays to track the number of droids killed (which one of our programmers will be quick to point out when checking over my scripts), I think certain skills in creating a role-playing game never go out of style, no matter what the game - creating moments for exploration, cool items, combats, puzzles, creating an ambiance and theme, cool quests, pacing - all of those things are still valued.

And I will say that I do find I can keep tabs on most of my developer friends through MySpace, so maybe that's a form of rising social consciousness. Or a devolution. Or something.
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#11
Chris Avellone

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10)

Is it possible to give new life to CRPGs without leaving the old skool RPGer behind in the past?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I guess it depends what you define as the old skool RPGer, but I'll take a guess - isometric, turn-based, long dialogue trees, make your own journals and maps of areas, PC-centric control scheme, and a slower paced game in general.

I'd say the answer is "yes, it is possible" though unless it's an established franchise (Neverwinter Nights 2), it can be a tough sell to publishers, but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone at this point. To address each point above:

- Camera Angle: I think people should be given freedom with this no matter what, so I would never rule out an isometric angle, but I would allow people to pick and choose (like in NWN2).

- Turn-Based: While I keep hoping for a 700 million seller on the PSP to change folks' minds, turn-based is a hard sell with publishers, and there's times where I don't think it's even appropriate or fun for the genre (for example, in Knights of the Old Republic, I think the semi-turn-based or even a full-turn-based implementation of the fighting system actually hurts the game and worse, hurts the genre you're working in).

In all honesty, there's been a bigger push from the market for games with more instant gratification and more freedom in combat and camera movements over tactical, turn-based combat approaches. I will say that even if I don't always have the reflexes for it, I usually find fights in those games to get the adrenaline pumping a lot more.

- Long Dialogue Trees: If the game isn't voice acted, again, this is a hard sell. Also, if the conversation is forced upon you or paralyzes you from exploring the world or even looking around while people are talking to your character, it's an obstacle to fun. I do think there's other ways to do conversations other than the old node/4 response option we've done in the past, and I think it's worthwhile to experiment with those (especially with greater animation power and more detailed facial reactons) to see if something better can be done.

- Journal and Map Tracking: Most folks consider anything that makes you record things outside of the game (maps, quest tracking, journals) to be more of an obstacle to fun than fun in itself. Granted, I made about 300+ lovingly handdrawn maps for Bard's Tale, but I don't know if I would have the time to do that today.

- PC-centric: There's been a bigger push from publishers for console games, and it's been tough to find publishers that simply want to do a PC game. That said, going for consoles usually involves limiting or scaling down the number of options you can input through the controller, which can reduce the complexity of the interface somewhat. I will say that this often prevents some of the laziness that comes from some PC schemes since you do have so many buttons, but it does limit your options.

Anyway, to make a long answer even longer, it's possible, but there a number of forces that are an impediment to making such a game, and such forces are not developer driven. I don't think anyone here would mind making a Fallout-style game, but frankly, unless it IS Fallout, it's a tough sell, and even if it was Fallout, there would be a lot of arguments from the outside as to why certain old skool properties of Fallout would have to change.

#12
Chris Avellone

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BTW, that's it for the questions for now. I wanted to thank Fionavar for setting this up, and thanks to all of you guys for the great questions... especially the T vs. M rating for character arcs one, which made me give a lot of thought to whether M is really necessary, or whether I just can't stand parameters and am a big fussy pants.

Thanks to everyone who contributed, and thanks for participating on the forums - we should be releasing more and more NWN2 news as the September ship date approaches as well as other annoucements.

- Chris
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#13
Fionavar

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Thanks so much Chris! I suspect the community it very grateful for your taking the time to offer us some insight into your take on the questions posed.

As mentioned at the outset of the Top Ten, the hope is now to open this discussion for more interaction with Chris. As I unlock the thread a few housekeeping issues:

1) Chris' current schedule is pretty cwazy o:) (As I hope we can all appreciate) , so he may not be able to play in the sandbox as much as he would like;

2) With that in mind, Chris feels - if the community is okay with perhaps more spradic interaction from him - that we can proceed to open it up nonetheless, and;

3) As mentioned initially, I would appreciate that posting be constructive and respectful. The Top Ten threads will be a wee bit more stringent in expectation of decorum, so the old proviso "If ya ain't got nothin' constructive to add yada yada yada ..." :thumbsup:

Fionavar

#14
Cantousent

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Well, since the thread is now open, I have to say that I find the Teen v. Mature rating issue is interesting to me.

I think that some games lend themselves to a teen rating. Adding overt mature themes to such games doesn't help them. For example, I like the campy feel to much of the Might and Magic series. Since it's a formula that works, why impose mature themes into it.

Now, adding overt themes into a game just for the shock value doesn't make much sense either. Why have gratuitous violence and sex in a game for no other reason than the sex and violence? It would be easier to watch a pornographic film or look at a pleasant snuff movie.

Now that I've said all that, I'd really, really like to see mature themes in many of these games. The demo to Hitman, which is something I have only had a chance to play once, brings some of that home. It depicts violence within the context of the story and, so far, the demo has not glorified or reveled in the violence.

I don't believe, for a moment, that bristling at restraint constitutes artistic freedom. Having some desire to include sex and violence as a form of social protest is useless, worthless, and sometimes downright harmful. On the other hand, protesting against restraints on your artistic vision that mute your voice on serious social matters is entirely legitimate.

Are you a fussy pants? I don't know. ...But some exploration of the mature central themes in a Fallout style game, which depicts a gritty world, are useful for many adults and imperative for many young adults.

That's my sermon, at least.

#15
Llyranor

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- Turn-Based: While I keep hoping for a 700 million seller on the PSP to change folks' minds, turn-based is a hard sell with publishers, and there's times where I don't think it's even appropriate or fun for the genre (for example, in Knights of the Old Republic, I think the semi-turn-based or even a full-turn-based implementation of the fighting system actually hurts the game and worse, hurts the genre you're working in).

In all honesty, there's been a bigger push from the market for games with more instant gratification and more freedom in combat and camera movements over tactical, turn-based combat approaches. I will say that even if I don't always have the reflexes for it, I usually find fights in those games to get the adrenaline pumping a lot more.

- PC-centric: There's been a bigger push from publishers for console games, and it's been tough to find publishers that simply want to do a PC game. That said, going for consoles usually involves limiting or scaling down the number of options you can input through the controller, which can reduce the complexity of the interface somewhat. I will say that this often prevents some of the laziness that comes from some PC schemes since you do have so many buttons, but it does limit your options.

I think there's a certain irony in the 'general concensus' around here that going console dumbs games down and such, when there's a push for CRPGs using 'action' combat systems. Aside from Civ4, what was the last PC game that was both turn-based and sold at least modestly? Yet, at the same time, you can find quite a significant number of turn-based games (RPGs or otherwise) on consoles/handhelds this gen. There's a definite market for them.

And heh, I do think that the KOTORS with a Jedi Knight-like combat system could have been a whole lot more fun.

Maybe you guys should make handheld games (by which I mean the DS :"> ). Lower development costs and graphical standards give you more leeway to focus on gameplay if you so desire. Given how TB games have been pretty successful on GBA/DS, wink wink. You'd even had a second screen to fill up with verbose combat options or dialogue choices without filling out the main game screen.

Edited by Llyranor, 22 June 2006 - 02:11 PM.


#16
alanschu

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I'm curious what your take is on digitial distribution possibly allowing for more niche games.

#17
Llyranor

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In the same vein, also, thoughts on episodic content.

#18
Cantousent

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something like the marketplace idea, eh? Maybe change the color of the horses for $1.99? Sounds like a rip to me.

#19
Spider

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I think there's a certain irony in the 'general concensus' around here that going console dumbs games down and such, when there's a push for CRPGs using 'action' combat systems. Aside from Civ4, what was the last PC game that was both turn-based and sold at least modestly? Yet, at the same time, you can find quite a significant number of turn-based games (RPGs or otherwise) on consoles/handhelds this gen. There's a definite market for them.


There is HoMM5 for one. Others as well. The turn based games are there for the PC as well, however they tend to be world builders or god games. Turn based games when you scale it down to just a few characters are far and few between.

#20
alanschu

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something like the marketplace idea, eh?  Maybe change the color of the horses for $1.99?  Sounds like a rip to me.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



No...more like Sin: Emergence.




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