March 14th, 2010
Hey, everyone. I have been very lax on making posts to this blog lately, but I’m going to try to be more active. I’m a player as much as a developer, so I’ve decided to gather some of my thoughts about a few different CRPGs that I’ve played in the past year or so. These games will probably seem random to some people, but that’s me – I like to sample a little of everything.
Rather than write reviews, however, it’s my intention to reflect on the designs of games. There are things that I like and things that I don’t like, and I’d like to talk about why, and how the elements of these games affect my own game designs.
Basilisk Games – Linux, Mac, Windows – $19.95, downloadable (price as of 3/2010)
I’ve played Eschalon Book I off and on for the last couple of years. I finally completed a game of it sometime last year. It’s a somewhat retro-style single player RPG. Combat and movement is turn-based and the isometric graphics are laid out on an invisible grid. You get one character (no parties, pets, or henchmen) and there are a bunch of equipment slots. The game features a typical exp-based level system with skill points and character attributes. Be forewarned – it takes a lot of time to level up in this game. If you’re used to the ridiculous leveling pace of your average MMORPG, you may find yourself going through ding-withdrawal.
There are a couple of things I really love about EB-I. First off, it’s cross-platform, so it already gets an extra look from me. I do all my day to day work in a Linux environment, and any game that runs natively in Linux is a game I am more inclined to try out to break up my workday. It’s developed by an indie game company, and I know when I spend $20 on the download, the money is going right to the developers. Oh, and there’s a playable demo, so you can try it before you buy it.
But enough of that – let’s talk game mechanics. I’m a big fan of the turn-based play; you take a step, all your enemies take a step, that kind of thing. It’s not much for “realism”, but it’s great for casual RPGs because you can stop and think about what you want to do – and if you have to stop in the middle of combat and answer email or something, there’s no pressure – you can always come back to the game and pick up wherever you left off. EB-I does turn based action very well. Tight hallways and small rooms indoors and in dungeons provide a nice contrast to wide open spaces in the wilderness, resulting in benefits and weaknesses to different fighting styles depending on the situation.
EB-I also features an interesting day and night system. The transition doesn’t happen all at once, but rather, you get various degrees of visibility as the sun goes down and it slowly gets darker. The map system is unique in that it requires a “cartography” skill. As you walk around the world, the area you can see gets drawn in on your map. The more points you spend on cartography, the more clearly and colorfully your map gets drawn.
The storyline of EB-I is pretty decent. As a rule, I’m never blown away by CRPG storylines, but I can say I actually read most of the dialog in EB-I as opposed to mashing the skip button as fast as I can (as with some other games that tend to drone on and on about prophecies and gods I’m expected to know about). The game has a quest system that allows you to pursue the main storyline as well as several side-quests at any given time. The quests are pretty much linear – you either do what you’re told to or you don’t finish the quest.
There are a few interesting puzzles in the game. However, there are also a few faux-puzzles – those annoying times when you have to run all the way from one end of a dungeon to the other to hit a switch that opens a door back at the beginning. These kinds of annoyances seemed to be more frequent in the early areas of the game (which had the unfortunate side-effect of making me get bored quit playing it for a while). Later on, the exploration of new areas gets much more interesting.
In EB-I, all the enemies you’ll face are specifically placed throughout the world. For example, let’s say you walk into a forest clearing and encounter three lizards. If you were to start a new game with a new character and go to that same clearing, you’ll see the same three lizards. There is no respawning of enemies, either, so once you kill those three lizards you can revisit that clearing and you’ll never see any enemies there.
I’m not sure how I feel about this little quirk. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to travel through an area already “cleared” without having to fight through more of the same monsters. But on the other hand, there are a finite number of enemies, and thus a finite amount of experience points (and thus, levels) you can get. If you find yourself getting stuck somewhere because you’re just not strong enough, you don’t have a way to go back and re-fight easier enemies to level up. It keeps the game challenging, I suppose, but depending on the class you pick, it can be a little too challenging to be fun. There is one way to “spawn” enemies, and that is to pick a spot outside and rest for hours and hours (in game, not real time) and get ambushed by traveling gangs of enemies; but that just feels… clumsy.
My take-away from Eschalon: Book I as a game designer and developer
This game is several years old, but they still sell it, and probably make new sales all the time. Honestly, due to it’s retro design, it’s protected from going out of style. Sometime this year they expect to release Book II (finally), and will sell it for $25. Anyone who has played through the first one will almost certainly spring for the second one (I certainly will). Some thoughts:
- Having no easy way to fight randomly-spawned enemies is a small hang-up, but in terms of my personal preferences in game design, I would choose to include some system that would allow for it. Spawned enemies give a player a chance to practice different combat styles and tactics, try out equipment, and see how spells, potions, and special abilities work. It allows them to do a little “field testing” before heading off to fight tougher enemies.
- The game has a pretty easy-to-master interface and despite it’s limited resolution, pretty decent graphics for an indie game.
- I like the skill point system and the fact that some skills are not necessarily combat-based, but still worth spending skill points in (I love the cartography and mapping system, and also the alchemy skill and system is well done). There is a quick travel feature that allows you to jump back to a few select points once you’ve visited them – that’s a great feature for casual gamers like me.
That’s all for today. I don’t know about you all, but I’m suffering from daylight-savings jet lag – which makes this a perfect Sunday for veging-out with some video games. Have a good week, and keep on playing!