If you've been playing PC role-playing games for more than a decade, then you've certainly noticed a massive shift in the way mainstream CRPGs play over the years. Turn-based combat has been brushed aside in favor of real-time (with pause!), interesting and well-written dialogue trees have been replaced with short, meaningless responses, and every quest or puzzle has been fine-tuned to ensure that your average chimpanzee can conquer the game without breaking a sweat.
All is not lost, however. It's because of this shift that independent CRPG developers have started to become much more prominent. Basilisk Games is one such developer, where a very small team of programmers, artists, and designers have taken it upon themselves to develop a trilogy of games that mimics much of the gameplay we would have expected from an RPG twenty years ago. If that sounds like a welcome change to you, then you'll want to hear what lead programmer Thomas Riegsecker had to say about the first game in the series, Eschalon: Book I...
GB: For those visitors who are unfamiliar with Eschalon: Book I, can you give us a brief summary of the game's development history and what sort of style and play experience you're hoping to achieve with the game?
Thomas: The game has been in a conceptual stage for many years but didn’t start actual development until early 2005. Since then our design goal for this project has been to create a classic role-playing experience similar to the types of RPGs produced for computers during the 80’s and early 90’s. We are drawing a lot of inspiration from the early Ultima series, Might & Magic series, and Wizardry series.
GB: How many people are actually working on the game? Do you feel that you'll be in a position to release the game by the end of the year?
Thomas: Our core team is three guys, but right now I personally put most of the work in the game day to day, being the only true full-time developer on the project. The other two guys have contributed to the overall design and testing from the start and we've had numerous donations of game assets over the past 2 years, so it's hard to give an exact number of people who have contributed to the game.
As for when we’ll be done, I certainly hope it’ll be completed before the end of the year! In fact I have been forecasting completion sometime later this summer, but I have slipped on almost every date I have ever set for the game so I refuse to give a solid release date. However things are looking really good right now and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
GB: Eschalon: Book I is described as drawing its inspiration from "great role-playing games of the past." What is it about the current crop of role-playing games that made you decide to go for a "classic" experience? Why do you think the larger developers and publishers have shyed away from anything other than action-oriented RPGs?
Thomas: Well, I think the biggest problem with the current crop of RPGs is that publishers are continually looking to get bigger returns on their investments, and to do so developers must make a game that is going to attract the largest possible customer base. To achieve this, RPGs have become simpler and more action-oriented over the years. Today’s RPGs must compete for market share with first-person shooters and third-person adventure games, and they do this by eliminating most of the complexity inherent to the genre. Publishers don’t seem to care that the hard-core RPGers who gave birth to the role-playing genre are the very customers they are squeezing out of their sales. These RPG enthusiasts are looking for a true role-playing experience, not a medieval version of Halo.
GB: Take us through the game's character creation system. How much customization will players have at their disposal while creating their character? Also, what effect will the player's Origin and Axiom choices have during the course of their adventure?
Thomas: We tried to make the character creator as close to a pen-and-paper experience as possible. We want the player to feel as if they are crafting a brand new character rather than having to select from a prefabricated stereotype. To that end you have full control over skill selection, point distribution, character attributes and more.
Your character’s Origin is simply a personal trait identifying his homeland, which grants him certain attribute bonuses similar to a racial selection in other RPGs. The Axiom stat is very similar to the Alignment stat from D&D, though we tried to make it more practical and less restrictive. Basically, it grants one beneficial trait and one negative trait based on your character’s personal belief system. For example, if you select the Atheistic Axiom, then your character chooses to not believe in superstitions or divinity of any kind, and so he is immune to curses. However, this also makes him immune to the beneficial effects of blessings or healing via a priest.