Basilisk Games has finally released Eschalon: Book I, the first in a trilogy of games that hearken back to a time when role-playing games were either played atop a table in a dark basement or on a PC sporting the latest version of DOS. To get a better idea of the game's origin, development, and what's in store for the series' future, we sent over a set of questions to lead programmer Thomas Riegsecker. The exchange to follow:
GB: Tell us a little about yourself and how you wound up developing an independent RPG.
Thomas: There’s not much to tell actually. Up until a few years ago I was just another IT guy doing admin work and a bit of programming. Then after losing my job, I decided to empty my saving account and start on this RPG project I had in my head. Ever since that decision was made I have worked ungodly hours to get this product finished. I wish I could say that I skydive on the weekends or something cool like that, but it wouldn’t be true. I mostly just work.
GB: Give us a quick introduction to Eschalon: Book 1.
Thomas: Eschalon: Book I is a game I’ve wanted to make for years. It follows an old-school approach to RPG design offering detailed character stats, a turn-based combat system, and an openly explorable world. In some ways, its uniqueness comes from the fact that it’s not supposed to be unique. We never intended to reinvent the genre or force some new style of role-playing upon gamers. Eschalon: Book I is just classic old-school role-playing and we’ve never been shy to admit that.
GB: What would you say are the game's strongest points?
Thomas: I think its strongest points are that it is easy to get in to yet it has a deep character build system. It has a storyline that even the most cynical players are telling us is interesting. And finally, as I mentioned, it’s not some radical new take on role-playing. We made a game that is built right from the foundation of many great RPGs of the past so it is instantly familiar to most players.
GB: On the contrary, what would you say are the game's weakest points?
Thomas: I think it comes up a little short (in terms of playing time) than we had hoped it would. When we sketched this story out on paper and started building the game world, it was not until the very end that we could get an accurate idea of how long it would take players to finish. I would have liked the game to be 5-10 hours longer, but I also didn’t want to just tack on some extra busywork just to extend the game.
GB: What was the biggest challenge you faced during development?
Thomas: The main challenge was just finishing the game! We started with absolutely nothing but a bunch of ideas on paper and this dream of making a game. It turns out that creating a good role-playing game is an extremely complex undertaking. Thousands of variables go into entity and character stats, game rules, environment dynamics and of course the engine itself, and they all have to be balanced to make the game function. It is a ridiculously complicated process. I am truly amazed that the game finished up as well as it did!
GB: Would you say that the game's main plot is a little cliché?
Thomas: I think you are referring to the “amnesia hook” that we use to start the game off with. While that bit is not too original, we definitely take the story in a fresh direction after that. What surprises me is that we managed to stay away from the “savior of the world” plot unlike what every single commercial RPG still uses, and people still comment that our amnesia hook is overused. All I can say to the critics is: play the game and then comment on it. Saying a story is weak when you’ve only read the first page isn’t very fair.