As you probably already know, independent developer Gareth Fouche has been hard at work for the last few years on a Torque-powered, mature-themed first person RPG entitled Scars of War.
If the game's feature set doesn't pique your interest, then the following interview on the game's influences, setting, factions, and more just might:
GB: What inspired you to start working on an indie RPG in the first place?
Gareth: Well, I think the answer is "insanity". It runs in my family, I'm told. Great Uncle Mortimer, that incident with the teacup and the cocker spaniel... best we not dwell on it.
Seriously though, I'm an avid gamer and like most avid gamers I have a lot of ideas for games rattling around in my head. Settings I'd like to see, mechanics I'd like to incorporate into a favored genre, that kind of thing. So I don't think any special inspiration was needed to work on an RPG, they're my favorite genre of game and one I'd dreamed about creating for years. It was simply a matter of acquiring the skills and then putting in the effort.
But I think you're more interested in why I chose to go "indie", yes? The answer is simple: I don't want to spend ten years making sports titles for EA in the hope that I might one day get a shot at making the type of game I really want to create, as long as said game meets the approval of the marketing department and appeals to the companies' core demographic of bloodthirsty teenage males.
Some people may not be aware of it, what with living under rocks and suchlike, but the games industry is a fairly rubbish one to work in. You're paid less than mainstream software development, the hours are nightmarish and job security is a joke. They can always replace you with some bright-eyed graduate who is willing to work the crazy hours for the subpar pay in order to "work in games!". For every rock star developer there are a thousand galley slaves. I'm not really fond of rowing. Quite frankly, the only way I'd accept those working conditions is if I get to bring my own creative vision into being by doing so, I'm selfish like that. So indie was the only real choice for me.
Which means that I still get to be a galley slave, but now I have to row all 20 oars by myself. On the bright side, the ship's direction is one I get to choose. So that's nice. Also, I get to act like I'm some sort of game industry rebel and "sticking it to The Man". We all enjoy hating The Man, don't we?
GB: What are the major influences of Scars of War, and what kind of design philosophy do they combine into?
Gareth: The largest influence is probably my teenage years spent playing pen and paper RPGs, mostly Dungeons and Dragons. Not so much for the gameplay mechanics of D&D, but the experience of the roleplaying itself. The roleplay options available to you when an adaptable human mind controls the world are so far beyond what computers offer as to be night and day. It's a far more fluid, dynamic experience, the opportunities to explore the limits of the roleplaying much broader. I'm the type of player who'd happily spend an entire evening roleplaying the infiltration of a gala ball, chatting up NPCs in search of information without ever rolling a dice for a combat encounter. No surprise, really, that Scars has plenty of content for the roleplayer like me, who enjoys the non-combat side of things as much as poking people with pointed sticks. I won't be able to match what a human GM can, of course, but that won't be from lack of trying.
The D&D setting of Eberron has to get a mentioned here. A rich, imaginative setting, the design philosophy of Eberron influenced my own. Keith Baker, the creator of Eberron, had tighter constraints than I did when making Eberron. The mandate was that everything that was currently part of D&D at the time had to fit in his setting, despite that he did an admirable job of working things into a cohesive whole. At the heart of his design philosophy was a principle dear to my heart. If this element X exists in a setting then the designer needs to take some time to consider how it would really affect the world. And in following that philosophy he created a fantasy world very different from the standard Tolkien derivative.
Other influences, from the gaming side I'd say the biggest influence is Vampire the Masquerade : Bloodlines. It was a bit too much of a linear, enclosed world for my tastes but the actual content was, for the most part, superb. On the completely opposite end of the scale, I loved Morrowind for its deep lore and fantastic, alien setting, I can count on one hand the number of settings I enjoyed delving into as much as that one. The actual gameplay and character interaction weren't anywhere near as strong but the explorer side of my personality reveled in it. For tone and setting inspiration I have to turn to the incredible Thief game series. When I talk about "realistic fantasy" later on, think of the world of Thief.
And then there are the host of books, movies and comics I've consumed over the course of my life which have jumbled together in my mind and somehow given rise to the ideas and plots in Scars.
In regards to design philosophy, I'll elaborate on that in a coming question, but it could be summed up as : plot heavy, character driven stories, strong opportunities to roleplay different character builds and a tight focus on tone and theme.
GB: The game is using Torque 3D. What specific advantages and capabilities made you choose this engine?
Gareth: There are a lot of middleware engines out there, choosing one really boils down to finding the right fit for you and your resources. The reason I chose Torque is that it has proven that games can be made on it by small teams and that it is "complete", ie it has the full set of features you want in a game engine.
As a tiny operation (originally only myself, now joined by the exceptionally talented Zach Fisher, artiste extraordinaire) my biggest obstacle is a severe lack of resources, especially given the scope of an RPG game. When I first chose Torque as a platform there were prettier, more modern engines out there. But none of them really came close to Torque in terms of the number and variety of games that had been made with the engine, or feature set on offer.
I see new indie devs talking about how some engine is great even though it isn't finished, how they will simply add in a few code libraries to cover the deficiencies, how it will take a few months, tops, and I smile a little to myself. Problems in an engine often only reveal themselves deep into the process, a large stable of completed titles built on an engine is a good indication that any such problems aren't insurmountable (you WILL encounter problems though, regardless of engine). They are also generally being overly optimistic about the time it takes to add in that missing functionality.
Now that Torque has received a major graphical overhaul it is more than able to stand toe-to-toe with other engines in the sparkles department. So I'm happy, I get the advantages I mentioned and have an engine with all the modern graphics baubles.