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The Bard's Tale IV has received a new Kickstarter update, and it's a meaty one. First, we have a write-up from Brian Fargo on how InXile plans to make the lore of The Bard's Tale more coherent. Then, continuing on the same note, InXile's lead writer, Nathan Long talks about worldbuilding, and offers an excerpt from one of his upcoming novellas.
Another thing to get excited about in the update is a short video where Rebecca Heineman talks about the current state of The Bard's Tale I-III remasters. Apparently, the games are just a few months away from being done, and they all now have a working automap feature. Check it out:
There's also a low-key announcement that The Bard's Tale IV will be coming to consoles. But, if I'm being totally honest, this comes as no surprise. Apart from that, the update teases some E3 stuff coming our way soon and announces a backer contest, which is more like a lottery, to pick one backer who will write an in-game item description.
And, last but not least, we get an announcement that The Bard's Tale creator, Michael Cranford, is now working on the fourth installment of the series as both a consultant and a contributor. Quite an exciting new development.
Here are a couple of snippets from the update:
Games today demand a deeper lore and sense of world than back in the day. My goal is to broaden the Bard's Tale world without losing the key people, places, spells, bard songs, etc. When we created Bard’s Tale back in 1985 we were young and excitable...more interested in mapping dungeons and torturing our players with teleporters, brutal combats, spinners, and darkness areas, than we were in telling a coherent story. We threw everything except the kitchen sink into those games - Nazis, ninjas, zen masters, robots, vampires, lizard men. We weren't exactly concerned with it making sense. Why did Mangar trap Skara Brae in ice? Does anybody ever say?
Well, we're for sure going to keep all the villains: Mangar, Lagoth Zanta, and the Mad God Tarjan. And we gotta keep Roscoe's and Garth's and the Adventurer’s Guild. Skara Brae's in there too, and the bard songs, the old spell names, along with all of the character classes including the ever popular Archmage. But knowing the lore is a bit thin and inconsistent (a lot of players made up better stories during their play-throughs than the games actually told) we needed to add some depth to the world. How do we stay true to the spirit and substance of the original games while adding the depth, history, and personality that today's players expect from a modern game?
Maybe we should start by figuring out how the events of the first three games fit together. How are Mangar, Lagoth Zanta, and Tarjan connected? What ambition drove them? Where did they come from? In what kind of world would beings of such power exist? What is the history behind it all? And can we give it all a unique flavor that will allow it to stand out from other fantasy games?
Of course going in this direction required making some hard choices. Elves and dwarves are entirely in keeping with old Scottish lore. But orcs and hobbits are a bit played out and inventions of more modern authors, and aren't such a good fit. We dug deeper into the Orkney fairytales and found a race with a long and storied connection to Scottish legends, the Trow. So they will be our third non-human race, with unique combat abilities and useful songs they can teach your bard.
In the end it's a balancing act. Fighting to keep as many of the touch-points of the original Bard’s Tale series as we can, while at the same time filling out the story, giving the background some consistency, and updating the combat, graphics, and game-play to state of the art standards. And with every design decision, we are doing our best to make The Bard's Tale IV a game that new players will love and old fans will welcome as a true sequel to the original Bard's Tale trilogy.
With Brian's directive to update the Bard's Tale world for modern audiences while keeping the spirit and details of the original games intact, and at the same time giving it touch of Celtic mysticism, my task has been to construct a world that does all those things, weaving together the old stories and the new in a way that is both appealing and believable.
Thus, I spent much of our pre-production time constructing a history for the world, using the lore and legends I had from the first games and mixing them with Celtic lore and legends to invent Skara Brae's gods, religions, and monsters, and name its people, towns, and kingdoms. But world building only takes you so far. To really find the feel of a world - and find out if and how it works - you have to live in it for a while, see how the people who live in it see it, make sense of it, and survive it.
A good way to do that is to write a story set in the world, and, since I also had to write the Bard's Tale novellas we promised in the Kickstarter campaign, it was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I would write one novella each for The Bard's Tale, The Destiny Knight, and the Thief of Fate, weaving the stories from the original games into the world of the new in a way that would be recognizable to the original fans and at the same time did not break the new lore.
The guy who made the game wasn't some grizzled, professional-looking white collar type. Instead, Michael Cranford looked like a version of every friends’ big brother - only a few years older, letting us young'uns know what high school and college would be like. The difference was that Michael wasn't making games just for fun; he was doing it as a job. When I interviewed for this position, I cited that memory from 1986 as the moment I realized that I could do more than just enjoy making games, I could possibly do so for a living. The Bard's Tale series was the inspiration for many developers who would go on to make role-playing classics over the next few decades. Any computer role-playing fan owes a debt to the young man in that picture!
This is why everyone at inXile Entertainment is proud to announce that Michael will be a part of The Bard's Tale IV, providing feedback for us and even contributing a bit to the game itself. He may even have a cameo in the game somewhere. See if you can find him when the time comes! For new players to the series, this is just one more way we look forward to introducing you to the special magic of The Bard's Tale series. For returning veterans, it's that much more thrilling to know that we're not alone in our excitement to return to Skara Brae - Michael Cranford will be returning with us, too!