Independent RPG Interviews

RPG Codex has posted an extensive interview with four different independent RPG developers - Planewalker Games' Jason Compton (The Broken Hourglass), Basilisk Games' Thomas Riegsecker (Eschalon: Book I), Soldak Entertainment's Steven Peeler (Depths of Peril), and Iron Tower Studios' Vince D. Weller (Age of Decadence).
Q: Quests. Tell us everything we need to know about quests in your game and your design preferences in general.

Jason: We use a sortable, searchable journal, so you shouldn't have too much trouble keeping track of what you're supposed to do, although there is no "quest compass." As mentioned, we've structured the game around a small number of plot-critical quests and a larger number of minor quests which can be accomplished in more or less any order before moving on to the endgame. Because the game and the setting don't lend themselves to lots of "marauding orc attacks" (indeed, there are no orcs, and the fact that Mal Nassrin is sealed off from the outside world would protect you from the orc hordes even if there were any!) there's not a tremendous emphasis on random attacks by beasties, but there are combat scenarios and some would qualify as "random" or "wandering", yes.

I prefer a blend, sometimes it's good to have an excuse to arm up for a nice big set-piece fight, other times it's good to know that those points invested in "talky" skills aren't going to waste. And as alluded to above, although it's very satisfying on the one hand to write quests which have dialogue-based resolutions, the reality of the situation is that they don't do much for the gameplay-hours value-for-money computation. So it's a tricky balance that we're trying to strike, and the inescapable truth is that all things being equal, having characters fight eats up time, and the slower they fight, the better. Frustrating, but true.

Thomas: Quests in Eschalon are dished out via dialogue and narrative hooks. We are dividing quests up about 40/60 in terms of (main) and (side) quests, and hopefully players will enjoy the variety that we've put in the game. The quest journal keeps a list of current quests with a simple description that tells you what you need to know to get started, but beyond that we don't direct the player. This definitely encourages exploration more than just giving the player an arrow to follow.

Steven: The quest system in Depths of Peril is very dynamic. Each game has different quests because they are generated based on the actions of the player, the other covenants, and the world itself. Quests actually have consequences. You can fail quests and quests can generate other quests based on the actions that everyone takes. So in other words, every game plays a little differently because different events happen and your choices actually matter. Should you cure the plague or go quell the monster uprising first? The order might matter. If you don't cure the plague, you or you recruits might catch it. If that happens not only will you be weaker but some of the other covenants might decide to come kill you while you are weak. But if you don't quell the uprising they might come and attack the town.

At least for this particular game, we've tried to design the quests so that most of the time solving, failing, or having to postpone solving the quests actually matters and changes the world. We are hoping that the quests will be much more exciting than many other games this way.

Vince: We have the main quests, helping you get to your main goal, and we have side quests, of course. RPG Vault posted an article recently, dealing with side quests, so you can get some info there. To tell you something new, although the main quest is non-linear, factions side quests are linear, presenting well designed stories. You will be given options to switch sides and to stop one storyline and switch to another. You won't be able to finish one and start another though. To give you an example, playing the Imperial Guards storyline, you - among other guards, of course, you are not "teh chosen one", will be tasked to stop a barbarian army recruited by Lord Gaelius to strengthen his position. You can either go through several quests to stop the army, showing your loyality to the Imperial Guards and continuing their storyline or you can recognize a good opportunity to switch sides and help the army to arrive to Maadoran, continuing to play for House Aurelian from that point on.

The independent RPG scene looks far more promising than the few large budget titles currently in development. I'll definitely be firing up all four of these games when they're released.