Thunderscape

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Thunderscape

First, a little gaming history. The AD&D gold box PC game series was a huge hit for SSI back in the day, but eventually technology outpaced the game engine, regardless of how many tweaks they could add to it. This meant a new game engine needed to be developed, which is exactly what SSI did for its next release, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands.

Thunderscape PC Cover

Of course, this kind of effort is expensive, and a company needs to either have a large cash cushion to absorb it, or a high sales payoff in the first game release using the new engine. Unfortunately, SSI had neither, and the company was bought out by Mindscape, Inc., ending an era.

The World of Aden: Thunderscape was the newly sold company’s effort to mirror the success of the Ultima series in the RPG market: an in-house game engine and concept that did not require 3rd party licensing. No fees paid to TSR for the right to use the AD&D worlds meant higher profits for the company. It all sounded so elegantly simple. So why don’t we still adventure in Aden today?

Thunderscape PC

The answer lies in the gaming experience. Thunderscape was a world highly influenced by steampunk. Muskets were an option (albeit an expensive one) for adventurers. Steam golems, archaic-appearing robots, could appear to threaten the party, and other steam-related technology, such as steam engines, could be found in the game. Most other RPGs were classic medievalesque fare; because of its steampunk leanings, Thunderscape was something different.

In some ways, Thunderscape played like a standard SSI-produced RPG, which made the game world even more jarring. Character development followed a familiar pattern: the player forms a party of adventurers based on race (Human, Elf, Faerkin, Jurak, Rapacian, Goreaux, Dwarf, or Ferran), establishes their individual attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Willpower), decides on their skills (fencing, sword, axe/mace, bow, shield, martial arts, polearm, knife, firearms, stealth, acrobatics, lockpicking, fast talk, see secrets, merchant, xenology, and cast spells), decide which spells any spellcasting characters may use, equip the character with weapons and/or armor, choose the portrait and name your character. Once the party is ready, off they go, looking for monsters to kill, treasure to covet, and quests to complete.

Thunderscape PC

The game played out in a first-person perspective, attempting to give the “you are there” feel. There are 20 levels of fun, including caverns, cities, mines, castles, sewers, and the great outdoors. Movement is controlled using the mouse, with right-click accessing the directional arrows. Combat is also controlled by the mouse, with a special combat menu appearing when hostilities begin. And since many RPGs seem to be a scavenger hunt, accumulating inventory is also controlled by the mouse, with a hand icon appearing when you get close enough to something that your magpie-like characters want to add to their inventory slots.

Thunderscape PC

Thunderscape wasn’t all hack ‘n’ slash, though. Puzzles needed to be solved to progress through the storyline. Clues were distributed throughout the gameworld that needed to be collected and used. Even combat required more than the standard, send in the walking tank while launching fireballs from the rear, as some enemies would not fall without discovering their weaknesses during gameplay. All in all,Thunderscape was a thinking person’s RPG, not a clickfest.

For all its good features, Thunderscape had some play issues. It followed in the time-honored path of releasing before all the bugs could be squished, but that’s what version 1.1 patches are for. Even so, the game did well enough to warrant a somewhat mediocre sequel, World of Aden: Entomorph Plague of the Darkfall. However, the sequel was not a huge seller, and became the final game in the World of Aden series.

Thunderscape PC

Thunderscape remains a game that some recall with fond memories of many hours of deep gameplay, and others recall as a stopover between Menzoberranzan andRavenloft titles. It’s a game that got lost in the shuffle, but a good enough gaming experience to warrant inclusion as a Forgotten Classic. For a little steampunk action that predates Sierra’s Arcanum by several years, give The World of Aden: Thunderscape a try!

We Interview Chris Avellone From Obsidian Entertainment: Part 2

Chris Avellone metal

 Chris Avellone From Obsidian Entertainment

Be sure to read Part 1 here!

General Questions About Gaming And Game Design:

What do you think about games that are based around an alignment based system? Are they too limited? How would you enforce the alignment role-playing aspect?

I don’t always believe in a game imposing morality unless it’s part of a franchise (Star Wars). In Alpha Protocol we did away with a player morality bar because in the espionage world, it’s difficult to say whether you’re “good” or “bad,” you’re just out to accomplish your mission and your reasons are your own. I do feel it’s fair if you set up reputation bars for other people, companions, and factions because it’s easier to imagine how NPCs and communities would judge your actions that us trying to judge the player and slap a +/- on it.

I did dislike the alignment system in D&D because it always assumed the player should choose an alignment before adventuring in the world. So in Torment, we let the player be a blank slate and let the alignment evolve (and reverse) over time depending on your actions. We felt that this was a better interpretation of the alignment system and it made more sense in the context of the narrative.

What do you think about the trend that we see in modern gaming where people consider MMORPGs to be RPGs? Is this correct or have they simply not had then chance to play a real traditional RPG?

Advancement schemes are similar, and some of the cause and effect you experience in RPGs is there, and I’d argue the ability to form your own party from other players provides the equivalent of an RPG experience in many respects. You may not always be able to make your decisions and actions felt in the environment because you can’t disturb the MMORPG equilibrium to the same extent as you can in a single-player RPG, but some of the core elements are there, yes.

If you had to remake a classic RPG made by another studio, which one would you remake and why?

SSI Wizard’s Crown or Eternal Dagger because I loved the way they showcased the dungeons and allowed you to develop your character. Pool of Radiance would also be fun (the 1st Goldbox one) as would Dark Sun’s Shattered Lands (which I loved).

What is the most influential yet obscure game you have ever played and why do you find it so important in your gaming history?

Well, in terms of influential yet obscure, that cuts a lot of games out – I feel a lot of the more common games have had a big influence on my designs (Portal, Chronotrigger, Ultima Underworld). If I were to name some “obscure” ones, I’d probably say System Shock 2 is the top of the list (it’s basically a design doc for how to make a great game), Amnesia: The Dark Descent for introducing a challenge mechanism that could simultaneously terrify you, Bastion’s narration mechanics, and Wasteland for proving to me how you could use game mechanics in the context of a “conventional” RPG to make some truly brilliant levels if you took a step back and thought outside the box.

What was your favorite character from RPGs you have worked on and why?

That’s tough, and it varies. I liked most of the Torment cast for different reasons, even Ignus and Vhailor. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Fall-From-Grace, I always enjoyed the premise of a puritan succubus who’s simultaneously the nicest, wisest, and gentlest people you can meet on the Planes. Jennifer Hale did a great job with her voice.

Who is your favorite co-worker and why?

Brian Menze, our concept artist and the lead artist on South Park now. I’ve known Brian ever since the Black Isle days, and he’s been my friend for a very, very long time. We still try and do comic book Wednesdays every week, and the studio would be a sadder place without his presence. He’s brought a lot of characters in the studio to life, and he’s incredibly modest and humble about his pieces, which makes me like him all the more.

Who in computing or video game history has been your idol and why?

Tim Cain, Tom Hall, Richard Dansky, to name a few. Tim reimagined how RPG mechanics could work for me, Tom Hall reimagined how design aesthetics could be applied in unconventional ways (Anachronox), and Richard Dansky never stops being a great guy and helping people.

I couldn’t possibly name everyone, but those are the people that jump to mind. I have the good fortune to work with Tim Cain on this project, and that’s one of my life goals on my bucket list.

First Project Eternity Screenshot

What do you watch/play/listen-to/read while trying to get creative ideas for projects?

Mostly trance music. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while writing a character, I find the words and inner speech of the character I’m writing gets all jumbled up.

Going to see a live show or play I’ve found is one of the best means to stir the creative pot up when I have writer’s block (or even if I don’t). I have a lot of friends in the theater or who play in bands, and watching them live is enthusiastically contagious.

Other times, I immerse myself in research. Often when tackling an area, concept, or type of game, I try to read as much literature and watch as much media relevant to it (example, for Fallout New Vegas: Lonesome Road, I re-read Damnation Alley again, watched The Road, etc, etc.). When I got back into Wasteland, I started listening to a lot more 80s music, watching 80s movies and even researching 80s commercials to get a feel for the era… I’m embarrassed to say my memories of the 80s have slipped away, so it’s a shock to remember some of the big moments and media of the decade.

Project Eternity Specific Questions:

I always loved the interaction between my party members in some of your previous games, especially in Planescape: Torment. I did not like how rare these interactions did happen though. Do you plan on implementing a more ongoing interaction between the party companions? Have you considered adding interactions that will only happen when you have certain companions in the party?

Yes and yes, we feel companion commentary with each other is a strong means of showing how alive and reactive your companions are – not just to the world and your actions, but to each other’s presence. Plus, they’re fun to write, I certainly enjoyed writing the ones in Torment and would have loved to have written more.

Are we going to be limited in party size? Yes, it would probably make the game a lot easier to be walking around with an army so what we are asking is, what would be the magic number and how can you logically limit the size? Have you considered implementing the hiring of mercenary NPCs?

Party size will be a single player character and up to five companions – or as you mentioned above with mercenaries, you can also round out your party with recruited allies (which you can customize and build in the Adventurer’s Hall).

How do you plan to sell the game once it is finished and live? Retail? Steam? Impulse? GOG?

GOG (DRM-free) and Steam are our digital distribution outlets. We are also going to see if we can work on distributing the boxed version at retail as well, but we have not specific plans on that yet.

Have you considered making certain parts of the game have a randomized value that would add to the replayability of the game? Have you considered randomizing major plot points or the true intentions of certain characters?

Right now, our efforts have been focused on the hand-crafted elements that will make up the spine of the game.

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Will gear be generally usable by most characters or will it require a certain adjustment for use? By this I mean, can a mage wear at least some level of real armor. Also, a dwarf wouldn’t be able to wear a troll’s armor unless he had an armorer make a suit of armor from that troll’s armor. Do you plan to implement that kind of level of equipment realism in the game? Will gear have wear and tear? Will the game offer some level of crafting element?

We won’t restrict gear according to player race. If you find armor, any race can wear it.

Would somebody be able to simply play not caring what the game’s plot is trying to get us to do? What I mean is similar to what’s found in the game Mount & Blade, for which you can pick what you really want to do such as hire one-self out to work for the highest paying empire or faction.

Like an Infinity Engine title, there is a plot, and while we will have dungeons that respawn and events in the world that you can cause to happen through your actions (such as turning a town or city hostile), the game requires some interaction with the plot from the player to progress. That said, we do want the player to feel free in how they approach the plot and feel that they can make the choices they want to make.

Will you give players the option to dramatically change the world in the RPG such as by ending it or potentially creating utopia?

The story hasn’t been nailed down yet, we’re still crafting it. We do want the world to persist in some fashion after the first installment, and even if great changes occur in the first game, there’s still plenty of world to explore in future games.

Would we be able to have our character fall in love with other characters in the game? Do we get to choose this or what if the game chose for us? Would it be possible to start a family, such as in the Fable games or Europa 1400 The Guild?

There’ll be a variety of mature relationships in the game, and you can choose to interact with them as little or as much as you want.

How is time handled in the game? Will the game take the course of a year? Will it take many years with some of the effects from the earlier part of the game affecting the mid and end game?

We’re handling time in a similar fashion to the BG and IWD games. Events happen in more-or-less real-time (real game time, that is, not literally minute per real world minute) except for rest sequences. We probably won’t be advancing time artificially off screen (“Act 1 is over, so X years pass,” for example).

Will the game offer any kind of multiplayer, such as letting our friends take over our party members in combat?

We want to focus on the single-player experience and make sure that’s solid. We don’t have any multiplayer plans at this time.

Would you let players submit translated versions of the game in other languages that haven’t yet been scheduled for translation?

They would most likely be part of the translation efforts if they wanted to volunteer. We’d welcome the help, and we’ve already received a huge amount of support from international fans that would love to do the translations for us (and if you are one of them and you’re reading this –thanks again).

Do you plan on updating the game with expansions once the game is released? How often would this happen? Would players be able to make their own mods or expansions once the game is live and would an editor be made available eventually?

We would like to do this, although we’re still examining how the pipelines for expansions would work. We don’t want to promise something that we couldn’t do until we’d done more research. We recently released an update with our modding views – we like modding, we want to encourage it, but we don’t want to promise it unless we know we can do it, or else we’d do our players and backers a disservice.

Although I have asked about technology already, since this is such a game changer, I made it a separate question: Will this universe have guns or gunpowder?

It has both. Gunpowder weapons exist, though they are single-shot wheellock variety, and are primarily used to give mages an unprecedented run for their money.

Will all the major races be humanoids or will you implement at least one really weird non-humanoid races a major player in this world?

We’ve got a selection of races, both seemingly-traditional and ones that are more off the beaten path. Some of the concept pieces we’ve released (notably the female dwarf) should give some clues as to what to expect from the choices for race in the game.

What’s the major mode of transportation in this universe?

Foot travel is the primary mode of transportation, although occasionally players may find themselves magically transported somewhere. To speed up overland travel, we will implement a map UI so the player can quickly move their party to locations they’ve already discovered. Note that our map UI is similar to what’s been found in the Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate games, not Elder Scrolls or Fallout 3/New Vegas-style fast travel.

What kinds of religions will we see in the game?

This will fall on Josh Sawyer (our resident theologian). More to come on this as the world is fleshed out in future updates.

World of Tanks 8.0 Review

 

World-of-Tanks-8.0

What is World of Tanks?

In a nutshell World of Tanks is the best tank simulator MMO out there. Think of it like a modern day Panzer Commander. They’re basically the same game except that World of Tanks is infinitely superior in every way: more units, online multiplayer, it’s free, it’s updated all the time, it has excellent support and community, etc. Then again I was comparing it to Panzer Commander which was made by the defunct SSI (Strategy Simulations Inc), which back in its day was sort of like the modern day company Paradox Interactive, who still make classic strategy games and other games that SSI would make back in the day!

If you still haven’t played World of Tanks then stop wasting your time playing stuff like Hello Kitty Online and get it here. Nothing against HKO, I play it too! If you want my advice with World of Tanks, read my World of Tanks strategy guide for beginners.

World of Tanks 8.0 Review

Chances are if you are reading this 8.0 Review you already know what WoT is, so let’s get down to what’s so good and bad about it!

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Graphics:

The game has a completely rewritten game engine that makes it look a more real than before. The graphics to me feel so much cleaner now almost like the difference from a DirectX 9 to DirectX 11 game. It’s that good of a change.

On most systems I’ve tested it, it has gained much performance. I compared it to it having the same settings. On my girlfriend’s laptop which has a really poor integrated video card by Intel, she went from getting usually 6 fps to getting 16 fps while having the game look much better. I went myself, on my 2011 main gaming PC, from getting about 35 fps on max everything to now getting 45-65 fps with the same settings.

World-of-Tanks-8.0

Physics:

No longer are we faced with invisible immortal air walls that prevent your tank from running off a cliff or a slope. Now not only can you do that if you want but you can push people off areas, or even flip them over if you run into them hard enough. Shooting, especially from a light tank will make your tank move along with the direction of the recoil. It is now possible to slide down a hill if you don’t have enough traction or the correct momentum to make it up. Tanks also now can be destroyed by putting themselves in places that they are not designed to be in, such as under water.

All this is really great but it also presents a problem because now I often, in at least every other game, see what I call “a bunch of retarded 12-year olds” do stuff like try to jump over a river then smash into it and blow up. I’ve also seen the 12-year old retards do things like try to jump fly over a bridge that is 200 feet high in the air and then have their tank shatter into pieces once it hits the ground. I report them because this is the kind of thing that ruins a game. To me it’s the equivalent of griefing the team such as feeding would in another game League of Legends.

If I were in charge of Wargaming, I would dramatically increase the penalty for committing suicide in the game in such an obvious way over and over to be the equivalent of team killing. Sure, the game already had team killing prevention but it’s simply not good enough to prevent all the 12 year olds from ruining the game, especially for the people playing who have spent money on the game and don’t have all day to game.

World-of-Tanks-8.0-4

Maps:

Most of the maps have been redone either to fix some annoying exploits or to take advantage of the better terrain and more destroyable features of the landscape. This in itself completely changes how you now play the game. It’s time to relearn most of the minor details of maps and that to me makes the game more interesting again!

Sound Effects:

Most of the combat sound effects have been improved to make them sound more real. All the cannons have a unique boom that’s specific to the specifications of the weapon. Armor damage, ricochet, and dings sound a lot more impressive than they did pre 8.0 Even the noises the ground makes as you drive over it and break stuff sounds a lot more real. This greatly improves my enjoyment of the game.

I wish though they would finally hire some voice actors to talk in the native language of whatever tank I am using. It’s really annoying to hear some American sounding guy saying “Well that’s gotta hurt!!!” or “Let’s move out!!!” as I use my German, French, or Russian tanks. Fix it! The quick fix would be just to remove the voice that’s there right now. I’d rather hear just the sounds of warfare than this guy talking!

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Conclusion:

This is the best update I’ve ever seen for World of Tanks. Wargaming really keeps me coming back to this game with the monthly updates as well as the promise of World of Warplanes and World of Warships. Since the games will eventually share your unified account, it’s not a big deal to grind on World of Tanks since I know one day I will be sharing my XP, Credits, and Gold with my other “World of (blank)” accounts!