Role-Playing Games, Then And Now
Computer role-playing games have been among the earliest of genres to establish themselves in the games industry, but sadly also one of the most vulnerable and, perhaps, the genre that has been contorted the most over the years.
Role-playing saw a real heyday during the 80s, when games like “The Bard’s Tale,” “Phantasie,” “Ultima,” “Wasteland” and the “Wizardry” games allowed fans to explore fantasy worlds in a way they had never seen before. During the 90s, the horizon of role-playing games expanded dramatically, as new technologies evolved and technical advances allowed for bigger and more feature-rich games. During this period, games like the “Might&Magic” series, the second wave of “Wizardry” games and SSI’s “Dungeons & Dragons” adaptations, as well as our own “Realms of Arkania” games, created role-playing experiences that oftentimes tried to capture the essence of pen&paper games, but without the inherent limitations. Many of these game succeeded and went on to become timeless classics.
The result of that era was a series of games, each of which was incredibly imaginative, colorful and bold. Some games pushed the storytelling side of role-playing, while others were decidedly more technology-driven. But they all had one thing in common. They were created by people who loved the genre, most of which were intimately familiar with the way pen&paper games were played, and who had the idealism to weather whatever obstacles lay before them, in order to bring their visions to life. I know, because I’ve been there, and the “Realms of Arkania” games are testament to that.
But there was trouble on the horizon and it had been looming there for years. Throughout the 90s, role-playing games were becoming more and more niche products. While action games, simulations and certain strategy franchises raked in the millions of dollars, RPGs have always had less commercial success, despite their acclaim and were generally smiled at. “Oh, you are the guys who pretend to be wizards and stuff, right?” was something you’d hear all too often. Sales of RPGs were significantly lower than those of comparable action titles and as the industry consolidated by the mid to late-90s, many publishers – who by that time controlled and owned many of the RPG developers – decided that role-playing games were no longer a viable market. Too much risk with too little payoff. Overnight, the genre as it were literally died.
In its place we saw the rise of the action RPG. Spawned by the humungous success of Blizzard’s “Diablo,” in 1996 the word role-playing was suddenly associated with intense bloodshed and furious action as innumerable monsters crowded down on the player who tried in a frenzy to free himself from the onslaught, while trying to find the next cool weapon or piece of armor.
Story? Who needs story. Character development? Who needs it? Strength and magic points are all you’ll ever need next to your health bar. Turn-based combat? What a waste of time. My reflexes are honed and I can take down anything with my trigger finger. Non-player characters? What for? I have my friends to join me in a LAN battle.
Quite unintentionally, with one single stroke, Blizzard had become a blessing and a curse to many people in the industry. On the one hand, they turned role-playing into a viable, marketable genre again, yet at the same time, they single-handedly watered down the experience to its bare minimum. Or rather, they created an action game and gave it the caché of a role-playing game, because at its core, “Diablo” is no more than a glorified version of “Gauntlet,” a coin-up game with no role-playing affiliations whatsoever. And just like that the true roots of RPGs were all but forgotten.
Since those “fateful” days in 1996, the industry has never really found its way back to the true role-playing experience. There have been a few notable exceptions and attempts. “Planescape: Torment,” a game I produced for Interplay, was one example where we tried to at least keep the spirit of real RPGs alive, and games such as the “Baldur’s Gate” series also helped to give the current RPG flock some of the depth it had lost, but never to the same extent. In fact, Bioware was probably the most prolific torch-carrier of a bygone role-playing era, but even they had to bow to the pressure of corporate marketing departments.
Even huge role-playing hits like “Skyrim” offer very little of the true spirit of role-playing, and it appears that many players now have never played a true RPG.
That is where “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” comes in. It is a new role-playing game I have been working on with my team for the past 8 months or so. The “Deathfire” development team consists of a group of game developing veterans, some of which have worked with me as far back as “Shadows over Riva” in 1995, and other games. I myself have also worked on a number of role-playing games such as “Planescape: Torment,” “Fallout 2,” “Neverwinter Nights” and others during my 30 year career in the industry.
Other members of the “Deathfire” team have been part of the “Divine Divinity” series, the “Sacred” series, “Heroes of Might&Magic 2” and many more. So all in all, we have a team of people who know how to build solid role-playing games and have the track record to back it up, and we always keep saying, “Who better to make an old-school RPG than the guys who actually made them?”
“Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” is a single-player, first-person RPG with turn-based combat that truly hearkens back to the roots of traditional computer RPGs. The game has features that players haven’t seen in years, features that have been all but forgotten. At the core of it all is our desire to recreate the magic of these old games, the seed that made them so timeless and memorable, and in “Deathfire” we will try to go back to the roots of it all and try to recreate the atmosphere and playful diversity you would find an a pen&paper setting, where you have a game master whose job it is to throw your party off the track all the time.
Starting with a deep character system that features over 40 different attributes and traits, as well as disadvantages, “Deathfire” also has a story that revolves around the player and his actions, as opposed to throwing him in an open world with nothing – and everything – to do, but all of it with very little consequence.
“Deathfire” on the other hand makes sure the player is at the heart of the game, that every action has an impact on the story and on the world around him. Innocent people may get killed as a result of the player’s actions, as a result of a decision he made. The entire flow of the story may be redirected, as the game features four uniquely different endings, each with variations, depending on how the player worked his way through the story.
Things such as character interaction, for example, become important where player and non-player characters have distinct personalities that create certain dynamics between them. Issues evolve that the player has to deal with and channel.
The game also feature turn-based combat that hands control back to the player, giving him the chance to strategize and to make tactical moves, instead of acting upon reflex. It is an important part of many classic role-playing games, to ensure that encounters do not turn into tedious grinding sessions, but instead are engaging and challenging parts of the game as a whole, that measure his ability to cope with increasingly difficult situations and overwhelming odds.
And at the heart of it all is the story, which makes sure the player is invested on an emotional level, and doesn’t simply chase the next quest for loot that is never really of any import.
The story centers around the disappearance of people. All around, people are vanishing. Mothers, fathers, sister, brothers, sons and sisters… only to reappear a short while later. But they have changed. They are undead. Zombies with no mind of their own.
Rumor has it that an evil Nethermancer has unearthed an ancient spell that burns people’s souls into oblivion, kills them and then raises them from the dead as mindless servants. The name of the spell? Deathfire. Banished from lore and books for centuries, the Nethermancer seems intent to use this abominable magic to build himself an army of the undead.
But are those rumors, true, or is there a lot more to these events, something far more sinister?
Now, I ask you, doesn’t that sound like something you would like to play?
An ambitious project such as this has a price, of course, and for the past 8 months we have worked on the core technologies and developed a prototype, funding it all out of our own pockets. However, as the team is growing, external funding is required to continue the project, and for that purpose we are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore.” We are trying to raise $390,000 to continue and complete the development of the game so we can release it in late 2014, and we’ve been extremely active in the past weeks to get support from backers and players around the globe.
If what I have just described is something that gets you excited, something that makes you itch, please stop by our Kickstarter page, check out all the additional information we have and make a pledge. Help, make “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” a reality.
Please do not forget to give the Forever Geek Kickstarter Store a quick look also, for great offers on previously kickstarted games and items!