Update 15 – Closer to the End

Hey, been a while since my last update, so here’s some news:

The book’s master file sitting on my PC is currently 420 pages long, so a lot of progress was made since last time. This includes about 30 new reviews, a glossary, more unreleased games, fan-translations and even a brief 4-page primer on the origins of JRPGs:

huhuhuhuuhuhu

Those who follow me on twitter probably saw it, but I’ve wrote an extensive article on the origins of JRPGs for Gamasutra, and this section is an abridged version of that article.

More will likely follow, as I plan to use this format to create a brief timeline giving readers some context on what was going on with JRPGs and MMORPGs (possibly tabletop RPGs too) in parallel with the main CRPG timeline.

Other improvements include updating old reviews, re-doing unsatisfying ones, adding hyperlinks and FINALLY making sure font sizes are consistent throughout the book. As usual, I intend to post the next release by December – and it will likely be the final “preview”.

Yes, I’m quite confident that in 2017 the book will finally be concluded! :D

So I’m looking to tie loose knots. One of those is the hardware section, briefly explaining to younger readers what weird names like “Commodore 64” and “Spectrum ZX” mean:

crpg-book3177

I’m really not qualified to talk about tech, so I’m looking for old hardware enthusiasts and experts to help with this. If you’re one – or know anyone who is – please let me know.🙂

Cheers!

Interview: Motoya Ataka on Japanese “Dungeon RPGs”

dev

The Wizardry series began in 1981 with Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, and ended in 2001 with Wizardry 8, with its iconic first-person dungeon exploring and turn-based combat being all but dead. At least in the West…

In Japan, however, the Wizardry series is alive and spawns over 30 titles across all platforms, including mobile games and MMORPGs. Plus, it inspired countless other “DRPGs” – Dungeon RPGs, as they are called – such as Etrian Odissey, Dungeon Travelers, Class of Heroes, Dark Spire, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Elminage, etc…

Motoya Ataka has a long tradition with those. He began at the source, working in Wizardry Empire games in the early 2000’s, then eventually directing his own spin-off at Michaelsoft: the Wizardry Xth series, which moved the setting from medieval fantasy to modern day Japan.

The game was well-received, but Michaelsoft closed down, so Ataka-san took his team, called “Team Muramasa”, and founded is own company, Experience Inc.

There he created the Generation Xth trilogy, a “spiritual sucessor” to Wizardry Xth, and just kept pushing out DRPGsLabyrinth Cross Blood, Operation Abyss, Students of the Round, Demon Gaze, Ray Gigant and the recently localized Stranger in Sword City

With such credentials, he seemed like the perfect person to talk about then DRPG genre, its differences to western dungeon-crawlers and the passion Japanese gamers feel for this classic RPG style. So, without further ado, here’s the interview:  

Ataka-san, you created many Dungeon RPGs, a type of game that isn’t made anymore in the West but is still very popular in Japan. What is your favorite aspect of this style of game?

I believe the genre lends itself easily to various surprises and innovations born from the activity (interactivity) of the user, the path to and realization of a goal, and lucky occurrences and unforeseen accidents. So, I would say the answer is to evoke such things through game design.

Strangers in Sword City is the first of your games to be released in English on Steam, and was very well received by critics and fans. Are you surprised by this reception? Do you plan to bring more games to Steam?

While we were surprised by how well the game seemed to have been received, we are very happy to see that players are enjoying themselves! In regards to new releases on Steam we currently have nothing scheduled.

A new, updated version of Stranger in Sword City was recently released in Japan, featuring three new classes and many other improvements. Are there any plans to also update the English Steam version?

In regards to New Interpretation: Stranger of Sword City, this title was created from the feedback collected from our players who filled out a questionnaire here in Japan. If we were to do an overseas version, we would do another questionnaire and collect feedback in order to create a more enjoyable product. There are no plans to bring over the current New Interpretation: Stranger of Sword City

Some of your games were exclusive for Windows, others were exclusive for consoles. Do you think PC gamers are much different from console gamers? Do you plan the game’s design around those differences?

At the time when Generation Xth was released to the Japanese users, I do not believe there was a large difference. In particular for both PC and console games, we do not really consciously create design differences.

I’ve read that Wizardry V is your favorite Wizardry game. It was a game with many hard puzzles and riddles, but your games and most Japanese DRPGs tend to avoid those. Why is that?

Titles created by our company, while not in large numbers do use some puzzles and riddles. While it is a matter of taste with titles, we would like to consider including more to the best of our abilities if a title requires such features in the future.

After Wizardry V the series radically changed – Wizardry VI removed the town, Wizardry VII had a large open world map and Wizardry 8 was fully 3D. However, Japanese DRPGs still mostly follow the Wizardry I-III formula. Why you think that is? And would you like to one day make a game influenced by these other games, like an open-world map or a fully 3D DRPG?

Many of our fans love the traditional DRPG style, so as a developer, I want to meet those expectations. Furthermore, there already exist many new high-end interpretations of the DRPG genre, so I mostly want to admire it from a user’s standpoint.

All your DRPGs are turn-based. Have you ever thought of doing a real-time one, like Dungeon Master or Might & Magic VI?

Personally it is a game that I like, therefore if chance allows it I would like to try my hand at making one.

Do you still play Western RPGs? Which are your favorite recent ones?

Although it was a while back, I managed to clear Fallout 4. I really enjoyed how it linked the modern setting that helped immerse the player in the game world.

Finally, the RPG Codex interviewed Robert Woodhead, creator of Wizardry, and he said he has no idea why Wizardry is so popular in Japan. What would you tell him?

I remember when I played Wizardry as a child, the game was so intellectual – and the people who played it seemed so cool – that it completely blew away the stereotypical image of the video game otaku. During the genesis of the Japanese RPG (the Famicom’s prime), such an awe-inspiring game coming from the West shook up the Japanese RPG genre and would captivate gamers’ hearts for years to come.


My deepest thanks to Ataka-san for his time, and for the Experience Inc. staff members who made this interview possible.

Interview: D.W. Bradley on Wizardry 6 & 7

bradley

D.W. Bradley is best known as the man behind the second wave of Wizardry games.

After Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead left, Bradley took over the series on Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstorm (1988), expanding the game’s systems and dungeons. In Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (1990) he revamped the graphics and character systems, added more story & NPC interactions and set the stage for an ambitious sequel…

Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant (1992) took the series to new heights with a large non-linear open world, where several alien factions searching for a legendary artifact – with NPC parties roaming the land and looting dungeons alongside the player.

After that he worked with Warren Spector at Origin on CyberMage: Darklight Awakening (1995), an early FPS\RPG hybrid, then went on to found his own company – Heuristic Park – and release two more RPGs: the vastly underrated Wizards & Warriors (2000) and the recently re-released Dungeon Lords (2005).

Despite this impressive career, there are extremely few interviews with D.W. Bradley, and most are about Dungeon Lords. However, I’ve managed to contact him this week and he generously replied two of my questions on the Wizardry series:

In Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge the dungeon door closes as soon as you enter – there’s no town to return to. The old Wizardry loop of exploring, killing, looting and going back was removed. What led you to change the series’s gameplay in this way?

DWB: Bane was a breakout – it was time to take the next step, time for our adventures to grow up and leave the safety of the nest, it was time that there should be no going back. Bane retained the full spirit of traditional Wizardry, braving ever deeper into the castle dungeon, but then, what happens?! At the point of climax we reach not the lowest depths, but instead ascend outside the confines of the dungeon prison, freed forever from the shackles of the past, and the end now the prelude for what is to follow. In the moment it was done, I knew where the journey would next be taking us. Nevermind that the brick forest still appeared as dungeon walls – this was a time when magical realms still lived in imagination and not the video display. But I vowed in that moment that the next realm would have trees and forests that looked like trees and forests, and cities and sunshine and lakes and stars at night, and no more would searching for stairs down suffice…

The rival parties in Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant are one of its most outstanding features – and one that has never been done by any other RPG. What are your thoughts on them?

DWB: While working on Crusaders of the Dark Savant my mind was soaring, and this innovation was only the beginning of more amazing things to come. Alas, Crusaders was my last Wizardry title. On its heels came the advent of 3D, Doom and real-time, and as video games went mainstream, recognizable brand name and blowing people up commanded massive profits, while with rare exception innovation in game paradigms were costly, and all too often ended in failed titles. When I was young and working on my first computer games (text on teletype!), I could see with clarity what would one day be possible, and this sight has always illuminated my path. What I didn’t know was how far we could go in my lifetime, inevitable though it was. This vision is almost realized in the caliber of 3D games today, and VR promises more to come, yet there remains a dimension of computer simulation not yet manifest, almost untouched. It was from this wellspring that the feature you speak of emerged. The sight of it remains clear to me, and though it is not yet made, it shall one day come to pass. The question is when and by whom, and who shall be there to experience it?

Update 14 – The fourth release!

350-Header2

It’s here! – CRPG Book Preview 4

This is the fourth public “alpha” of the CRPG Book Project, now reaching 350 pages!
Finding volunteers becomes increasingly harder as we advance, so it was expected for the flow of reviews to get slower and releases become smaller as we approach the finish line.

Still, this release brings 50 pages of new reviews – pushing us over 200 reviews! The new additions range from absolute classics such as Deus Ex, Planescape: Torment, Daggerfall and Ultima Underworld; to hidden gems like The Summoning, Omikron, ZanZarah, TRON 2.0 and Dink Smallwood; to more dubious honors, such as Descent to Undermountain, Gothic 4 and Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Draennor (yeah, the game that erases Windows).

Two big changes were made – the historical context pages were momentarily removed until I re-write them (it’s hard to find reliable data on the 80’s & 90’s gaming industry), and the fan-translation section was expanded. Games like Chinese Paladin, Legend of Cao Cao and Labyrinth of Touhou are extremely interesting games, and having them crammed into simple half-page reviews was underselling them, so now they have a full page each.

This will also be my last release from Brazil, as I’ll be moving to Japan in the end of the month. There will naturally be a short down time until I adapt there and get my bearings, but fear not – the CRPG Book Project will continue no matter what. I’m too stubborn and too deep in to stop now.😉

Once again, there are many more games that still need to be reviewed, so if you’re interested in helping, please e-mail us: crpgbook@gmail.com

PS: On June 18th I’ll be appearing as a guest on Shane Plays radio show, talking about the book. You can hear it live here  at 1:05 PM Central, or check it later on Youtube.

 

Update 13 – Quick news

I’ve decided to release a 350-page preview before I depart to Japan in July.

Now that the book is nearing its end, progress becomes a bit slower, as I must hunt reviewers for more obscure games or play them myself. (Also, I’ve been freelancing A LOT to get monies for the trip). And since I’m not sure how things will play out in Japan, it’s a good idea to release a new preview to keep the ball rolling.

In other news, I’ve recently did a Gamasutra article on the history of the Quest Compass.

WEniFfb
I really enjoy looking into gaming history and trying to see where things came from and how they evolved, so I might do another of those on RPG dialog systems… we’ll see.

I’ll keep in touch, cheers!

Update 12 – On defining RPGs & Japan

One topic I get a lot of e-mails on is the dreaded “but what’s an RPG?” talk – mostly complaining that game X isn’t in the book, or (quite often) that game Y is in the book.

There’s no easy answer to this, but it’s something that’s constantly on my head, so I’ve decided to write an article for Gamasutra on the subject, exposing my views:

http://gamasutra.com/blogs/FelipePepe/20160205/253023/Why_RPGs_are_so_hard_to_classify_and_evolve.php

Also, big news: I’ll be moving from Brazil to Japan in July (extreme culture shock to surely follow), so things are a little confused now as I deal with all the paperwork and stuffies. That’s also why I’m weary of promising a date for the book’s final release – I don’t know how things will unfold once I get there.

I’m also announcing now I’ll be abandoning the CRPG Book in favor of a JRPG Book.

But worry not, work on the book will continue no matter what. In the last weeks we added reviews on games like the Sacred series, Gothic 3, Birthright: The Gorgon’s Alliance, Alter Ego, Mordor / Demise, Pool of Radiance, Amberstar / Ambermoon, Might & Magic IX, D&D: Shadow over Mystaria, World of Aden: Thunderscape, Omikron, The Summoning, The Faery Tale Adventure,  Descent to Undermontain, ArcaniA and other obscure RPGs (all posted on my twitter). I really enjoy scavenging these games, seeing what works, what doesn’t and all that.

So yeah, it’s a really fun hobby for me. A weird one… I bought XCOM 2 last week, loved it, yet spent way more time playing 1995’s Mordor… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Update 11 – The third release!

CRPG-Book-Preview-3-1

Last month I skipped the updated, but I have something good this time to make up for it – the third, 300-page release of the CRPG Book!

CRPG Book Preview 3

This is our third public “alpha”, once again released six months after the previous one and offering 100 additional pages of content – bringing us to amazing 300 pages! That’s more than many books already, but we still have a lot of work to do…

It’s hard to believe, but it has been now two years since I first began to work on this project. My first estimate was “I’ll finish this in 6-8 months”, the first page layout was horrible, and many other foolish mistakes were made, but the journey has been a blast so far. My thanks to everyone who joined!

I consider this release to be the “structure” update. That’s because it comes with at least a small glimpse of all the sections I wish to include in the final version, such as the “Further Adventures”, “Hardware” and “Further Reading” sections. They are still missing most of their content and changes might yet be made, but this should provide a good sense of how the final release will look like.

That in no way means it’s short on games – this edition adds reviews to many of the most popular (and controversial) RPGs, such as Skyrim, Oblivion, Fallout 3, Baldur’s Gate, Pool of Radiance, Quest for Glory, Knights of the Chalice, Neverwinter Nights 2, both KOTOR games, Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel and many more, pushing us to just over 150 reviews!

Once again, however, there are many more games that still need to be reviewed, so, if you’re interested in helping, please e-mail us: crpgbook@gmail.com or contact me on twitter @felipepepe

Merry Christmas everyone, a great 2016 for all of us!😀

EDIT: Just noticed some of the historical/timeline pages have the wrong text… I’ll find out what happened and update this as fast as I can.