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The Age of Decadence: Reader Interview

by Rune74, 2011-03-24

RPGWatch reader Rune74 approached Vince D. Weller to discuss The Age of Decadence in this interview.

I had the privilege to interview Vince D. Weller - the co-founder of Iron Tower Studios and creator of The Age of Decadence - a role playing game that aims for a more complex system rather than the typical simplification in the genre.

Rune: Can you tell me what a cRPG is to you?  What I mean is there are so many varied descriptions of what is - and isn't - one out there.

Vince: There are. Then again, it's kind of hard to find a single definition that works for everything from ASCII roguelikes to sandbox worlds in bloom. There are games focused almost exclusively on combat and games where you can avoid combat entirely, talking your way through the game instead.

I prefer RPGs that support making decisions [within the story arc and setting] fitting your character. RPGs where you play a role not by following a predefined path and moving from one cutscene to another, but by actually deciding what to do, when, and how, using your character's (instead of your own) skills and abilities. RPGs that offer multiple paths through the game, multiple quest solutions, choices & consequences (to make your choices meaningful).

Rune: How would you describe Age of Decadence to someone who has never heard of the game?

Vince: A non-linear, text-heavy, low fantasy, turn-based, single-character RPG with a lot of choices.

Rune: As the designer, what is the feature you are the most proud of?

Vince: Choices.

Rune: You mention extensive dialogue trees on your web site, just how extensive are they?

Vince: I'm not sure what answer you expect - "Oh, they are very, very extensive!"? - so I'll just give you a few examples.

The game has a lot of dialogues and a lot of stat checks, skill checks, in-game knowledge checks. Many checks have 3 states: success, partial success, failure. For example:

You've barely finished setting the explosives when you hear your targets' approach. Quickly covering up your handiwork with refuse, you hurry back to a shadowed doorway. Just in time, a man in rich robes enters the street, a score of slaves following him, grunting and sweating with the effort required to pull a cumbersome, crate-laden cart. His escort keeps pace with the cart, mercenaries with hard expressions and watchful eyes, three on each side of the cart. They're clearly ready for trouble but they're expecting the human kind.

Light the fuse.

/traps low/ The hidden bomb fizzles fitfully for a moment before exploding in a brilliant eruption of flame, sparks, and smoke. Unfortunately, the force is much less than you've anticipated and other than blinding the mercenaries, the bomb hardly does any damage. 
or
/traps medium/ It goes off without a hitch. The bomb explodes flinging refuse and chunks of stone in every direction. Men shout and scream as they are blinded by the blast and pelted with rocks. Now is the moment.
or
/traps high/ You've timed it to perfection. The explosion goes off right as the procession passes the bomb, refuse and chunks of stone flung in every direction. When you open your eyes, you see that only three of the mercenaries, wounded and blinded by the flash, are left to face you.

More difficult tasks often require two checks. For example:

[lockpick - success] [sneaking - failure] It takes you some time, but finally the lock surrenders to your skill. You lift the lid and look inside. Just as you're reaching for the carefully wrapped belongings, something slams into your back sending you crashing into a wall. "Steal from me, will you?" You lift your face from the floor to see a furious guardsman stalking toward you, arms bulging as he lifts a massive hammer overhead.

Or

[stealing - success] [perception - success] A quick check under the pillow produces a small bag with several gems. It's hardly a fortune, but a far better reward than the humble content of the chest. You notice a ring on the trader's finger. A drop of oil works its magic again and the ring easily slides off the finger and disappears in one of your pockets.

You're almost done when you notice something carefully hidden in the trader's sash. It's a small metal sphere with grooves on its surface. 

Some failures may lead to another check giving you a chance to recover or avoid being instantly killed. For example:

[failure] Your attack is clumsy, ringing off his armor instead of opening his throat. The guard stumbles back, yelling for aid.

1. Attack.
2. [Dexterity] Use the guard as cover.
3. [Dodge] Run.

2A [success] Thinking quickly, you grab the guard's arm and pull him toward you. Surprise fills his face at your unexpected tactic, followed by pain as the crossbow bolt intended for you plunges into his back. Pushing the dying man aside you turn and rush to the safety of a nearby alleyway.
2B [failure] …

Or

[streetwise - failure] [charisma - success] "If you have to cheat, can't you at least do it less clumsily? A less patient man would have killed your already." Mercato sighs and pours himself more wine. "So, what do you want from me?"

Or

[reputation - failure] "Are you threatening me, merchant?! In my own guild?" As if on cue, all conversations and drunken laughter stop and dead silence fills the tavern.

"Kill him", Cado says casually, without taking his eyes off you. Two hard looking thugs step forward and look at you appraisingly. A theatrical gesture conjures a dagger and cheers from the crowd.

1. [persuasion] "You aren't dealing with just me, Cado. You are dealing with the merchants' guild and unless you're prepared to face the consequences, I'd suggest you reconsider."

[success] …
[failure] …

2. Fight your way out.

Or

[persuasion - failure] The merchant looks at you suspiciously. "I don't know…", he says after a long pause. 

[disguise] "You don't know?! Your job is to do what you're fucking told, not to offer opinions and judgement. If you dare to question your orders again, the only trading you'll be doing is selling your ass to the fucking Ordu in the wasteland. Am I being clear?"

Rune: As well, you mention skill based ways to solve quests...how intertwined are they?

Vince: Not sure I understand what exactly you're asking here. Please elaborate.

Rune: Choice and Consequence, something many games aim for but have a hard time actually achieving, how is that progressing on your game?

Vince: Do they? Adding choices and logical consequences isn't exactly a rocket science. There are two reasons why you don't see enough choices in games. First, it takes time. Obviously, if you have 50 quests, designing, writing, and scripting 50 solutions are a lot easier and faster than doing 50 x 3-4 solutions. All "commercial" games are on tight deadlines, so adding optional solutions is a luxury few can afford.

The other reason is based on a widespread belief that most people don't play games more than once and many won't even finish them, moving on to the next one, which gives the studios no reason to make replayable games, as that's what choices do - they create playthrough variations that go beyond the choice of class and party members.

So, since choices & consequences is one of the main features, it's progressing very nicely but, as you can see, it takes a bit of time.

Rune: The web page also mentions it is a low magic world - how much magic can we the player expect to see?

Vince: The magic in the game is a form of energy. You can't cast fireballs or summon monsters, but you can use it to power up some relics of the past, ranging from "power" armor to entire locations.

Something like:

You carefully insert the power tube into the opening. For a long time nothing happens, but then the console lights up and a low humming sound spreads through the cave. 

[lore] Recite an appropriate mantra.
Leave.

You put your hands on the controls and recite "commanding fire elementals to bless ore" mantra, performing the rite as you speak the ancient words.

The mantra doesn't require you to understand what you are doing, but it does a good job leading you through a series of steps grouped into chapters. Some chapters require you watching the dials and adjusting the valves to achieve divine harmony; other chapters warn about dangers of overheating and tell you how to keep the fire elementals under control.

1. Complete the ritual.
2. Overheat the machine

Rune:  The combat demo came out a while back and though the combat itself was good the graphics were a bit off.  Is there a plan to release a new version of the demo?

Vince: No plans. The combat demo served its purpose. The next step is a full demo, which will be released in the upcoming months and feature the starting town with two satellite locations, 25 quests, and updated graphics for people who thought they were a bit off before.

Keep in mind that many quests are mutually exclusive and the player won't be able to get more than 7-10 quests per playthrough (in the demo).

Rune: The game has been in development for a long time - I'm not even sure when I first heard of it - when do you think it will be done?

Vince: We started putting some concepts together (what you may call a pre-production phase) in March 2004. We played a bit with a homemade 2D engine, ran into some issues, switched to Torque in 2005. Took us about a year to learn the new engine; "full scale" development since 2006.

As I've just mentioned, a full demo will be released soon. When it's out, we'll be in a better position to comment on the release date.

Rune:  With the long development time are you worried that you may always have just one more thing to do?

Vince: If you're implying that the reason the game is still in development is because we keep adding things, you're mistaken. The goals and features haven't changed since they were defined years ago. Gameplay polishing does take time, however. "A game's only late until it ships, but it sucks forever", and all that.

We have only once chance to impress the gaming public, and 5+ year isn't a lot for a part-time project, especially by 4 people with no previous experience (i.e. the development time includes learning the trade through trial & error). In comparison:

Civ 5 has been in development for 3 years, 52 people team. Fallout 3 was in development for 4 years. Gothic - more than 4 years. NWN - around 5 years, Witcher - more than 5 years, fairly large team, but the quality is undeniable. Arcanum - 2.5 years. KOTOR - 3 years. Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 - god know how many years.

Rune:  What is the expected price of the game?

Vince: $25 to download, $50 plus shipping to order the game in a professionally done box with a full color manual and a large glossy map.

Rune: Iron tower Studios has two other games listed on their forums: Scars of War and Dead State - how closely are you involved with those games?

Vince: Other than offering my opinion when asked (and sometimes even when not asked), I'm not involved.

Rune: The indie scene is getting larger, mostly in part due to the rising costs of the AAA games and the fact that  turn based games just don't make enough money for the big studios to take a chance on them - have you had much contact with other developers like Basilisk games, Spiderweb or Rampant Games?

Vince: I interviewed them and other indie developers a few times. Other than that, we don't "stay in touch". It serves no professional purpose - we work with different engines, so there isn't much to discuss or share.

Rune: I always thought it would be interesting to see the indies get together and have a web page devoted to RPGs where they can market together (since you guys really don't have the marketing money the big studious have); getting noticed is sometimes harder than it should be...have you any thoughts on something like this?

Vince: Pure RPGs have always been a niche genre (hence the attempts to make it more actiony and "exciting" to appeal to people who wouldn't touch an RPG with a stick otherwise). Indie RPGs are a niche within a niche. They don't sell millions of copies. They don't sell hundreds of thousands, so the indie developers simply don't need "the marketing money the big studious have".

We offer different products. For many indie developers turn-based combat is kind of a big deal, but it's not like we're facing a strong mainstream competition there, is there? Same goes for isometric, the "old-school" feel, even originality. Not saying that indie developers are more original than their mainstream brethren, but publishers see original as risky, and nobody wants to take risks with tens of millions dollars investments.

The audience who wants these features is out there. So, all you have to do is be honest and open, do what you say you will do, and give the audience what they want, not what you think will sell more. In other words, if you build it, they will come.

Thank you very much Vince, I have to say the game looks a lot better than the old combat demo.  I am looking forward to trying the demo when it is released, hopefully soon.

Box Art

Information about

Age of Decadence

Developer: Iron Tower Studio

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Post-apoc
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· To be announced
· Publisher: Iron Tower Studio

More information


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