Eschalon: Book II Interview
Eschalon: Book I seemed to strike a chord with our readers when it was released last year, winning our Indie of the Year vote by a landslide. An isometric, indie RPG, the clean graphics, friendly user interface and old-fashioned questing attracted enough players to encourage Basilisk Games to continue the planned trilogy. Basilisk recently officially unveiled Book II and we jumped at the chance to send them some questions.
RPGWatch: Congratulations on the official announcement of Book II. Before we dig into our questions about the new game, I'd like to ask about the success of Book 1. It won our Indie of the Year award and gathered a community of fans – and obviously it was successful enough for you to pursue Book II. Did it meet your pre-release expectations? How do you see the results?
Thomas Riegsecker: Thank you, Brian.
Yes, we’ve been fairly happy with the sales of Book I so far and have successfully met our minimal sales goal needed to move on to the next game. Unfortunately if we were to put this into perspective, we are nowhere near “successful” as the term applies to a mainstream title. Still, I am extremely pleased with the way the community has embraced Book I and if we can keep expanding our fan base as we have been doing for the past seven months, then Basilisk Games should be around for many years making games. We’ve got a lot of cool ideas we’d like to see come to fruition.
RPGWatch: For those that haven't read the press release, what will Book II offer players? You mention 60 “new or improved features” - what are the highlights?
Thomas Riegsecker: For Book II we’re sticking with the same old-school design principles and focusing on gameplay improvements and elements that were left out of Book I. We’re taking 99% of the improvements from fan suggestions such as increasing the game’s resolution, improving the interface, adding female characters, weather effects that influence stats, powder kegs that can be moved around, improved dialog and quest options, and much more. Some of the 60 improvements are less tangible, such as engine tweaks to allow the game to consume fewer resources than Book I and run smoother, but they all lead to a better gaming experience.
RPGWatch: And the story is a direct continuation? I see on your forums we'll be playing the same hero...how are you handling this? Are characters starting from Level 1 or have you wound the world difficulty up to a higher level? Any chance of importing our Book I characters?
Thomas Riegsecker: Yes, the story is a direct continuation of the first game. After we discovered that fans were not going to be happy just playing a male character, we altered the trilogy’s storyline to avoid any gender-specific references. It was too late to add female characters to Book I, but if you do choose to play a female in Book II, we just assume your character was a female in Book I. The story will just sort of adapt itself to the gender choice you make.
We are still unsure about character imports because if we implement this feature, your character will need to be “version adjusted” for the new game which essentially undoes your gains from Book I. Since the game takes place a few years after the events in Book I, we’ll start all players off as a Level 1 character with the realization that without the constant honing of your abilities you’ve become rusty and must rebuild your skills. Fans have overwhelming suggested to us that the building of a character from level 1 is more important than a straight import of a pre-developed character.
RPGWatch: One of the bullet-points in the announcement that caught my eye was the “cause and effect outcomes” you mention for many quests. What exactly does this mean and does it differ from how you approached Book I? I'm hoping this means more opportunities to make choices in how to resolve quests or how the result changes the direction of events – am I reading this right?
Thomas Riegsecker: You are correct. In Book II we’ll have more quests that branch based on player choices, and the effects of these choices will be more apparent. For example, helping one person may affect your standing with someone else, or completing certain quests may impact the game world in unforeseen ways. Overall, we just want to give the player a greater sense that their actions have real consequences.
RPGWatch: Speaking of “cause and effect”, there were times in Book I that I thought opportunities for deeper interaction and roleplaying were missed. For example, you can discover there is more to an NPC you meet in the first town than meets the eye – but you never get the opportunity to confront this NPC or use the information. Is this something you'd like to change?
Thomas Riegsecker: Certainly! There were missed opportunities in Book I that we simply overlooked during the development process. Call it a rookie mistake if you must. We are going to try our best to give the player additional options to deal with people and events as they wish. It’s a very complicated process to look at each quest and try to imagine every possible path a player may wish to take, but we do plan to improve upon this in Book II.
RPGWatch: Any major changes to the skill system (we'll get to balance in a minute) from Book 1?
Thomas Riegsecker: Yes, so far we have 4 additional skills that we are working on now. Two of them are looking solid, two others are a bit lacking and may get cut or altered. We don’t want to announce them yet until they are fully tested and approved, but there will certainly be some changes to the skill tree both in the number of skills and the progression ladder of each skill. We are looking to have more unified skill progression across all skills.
RPGWatch: There were some lengthy discussions about “balance” in Book 1 – both between various skills and the common archetypes, such as heavy fighters vs mages and so on. I'm not sure a consensus was reached but my own opinion is that a “pure” build will find the game harder than a fighter/mage (every fighter has a mana pool sitting there, after all). I suspect you don't mind a little min-maxing but how are you approaching balance in Book II?
Thomas Riegsecker: Well, this is a tough call. Ultimately we want players to have as few limitations as possible when developing their characters. Perhaps you are right that pure builds are more difficult to play than mixed builds, but nowhere in the history of fantasy gaming has it ever been mandated that a pure Mage or Thief should be easy for everyone to play, except perhaps in the past 10 years when RPGs have gone mainstream and developers have strived to make every class accessible to every player. Doesn’t anyone else remember how much of a pain-in-the-ass it was to play a straight Magic User in Dungeons & Dragons, especially during levels 1-5? When you chose to play a Magic User, you accepted this challenge.
Just by the very definition, a pure-class build lacks skills that make a mixed build easier to play. Most seasoned role-players understand these limitations and play their character accordingly. In my opinion this is one of the more favourable aspects of Eschalon- different character builds favour different play styles. No two players or character builds will get the exact same experience.
As it is, despite a few minor balance issues with skill and magic progression, most players have expressed satisfaction with the general balance of Book I (based on a poll we ran a few weeks after release) so we are not planning to make sweeping changes to the system for Book II. We will of course address these skill and magic issues discovered since Book I’s release, and we are also making the end-game areas more difficult because there was clearly a more unified consensus that the final 1/4 of the game was a bit too easy.
RPGWatch: Are you planning any changes to the combat model?
Thomas Riegsecker: Yes, though unfortunately I can’t comment on this now. We have several ideas that we are considering but until we have a model that works well yet still feels like Eschalon, we can’t say much about our plans. Combat depth was probably the number one complaint from our “hard-core audience” so we definitely want to improve that, while at the same time keeping it accessible for players who enjoyed the way combat was handled in Book I.
RPGWatch: Dungeons, darkness and torch-management. I had a lot of fun with the dungeons in Book I and I really enjoyed the lighting model. You've foreshadowed bigger dungeons in Book II – what can players expect? Is the lighting system the same and what about traps and puzzles?
Thomas Riegsecker: Yes, we are working on deeper, longer dungeons for Book II. In classic RPGs (including D&D), dungeons had sense of infamy about them. Some were almost legendary, intimidating players who stood at their entrances and peered into the dark. We are working to capture this feeling that each dungeon is essentially a game unto itself and will be a challenge in different ways to different players.
The lighting model stays mostly the same for Book II, but we have a couple new effects being engineered that will add to the strategy of combat and exploration in the dark.
RPGWatch: What can you tell us about the three regions in Book II? Will we see larger towns/cities with more quest density?
Thomas Riegsecker: We are planning on taking the player through three regions in Book II, starting out with a temperate zone similar to Thaermore in Book I. The other two zones will be a volcanic wasteland and a frigid arctic area.
We are still designing the towns and villages that you will be able to visit in Book II so I don’t have an exact count yet, but I can say for sure there will be one very large city which is practically an adventure all on its own!
RPGWatch: Early discussion has seen the food and water meters being debated. Is there more to this than just buying food occasionally and what do you think this will add to the game? How do you make food meaningful, without being annoying?
Thomas Riegsecker: Well, as we have said, food and water requirements are being put in to further establish Eschalon as a true old-school RPG. Traditionally, this has been used to put limits on camping abuse- players who take a couple hits then retreat to camp, repeating over and over. Obviously, this strategy becomes much more difficult if your character is consuming resources. But rather than impose new rules on players who enjoyed Book I as it was, we have decided to make food and water an optional gameplay element which you can disable if you want.
For players who do want to play with this additional level of realism, food acquisition becomes just as much a part of your character build as the type of weapon you wield. Food can be hunted for, gathered via foraging, purchased, found, or created via magic. You feed your character in the manner that is most convenient to you.
RPGWatch: Another sometimes controversial element of Book I is the randomisation – such as being able to save/reload and get different loot, particularly in the context of the fairly tight economy in the game. How do you see this and what are your plans for Book II?
Thomas Riegsecker: This has been an ongoing debate on our forums for months. I don’t know if a perfect solution can be reached for everyone, but I think we are close: if you want, you can play Book II exactly as you did with Book I. However, we will give players the option to turn on certain rules which are designed to limit loot/lockpick/trap abuse. These rules are part of the selectable difficulty modes that can be set when you start a new game. We are also experimenting with pre-filling chests upon entering a map zone for the first time so while loot is still random, you won’t benefit from reloading the game on every chest.
RPGWatch: Tell us about the new weather effects and exactly how they can affect the gameplay.
Thomas Riegsecker: We have added rain showers and thunderstorms already, with snow and blizzards coming when we start on the arctic zones. The effects look cool and definitely add to the ambience of the game.
As for how weather and the environment will affect the character, this feature is still in the early design stage, but there will be certain combat penalties when fighting during adverse weather conditions. Heavy rain or snow will certainly affect ranged weapon accuracy, and some forms of magic will likely be affected by the environment as well. Also torches only stay lit for a couple rounds during thunderstorms before they blow out, so at night you must have a form of magic light if you are going to explore. It gets pitch black during a storm at night (except for the lighting flashes).
We’ll have more details on this feature as we continue to develop it.
RPGWatch: You've also flagged “new difficulty modes, challenges and tracked statistics” - what do you have in store with these?
Thomas Riegsecker: These are just some cool ideas that have been discussed to make the game more challenging and replayable. As we’ve mentioned, we are giving the player difficulty options at the start of the game such as whether or not food and water are requirements for survival, or if they are allowed to load a previous game when they become diseased or poisoned, or if restrictions are placed on load frequency to limit loot grubbing. Depending on how challenging the game is, you will get ranked accordingly when you finish the game- rather like the way the early Might & Magic games gave you a score upon finishing. The idea is that players can try to improve their rank on subsequent plays.
There will also be an assortment of Challenges presented to you, which will be tracked on an in-game stat screen that you can review at any time while playing. These challenges are inspired by a thread on our forums where fans have been trying to complete Book I with certain restrictions or goals, such as playing through without dying or seeing how much gold you can acquire. Again, meeting any of these challenges upon finishing the game improves your ranking.
RPGWatch: A quick one: any plans to tweak the walk speed or offer a “run” option?
Thomas Riegsecker: There will be no run option in Book II, but the walking speed has increased by about 20% so your character now walks with more of a “brisk stride” rather than a “casual stroll”. I have already gotten some positive feedback on it, so I am pretty sure most people will be satisfied. There are also more Quick Travel and portal options so you’ll need to do less tedious backtracking.
RPGWatch: Would you like to add anything in closing?
Thomas Riegsecker: As always, thank you for giving us coverage on RPGWatch, and thanks to the RPGWatch readers who continue to support us! We live because of the support from fans.
We wish Basilisk all the best and we look forward to following the development of Book II in our News.
Information aboutEschalon: Book II
Developer: Basilisk Games
Play-time: 40-60 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2010-05-12
· Publisher: Basilisk Games