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The Bard's Tale IV Interview

by Fluent, 2016-05-30

Fluent talks to Systems Designer David Rogers about The Bard's Tale IV, with Brian Fargo kikcing the interview off.

RPGWatch: What made you want to create a dungeon-crawl RPG again? Do you think there is a real opportunity now to resurrect the genre of computer dungeon-crawl RPGs?

Brian: I can't help but want to return to the game that put me on the map nearly 30 years ago. But beyond nostalgia I saw an opportunity to realize the vision for what would have wanted to create had technology been as powerful as it is today. Using techniques and technology such as photogrammetry, physics modeling, light rendering, hair effects etc. allows me to push the sense of really being in a dank dungeon trying to explore and survive. I'm certain it will be fun with the visuals and deep combat system we are creating.


RPGWatch: What sort of character attributes, stats and rule-set are you hoping to implement in The Bard's Tale IV? Will the game have a heavy pen-and-paper feel to it, or are you going for something different?

David: A question like this could easily have me writing a four-page answer.  I get really jazzed when it comes to talking about rulesets and systems.  Rather than getting really deep into the details that may ultimately change as we continue to iterate, I'll talk about or philosophy when approaching the game mechanics of The Bard's Tale IV.

We strive for game systems that feels thought provoking and strategic.  We want players to be able to look at their party's capabilities, form a plan, and then execute that plan with some reliability.  If the plan fails or succeeds, we'd like that to be a reflection of the plans' validity, rather than the product of a random number generator.

We take a lot of inspiration from pen-and-paper RPGs.  They do such a good job of allowing you to express yourself in the game, giving you a lot of ownership over your experience.  Much of that expression comes out of building synergies inside your characters, or building synergies with your fellow adventurers.  Those combos are something that really defines your character's personality and play style.  I really like those moments where I find a special strategy or skill combo so creative and powerful that I feel like I'm cheating.  That's what makes me feel like a legendary hero. 

That sense of creative expression also emerges from the solutions you are able to can enact while exploring a dungeon in a pen-and-paper RPG.  Simple moments such as disarming a trap or climbing a ledge can be rife with opportunities to make you feel like MacGyver, particularly when you have to improvise.  That kind of creative problem solving is something we strive to incorporate into our dungeon crawling.  Free form problem solving is something that PnP RPGs excel at, and can be very hard for video games to replicate, but they act as a holy grail we can strive for.  We want players to walk out of dungeons with a story to tell, where they feel like the star and not just a spectator.


RPGWatch: Since you've announced that the game will feature 30 (or more?) levels, many people are excited. Will every level be a unique dungeon to explore, or will some styles of dungeons be re-used?

David: I think it goes without saying that if two dungeons are identical, we've done something wrong.  The similarities between dungeons can largely be drawn down cultural lines.  The style of architecture, puzzles, and traps used by the elves may be common amongst Elven or Ficti dungeons, but share little in common with the dungeons of the Charn or Dwarves.  However, no two dungeons of the same culture should be combining their cultural elements together in exactly the same way.

The dungeons in the main quest line in particular are given extra care, with a focus on giving each cool set pieces and memorable design.


RPGWatch: Combat is a very important factor in a good dungeon-crawl RPG. How do you plan on managing things such as re-spawn rate, random encounters and general encounter design inside a dungeon?

David: While epic boss battles against giant monsters will still exist, Combat in The Bard's Tale IV is focused on group vs. group combat.  This allows us to build enemies with really distinct capabilities and then combine them with other enemies to create something that feels like a wholly unique challenge to overcome.

For the most part, we still haven't fully decided on how we want to manage enemy respawning, or the lack thereof, but we have a lot of ideas.  This is a great question, but I don't think it's one I can give a satisfying answer to right now as we're still iterating.


RPGWatch: Dungeon-crawl RPGs are known for great length and plenty of time investment in order to craft your ultimate party. How long do you think the game will run, and will there be a lot of side content in the form of side quests to add length to the game?

David: It is too early to say how long the game will be until we have locked down content and gameplay, but we always strive to hit the right balance between lengthy games with a lot of depth while still delivering a highly polished experience.


RPGWatch: Approaching content in any order that you would like is important to get a more "open" feeling game. Will there be multiple dungeons to tackle at once, and will the player have options as to which dungeon they should explore next?

David: There absolutely will be free choice involved.  There will be times when you have multiple quests and dungeons that need your attention and it'll be up to you to decide which order you tackle them in, or if you tackle them at all.


RPGWatch: Party management is great fun in a dungeon-crawl RPG, especially when status-altering effects and other factors come into play. What sort of "game within a game" mechanics can we expect while we're diving into these dungeons? What factors will we have to manage along the way?

David: There are some tried and true mechanics you'll be playing as you crawl through a dungeon.  We'll ask players to manage a finite number of consumables to ensure they're in peak fighting condition when a combat occurs.  This could be health potions, anti-venoms, or even things relating to trap avoidance and secret discovery, such as lock pick sets.  We're also asking players to decide if and where to make camp after a hard day of adventuring.  We're all RPG fans here, so we don't necessarily try to re-invent the wheel at every turn.

With that said, there are also elements about our game that should feel really unique to The Bard's Tale.  We want to incorporate music into our gameplay in a major way.  We have some major talent, both on the writing and musical front.  We want to bring those big guns to bear by having the player gleam insight about the various cultures of Caith through its music, and then be able to sing the magically attuned songs of Caith that they've learned in order to interact with the world.


RPGWatch: We know some gamers prefer a challenging game in this genre. So, what sort of "hardcore" options will be available for these daring adventurers?

David: We've discussed the various ways we could incorporate multiple difficulties and challenge modes into the game, but haven't locked ourselves into any firm decisions yet.


RPGWatch: Will dungeons vary in difficulty based on which level you are currently exploring? For example, I have a quest that sends me to level 1 of a dungeon. However, level 2 and 3 are much more difficult, and the quests to pursue for those levels are a bit further down the line. Will there be any revisiting of previous dungeons for any reason, or once a dungeon is clear, it's clear?

David: We like discovering enemies in the world that are clearly too dangerous for us, leveling up, and then returning to slay those enemies.  It helps provide such a sense of growth and makes me feel like I've overcome a personal goal I've set myself.  Also, revisiting old dungeons is certainly on the table.  Dungeons may not necessarily be grind-able, but specific events in the story might result in a dungeon being repopulated with new and harder enemies.


RPGWatch: Loot is always an important factor in RPGs. Will the game feature rare drops, randomized loot drops, unidentified items and more? Can you talk more about how the loot will work in general?

David: We for sure will have an item rarity system and some level of randomized loot drops for our core enemies.  Not all of our items will be randomly acquired, however.  For example, a pivotal boss battle might have set drops.  We also like the suspense of having to identify a mysterious magic item, or the gamble you take when you wield an unidentified magic item that may have a curse on it.  We also mentioned, in our Kickstarter, the concept of weapons that have hidden potential that you unlock by interacting with them.

To speak about the loot system in general, we like it when the party shares a common inventory space, rather than having to hunt down which of your six party members backpacks you put a given item in. 

We also want a character's gear to play a role in what abilities they have access to, and therefore what strategic options they have in battle.  An example of this is a magic trinket that has a bound spell on it.  If a party has several of these trinkets they may see an enemy off in the distance and swap out their equipped trinkets in order to counter an enemy group with a specific ability found on that item, without having to totally re-spec their character.


RPGWatch: How will summoning work? Will any creature in the game be able to be summoned, and will they come complete with their own equipment, stats and special abilities?

David: The majority of our summons come from our Sorcerer and Wizard classes. The Sorcerer can conjure illusions. These illusions are able to harm the enemy, but only for as long as the enemy believes in them. The wizard can rip minions from the demon plane into the plane of man to do their bidding.  Demons function similarly to any other character on your party, with their own abilities and stats, but tend to be less complex than a core member of your party.  Their mere presence on the battlefield also has some really cool implications given the highly spacial nature of our combat system.


RPGWatch: From a hopeful game designer to one of the best in the business, I ask - What is your #1 advice for someone looking to design their own RPG, or get into the RPG-creating business?

David: Start now.  The barriers to entry for becoming a game creator are lower than ever.  Whether you're creating pen and paper game systems and self-publishing online, or you're learning programs like Unity and creating your own game, the best way to become an established game designer is to start making games and getting them out into the world.  The feedback, however little, is invaluable.

One key piece of advice I would offer is to start small.  It's unrealistic to make your opus on the first try. The chances of success go up dramatically the smaller and more focused your idea.  That game design opus you have rolling around in your head isn't going anywhere and doesn't lose value over time.  On the contrary, the more failed projects you learn from before attempting to create your opus, the better it will turn out when you finally get the time and resources needed to take a serious crack at your dream project.


RPGwatch: Since mods are popular for many other RPGs, will mods be available for The Bard's Tale IV, and if so, how easy will they be to create for hopeful modders?

David: We do not currently have plans for mod support.


RPGWatch: Lastly, do you have any special feature or interesting tidbit that you'd like to tell our readers about? Any breaking news you want to break exclusively on RPGWatch? Now is your chance! =)

David: Ok are you ready for it.....nah... Can't do it yet ;)


RPGWatch: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! I and everyone here on RPGWatch wish you incredible success with your current projects and with everything going forward. Keep the great RPGs coming!

Box Art

Information about

The Bard's Tale IV

Developer: InXile Entertainment

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Dungeon Crawler
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· To be announced
· Publisher: Unknown

More information