Darklands - All News
Thursday - January 12, 2017
Darklands - Q&A with the Designer
On the Steam forums for Darklands the original designer/producer has a thread open dedicated to answering questions about the production.
Ask the original designer why...
Over 20 years ago, I almost bankrupted MicroProse by designing Darklands and leading the team that built it. I will do my best to answer design questions in this thread.
There are some caveats:
- I do not have any legal rights to the game or its code, so I can't promise any improvements or follow-ons.
- I am unfamiliar with the code adjustments made to produce this version. I can't help you with bugs.
- I'm a designer and producer, not an artist or programmer, so I can't help you mod the graphics or decompile the code.
- I don't have 10+ million of dollars to invest in making a new version. If somebody were to offer me a decent budget,I could do it. I've built and led teams many times in the game industry. However, I don't think that's going to happen for Darklands in what's left of my natural lifespan.
Nevertheless, for those seeking insights into the mind of a designer/producer, I'm available.
Yasha 13 Oct, 2016 @ 1:37pm
I've always been a fan of RPGs, going back to the paper and pencil era. It took all my political clout and influence at MicroProse to get the project started. I'm also an academically trained historian, which helped inspire the topic and the approach to it. You can see echoes of Traveller and Runequest in the Darklands design, although the setting was totally original.
The problem with making a modern sequel is money. A decent-looking and playing RPG is NOT cheap. The amount of content for RPGs is staggeringly expensive (lots of art time for world building, character creation, animation, etc.), not to mention all the game data and game logic. If you want it playable online (an MMORPG), that roughly doubles the game programming cost, and adds a whole business-software layer to handle monetization (whether subs or F2P style cash shops). As a producer with solo game and MMO experience, I know the level of effort needed. The classic indie mistake is underestimating the work required, but not realizing it until you've burned through your money and are only half done, at best.
People I know have tried crowdfunding game projects. With a few rare exceptions, most projects can only pull in 0.5 to 1.5 million dollars, assuming they even succeed to that degree. I calculate that I'd need at least 10 million to staff a team for 2 years to build the a Darklands sequel. Therefore, for a modern version, I'd have to find a "white knight" who was willing to invest multiple millions in a core team. That team builds some early demos to attract most of the remaining funding. Crowdfunding helps validate the project (or help us find how to change it) and provide additional money for marketing and reserves. Steam Early Access might play a role in the final phase of testing and financing near release.
It is possible that such a "white knight" investor might be a game publisher. Unfortunately, I don't know of any publishers who would be interested. Even in the heyday of MMORPGs, publishers were very leary of projects that didn't have a big license to generate nice sales estimates from the marketing department.
Friday - June 12, 2015
Darklands - In Bundle Stars Retro bundle
For a little nostagia, Humble Bundles' latest bundle has Darklands & some old classics, such as Sid Meiers Pirates! Gold Plus, Sid Meiers Colonization, & Sid Meiers Covert Action. Rounding out the bundle is Nam, F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter, Command H.Q., & Sword Of the Samurai for a $5 bill.
Monday - December 15, 2014
Darklands - RPS Retrospective
Rock, Paper, Shotgun pens a retrospective review of the 1992 classic Darklands, in which they call it "one of the best RPGs ever made". Thanks, GameBanshee.
I could say it’s because the setting is original and unique, which it is. It’s a largely realistic depiction of greater Germany in the 15th century, with scores of towns, authentic currency, and even time itself based on literally canonical hours. “RTFM” is a cliché, but here a fair warning, as that kind of detail makes for a daunting opening. It is fortunately a lovely one, from that line of 90s manuals that featured a completely unnecessary educational section, with a full bibliography. Don’t say games never taught me anything, Mum.
I could also say it’s the absence of levels, XP, and over-abstracted stats, which are cast out entirely in favour of characters defined by dozens of skills, and progression that ebbs and flows with your success and misfortune. While better quality equipment helps in a fight, it’s choosing the right tool that matters most. There’s no comparison of every sword against every other sword you pick up here. Instead you decide based on your skills, and whether you value fast attacks, higher raw damage, or better armour penetration – a battleaxe might be cool and mop up the cannon fodder, but it’ll simply bounce off the plate armour that knight’s wearing.
Weapons and armour are expensive, and while there’s no regular degradation, some events and enemy attacks can damage them permanently. And if you lose a fight or surrender, don’t think anyone will hesitate to strip you naked and take every pfennig you own. And those are the merciful ones. But hey, some of your party survived that encounter, right? So, dust yourselves off, recruit some replacements, and get back on that horse.
Source: Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Monday - August 18, 2014
Darklands - Retrospective Review
Escapist Magazine has a new Retrospective Review of the GOG vesion of Darklands.
Darklands drops players into a fantasy tinged version of medieval Germany where devils are real and power can be found in prayer just as much as it is in arms. Complex and huge almost to the point of being overwhelming, it's an exemplar of what makes old CRPGs worth playing.
Saturday - August 24, 2013
Darklands - Retrospective Review @ RPG Codex
Roxor from RPG Codex has written a retrospective review on Darklands, a game released by Micropose in 1992. Roxor mentions that:
[....] there was also one RPG that I believe was truly ahead of its time, and was never quite matched in some respects. It's also quite heavily overlooked nowadays, which in my opinion is downright scandalous. Considering that Josh Sawyer seems to be all the rage on the Codex these days and this game is one of his favourites, I decided that it was time to write a few words about it. The game in question was released by Microprose and its name is Darklands.
A quote then, on character creation:
Each character can choose from a variety of backgrounds, from noble heir to rural commoner, which will influence their statistics in various ways. A nobleman will start with an edge in reading and writing, while a city trader will have higher streetwise. The background also determines the occupations available to your character during childhood, which, again, switches the numbers around in skills. A freshly-created adventurer is 20 years old, but you can choose to draw out his career over more years, each extension giving more skill points, and aging the character by 5 years.
A quote, then, on the travel system:
When travelling from city to city, your party gets placed on an overland map of medieval Germany. Travel speed is dependent on a few factors, such as whether your party has horses (and how high their quality is) and the type of terrain you are moving through. Roads are the fastest form of travel, but obviously they don't lead everywhere, and sometimes you will need to make a detour through forests, swamps, etc, which all slow your party down. There are also some impassable objects like deep waters and mountains, unless you pray to a saint for miraculous guidance (everyone can be Jesus and walk on water! Thanks, Saint Florian). The map also changes along with the seasons, and it is not uncommon to run into a particularly nasty blizzard when travelling in winter.
Apparently Darklands were the first game to introduce realtime with pause during combat, namely:
an Innovative Real-Time With PauseTM system. During battle, you can control each of your dudes separately, pause the action with the spacebar and issue orders. Your characters have a pretty good array of combat stances that influence theirstats - parrying will do less damage but significantly up the defence, seeking vulnerable places in an enemy's defence will increase armour penetration, but decrease attack speed, etc.
Microprose gave us an absolute classic that should be checked out by every self-respecting RPG enthusiast out there, especially those who favour simulation above all else. It also makes an excellent treat for those who have a big love for history. Not to mention that the game is simply a gift that keeps on giving because just about everything in it is procedurally generated, so no two playthroughs are the same, and you're bound to stumble upon something new each time you press "create a new world".
Source: RPG Codex
Wednesday - June 13, 2012
Darklands - Retrospective and Interview @ RPG Codex
RPG Codex has a short retrospective on Darklands written by none other than J.E. Sawyer, followed by an interview they conducted with the lead designer, Arnold Hendrick. Here's a snip from the retrospective part:
The Magic Candle was the most unusual CRPG I had played to that point, but I wasn't prepared for Darklands. It used 15th century history for almost everything: canonical hours, Medieval currency, alchemical formulae, Catholic saints, practical arms and armor of the era, period-accurate names and spellings for cities, traditional music, mythic conceptions of satanic Templars – the works.
It also bucked so many CRPG conventions that it took me a while to wrap my head around it. Instead of making a party of characters of different races and classes, you developed them along life paths, Traveller-style, in five year increments. You could, in fact, have a party with a grizzled knight, a young bandit, a hapless mystic of affective piety, and an 80 year-old alchemist (whom you most certainly would not abandon for his potent potions five minutes into gameplay!) And as previously mentioned, there were no alignments, no levels, no experience points – just a learn-by-doing skill system and a big open world. I felt like the game gave me the freedom to explore “Greater Germany” as I saw fit.
Not that it was a forgiving exploration. Darklands was a wonderful open world game, one that rarely warned travelers about dangers lurking in a Raubritter's castle or what you might encounter while stumbling through the Black Forest. You could find yourself arguing with a demon in Latin at the Devil's Bridge, fleeing from the Wild Hunt after you've interrupted the witches' High Sabbath, or praying for a saint's intercession as you await public execution in a town square.