Age of Decadence is a turn-based, isometric, post-apocalyptic independent cRPG. To say we'd be interested in such a game would be an understatement, and we managed to get Vince D. Dweller, esq. to sit down with us at the table and discuss this upcoming release.
Ratty: Vince, tell me a bit about yourself. What are your gaming interests? What motivated you to start this project?
Vince: I'm a gamer. It's a passion. It's a lifestyle. I've played more games than I can count. I know game developers and what games and even features they were responsible for. I write game reviews and interview game designers. I could write an essay on combat systems - girls love a guy who can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that real time combat sucks, but Gareth Davies had already beaten me to it. I'm finally making a game. It's a geek's life.
As for games, for some odd reasons I like RPGs the most. Fallout, Darklands, Arcanum, Realms of Arkania, selected Ultima games, etc. I do enjoy an occasional shooter or a strategy game though. What motivated me to start my own project? I thought I had a good story to tell and I believed that I could actually pull it off. Last, but not the least, I love the RPG genre, but it's in a coma right now. No, I don't think AoD will save it, but if successful, it may open the door and show the way to many indie developers in this age of multi-platform games, licenses, and carefully controlled and spoon-fed "epic" content.
Ratty: Who else is on your team?
Vince: A programmer, who's doing a fantastic job with the Torque engine; a modeller, who's busy making models of everything and everyone, and an animator, who's busy animating those models. Then there are people who do specific one-time tasks, like concept art, icons, website, music, etc.
Ratty: Describe the Age of Decadence in a single sentence.
Vince: A role-playing game.
Ratty: Can you tell me more about the Age of Decadence setting?
Vince: As we all know, war never changes and if left unattended, it tends to fuck things up, which is exactly what happened in the AoD world. A war between two kingdoms devastated an entire continent. Magic more potent than several 1d4+1 magic missiles in a row was used and supernatural allies were summoned. Predictably, both kingdoms were reduced to pretty much nothing, unless you count a few towns and outposts here and there. Several hundreds years later the world is still slowly recovering, being set back by centuries. Instead of rebuilding, noble clans and guilds are locked in a struggle for power in a world where the past can offer more than the future does.
Our website has a better and longer version, if someone cares.
Ratty: What are the greatest creative influences behind the Age of Decadence? Are there any particular books, films, comics or games which inspired its setting and story?
Vince: Books mostly. Michael Moorcock's Quarzhasaat's atmosphere, Glen Cook's The Tower of Fear's factions' dynamics, Cook's The Black Company's series overall atmosphere and the link to the past, China Mieville's The Scar's certain elements.
Ratty: What about the design aspect? What games influenced you the most?
Vince: Fallout and Prelude to Darkness. Fallout set a new standard and demonstrated what games could be like. Prelude showed me that great games could be done by small indie teams, that it's possible to make a good role-playing game if you really want it, despite what the industry tells you by mentioning 50-100 people teams. Too bad few people knew about that game.
Fallout is an undisputed masterpiece. There are games that did more, games that had better combat, better role-playing, better character system, better setting (well, ok, the setting was superb, so strike that), better story, more options, more things to do, etc. Overall though, when all those features formed a game, they worked so well with each other and were so brilliantly thought-through, that the end result was far larger than merely the sum of its parts. The game flow, story development, location design, the logic of the world were fantastic. Fallout 2 didn't have that, failing to capture the "magic" of the original.
As for Prelude to Darkness, while it lacked the polish and focus of Fallout, the role-playing elements were incredibly strong, offering a much better role-playing experience than most commercial garbage you see on the shelves. Add non-linearity, branching main quest, well developed turn-based combat and you have a must-play game for any RPG enthusiast.
Ratty: What is the post-apocalyptic element in the Age of Decadence and how does it project into gameplay?
Vince: Well, the devastation is everywhere. You'll see crumbling towns and dead, ruined cities; dried rivers and buried research facilities; unhealing scars of the war where the physical rules had been bended, etc.
How does it project into gameplay? Well, first of all, you visit and explore those locations, learn and piece together old stories, learn how and why the Empire fell. Second, it *is* a post-apocalyptic game, not a game merely set in some ruins. The society has reversed to the more primal state where the only rules you can rely on are the ones you can enforce yourself (or your faction can). Third, it's integrated into the story, explaining why everyone is so interested in the artefacts of the past.
A dilapidated Imperial town.
Ratty: How large is the game world and how is travel implemented?
Vince: It's huge. Really, really huge. However, the gameworld is location-based, and we can offer only 22 locations for you to explore. The travel system is similar to Fallout at this point: there is an overland travel map; you may explore freely; some locations could be found, some locations could only be added by someone or something (a scroll in a library, another map, markings on a wall, etc).
Ratty: Will there be random encounters on the world map? If so, what do I have to do to convince you to include an encounter that features me?
Vince: Random hostile encounters? No. There is, however, a pool of "special" encounters that may or may not happen to you.
Ratty: On multiple occasions you emphasized choices and consequences as two central elements of the game's design. Can you elaborate on that?
Vince: Not much to elaborate, really. An RPG without choices is an adventure game with stats and too much combat. A choice without consequences isn't really a choice. Thus, our focus has always been on choices & consequences. You choose everything: equipment, combat style and options, where to go and what to do next, quests and quest options, allies and even enemies. Every choice comes with some consequences to reward you by biting you in the ass.
Ratty: What are the benefits of joining one of the seven factions in the game?
Vince: Other than doing it for role-playing reasons (i.e. you share the faction's views and position and willing to support it), you may do it to get some help as a large organization can do much more and can get away with more than a single person can. You don't join a faction just to do some quests, get "itamz", and level up a few times. It's a mutual relationship: you help them, they help you.
Ratty: Is it possible to play and complete the game without formally aligning your character with anyone?
Vince: Yes. It will be hard though, without anyone's backing you up.
Ratty: Can the player character switch allegiances as he or she wishes?
Vince: Yes. Your loyalty or lack thereof will be recorded though (it's one of the reputation stats), and you will be treated accordingly: quests that only the most loyal servants could be trusted with or quests that a treacherous scum like you would enjoy.
Ratty: Is it possible to become a faction leader and dictate the faction's policies?
Vince: No. You can influence your faction(s), however, and make sure that certain decisions are made. That requires some skills and reputation, obviously.
Ratty: Can I kill every NPC I encounter and still beat the game?
Vince: No. Well, yes, theoretically, but I highly doubt that you will be able to kill everyone. You can't become a demigod, destroying towns, armies, and dragon nests in AoD. You can become a pretty good fighter, but hardly more than that.
Ratty: Speaking of beating the game, what is its estimated length?
Vince: 30-40 hours.
Ratty: What kind of an experience can low-intelligence characters expect? Is it possible to play a "dumb" game, like in Fallout?
Vince: Not at the moment. Originally, we wanted to add such an option, and some "dumb" dialogues have already been written (and God knows, it's easier to write those and blame mistakes on your stupid character), but we didn't have time to add dumb-characters-only quests, so currently this feature is on the wish "if I have time" list. The way I see it, a dumb character should be easy to manipulate, but at the same time, he should have some animal sense of danger and a different reaction. Something similar to the Stars My Destination's main character (Foyle). Great book, btw. A must read for any sci-fi fan. Anyway, without unique quests, the "dumb" option is merely cosmetic, and I'm not fond of those. There should be some reward, other than heroic physical attributes, and I didn't have time to implement such quests and ways to progress.
At the moment, a not-so-smart character simply doesn't get "smart" dialogue options and bonus skill points.
Ratty: Let's talk about the character system. What are its most important features?
Vince: Uh, skillz? Well, it's a relatively standard skill-based system. We have 6 attributes (3 physical, 3 mental), 23 skills (11 combat, 4 thieving, 4 conversation, and 4 "trade" skills - Lore, Crafting, Trading, Alchemy), 7 faction reputation stats, 6 general reputation stats, and traits & ranks. It sounds confusing, so if you want to see a bigger picture (literally), click here.
Age of Decadence character sheet. Where all the twinking takes place.
Ratty: You have not one, but three social skills: Persuasion, Etiquette and Streetwise. What do they do?
Vince: You rely on Persuasion to convince people that you are right, without calling them asshats. Yes, it's a novelty concept. Streetwise is the counter-skill. When someone tries to convince you and tells you something like "I saw your face in my dreams!!!", you tell him "Yeah, right. Asshat!". And Etiquette helps you behave appropriately in any given situation, saying the right things and pushing the right buttons. Something like that.
If you want a better explanation, here is a copy-paste job from the RPG Dot interview:
Streetwise is a counter-persuasion skill. It's that inner voice that warns you that something doesn't sound right, and that the offer you've just received is just too good to be true.Ratty: You also have a substantial number of combat skills - Dodge, Block, Critical Strike and eight skills for the eight weapon categories. How do you prevent individual combat skills from becoming underpowered and neglected?
Etiquette is the art of knowing and successfully applying different codes of behaviour. How do you bribe a lord without insulting him by implying that his goodwill is for sale? What's the perfect balance of showing your respect to a local kingpin without inviting him to walk all over you? That's what Etiquette handles.
Disguise is a rare ability of talking the talk, while walking the walk. It's an art of impersonating and behaving like you are someone else. Don't want to do some "admission" quests to get to see a local lord? Pretend that you are a knight from another House on a diplomatic mission and dare some peasant guards to stop you.
Vince: Usually the most common criticism of individual skills is "I'm teh uber with any sword or pistol, yet I have no idea how to use an axe or a rifle! WTF! I want my money back!". So, to fix that problem we are offering synergies. You get 40% of the difference between your highest combat melee/ranged skill and a lower melee/ranged skill in question.
Quick example: Your sword skill is 100; your axe skill is 20. The difference is 80, 40% is 32, so your axe skill now is 20+32=52. Not as good as the sword skill, but not useless either. Works well in case of emergency.
Ratty: Another interesting and novel skill is Disguise. How does it work, exactly?
Vince: It's a combination of looking like someone else (wearing certain clothes or displaying a certain ring) and knowing what to say (researching the background of such a person).
Let's say that you need to pass through a guarded gate. You chat with the guard and with the townsfolk, and if you have proper skills you may learn that a courier from another town is expected. Asking further and collecting gossips, you may find out more about the town the courier is from (if you haven't been there yet), about the reasons for the visit, about the faction he represents, etc. Then you make yourself look like a courier on an important business and boldly go in, weaving a web of bullshit and confusion. While you will use Persuasion and Charisma to collect the info, you will rely on Disguise to put it all together and act like someone else in a convincing manner, without sweating and giving anyone a reason to suspect you.
Ratty: Combat in Age of Decadence is turn-based with a square grid. Why turn-based and not real-time with pause?
Vince: I don't think real-time belongs in RPGs. It's a great system, and could be done spectacularly well, but it's an arcade system. Real-time with pause is an unholy abomination, which cripples real-time combat without coming anywhere close to the complexity of turn-based combat. It shouldn't be mentioned in a good company, but since I'm a guest, I will ignore your obvious lack of manners for now.
Ratty: Give me a run-down of combat mechanics. Which stats affect combat and how?
Vince: Different combinations of Strength, Dexterity, and Perception affect starting values of all combat skills. For example, the Sword skill's starting value is STRx2 + DEXx2, the Axe skill is STRx3 + DEX, etc.
- Strength affects the damage (melee and ranged), ranging from -2 at Str 4 to 4 at Str 10.
- Dexterity determines your Action Points pool, ranging from 6 to 12 (DEX+2)
- Constitution determines your Hit Points, ranging from 25 to 50. HPs are static and can NOT be increased further in the game.
- Perception affects accuracy for all weapons, ranging from -10 to 20 and range-related accuracy modifiers.
Ratty: How good is the combat A.I.? Should I brace myself for reckless allies pulling an Ian every turn?
Vince: Such answers are usually very subjective as your mileage may vary. It's decent. Your enemies will react to your fighting style, but don't read too much into it. If you are wearing heavy armor, they will switch to power attacks to cut through the armor. If they can't hit you, they will use throwing nets; if you try to stay out of reach, they will switch to ranged weapons or stop chasing you.
Ratty: Will I be able to hack people into chunky kibbles with a greatsword or impale little children on nine-foot poles? In other words, are there going to be gruesome, over the top death animations?
A typical battle. Needs more particle effects.
Ratty: Originally the Age of Decadence was a 2D game and you were the only person working on it. What has changed since then and why?
Vince: Actually, I had the same 4-people team working on the 2D version. Unfortunately, the 2D version was often overlooked or ignored as unreasonably dated, so we decided to switch to 3D. NEXT GENERASHUN, BITCH!
Ratty: Despite the engine change, you opted to retain the isometric perspective. Why?
Vince: I prefer isometric games. You get a better, more tactical view, you see "the big picture", and you get a better sense of the world. Disagree? Try playing chess in a first or third person. Get behind one of the chess pieces, get really close to it, and try playing the game. Good luck, you are going to need it.
Ratty: Will you release any modding tools with the game?
Vince: No. I consider that a waste of time, unless a project has been designed as a toolset from the beginning (NWN, BoA, etc).
Ratty: I'm curious about your plans for the future. Do you have ambitions to sign with a publisher or do you prefer to remain independent?
Vince: I have ambitions, and there's been some interest and even offers, but, in my opinion, the current publishing model completely and utterly fucks the developer. I think I'll try that new internet thing that everyone's talking about. I think it's gonna be big one day.
Ratty: Have you thought about what you want to do after the Age of Decadence ships?
Vince: I'd like to continue making games, obviously. I have a good idea for a sci-fi RPG, but that would depend on how AoD is received.
Ratty: What's it like to work on and manage a project like the Age of Decadence? Do you have any tips for newbie game developers and modders?
Vince: It's hard. Very, very hard. If I knew what I was getting into, to be honest, I probably would have done something else. At the same time, it's fun. Creating something is fun. Doing something you like is fun. Making a game is fun. I wouldn't mind doing it for living.
As for the tips, well, you can make your own game. It doesn't take a rocket scientist. There are great free or almost free engines, there are many tools that make development easy (everything is relative though). A successful team requires 4 things:
- A team leader, who can run everything (anarchy does not make games).
- People who are reasonably knowledgeable in their fields: a designer who can put a game together, a programmer who likes programming and whose experience doesn't come from "How to become an uber programmer in 24 hours!", and artists who can play with shapes and colors, without reading the Help section first.
- Patience and dedication. It would be hard, it would take years, it would feel like working a second job (assuming you have the first one). If you are not ready for that kind of relationship, don't do it. If you are, congratulations, you will make your own game one day.
- Being able to accept the fact that your game isn't perfect and that some design elements are kinda stupid. Why? That's just how things work. You can't avoid those things, but you can listen, really listen to feedback and look at your game through someone else's eyes. That would highlight all the stupidity you've managed to put into the game, and give you a chance to remove it.
Ratty: Thank you for your time, Vince. I wish you and your entire team success with your project.
Vince has also been kind enough to send us several exclusive screenshots showing conversations with leaders of three prominent factions, as well as giving first clues as to what the main quest will be about. The player is given choice between diametrical ideologies, none of which are blatantly "good" or "evil".
Antidas, head of House Daratan.
Gaelius, head of House Aurelian.
Meru, head of house Crassus.