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Torment and a sea of words

We continue to move ahead on Seven Dragon Saga, working on different aspects of skill use in the wilderness and tactical maps. Doing a review of the magic system, and laying out enchantments to compliment.

I’ve been playing a bit of the Torment: Tides of Numenera beta, a game boasting a million plus words, and since they have had a lot of experienced writers involved, we can expect quality words. At more than twice the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that is an impressive volume. I’m not far in, but I can already say that Torment will not be providing the same experience as a good novel, no matter how much I end up enjoying the game. Games are different animals, and use words in different ways.

Torment provides the player a character with a specific background, along with the a variant of temporary amnesia, plus a number of companions, many of whom knew a facet of the character from before the start of the game. The gimmicks provide the companions with plenty of specific things to say right from the start. The companions have internal moral rules, allowing them to react to the protagonist, based on player choice. They will undoubtedly leave, if the player offends them too much. I suspect there will be romantic options, though it is hard to say in the early portion of the game.

The game is rich in objects simply laying around, with rich descriptions and interaction options. And it appears the player will spend time inside the mind of the protagonist, possibly in cases of death, or similar events. Add in important NPCs and quests, and one can begin to see how Torment is likely to distribute its text. The experience appears to be one of exploration, of the world, and of the protagonist. Exploration is important in 7DS as well, but more oriented around the wilderness, and hidden tactical areas.

Seven Dragon Saga will not have as extensive a word count, as we allow the player to create their entire party, and use our Goals system to create backgrounds and personalities for all the members. The party should have a bit of chatter, and bring color to the individuals, but we have no plans for any player characters to leave the party in disgust, or profess love to another. Since 7DS has a focus on manipulating factions, much of our text is reserved for key NPCs, who have to react to the different choices the player makes. Each game seeks its own balance of story, action, exploration and advancement, and the industry is stronger for it.

David Shelley - Lead Designer

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Best RPGs of the 80's poll: Pool of Radiance is currently #1 #RPG

As our first update for 2015, Paul continues where he left off in his analysis of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Paul Murray, is our Systems Designer, focused on the algorithms to make the world balanced and tactical combat challenging. He was the first engineer at SSI in the early 80s and stayed with that company well into the 90s finishing up with the extremely successful Panzer General series. We asked Paul to comment on some recent games, to help give our fans some insight in what he seeks out in play and, by extension, what items he will emphasize in Seven Dragon Saga. Seven Dragon Saga is a single player game, so we've focused on those aspects in this commentary.

His first review is a two-parter on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Paul has already spent numerous hours on the first two games of the series. In Part 1, he shared what he liked and felt was most effective in DA:I.

This is the second part of Paul Murray’s discussion of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and where he sees opportunities for Seven Dragon Saga to match or excel. Today, Paul shares his thoughts on where DA:I might improve, and how and why he’d do it a bit differently.

Things I don’t like
  The following comments may come across as a bit harsh, as I do really enjoy this game overall. Still, the best way to improve is to study the blemishes and learn from them.
   Which brings me to things I don’t like. Really, really limited healing. At lower difficulty it is not too bad. But it means there are times you have to stop adventuring to go back, rest and resupply. This is something of a pain, and definitely takes you out of immersion.
  With Seven Dragon Saga, Hit Points restore after each battle, but characters accumulate Trauma and Fatigue until they choose to camp. There are techniques to mitigate the weaknesses from these long term resources, but, in the end, the player must rest. We are currently working on the paradigm for camping, but it will be more common than I see in DAI, but somewhat more restrictive than the Gold Box games.

  DAI follows the usual RPG build a character, grind the character. Okay you are now at the point where you should have started… let’s play.  It also requires the traditional roles for a party… tank, aoe character, support, and striker.  You can mix the roles a little but not much. In fact, they put in places that need a particular character type to advance the game. If there is no warrior in your party, sorry go back to base and get one.
  Since Seven Dragon Saga, at its heart, is a points based system, players will be able to create a wider variety of characters, and different mixes will prove viable with the appropriate tactics.
   The biggest challenge for me is DAI’s PC interface.
   First: It is obvious they designed the interface for consoles, and then semi-ported it to the PC.  You have two camera modes: action (over the shoulder and 3 feet back) and tactical (overhead view). In either case, if you are in the forest, you cannot see your own character through the branches, let alone the enemy!
  This is one of the reasons we chose to put SDS out on PC first. For any other potential platform, we want to revisit and optimize the UI for it. Added work, but each platform has its own strengths. Players will have camera control: rotation and zoom.
  Second: In action mode, any orders you give are supplanted by what the AI wants to do.
  You can give each character an action order and a movement order… it will always do the action order first (so you can’t tell a character go over there and shoot). As always cross class combos are the way to do big damage, and that requires proper timing.  Which means you must be in tactical mode, controlling each character and advancing the game a few tics at at time. Such pausable real-time gives an excellent feel to the hustle and bustle of combat, and gives more dextrous players a lot of good opportunities, but I admit to favoring the absolute control granted by turn-based games.    

  Third: They improved the AI for your companions, enough so they removed the ability to set conditional uses of companion abilities. AI did improve, but not enough.  The AI will use abilities at the right time… if it hasn’t already put the ability in cool down by using it at the wrong time. The AI will still have your ranged companions charge the enemy (even melee mobs) to get LOS instead of moving 5 steps to the side.
 In the end, DAI’s solid quality outweighs its challenges, and I freely admit to my biases in combat, control and character creation. I always love deep, challenging battles, and they are here, but diminished by the issues I noted above. And, you will note, I can find nothing to complain about when it comes to the role-playing; excellent character development. engaging world and story.       
 The game has good story, great characters, and decent combat. I will get my money’s worth of enjoyment out of it, and more.

The goal for these type of updates is to provide some insight into our thinking and share some of our influences. There are pros and cons to any approach, but we hope to take the lessons we have learned and craft the best game we can.

On behalf of the entire team at TSI, we're very happy to share a bit of our thinking and looking forward to revealing more in 2015!

Since we last gave an update, we've made design changes to our art style and achieved some terrific progress.   

Paul Murray is our team's Systems Designer, focused on the algorithms to make the world balanced and tactical combat challenging. He was the first engineer at SSI in the early 80s and stayed with that company well into the 90s finishing up with the extremely successful Panzer General series. We asked Paul to comment on some recent games, to help give our fans some insight in what he seeks out in play and, by extension, what items he will emphasize in Seven Dragon Saga.

His first review is a two-parter on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Paul has already spent numerous hours on the first two games of the series. Here is Part 1

Reflections on DAI on the PC - #dragonage

Since all reviews are done with a bias, I will tell you a little about the kind of gaming I like.

   First of all I am not a dextrous player… I am not great at timing defenses and I like a game that provides me a challenge without making me go to extensive effort.  Assuming I can trust the AI, I like to run mostly from my character’s perspective, with occasional pauses to give special orders to companions…  I have never found an AI that I can really trust.
   Secondly, I play games that I like to death (and beyond). I am an incurable character tinkerer and will play the first quarter of a game about eight times as much as the rest of a game, trying out this character’s skill combinations or companion combinations.  Despite that (or because of it?) I think the first part of most games lack much flavor. It seems strange to me that a starting character with a background that indicates he has been training since a boy can barely swing a sword, and yet a month later (after gaining 7+ levels) he will have achieved his core ability set. Why not start that way, and then go up a bit from there?
   And that is how we intend to start out Seven Dragon Saga. Our party of heroes is supposed to be experienced, so they will have a rounded set of abilities, and advance from there. There are some technical reasons games start players as wimps, such as introducing one ability at a time, and giving starting players fast rewards -- ding! another level. But we overcame this problem back at SSI when we did games in series, like Curse of the Azure Bonds.
   Next, I am a semi-immersive player. I choose a character’s personality, goals, and ethics when I start a game and try to stick to it.  Semi-immersive because I will give in and make out of character decisions if it will nerf me not to. (I have never gotten through Lothering without asking for rewards from Bodhain, Sir Bryant,  and the Redcliffe Knight).
   Lastly, I still play table top RPG with miniatures, etc.  I really like the tactics.
  Okay, to my thoughts on DAI.  Note that I have played the first 6 levels about 7 times, so don’t have a full perspective of the game. But I can tell things that I like and don’t like about it.

Things I Like

  It is beautiful, it feels real to me. Good job!  On the other hand I miss the slightly cartoonish but truly beautiful characters I had in DA2.
  While it still has a basic plotline you need to follow, the world is really big and fairly open. This is not Skyrim, but close. It also has an open structure so it doesn’t feel like you are being channeled at all.  Way, way, way, way better than DA2.  I am going to see what happens in some play through if I ignore the plotline and just adventure. Since things respawn, I should be able to keep adventuring for a long time. I expect I will hose myself.
  Talking of spawning. The spawning rate of monsters is pretty good. Not like an MMO where things spawn so fast that you don’t feel you are accomplishing anything, but fast enough for continuous random encounters.  Exception: I really hate that if you load a saved game in the wilderness you are likely to reappear amid enemies!
  Bioware surpassed itself with NPC personality development and conversation.  I know this is a minority opinion but I love Cass. She has (eventual) fairness, integrity and a sense of humor (even if she doesn’t crack jokes).
  I like that your decisions mean something.  From reading the forums, this appears to be at about the same level as DAO… your decisions make a difference, but you are still led through chapters to the end game. Meaning you can’t just kill an annoying cleric early on, and damn the consequences.  On the other hand it does not appear that you are forced to do things that are against your code to progress in the game.
  Combat is interesting with cross class combos that work a bit better. Some classes are much harder to play than others, until you get to high level and have super customized equipment.
  Characters have a decent set of abilities, no one best build and room to tinker.  They introduced guard and barriers which act as temporary hit points, a really good idea.  

  Next time, I’ll go over the areas of DAI, which I find detract from the overall experience, and how we might address them in SDS. In the meantime, I’ll be playing more DAI, and trying the master the game.

It's hard to believe 2104 is already coming to a close.  However, we're very excited to be providing part 2 of Paul's thoughts on DAI and sharing more about our work in 2015!
On behalf of the entire team at TSI, we would like to wish all of you a very Happy New Year!

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