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Shaping the World

The art team is beginning to shape the strategic map of the Firewind Coast, the setting for our first Seven Dragon Saga game. The water level is laid in, but not colored, and the rest of the color is just blocked in, but you should be able to see where we are headed. Harsh mountains, deadly badlands to the east, and sinister swamps to the far north will provide plenty of areas for exploration.

The lands are several hundred miles east to west, so there are plenty of places to discover ruins, stumble upon dangerous monsters, and uncover artifacts of power. Skills determine what you can discover, and how much effort it is to travel. Players can camp to rest and recover.

The game begins around the large bay in the north, the country of Aphelon, populated by the part draconic Feydri. They had belonged to a much larger, united kingdom, stretching well to the east, but their cousins, the Drakyri offended the dragons and paid the price. Now the mountains are awash in monsters, bandits and rebels, and the farther east is a parched badland, full of melted ruins, and shattered cities. The Drakyri themselves, cling to life deep underground, away from the keen sight and long memories of the dragons.

As we want exploration to be a big part of the game experience, it’s exciting to see the land come to life. The engineers are already working on the underpinnings, so it will be great to see the work of the two departments come together. Should be a great year for Seven Dragon Saga.

David Shelley
Lead Designer

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We’ve been chattering about the re-release of some of our old SSI games, so we thought we’d show you some current images of Seven Dragon Saga, the new one we’ve been grinding on. As you can see below, the environments have significantly improved. The player can rotate and zoom the camera, so they can get a good feel of the world, spot NPCs, and enemies, and plan their missions. We use real time lighting, so the shadows are dynamic, and we can shift from day to night without issue.

These depict the rebellious and ungoverned Mann Highlands, east of the Feydri Homeland. Home to bandits, rebels, and the dangerous Slyth. These worn buildings were part of the greater Drakyi kingdom in the days before the dragons turned their greatest cities to glass, and drove them beneath the ground. The Empress and even the Feydri Queen have little sway here. You will have to survive on your wits and strength of arms.
Along the bottom of the screen is our main user interface, sans final icons. Each diamond would represent a possible action, color coded by the size of the action (characters get one big, one medium and one small action each turn.) Hover over an icon and it will describe the skill. The sword and shield icon allows for changing weapon sets, such as dual blades to a bow.
In the lower left, we have a combat log, so players can review their results. Players can resize the panel to meet their needs, minimizing it if they don’t care.

Let us know what you like about what you see. Have a very Happy Holidays, and look for more great stuff from us in the New Year.
2 Photos - View album

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SSI Pool of Radiance fans will be pleased to learn that Grid Cartographer v3.1.1 has been released with a major overhaul to Pool of Radiance link profile. TSI and Keith Brors to the rescue.

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What to get for that old school gamer? ‪#‎DnD‬ Gold Box Bundle is 50% off from GOG! ‪#‎BlackFriday‬ Most of our fans probably already have these, but this is worth spreading the word rather than missing out.

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The recent release of Fallout 4, and Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut, and the re-release of Dark Sun on GOG, had me thinking on how distinctive settings can benefit or harm a game. Fallout 4 has its well established late-50s - early 60s post apocalypse vibe in excellent form. Science fiction always has the challenge of teaching the players the rules of the world, and Bethesda does a great job, by saying, “Modern world stuff, some weird science, and lots of scarcity.”

Many fantasy games take the easy route of western, Tolkien myth-stories. Designers can count on players understanding from the start that the elves are tall, nature loving, good magic users, good bow users, and probably hate the dwarves. Knights are good, goblins bad, and damsels are for saving. Add in Campbell’s hero’s journey, and the game’s structure is very approachable, if rather predictable.

Like the Fallout series, SSI shifted to post-apocalyptic visions for their first internal fantasy RPG after the gold box series: Dark Sun, Shattered Lands. The art change from Elmore inspired gold box to Brom’s brooding, more monochrome style was striking. It was still D&D, but with the twist that magic degrades the world, and everyone is trying to survive. The same sorts of races and classes were recognizable, but each had a tweak to better fit the world.

So there were new world rules to figure out, but they were an extension of D&D, not an alternate universe. This helped provide a balance between a fresh look and a need for a massive info dump on new players. Dark Sun sales were good, and the reception positive, so the change of venue and art style worked well. Perhaps TSI will try its hand at the post-apocalypse in a later game.

With 7DS, we are not using the D&D license, so will not be tied to their restrictions, nor benefit from their familiarity. For a setting, we are going with more of an international feel, more East meets West, with a modern visual style. We decided to keep with races called elves and dwarves, and they meet many of the expectations, though the dwarves take much from the Tuaregs of North Africa, and one branch of elves is more South Asian. The story line focuses on solving open quests involving quarreling factions, and world altering artifacts.

Our challenge will be for players to be comfortable building their party from races and classes both familiar and new, and then coming up to speed on their party’s abilities, and the overall rules the world works by. If a being looks ugly and primitive, is it an automatic evil creature? Can I attack townspeople, and if so, what are the repercussions? A hundred such questions will come up during the beginning of play. As designers, we must answer the questions in as subtle and natural way possible.

While it is always safest to choose a lowest common denominator setting and story, so everyone knows a grey beard is always a sign of respect, wisdom, and probably a lot of magic, it also runs the danger of being instantly forgettable. Games like Fallout 4 and Dark Sun took fresher approaches, and were successful. We intend for 7DS to also strike that balance between familiar and fresh, and are excited for you to join us for the ride. Next time we’ll look more into how quests align or clash with different settings and player expectations.

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Hello All!
Lately the design team has been focusing on ways to imbue player made characters with personality, beyond their base stats and skills. Traditionally, most party based cRPG's either allow players to create custom characters that are little more than walking stat sheets, or they provide the player with pre made characters with rich back stories at the cost of player agency.
7DS takes a hybrid approach, by allowing players to create a party of custom characters with unique personalities which participate in the game’s narrative elements by using our goals system.
During character creation, players answer a short series of questions, like the one above, to create a personality profile for the character along with their race, class, and specialization. Based on those answers, the character gains one of 13 goals.
A character's goal awards bonus experience to that character when the player solves quests in a manner aligned with it. We also use goals to create conversations between characters. For example, a character with the Acclaim (seeking fame) goal, may chide a Compassion (helping others) focused character on how they try to help people, but always forget to trumpet the fact. The Compassion character could push back, about how being helpful is an end in itself, and worrying about what others think is stupid.
The game also tracks when events occur, and overall ratings of how the party solves issues. So, if the game recognizes that the player likes to slaughter his way out of problems, a character with the Sanctity goal (respect for all religions), might commiserate with the Compassion character on how their views are not being heard.
As the project progresses we'll be adding more depth to this system to enhance the characters personalities and provide more feedback to the player including camp events and romance options.
Folks at the office have snapped up the new official D&D cRPG, Sword Coast Legends, and ploughed a few hours into it. Nice to see more official games coming out. What do others think of it?

                            David Shelley -- Lead Designer

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September Update

We've been happy to support for the re-release of the original SSI Gold Box games on Many thanks to all of you that shared how much fun these classics are.

Work proceeds on 7DS, and the prototype continues to gain in functionality. The art team continues to impress the rest of us. We have a white box version of our first environment in the prototype, and people are having fun using leap to bounce up to the tops of the lower towers. From there, they get the height advantage to shoot the Slyth and dark wizards patrolling below. We have the hooks in for dynamic lighting, but haven’t started experimenting with setting different times of day.

Lee also passed on the current user interface pieces to Sebastian, and he’s starting to overlay them onto the screen. So the blocky programmer art buttons dotting the screen should be gone, and we’ll move a step closer to having the prototype look and feel more like the combat portion of Seven Dragon Saga.

Edwin and David are exploring the different ways players can complete the game. Noisy discussions on whether to have an ‘evil’ ending, where the party switches sides, and wins one for the Dark Gods. On the one hand, it provides for more freedom of play. On the other hand, it’s not heroic, and we’re not quite sure how triumpful players would feel. If any of you would like to chime in on this, feel free to post comments on one of our social media pages.

Paul is taking another pass at the Borderlands concept, where the party can seize control of regions of the strategic map, and give them to factions they want to strengthen. The player can then convert them to Settled Lands by pacifying the area. This unlocks merchants who sell unique items, and safe resting areas. Still a lot of work to keep this mechanic fresh, and providing the proper level of reward.

-- David Shelley, Lead Designer, Seven Dragon Saga

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