Discover more from The Many Worlds of Neal Hallford
Krondor Confidential - Part XIII
Go East, Young Man
(Due to content from this series being cut and pasted into the forums at RPG Codex without my consent last week, I will reiterate, as I stated at the start of the first Krondor Confidential, the intention of this content is meant to be viewed HERE on my blog or through subscription to my newsletter. I’m very glad to have people share links to http://nealhallford.com, but any cutting and pasting of original content from my blog is expressly prohibited.)
After the success of Betrayal at Krondor, we were all conscious of the place we were in. On the first time out, we’d caught lightning in a bottle. Now our fans - and our masters at Sierra Online - wanted us to do it again, but to do it faster and on a budget. I’d had grand plans about where I wanted to go next, but as I discovered, when you’re part of a large corporation, or a large team, or if you’re playing in someone else’s sandbox, other people can say no, and you have to live with their decisions. I’d been covertly setting up some version of Betrayal at Kelewan even from the early stages of planning Betrayal at Krondor. My inclusion of the machinations of the Six and the Rift Machine were planned to be the opening shot of a larger conflict between Pug and the Assembly of Magicians…but it simply wasn’t to be. With no chance of us being able to pick up the rights to the Empire books – and therefore most of the universe I was hoping to exploit – the idea was dead on arrival. Thankfully I hadn’t put all my eggs in one basket, and tossing out the Tsurani didn’t mean starting over from scratch. I still had some building blocks with which to start constructing a sequel, it just meant moving around some of the lines of the original blueprint.
I still wanted to put Owyn on the path of becoming a magically-skilled spymaster, and I could do that without having him cross paths with Arakasi of the Acoma. I also still loved the idea that Owyn was suffering from blackouts at the start of the sequel, though I needed a new rationale for them if the Magicians of the Assembly weren’t going to be involved in the plot. I rehashed the concept over and over and over. In time the blackouts slowly became sleep disturbances, then nightmares, then a form of sleep madness. Ultimately I realized that they didn’t even necessarily have to revolve around Owyn, and for pragmatic gameplay purposes, it would be better if they were a problem he had to solve rather than affliction he was dealing with himself. Whoever would be suffering from them, I knew that the Kingdom would need once again to be imperiled, and that whatever agency was behind them would need to be tremendously powerful…possibly even the agents of one Midkemia’s many gods. Without yet knowing who the final villain would be or what the exact plot was, the title that came to me would inform both the design and the story I would begin to write. Even before Betrayal at Krondor had shipped out of the doors at Dynamix, I’d begun the story for The Thief of Dreams.
OF WHOs and WHEREs
Epic was our team byword. With BAK, we’d created a gigantic, sprawling game world that today would be considered a prototypical open-world design. We allowed the player free roam pretty much wherever they wanted (with a few important exceptions), and there would be new things going on in every area in every Chapter if you chose to go back and revisit those areas. Granted, we could have done scads more given even greater resources, but for that time it was a fairly revolutionary concept. For TOD, however, we decided we wanted to make the map even bigger, including some locations from the original game while expanding game play into the Eastern Kingdom and the lands of Great Kesh. We wanted to take cities which had previously only been painted backgrounds and turn them into fully explorable environments. Like Betrayal it would have been a huge, world-hopping adventure of epic proportions, and filled with exotic locales which were much more grandiose than the rude and rustic realities of the Western Kingdom.
Another major motivation for heading east was also to fill in details about the world that were essentially “blank spaces” in Ray’s universe. With Betrayal at Krondor, we’d filled in a 20 year narrative gap between A Darkness at Sethanon and Prince of the Blood. With Thief, we had the opportunity to break new ground with locations and characters that had never been heavily explored in the novels while also getting to meet important characters like Malcoma, Duke Guy, and King Lyam. We’d also get our first in-game look at the cities of Bas Tyra and Rillanon. But heading east also meant that Owyn would be heading back towards home and his long-estranged family, providing ways for us to not only expand his backstory, but also to carry him further in the direction of the character arc we had in mind for him. There would be consequences for returning to the east after so many years, not the least of which was discovering his father on trial for murder, political intrigue brewing in the capitol of the Kingdom, and a deadly worldwide hunt underway by the Crawler for a religious artifact capable of turning men into gods known as the Veh Habbati – the Thief of Dreams.
RILLANON - The great capitol of the Kingdom of the Isles was on our slate of places to visit in the Thief of Dreams, and would have been realized as a fully constructed and explorable city rather than just a painted backdrop – a major change from Betrayal at Krondor.
Once again, we’d present the player with the opportunity to play Owyn, but we’d be giving him a whole new set of skills and spells related to his expanding role as detective and spy. We’d also pick up fan favorite James in Rillanon, there on assignment from Prince Arutha related to the ongoing hunt for the Crawler. Owyn’s family swordmaster Fergus, and his older Brother Antony would have joined in for the defense of the family honor, and Betrayal at Krondor NPCs Abbot Graves and Kat were promoted to playable characters with valuable roles in the fight against the Crawler, and later, against an enormously powerful demigod known as the Heretic. In many ways, the Thief of Dreams dramatically raised the bar for the series, and was easily an even more ambitious story that would have been divided into ten playable chapters.
EXPANDING THE FEATURE SET
From a purely mechanical perspective, we planned to stay the course with the same basic gameplay that we’d introduced in Betrayal at Krondor, but with some notable expansions and improvements to the feature set. Here are just a handful of the things that had been on the drawing board for TOD.
Map Annotation System - This would have allowed the player to add “pins” to their exploration map, and attach their own notes about points of interest. We also considered adding a full-featured journal system which would be half quest log and half digital diary which the player could use for keeping track of their own notes.
Expanded Roster - The player would be allowed to have as many as four people in the party, up from the maximum of three that were allowed in BAK.
IntraChapter Inventory Management System - One of the most frequently expressed frustrations by players was that sometime when changing Chapters, we had party members departing or joining the story, sometimes taking with them inventory objects that the new party members would want to keep. Thus, a new system was devised so that at the start of a new chapter, the player would be allowed to swap inventory items between departing and arriving party members.
Expanded Inventory - A new inventory system multiplied the number of available slots by 4, vastly increasing the number of objects that each character could carry. Food and gems no longer took up individual slots, but became part of a party “pool” from which they could be drawn upon at any time needed.
Hirelings - In instances where the player wished to beef up their party with people with different specialized skills, they’d be allowed to hire “non-critical” sellswords whose deaths wouldn’t bring the game to an end.
Better Management of NPCs - Going back to find NPCs that weren’t in towns was a source of constant bother for players, largely because they couldn’t be “seen” in the 3Space world until they were triggered. TOD would have made all characters visible in the 3D environment at all times — not just enemies. NPCs would also have had significantly expanded AIs, with agendas dictating their movements and activities during the day and night, allowing for a much more dynamic-feeling world.
New Puzzle Types - Building on the power of the interface we used for towns and for tavern interiors – called the GDS system – we planned to integrate a number of new adventure-style features that would enable players tackle puzzle challenges like those that would later be seen in games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. We would also beef up the existing GDS system to allow for ambient animations on otherwise static backgrounds.
Richer 3D Environment - As much as possible we wanted to do more to bring our 3D environment to life. Players would be allowed to climb up some hills or even up certain buildings, allowing for richer possibilities of interaction, and adding in the ability for the player to use things like height and obstacles as part of combat. Weather would also be introduced, and would be factored in as hazards or obstacles with which the player would have to contend.
New Skills & Abilities - A whole new variety of skills and spells were slated to be introduced into the game while others were to be combined or deprecated altogether. A new Repair skill could combine Armorcrafting and Weaponcrafting into one skill, and Stealth and Lockpicking would be folded into a new Thievery skill as well. In shops, PCs would be able to Haggle with some shopkeepers. They could also develop new abilities like Healing, Removing Traps, Gambling, and Climbing along with several new abilities related to Owyn’s developing supernatural spying capabilities.
Suffice to say that these were only the tip of the iceberg, and that we had a deep and interesting wishlist of things we wanted to do next. A few of these things would have been firsts in the genre or significant improvements on existing features already available elsewhere.
THE RISE OF SWORDS & CIRCUITRY
In the early years of the 1990s, before the rise of things like Unity or Unreal or Lumberyard, game development for designers was dark and full of terrors. Game engines were not constructed to be used by a single user, and particularly not by foolish game designers. If you wanted a prototype, you’d start off by creating a graph paper map, you’d pass it off to an artist to have the base 3D geometry made, programmers would then add the geometry into the engine, the level would make it back to you (or to a level designer) so that basic triggers could be set up, and then it would finally be sent back to the programmers to have everything integrated into a playable build. All of this for even the most basic prototype. This process could sometimes take weeks or months to happen during which time the designer could only hope that their scribbled-on-the-back- of-a-napkin idea would actually work. If it was any fun to mess with…well that was just a lucky break you got on the first pass.
At the beginning of the development of TOD, John and I spent a lot of time talking about ways to shortcut through the above mentioned process. With the sequel looking initially like it might be a longer and even more complex game than BAK, we wanted to make sure that the narrative threads would be fun and wouldn’t be too complex for players to follow. We’d been bitten in Chapter Three of the previous game by players getting lost in our sometimes byzantine plot, and didn’t want to run into the same problem again.
In theory, we thought that we should be able to take all the basic play mechanics of Krondor, re-format them into paper-playable format, and then we’d be able to “pre-run” the design of game as a tabletop experiment even before we built the first levels of the game. Certainly there would be some aspects – and problems – that were native to play experience on the computer which we couldn’t possibly reproduce, but it would at least give a sense of what the finished product would be like, and it would even give us a chance to do some balancing of the game before a single shot was fired. The trouble was, it was a big task. Almost as big as designing the game itself. John was busy, and already beginning a battle with our masters at Dynamix over the scale and scope of the Thief of Dreams. If it was going to happen, then I’d probably have to do it by myself. It wasn’t like I had a steady girlfriend or a social life anyway. I’d just have to try to redesign Betrayal at Krondor as a tabletop RPG while I was writing the story for the Thief of Dreams.
I wish I could tell you that I’d been able to put together a complete system, I really do. I’d love to say that somehow I managed to do all the things while manipulating space and time and that everything was amazing and perfect…but I had limits. I’d had a health emergency that had nearly taken me out during the production of BAK because I’d been trying to do too much, and I was conscious of the fact that I was not, in fact, invincible. Being co-lead designer on Thief of Dreams was a full-time job by itself, and there were only so many hours in a week. I did, however, realize that even if I never got the tabletop version fully implemented, the forms I’d need for a tabletop version would still be useful in terms of the documentation we needed for the electronic version. It was through the “dual use” of this system from which I would derive the name I ultimately gave to it…D.U.R.P.S. (Dual Use Role-Playing System). Another new name would come along with it too, a name I’d had in my head for a while for a game company if I ever launched one, and which would later become both the title for my book on game design as well the name of my current production studio…Swords & Circuitry.
D.U.R.P.S. - The cover for my rulebook for a “dual use” role-playing system which converted the Betrayal at Krondor ruleset into a tabletop playing system.
NPC DATA SHEET - One of the many forms developed for D.U.R.P.S., the NPC Character Profile gathered together all the relevant data connected to potential TOD non-player-controlled characters. (This also gave me the excuse to fiddle around in Adobe Illustrator to create several cool silhouette characters and monsters, one of which is the monk appearing above, as well as the first Swords & Circuitry logo on the D.U.R.P.s cover page.)
#KrondorConfidential #Krondor30 #BAK30 #Midkemia #DURPS #RPG #Magic #Owynverse #Swords&Circuitry #Swords&CircuitryStudios #Writing #GameDesign #Prototyping #Whitebox