Greetings, Adventurers! Nathan Long here, lead writer on Bard's Tale IV. Today I'm here to present something special to you. It's been a while since we last showed you video of the game, and now we want to give you a brand new glimpse into the world of Caith running in-engine.
This clip is meant to illustrate the tone that we are looking to capture for our environments and creatures in The Bard's Tale IV – a captivating and expansive landscape for you to explore, and a menagerie of creatures inspired by myth and Celtic folklore. We’ve also been feverishly working on the combat system and have made some amazing progress, but we don’t want to show our hand on it quite yet. For now I hope this gets your imaginations running wild and sets the mood for what I'd like to talk to you about today.
A Grappling Hook in My Hand and a Song in My Heart
Recently, lead designer David Rogers and I have been working on what we've been calling the "Adventuring Tools and Content Keys" systems for the game, and for this update we thought we'd share some details about how it all works.
Basically, what the adventuring tools and content keys do is give us some control over how you explore and experience the world of Bard's Tale IV. Now, right from the beginning, we made the decision that BTIV would be a game of free exploration. You'd be able to go in any direction you chose, ignore the main story to do side quests if that's what tickled your fancy, or just noodle around and find cool stuff. We therefore made Skara Brae and the land it resides in, Caith, big places with lots of space and lots of story, scenery and secrets to get lost in. Skara Brae is a city now, with multiple levels of sewers, catacombs, and crypts below it, while the lands that surround it are vast and varied, with broad fields, haunted villages, deep forests, treacherous fens, and looming mountains, all riddled with caves, ruins, dungeons, and hidden places, all ripe for exploration.
However, another decision we made early on was that we didn't want you to be able to grind through any of these areas all in one go. We wanted there to be doors you couldn't open the first time you found them, or rivers you couldn't cross, or ruins you could see but not reach. We wanted there to be mysteries that you couldn't unlock until you'd traveled to new areas and learned new things. We wanted to make sure there were always places you wanted to come back to, and that returning to previously explored lands would always be rewarding and fun, unlocking new areas, secret content, interesting lore, and of course, awesome loot.
So how to have it both ways? How do we make a world with a good amount of free exploration that at the same time keeps some content hidden, and do it in a way that doesn't feel artificial or unfair? Well, there are lots of ways, some simple and direct, some more subtle and writer-y, (I get to do those bits!) which act as the gates and keys of Bard's Tale IV. Let’s have a look at the main ones.
David Note: Writers are always speaking in fluffy generalities. I'll be popping into this update now and then to give you some cold hard facts.
Level Keys - One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor
Some areas won't be locked away behind an actual physical door, and you won't need a physical key to get into them. They'll just be too much for you to handle at your current level. If you walk into a new area and find that you're getting your ass handed to you by every enemy who gives you the stink-eye, that's a clue to come back later, once you've toughened up and upgraded your gear. Of course you might be a sneaky sort, able to dodge your way through enemy patrols to snag some serious swag, but you do so at your own risk. We accept no liability for any party wipes that may occur if you go around trying to punch above your weight.
David Note: This is one of the classic ways computer games keep you out of an area temporarily. The way level gating in Bard’s Tale IV differs from other RPGs is our willingness to have a pockets of high level enemies living inside low level areas. Consider them a signpost, letting you know that there are high level rewards to come back to once you're strong enough to fight your way past the gatekeepers.
And to elaborate on sneaking and patrols, in BTIV, enemies will often be found guarding various locations, walking patrol routes, or hiding in ambush. These enemies have zones of perception that show where their attention is focused, and these zones can be tip-toed around by an adventuring party with good timing, or stealthed through with the help of a sneaky rogue. If you're spotted, enemies will get the jump on you, putting you at a disadvantage. However, you can get the jump on them by attacking from behind, causing front row enemies to switch to the back row and back row enemies to switch to the front, exposing their weakest group members and putting their melee troops out of range. Ambushing in this way also guarantees your party the first turn in combat.
Tool Keys - The Right Tool For The Job
When exploring dungeons, some secret passages, shortcuts, or hidden rooms require a certain tool to enter. Sometimes it'll be a simple key or lock-pick kit. Other times it will be something rarer or more unusual. An inaccessible ledge becomes scalable only if you equip a grappling hook. A ten-foot pole sets off the traps that keep you from getting to the door at the end of a hallway. Igniting some Demon Dust blows a hole in a weakened sewer wall, revealing a new area. Once you learn what tool you need to bypass each obstacle, you'll begin to see other instances of that obstacle scattered throughout the world, and you'll know what to stock up on the next time you visit Garth's Equipment Shop.
David Note: These kinds of keys, what we're calling Adventuring Tools, are how we lock off hidden content. When visiting a vendor, we want you to think about purchasing some of these tools before delving into your next dungeon, on the chance that the reward for using them will be greater than the investment, or that it will make an otherwise difficult fight easier or entirely avoidable.
Song Keys - Music Will Set You Free
As befits a game with Bard in the title, music plays a large part in all aspects of BTIV's gameplay, from combat to puzzle solving to storytelling - and also, of course, exploration. From the Highroad Whistle that allows you to travel from one circle of standing stones to another, to the Smuggler's Lament, which grants you access to secret passages known only to members of the criminal underground, songs will get you into and out of all kinds of places. Some will reveal secret caches.
Some will open portals to new worlds. Some let faction leaders know you're a friend, so they'll show you their secret stores. Some are musical spells that cause waters to recede or broken bridges to reassemble, allowing you to cross into new areas.
The trick is finding and learning these songs. Some will be taught to you by your companions. Some you'll learn from quest givers, or find written out in ancient books. Some you will have to fight through the deepest dungeons to acquire. They will all be worth it. The more songs you learn, the more the world will open up to you.
David Note: So, there's an actual system to this, which we're calling Songs of Exploration. You have a song book (basically an inventory) where songs you've learned are listed, and when confronted with a broken bridge, or a bit of Trow graffiti, or a circle of standing stones, you can open the book and click on the appropriate song. The song then plays (a quick little riff) and the bridge reassembles, a cache opens, or the standing stone quick travel menu appears. Ta-da!
Lore Keys - Knowledge Opens Many Doors
The final kind of key is the key of knowledge. Histories read in books, rumors overheard in conversations, or relics found in ancient chambers, all can give the clever player answers to puzzles or riddles they can find nowhere else. Temples, sacred crypts, storehouses of powerful weapons and spells, all might be locked away behind a question or a map or a diagram, or a rune which requires translation. The knowledge needed to solve the puzzle will be out there somewhere. You only have to find it - and figure out what it means.
David Note: To spell this out, there is side content in the game that you will not be able to complete - or even find! - without reading the lore you find and using your brain to figure out what it means and how it applies to the world and the puzzles that abound in it. Lore comes from readable books you find in the game, as well as notes, drawings, ancient songs, inscribed weapons, and murals painted on dungeon walls, all of which can be examined up close and in detail. Nothing along the main storyline is hidden behind these more esoteric puzzles, but plenty of cool stuff will be. Cleverness will be rewarded.
Thus, to sum up, there are four kinds of keys in Bard's Tale IV - physical, musical, mental, and straight up being strong enough to fight your way in - and mastering all four is the best way to unlock and explore all of the wide, wild, wondrous world of Caith.
David Note: Good luck, Adventurers! The world of Caith awaits!
Before we leave you, we also have a few words to share about some other crowdfunded projects.
First, the Torment: Tides of Numenera team is finalizing its work on that title for when it releases early next year. Their next game will be Wasteland 3, and to help make it happen, we'll be crowdfunding it using Fig.
Wasteland 3 will be launching its campaign on October 5th, 2016, and if you would like to lend your support, we would most certainly appreciate it. You can check here to sign up for future news and get notified when the campaign launches.
Next, there's another nostalgic project on Kickstarter we wanted to direct your attention to. Those of you who are old-school PC gamers will, like ourselves, fondly remember titles such as Jazz Jackrabbit, Commander Keen and more. Rad Rodgers is a side-scroller inspired by those classic games of the early 90s which aims to revive this genre!
Their campaign has just about a week left to go and has managed to fund, but you can still get in for some of their stretch goals if you act now.
Lead Writer – The Bard's Tale IV
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