The Bard's Tale IV Update 38: Everything Old Is New Again

kickstarter2017-09-05 15:56:41

TL; DR: Bard's Tale (2004) news, Backer Portal Update, Tuning Up the Legacy: Grid Movement, BT4 in PC Gamer, inXile at E3, Contest Winner, Crowdfunding Corner

The (Other) Bard's Tale Makes A Triumphant Return

Hi all, Paul here. The latest "big news" for inXile is the remastered (and "resnarkled") port of inXile's first title, The Bard's Tale! 

 

A spin-off of The Bard's Tale classic series, the 2004 PC, PS2, and Xbox title was an action RPG where you played as the titular Bard (voiced by Cary Elwes), star of the game and center of his own universe, complete with his own narrator voiced by the late, great Tony Jay. The game was praised in particular for its comedic elements and its soundtrack, most especially its rendition of folk classic "Beer, Beer, Beer, or An Ode to Charlie Mopps".

Recently, we partnered with our friends at Square One Games, who worked on the Android and iOS versions, in order to bring it to PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. You can get it now in North America and Europe via the Playstation Store. While it isn't directly related to the classic Bard's Tale trilogy, or The Bard's Tale IV, we're thrilled to bring the game to a new audience, and if you played the game back in the day and want to revisit it on PS4, now's a great time!

Backer Portal Update: Almost There...

You may remember from our last update that we're redoing our Bard's Tale IV backer web site in partnership with CrowdOx. We are working with them to finalize the transition. However, it's taken a bit longer than we anticipated on account of some required platform changes to bring over all the data smoothly. As soon as things are ready, you will receive an email prompting you to confim your pledge details, and of course, we'll also post an update to let you all know that's coming too. Once that happens, you will be able to once again track and access your backer rewards on CrowdOx, as well as change your contact and shipping information. 

And now to switch gears into Bard's Tale IV production news, I'm handing over the update to Greg Underwood, who's here to talk about interpreting classic series elements for the new game.

From Player To Programmer

Hi, my name is Greg Underwood and I’m a Senior Programmer here on the Bard’s Tale IV team.

I joined inXile specifically to work on The Bard’s Tale IV, because the game means a lot to me. In a very real way, the original Bard’s Tale is responsible for starting me on the path to my Games career. I played the original games when they came out for the Apple IIgs and back then I was a broke kid and games were a thing friends shared, either by lending or, well, to be blunt, copying. If you had a computer with two drives it was your duty to make copies for your friends! That’s how I originally came across The Bard’s Tale – a friend gave me a copy they’d made, hand-written label and all. Most of the other games in that exchange were soon forgotten as I played The Bard's Tale.

Over the next months I slowly mapped it out, working with other friends to figure out the puzzles and the exploits to gain levels (Catacombs level 3, the 36 Ghouls & 69 Wights fight over and over was a revelation). Eventually I got to the final level of Mangar’s tower and found the final room. I knew Mangar was in there - it was the only room I hadn't entered in the only map I hadn't finished. Even after figuring out it was the last room it took me a solid week to work up the courage to actually go in. What would this most epic of fights be? How could my party survive? Had I leveled up enough? Would my spells even be effective?

When I finally worked up the courage and entered the room... nothing. Crash. The pirated copy of the game just crashed!

No Mangar for you, Greg!

I tried again – another crash. A third time – crash. Eventually it dawned on me that this was no accident, rather a deliberate copy protection mechanism. That set me back – how could the game know it was copied?! The earlier tricks of asking for street names was clever, but also easy enough to get around – when my friends and I were stymied by that we took an afternoon to go around to every square in Skara Brae and find out the street name and mark it on our map. But this – this was some next-level technical wizardry. I didn’t know then about the tricks games developers were using to prevent piracy – “empty” sectors on the drive that had very specific gibberish in it that the disk-copy programs would skip.

So I did what had to be done – it was time to buy a copy. I scraped together what cash I could, did a few chores for a bit more, skipped lunch at school for a day or two and finally had enough cash. I went to Microcenter and bought a copy of the game. That act – actually paying money - my money! - for a game got me thinking. I had just given someone at the store money for a game. I didn’t understand all the ins and outs of games industry commerce but presumably that meant the store then gave some of that money to the people who made the game. Someone had just gotten paid, indirectly, by me, to make a game! This was a revelation and opened a new world of possibilities. Perhaps… some day … that person who got money to make games … could be me?

I spent the next several years playing more games (including, of course BT 2 and 3) and learning more about computers and software. When it came time to do my Senior project in high school I made a game based loosely on both The Bard’s Tale and Might And Magic (another favorite of mine at the time). That got me nominated for a scholarship, and I believe helped get me placed directly into the College of Computer Science when I went to university the next year. The Bard’s Tale also helped influence the people I became friends with – more than once I connected with people over having played the games. While earning my degree I continued playing as many games as I could get my hands on and working on all kinds of game projects on the side. The plan hadn't changed and as I approached graduation I started applying to game companies. But I was caught in the classic catch-22 when new to a field – they all wanted to see experience before they would give me a job that would let me get the experience they wanted to see. I found my solution in the form of doing some contracting work on flight simulators for the US Air Force – I figured that military simulators are pretty close to games, so maybe that would work. Since then, I’ve worked for a number of companies both in the games industry including EA, Ubisoft, United Front Games, and outside games at places like Dreamworks Animation. Some of the most notable projects I've been on would be some of the Command and Conquer games, FIFA soccer, Need for Speed, SimCity, and a movie credit in Sharktale. I’ve worked in a wide range of positions one a wide array of projects. All because having to buy The Bard’s Tale got me thinking...

Which is also why I backed the BT IV Kickstarter as soon as it came out! I paused for a second on the “Absolution” level contribution, but then remembered I had (eventually) actually paid for my copy, so didn’t require it. And later, when the backer email came out saying they were hiring… well, I had to apply. These were some of the people who shaped... well, my entire life. I wrote what I hoped wasn’t too much of a fan-boy cover letter and hit send. And what do you know? After some back and forth on the details and time...it worked out and now here I am! It has been an amazing journey so far!

Tuning up the Legacy: Grid Movement

What are the duties of a Senior Programmer on Bard's Tale IV? Well, it varies a lot from day to day. A lot of the code I’m working on is plumbing-level stuff – handling loading and in-memory storage of game data, building the components we’ll use to make the puzzles and traps in game (kind of like Lego-bricks for code), save and load of game data, etc. I also range up to do some UI implementation or bolt in the occasional player ability. Another aspect of my job is to act as a voice for the fans on the team – my experience as a player and fan of the original games is part of why they hired me. And so far, they’ve been great about listening to my suggestions and working to incorporate them. A few of those are in the works and today I'd like to introduce you to the first returning mechanic: grid movement.

RPGs back in the day were built on a grid, both because it was familiar (via table-top games like D&D) and because computers and software wouldn’t be able to handle proper 1st person free movement for another 10 years or so.  Early RPGs like The Bard’s Tale not only used a grid, but the fact that it was a grid was often part of the puzzle of the game.  You knew there were hidden areas on the map because it was a grid and your careful mapping (on graph paper, no less!  No automappers yet) shows there’s a spot you can’t see how to get to.  That’s an aspect we wanted to bring forward into this new Bard’s Tale game, so supporting a grid-based movement mode has always been a high priority.

The (original) Bard's Tale.

 

Pictures courtesy of The Bard's Tale Online.

However, time has moved on and we want to take advantage of the many benefits of free movement, too.  For instance, it allows for more natural, organic, outdoor areas.  It also helps areas you wouldn’t think of as being overly organic or natural, like castle or dungeon interiors.  A nicely laid out building interior has a lot more soft corners and curves to it than you’d at first think based solely on the floorplan.  More importantly, while parts of the building align on a grid seldom do level designers align the entire floorplan to a grid.  Finding a system that works with both a free-flowing world and grid based movement presents some interesting challenges.  Take for example this screenshot of the interior of one of the castles:

Note: This shot is set up with debug lighting to make it easier to see what's going on - final art will look much less plastic!

As you can see, the floor plan might be a straight hallway with 90 degree turns, but the art team has done their job in decorating the area and making it feel lived in. This landing with columns, candle stands, benches, and the stag statue create various obstacles to the movement grid system (visualized here as black squares with the yellow arrows connecting them). This layout is a first pass, partially automatically generated using a system I built to take some of the workload off our designers. This allows us to spend more time later on fine-tuning the level to our satisfaction.

You can see how the grid of nodes coming up the stairs wouldn't work well continued down the area between the columns. We will most likely adjust the grid to have a single path go down the center of the columns, and it may or may not line up cleanly to let you walk between the columns in grid movement mode (I've drawn the likely path in red below).

Another concern is how combat relates to movement nodes. A natural assumption is that combat can only happen on a movement node, but movement nodes and combat placement have somewhat conflicting requirements. Movement needs to feel regular and natural, following halls and turns. Combat needs to be placed such that all enemies can line up on their combat gird positions and not be placed inside of a wall. So we decided we needed to split out a separate combat placement grid from the movement grid. I then built tools to help identify if a given combat placement would have concerns with overlapping props or be too close to a wall. This lets the art and design teams go through a level and adjust the placement or collision settings on various objects and make sure there are viable combat start positions available.

Here is an example of the movement grid (changed to green lines here) and combat grid (red, with obstructions noted by the yellow lines). This particular area obviously still needs some attention from level design and art to clean up so combat can be sure to have enough space to start.

As you can see, even with a tool that generates nodes for you, there's still a fair bit of work to make it all fit and feel just right, something worthy of those players who remember the graph paper days. This is just some of what I've been working on for The Bard's Tale IV and I'm looking forward to talking about more in the weeks and months to come.

-Greg

ICYMI: An In-Depth Look at The Bard's Tale IV in PC Gamer

Hi everyone, Paul here again. Shortly before E3, PC Gamer visited inXile's Newport studio to take a look at The Bard's Tale IV. Their coverage of that visit appeared in this article. It is a great read for those of you who may have missed it when it came out.

The Bard Tells Tales at E3

In June, the inXile crew hit E3, led by Bard's Tale IV team leads Jeff Pellegrin and David Rogers. For inXile, E3 was mostly behind-the-scenes meetings with business partners, but the team found time to hit the expo floor and meet up with some fans and old friends. Here are a few pictures from the event.

Hanging out with fellow Louisiana devs Pixel Dash (based out of Baton Rouge).

Pictured with representatives from LED and GNO Inc., two of the economic groups that are helping drive Louisiana's tech growth.

Jeff with Final Fantasy XIV Producer Yoshi-P.

"Don't mind us, fellas. Just borrowing the dragon for Bard's Tale IV. We'll bring it back!"

 

And the winner is...

You may recall in our last update that, courtesy of the generosity of one of our backers, we offered up folks the opportunity to write an item description for something in the game. After the random drawing, we are pleased to announce the name of our winner...

*drumroll*

...Dean Ferguson!

Dean, please check your inbox here on Kickstarter. We've dropped you a note! Looking forward to working with you!

And the winner will be...

We have to admin: we were overwhelmed by your support and the sheer number of entries. We loved the excitement and comments the contest generated, and so did the backer whose generosity allowed for it. Thanks to your enthusiasm, we are running the same contest again - not courtesy of another backer, but serving it up like the bard's favorite drink: this one is on the house!

Please let us know in the comments section of this update on Kickstarter by September 15th if you'd like be considered, and we'll have another drawing. 

Crowdfunding Corner

This month, we feature two Kickstarter projects that caught our eye. The first one is in its final stretch: a sRPG called The Iron Oath which promises tactical combat and a narrative with reactive depth. Click on the picture to check it out.

 

The second game features another tabletop initiative from our pals over at Obsidian. They've teamed up with indie developer Danny Zondervan to create Scrimish, a fast-paced card game that utilizes Obsidian's "Pillars of Eternity" characters and concepts. Click on the pic for gameplay demos and details.

 

That's it for now! See you again as soon as the Backer Portal goes live! 

Until next update, 
Paul Marzagalli  
Public Relations & Community Manager 
@phimseto