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Avadon Developer Diary #1

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Last week, after six months of hard work, we were finally able to announce Avadon: The Black Fortress to the world. Avadon is our next, all-new, Indie fantasy role-playing game. And, hopefully, trilogy. We're really excited about it. It's the first time in quite a while that we're doing something really new, and these monthly development diaries will say a bit about the new series and the ups and downs of making it.

 

So, for the first post, I wanted to write about where the idea came from. I am often asked where I get my ideas. So, if you ever wondered, here is one answer.

 

The First Idea

About three years ago, I saw that the Avernum and Geneforge series were drawing to a close, and I needed to come up with something new. This was, of course, both exciting and terrifying. Coming up with an idea that will determine the course of years of your life (and possibly put you out of business) is a stressful process.

 

About this time, my wife and I went to see a Hungarian one-act opera called Bluebeard's Castle. I am normally not a fan of opera. Exactly the opposite, in fact. But some friends had cheap tickets, and we had babysitting, so, you know, whatever.

 

And what was it like? Well, I will quote Wikipedia.

 

"The basic plot is loosely based on the folk tale of Bluebeard, but is given a heavily psychological reworking—some would say psychoanalytic or psychosexual"

 

So you know it was a totally fun time. As far as I'm concerned, an evening out is a failure if it doesn't involve the word "psychosexual."

 

Anyway. The opera is about Bluebeard, this incredibly scary guy who lives in this huge, dark castle. He brings home his new, young, pretty wife and is showing her around. His castle has seven doors, and he unlocks and opens them for her one after the other. Each door looks out onto some cool room or vista. Some open onto treasures. Others onto subterranean realms. Or far-away lands. (So this is already sounding like a Paper Mario game.) When each door is opened, they sing about it. At length.

 

So then they get to the last door. Bluebeard refuses to open it. His wife begs for him to. He refuses. This goes on for a while. Finally, Bluebeard gives in and opens the door. Bluebeard's other wives (!) walk out silently. They take his new wife and pull her through the door, which closes behind them. Bluebeard sings about how sad he is. Opera ends. Very psychosexual.

 

So I'm sitting there watching this, and what I'm thinking is this: Who is this Bluebeard guy? He's very powerful. Very rich. Has a castle full of magic doors. He mentions how he has great influence with the court. What's his deal? Where did all that wealth come from? What does he use those portals for? What is his day job?

 

And here was my idea. He's a warrior. Or an assassin. Or a spy. He can go wherever the king wants, and do whatever needs doing. Something needs to be found out? Some rebel needs to die? That's what Bluebeard does, and he is well paid for it.

 

Turning a Glimmer Into a Game

These ideas bounce around in my head for a few years, getting massaged into a more video-game-friendly form. And that brings us to Avadon.

 

In Avadon, the land of Lynauus is split in two. There is the Pact, an uneasy alliance of five nations, banded together for safety. On the other side is the Farlands, the enemies of the Pact, barbarians and monsters and old, crumbling Empires, kept weak and divided. But they long to get their revenge on the Pact. To put together armies and destroy these upstarts.

 

And the Pact is protected by Avadon. Avadon is a fortress in the wilds, a law unto itself, separate from the government. Its warriors are tasked to find problems when they are small and do whatever it takes to remove them. Avadon is ruled by Keeper Redbeard, the smiling, jolly, utterly ruthless master of the Black Fortress. He has been in charge for sixty years, though he doesn't appear to have aged a day.

 

As the game begins, you have just arrived at Avadon's gates. And you have found that, after decades of steely, unbroken control, things are going terribly wrong. Redbeard wants to see you. He needs a pair of fresh eyes, and it is a bad idea to disappoint him.

 

And that is where the new series came from. Over the next few months, I will say more about the world and the gameplay itself.

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Ha. Very interesting.

 

FRPGs need 'Bob' figures to give you missions. They also need mysterious villains.

 

There's nothing like getting two for the price of one.

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Fascinating.

 

I hope that, with Bluebeard the inspiration and Redbeard the character, we'll also get Blackbeard the pirate somehow fit into the game. smile

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Originally Posted By: Spidweb
They take his new wife and pull her through the door, which closes behind them. Bluebeard sings about how sad he is.


I always suspected polygamy was a female conspiracy. I bet they all gang up on him when playing Monopoly as well.

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In the original story of Bluebeard, on which the opera was based, Bluebeard has murdered all his previous wives. So, Redbeard is presumably not Bluebeard, or he'd be called Bluebeard; but the echo in the name is sinister. We can expect that he's not just a guy with a big castle and a lot of portals. And he's probably not Lord British.

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The plot stirs.

 

It'll be interesting to see if we can open doors ahead of time to go where we shouldn't.

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On the one hand, I'm a big Bartok fan, and this sounds like a pretty good premise for a game world. I am also glad to hear that Jeff is aware of the Paper Mario / Dragon Quest Monsters connections so he can prevent it from becoming TOO cliche. On the other hand...

 

Originally Posted By: Spidweb
Redbeard wants to see you. He needs a pair of fresh eyes, and it is a bad idea to disappoint him.

This is terribly disappointing. It is the same flimsy justification for having important, powerful people throw fate-of-the-world type quests at nobody adventurers that we have seen from Exile 3 all the way through Geneforge 5 and Avernum 6. My expectations were higher, considering that the first games in other series had by far the most believable setups in this regard ("you want to get out of the underworld you were unjustly tossed into" and "you are (almost) the only one who can wield Shaping power on the island").

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Originally Posted By: CRISIS on INFINITE SLARTIES

This is terribly disappointing. It is the same flimsy justification for having important, powerful people throw fate-of-the-world type quests at nobody adventurers that we have seen from Exile 3 all the way through Geneforge 5 and Avernum 6.


Well, how else do you do it? The main character could get amnesia, but that's been done before. Using the aforementioned strategy also makes the player feel like they are unique and play a special role in the game universe, which no doubt helps keep the player interested.

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That's a little premature. The premise has the potential to be incredibly stupid. It's also the same premise as Nethergate: you are involved because someone wants you to be. (Granted, Nethergate is a bit different in that it's not necessarily your immediate superiors who like this idea.) Nethergate has a great plot. I can see good things coming from this.

 

—Alorael, who also likes the idea of needing an outsider because things are going wrong on the inside more than using someone untrained just because you're the ones available. Those uninvolved are necessarily going to be inexperienced. And there's always the chance that Jeff will make good on his years-old comment about how starting off as a pathetic weakling is boring and have Avadon start you off as a seasoned veteran.

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Originally Posted By: Spidweb
So you know it was a totally fun time. As far as I'm concerned, an evening out is a failure if it doesn't involve the word "psychosexual."

Sigmund Freud would have a lot to say about that. Well, two words, to be precise. Although the whole psychosexual theme does certainly take on a whole new level of creepiness in Wagnerian operas. (Just the other day I realized how much of the interpersonal relationships in the original Star Wars trilogy were cribbed from the Ring cycle. Huh, basis of fantasy and science fiction classics.)
Originally Posted By: Two Days at Rest
And there's always the chance that Jeff will make good on his years-old comment about how starting off as a pathetic weakling is boring and have Avadon start you off as a seasoned veteran.


From experience, starting out a level 1 character as a total badass just makes people upset. And by "upset", I mean "jealous" tongue

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Originally Posted By: The Ratt
Originally Posted By: CRISIS on INFINITE SLARTIES

...the same flimsy justification for having important, powerful people throw fate-of-the-world type quests at nobody adventurers...

Well, how else do you do it?

Admittedly this is difficult to do for an RPG where none of the PC's are predefined characters. Geneforge 1 did a particularly great job of this. So did Nethergate, I think: it's believable when the Seelie Court or other Powers choose some random mortal as a champion for unknown reasons because, well, that's exactly what supernatural beings have done throughout thousands of years of myths and stories. It's not believable when a king/general/commander chooses random soldiers/adventurers of no particular power or renown for critical missions, because, well, that's exactly what they have never done.

I guess once or twice isn't so bad. I just hate the fact that the introductions to these games make me feel like I'm hearing the same story for the eighth time, despite the fact that SW games typically have more genuinely new content than most CRPGs.

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I could see bringing in someone new if you don't trust the people that are working for you. Of course this paints a big target on the player's characters and makes it so you can't trust anyone.

 

I liked his earlier comment in an interview that you get the nifty toys.

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It's possible that the main character was chosen for some special reason other than just being a fresh set of eyes.

 

For example, he could be a recent graduate of Avadon Warrior school and because of his performance there the king thought he is someone with unique talents.

 

Or maybe the main character is connected to the ruling party or power through birth but isn't a part of it himself. He's familiar enough to people so he can get access that a commoner wouldn't but not so close that he's tainted by it.

 

Or maybe the main character was born in one of the Pact lands but spent many years in the Farlands so he has experience the king can't get anywhere else.

 

I have trust that the reason for the main character being chosen will be something other than "Hey, you there, come work for me." At the moment it does sound a bit plain but maybe it's just because we don't know everything yet.

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Originally Posted By: Erica Marceau
I have trust that the reason for the main character being chosen will be something other than "Hey, you there, come work for me."

I realize I am being a bit trollish about this, so I'm going to stop pushing the issue. However, I do feel the need to say first: Hey, you there, come work for Amtar [and go crawl into that crack the Vahnatai made]. Hey, you there, come work for Anaximander. Hey, you there, come work for this disembodied Vahnatai voice. Hey, you there, come work for Greta. Hey, you there, come work for Redmark. Hey, you there, come work for the Castle. Hey, you there...

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Originally Posted By: lampshade
The plot still reminds me of Alcritas's Arc series.


And for someone who knows neither Alcritas nor his Arc, what was that plot? smile

Regarding Slarty's "hey you" listing...I think varies somewhat by game how well it's handled. As others have said, G1 made decent sense in that you almost the only Shaper around. Nethergate also made sense, in a way, for why you were chosen to get involved. G5 actually made sense to me if your character really is a very powerful shaper who suffered a massive breakdown and is now recovering; you effectively start as a super powerful person who just needs time (=level-ups) to get back on your feet. I think A6 also does a decent job; you start out as lowly soldiers, and are given increasingly important assignments only as you prove yourself. There's a progression where you come to the attention of increasingly important people - there's not sudden jump from obscure to essential. Oh, A1, as someone said, the way thing work makes sense, as you just do things it makes sense you would want to do (e.g. escape the pit). As a sidenote, I loved the amnesiac character of G5 because it left you with no obligations, no past loyalties, and thus a sense of complete freedom to choose among the factions; it was an interesting break from the earlier Geneforge games where I always felt I was betraying whatever group (shapers or rebels) I came from to join another faction.

On the other hand: G2...maybe you can argue that your character has a responsibility to investigate things even if not well trained. But I'd say especially in G3 and G4 the importance of your character is not perhaps justified as well as one might like. Especially in G3: Lord Rahul has loads of Shapers, but he relies on you for everything? Seriously? A2...your lowly soldiers are really the best people send into the unknown? Really? The way you get chosen in A3 is flimsy, but it always amused me, so I'll give it a pass. smile A4...how does A4 even begin?

In other words, I'd say about half of Jeff's seems to a have a somewhat reasonable basis for what you characters do/their rise to prominence, and the others are basically..."hey you." smile Hopefully Avadon will be the former and not the later.

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Originally Posted By: Triumph
A2...your lowly soldiers are really the best people send into the unknown? Really?

A2 is justified much the same way as A3, Dikiyoba thought. The mayor of Formello sends you to investigate the vahnatai tunnel because you're the only adventurers around and the barriers make it impossible for anyone else to come.

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Originally Posted By: CRISIS on INFINITE SLARTIES
Originally Posted By: Erica Marceau
I have trust that the reason for the main character being chosen will be something other than "Hey, you there, come work for me."

I realize I am being a bit trollish about this, so I'm going to stop pushing the issue. However, I do feel the need to say first: Hey, you there, come work for Amtar [and go crawl into that crack the Vahnatai made]. Hey, you there, come work for Anaximander. Hey, you there, come work for this disembodied Vahnatai voice. Hey, you there, come work for Greta. Hey, you there, come work for Redmark. Hey, you there, come work for the Castle. Hey, you there...


Maybe it's more of a James Bond angle on this rather than some expendable grunt at everybody's beck-and-call (who happens to save the day each time).

Like the A-Team in magical trousers.

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Originally Posted By: waterplant
Like the A-Team in magical trousers.


We can play as Mr. T in Avadon? Sweet!

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Originally Posted By: CRISIS on INFINITE SLARTIES
Originally Posted By: Spidweb
Redbeard wants to see you. He needs a pair of fresh eyes, and it is a bad idea to disappoint him.

This is terribly disappointing. It is the same flimsy justification for having important, powerful people throw fate-of-the-world type quests at nobody adventurers that we have seen from Exile 3 all the way through Geneforge 5 and Avernum 6.

Sounds like the plot of every rpg I've ever played, like Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance, Sacred and yes, the Spiderweb series as well....seriously, you're either a promising student that gets thrown into battles between good and evil or your a lowly adventurer that gets thrown into battles between good and evil.

My point is every rpg does this, not just Spiderweb, lol.

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One RPG trope that I like as a solution to explain why level 1ers are heroes is the "start off in a tough spot" trope. For example, I started one 1st level D&D campaign where the party began imprisoned in a Rakshasa's lair and had to scrap their way out.

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Because of the way the genre works, unless you stick the main character with a wholly prefab personally Final Fantasy style (and I don't do that), there are only a very limited number of ways these game can begin. Unknown from the sticks, or badass with a lost memory. That's kind of it. You can live with that convention, or you can't. I'm certainly not losing a ton of sleep over it.

 

What MATTERS is where the story goes from there. That's where all the variety, the innovation, and the fun is. And I'm willing to bet a year of my professional life that the world and story of Avadon are pretty darn cool.

 

- Jeff Vogel

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Originally Posted By: Dantius
Originally Posted By: waterplant
Like the A-Team in magical trousers.


We can play as Mr. T in Avadon? Sweet!
I'll let you be Mr. T; my personal preference would be "Howling Mad" Murdock.

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There is one other possibility. You are chosen because you are competent enough to complete the mission, but not politically powerful enough to threaten the current powers when you succeed or realize that you have been setup as a fall-guy.

 

Either method allows for someone to get something done in a suitably heroic fashion without becoming a serious challenge to the PTB. You are either dead, banished, on the run, or still dominated by the more powerful political figures.

 

Given the tone of Avadon so far I am leaning towards either being the fall-guy on the run after the game completed. I mean, you've just ticked off a lot of very powerful people.

 

Originally Posted By: Toby-Linn
Originally Posted By: CRISIS on INFINITE SLARTIES
Originally Posted By: Spidweb
Redbeard wants to see you. He needs a pair of fresh eyes, and it is a bad idea to disappoint him.

This is terribly disappointing. It is the same flimsy justification for having important, powerful people throw fate-of-the-world type quests at nobody adventurers that we have seen from Exile 3 all the way through Geneforge 5 and Avernum 6.

Sounds like the plot of every rpg I've ever played, like Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance, Sacred and yes, the Spiderweb series as well....seriously, you're either a promising student that gets thrown into battles between good and evil or your a lowly adventurer that gets thrown into battles between good and evil.

 

My point is every rpg does this, not just Spiderweb, lol.

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Jeff is right, there really aren't too many games that have different starting points. Morrowind sidesteps it to a degree, by being so incredibly vast, that you can play for hours and hours and hours, and hours and hours with absolutely no idea about what you really should be doing next.

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Originally Posted By: Triumph
A2...your lowly soldiers are really the best people send into the unknown?
I'm pretty sure your lowly soldiers are the only people to send into the unknown, unless they want to leave their towns undefended.

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I'm always interested in the nuts and bolts of the enterprise. How many people are working on this? Are all decisions up to Jeff or do others have decision making parts to play in designing the game? How many artists, and who might they be, stuff about the music and musicians, who checks for errors and for computer systems compatibility? How long do various aspects take, for instance, once the game is laid out how long does the programming take? How many beta tests does it take to figure out it all works?

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Sounds great, I really like the idea of you yourself being In a position of authority, it always seems as if your a common grunt. I just really hope that the movement system is in the style of geneforge instead of avernum.(ahem....jeff...)

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I got a kick out of normal people groveling at a level 1 lifecrafter in the early Avernum games. I've played the 'you're a new recruit who has trouble killing mice' angle too many times.

 

I'm not trying to offer Jeff any suggestions (as I'm sure he has an interesting plot already in mind) but another possibility is you're the up-and-coming natural fighter / born mage people keep hearing about, however someone in power considers you a threat. Their response is sending you on tougher and tougher missions hoping you'll get killed.

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Originally Posted By: Mog
I'm always interested in the nuts and bolts of the enterprise. How many people are working on this? Are all decisions up to Jeff or do others have decision making parts to play in designing the game? How many artists, and who might they be, stuff about the music and musicians, who checks for errors and for computer systems compatibility? How long do various aspects take, for instance, once the game is laid out how long does the programming take? How many beta tests does it take to figure out it all works?


Spiderweb Software basically consists of Jeff, his wife, and his secretary. The latter two help out with some of the nuts and bolts of the area design and dialogue, plus they work on website development, customer service and general administration. Art is made in-house or occasionally on commission, while sound and music are licensed. Beta testing is done by volunteers from the forums, mostly, and there are a few rounds of testing for both the Mac and Windows releases.

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Originally Posted By: Mog
How many beta tests does it take to figure out it all works?


Beta testing takes 3 to 4 months for the Mac version until there are no significant bugs being reported. The number of betas tested depends upon the types of bugs.

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Alot of talk about how the player character is introduced. I think there is an alternative to the old tropes of amensia or nobody.

 

This type of character background would create certain setting elements, such as objects of power, so a derivative of it would have to be used, but hang with me.

 

You start by choosing your characters portrait/appearance and basic skill/stat allocation. Then the game starts. You are immediately in control of a character who has significant strength through (insert lore specific items of power/Power Bestowed by Deity/etc.). Through the prologue, this power is stripped from you (betrayal from authority who gave it to you, a mysterious crisis that has made all items of such power stop working, or just an evil baddy knowing the 'weakness' to said power).

 

After the dramatic moment, you have a reason to be in contact with someone of importance (You already were working for them/ Were part of an organization/ etc.). Based upon how the power was strip from you, you then begin working toward the storyline (Discovering why the items of power have ceased to exist/ Recovering the source of the item's power/ or merely growing and using your own abilities to exist within the world, coming to realize you and society can no longer rely upon said powers.

 

Imagine a Geneforge in which the entire story is people coping with the complete and total lack of any shaping or magic what so ever. Anything even remotely touched by shaping not existing. Just as an example.

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I thought the prologue could be something showing you destroy a major place/object in a moment of insanity... The insanity results in amnesia and you retain your powers but without knowlege of them. Your previous renown makes the king interested in you and pays you to track down the people who destroyed the major place/object. An interesting twist if it somehow stopped you from recogniseing the connection until the end.

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Quote:
The way you get chosen in A3 is flimsy, but it always amused me, so I'll give it a pass.

This


is


a TREE!!!





What does it do???




Would love to see lots of humor in this coming game.

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Very nice storyline Markel, however, it would, as Master kinda pointed out, fit better as a Prelude to G5, right up to where you are discovered by the First shaper guy. (Can't recall his name) Too bad there's not chance of that being added to the game, it'd be a nice update in like 5 years or so, just to bring it back lol =P

 

Personally, i'd much rather an upended approach personally, where you are neither the "Pact" persay or the barbarian/ruffians. Say you are are arriving at the gates from parts unknown, or something of the sort. Being such, your character could logically be reasonably equipped, in nice physical condition from travel. And no doubt after a journey of this caliber, your character would've learned some spells or enchantments through sheer boredom at least.

 

Secondly, you are some renowned assasin/swordsman/warrior looking to escape penalties of death at home, and in turn for shelter from your enemies, the Fortress's government asks for your help in eliminating some "minor" annoyances.

 

dun dun dun <--eerie drum beat.

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Ah, rats are okay. I'm more leery about that from the screens so far, it doesn't look like you can play a female main character. I this just me being paranoid or are we going to have a choice? >.<

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I wonder if there is going to be dual wielding in this game. It would be awesome if there is, but I would understand if there isn't.

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I'm looking forward to a new spell system the most. I hope we gete some tactical diversity this time, maybe a little like it was in Exile.

 

Other than that, I know the story will be great and I really hope it's gonna be full of humor.

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"Main character". Does this mean we don't get to play a group of adventurers? If so, it's a setback. The group with its differend characters was one of the best core elements in avernums. It was the only credible explanation why the characters managed against sometimes overwhelming odds: A small group of well organized profesionals can very reasonably fight against greater ammount of enemies.

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The spells seem to be a throw back to the older Avernum games where the higher level versions do different effects than the lowest level version. The example is daze becomes control foe.

 

Hopefully you can choose between the two or more versions.

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That sounds good. It would make even more sense if at level 1 or whatever you could daze a normal weak baddie but control a cockroach. A continuum of power, meaning that there is no specific kick in level for a spell, just a probability range, that drastically scales up after a certain level.

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If that's true, then it would be a very good idea to ivest a lot of points in that catagory, so you would end up with a control foe that affects multiple enemies. I don't think that is true, since that would be a bit over powered. Just cast it once at a high level, and suddenly a huge swarm of creatures will be yours. Possibly you just gain access to control foe after getting to level six of daze. But then again, I don't have much of an idea on how this game will work.

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Originally Posted By: blackwight
Fewer rats, please.
The quantity of rats in the game doesn't matter to me either way, as long as I still get to be a pack rat. tongue

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Originally Posted By: Øther
I wonder if there is going to be dual wielding in this game. It would be awesome if there is, but I would understand if there isn't.

I've never really understood why dual wielding is considered such an important feature. It's not the most realistic feature, and yet it's become not only a staple but nearly a requirement for games.

Jeff's writing seems to imply that you play one character, as in Geneforge, but that you can have a party. Possibly also as in Geneforge, actually, but I'm hoping that it will be more like the NPCs who join you in A1-3 in the level of control over them you have.

—Alorael, who wonders if the effects of spell levels on spells being more than simple arithmetic again will lead to the return of valuable and rare boosts straight to a higher tier or whether buying those first two levels will now become more important. It's possible that actually purchasing spell levels will become another major gold sink.

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I think that dual wielding seems so important since with it, your fighters can actually kill stuff and be effective. Without it, they mostly are just there as meatshields for your mages/priests. They are meatshields either way, but having dual wielding can let them kill stuff while they're being meatshields.

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Well, that could easily be fixed by simply making single-wielding fighters more effective...

 

I think dual-wielding is probably more the "rule of cool," than anything else.

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