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SP: For starters, could you please tell us a few words about the
Planewalker Games team and your role in it?
Planewalker Games LLC is a new, independent game studio created
specifically to develop and publish The Broken Hourglass. I am the
company's managing member and serve as the producer of the game.
The company has no employees as such but we have a group of about
20 contractors working with the company who have provided everything
from world design documents to music.
SP: What has motivated you to start making The Broken Hourglass,
and what is your final vision for it?
It all comes down to the fact that it's been almost five years since
the release of Throne of Bhaal, and nobody has done a game like
Baldur's Gate 2 since then. TOEE is kinda-sorta like it, KOTOR is
kinda-sorta like it, but it's clearly not enough since players keep
saying "Why doesn't anybody do games like BG2 anymore?"
We certainly got tired of waiting, and it seemed that with so many
people actively clamoring for a similar style of game that there
was a significant opportunity for people who understood that style
It also helps
tremendously that I have a business partner, Westley Weimer, who
somehow let me talk him into designing a suitable CRPG ruleset and
game engine to pursue the opportunity—without that, I would
still be sitting here idly musing on the reasons nobody makes them
like they used to. Really, the scenario is eerily similar to how
both Wes and I started modding BG2 in the first place five years
ago (and by extension, how our paths first crossed)—people
lamented for months on end that there weren't enough mods for BG2
of the kind they wanted to play, so with nobody else doing it, we
both ended up answering the call and doing something about it.
The final vision,
then, is to produce a quality CRPG that delivers a gameplay experience
people have been clamoring for, but not receiving from the mainstream
studios and publishers, for going on half a decade. There are independent
developers out there who do well for themselves preserving an aesthetic
that's circa 1992 or so. We'd like to be able to do the same, moving
the target forward the better part of a decade. The vision, of course,
includes lots of people buying the game and convincing us that this
was in fact a risk worth taking.
SP: How exactly is having played the Infinity Engine AD&D games
(such as the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series) and creating
mods for them for a few years influencing the choices you are now
making as developers?
Well, certainly, spending such a long time studying one game and
one game engine exposes a lot of its strengths and weaknesses. So
it was almost unfairly easy to start out and make some clear and
obvious choices, such as having a game engine which didn't have
a fixed, hard party limit and avoid "I've rescued you! Now
you're on your own, as I have no room in my party!" silliness.
(Not that we're going to have an NPC rescue plot in TBH, but it's
nice to know that if we ever do a WeiNGINE game that does feature
it, we won't put the player in a ridiculous quandary.)
But the flipside
is that the reason those games have endured and we've been interested
in adding on to them for so long is that they did a lot of things
right. So there were many cases in interface and engine design where
we decided that any tie or ambivalence among our feelings on the
subject should probably be "won" by the approach they
took, simply because it had been proven to work quite well, sell
a lot of games, and generally keep people happy. Not to say those
games are the One True Approach to playing a CRPG, but they did
set some valuable and worthwhile examples, and we can spend our
time in much better ways than trying to reinvent those particular
SP: What were your other inspirations, apart from your experience
with the Infinity Engine games?
I'm sure all of the developers have brought their own background
and unique influences to the table. For my part, I would like to
think that I'm influenced by some of the greats of the 1980s, such
as Alternate Reality, Wasteland, and Bard's Tale. Each of those
games is rather different from what we're doing, of course, but
if some of their quality rubbed off on me and I'm able to impart
it to Broken Hourglass, then I'm happy.
SP: How familiar will the setting and the rules system be to a Baldur's
Gate series fan and what are the most radical changes he or she
BG players specifically or simply D&D players generally shouldn't
have too much trouble adapting to the setting—superficially,
it falls under the "sword and sorcery" or "mage and
metal" category. The Byzantine-inspired flavors should be a
breath of fresh air. The most significant difference that a D&D/BG
player may find is that although our setting does have magic and
swords and pikes and cruel, excessively tattooed elves and whatnot,
it's comparatively light in the "wandering and marauding monster"
department—most of the "baddies" in our world are,
in fact, other people, not dog-faced monsters. That's not to say
there aren't a few strange and unusual creatures in the bestiary,
As far as rules
go, players have more options to develop weapon proficiencies and
attack speed, and primary abilities can be raised at any time alongside
secondary or skill-type abilities, which generally speaking are
on a scale from 0 to 100. The system favors effects that happen
"on a gradient" rather than "in binary fashion",
meaning that there aren't spells that immediately put you to sleep
if you fail to meet a target roll, but instead would make you "act
sleepier" by reducing your speed or making you feel more encumbered
or some such.
As far as the
interface goes, most of the changes are evolutionary rather than
revolutionary. For instance, rather than having a "thieving
mode" button, we simply presume that you are always on the
lookout for traps and secret doors and hidden compartments and whatnot.
Similarly, if you try to take a path through a closed door, we presume
you want to open it. If you click on a trap or a locked door, we
presume you want to try to disarm/unlock it. By the way, opponents
for whom it would be sensible (i.e., those with hands) can also
manipulate doors as part of their standard AI. They also can pick
up and use loot dropped on the ground… so if you lose a party
member with valuable gear, you may find it being used against you
in the rest of the fight!
SP: Can you cast some more light on your partly class and partly
skill-based character advancement system?
We are trying to combine the best elements of point-buy flexibility
and level-path clarity while maintaining the notion that NPCs have
distinct personalities. As I mentioned, there are many attributes
which can be boosted with experience points, and for players who
enjoy total control over their PC power, they will be able to freely
spend each and every point in the category they choose. For players
who don't enjoy trying to work out the best balance of skills, we
will offer several pre-built level "paths." So a "pikeman"
path would tend to put points into polearm precision and strength,
while an "ice mage" path would favor judgment, mana, and
ice magic proficiency. There will be some points left over for free
allocation by the player into traits or additional skill purchases,
NPCs must be
advanced along paths which they "approve of", because
it doesn't follow that just because a gladiator joins your party
that he wants to become an archer. Different NPCs will approve of
different paths, and it will be possible to convince some NPCs to
branch out into new areas as well. We don't want to unreasonably
restrict party composition flexibility—each NPC will approve
of multiple paths. But we do want to preserve a sense that they
have distinct preferences about how they wish to further develop
their skills. And since paths won't spend 100% of points, players
will still have some freedom to pour NPC points into areas they
find most important to the health of the party.
SP: Also, how will magic work in the game world, spells, artifacts,
crafting (if this will be in)?
Magic works on a mana potential system, or as engine designer Westley
Weimer puts it, a "garden hose" system. Think of mana
as being the pressure of the water coming out of the spout. Over
any given period of time, you can use the water coming out of the
hose full-blast to shoot at an opponent, or you can splice the hose
to slowly water several garden beds at once. But it's all the same
amount of water available to you at any moment.
So what that
means in the game context is that if you have a standing, long-term
enchantment, such as a stat bonus or a heal applied, that takes
away from the rest of the mana "flow" available to shoot
at enemies in the form of firebolts or ice shards or whatnot. Equipping
a magical weapon has a mana cost as well, representing the magical
focus the wielder must exert in order to control and benefit from
the item. (This, incidentally, is why mana doesn't necessarily get
entirely neglected by front-line fighters in our system.) Instantaneous
effects, such as the aforementioned firebolts and ice shards, do
not deplete the mana potential.
As far as recovering
that long-term mana, enchantments drop when combat ends, the target
dies, or the party rests, depending on the situation.
Spells can be
selected from a spellbook, or built on the fly by selecting a magic
source (fire, air, water, earth, or physical), a target, and an
effect (stat drain, stat boost, direct damage, damage over time,
We do not have
player crafting of weapons, potions, or that sort of thing. There
is a place in CRPGs to collect up 11 herbs and spices and make the
secret recipe in your well-stocked pantry, just not in this particular
CRPG. There will be some specialists in the game who can build or
enhance specific items, however.
SP: What will combat look like in terms of mechanics and in general?
Combat is real-time with manual and auto-pause.
attacks, the engine rolls a random number, adjusted by their weapon
skill (that includes magic proficiency), Tactics skill bonus, the
target's cover if it's a missile attack, and other miscellaneous
factors. The victim makes a defense roll adjusted by an appropriate
defensive skill for the attack (Dodge, Parry, or Deflect), with
bonuses for Tactics skills and penalties depending on their Facing
situation (if they are being mobbed, it's difficult to defend properly)
and the bulk-weight of the weapon being used against them. If the
attack roll exceeds the defense roll, there is a hit, and the degree
to which it beat the defense roll determines how much damage is
applied. Armor provides damage resistance/reduction.
different qualities which determines how well or poorly the target
can parry or absorb the blow. For instance, a Penetrating weapon
such as an arrow or a spear will negate some of armor's resistance
because it is specifically designed to pierce armor. Other types
of weapons are Flexible and harder to deflect. And so on.
SP: Speaking of the game world, how about some numbers? How many
quests, NPCs, joinable party members, hours of playing time are
you aiming for roughly?
Quests- We're still writing more. Dozens, certainly.
Joinable NPCs- Nine.
Target hours of playing time- I'd love to deliver first-time players
an honest 20 hours of entertainment. We'll see what the final pudding
SP: A bit on the ethical side, what options will the players be
given and how do they compare to the D&D alignments? What about
We are not using an explicit "alignment" system—players
can make up their own mind what their character's moral standing
is, and judge for themselves what the "true natures" of
the characters they encounter and team up with are.
Outside of the
party, reputation will mostly be situational (B may object to how
you specifically treated A previously, but may not know or care
what you did about C), although the overarching stack of deeds done
or undone by the party will have an impact on the endgame and epilogue.
Within the party, NPC opinions will be influenced largely by the
qualities displayed by the PC in actions and dialogues—some
NPCs will reward displays of passion, others will scorn such emotional
outbursts, for instance.
As far as the
ethics within the quests, there will sometimes be multiple paths
to "satisfactorily complete" a quest, but as a design
rule, I do not believe that every single quest must have a fully-realized
option for "shoot everybody in the face and still come out
smelling like a rose." Sometimes the cruelest option is to
simply withhold aid, after all. Although being shot in the face
is no fun either.
SP: Will players be able to construct or otherwise acquire strongholds
of their own, or join factions? If so, how much variety will there
The player will quickly obtain a "home base" but it would
be exaggerating to call it a stronghold as such. And although there
will be power groups within the city to be appeased and manipulated,
there is not an explicit factional system in the usual, Torment-y
sense of the word.