Friday, December 17, 2010

Age of Decadence

The upcoming game Age of Decadence looks like the sort of game I've been enjoying lately, and it's good to see new games being made in styles and genres that the larger publishers don't seem to want to touch. I thank Dragatus for referring me to the AoD site. It's a turn-based isometric RPG with a visual style similar to games such as Fallout, Baldur's Gate, and Icewind Dale. The features look very appealing, allowing for a wide variety of non-linear gameplay, with seven distinct character "classes".

For once, it looks like someone is using the word "decadence" correctly, because the game setting is about a world in decay, long after the fall of an empire inspired by the ancient Roman empire of our world. However, I dislike the use of the term "post-apocalyptic" to describe the world, because I don't like how a perfectly good word ("apocalypse", from Greek "apokalypsis") that literally means "uncovering" or "revealing" has mutated to mean "disaster" or "cataclysm" in common usage.

From the gameplay videos, it appears that it's a single-character game with no party, similar to Fallout 1 and 2. I was hoping for party mechanics, but I have Fallout 2 on my wish list, so I'm clearly not opposed to games where you go it alone. I believe I read a post on their forum that stated they were working on a setting to allow players to speed up the combat animation as well, which I consider a must for a turn-based game.

Speaking of their forum, it's full of fascinating, detailed posts on game design theory and world-building, which will take me weeks to read, at the minimum. Their depth makes me look critically at my own inexperienced musings on the same topics, in unfinished articles yet to be posted here on my blog, and wonder if they're worth posting after all. It's giving me both things to look forward to for their game, and also a couple of disappointments, in the areas of visual design and narrative tone:

Visually, the game is nearly ideal, with a nicely designed interface, and backgrounds and characters that from an isometric perspective in the screenshots look almost hand-painted, despite this being a 3D game. The only trouble is what I mentioned in my comment before this post -- that all the screenshots are predominantly brown. From interface, to character clothing, to backgrounds, all are in shades of brown. I had thought at first that this was just due to whatever finished areas that were available to show in screenshots happening to be brown, so imagine my dismay upon being informed that this is an intentional design decision, with the idea of having a "consistent" colour palette. In reading their screenshot thread, I note many people complaining about the monochromatic nature of the works, even though most of the images seem to have been "removed to save space", as well as the lack of contrast. They appear to be using some kind of dull greenish-brown filter that lays over everything, eliminating any whites and dulling specular highlights (if any).

Now, I know this is another world, and despite being based on the Roman Empire, it's not actually the Roman Empire, but you know, the Romans built with concrete and marble and plaster, and used paint. Why is everything brownstone here? Well, who knows -- maybe there actually is a lot of concrete and grey and white stonework, but it just looks brown to me because of their browning filter.

As for narrative tone, I'm apprehensive about it due to two of the developers' comments in that same forum post, regarding the inclusion of jokes and references:

"No references, no jokes, no easter eggs. Much like the infamous internets, AoD is a serious business." --Vince

Developer Scott expressed a similar distaste for humour in an adjacent post.

So now I'm worried that this game is going to be a drab, monochromatic, humourless game that takes itself too seriously, unlike the other games in whose footsteps it's following. The Fallout series (prior to FO3) may have been set in a wasteland, but it had high contrast graphics, areas full of colour (especially in the interface), and lots of humour and references. Baldur's Gate probably doesn't even need to be brought up here, since I've specifically praised its use of humour before, which is sometimes referential and even self-aware, and it's full of colour as well.

Now, mentioning WoW might just throw my credibility out the window as far as some people are concerned, since it's not in the same category of game, but I mention it here because they have a brilliant art team that can make even brown deserts and wastelands look visually interesting and appealing with contrast and good use of colour.

It seems that the brown filter is not present in the screenshots of interiors, which I see in this more extensive archive of screenshots, so this gives me hope, since the contrast and colour look good for those, so it's only the exteriors that I'm concerned about.

I look forward to the game at any rate, and I hope to see more along these lines.


  1. The game isn't going to be entirely without humour, but the humour is going to be more of the dry variety. You can see an example in this screenshot:

    The screesnhot is from the Let's Play AoD article on RPG Watch:

    You'll see the links to later parts on the right side of the website (took me a while to find them).

    And one thing in which I feel I need to correct you is that the game doesn't have classes. All skills and attributes are equally open to everyone, the "class" you pick only determines how the game starts and your initial relationship with all the factions. But nothing is stopping you from making an assassin who specialises in Lore or a charismatic mercenary with a passion for Trading.

    So "starting template" would acctually be more accurate than "class".

  2. I stand corrected on the use of the term "class". It sounds much like the many and varied "backgrounds" of Arcanum.

    In the screenshot you link, which part of the text is supposed to be the humour? The delayed addition of "bastard" to modify "old", the idea that one can "improve upon" sins, or both? If this is a typical example, then it's not what I would call "humour", but possibly "wit". I think a fairly analogous example of an item description from the generally serious Icewind Dale might show how I fear they'll differ.

    Faith Killer:

    This deceptively mundane looking battle axe has a short but strange history. According to philosophers of magic, Faith Killer was enchanted by the non-belief of its owner, the warrior Erion the Skeptic. A rarity in Faerun, Erion was a man who denied the existence of holy magic and the gods themselves. He was known for his attempts to prove that priests were charlatans and holy magic was, in actuality, a different form of standard magic. Sages believe that Erion’s intense opposition to holy men and women actually generated sympathetic magical powers in his weapon. Priests of Selune in Westgate confiscated the axe when they killed Erion in self-defense. It is currently believed that Erion is one of the unbelievers used as a building block in Myrkul’s Bone Castle.

    Special: 5% chance to Dispel Magic on a successful hit;
    Resistance Bonus: + 5% Magic Resistance"

    That's dry humour, and I think it's much funnier than the other example.

    P.S.: I apologise on behalf of Blogger's new overzealous comment spam filter which delayed your comment's appearance. I did not enable it; they just applied it by default.