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The Bard’s Tale Developer Diary #2

The first step in designing a game is, of course, deciding what type of game you’d like to make. In the case of The Bard’s Tale we knew we wanted to make a game that was a sort of spiritual successor to the original without being directly related to it in any way. The original game was essentially a dungeon hack that upped the ante in several areas on its contemporaries. Using that model we decided that our game would take what the current generation of dungeon hacks were doing and try to improve on them in the areas we felt were being neglected or underutilized, as well as inject some old school sensibilities that had disappeared from the current crop of games.

If there is one overall law or directive for The Bard’s Tale it’s that we want every aspect of the game to have a strong sense of character - we didn’t want anything to feel cookie cutter or generic. We also knew we wanted to have a narrative thread running through the game, to that end we also wanted a hero who was a little different from the norm. The Bard became a cynical, wise-cracking rogue who did things out of base motivations and not because he had any sense of the greater good.

Next we had to flesh out the Bard’s abilities. Wanting to emphasize the “bardic” aspect of the character we knew we wanted him to use his music as magic. The main question was what sort of magic should he use? We could have the Bard use his music to cast spells the way a typical magic-using character would, shooting out fireballs, lightning, etc, but we felt that this was overused and in the end it didn’t feel right for our game. Instead we came up with the idea that the Bard would summon various creatures who would take the place of the usual spells. Instead of a defensive shield he would summon another character who would block incoming blows for him, instead of a spell that revealed traps he would summon a crotchety old explorer who would reveal them for him. In this way we figured we could invest each of these “spells” with a tremendous amount of personality and character.

The Evolution of the game

It’s been my experience in game development that each game has a life of its own. Each game grows in some ways and shrinks in others as it goes through the development process. It is the Design Department’s responsibility to recognize what is and isn’t working in a game and try to emphasize things that are fun and cut other features where appropriate. The Bard’s Tale of course has been no different in this regard.

One of the advantages we had in starting the design of the game well before the other elements was that we could run through the game with the entire team several times, seeing what was and wasn’t working. Early in this process we wanted the game to have comedic elements but resisted making it into an outright comedy. During our various run-throughs it became apparent that what got the team most excited and seemed the most fun were these comedic elements. We started adding more of these moments and emphasizing the ones already present. What we ended up with is a game that is very comedic in tone and pokes fun of numerous clichés yet still has a good solid story of its own, similar to movies like Army of Darkness and Shrek.

One of the other major changes that happened early on in the development was the simplification of our inventory system. It was apparent that the strength of our game was in things other than juggling inventory items and buying and selling said items. We decided we needed a more streamlined way of dealing with inventory issues, one that required less attention from the player and left the focus of the game on other things, such as combat tactics and story. To accomplish this we decided that each type of weapon the Bard could wield would have its own linear upgrade path and any items the Bard picked up, which he would normally sell, would instantly be converted into silver. This eliminated the need to manage an inventory and make constant trips back to shops in order to sell items.

Current Events

With most of the basic game being implemented at this point we are busy refining and polishing everything to as high a level as we possibly can. This is a particularly exciting time on a project - when you get to see everything that until now has just been something in your imagination come to life in the game. It’s been a great process and a really fun project to work on up to this point. There is still a fair bit of time and development remaining but we hopefully are making a game people will enjoy for years to come.

- Eric Flannum

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