Updated art & music for The Bard's Tale

July 2nd, 2018 8:29 PM
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Three years ago this month, the company that brought us the Wasteland game series took to Kickstarter to revive another classic franchise: The Bard's Tale. With Brian Fargo of inXile entertainment helming the project, the fourth entry in the RPG series was sure to harken back to its roots.

Although the game is still in development, we are already seeing — and hearing — evidence of that history. Jason Wilson at Venturebeat got a demo of an early build of the game, during which he interviewed creative director and lead designer David Rogers, who said:

"We took the old MIDI tracks and we brought them forward and orchestrated them, had our sound designers pour their love into it," Rogers said. He went on to note that the games (they were on Apple II, Apple II GS, MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and other formats) had different MIDI tracks, so the best depended on what platform you played on. He wasn't sure what versions they used, but an InXile rep said over email that "some are from the GS and some from the Amiga. We picked and chose our fav[orite] ones."

As part of the original Kickstarter pitch, the original trilogy was also promised to be ported to modern systems. That deliverable has hit some bumps that were addressed in a campaign update on May 17 from Lindsay Parmenter, head of development at Krome Studios, who's handling the remaster:

The original Bard's Tale games hold a special place in our hearts – many of us here at Krome Studios, especially Design Lead James Podesta and myself, played the games back in the 80s and are also backers of Bard's Tale IV.

After some casual conversations with the inXile team, the opportunity came up to put something together that we think will be really great for the Trilogy remaster. Not only are we updating the games to work natively on modern systems, but we're also putting on a fresh coat of paint, to give a new generation of role-playing and dungeon-crawling fans an easier opportunity to experience these classic games.

As a short list, our goals for the Trilogy remaster are:

  • • Up-res the original art, but keep the art in theme with the originals
  • • Add in various audio throughout the games for attacks, spells, and more.
  • • Add some quality of life improvements, such as the automap, tooltip popups in the UI, etc.

Here is some art from the Amiga version of the game compared to the updated art.

Personally, I prefer the original art. It leaves more to the imagination and is more evocative of its era, whereas the updated art seems a bit more… generic.

Will you play either the remasters or the new Bard's Tale IV upon their release later this year?

Bard's Tale post-mortem at GDC

December 11th, 2017 8:10 AM
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The Game Developer's Conference is an annual event that invites members of the computer and video game industry to collaborate, inspire, and share their stories and best practices. This professional affair is expensive to attend but nonetheless attracts developers both mainstream and indie.

One of the flagship offerings of each year's GDC schedule is the post-mortem, where developers take attendees behind the scenes of their memorable games, be they modern or historical. Past post-mortems have included games Maniac Mansion for the Apple II and Raid on Bungeling Bay for Commodore 64.

At GDC 2018, to be held in San Francisco on March 19–23, another classic game will enter the post-mortem vault: The Bard's Tale I and II. Dr. Michael Cranford, creator of The Bard's Tale series and programmer for the Apple II version of Donkey Kong, will host the session:

Cranford… will share the vision that led him to the game's conception, design, and development from his years as a dungeon master. The games are an expression of Cranford's personal love for the genre and desire to surpass the experience of tabletop gaming. The session will explore the vision behind the game and help illuminate a trajectory in gaming which has remained strong to the current day… [and] many elements in current RPGs are developed in 'The Bard's Tale'.

… this talk is not going to be technical. This session targets those who are interested in concepts behind game design (RPG game design in particular), how that came together in the early '80s, and how it impacted so many people.

Although I've not played many games in The Bard's Tale series, I recognize the role it played in gaming history, as it was named among the top RPGs of all time by both Game Informer and Retro Gamer, inspiring me to back the Kickstarter for The Bard's IV. I would love to be in the audience for this upcoming talk… but alas, attendance at GDC is not for the casual gamer, with passes starting at $999 $149. I will instead hope the video and slides will eventually make their way into the GDC Vault, where they will be preserved and made available to the wider audience interested in RPG history.

(Hat tip to Gamasutra)

Game Informer's Top 100 RPGs

June 19th, 2017 7:51 AM
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In the 1980s, role-playing games, or RPGs, were my favorite genres of computer and video games. The hours of character development and narrative created a much richer fictional world than the era's action games. Perhaps due to their inability to translate to arcades, RPGs were a niche genre, and so I hungrily played any I could get my hands on.

The decades since have seen an explosion in the popularity of RPGs, or at least the willingness to serve that niche — so much, that the cover story of issue #290 of Game Informer is the staff's picks for the top hundred RPGs of all time. To have had that many to choose from in the 1980s would've been staggering, though Game Informer admits that the definition of RPG has become nebulous, now encompassing such modern titles as Mass Effect 3, Destiny, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Fortunately, Game Informer acknowledges the genre's roots by including several Apple II games on their list:

The criteria for the staff's selection were not disclosed, so it's hard to say whether these games were acknowledged because they were fun to play then, are still fun to play, or are important to the evolution of gaming. Wasteland, for example, is noted as being the pre-cursor to Fallout; Wizardry is "often cited as the first party-based RPG"; and for The Bard's Tale, "Some players may still have their hand-drawn graph paper maps tucked away in an old box."

Regardless, with so many franchises, platforms, publishers, and developers at play, it's impressive that the Apple II got so many mentions. But any listicle is bound to be contentious, and no one will fully agree with the choices or order of games. For example, Game Informer has probably never played one of my favorite Apple II games: The Magic Candle. With a jobs system in which player characters could learn crafts and trades, earn money from town jobs, and even split the party, it was an innovative and ahead of its time, being released three years before Final Fantasy V, which is often hailed for its job system.

What Apple II RPGs would you have included on this list, and why?

The Bard's Tale IV hits Kickstarter

June 8th, 2015 9:33 AM
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Brian Fargo is at it again. After creating The Bard's Tale and Wasteland on the Apple II for Interplay three decades ago, he revived the latter franchise in 2012 via Kickstarter; the result, Wasteland 2, has an 81% average rating. Now Fargo seeks to crowdfund a revival of The Bard's Tale:

More than a concept, the game already has an in-engine graphics demo that looks quite impressive:

However, there's more to a series than its titular lineage or polygon count. Any time a franchise is revived years after its debut, there's a question of how much of the original talent is still involved. Two years ago, Richard Garriott successfully crowdfunded a game called Lord British's Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. It doesn't have the name "Ultima", and it wasn't published by Origins or Electronic Arts — but it's nonetheless an Ultima game in all but name only, as only the creator of that fantasy world could produce.

Similarly, The Bard's Tale may not involve the most prominent developers and designers to contribute to its last outing. Rebecca Heineman, programmer of 1988's The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, says she offered to contribute to Fargo's latest project — an offer that was declined. Her team at Olde Sküül is instead working on a dungeon crawler of their own, entitled Dragons of the Rip — prompting her to ask on Facebook, "Do you want a game by someone who financed Bard's Tale, or by the people who actually MADE Bard's Tale III?"

Fortunately, we do not live in an either-or world. Fargo's Kickstarter will almost certainly achieve its crowdfunding goal of $1.25M — at the time of this writing, it's 85% funded with 34 days to go — so we can look forward to playing both The Bard's Tale and Dragons of the Rip. It's a good time to be a retrogamer!

UPDATE (11-Jun-15):

Exciting news today: every backer of The Bard's Tale IV ($20 or more) will get free digital copies of the original The Bard's Tale, The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight and The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate!

The emulated versions of the classic games will be released for free at the end of the campaign for every backer at $20 or higher, and distributed through our backer web site. This is our way of giving our thanks back to you for all your support and helping us bring back The Bard's Tale.

Some of you may know that the emulated versions of these games work on most modern machines, but are a little rough around the edges. Thus, we have an agreement with the original The Bard's Tale III programmer Rebecca "Burger" Heineman and her company Olde Skueuel to update the games for modern machines! She will be working to make the games run natively, without needing emulators, on PC or Mac. This re-releases will be primarily based on the Apple IIGS versions of the games, along with updated art.

The origins of Interplay

February 21st, 2011 12:26 PM
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With a portfolio that includes games like Baldur's Gate, Earthworm Jim, and Fallout, software publisher Interplay may be better known to PC and console gamers than to retrogamers. But Interplay, founded in 1983, was a friend to the Apple II for nearly a decade. Over the years, they developed and/or published such memorable titles as The Bard's Tale, Tass Times in Tone Town, Neuromancer, Battlechess, Dragon Wars GS, and Out Of This World. And let's not forget the first-person role-playing game, Dungeon Master, which TSR's Dragon Magazine granted the "Beastie Award" for best Apple IIGS game of 1989.

Many of these titles are thanks in no small part to Interplay founder Brian Fargo hiring as one of his first three employees prolific Apple II programmer Rebecca Heineman, who was recently interviewed on the Matt Chat. This video podcast series is hosted by gamer and historian Matt Barton, author of Dungeons & Desktops. Now, Barton has turned the camera on Fargo, who left Interplay in 2002 but has many fond memories of the company's humorous titles and the creative geniuses behind them. For a fun reminiscence of early Apple II gaming, check out the entire three-part series.

(Hat tip to Blue's News)

Apple II gaming in Retro Gamer

June 17th, 2010 12:07 PM
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As recently mentioned on the Juiced.GS blog, and as first told to me by Andy Molloy, Retro Gamer magazine issue #76 features an eight-page profile of the Apple II as a gaming machine. As not just an Apple II user but a long-time gamer, I enjoyed this retrospective, which featured many of the games I grew up playing. The text focuses on the Apple II and its history and fate, while high-quality pictures of dozens of games capture the unique look of the era and genre.

I especially enjoyed reading quotes from Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia), Bill Budge (Pinball Construction Set), and John Romero (Wolfenstein 3D) reminiscing about developing for the Apple II. As luminaries who acknowledge their origin, they're in good company. In my role as KansasFest marketing director, I'm often the first contact with potential keynote speakers. Everyone we've approached has always been kind enough to respond to our invitation, and of those who did not accept, each has cited scheduling or personal conflicts. Never have I heard anything akin to "Sorry, but the Apple II doesn't interest me anymore." The gentlemen interviewed in Retro Gamer are proof of the magnanimous spirit of those whom the Apple II made famous.

The article includes a Top Ten list of the best Apple II games, all of which I believe are 8-bit:

Retro Gamer #76

  1. The Bard's Tale
  2. Pinball Construction Set
  3. The Oregon Trail
  4. Karateka
  5. Choplifter
  6. Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness
  7. Lode Runner
  8. Prince of Persia
  9. Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
  10. Taipan!

Seven of the games spawned sequels and franchises, some of which exist to this day. That's a powerful legacy. The article's last two pages consist of a collage of 56 different Apple II games, many of which I've never played but am now desperate to. Apparently, I'm not the only one, given how popular the trend is to port Apple II games to the iPhone.

What are your memories of growing up gaming on the Apple II? How did it compare with other computers of the era?