What We Learn From Wasteland
Interplay‘s Wasteland has been mentioned on this blog before as a reference that I use when considering which game concepts will be brought forward into the large RPG project I am planning to tackle after the Space Mercs roguelike has been completed. This post will be a brief overview of the things that I like about the game and want to bring forward.
The idea of an overland, go-anywhere map seems to have really hit its stride with Wasteland. Like in its spiritual successor, Fallout, the player is not artificially limited to a small section of the country at the beginning of the game. The only thing stopping you from testing the very boundaries of the irradiated, post-WWIII southwest is an infinite army of grump, leather-clad muties.
This sensation of freedom was also present in the Elder Scrolls games, at least until Oblivion was released. With the fourth addition to the series, the developers went a little insane and decided to level the opponents to your character, essentially committing the gravest crime of good, fair game design–you would never meet a challenge too tough, and would never outgrow a challenge, either. A wolf at level one is challenging, but not deadly. That same wolf is just as challenging when you are level 5. It is the most grievous example of DM-ly handholding visible in most modern RPGs, and it will not be repeated in my RPG.
Shopping and NPC interaction in Wasteland is simple and fairly dense. It is difficult to figure out how to speak with an NPC, how to trade items between your party members, and how to manipulate your own equipment. The game features an admirable level of depth and sophistication, but it is hidden behind an overly complicated control scheme and a lack of clearly laid out buttons.
Simplicity of input aids depth of interaction, which is a concept that I am already exploring in the inventory and tactical combative aspects of Space Mercs.
Finally, combat. Wasteland featured a text- and menu-driven combat scheme that evokes other games from the developer, such as Bard’s Tale. When looking at it from a game designer’s perspective, it is excellent–it features distance, multiple enemies, and dangerous combat that makes a player really consider his next move, lest he die. I want to bring all of these things into both Space Mercs and my RPG project. I will, however, be doing so in a manner more fitting with modern, spatial conceptions of gaming.
I would love to make a really classic-style RPG one day, but I think that my time right now is better spent learning from the ideas of games like Wasteland and then figuring out what made those games great, so I can bring them into the modern era.
Games like these were made by teams of 2 or 3 men (sometimes more, but nothing like the scores-strong development teams of today). That they could do so with nothing more than the primitive programming languages of the past and veritable oodles of chutzpah gives me hope that my own projects will stand a chance, if I am willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears that a project like one of these would require.
Keep checking back!