The Bard's Tale 4 Kickstarter has been a success, comfortably reaching its $1.25m goal with the best part of a month to spare. It ends 11th July.
inXile Entertainment has revealed its plan for a The Bard's Tale 4 Kickstarter - and its vision for the game, should it be successfully crowdfunded.
The Californian developer of previously successful Kickstarter projects Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera will launch a Kickstarter for The Bard's Tale 4 on 2nd June 2015 - the 30th anniversary of the original game. The Kickstarter will ask for $1.25m and if it's successful, inXile will put in $1.25m on top, boss Brian Fargo told Eurogamer.
The Bard's Tale 4 is a sequel to Interplay's Gaelic-flavoured The Bard's Tale trilogy, a series of fantasy dungeon crawlers that began life in 1985.
Fargo's plan for 4 is to return to Skara Brae for a "true dungeon-crawling sequel". He promises maze-like dungeons with puzzles and riddles you can explore from a first-person perspective. inXile has the full rights to use everything from the original games, so expect features such as teleporter zones and magic mouths to return.
InXile used the Unity game engine to build Wasteland 2 and Torment, but it's switched to Epic's Unreal Engine 4 for The Bard's Tale 4. The developer will use photogrammetry to create in-game 3D objects from photos of architecture, taken in Scotland during a research trip. Photogrammetry is the graphics technique used to map real textures, as seen in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
InXile, which is currently working on the console version of Wasteland 2 as well as Torment, is around 40 people, and of those only a few are working on The Bard's Tale 4 right now.
"The game itself doesn't exist," Fargo tells Eurogamer. "Really it doesn't start to exist until after we have a campaign. But the visuals are real. When we start to show some of the screenshots and in-game footage: that's all how it's going to look."
We don't have any gameplay footage of The Bard's Tale 4, but we do have a screenshot, below. The camera position has been moved for dramatic effect, Fargo says, but it shows off in-engine footage rendered using Unreal Engine 4. "Certainly, graphically, this is absolutely what it will look like."
While The Bard's Tale 4 is a sequel to the original trilogy, it ignores the more recently-released The Bard's Tale, developed by inXile and published by Vivendi in 2004. This game was unlike the others in the series in that it was intended as a humorous spoof of the fantasy role-playing game genre.
Fargo explained how that game came to be (the video, below, is a Let's Play of its early moments).
"When I got the trademark for Bard's Tale, I didn't have the rights to use any of the copyright material, so I had to do something off the beaten path. I didn't have to make a comedy of course, but I was kind of in a cheeky mood, and what happened was, I'd just left Interplay and it was the first time I wasn't working hard for, I don't know, 17 years, so I took time off and organised my CD collection, and I did a lot of things I'd been wanting to get time to do. And I also played a lot of games. And game after game kept sending me into the sewers to kill rats, and I thought, 'I cannot believe after two decades I'm still doing this stuff!'.
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be funny to make a game where the protagonist was such that he had played too many role-playing games - wouldn't that be kind of fun?' That's where that one was born.
"The people who were expecting a proper Bard's Tale sequel, they were caught off guard. And then there were the people that didn't have any expectations and they really adored it.
"But it's very different to what I'm doing now. It's almost like that existed in a universe all unto itself."
Over the years, Fargo has tried and failed to convince publishers to fund development of sequels in inXile's treasured franchises. His struggle to secure funding for new Wasteland and Torment games is well documented, but he has also had his fair share of disappointment while trying to get an old-fashioned dungeon crawler green lit.
"I was doing a product for somebody once and I said, 'Can I use the words dungeon crawl?' and I was actually forbid from saying the word dungeon or crawl while in the room with this publisher," Fargo recalls.
"It was hilarious. I was working on a game for them and said there were elements of dungeon crawling and they said, 'Don't you ever say that word again.' They were seriously against the concept!"
With the advent of crowdfunding and inXile's previous success on Kickstarter, however, Fargo has a realistic shot at making The Bard's Tale 4 a reality - a game he's particularly passionate about.
"I don't know what game could be more near and dear to my heart than Bard's Tale, not just because it was a seminal old game for me and put me on the map, but it's the kind of game I love," he says.
"I grew up playing Wizardry and Dungeons & Dragons. It's right up my wheelhouse for stuff I love to do."
Fargo will be hoping nostalgia for the series fuels the Kickstarter for The Bard's Tale 4. The Kickstarters for Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera were successful in part because of backers' desire to play new games in series they loved while growing up.
"A lot of people grew up playing The Bard's Tale," Fargo says. "There was a great article recently in Forbes magazine about Notch and how he grew up playing The Bard's Tale. People have a lot of fond memories of it. And it's important for me to make sure that people who are fans of the original trilogy are comfortable and happy with what we're doing."
And, Fargo says, inXile is keen to make fans of the original trilogy happy with the new game.
"When I make these games for me I move onto the next one and onto the next one, but for a lot of these people it's like they finished playing it yesterday," he says.
"You have to recognise that. There are some things you have to do in order to be a true sequel.
"The things that made it work are it's a party-based role-playing game; it's not an action game - you're using your brains not your reflexes; exploration is a big part of that, and being able to map dungeons out square by square.
"And those games were very difficult; in that particular case you couldn't save your game anywhere but we were teleporting you and giving you no magic zones and magic mouths and there were puzzles and riddles, so to me, it's got to be all of those things that made those great.
"But what it's not going to be is where the dungeon is in the upper-left-hand corner and the text is scrolling by. That would be a huge mistake."
The Bard's Tale should not be considered an open-world game, such as Skyrim or Witcher, Fargo insists. It's "a little more tightly contained". Legend of Grimrock is perhaps a better comparison.
The Bard's Tale 4 has a "dynamic phase-based" combat system that sees the player issue commands before watching them play out, but the game will keep the player on their toes.
"You need to make all your decisions but the playfield is going to be dynamically changing," Fargo says. "If I say, 'Attack a guy,' but he's already been killed, I don't want to try re-attacking him for example! That's kind of stupid. So to have it so that your side of the table does make all of its moves but it's kind of dynamically changing - we're calling it dynamic phase-based just so we can capture what we're trying to do."
The folklore behind The Bard's Tale 4 is inspired by the Orkney Islands in Skara Brae in Scotland, and the soundtrack and lyrics take cues from Scottish culture, inXile said. Fargo has already hired Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, who worked on Pixar movie Brave, to contribute to the game.
"We have original music being created for the game and it's just fantastic," Fargo says.
"For me, immersion is everything, that's why it's the graphics, it's the ambient sounds, it's the music, it's the singing - it's bringing it all together."
While development of The Bard's Tale 4 will lead on PC, inXile is considering a console version, which comes as little surprise given Wasteland 2 is heading to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
"It's not our emphasis in the beginning," Fargo says. "I find that my audience is very PC centric, and they want to make sure we're focused on that, which we are.
"This one lends itself to console even more so than the isometric ones of course, but yeah, it's something we're going to keep heavily in mind of course, but we don't like to think about it too much, because when we're making our day to day decisions about how to make it the best that it can be, we don't want people to think we're making any trade-offs for the PC."
Brian Fargo interviewed by Robert Purchese.