The World of Western RPGs

The indies

I am not going to be as thorough with the indies as I was with commercial RPGs, mainly because they mostly repeat what commercial RPGs have done and partly because I feel that the indie scene has not yet reached its full potential for this genre.

The indie RPG scene pretty much started with Jeff Vogel. In 1995 he released a first part in the series known as Exile. The sequel followed 10 months later and the final incarnations made their appearance in 1997. The Exile series throws you and your party of adventures into an underground prison and gives you a goal of survival and escape. Well, the first part does it. The later games follow the storyline when you have escaped from the prison and killed the emperor who threw you down there. Next, Jeff Vogel did Nethergate, which takes place in Britannia during the Roman times, and you and your party of Roman soldiers are off to fight various fantasy creatures while protecting your outpost. Or in the case when you play Celt... well you still fight with those fantasy creatures. Then Jeff Vogel decided to remake the Exile series so he could call it Avernum. The first three are direct remakes and the 4th and the 5th (released in Nov 12, 2007) continue the storyline. Aside from that he also created a series called Geneforge, which is a sci-fi meets fantasy kind of a thing. The only trouble with Jeff Vogel is that once you have played one of his games, you have pretty much played all of them. Playing one does not encourage to explore further, as they all look the same.

Okay, why so much about Jeff Vogel? Because he is the only independent RPG creator worthy of mentioning. Because most independent RPGs are either homages to the Final Fantasy series or... sigh... Dungeon Master clones or just Rogue-likes, while Jeff Vogel is combining the old-school party-based RPG with the choices and consequences design of Fallout.

Still, from all those dungeon crawlers, Cute Knight is probably the most interesting – it is kind of like Wizardry meets Princess Maker.

Aveyond is the most hailed from those JRPG indies. Escahlon, released in 2007, also belongs to the same category as Jeff Vogel. If you like one, then your are bound to like the others. Another thing, remember what I said about the original The Magic Candle – that in those days the game world was created so that you are required to work along with the lore? Well, Eschalon and Jeff Vogel pretty much follow that school of design.

Anyway, there is this one guy – Wolf Mittag, who has the honor of doing something really unique that the mainstream RPG developers have never done. Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome is a realistic, historical RPG taking place in 12 BC Germania. What I mean by realistic is that it stays true to the era without giving you dwarves – Darklands for example gave you dwarves. As a game it is rather similar to Ultima 7. In fact, it is directly inspired by it.

Apart from these games, there is not much else to mention about the indie scene. The modding scene of NWN could be considered an independent scene for example. While most of those games are too amateur, there are quite a few professional games there – like Darkness over Daggerford. Currently, as I am writing these very words, the mod scene of NWN 2 shows a lot of promise with the upcoming games like Planescape: Purgatorio and Mysteries of Westgate.

Then there's also the Ultima remake scene. There are many fan Ultima games in the making, but only one so far has delivered – Ultima 5: Lazarus. This is truly one of the finest works of passion. Everything I said about Ultima 7 is also true for Lazarus. It delivers a realistic, socially complex world with believable human situations... and to top that, Lazarus is the first Ultima game to have a form of branching plot in it.

Then there is Mount and Blade, whose claim to fame lies in delivering a realistic, medieval warfare simulation, including what the public has wanted from mainstream games and never received – mounted combat in 3D.

Apart from those games, the indie scene is just reaching for any sort of brilliance. The titles that show the most promise are currently in development and even those could be more radical. Anyway, off to the conclusion part.

Continued: Conclusion

Table of Contents: The World of Western RPGs