The project I’m working on is Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled from Studio Archcraft. (The game was called “Project Exile” during development, and that’s still the name you’ll see on the website in various places.)
I’ve actually only played the first couple of hours of the thing so far. I know it’s unfair to compare it to something like Final Fantasy VI, which is older and has earned its place of legend among titles of the past, but as a recent newcomer to both titles I’d say the start to Black Sigil hooked me in better than the start to FFVI. It’s a shame, really – I’ve read the Black Sigil design docs and I know how the story unfolds, which kind of ruins it for me.
The game began development as a GBA title, and has since moved on to the Nintendo DS. It’s been in development for a while and I’m only getting involved now as the thing gets ready to cross the finish line. The bulk of the work I’ve been doing is simple stuff: Scripting pre-written dialog and choreographing cutscenes. It’s not creative work, but it’s important and a natural way to get to know the technology and tools. I’ve also been doing some writing and game design stuff for another project, but that stuff is still in the preliminary stages and hasn’t evolved very far past mere brainstorming. It’s the kind of stuff I live for, but the scripting needs to be done first.
Actually I shouldn’t call the scripting work “simple”. I know from experience that no system is ever as simple as it looks from the outside, but being aware of this truth and being subjected to this truth are always two different things. The work was actually rife with eye-crossing complexity until I figured out what I was doing. In my very first session with the tools, it took me something like two hours to get a couple of NPC’s to have a little conversation – five lines of dialog – in front of the player. This is the sort of experience that will bestow humility in short order.
Being introduced to a new toolset has several distinct phases:
- This is very confusing. There are so many buttons! Why does this have to be so complex!?!?
- Okay. I sort of get it now. I guess I can live with this system.
- You know, this thing is actually pretty powerful and well-organized once you understand how it works.
- This tool is the best for this particular job, the standard by which all other tools should be judged. You can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
I’m somewhere between steps 2 and 3 right now. I do not claim to be at all proficient with the thing yet, but I’m at the point where I can make the characters have a little conversation without expending an entire evening in the effort. A lot of this stuff would be done in minutes if I could somehow download, Matrix-style, the knowledge and familiarity normally acquired through repeated exposure.
This demo movie is pretty old, but this is more or less what the game looks like, and should give a good overview of the plot:
Since I’m not going to be playing the game normally, I don’t plan on doing a regular review series for this. That would be pointless anyway, since the game isn’t out yet. But I do expect to talk about the game more as it nears release. The usual disclaimers apply: I’m working on the game and have a certain attachment to it at this point. Calibrate your perceptions of my words accordingly.
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