Recently I had the opportunity to interview Thomas Riegsecker, the founder of Basilisk Games. He and his team have slaved over the classic RPG titles Eschalon Book 1 & Book 2, meeting critical acclaim among the echelons (hehe, I made a funny) of independent game developers and reviewers. In this interview, we take a look at both past and present, as well as the future of Eschalon in it’s third and final release, Book 3.
What’s the story behind the formation of Basilisk games?
I worked as a Network Technician / Administrator for a number of years prior to starting Basilisk Games. In 2005 I lost my job and after suffering through several interviews, I decided I never wanted to work for anyone else again. So I drew on my life savings and started developing Book I. The company slowly solidified around that first game during the two-and-a-half year development cycle.
The classic RPG has a very distinct voice to it in terms of the story it tells. What does that voice say to you?
I don’t think it is so much the story itself, but rather the way it is told that makes a classic RPG meaningful to me. I mean, the setting can be almost anything- high fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, post-apocalyptic, or even modern day. What defines the classic RPG is the openness- being able to walk about freely, with seemingly unlimited ways to develop your character, and multiple ways to solve quests.
Modern RPGs are little more than interactive stories: cut scenes linked together with staged fights. You really can’t lose no matter how bad you are at role-playing- just follow the arrows and tap the spacebar to advance the story. But with classic RPGs, you really have to put thought into your character build; you have to fight successfully and explore thoroughly in order to advance through the game.
What made you choose this style over a more [modern] take on the RPG?
It’s just so much more enjoyable to me. For example, when I start a game of Ultima 5, there is a tremendous sense of how much explorable world there is around me. And it’s all open, just waiting for me to tackle it! The storyline unfolds only as I talk to NPCs, at my pace. This gives a player the sensation of feeling part of a living, virtual world, not just that they are clicking through a digital movie with limited interaction. That is what I wanted to capture with Eschalon- this unique gameplay style of golden-age CRPGs that is not being produced by mainstream developers anymore.
What were some of the inspirations for writing the Eschalon series?
Certainly all of the classic computer RPGs from the 80′s and 90′s: series such as Might & Magic, Wizardry, Ultima, Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Master, and even the first few Elder Scroll games. I’ve played all of these games over and over, and to me they represent the best in computer role-playing. It is an honor when someone compares Eschalon to these classics.
There hasn’t been any news regarding Book III lately. Without any spoilers, what are some of the concepts that you think will go into its development?
With Book III, we are looking at what made the first two games successful and build upon those elements. While that seems like an obvious response, the truth is that it’s often difficult for developers to acknowledge this and give current fans “more of what they want” instead of pushing the gameplay in a new direction, looking to acquire a larger audience.
I’ve always said that Eschalon is not intended to be a ground-breaking reinvention of the role-playing genre. On the contrary, we want to make a solid, memorable, and thoroughly enjoyable game built on the established fundamentals of what made those classic RPGs so fun.
Book III will feature more of everything our fans love- hundreds of additional items, more quests, more puzzles, and more story. We will further balance character stats and skills using feedback gathered from Book II. Players can expect a multitude of hidden areas and secrets that will take months to uncover. Book III is the final game in the trilogy and we want this to be a fulfilling ending for everyone who has gone on this journey with us.
And finally, we will be releasing some of our development tools as well, so that players can work on their own maps and share them with the community. This, more than anything, is what I am looking forward to: playing maps made by other people!
Book II showed some noticeable improvements over the last title, and they were pretty well-received. Are there any small changes that you think will make it into Book III?
There will certainly be some ruleset improvements to Book III based on player feedback, and a few technical advancements to the engine as well. It’s really going to be our best looking game to date as we push the Eschalon engine as far as it can go. However, we have committed ourselves to spending more development time on game content for Book III than technical improvements, so in the end we just want the story and gameplay to be the thing stands out.
What work ethic or attitude does your company take towards game development?
Well, I wish I could say it’s all about the artistic endeavor of making games, but the truth is that at the end of the day it is still a business with bills to pay. So, we have to find that balance between the dream of making a perfect RPG (which is a task that may very well be impossible) and knowing that at some point we have to release a product so we can get revenue flowing, allowing us to keep making games. I guess our work ethic is just to stay focused on making games that are true to the spirit of classic role-playing, and making each game better than the last.
In your free time, what games do you like to play?
Let’s see- I just finished Portal 2 and I still find myself wasting time with Minecraft. I’ll play almost any new indie RPG that is released, and I am always going back to play older RPGs as well.
I have completely given up on modern-day RPGs at this point, though I will be purchasing Skyrim and Diablo 3 this year- I’m just keeping my expectations low, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Oh, and I will admit that Duke Nukem Forever has been on my radar since the mid 90′s, so it would almost be a crime not to pick that one up after all this time.
After creating a title, do you still have a good time playing it?
Yes, it can be fun to play my own games, especially when I haven’t done it for a while. I’ll often receive saved-games from players asking me to look into bugs, and I’ll find myself playing around with their characters for a couple hours. To me it is like replaying a Might & Magic game for the countless time- there is a feeling of familiarity to it, but yet I am always experimenting with new character builds so it still feels fresh.
What’s your reaction been to the attention that you’ve earned with the releases?
Attention is always great when it leads to more sales! Other than to generate sales, I don’t seek out attention for myself. I figure as long as people are talking about Basilisk Games or our titles, that’s all I care about.
Are there any thanks, shout-outs, or special mentions that you would like to bring attention to?
I’d certainly like to thank Gaming Irresponsibly for the great interview, and a very special thanks to the all the fans who support us.
Thanks again to Thomas for allowing Gaming Irresponsibly to do this. We’re sure that Eschalon: Book 3 will be a huge hit.