Pillars of Eternity - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Katharine Castle)

Amazon Prime Day 2018

Hold onto your credit cards, folks. This year’s Amazon Prime Day is almost here – and now we know exactly when it will be taking place. There are even some deals going on right now> if you feel so inclined, so I thought I’d collect the best of the best PC Prime Day deals right here to save you the hassle of trawling through them yourself.

Of course, more deals will be announced as we get closer to the day itself, but below you’ll find handy answers to questions such as ‘When is Amazon Prime Day 2018?’ and ‘What kind of deals can I expect to see?’ and ‘For the love of PC, JUST TAKE MY MONEY, I don’t care on what!’ All right, so maybe that last one wasn’t so much a question as a general cry of despair in this age of lightning deals and blink and you’ll miss ’em discounts, but that’s where I come in. I’ll be regularly updating this piece with all the most relevant (and good>) deals as and when they get announced, but for now, here’s everything you need to know to prep yourself for Prime Day 2018.


Pillars of Eternity - Obsidian_Alec

Hail, Watchers!

If you haven't had a chance to experience the vibrant world and rambunctious crews that await you in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, you can get your copy from 15% to 20% off during the Steam Summer Sale! Through July 5th, you can get the Standard and Deluxe Editions of Deadfire for 15% off, or the Obsidian Edition for 20% off.

And for our Lords and Ladies of Caed Nua, we've implemented a bundle on Steam so that if you own either game, the other game is discounted! If you or anyone you know has yet to journey through Eora, the bundle counts for both games at once as well!

Check out Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire on Steam here.

Pillars of Eternity

It wasn’t so long ago that the isometric CRPG seemed like an endangered species, consigned to annals of video game history, or at least the '90s when classic like Baldur's Gate were released. With the rise of crowdfunding and indie developers, however, the genre has returned in a tidal wave of spiritual successors and fantasy romps. So much of this resurgence is tangled up in nostalgia, though, begging the question: how does the genre move forward? 

The friction between nostalgia and innovation is an obstacle inherent in any game trying to evoke the classics. In RPGs, it’s even more apparent because an overwhelming number of them are set in high fantasy universes full of elves, dwarves and handy magical swords. When an RPG does eschew the fantasy setting, it usually leans into science fiction. 

“I don’t think RPGs are really shackled to sci-fi and fantasy, it’s just tradition,” says Josh Sawyer, most recently Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire’s game director. “I think a lot of it comes from the background of roleplaying games. Dungeons & Dragons started as Chainmail, which is really a fantasy wargame, and since then a lot of RPGs have been fantasy, trying to ape the experience of D&D.”

RPGs are great at simulating dice rolls and fights, reckons Sawyer, but social interactions and relationships are a taller order. “Heroic sci-fi and fantasy, and their dark counterparts, are easier to understand in a roleplaying context because RPGs are built around violent struggles, typically between a party of people and a faction or an evil overlord. It just works well there, and it’s harder to conceive of what an RPG is when you step out of that comfort zone.”

While Sawyer doesn’t think that people are hostile towards the idea of an RPG that doesn’t fit the traditional mould, he still feels like there are more reservations about RPGs with a modern setting, unless it’s a modern setting with supernatural elements. It’s one of the reasons the first Pillars of Eternity was set where it was.

Deadfire gets away from medieval castles and bucolic fantasy kingdoms, replacing them with pirates, tropical islands and an exploration of colonialism.

“With the first Pillars, I admit that I was being very conservative. So much of the company’s fate depended on its success. I was so concerned about making something that was too far away that I cleaved very tightly to traditional Western European, Forgotten Realms fantasy. But once Pillars did well, for Deadfire I said, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ We kept familiar elements, but we changed the scenery and societies you’re interacting with. It’s still fantasy, but a different kind of fantasy.”

Deadfire gets away from medieval castles and bucolic fantasy kingdoms, replacing them with pirates, tropical islands and an exploration of colonialism. It’s also a rare RPG where white people are in the minority. There’s this clear path from Baldur’s Gate to the first Pillars of Eternity, but Deadfire quickly takes off in a different direction, getting less and less like its progenitor as the game progresses. 

Swen Vincke, Larian Studios’ CEO, sees Divinity: Original Sin and Original Sin 2 as steps in the evolution of RPGs, an evolution that will continue well into the future. That doesn’t mean, however, putting the fantasy tropes out to pasture. 

“I don’t think that setting is necessarily that important, as long as it’s a setting that appeals to a large enough group of players and generates some initial interest. It’s what you do with a setting that’s important. It’s perfectly possible to come up with a brilliant fantasy game and do something that has never been done before. That’ll be the case forever, I think, and it’s the same for science fiction.”

The sheer number of fantasy RPGs, even if they do tweak the formula, can make the genre seem homogeneous, but Vincke believes that a lot of the fantasy exhaustion is coming from the media. “I think the press doesn’t like fantasy, but our audience does,” he says. For reviewers, at least, the slog is definitely amplified when you’re working through more than the one or two RPGs a year most people have time to play, but everyone is just as capable of growing tired of the overly familiar.

For Vincke, there’s still limitless potential in fantasy, and Original Sin 2 certainly takes the genre to new and weird places, full of empathic, cannibal elves and posh lizards. He doesn’t find fantasy restrictive, then, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking about spreading out.

“I have a couple of settings that I’d really like to explore, but I have to remind myself that there’s a big risk that, if I do, nobody’s ever going to want to play them because there’s only a small group that’s interested in the setting.”

So there are expectations. That a Divinity game is going to be a fantasy game, that an RPG has to have weapons, that everything, increasingly, needs to include crafting. Something being expected or traditional, however, doesn’t equate to good game design. If not meeting those expectations negatively impacts the player experience, says Vincke, that’s not good game design, either.

“When players come to a game like Original Sin 2, they come with a bunch of expectations. If you don’t match their expectations, it actually affects their enjoyment of the game. So you’re better off putting them in there, and you often notice that, when you do, the players find more enjoyment in the game. It doesn’t mean I necessarily like putting them in there.”

Robert Kurvitz, Disco Elysium’s lead designer, is betting on people being willing to plunge into an unconventional RPG. It’s a hardboiled detective affair where your personality and instincts take precedence over combat, and dialogue involves wrestling with your gut. It’s a social, single-player RPG. He hopes it will maybe kickstart a new kind of RPG, or a different way of looking at them.

RPGs are essentially reality simulators, and the hook is that the position the player is put into is the skin of one person. So it also simulates mental and physical faculties, giving not a bird s eye view of reality but the subjective reality of one person.

Robert Kurvitz, lead designer

“The RPGs we play nowadays are based on massive revolutions. The first Fallout was, I think, the last major change to RPGs. It changed the setting and showed you could do completely different things from its high fantasy roots. I was 11 when I played that, but I’ve never seen anything as revolutionary in all my years playing since.” 

Kurvitz sees a genre in stasis, and it’s the source of some frustration. “It’s very odd. RPGs are essentially reality simulators, and the hook is that the position the player is put into is the skin of one person. So it also simulates mental and physical faculties, giving not a bird’s eye view of reality but the subjective reality of one person. That seems in and of itself a tremendously open concept that should be constantly evolving.”

The source of this stagnation goes far beyond RPGs or even video games, he says. Kurvitz believes that it’s the product of culture, particularly pop culture, slowing down. “It’s calcifying. The internal generation engine of western pop culture is just very self-referential in general. So that could be one possible reason for it—just people growing old.”

Kurvitz’s solution? Broaden everything. Settings, mechanics, what an RPG means, even who creates them. Writers and artists from other industries with different expertise need to be tempted over, but he doesn’t see that happening until the love affair with high fantasy has ended. 

“I’m going to sound elitist, but I’m going to suggest that a lot of really good writers don’t want to write in a high fantasy setting. They don’t want to spend four stressful years on Tolkien fanfic. You just won’t get really talented writers who can do tremendous things for your game that way, and you need to hire artists and writers outside of the usual development circuit.”

If we were to get away from the conventions of the CRPG, one of the best places to look would be tabletop RPGs. Again. Once you move beyond official D&D campaigns and all the expectations that come along with them, the tabletop landscape becomes a lot more unpredictable and experimental.

“People do these amazingly historically accurate D&D sessions of the Peninsular War,” says Kurvitz. “They order actual, real-life memorabilia and objects from the Peninsular War, and models, and play with them. I know that amazingly strange things are being done with tabletop, but CRPGs are really conservative in comparison.”

Sawyer’s designing a Pillars of Eternity tabletop game, which is proving to be liberating after working within the framework of a spiritual successor. “When Feargus Urquhart suggested a stretch goal that was a pen and paper starter guide, I said I’d do it as long as I’m able to do whatever I want. I’m not going to make the game to fit someone else’s criteria. I’m going to pick the mechanics that will make a great game. If it’s not like D&D, too bad, and if it is like D&D but you don’t like it, too bad.”

Tabletop roleplaying’s variety does introduce one obstacle, however, and it’s one that games have already dealt with. “There’s only one thing I hate about my board game weekends,” says Vincke. “Reading the rules.” The tropes and conventions of CRPGs give players a vocabulary and understanding of the genre that can be transferred to other games, letting them dive in without a manual. Shaking things up could threaten their accessibility.   

Variety also means, however, that there can be RPGs that are easy to understand, dense and complicated sandboxes and adventures that do away with abilities and skills and gear. There are plenty of directions that the genre should be able to take, all at the same time.

“I think people are right that there’s a renaissance of traditional RPGs, or the traditional style of RPGs, but I don’t want us to squander this opportunity to really grow the genre into something broader,” says Sawyer. “We don’t need to abandon fantasy or crunchy number systems, but that doesn’t have to be the limit of what we make.”

What Kurvitz wants to see is a complete revolution, imagining RPGs that take decades or even a hundred years to make, flagging and reacting to every tiny thing you do. He envisions RPGs becoming a new mode of literature—programmed literature—putting programmers and novelists together to tell stories that literally span generations. It’s improbably ambitious and far-fetched, but still incredibly tantalising. 

“I hope we’re going to get the ball rolling.”

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)


You look a little tired, friend. Let me just adjust this slider for you. There, wide awake. Now you ve got some energy, how about listening to the RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show? This week we re talking about character creation. Which games spoil us with choice? And why do we always end up creating the same sneaky elf? (more…)

PC Gamer

It's off to the nostalgia well for this midweek edition of the PCG Q&A. Most PC players collected physical versions of PC games back in the day, but in the last few years, thanks to digital distribution, there's been less cause to do so. There are exceptions, of course: Kickstarter campaigns often add some interesting boxed niceties and cloth maps at certain tiers, which is neat. Sometimes, too, it's weirdly cheaper to buy a game in boxed form than it is on digital platforms. 

Generally speaking, picking up a physical copy of a game these days generally involves stripping out the code, redeeming it through a client then having three useless discs sat in a box in your home forever. 

So we ask you, reader: what was the last game you bought a physical copy of? Let us know in the comments below. 

Samuel Roberts: Pillars of Eternity, but hot damn I nearly bought this copy of Alpha Centauri last month

I miss the days of buying physical games, but the transition in the early '00s from big cardboard boxes to DVD cases spoiled some of the fun of owning physical games to me. The last one I bought was Pillars of Eternity in 2016. In the UK—like most places now, I'd assume—physical PC games are pretty hard to come across in high street stores, outside of Blizzard expansions and the odd copy of Football Manager. So I actually bought this one on eBay for less than the going price on Steam. It just happened to be in a box. 

Recently, though, like Andy, I've been considering picking up some old physical big box copies of PC games (my parents threw all mine out during a house move a few years ago, although I do still have a Red Alert 2 disc in a drawer somewhere). I saw the above copy of Alpha Centauri in a shop in Southampton, UK, last month on a pub crawl, and owning it seemed very exciting. If the place had still been open after my six beers, I'd have picked it up, and I've been keeping an eye on eBay ever since. I want that tech tree chart!

I've also got a copy of Battleborn in my flat, still in its shrink-wrap. But I try not to think about that. 

Wes Fenlon: Fancy Realm

Four years ago, I went to Taiwan for the first time for the PC trade show Computex. While I was there, I visited Guang Hua Digital Plaza, an amazing labyrinth of PC and game stores that puts US malls to shame. My favorite shop was wall-to-wall PC games, and I couldn't leave without buying something. I picked pretty much at random, since most of the games were in Chinese, and the game I ended up with was this one: The Legend of Fancy Realm 2. I think the translation they were looking for was fantasy realm, but let's be honest, fancy realm is way funnier.

All I know about Fancy Realm is that it's an RPG. You can see a few screenshots here. It also goes by Fantasy Record 2: Devil Wars. If I ever learn Chinese, I'll have a game to play. Here's a video!

Andy Chalk: Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

I still make a point of buying games in boxes whenever possible, which these days generally means either a crowdfunding campaign or an import from Europe or Australia. Most recently, that'd be Pillars of Eternity 2. There's something about a game in a box that makes it "real," and gives it a proper place alongside all those other boxes from back in the days when driving to A+ Software was the only way to even browse games, much less buy them. Digital games, even great ones like Prey, are ephemera: played, enjoyed, maybe remembered, but never really there

Oddly enough, it's also an effective money-saving strategy. Steam has dramatically devalued games (in my eyes, at least) and between that and making them so easily, immediately available, I don't buy anything digitally until the price crashes through the floor. I feel a little bad about that sometimes (and I try to make exceptions for the indies), but hey, I didn't ask for this. (Speaking of which, it was actually cheaper to import Deus Ex: Mankind Divided from Australia than it was to buy it from Steam. Exchange rates are weird.)

Joe Donnelly: Skyrim

I bought the boxed version of Skyrim in 2014 for cheap because I liked its map insert. Like Andy's penchant for old PC games in big cardboard boxes, I've always enjoyed physical, hold-in-yer-hand videogame maps. My passion started in the late '90s when I picked up the Ultima Collection, which came bundled with a range of gorgeous cloth charts, and grew with the first Grand Theft Auto. I've regrettably tossed most of them out since, but, lest I wander off-topic more than I already have, I still have Skyrim's—which is a total belter. Enough to make me buy its boxed version, despite already owning it on Steam. Granted, I hardly buy boxed games at all anymore—for console or PC—but I'll always be tempted by cool videogame cartography.

Philippa Warr: Monet: The Mystery of the Orangery

The only image we could find of The Mystery of the Orangery, uploaded by user Jon de Ojeda on to Mobygames. Crikey.

This is an adventure game. A historical adventure game based on a kind of soap-opera business plot which somehow enfolds the art of the impressionist painter Claude Monet. It is A CLASSIC. A landmark of the medium. You'll have to take my word for it because it's impossible to get the flipping thing to actually play on any modern versions of Windows, despite hours (I am not kidding) of tinkering with various backwards compatibility workarounds, compatibility mode settings, mounting the files in places and other technical things which I learned entirely for the purposes of making this purchase work.

I first played Monet: The Mystery of the Orangery with my sister. I remember we had to trap a bee at one point. There was a clown! You have to avert an explosion involving sticks of dynamite! Also someone with a broad West Country accent welcomed us to Normandy! 

Struck by the urge to revisit this mangled idea and see whether I was at least quoting it correctly, I impulse-bought a copy online. The most I have managed to do is extract the sound files and listen to them on repeat. And believe me, I have tried. I tried to pass it off as a legitimate work activity and roped several former colleagues into trying to help me. We managed to get the thing as far as the first menu and no further. But I will not surrender. Some day, somehow I will... defeat impressionism? Big oil? Whatever it was that the game involved, I will do it. 

Steven Messner: Battlefield 4

I'm actually quite proud of my last physical PC game purchase because it demonstrates how clever 23-year-old-and-very-poor me was. See, years earlier, while working at a games store, I had discovered a little tactic that allowed me to purchase relatively expensive games for much cheaper. This is how it works: a retailer is having a promotion where a normally full-priced game is discounted but every other retailer has it for full price. We'll call this discounted game Game A. What I really want, however, is fully priced Game B, which just launched and likely won't have any discounts for quite a while. So what do I do? I buy Game A at a discount at this retailer, head to another retailer across town and tell them, "Oh sorry, I got this game as a gift and don't have the receipt. Can I exchange it?" Because the second retailer doesn't have the game on discount, its value just shot back up to full price, so I exchange it for Game B and just saved myself a bunch of money.

So I did something similar when [REDACTED]* was having a ridiculous promotion where if you traded in enough old generation console games, you could get a next-gen game like Battlefield 4 for free. I had a ton of old PS3 games, so I traded them in for Battlefield 4 on PS4. The only thing was I didn't have a PS4 at the time. So then I sauntered on over to [REDACTED]** across the street and asked to exchange it for Battlefield 4 for PC. Boom. The last physical game I bought for PC was only because I found a stupid loophole to exploit.

Am I a genius? I mean, I don't like to brag...

* We removed the name of this retailer to keep Steven out of trouble, and because we don't want to endorse his behavior.** And this one.

Jody Macgregor: Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2

My girlfriend just bought Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 so we could play it together. It came in a DVD case and I was a bit worried because I don't have a disc drive any more. But the case doesn't have a DVD in it, even though it's got one of those holders for one. There's just a piece of paper with a Steam key. It's such a waste. You could fit that on a business card and instead they sell these lumps of hollow plastic because it's presumably more cost-effective than changing how game production and retail work. Capitalism is ridiculous.

Maybe I'm spoiled. The last one I got was The Witcher 3 in a box set that came with a fold-out map, a CD with the soundtrack, a manual, a "Witcher Universe Compendium", and two stickers. I will never use the stickers but it felt like it was worth getting an actual thing to put on a shelf so everyone can see I'm a dork.

Jarred Walton: Empire: Total War

I used to hoard my game boxes when I was younger—back in the good old days of DOS and Windows 3.x. Even into my college years in the '90s, I had a fairly large collection of game boxes. I also hated having to dig out the proper CD/DVD every time I wanted to play a game, and I experienced more than a few scratched discs that caused the game to become unplayable (until no-CD cracks became more readily available). These days, my box collections has been greatly reduced to only a handful of games, none of which have been played in the past five years.

Looking at the remains of my once proud collection, my last physical game box is from Empire: Total War, which came out in March 2009. It also sports the now-defunct Games for Windows logo, bad software I'm glad is gone. I've kept the original Assassin's Creed Director's Cut and Sins of a Solar Empire boxes as well, which came out in 2008. 

Pillars of Eternity - Obsidian_Alec

Set sail on Obsidian's most epic adventure yet, through the vast, open world of the Deadfire Archipelago. Boasting unparalleled depth, reactivity, freedom of choice, and immersion, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire improves upon the original, award-winning RPG in every way. Experience:

• Open-world exploration
• Ship management and combat on the high seas
• Multi- and sub-classes with immense variety
• Fully voiced dialogue
• Dynamic lighting and enhanced visual effects
• And much, much more!

Captain your ship, and with the help of new and returning companions, hunt down a rogue god to save your soul in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire!
Pillars of Eternity - Obsidian_Alec

Today is your last chance to pre-order Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, the highly-anticipated sequel to Obsidian Entertainment's critically-acclaimed role playing game!

Pre-ordering is the only way to receive:

• St. Drogga's Skull
• Beakhead, the White Hawk Pet
• The Black Flag

Captain your ship, and with the help of new and returning companions, hunt down a rogue god to save your soul in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire!

Pillars of Eternity

What is a pendant? In Dark Souls, it's one of the items you can choose to take when you roll a new character, and it comes with the following description:

"A simple pendant with no effect. Even so, pleasant memories are crucial to survival on arduous journeys."

"An item in a game that has no purpose? Psha!" Ryan Morris, an English translator for the Souls series at localisation studio Frognation, imagines the thought process a new player goes through as they read it. "Gears in brain start churning. And what's this about a tough road ahead? Oh, probably nothing. I should be done with this game in a couple of days, at most."

Even before Dark Souls has started, its dark magic has wound itself around another hollow, all through the power of flavour text.

Every item in the Souls series has text associated with it, accessed through the inventory, describing the item and hinting at its function or place in the world, and maybe other stuff as well. Dark Souls' use of flavour text is an exemplar of the form, a demonstration of how a world can come to mouldering life, simply by reading apparently disassociated paragraphs in a random order.

Which is weird, when you think about it. Flavour text is part of a game and yet not part of it. It sits on the sidelines and it's also fundamental to your understanding of the game. And it's everywhere, from 4X strategy games to action RPGs, first-person shooters to collectible card games. 

Trivial or essential?

 "...a causal loop within the weapon's mechanism, suggesting that the firing process somehow binds space and time into…" 

Vex Mythoclast, an exotic-class fusion rifle from Destiny which fires without needing to be charged

"Personally, I think that flavour text is text, not dialogue, that is superfluous to the functionality of game, and it usually gives some hints at the lore," says Morris. "It's story text. It's extra information that often serves to start to build the world so you can start to imagine some of the things that aren't shown explicitly." He pauses. "It's fun text."  

"Flavour text implies two things," says Alexis Kennedy, founder of Sunless Sea dev Failbetter Games and maker of forthcoming narrative card game Cultist Simulator. "It suggests it's trivial and that it's essential. On the trivial side it's like grouting, it's the bits you put in places so you've got something of value everywhere, something you put in between things that matter more. In the other sense, a work without flavour is tasteless, boring, so flavour text is what provides most of the sense of a setting, of being there." 

Depending on who you talk to, flavour text is strictly the equivalent of the italicised text on a Magic: The Gathering card, or it can be broader, edging into dialogue you hear from a shopkeeper, which is how Kennedy looks at the way it can be expressed in Fallen London.  

Or if you talk to Brian Reynolds, designer of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: "You know who else did an absolutely unbelievably amazingly wonderful job of flavour text? Ken Levine in the BioShock series. Those little tapes you play, the brilliant thing is you pick them up and hit play and they start saying their thing and you might be picking up loot or fighting and they're going on with their Ayn Randian philosophy! It perfectly builds that world." 

"Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill."—CEO Nwabudike Morgan 

Industrial Base, a technology from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri which unlocks The Merchant Exchange secret project and stronger armour

That's Reynolds' favourite piece of flavour text from Alpha Centauri, in which it's delivered when new technologies are discovered. He wrote about half of them and they were his idea, a response to solving an issue that came up with game's first prototype. His bid to transmute Civilization to settlers on Mars was feeling dry and lifeless, and he realised it was because Mars lacked the cultural touchstones that gave Civilization's players an intuitive understanding of the game, from what it meant to discover the wheel to what Ghandi was about. In Alpha Centauri, you'd discover Nonlinear Mathematics and you wouldn't know that it lead to a bigger laser gun. 

Reynolds realised that he might be able to hint at Alpha Centauri's world through text, and he began to read sci-fi and look back to his philosophy degree, thinking about how the game might develop its roster of playable characters so players could understand their stances on the world, and how it might express its themes about the meaning of life. "Science fiction creates gripping worlds that you want to read about, so what's the essence of that, and how could I get it into my game?" he wondered.

The answer came in the quotations Frank Herbert scattered through his classic Dune series, fragments of imaginary texts which fleshed out groups such as the shadowy Bene Gesserit. "What I liked was that in one or two sentences he would sketch a whole chunk of his universe that wasn't the stuff that was explicitly gone into detail in the actual text. It was showing these other forces and philosophies, or cast new lights on existing characters. I turned out to be reasonably good at making up these little chunks and building a world that way. It was a great way to flesh out a world, a social world with characters and conflicts."

"Give a man a fish, and you can feed him for a day. But give a fish a man, and you can feed it for a month.

Song of the Sirens, a fishing rod from Path of Exile which raises the quantity and rarity of caught fish

'Embedded story'

For Dark Souls, flavour text also sketches out the world, and it also provides players with a game within the game. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki speaks about his philosophy of world building as creating an 'embedded story', in the sense that it encourages players to discover and make their own experience, and much of that discovery lies in interpreting flavour text. 

"It's an interesting way of delivering extra gameplay to people who want more," says Ian Milton-Polley, who works with Morris at Frognation to translate the Souls series into English. "Of course those games can be played through without reading a single description, but part of the fun is digging into them and finding out the links between the figures who are mentioned, or watching four-hour YouTube series of other people who do it." 

"For serious players, once they realise it's not lazily written and is a world being elucidated through the flavour text, it's a fun way to go through the game," says Morris. "It's for the core fans, the serious fans. There are different ways of giving a game more lastability, but the lore is very strong point."

"The ambiguity also serves up avenues for expansion in DLC, because the story is kept very close to the chest," says Milton-Polley. "You figure out most of it through interpretation and clues, and there's lots of scope for going back through the game and drawing out more from this and that. By not going into specifics there's a lot more leeway to expand."

"This amulet is said to have belonged to Fulvano. He was a man much taken with mild superstitions, and this talisman, he said, was a source of luck. It also served more sentimental purpose, for it depicts one of the great ships commonly seen at the docks of his homeland."

Fulvano's Amulet, an item from Pillars of Eternity which raises the reflex stat and grants a healing bonus

Dark Souls isn't the only game to use flavour text to build and bind its world. Pillars of Eternity links items and characters, too, introducing the story of an ill-fated explorer called Fulvano through boots, gloves and an amulet found on corpses in different locations in the world, and then builds it out with his letters found elsewhere. Pulling the player through the world, they invite questions: how did they end up where they did?

Flavour text isn't always about incidental stuff, however. Sometimes it has to support items which perform specific functions. Dark Souls, for example, has items which manage its multiplayer features, and their flavour text has to maintain the game's dreamlike ambiguity while giving the right level of hinting at what they do. The White Sign Soapstone, which summons co-op players, is explicit because it's so important to the game, but the Dried Finger isn't, because it's for hardcore players.

"Dried finger with multiple knuckles. Shrivelled but still warm. With this many knuckles, surely it cannot belong to anything human."

Dried Finger, an item from Dark Souls which re-opens the player's world to PvP invasions by resetting the invasion timer

"We write them so they fit into the world, but those are the ones you have to be careful with the language because you don't want to break the continuity of the story," says Morris. "I know Miyazaki is very conscious of reining in the functionality of the game and pulling it into the story. He has definitely emphasised the immersion and with multiplayer and the way players are brought in and out of the game, he's made an effort not to involve menus and lobbies. Anything that feels gamey he tries to downplay and hide it inside a seamless narrative."

The thing with flavour text, however, is that though it's about words it faces technical limits. But with limits come creative opportunities.

"Unclothed, origin unknown. Has nothing to fight with,but life-affirming flesh."The Deprived class from Dark Souls 2

"I just like the suggestiveness of mere flesh being a life-affirming thing in and of itself in the entropic world of the Souls games," says Milton-Polley. "Also, I remember the character limits were severe, and so these class descriptions all ended up sounding a bit like miniature poems, which turned out quite nice, in my opinion."

The upside of limitations

A major challenge for translating from Japanese to English is that kanji is much more compact than English. But all writers face the struggle of fitting all they want into the space available. One of Kennedy's intentions for Cultist Simulator was that its snippets of flavour text would be 25% shorter than the equivalents in Sunless Sea and Fallen London. 

"Over time, the expectations of what the writers could put in the boxes crept up," he says, explaining that it led to players starting to feeling short-changed when they encountered shorter ones, and discouraging the writers from being disciplined with their text.

"As a games writer you have the player's attention for an instant between the interactions of the game, and the moment you lose it you're giving them homework and they skim. For years we tried to find ways of forcing players to read, and we realised there's no point. If you're interested in the text, you'll read it."

Reynolds' answer to this in Alpha Centauri was to voice the text, having actors read it out over the top of play so it didn't interrupt players. "It should seep in by osmosis, minimise the amount you take the player away from the gameplay," he says, and in Alpha Centauri it works well, but back then, he was able to record all of its dialogue for $50,000, an extraordinarily low budget by the standards of today. 

"This garish amulet, once worn by an over large imp, makes time an insignificant thing."

The Flavor of Time, a legendary amulet from from Diablo 3 which raises movement speed and reduces cooldowns

And besides that, most flavour text is a quiet addition to play. It's there to be discovered and enjoyed at a different pace to the rest of the game, on the player's terms and perhaps not even when the game is running. "For me personally, what I really enjoy about flavour text is that it's an extension of the game into your own time," says Milton-Polley. "I like to get into nitty gritty of universes. It's a fun space for my mind to inhabit when I'm not playing the game." 

Pillars of Eternity

Obsidian's new but old fashioned role-playing game Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire has been delayed a month on PC. Rather than come out 3rd April it will now be released 8th May.

"We know you're as excited as we are about the upcoming launch of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire," said Obsidian in a statement. "As you have probably guessed, Deadfire is a huge game - significantly larger than the original Pillars of Eternity. Obsidian has been working harder than Abydon himself to make every inch of it awesome, as well as incorporating all the great feedback we have been getting from everyone playing the backer beta.

"With this in mind, we are taking just a few extra weeks to polish and put those finishing touches on the game."

Read more…

Pillars of Eternity

Saint Paddy's Day, March 17, is a celebration best known for Irish music, drinking, shamrocks, drinking, Leprechauns, Guinness, and drinking. Digital games distributor GOG now throws videogames into the green-whirring festivities with its St Patrick's Day Sale—running now through March 19.  

With savings of up to 90 percent on over 300 games, highlights from the limited-time discount period include parkour-meets-zombie stomper Dying Light, and high fantasy role-players Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity: Definitive Edition. Catch these for £20.09/$26.39, £15.39/$20.19 and £26.29/$34.59 respectively. 

Other favourites of mine include gorgeous puzzle platformer Little Nightmares, which is on sale for £/$10.49 at half price, and Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines which is just £3.79/$4.99. If you haven't picked that up before now, you absolutely should. 14 years old or not, it's well worth your time. 

As is often the case with GOG sales, this one's lucky dip-type offer plays to its Paddy's Day theme. "Every Leprechaun Hat costs $3 (or your local equivalent) and contains one Mystery Game," explains GOG. "Every Mystery Game is on sale right now for at least $3.49, up to $19.94. That means every Mystery Game is worth more than the hat and you'll always get a safe deal."

Check out GOG's St Patrick's Day Sale in full over here

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