By Al Giovetti

Darklands Interview with Arnold Hendricks

Darklands Review by Al Giovetti

The attached file is a transcript of a GEnie real-time conference with Arnold Hendrick, and appears to have taken place soon after the release of Darklands. It's interesting to note that Arnold is the author of the Strat Guide, which I still consider the best I've ever used. It's a pity that he wasn't given proper credit. Tue Aug 1, 1995

(SCORPIA) Our guests tonight are Arnold Hendrick, Chief Darklands designer, Mike Craighead, lead beta tester for Darklands, and lurking in the background is Quentin Chaney, our very own MPS rep. Okay Arnold, it's all yours.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Thanks, Scorpia. We appreciate the chance to be here and talk about Darklands. Darklands is one of the most ambitious role-playing games ever designed for micro-computers... It tries to do a lot more than traditional RPGs, and does it in new ways. Originally planned for March shipment, it didn'tleave here until August. Even then, we didn't appreciate all the potential problems and complexities in the game. To this day we still have programmers and testers working on the game.

We know that role-playing games are more prone to problems than other sorts. I guess it just stands to reason that a very big, very new kind of role-playing game will have more than it's fair share. Tonight I'm armed with information about the game's version history, and the work we're doing now to "get it right" as fast as we can. I also have the complete manuscript of the forthcoming Clue Book. Written by yours truly, and am prepared to provide insights, hints, answers, etc. to how the game works. Naturally, I'd like to talk about playing the game, and how to play it well!

([Senator] R.KASTEN1) When will the unused .PIC artwork and text in the MSGFILES-file be used. I see lots of unimplemented stuff in there.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Version 6, available for downloading or through our customer service, and also now in manufacturing, uses all the artwork the game is designed to use. There are a few art pieces for bits of game that we cut out because they weren't working and getting them too work was just impossible. However, we're loathe to remove that art because some little corner of the game might invoke the art and cause a crash. Besides, one or two are nice pictures anyway. Therefore, we left them in. The same applies to some text stuff.

([Senator] R.KASTEN1) As a followup - you mentioned something about a new version in the works? Can you elaborate on this?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) We plan to make interim updates available as soon as they clear quick tests in the QA department. The first of these we hope will be ready in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, longer term, we're trying to find a way to save in battles. Getting that working, and covering all the minor things, plus getting a full checkup in playtest will take somewhat longer. We promise to update registered users when we're completely satisfied here. Therefore, send in your warranty cards!!! GA Incidentally, we are sending version 6 now to all registered users, to make sure people have the best current version in the meantime.

([Gary] G.PLANA) I have tons of Cloth Armor and 5000+ arrows; where do I sell them? When I return from a quest with an item/relic and am ignored, how do I exchange the item for the promised florins? What are the Cloth Guilds good for; I've never gotten any response other than "Leave..."?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) You can sell equipment to virtually anyone. Buyers aren't as discriminating as I might have liked (oh well, nobody's perfect). The cloth guilds, I hope, will eventually sell non-metal armor. Their quality levels will be different normal armorers... Which means you'll be able to hunt around for really cool cloth armor for those guys too wimpy to wear all metal... This is coming in a future update (sorry we don't already have it!).

([Gary] G.PLANA) The problem is, Cloth Armor and Arrows are all value zero --- no one WILL buy them. Thus, what are they good for? Now if arrows were expended in combat --- one time usage--- that would be different!

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Opps... see your point. We've been trying to get the price algorithims to recognize these low-value items as worth something (like 1 pf). Arrows are expended in battle, but slowly (since you can recover most). Relics are valued at cathedrals. trying offering one to them, and see what happens!

([Gary] G.PLANA) OK. What about returning from a quest with a relic and being unable to get rid of it? I go into a League office or whatever. I am asked to go out and find a particular item, and am told approximately where it is. I go there, get the item, and return. I am not given a menu prompt to either exchange the item for the promised florins, nor do I see a menu selection to ask about new jobs. What give?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Ah, quest items (rather than bona fide relics). If you return with the item to the specific person, in the specific city, where you were given the job. You're supposed to get a menu option to claim your reward. However, there have been bugs that caused what you describe. Make sure you're working with the latest version (rev 483.06), and if it's still a problem we'd like to know which item, since you may have discovered a problem we haven't encountered here yet.

([Gary] G.PLANA) I have .06 (which I d/l'ed from GEnie). This is still happening, so I'll have to let you know. OK, thanks!

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Sorry you had the problem.

([relik] R.KINKEAD) Amongst all the flak thrown at you fellows on the DARKLANDS topic there have been some genuine good suggestions. Quentin says you see all of these. If so, could you comment on some of tthese that you might implement in the near future?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) I've seen a variety of these ideas, of course. In general, adding things to an existing game is very hard. It's much easier to add it to future products which is where many of them are likely to surface. However, do you have one or two favorites you'd like to urge on us here?

([relik] R.KINKEAD) Well I posted a list on the DARLKANDS topic. However, one of the things I found objectionable in the role playing sense is why the thieves just keep coming in the grove overnight ga ([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Well, you caught us out. The persistent but fairly inept city thieves are a place where we could have added a little more logic and perhaps can. This is something that might be possible in an upgrade, rather than a new game.

([relik] R.KINKEAD) Another is the encumberance of equiped items vs unequiped inventory. this invalidates the pack horses and makes a mockery of encumberance

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) We struggled a lot with that. We originally wanted to do it as you obviously expect. However, which items were carried where became a complicated game of moving stuff further complicated by times when you're logically separated from your animals (like anytime you're indoors!). Which means you're reorganizing items almost constantly, not to mention times when you lose the animals!. So in the end, for the sake of playability over realism, we decided that only weapons and armor currently in use count toward encumbrance. You'll admit that even this simplistic approach poses some interesting gaming problems! Last followup, if any, please?

([relik] R.KINKEAD) This is true but I had hoped for a more "realistic" role playing situation were if you lost your pack animal you lost the load he had as well.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) I agree. I wanted more too, but given the interface we'd already built for everything else, in our estimation... a more complex encumbrance system would cause endless complaints about how you had to constantly move equipment between men and animals. I'd love to see some future game prove us wrong!

([relik] R.KINKEAD) IMaybe it will be an MP game. You guys have done a great job with DARKLANDS and I will look forward to a possible sequel, DARKLANDS II with many of the suggestions we have made on the DARKLAND's topic.

(B.MELANCON1) Ok. What is the reason for not programming the saving of games while in mines or castles?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Yes, as a matter of fact the amount of saved-game information needed within battles is considerably greater than any other part of the game. We're trying to integrate it's much greater demands into the saved game system but it's a very tough job. Jim Synoski (the battle programmer) is working on inventing a system to do that now, but estimates a month before we know whether his theories will work or not. I do hope it will, and that a future update will allow saves within battles. GA

(B.MELANCON1) Are shields only good against arrows??

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Yes, shields are a benefit against all missile weapons. The bigger the shield, the more the benefit. Shields also give a tiny benefit in melee, again The bigger the shield, the more the benefit. Shield quality also has an effect, so high quality shields ARE more useful than junky ones.

(B.MELANCON1) Can we stumble on a region that is currently at war? I have not seen anything of that.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) We had provision for that originally, but couldn't get the database and logic working together. Maybe in a sequel game also set in Germany we could implement that. I like political stuff, and wished we could have got it working, but you can't do EVERYTHING. Unfortunately, parts of the manual were in print before we realized that, hence the misleading hints there. Sorry 'bout that.

(B.MELANCON1) Could the horses be used in combat (cavalry-like?) in future games/updates?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Originally we wanted to have cavalry-infantry and cavalry-cavalry fights but the graphic demands on current PCs were just too great, not to mention the horrible animation problems for the artists. So we postponed that for future games (when we get a brainstorm on how to do it without taking ten zillion man-years of animation and a parallel processing P5 with at least four chips and a graphics coprocessor! GA

([Argus] J.LEWIS7) I was wanting to ask if there is an amiga version in the works, secondly... Could you give a brief capsule description about the game for those of us who havent played it yet. Things such as 1st or third person views; how icon - intensive is it, and is battle real time or not? GA

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) The Amiga version of Darklands is under consideration, and has been for quite a while. The problem is, you've got to have a hard disk to play Darklands and our biggest Amiga market is overseas, where there are precious few hard disks. The people in charge of figuring out whether we can make any money on a conversion just for hard disk Amiga users haven't quite decided yet, as far as I know... I wish I could be more positive, but to my knowledge, this is the awful truth!

Darklands as a game looks quite different from all other RPGs. You see text, menu options and pictures for operating your party outside of battle and have real-time battles with pauses to give orders (you decide when to pause). Any further discription should be left to another time, I think, since almost everyone else here knows the game. Any other questions?

(AGNARI) question about the mini quests from town in A8 to a town in E2, I never seem to get back in time for the reward is it a logic/code vrs database problem or what?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Could you be more specific about the quest, and who gave it to you, and how long before you returned?

(AGNARI) many, one of the fugger or Mecidi reps and often I just go and come back no town visits in between. So I did the quest as fast as I could

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) What version are you using, and did you begin the party in an earlier version?

(AGNARI) have started recording when given, got back; but then I had a lock up and wiped the harddrive till further releases. version .06 with party started from anew in version .06

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) This is decidedly strange and interesting...

(AGNARI) but then most I remember has happening in .051 so it might have been in .051 and corrected in .06 and I just didn't notice

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) I know that we had some problems with small quests not "remembering" you efforts, and therefore not giving you appropriate rewards. Version 5.1 had a noteable one of those with Raubritters. We'd be very interested in any that occur in version 6, and would like to know who gave you the quest, what item you were supposed to get, and how long between the original offer and when you returned it.

(AGNARI) yes that might have been the problem, forgetting my quest. But I don't think I ever lost a Raubritter quest reward mostly those to fetch crown from somewhere will keep records and let you know via Quentin if it occurrs again.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Thanks.

(M.APICELLA) Hello! I think Darklands is the most innovative games to date-no matter what kind! Only problem is, i have an Amiga! If you do release it (Sierra has been selling many MORE games since it's turned to Hard Drive only), how many colors would it be? I'm waiting desperately to play it, and the art looks great! I think it looks like the guys at microprose have done another great job! Also, if it is made, what specifications will it require besides having a hard drive (which i have, by the way)?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) I haven't talked to the prospective Amiga programmers so I don't know exactly what requirements will be, but they'll probably be similar to the PC in terms of memory, hard disk space. But horsepower needs may be a bit less (due to Amiga's built-in graphic horsepower). Not sure whether pictures will make it to half-bright (64 color) mode or not. Again, those kinds of calls must be made by the programming team.

(M.APICELLA) Also, why do the games from all of the other companies only contain up to 64 colors?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) I believe that all Amigas, from 1000 to 3000, only support 32 colors normally and with the half-bright mode can support up to 64 (with the second 32 colors being toned down versions of the first 32). However, we are working on a 256-color version of CIVILIZATION for the Amiga 4000, and so, they may decide to support that for a Darklands version too. Again, we'll know only when we decide to do it.

([RELIK] R.KINKEAD) comment on AGNARI's problem: I have run both .051 and .060 even with crossover parties and the quests were alomost always relatively near by and the guys that gave it to me always paid off. Question: I would like for you to comment on what directions you will take the DARKLANDS engine towards the classic paper and pencil role-playing rather than what you currently have done. ga

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Glad to hear the game is working for someone!!!! About the future, frankly, we're still discussing it!. Doing a Darklands game right, without the kind of problems we experienced with this first one, will be a plenty big challenge! I'd like to see more paper-and-pencil kind of stuff in the game too, but my guess is that additions will be incremental for a while, rather than opening dramatic and vast new frontiers. I still plan to do paper-and-pencil gaming for a while yet; I don't think computers will be doing ALL my gaming for me quite yet. However, as you can see, we've tried to add a lot more in Darklands.

([RELIK] R.KINKEAD) I'm very happy with DARKLANDS. If you read my post to the topic recently you will see a list of some of the things I like about the game. I still would like to see more "realism" in the game and more social interaction and consequence.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) I agree. More human interaction is the dream for all computer RPGs. I'd like to break this train of thought for a minute and mention that the playtest manager for Darklands and MicroProse, Mike Craighead needs to get home to his family real soon now. are there any questions out there for him, specifically? Scorp, can you handle this kind of thing for us?

([Dale] D.ROETHLISBE) Mike - I use two different computers to play - one an Ibm 286 and a compaq 386 The instruction card says you can play on a 286 but the box recommends a 386 or better I could only play some of the features in the on the 286 - why didn't you folks just leave out the 286 option? The main thing that doesn't work is interiors of castles.

([Mike] MICROPROSE) We did test extensively on a 286, but it's not an optimum machine for the game. The memory requirements, and the speed requirements for combat make the game much more acceptable on a 386, but, if you have the memory to run it all (including the 64K EMS), it should run.

Arnold would like to add that this testing continued through to version 5, but not 5.1 or 6, and we probably won't continue 286 testing for future versions either. The 286 option is more a pious hope at this point, to tell people with only that that they at least have a chance to try it (i.e., there isn't anything that will outright stop 286 use).

([RELIK] R.KINKEAD) Mike, do you select the beta testers for their interest in the particular genre of the game or from a pool of testers regardless of genre interest?

([Mike] MICROPROSE) Our playtest department now consists of 8 full-time testers and 5 part-time testers, all in-house. Projects are divided up both ways that you mentioned. We would prefer that testers have an interest in the projects they work on, but all the games need to be tested, so sometimes people get games that don't totally excite them. However, this may be good, because they may be more likely to get down to the serious business of bug finding and testing which is quite different from just "playing" the game.

This also helps give the testing new and different perspectives, which is always important and valuable. We try to maximize the talents and interests of our staff, since we put in so much time. Darklands is now at 5,500 hours. So, we try to keep people as interested and happy as possible, and we do have a female tester, and would like to have more. Her perspective has been extremely valuable to us. Arnold adds, unfortunately, we do not use out-of-house testers. Everyone is local and on staff.

(E.LARGE) Thanks...I wanted to say first that I have been a staunch supporter of the realism of Darklands. And I am sure that the game crashing has already been beat to death. But I would like to know if in the future a little more substance will be added ie. the game got very repetitive after awhile....(BTW) I finished the game

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Yes, I know, no matter how much variety you try to put into a game, after a while things do get repetitive. In Darklands we just tried to stretch out that time a lot, and let you wander as freely as we could manage. One of the sequel possibilities is to expand Germany a lot, fleshing out new and different adventures... but even then, all computers have their limits. That's why I expect to still play paper and pencil RPGs for a while yet!

(E.LARGE) I agree with limits. Two more things. One, why are relic weapon qualities such as St. Thomas's)? Sword 35 while a silver mace for a frugger rep is 99?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) The silver mace quality is designed to make sure it's really valuable. However, I don't think it can be used as a weapon, it's just a valuable heirloom! unless a programmer pulled a fast one on me and made that silver mace a real weapon!

(E.LARGE) Ok......and why can relics be damaged or destroyed by either Alchemic potions or Dragon Acid rain etc.?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Unfortunately, the logic for that is generic, and doesn't have enough "special case" stuff in it, at least they last a little longer! Things like that human gamemasters handle so much better than computers! Sigh. We tried to note things like that, but you can see, there's lots that we could have added in terms of game logic, for cover all these interactions. I wish we would have done even more.

(E.LARGE) Is there another version for this game in the making? And, please do not do away with the realism such as permanent stat reduction and avoiding silly things like resurections and other nonsense that would turn DL into Might and Magic in Germany.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) We are continuing to solve problems, and are considering the possibility of expanding German adventures as a sequel product/expansion kit. I support the maximize reasonable realism in fantasy, and hope that Darklands will continue this tradition in future products. Your support of this concept is gratifying.

([Danny] D.HAN) I know you guys are running through a zillion new settings for a sequel... but would you consider one set in Feudal Japan?

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Well, we thought the civil war era between Ashigara Japan and Tokugawa Japan (circa 1500s there) would be a GREAT topic, with lots of fun. So we did a game on that topic some years ago, SWORD OF THE SAMURAI. Unfortunately, very few Americans seemed to share this interest, and game sales were lower than we expected, even though it was a very good game (and I didn't even work on it!). So until somebody proves the topic is actually strong, and SWORD OF THE SAMURAI failed for some other reason, we're obliged to stay away from medieval Japan for the time being. I, for one, I'm a little sad about that. I love those Kurosawa Samurai "Easterns."

([Danny] D.HAN) Yeah, I'm a bit disappointed too. Thanks, though.

(SCORPIA) Okay. That about wraps up the RTC for tonight. Arnold, Quentin, Mike (in absentia ;)), thank you for coming this evening.

([Arnold] MICROPROSE) Thanks, Scorpia, for this opportunity. I enjoyed being here, and enjoyed talking to everyone, as did Mike Craighead. We appreciate your forebearance and support. Thanks again to all.


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