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FreeHolder Early Access on Patreon

Posted by Matt Crooks on August 21, 2015 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (1)

 This has been a long time coming.


We've reached a point as a company where we need to start turning to the community for support. The partial funding we privately raised has just about run dry and we've pushed FreeHolder about as far as we can get it on our own. So we're going to bring shareware back like it's the 90's! A free demo will be launched to help drive an Early Access campaign. We've chosen Patreon as a platform for this campaign.


After numerous engagements with various publishers we decided the best course of action as a new game developer would be to self-publish. Riskier, no-doubt, but we're confident enough at this point that we have a fun and engaging game to offer our fellow gamers, and that every dollar given to the project should be funding the production and completion of FreeHolder, not lining the pockets of a financier. We know it'll be slower going on our own without the marketing support a publisher could offer, but we think the game is compelling enough to float on its own - we just need to get it out there!


To that effect we had examined numerous crowdfunding websites, and discussed what made the most sense for an Early Access campagin, and without a doubt the Patreon model makes the most sense. As opposed to Kickstarter where the funding model is all or nothing, we prefer to scale the games final 1.0 form to the level of interest and support it can draw from the community. Patreon allows us to start small and work our way up gaining subscribers who can pay smaller donations over time.  For $3 per month* you will get the latest Alpha update.  (*if an update takes longer than a month you will NOT be charged until we launch an update). Anyone who pays a total of $15 over the course of their patronage will be entitled to all versions of FreeHolder through 1.0. We will be offering all sorts of cool perks as well for higher tiers of support.


Most importantly, this is our chance to really get to know you. We want to know what draws you to the game, where it needs the most improvement, and what would you like to see added or changed in it. We intend to have the production of this game driven by its patrons and it is our hope that this will help us forge a great roguelike game together.


T-9 Days until Launch.

RogueSpeak #4 - VR

Posted by Matt Crooks on January 22, 2015 at 3:45 AM Comments comments (0)

In this RogueSpeak we prattle on for almost an hour about the infinite possibilities and limits of VR in games.

We have a guest in this one as well, an old classmate of Chris's -  Michael Allen, whom you'll get to know over the next few RogueSpeaks. (We've got two more on deck that I plan to release before the weekend).

There's some funny stuff on this one - Check it out! :)

Dropbox link:

Alpha Testing for FreeHolder has begun!

Posted by Matt Crooks on December 30, 2014 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello, one and all!

We have some exciting news for those that have been patiently awaiting the day when we might let some of you have a look at the nice new alpha of FreeHolder we’ve been working on. That day has arrived! We are beginning a very small open alpha today, and will be incorporating more people in over time. This will be a continuous process and we will be looking to add more people as quickly as possible, based on progress and initial feedback.


We are thrilled to be able to finally start getting the community involved in the development of this unique game, and look forward to giving more of you a chance to play and tell us what you think. This will truly be a community-driven project, and hope you will help us make FreeHolder everything it can be.



RogueSpeak #3 - Artist Interview

Posted by Matt Crooks on December 4, 2014 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

For our third edition of RogueSpeak we have a Skype interview with our talented artist Haley Friedmann!

It's in mp3 format and runs about 30 minutes. You can acccess it here: 

You can follow Haley's twitter @HaleyFriedmann and checkout some of her concept work at


FreeHolder OST Preview Tracks

Posted by Chris Crooks on November 4, 2014 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Until and unless it turns out that Blue Mage is actually Blue Mage(TM), a trademark of Squaresoft, I (Chris Crooks) have long wanted to use Blue Mage as my composer name because it represents what I attempt to do, or can't help but do, or pretend to do as a music composer.


In many Final Fantasy games, a character with the class or abilities of a Blue Mage could learn skills from different monsters by getting attacked by them. Thereafter, you could use the ability of the monster whenever you wanted, although quite often in a form much less mighty than the original.


This is a perfect analogy for me. I have listened to hundreds of game soundtracks sometimes dozens of times, and have all sorts of different things I like about the many many composers that I have heard over the years, and have attempted to imitate what I like about them in an attempt to make music that makes me feel similarly. Unsurprisingly, this wide exposure has had a large impact on the way that I write music and I have learned to hear the influence of many different composers when I analyze something that I have written. It hasn't been a conscious procedure...yet. I'm hoping that I might be able to actually formally create these lovely melanges of style that represent what I consider to be the premier art format of post-post-modernism: the pastiche, or collage.


So many musical trails have been so thoroughly blazed in so many directions that I stand not as an explorer on the edge of an unknown frontier, but rather as a bookish librarian overwhelmed by volumes of excellent work coming in from all sides, and my task is not to create something "original" in some grand sense, but pick out the bits and pieces that resonate with me and put them together into something that I enjoy, or at least fits in with some scene or mood in a game that I'm making. I almost feel that my role is part historical, and part critical, even though I should probably be primarily concerned with simply writing some music.


In other words, I'm spoiled for choice: either the Muse sings so loudly through the ten of thousands of hours of fantastic game music that the inspiration of local Muses is patently unnecessary, or perhaps I have found something that has replaced her, for better or worse, in

case my inner ear has been inured somewhat to her quiet voice.


I suppose the only difficulty I run into when presenting myself in this style is the risk of unintentional plagiarism. After all, I can't always remember whether

some riff I came up with was used by somebody before - the chances are fairly good it has been even if I "came up with it off the top of my head." And of course, I'm not here to present anyone's work as my own - I respect everyone who has influenced me too much to do something

so unworthy. Furthermore, the community is highly sensitive to such things and public censure would outpace any sort of legal action by an order of magnitude.


Rather, as I said before, I want to present to you a nostalgic patchwork, old nuances and motives woven together in novel ways, in a deliberate attempt to connect to what made the original music so great while presenting new material. I want to be a musical Blue Mage - wielding the styles of many but using them in fun combinations and adding a few innovative tweaks whenever I can manage.


If it wasn't for all of the amazing video game composers that I've heard over the decades, I sincerely doubt I would be a music composer and I may not even have had the patience to stick it out as a pianist if I hadn't spent all that time arranging my favorite SquareSoft songs on piano. Who can say? As far as these composers are concerned, they did all the work for this

soundtrack. Ultimately, they should get the credit. AllI did was bliss out on wonderful music for most of my life.


Here’s my first pass at the top 3 composers who inspired for each of the two preview tracks I posted. Some of them are more obvious than others. This is probably useless for most people but thankfully having an online community such as ours means there are other fanatics like me who are intensely interested in such things.



Elements of:

Yuzo Koshiro (Legacy of the Wizard)

Hitoshi Sakamoto (Final Fantasy Tactics)

Motonaki Takenouchi (Shining Force 2)



Elements of:

Hideaki Kobayashi (Phantasy Star Online)

Hideki Naganuma (Sonic Rush)

Motoi Sakuraba (Valkyrie Profile)


My hope is this list is not pointless vanity (truthfully, I wish I could be a third as good as any of these composers) nor some sort of brash challenge for someone to scour the material ruthlessly for these elements, though I would be delighted if anyone with a similar familiarity with these composers cared to support or refute my delusions. In some cases a composer influenced my instrumentation, in others the melody, in others rhythmic or harmonic elements. Keep in mind that these are unfinished works in progress and I may tweak them greatly, slightly, or not at all depending on a variety of factors including your feedback.


Thank you, and please enjoy. Comments, criticisms, outright accusations, you know how to reach me. And if you don't - crack the case, Sherlock!






Games, Aggression, and Civilization

Posted by Chris Crooks on October 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

To clarify the rather general-sounding title, I mean civilization, the word denoting the concept describing the thing we appear to be living in, to various degrees depending on where and how one chooses or is forced to live. In this entry, I am attempting here to blend together games and philosophy, which isn’t too hard to do given how much time and money legions of people now invest in this electronic pastime. Regardless of whether this is the road to hell, or whether there may be some pavingstones to be salvaged enroute, or whether it will yet provide a means to “save” us (in the broadest possible sense) is immaterial from a philosophical standpoint. It clearly means a great deal to a great many people, and hence is worthy of examination.


I recently reread His Master’s Voice by Stanislaw Lem. I grasp so much more of it now when I read it like ten years ago, but I only mention it because the main character claims that philosophy is necessarily representing only the personal viewpoint of the philosopher, and the idea that one can take oneself as the standard measure of the thought processes of all humanity is ludicrous on its face. His argument gives me fantastic cover to blather on about my own personal thought processes and yet be performing philosophy as well as it can be. Lovely.


As a male human, I have been subject and witness to the aggressive impulses characteristic of my gender specifically and male primates generally. Some of these impulses are channeled in a healthy way - despite some major issues with sports cultures worldwide, I think we can all agree that channeling competitive impulses towards entertainment is at least more neutral than towards outright warfare, brutal though that entertainment might be. Nevertheless, given the neverending wars waged between men who, though apparently acting at the behest or on behalf of a supposed populace or nation, are mostly just trying to smash each other with clubs and take the resources from that place and bring it to this place. Aggression is rarely subtle. Anger is rarely subtle.


It’s a truism to say that one who lashes out at others is really lashing out at oneself, but this can sometimes be so obvious as to be absurd. Considering how little good can come of war, it seems strange that these wars just keep coming.


I point, as I always do in this situation, to the Iroquois peoples (I hesitate to use the word nation because it’s terribly loaded and it was our concept) who settled tribal territory differences with games of lacrosse, because, they reasoned, no one ought to get killed over such a thing as which parcel of land could be used by which tribe. The land was really the Earth’s anyway. They were just borrowing it. Did I mention this society was run in large part by women?


Instead, at this point, endless bloodshed is justified in pursuit of the right to say that some chunk of land belongs to them all nice and legal in triplicate on special paper, proving it to God and the Universe that really they do OWN it, regardless of the fact that such a thing is prima facie absurd in the face of cosmic eternity. But apparently, such a thing matters enough that people ought, in great quantity, to be killed over it.


I submit to you that we are already capable of sublimating these reptilian impulses into games. Witness every person who has gotten angrier at a stupid game than at virtually anything else in their life. I sure have. In my case, its because I’ve compressed the control freak aspect of my personality entirely within the area of “gaming.” But it also channels some of my desire for confrontation and competition, but without any bones being broken or good clean exercise. The latter is certainly to its detriment. As soon as virtual reality takes off, I submit to you that gamers will be the most fit people on the planet. At least, some of them. Running around your block and waving to Mr. Johnson and his little Schnauzer is about as fun as poking yourself in the eye with a plastic straw. Running from zombies or alien hordes or screaming ninja pirates? That’s guaranteed to push you to new levels of physical performance with sheer adrenalin.


I guess as long as people believe that violence is justified there will always be Very Serious People sitting around and crossing out and re editing the Rules of War, nodding gravely as if they aren’t really just playing the most grotesque game of all with real people as the playing pieces.


It may be impossible to completely appease our animal natures with semi-frivolous entertainments. On the other hand, I recall from anthropology class in college that the Trobriander island tribes play an incredibly complex ocean-crossing necklace customizing game/ritual called Kuhlau, or something like that. It could take a person’s entire life, and probably provides a level of satisfaction the likes of which few of us can fathom, because we have never engineered culture through gaming or attempted to harness its benefits on a social level, because the Very Serious People believe that all such activities are frivolous, mostly there to keep the Plebes in line. All of us in the gaming community, though, know very differently. Imagination is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal, and if we could actually take games seriously - really seriously - it might be possible to achieve social results the likes of which we’ve never seen.


Have you ever played the game Assassin? I only managed to organize and play it once. All participants except a possible game master have a randomly chosen target. Each person knows who they are after, but does not know who is after them. Assassination can be performed with toy guns, “contact poisons”, and other fake weapons. When you kill a person, their target becomes yours and the game continues until but one assassin is left standing: the winner. The honor system is required for such a game, but in truth this is true of virtually any live in-person game, even sports. With video games, someone has to go to the trouble of hacking in order to break the rules. In-person games definitely enhance people skills and fair-mindedness, because you are not some anonymous twerp online but subject to the admittedly sometimes useful forces of socialization.


While under the influence of the game of Assassin, my normal perceptions of the world had an additional depth of narrative flavor and intrigue. After all, if you were an assassin and your target could not recognize you, you would just walk around acting normally until an opportune moment to strike, and then you scarper. As such, simply going about living my normal life (we were on a school trip at the time) was at the same time in perfect keeping with my Assassin persona! Playing the game throughout the trip did not distract me overly much during the trip (frankly it was the most fun thing we did) and provided a delightful relief from boredom, since one always had to be on the lookout for kill opportunities and potential assassins.


Perhaps a game this intense is too distracting to use a cultural overlay. But let’s go with it and imagine an extraordinary high school, for example, where one of your classes is simply this game. Your whole class will be layering this on top of all of their normal activities; in the game class, they learn all the rules, how to be do things safely, and all the necessaries to play, and then every week between classes you play a new game. For all those easily distractible kids for whom sitting quietly in neat lines and book reading is tiresome and uninteresting, they can focus their energies on the game element that is constantly overlayed, like a meta-level, and it’ll still be for a grade ultimately. The scope for inventiveness, cleverness, athleticism, and the ability to bring virtually any skill to use in such a game guarantees that it could be a catchment for kids that don’t fit the usual stodgy criteria at school, and could even be used as a way to identify them. Furthermore, it should, ideally promote classwide social bonding and fair mediation of conflicts - since everyone who witnesses an assassination attempt is also playing the game, everyone is invested in seeing the rules enforced. In theory, at least.


Those that would argue that such a class would merely distract the children from serious studies have, unsurprisingly, missed the point of my article completely.


I’m not sure if I’m talking about something truly amazing or just really fun propaganda, but I’d like to see game coders take a crack at social coding, and game players take a crack at social play. The Old Guard are such insufferable bores. Don’t you agree?

Game Composer Musings #1

Posted by Chris Crooks on September 18, 2014 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I’ve made a start on a somewhat involved podcast series called Composer Musings. I’ve long wanted to do a sort of critique of/homage to all the game music I’ve listened to over the years, and a rambling podcast with audio clips spliced in is undoubtedly the best format with which to accomplish this. This series will include overviews of various game systems’ composers, focused sessions on specific composers, companies, or game series, and a bit about my own process of writing music for games and some piano arrangements of music that I’m working on. I may have some music-oriented guests depending on community interest, but we could also have these sorts of music podcasts fall under the umbrella of the usual RogueSpeak and get some 3-4 person conversations going.

My first effort took a bit of time to put together, but it provides a fun little trip down memory lane for gamers my age and a nice little survey of some really excellent Sega Genesis music. I will almost certainly do at least one feature on NES, PSX, and SNES, and almost certainly a good handful devoted entirely to SquareSoft games.

I hope you enjoy it. It was a lot of fun to make.

You can download the MP3 or listen to it through our dropbox using the link below:

RogueSpeak #2

Posted by Matt Crooks on September 16, 2014 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

After a year and 5 months, we finally got around to doing another RogueSpeak podcast.  Chris even added a professional polish with some of his piano playing at the start.

In this RogueSpeak we talk about...

-Our plans to launch a dual Greenlight and Kickstart campaign ~January.  Early Access is a strong possibility.

-Our new twitter presence, growing community, need for community driven quality assurance.  (We want you for game testing!)

-Possibility of a multiplayer mode for FreeHolder - we talk about some of the ways it could be approached.

You can download or listen to the mp3 here:

Agricola and Abstraction of Resources

Posted by Chris Crooks on September 1, 2014 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (1)

To those not in the know, Agricola is widely considered to be one of the most challenging and fun board games for hardcore game connoisseurs. It sounds innocent enough: you are a peasant at the end of the dark ages, competing with your neighbors to build the most prosperous farm over the course of the game. However, to build such a farm you will all be competing for a common pool of resources and actions, each of which can only be taken once per round, most of the time. This adds such an incredible bevy of tactical and strategic considerations I won’t even go into them this moment. It takes a game or two merely to become comfortable with the process of playing the game and how the scoring works. The fact that every player is dealt a large hand of randomized Occupations and Improvements from a massive card pool, and that all these cards can and often do interact with each other in helpful and surprising ways, you never, ever play the same game of Agricola twice, something very hard to achieve in physical space with a board game. But Uwe Rosenberg has done this very thing.


Agricola is the inspiration, or less generously, source, for our fundamental gameplay mechanic in FreeHolder. You have a character that can perform a limited number of actions each month, and each action is taken on a specific space with some defined properties. This is known as “worker placement” mechanic, and its a favorite of Eurogamers everywhere. Unlike game boards or printed tiles, though, we have the luxury of virtual magic hexes that dynamically present multiple actions based on the character or situation. A Forest hex, for example can be hunted in, or timber or firewood can be gathered, or herbs can be searched for. Rather than limiting these hexes to one placement per turn, as in conventional worker placement mechanics, you can take as many actions on a hex as you want, but in most cases there are diminishing returns on natural resources. You can overfish, overlog, or overhunt a Forest and it may take several months to recover and produce reliably again. This encourages the player to spread out their collection, and is a bit more organic (although random) than minutely calculated resource takes.


A slightly more obscure but no less relevant lesson that I’ve taken from Agricola is the way that Uwe Rosenberg carefully planned the variety and availability of resources in the game. He succeeded in such a fundamental way that he reveals some core truths about trying to use resources as a gameplay mechanic.


In Agricola, there are four building resources, wood, clay, reed, and stone. Upon some examination I think it can be stated that for most purposes three resources are a minimum, because you are undoubtedly going to want one common building material, one uncommon building material, and one rare material. This makes it easy to influence the difficulty of building something by changing the rarity of the resources needed to build it. The simplest buildings can be made purely out of the common material, while the most difficult would require quantities of rare and uncommon materials.


Uwe spices this up a bit: wood is common and clay uncommon, but for the two rares he makes a tactical distinction. Reed is available from the very beginning of the game, but is in short supply and absolutely critical to staying competitive, as you cannot add more family members and take more actions per turn without building more rooms, and new rooms require (most of the time) reed. Stone is available a bit later and is slightly more common (there are two different stone spaces), and slightly less necessary for winning the game, but of course that is always circumstantial.


Agricola has helped me figure out how to actually create a resource system with the view of implementing building mechanics. There’s little reason to avoid those same materials, seeing as how Uwe simply identified the things people actually build with. I have Timber and Clay as common materials (Clay less so), Stone and Reed being uncommon (reed less so), and Willow and Marble as rare. Marble and Stone are gathered out of finite deposits. Willow forests are ephemeral and may appear and disappear suddenly. With this rubric, it has given me much help in determining what the hell each building should actually cost to build.


One key difference is that in Agricola you are competing against other players for resources, whereas in FreeHolder you’re fighting the clock, and Lady Luck. Therefore I never have to worry about the consequences of some other player being denied building resources, and some of the close tactical considerations needed for a game like Agricola are loosened substantially in FreeHolder. FreeHolder is not a zero-sum game.


At a certain point, I have to understand that playtesting will arbitrate where my feeble reasoning skills cannot. It is certainly easier to play a game out and see that a building is too cheap or expensive than reason endlessly about it. But when one is trying to borrow substantially from such a near-perfect game as Agricola, one has to make sure that one does so with extreme skill and subtlety.


Speaking of extreme subtlety, our feeding mechanic was also lifted directly from Agricola. (cough). Somewhat. I’m fairly proud of what will be our nifty cooking system and you’ll be stuffing your face with a lot more than Grain and Vegetables, I can tell you that. Furthermore, you can customize rations to increase health or save food during lean times, apply medicine, and burn firewood for heat during the winter (I was unaware of the Farmers of the Moor expansion when I came up with that, not that its a stroke of brilliance to acknowledge people need heat to survive).


Still, the immediate need to feed your peeps every turn (or every few turns in Agricola) is such a lovely pressure mechanic we adopted it immediately, with some significant alteration. Your folks can get sick and die, for example. Closest thing to that in Agricola is the Rat Catcher.


I have some deranged fantasy about Uwe Rosenberg giving me a pat on the back about doing some of his mechanics a bit of justice in videogame form, but I don’t know if the man even owns a computer. I mean, I assume he does, but I prefer to think of him as some bearded, philosophical toymaker living in a manor in the Bavarian forest. Maybe I should look at a picture, but why kill the fantasy?


Don’t answer that.

Some Notes on the Concept of "Sur-thrival"

Posted by Chris Crooks on August 19, 2014 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The basic concept of a survival game is obviously to survive. If it is of sufficient (appropriate) difficulty, the mere ability to get a bit further, last a bit longer is proof positive that you have improved at the game. However, for it to remain a “survival” game the feeling that death is just around the corner has to remain throughout, no matter how powerful you get. You should rarely feel removed from danger, and treasure the breaths that you get.


On the other end of the spectrum is essentially the empire-building game - your goal is generally total domination, and you have the spare resources to get there. Of course, you can lose your whole empire through mismanagement, but you yourself as the player are not connected to the danger in any way - it is purely abstract management. Your generalissimo’s turn to turn survival is assured - some orderly probably brings their meals into the command center, so you can focus on management of the economy, war, etc.


Since these two genres represent two extremes: poverty of resources vs management of excess resources, it is a fair question to ask how one can go about blending the two. After all, the excitement of turn-to-turn survival is removed if, for example, a relatively stable and permanent food source is found or created. If such excitement is a driving force in the game, boredom and stagnation must soon ensue, unless a significant revision of gameplay occurs at the moment of transition. Then, ideally, one attempts to smooth the transition to so fine a point that it becomes seamless, and the player will control the transition with their own skill and strategy.


Before I delve into the technicalities of such a fusion, I think it could stand a bit of examination from a narrative standpoint. While the genre blend may be a bit awkward in some ways, narratively it fits perfectly with a rags-to-riches story. Furthermore, it contains within it the necessary widening of narrative scope and character power and influence to re-engage the player with not a material (in terms of the game) reward, but a reward of expanded possibilities, and yes, even a sense of security that they have earned by mastering basic gameplay mechanics to the extent that survival becomes more of a difficult math problem than an uncertainty.


Storywise, the player will come out of their semi-enslaved status from the first part of the game with a new sense of their ability to create change in their environment, and a feeling that they have been rewarded with access to an expanded world. Now that you are no longer under the thumb of a corrupt census-taker, the political, military, and intrigue aspects of the game open up to you and exciting new possibilities occur.


Furthermore, it is a delicious idea that a game continually challenge the player by opening up a whole new realm of subtle management and goals right as they believe they’ve mastered the game they’ve seen up to that point. You certainly don’t want to blindside the player utterly with unknown concepts, but some element of surprise is also nice from a narrative point of view. If they didn’t realize they could influence the political and military situation before, and suddenly find themselves managing a struggle between local tribes simply because their taskmaster is gone, you can imagine the extremely organic pleasure such an experience would bring to the player.


Some of the transition from survive to thrive can be eased by repurposing existing mechanics that the player is already comfortable and familiar with. For example, once the player has freed themselves from the control of the census-taker, they generally will find themselves either as a semi-voluntary supplier of goods to the Republic, or as a supplier of goods to one of the local tribes. No one is going to turn you in for not meeting your quotas.


In the old days, of course, failing to meet your wheat quota meant game over. It may therefore seem counterintuitive to abandon such a premise partway through the game, seeing as how it fuels so much of the difficulty, etc. It almost makes everything after breaking free like a bonus mode, which in some ways it is, looked at from what traditionally makes rounds “bonus.” In my mind, frenzied acquisition of points with little or no risk to the player is how I define it.


On the other hand, considering what should be the high difficulty of this achievement, I think some relief from the grinding wheat mechanic is a pretty fitting reward. It is also important to making the transition to the “thrive” part of the game, which as I said has much more similarity to empire-building games than survival games.


But taken at a wider perspective, although the significance of the wheat quota to the physical lives of the players themselves may have been more or less removed, in fact the overall significance of said quota has gone from merely assuring the survival of a ragtag group of escaped slaves to actually supporting the political and military efforts of a warring faction. While your personal fates may not hang in the balance immediately, the fate of empires does.


The “voluntary quotas” you supply at this point in the game are used as part of a calculation to determine the relative military strength and political influence of the local tribes and Romans. Because it involves more combat, risk, and facing the greatest military the ancient world ever knew, siding with the tribes is a de facto hard mode. For those who have a better sense of which way the wind is blowing, Rome is generous to its friends and when Caesar rolls through Upper Gaul you know it won’t be his mighty legions you’ll have to face.


It may take several years for the results of the player’s supply efforts to manifest in the local power balance. If the player performs poorly, it is not just their fate but the fate of the region that is decided. My favored interpretation is that they player has proven themselves so good at meeting quotas that they are offered the opportunity to voluntarily achieve them in order to achieve wider, more epic goals.


One of the greatest new strategic options are given to the player now that they are not necessarily chained to supplying their faction in order to ensure success, at least in the short term. There may be occasions where the player wishes to make the strategic decision to forego meeting the quota in order to focus on achieving some specific military or political objective, like removing a bandit blockade from a friendly town or sabotaging the efforts of other factions. The player is allowed to make these long-term calculations now, having proven to the game (me?) they can keep up with brutal demands if necessary.


In the early game, you cannot decide to forego the bribe or quota in order to speed some other plan along - you may want a host of crafted items this year, or really get that Quarry underway, but you won’t get to enjoy the fruits of that labor if the triarii haul you off next March.


I guess one question that can be pulled from all this is: is the subsequent substitution of the player’s objective of survival with the objective of the survival of their goals a natural one, or horribly forced?


As always, Dungeon Crawl can be looked to for a helpful answer. After all, your objective during most of your initial hours of gameplay in such a brutal dungeon crawler will be merely to not die, maybe get down one level further, and just maybe get to see a fancy new enemy before it kills you in the newest, most horrible way yet.


Because of its exceptional difficulty and randomness, Dungeon Crawl can easily be described as partly a survival game, not least because starvation is a constant factor. For a while, you are just learning, and dying, and learning, and dying. And dying.


At a certain point though, you become familiar enough with the mechanics, pitfalls, and denizens that under conventional circumstances you can generally survive. It is at that point, and only that point, that there is any feasibility of actually obtaining the Orb of Zot and winning the game. The chances are remote, but they seemed utterly nonexistent before.


Dungeon Crawl does show that there is an inherent tiered structure in games of a sufficient difficulty. Early, just learning the ins and outs of the game constitutes an accomplishment. Only when survival becomes commonplace does the larger goal come to focus. We are attempting to accomplish something similar, although more artificial.


After all, in Dungeon Crawl death is always possible, no matter how powerful you think you are and how many bases you have covered. It never stops being a survival game because of its extreme difficulty, so it only partially serves as a model because we are attempting to redefine difficulty in FreeHolder mid-game from keeping your players alive in the short-term to doing something remarkable in the long-term. I’m hoping that the narrative flow of this progression will make up for some of the hitches in trying to figure out how to connect two genres at the midpoint.


The obviously common link between the two genres, and one that makes it mechanically flow together pretty easily is resource management. You simply go from managing a paucity of simple resources to cartloads of sundry high-level goods. Thankfully, this transition is built right into the fundamental mechanics of FreeHolder. The transition is also reinforced significantly by the leveling system.


At the start of the game, your characters are fairly ineffective, but as they level and acquire more equipment, their effectiveness increases exponentially. Where before it took the unceasing labor of your entire group to make ends meet, as your characters specialize and level you can assign more and more spare tasks to other, long-term goals like building projects, goods crafting and processing, and building reputation in the various townships and cities scattered across the frontier.


It’s all terribly exciting to watch this game come more and into existence as billions of 1s and 0s are tacked onto it from some four or five levels of code above. Making games is crazy. :)