As excited as everyone is by Diablo III, you find yourself wondering: what else could an RPG be? Is collecting loot, side-questing, selling to shopkeepers (and repeat) the only way to do it? Hinterland is built off the same fantasy ingredients we’re used to seeing in RPGs, and you can spot the inspiration - Diablo, Rogue-games, Dwarf Fortress, city-builders - but we’ve never seen the ideas mashed up like this. “In making it, we kind of had this ‘why didn’t someone make this before?’ feeling,” says Jeff Fiske, co-designer.

You’re a lord, sent into the wild to explore and left-click any bad guys in your backyard. While you’re adventuring forth, your village grows. Acquired items secure different types of citizens, so recruiting new townsfolk will be your main goal. The idea stemmed from the dev’s earlier experiments in a medieval city-builder. “You don’t get bards unless you can find a magical instrument,” explains Mat Williams, senior producer. “You need ancient tomes to bring a wizard in. You can get a necromancer, but you’ve got to find a crypt.” Once settled, your lord can issue orders, setting the smith to construct swords or the priest to pray for healing - no more buying items off the populace you’re protecting. And if you decide the village can survive without a certain citizen, ask them to join your party and head off into the wilderness.

But don’t expect a medieval SimCity. Hinterland aims for manageable 10-to-20 villager towns, and a relatively small surrounding area that can be patrolled in a few hours (but won’t get old, we’re told). The game leans on randomly generated content to encourage replay and influence your village’s make-up. “If you find a game forest, you can build the hunter,” says Jeff, “but if you don’t... you don’t.” An achievement system will add some structure, but the main idea is roaming the game’s variable world, shaping your own quests along the way. “We talk about how silly it is when you play an RPG, you do some quest and the world doesn’t change,” says Jeff.

“Now, you sort of make your own quests. If you get a sword, and give it to your farmer, and the village gets attacked when you’re gone... you’ve changed the world by giving the farmer that sword. And if he stops making food, it has an actual effect on the world, whether he’s out adventuring with you, or he’s recovering from the injuries he’s sustained helping defend the town.” What could an RPG be? Anything, clearly.

+ Randomly generated encounters and overseeing your mini-community could mean a nice, dynamic balance of lootin’ and mayorin’.
– It’s on a smaller scale, but will Hinterland have enough structure to lead players while they wander the wilderness?

Aug 29, 2008