Sunday, 24 February 2013

Grimoire - Demo Released

Sit yourself down somewhere quiet.  Turn the TV & radio off, ask the kids to pipe down, and LISTEN.

Can you hear that distant thrumming?  A noise so faint, yet so insistent, that it's really more of a vibration in the earth?  In fact, now you've noticed it, it's not even really a vibration; more a portent, a suggestion of powerful forces massing beyond the horizon.

Because the horsemen of the Apocalypse are gathering my friend, the end of times is approaching and there is going to be a reckoning.  One of the great prophecies has come true. 

The Grimoire demo has finally been released, and history is trembling.

Regular readers of this blog will know which game I am talking about as I've already written about it twice.  I'm not going to go through the history again, (read the previous entries here, and here) but the latest news is that the much-promised demo has finally been released (link at bottom of page).  I'm going to be honest with you, there were times in the past few months when I doubted this would happen, but happen it has and the world is a richer place for it.

Grimoire is something quite unique, in that it is the product of one man's imagination and has taken him, at last count, 17 years to develop.  The game itself is a dungeon crawler, much like Wizardry 6 or 7, and it is, as you might expect, distinctly old-school in its presentation and mechanics.  It is never going to be a million-selling blockbuster, times have changed too much for that during its extended development cycle, but it's something that certainly scratches an itch for many people.  Having it appear here, now, feels like somebody has just been up into their attic and discovered a lost Beatles recording, or an unfinished Dickens novel.  It's a snapshot of another period in game development, it's something from another time, and it comes with all the benefits and drawbacks that entails.

To start with, Grimoire is acting a little bit like an old man who's been asleep for a few years and cannot deal with the world that he finds outside.  The demo crashes.  A lot.  It seems to do this more frequently on more modern systems and this is something that will obviously need to be sorted out before the game can be released.  Cleve assures us that he will do this, and there are ways the player can work around it, but it does still happen, so you should be aware of that.  In Grimoire's defence the game appears to run pretty smoothly within itself, it's just that it's having trouble dealing with the excesses of modern life and wants to go back into its cave every now and again.

The other main drawback I can see with it is that the user interface can be a bit awkward.  Each character has a button next to their portrait which determines the action they will carry out - healing, unlocking, examining an item, searching etc. - and this can be a bit cumbersome at times.  For example, if you want to identify an item then you need to select the spellbook icon to cast a spell, choose "identify" and the spell level, wait for a second, select the item, change the icon to a magnifying glass and then hold the item over the icon to see what it is.  It would have been easier to just cast the spell and then select the item you wanted to examine.  Similarly the inventory system is also a bit cumbersome.  You have a "banner" of boxes under the viewport which contain all the items not equipped by the party.  There isn't any way to sort these into any order (which makes it difficult to keep track of your loot) and I had filled all the available slots by the end of the demo anyway, which doesn't bode well for the full game.  However, these are small niggles and things that could be improved, they're not game breakers in any way or form and sometimes you just need to accept that if you want to play something different then you have to take the rough with the smooth.

Because Grimoire is, if the demo is in any way representative of the final game, something that is quite special and something that really does feel like the next instalment in the Wizardry series (and I do not say things like that lightly).  In fact it actually seems to improve on those games.  It does this in a variety of little ways - players are given three chances when rolling a new character, for example, instead of the famously frustrating "one strike" system in Wizardry 6.  The game will remember the commands used in your previous battle, so you don't have to enter them again, and you can also review those orders before starting any combat.  Similarly there is an "end battle" button which means you can duck out of any encounter which is too tough, at the price of having to load an earlier save, and you can even make the party walk automatically to a chosen point on the map.  These are little things, sure, but they make everything much more fluid and smooth than would otherwise be the case and they show the amount of thought that has gone into crafting the game's systems.

The game uses its own role playing system, which is hard to analyse without a manual, but which appears to be suitably deep and complicated.  Characters are defined by many attributes, ranging from the commonplace, such as Wisdom and Intelligence, to the more unusual like Fellowship and Devotion.  It is unclear yet how these affect the character's performance but the demo gives the impression that there are a lot of calculations going on under the surface.  This system also seems to have been designed entirely from scratch by its creator so, in and of itself, it provides the player with something new to get to grips with and try to understand.

And this attention to detail and creativity also extends to the races and classes that the player can choose from.  There are 14 races in Grimoire and 15 possible classes and although these include the usual suspects (humans, warriors, clerics, thieves and wizards) there are also some more interesting and unusual options available.  An Aeorb, for example, is a weird one-eyed alien thing or the player could choose a Naga (a kind of Hindu snake man) or a giant or a vampire or a camp-looking lion.  Similarly the classes include Necromancers (yay), Pirates, Templars and Jesters.  The whole selection re-inforces the feeling that this is something different that is being offered here, that this is something that hasn't been focus grouped or sanitised - that this is a game which has been developed outside of the normal boundaries and which, as a result, is not content with just offering up the same old choices.

However, where Grimoire really comes into its own is in the world that is presented to the player.  Graphically charming, it is full of little details and asides which clearly show the amount of effort and love that have gone into it.  The writing is of an extremely high standard and the world's lore is present throughout the environment.  In fact, in one dungeon one of the discoverable secrets is a room full of inscripted poetry about (presumably) future adversaries - which is lovely to see at a time when any other game developer would have just filled it with loot.  There are also plenty of these secret areas to find, and the game manages to make this difficult enough to be satisfying without making it impossible.  In other games in this genre they would show that there was a secret area behind a wall by drawing the wall slightly differently.  This was hard to find at first but once you knew what you were looking for you could spot them from a distance.  Here the walls (from what I can see) look exactly the same and have to be manually searched with the cursor.  The "trigger" points also differ from place to place - at the top of the wall in one location, in the middle in another - so the player has to be thorough, and some walls don't even have a trigger, they're just an illusion the party can walk through.  However, the player can use spells to help them detect such things and the game will also keep an account of how much of an area has been explored, so those of us with low level OCD can sleep at night.

Grimoire is a labour of love and, if you're interested in this kind of thing, then I would recommend that you give the demo a go.  The Indiegogo campaign has also restarted, so you can pre-order the game from there if you like what you see, and Cleve is still insistent that the full game will be released in May (even though the demo came out three months after his original deadline).  I think that will be tight, to say the least, and if previous history has shown us anything it is that this date will almost definitely be revised(!)  However, he has got the demo out and it does appear that he is working hard towards getting the full game released at some point in the (relatively) near future.  Personally I am really excited to see what happens next.

Update 04/04/13 - Cleve has just released a much more stable version of the demo (1.31), which seems to have resolved all of the previous issues. Get it here. (Remember to still run as admin.)

If you want to keep abreast of current developments then check this thread out

If you just read this article and were very confused then read...

Grimoire : Heralds of the Winged Exemplar

The Grimoire Thing Just Gets Weirder

And Wizardry 6 : Bane of the Cosmic Forge

If you have downloaded the demo and cannot get it to work then..
1. Install it directly into your C Drive (i.e. C:\Grimoire) not into the "programs" directory
2. Ensure you are running it as admin (the 1.2 installer should do this automatically.)
3. Run in compatibility mode with Windows XP.
4. Check the thread linked to above to see if anybody else has had any bright ideas.
5. Pray to whichever god you hold dear.

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