A new “Bard’s Tale” game — in name only. Does it smell as sweet...?
On September 30th 2003, Brian Fargo's new game company—inXile Entertainment—rocked the Bard's Tale fan world with a press release announcing that it had been developing a new game entitled The Bard's Tale. “Unlike most RPG games produced today, The Bard's Tale will eschew genre clichés in favor of intelligent humor for an original and truly entertaining experience.”
In a preview on GameSpy, Brian Fargo — who helped design the original games — was quick to stress that
“This will not be Bard's Tale IV. The game we have envisioned is much richer. We have spent a tremendous amount of time in preproduction. We want to make this RPG fresh. ... We are re-envisioning this series to try to fill a hole that we see in RPG games. We want to focus on the moments that will be memorable, while having fun with a lot of the old RPG conventions. We think this will be an RPG that people will want to play, and we would have made it whether we were able to get the Bard's Tale name or not.”
Indeed — it's clear that this new game has nothing to do with the classic Bard's Tale series.
“We are sick of clichés,” Fargo said. “We are tired of the standard sub-quests and missions. The idea of a 'chosen one' is stupid. In our game, the Bard is wise to all this. If he runs into a princess in a tower, he'll comment 'why is there never anyone held at ground level any more?' The Bard will run into several people who think they are the chosen one, and they all get whacked. We want the game to be funny, but in a situational sort of way. We want to make fun of the clichés. Our audience is smart. You don't write down to the level of a 15-year-old D&D gamer.” (These music samples dramatize the differences, too, in musical style and substance.)
Although Michael Cranford would wince to hear it, the anti-hero of this new game is “a sardonic and opportunistic musician and adventurer, driven by carnal rather
than noble pursuits. The Bard is not interested in saving the world, his humble
motivations are strictly 'coin and cleavage.'” The Bard is voiced by none other than Cary Elwes (known to genre fans for his roles in The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.) Developed for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles (and later ported to PC), this “action RPG” uses an updated version of Snowblind Studios' Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance engine, which was also used in the PS2's EverQuest: Champions of Norrath games.
Yes, it's an irreverent top-down console-style single-player action game. Although heavily touted as an “updated version” of our much beloved classic Bard's Tale series, the unfortunate truth of the matter is, as lead designer Eric Flannum revealed in an interview for GameBanshee only after the game went gold, “We don’t have the rights to the content of the original series so we don’t carry over any elements directly from the first game.”
Having played the new game through from start to finish, I can confirm that this game has absolutely nothing in common with the original series — not a single name (town, character, or monster) appears from the original plot. Even "Skara Brae" is absent, although their early marketing material suggested Skara Brae would be a major part of the game! Even if one greatly stretches the imagination, at best there are only five tiny elements that are similar to the original: Your quest begins by entering a tavern's cellar. The powers-that-be live in towers. You can receive healing from priests. There is an anti-magic zone. There is a "magic mouth." But that's really stretching it.
Alas, it's clear that the “Bard's Tale” name is only being used as a marketing tool to generate media and fan interest (something incredibly important for Brian Fargo's new company to do with their very first game, as you can imagine.) No, this new game literally could not be further removed from the classic games: where the original games had turn-based strategy, the new game is a button-mashing action game with all RPG elements stripped out. Where the original games featured Christian imagery and heroic epic quests of Good vs. Evil, the new game mocks that and prides itself on being raunchy and morally ambiguous... and, despite what Fargo said, features dialogue and sexual innuendo that only a prepubescent 13 year-old would find amusing. (Spoiler warning: And in fact, when you arrive at the end of the plot, you find out that you were actually slaughtering the forces of Good the whole time!
I guess Brian Fargo thought it would be funny if the player would actually play through the whole game never knowing they were actually committing terribly evil acts.) Not surprisingly it also differs noticably in this regard: where the original games were critically acclaimed, the new game was greeted by mixed reviews; described, at best, as "fair."
The new Bard is here to stay: even before the new game was released (October 2004), inXile was already looking towards the future of this new franchise: in an interview for TeamXbox, Eric Flannum revealed that “Everything is still confidential but it's safe to say that a sequel is something
that we would love to do and the multiplayer aspect is a natural progression.
After playing this game and getting to know the Bard we feel that gamers are
going to be psyched to see him get entangled in more entertaining predicaments.
I'm really excited by the possibilities.”
we ever see The Bard’s Tale IV...?
The short answer is, "No."
Now that inXile Entertainment has finally secured the undisputed rights to the name — but not the rights to any of the original series content — we can kiss all dreams of a sequel to the classic Bard's Tale games goodbye. They'll be making sequels of their game, not the classic games. But for the sake of interest, here is what I wrote about this question before Brian Fargo appropriated the rights to the name for his new game:
This question has burned in the minds of die-hard fans for
many years: Will the classic series ever go on?
Some have said
that the game Interplay released called Dragon Wars was originally
intended to be The Bard's Tale IV. After all, it was created
by the same fellowBill Heinemanwho was in charge of The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, and there are definite
game engine similarities... however, are these similarities the
only reason that rumour came into existence?
that actual programming work began at one point on The Bard's
Tale IV, but that the project was promptly shelved and that disks
bearing Bard's Tale IV were carted off to the dusty corners
of some vault, much like the priceless treasure at the end of the
movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I think picturing
that last scenario would put a wry grin on the face of The Bard's
Tale creator, Michael Cranford. It
is pretty clear from talking to him that he, at least, would never
be involved in any future Bard's Tale projects. His life
has changed drastically since he created The Bard's Tale,
and his interests simply lie in other directions.
It is interesting
to note, though, that the ending of The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny
KnightMichael Cranford's last Bard's Tale gamehints
at a third game by mentioning a place: The Castle of Candarr. However,
there is no mention of the "Castle of Candarr" in The
Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate. Does this mean Michael Cranford
had his own ideas for another game in the series? We may never know.
What might have been: “Burger” Bill’s attempts to resurrect the series...
"Burger" Bill Heineman once tried to resurrect the Bard's Tale series. Bill filled Michael Cranford's shoes on The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, serving as programmer and designerand although perhaps a little upset that Michael gets all the "fame" for the first two games, he was still very interested in creating more games in The Bard's Tale series. When asked by Cheek's Bard's Tale Page on October 15th, 1999 about the possibility of a Bard's Tale IV, Bill said, “Contraband Entertainment (my company) has a Bard's Tale IV proposal that we're really excited about but EA must first make a decision. It's a slow process and it MUST MAKE MONEY for EA or EA will not pursue it. I've been waiting 10 years to do another Bard's Tale game.”
Some more interesting tidbits about Bill's vision of the future of The Bard's Tale are to be found in an interview with Bill Heineman which Scott Nelson conducted for BardsTale.com on January 11th, 2000. Here are some highlights regarding his visions for Bard's Tale IV:
Scott: Did you ever think that ten years after you made the BT3, people would still be playing it?
Scott: I know! Every Bard's Tale fan on the net is dying for a Bard's Tale 4! If only the Powers That Be would see the light!!!
Bill: Actually I did, the only thing I didn't foresee was the Bard's Tale III was to be the last one. :(
Scott: Well I sure hope that someday the saga will continue. If you were allowed to produce BT4, do you have any new ideas in the back of your mind on things you might do differently this time?
Bill: We have a whole game design document and even a prototype of the engine. We pitched the idea to EA about a month ago but they were not interested. :(
Scott: Oh, that is a shame!!! With your new engine, has the game been enhanced a lot, or does it still look basically the same?
Bill: Completely new game. It has more of an Everquest look to it but all the art and sounds have a Bard's Tale feel to it.
Scott: What do you think of all the BT pages on the net right now. Is it neat to see people paying tribute to your work?
Bill: I love it. I just wish it would convince someone at EA or Interplay to let us do BT IV.
Bill: Well EA, owns the name, Interplay owns the code (Although now one cares about that today) and the names of the characters in the game(s). So I'd have to get a license from EA to use the Bard's Tale name and logos, and a license from Interplay to use the mythos from the original games.
I still think that it is worth doing.
Scott: The entire Bard's Tale community agrees with you 100%... Do you have any cool memories of working on Bard's Tale, or any funny stories?
Bill: Where to begin? I remember how bummed we were when people forgot the name of the game was "Tales of the Unknown". So of course we have to have a Bard in the sequel. The original idea was to call the first one, The Bard's Tale since it revolved around the Bard. The sequel was to be called the Archmage's Tale, and then the third was the Thieves' Tale. So much for branding.
Scott: Speaking of Bard, Archmage and Thieves Tale, did you have that planned out ahead of time? After BT1, did you know that BT2 would be about an Archmage, and BT3 would be about a Thief?
Bill: Yep. The specific stories were not done, but the general theme was already planned.
Scott: Do you have any story ideas for Bard's Tale 4 yet?
Bill: As I said before, we have a whole game design document. It takes place after Bard's Tale III and begins the tale again. We hope it's the first part of a three part saga.