Basketball, dwarves and Bill Cosby's ghost: Barkley 2 is the weirdest indie RPG sequel
The cash influx has made a very real difference to their lives: both Eric and Brian were students when they set up the Kickstarter page; both have since put their studies on hold. Liam, Brian’s brother, has ‘stopped answering emails,’ at his previous job to devote his time to the new game. The cash will also go to other Tales of Game’s contributors, as Liam explains: “We’re trying to pay as much as we possibly can to our two incredibly hard working artists and two programmers, who are pretty much working full time on Barkley 2 already.”
"Barkley 2 is a notably different game. The combat is no longer turn-based. It’s also open-world."
Barkley 2 sheds its former sports star, giving its lead role to amnesiac youngster X114JAM9, who may or may not be Hoopz Barkley, in search of the missing Cyberdwarf. It’s a notably different game. The combat is no longer turn-based – it’s real-time: players aim and shoot their gun’s (deliberate) with the mouse. It’s also open-world, with a huge focus on secrets.
Eric explains: “The backbone of Barkley 2 is this idea that things change over time. As you go off and you do things, the whole world around you changes. There’s going to be quests and things that you miss and that you need to be in the right place at the right time to see.”
As examples of how this system will work, Eric talks of quests that are only available at the start of the game then disappear, and how, based on the player’s decisions or actions, entire towns could be blown up.
“This has been the plan since 2006. We liked the JRPG format and I think Barkley in many ways still draws a huge amount of influence from it, especially in regards to world design, characters, story and narrative. But we’ve always wanted to make a game that focused more – mechanically at least – on exploration, while still maintaining the same humour and tone.”
"The most challenging thing won’t be the game itself, it'll be putting together a walkthrough for it."
Gaiden was fairly linear in action, with a few branching paths for dedicated secret hunters. Brian wants Barkley 2 to be different. “I think we’re kind of entering a weird era of game development where you have to really consider what information the player is going to know before they go in. Or what kind of information is going to keep them playing and discovering things for themselves, or when are they going to give up and go find a guide and ruin the whole game for them. This is I think a way to make a game that I think is worth playing and not just watching.”
It’s hard not to think of Brian’s experience with The Pagemaster’s library cards. His pain could have been salved by a quick Google were he playing today. Eric agrees, and re-emphasises Barkley 2’s proposed open-endedness: “I think when this game comes out, the most challenging thing about it won’t be the game itself, it will be putting together any kind of walkthrough for it.” Instead, they’re looking to the past: if you paid $150 toward the Kickstarter, you’d have exclusive access to a tips line you’re free to call when you get stuck, manned by the developers themselves.
Brian cites Dark Souls as a touchstone for the kind of game they want to make, where players can approach the elements of the story in a different order, do different things, and – if they’re good enough – bypass areas entirely in the open world. Barkley 2’s quests will have some level of dialogue choice too.
"They're keeping the surrealist streak that made Gaiden one of the funniest RPGs ever."
Eric provides an early-game example of a quest that’s already been written: “Your character X114JAM9 is really a naive guy. You meet these very obvious thug guys in Tir na nÓg – a wretched place, inspired by Shadowrun and other cyberpunk cities – and they say ‘okay, we’ll show you around. But you have to do this stuff for us first.’ And the stuff that you do for them is just incredibly bad. Just terrible, terrible stuff.” Eric starts laughing. “But they frame it in a way where you don’t realise it’s bad until after you do it.”
Barkley 2 might be a mechanically different game, but Tales of Game’s are keeping the happily surrealist streak that made Gaiden one of the funniest RPGs ever coded. The shift from freeware to paid game has enforced some changes – Charles Barkley himself doesn’t appear in the screenshots shown so far, to avoid legal action – but Tales of Game’s have already proved themselves so stuffed full of ridiculous, hilarious ideas that even divorced from the big man directly, their second visit to the post-Cyberpocalypse will be larger, better, weirder and even funnier than the first.