Hopefully you’ve seen my game design analysis of Subnautica: Below Zero. Here’s another, for Roadwarden. It’s an important game to me, as I hope to publish a text adventure myself at some point.
I wrote this while playing, and some of it reflects the mechanics I hoped the game had, rather than what it actually has. No disparagement is intended; this is a rock-solid game and its author’s choices were likely necessary and correct, grounded in reality rather than my fantasy of the perfect game.
[Edit: I shared this post with Aureus, the game’s creator, and he graciously answered a ton of my questions himself! Check out the interview in this follow-up post!]
Roadwarden is a “graphical text adventure”. PC/Mac only, the author says a mobile port looks difficult or impossible.
The game could have worked as text-only, but the simple graphics definitely help with visualizing map layouts, points of interest within a scene, etc.
Roadwarden starts out tracking just 4 attributes, with very coarse levels:
- Health: 4 levels
- Nourishment: 4 levels
- Armor: 4 levels
- Appearance (affects charisma): 5 levels
When you sleep, the quality of your lodgings (tent, inn, etc.) influences the amount gained or lost in these attributes.
“Burning the dead [lest they reawaken] is not just a religious practice, it’s a necessity… Making a large pyre takes a lot of time, but it saves lives.”
Looks like subtle training in the game’s tradeoffs. Your time is limited, but so is the peninsula’s population.
Special classes and dialogue choices
Taking a Scholar specialty opened a new option (craft gunpowder) when encountering a pack of griffons. It was represented simply, as a new dialogue path.
I get the impression that different classes substantially change the way one plays the game, however; changing when one must rest and how long, and how one approaches confrontations.
“You head toward the inn, hearing the piercing scream of a boar from the other side of the yard.” Vivid imagery and world-building at the same time; if an inn in the wasteland wants to serve meat it must keep livestock. What did the authors draw on for inspiration? Maybe certain movies or books, but a visit to a farm (and so many other locales!) would have been better.
Adding difficult choices to conversations
Dialogue option: I could eat something. “Do you have any leftovers?”
I don’t think the game has limits on NPC patience in conversations. If it did, it would be an interesting choice to “spend” some of that patience (and maybe some coin) in return for staving off hunger.
[Edit: I did finally find one NPC with limited “patience”. Most just let you pick off all the dialogue options, one by one.]
Many conversations include options that seem useless and even callous to the NPC. I have yet to choose one, but I wonder if they are traps, tests that the player is paying attention and being sympathetic.
Roadwarden has two different texts to refer to, which may inform your in-game decisions:
An “Archive”, which is just like what I was already planning to provide in my own text adventure. It’s a simple text log of events and dialogue that have appeared onscreen, that you can scroll back through. Not long, though, barely long enough to track all the events of a single village. And under a separate menu item from current dialogue.
And a “Journal”, where your character records people, places, and other local knowledge he has learned on this journey. Additionally, the journal starts with entries on various universal knowledge the character would have had prior to beginning the journey. The journal entries are brief, basic, and omit some details covered in the actual dialogue (even ones that might improve minor decisions).
A journal entry starts out with a basic description, but may include the text “there’s still more to learn about [it/them]”, implying the main character will fill in details learned through experience or dialogue.
Multiple reviewers (including a publication) have expressed that they took their own notes, and did not object to doing so.
If you’ve already been to an area, that is subtly indicated within the text for the option to visit it: “I return to the signpost” as opposed to “I approach the signpost”.
Players can access the map, journal, etc. at any time, even mid-conversation, which is important because you may need to refer to them.
Thought has been given to what costs time and what doesn’t. Travelling between areas within a town seems to be “instantaneous” (free). So do many simple dialogue options with NPCs. Longer roads cost time.
Time is valuable because you only have 40 in-game days to work with. And you don’t want to be caught on the road at night; you’ll be attacked by monsters and are guaranteed to lose health.
There are certain continuity errors, such as your character suddenly knowing the name of Caius without anyone mentioning it. PCGamer noticed these in their review, but most Steam reviewers did not.
Unique, colloquial language.
One functional invention is the universal substitution of “shell”/”shells” for body/bodies (a word frequently used in creature descriptions). Saves a whole syllable!
Every NPC you meet puts up a front of honesty and competency. (As a real person might for their neighbors.) For some NPCs this is just a front, and it’s up to you to figure out which.
- Game was released in September 2022.
- As of February 2023 it has 1,309 Steam Reviews.
- Assuming review:sales ratio of 1:63, that’s about 80,000 units sold.
- Regular Steam price is $11, has never been on sale below $8.25.
- That means revenue in the ballpark of $800,000.
All code, writing, and art on Roadwarden appears to have been done by one man, Aureus. (I assume music was contracted.) He’s based out of Wrocław, Poland. There is an “editor” in the credits, who I’m sure helped a lot with producing the polished final text.
This is Aureus’s most successful game, but was not his first; he has at least two others set in the same world.
Engine, evidently, is Ren’Py, which is built on top of Python and SDL. Considering the stack, I would have expected the creator to have more trouble packaging and distributing the finished product, but everything installed and ran flawlessly, even on my Mac. It does seem to rule out a mobile port, though.
Roadwarden is available on Steam and GOG.