We visited with inXile Entertainment, creator of the upcoming console and PC role-playing game The Bard's Tale, and its lead designer Brian Fargo, at E3 2004. Fargo and previous collaborator Michael Cranford created the Bard's Tale series many years ago for home computers, and years later, a new game will finally be added to the series.
Fargo ran us through an early area of the game that demonstrated the titular bard hero's one and only special ability--playing a song that summons a single rat, then playing the song again to dispel it. According to Fargo, the bard has used this song in the past to frighten bartenders (and barmaids) into giving him a free beer or a place to put up for the night--this has essentially been the height of his ambition, since the bard's primary interests are women and money (followed by booze). Unfortunately for the bard, he meets a really fine-looking young lady with lots of cash and gets suckered into a larger story that may end with him saving the world--or not.
As Fargo explained, the bard won't be any kind of "chosen," prophesied hero born to battle some 2,000-year-old evil. He'll be a coarse, imperfect, and emotional character who will occasionally screw up and be laughed out of town and will storm off into the countryside in anger. The game will attempt to get rid of as many standard role-playing conventions as possible while adding as much personality and humor as possible. For instance, the bard will find not only numerous side quests but also off-topic asides that may simply be there for the sake of having a bit of fun. In one scene, the bard enters a tavern presided over by a scantily clad barmaid and a small throng of drunks. After conversing with the barmaid (and having considerable trouble looking her in the eye), the bard then spoke to the nearby drunks, who all began singing a loud, drunken ode to beer and the fine, upstanding fellow who must have invented it some time ago. Drunken hangers-on chimed in from all corners of the snug tavern, and the ridiculous song itself went on, and on, and on...not to provide any kind of cryptic clues as to where to find the blue key to open the blue door, but simply to provide comic relief.
However, Fargo insists that The Bard's Tale will also be a true role-playing game with as much depth as any other--the game will have character creation, ability scores, experience levels, and so on. Fargo went on to demonstrate the game's grouping system, by which the bard is joined by spirits summoned through song. By discovering new tunes, the bard may find himself accompanied by a fat-bodied lout that lives only to absorb arrows and other missiles meant for the bard himself, or by a rock-throwing giant, or by a fierce fire elemental. Yet even these characters will have as much personality as Fargo and his team can ascribe to them.
The Bard's Tale is scheduled for release later this year on the PS2 and the Xbox, to be followed by a PC release.