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Illuminating Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3


The story behind the third episode of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is almost as long as its title. Following disappointing sales of Episode 2, Penny Arcade kicked off its first PAX East conference by informing Joystiq that the series had been discontinued altogether. At the time, Penny Arcade stated that developer Hothead Games left the project in order to focus on developing DeathSpank, as working on both projects would have impacted the quality of Episode 3. Hothead would later claim that Penny Arcade wordsmith Jerry "Tycho" Holkins had trouble keeping up with the development cycle.

Now, two years later, Episode 3 is not only back in development, but is being taken in an entirely new direction by indie developer Zeboyd Games, creators of cheeky role-playing throwbacks Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII. Along with a new developer, the game has also received a slightly shorter title: Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3. It's slated to launch this summer on PC, Mac, Xbox Live Indie Games, iOS and Android. The price hasn't been announced, though I've been told it should be in line with Zeboyd's previous games or, in other words, cheap. Eager fans will get a chance to see a first look at PAX East in Boston later this week.

The project began, Zeboyd's Robert Boyd told Joystiq exclusively, in a single forum thread on Penny Arcade's website.

Gallery: Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 3 | 8 Photos

"What actually happened was that, on the Penny Arcade forums, people were complaining about how the series had gotten canceled." The thread's creator suggested that an indie studio should take over the project, specifically recommending Zeboyd. Boyd responded to the conversation, saying he'd love the opportunity but doubted Penny Arcade would be interested. "A few weeks after that I got an email from Robert Khoo at Penny Arcade saying, 'hey, let's talk.'"

Boyd and Bill Stiernberg are the two-man crew that make up the entire Zeboyd team. The pair, along with Penny Arcade's Jeff Kalles, are now responsible for rebuilding Rain-Slick 3 from the ground up.

Khoo told Boyd that, after Hothead's departure, Penny Arcade had actually been having internal discussions about continuing the project as an 8-bit series. Unfortunately, it was decided that Penny Arcade didn't have the resources to make it happen. When Khoo found the forum thread suggesting Zeboyd, however, it offered up a perfect opportunity. Penny Arcade producer Jeff Kalles says the group was familiar with Zeboyd's talent, and immediately recognized that the studio had what it took to make the retro project a reality.

Fans of Zeboyd's work should quickly recognize the pixelated visual style of Rain-Slick 3, which cleaves very closely to old-school role-playing games -- Boyd specifically cites Final Fantasy V and Grandia as major influences. With such a dramatic departure in style from previous Penny Arcade titles, the story itself will be something of a departure as well. "Since we realized it's been quite some time since the last two [games], we're trying to make it more of a standalone title," says Boyd. "The world and the characters -- there's lots of connections to the past two games, but, as far as plot goes, you should be able to start the third game without any direct knowledge of the first two and do just fine.

"There's definitely a huge incentive on our part to make this as good a game as possible."

"That's something we wanted to make sure that we can do," adds Zeboyd's Bill Stiernberg. "This game does build upon the Rain-Slick mythos, but we also have a lot of our own fans that may or may not have played the first two games." It's important that there are elements included for series fans, but also that newcomers aren't lost, he says. Incidentally -- and unsurprisingly, given the circumstances -- players won't be able to import their characters from previous episodes into Rain-Slick 3. Logistically, it simply would have been too hard to implement.

While Zeboyd is responsible for the majority of the writing, the studio is collaborating with Holkins. "I'm doing a lot of the writing and he's doing a lot of editing and plot and that kind of thing, and I offer suggestions and he offers suggestions," says Boyd. "It's going to stay true to Jerry's vision of the story, I think it's fair to say," notes Stiernberg, "but nitty-gritty details of specific occurrences is more of a collaborative thing." Furthermore, Rain-Slick 3 includes details not found in Holkins' written version that was posted to Penny Arcade's website after the project's initial cancellation. "Don't feel like, if you've read that stuff, you know everything," says Boyd, "because there are some major plot points that aren't talked about at all there."

Along with the visual style and story, the actual gameplay has undergone significant changes as well. If you read the word "Grandia" earlier and feverishly scrolled down to see if your dreams have come true, the answer is yes: Rain-Slick 3 employs a similar, pseudo-real-time combat system. Like Grandia, Rain-Slick 3's combat uses a time bar that dictates when characters can perform an action. Also like Grandia, using special attacks at the right moment can delay an opponent, sending them back on the time bar and giving players an advantage. "We think that makes combat a lot more interesting than 'I do my moves, you do your moves,'" says Boyd.

"It's still just the two of us ... and that's pretty much it."

Rain-Slick 3 has a higher profile than anything Zeboyd has done before, something Boyd is certainly aware of. "I would definitely say there's more pressure, just because we're going to have more people taking a look at this game, who maybe haven't seen our past work, and judging us as a studio based on how well this does," he says, "so there's definitely a huge incentive on our part to make this as good a game as possible."

Stiernberg agrees, noting that the biggest difference between Rain-Slick 3 and its previous projects is that Zeboyd is working with someone else's property, a property that already has entrenched fans with certain expectations. "We're using their characters and their story and their world and everything, so it's not as though we can just decide one day that, 'oh, this plot twist, let's just totally change it to something else,'" he says. "It's just more collaborative, and so that's a little bit different, but I don't think it's been a drawback, or been holding us back creatively or anything like that." Zeboyd is still Zeboyd, after all. "It's not like our studio has drastically ballooned in size because of this project," says Boyd, "it's still just the two of us -- and Alex Mauer, he's doing the music -- and that's pretty much it."

With Rain-Slick 3 finally back on track, I remind Boyd that the series was originally planned to span four episodes, and ask if Zeboyd is thinking ahead. "Yes," he says. "Number three ends on a pretty big cliffhanger and we've already started very, very preliminary talks about what we're going to do with number four, so we're definitely not planning on leaving fans in the lurch."

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