As an artform, I think games surpass all other mediums in their potential for self discovery. All other forms are passive, self discovery occurs through observation and learning. Games can directly challenge, show repercussions and ask for adjustments, allowing interactions many levels deep. We plan on using this potential to an extent not attempted before.
Imagine a short CYOA episode. It’s unique, meaning once played it won’t occur again for that character. It can only be triggered at night, should the player walk by a certain alley bordering the elvish quarter and it’s rare enough that most playthroughs will not experience it.
The player sees a dirty, unsavory human hunched over something glowing. If they inspect closer they see the man has trapped a tiny faerie under a glass jar. From there the story can spiral into many directions. Through conversation or possession of lore skills the player learns that faerie wings are highly valued for their medicinal purposes. In a world with little magical healing the wings are exceedingly valuable. The player reacts, anything from helping the man pull the wings off to killing him and freeing the faerie or taking the prize for themself.
The world reacts to the decision in intuitive, organic ways. The unsavory human’s relationship changes (using the fear, affection, etc. traits). The player gains an item that causes reactions on its own leading to an emergent goal (they should probably not try to sell it to an elf). The encounter might have different repercussions for different characters (the guilt trait is affected differently if the character is an elf or a dwarf). It’s never handled in a ham-fisted global way such as a reputation hit with all elves in the game. The reason our real world functions and has not yet devolved to Max Max is not because level 90 guards materialize whenever someone does wrong. It’s because there are many real, logical reasons not to be a bastard. But it’s not perfect, so terrible things happen and wiley bastards can thrive.
Finally, and possibly the option with the most potential, the episode can produce a tag (rescued a faerie/killed a faerie) and that tag is accessible as a condition for other CYOA episodes. Something that started as a one-off can turn into an elaborate storyline long after release.
The player’s choice is logged, the data available for comparison with all other players. But the CYOA segment is not static and the choices are not the only things logged. Do player responses vary based on their poverty levels? What if they have a previous quest requiring a healing regent? What if the person who captured the faerie is a woman, or a boy? By playing with starting conditions and parameters and thousands of interactions with players I think fascinating things emerge, both about people at large and about the player specifically.
And it’s not just comparison that drives the discovery. Some CYOA episodes are carefully tailored scenarios from regarded personality tests (ie Myers Briggs) which over a long playtime provide an accurate a personality profile. Once the character dies or retires we’ll tell you all the game has learned. And just in case it’s a concern, the purpose of all this is 100% to enhance enjoyment. None of the data will be collected in an identifiable way and always voluntarily.
Tools, Tools, Tools
One of the things that I think will make this game a little different than others is a byproduct of the talent involved. We have a lot more writing muscle than programming muscle. To make full use of that creative ability we’ll have to make extensive content creation tools. So aside from workshop and modding support, the whole game is built from the ground up to integrate with new content and we’ll of course make those tools available.
We talked a bit about the adaptive CYOA elements. The tool will help you make the most of the systems that will make these vignettes so cool for the player to experience. You’ll set the conditions in which the story can occur (ie your story could occur only at “night”, in a part of town with a crime rating above a certain point, if the player’s affluence appearance is above a certain point), the rarity (which affects the vignette’s chance of occurring compared to other vignettes) and use any of the variables to set or deal with the branching. The tool will also help you consider other branches to include based skills and conditions – could the situation be resolved differently if the player has fire, or the intimidate skill? Finally the tool will help with appropriately populating the vignette with NPCs, loot and setting difficulties for the skill challenges.
The core version of the game will use the CYOA elements we craft specifically for the game. There are stories, themes and tones that can only be conveyed through coherent writing. But we plan to constantly vett user made stories to include and to let players choose to what extent they want to include external content so subsequent replays can be kept fresh.
It takes a fair amount of data to create new races, professions, fighting styles and equipment categories. A new race doesn’t just include stat modifications, there are racial relations to consider, appropriate backgrounds for character generation, preferred skills and traits, etc. The asset maker makes it easy to understand what each required piece of data expects and how it compares to established assets.
The cool thing about it all is that even though your new race is created after the game is made, the game and all NPCs still react to it in a realistic manner (based on your race’s traits). Elves don’t dislike orcs just because of historical knowledge (ie – the game tells them to). They react to the orc’s size and savage appearance, uncouth manner, lack of education and other organic, emergent variables. If the new race is equally barbarous the elves will develop their dislike purely through contact.
Because we’ll need to balance and adjust so extensively in a game like this, the autofighter lets you create or pick any two characters, their fight plans, equipment and all parameters and then pit them against each other a set number of times with detailed results. So if you want to run 100 fights comparing the results between a short sword and broad sword, you can.
We’ll also have tools within the game itself to help you better customize your school and fighters. Two specific ones planned for the core release are a heraldry maker (for all your flag and emblem needs) and a intro song maker so you can craft the perfect entrance music for your fighters. And because we’re obsessive, both of these tools’ functionality will be tied to the skill of the craftsman/musician (smaller pixels for heraldry and more available notes and instruments for the music).
Not so much a tool as a standalone item, the character creator is unusually elaborate. You choose a race and gender, but then create your character by living their life one year at a time until you decide to travel to the city and begin adventuring. Each year brings growth to your character and offers opportunities and risks. No attempt is made to balance characters. A mature, seasoned mercenary will have vastly more skills and resources than an orphaned teenager. You get to tell the story of triumph you want to tell.
The tool can also be set to auto-create a character based on parameters. This not only lets you make a quick character should you not wish to play it out fully, it also allows the game to create NPCs when needed that tonally match the desired role (ie – a soldier, or brigand or ranger) but have a great deal of nuance and believable variability. This is what makes talent acquisition such a fun and surprising part of the game.
I want you to start your mornings checking last night’s fight results before having your morning coffee. I want you to scan opponent profiles looking for a perfect matchup while you’re at work. I want you to whoop with joy when your unlikely fight plan results in a massive upset and a title falling into your hands. Others may dream of fame and riches, I deeply want you to scare your cat while you’re in a bathrobe.
The single player campaign will be long and worth the price of admission on its own. It will also be extremely replayable, with a new character providing a vastly different experience. But of my many hopes for the game, a thriving multiplayer community is the greatest. The game just screams for dozens of long term, custom leagues with various rulesets, time dilations and optional content. And much of the balancing effort is aimed at removing grind and raw time commitment from the equation.
I expect dedicated players will have large schools on multiple shards and vast trading empires, while more casual players might focus on one small, specialized school and craft. The game models things like attention to detail and extra care, both with fighters and crafting. And given the nature of the matchmaking and number of paths to success, a small school should be able to compete as long as they pay attention.
I like permadeath. I think it heightens drama and meaning and makes you play closer to your real self. Having said that, this is not an action game or even a traditional RPG. It’s an accurate simulator of a fantasy city. Your character should not be in a great deal of danger unless you put them there. There are encounters and dangerous alleys, but just staying alive should be doable with some forethought and precautions for even purely mercantile characters with no combat skills. But you never know for sure, and that’s the fun part.
I don’t however believe in forcing anyone. I have a vision for the game and hope you experience it a certain way. But we’ll attach everything we can to toggles so you can play exactly how you like. Even if it means being a weeny and turning off permadeath.
Commitment to Rarity
Let’s say a game designer makes a super cool, ancient race for their game. Tonally it would be ideal if that race was also very rare, something the player might not encounter on every playthrough. But if it took a great deal of effort to create the race, the designer might be loathe to maintain its scarcity.
By making robust tools and a modular system we free ourselves from that concern. It’s comparatively easy for us to add a new race or profession or fighting style. This becomes doubly important in multiplayer, where players all strive to be distinct from each other. We fully intend to add interesting things that are so unique only a single school might have them on an entire shard.