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Swen Vincke talks Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Narrative Competitive Multiplayer at PCGamesN

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Swen Vincke talks Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Narrative Competitive Multiplayer at PCGamesN

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 6 May 2016, 17:15:29

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

PCGamesN have a new interview with Swen Vincke, on the topic of Divinity: Original Sin 2's co-op feature (which he's taken to calling "Narrative Competitive Multiplayer") and how it's helping make the game's story better. It's not the first time Swen has expounded on the idea of Divinity: Original Sin's multiplayer making the single player experience better, and with the sequel Larian seem intent on taking that to the next level. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

“One of the biggest complaints about Original Sin was that it was sometimes too obtuse. The mechanics came in front of everything that was there in terms of story,” Vincke admits. “Also, we were a very small studio working on lots of things at the same time, so we didn’t have enough time to finish all the systems in the way they should have been finished. We have more time and more people now.”

The phrase Vincke uses to describe the approach is “narrative competitive multiplayer”. It sounds like a fancy but ultimately vacuous slogan reserved for a Steam page bullet point, but once you start to pry into its meaning you see the storytelling aspirations for Original Sin 2 are monumental. Pen-and-paper RPGS are the go-to reference point once again, but Vincke talks about crafting a story that is not only better told but also gives players more opportunities to influence. There’s greater focus on your characters and their interactions with fellow party members.

“The tagline for the game is going to be ‘your origins, your party, your story’ and we really mean it. Your origins really have to affect everything so that you feel like it’s you and your character, which is the essence of role-playing.”

From what’s been revealed of Original Sin 2 so far, your character’s origins are one of the sequel’s biggest additions. You’re given the option to create a character from a range of multiple races with differing backgrounds, upbringings and motivations. These differences, however major or minor, promise to modify almost all conversations with NPCs and fellow players. Using a system of invisible tags, Larian can assign players with different lines of dialogue or topics of conversation based on your choices in character creation. Vincke uses the origin question “how did you survive puberty?” as an example.

“Basically that means how did you negotiate in Kindergarten, right? Were you manipulative? Then you get that tag. Did you try to make fun of it so that everybody liked you? Jokester tag. We do fool around with it a bit deeper than that, but that’s essentially how we’re thinking of handling it.”

In Original Sin 2 your party can fracture and split. Did someone else make a decision you so despised that you didn’t want to be a part of the group anymore? You can leave, abandon your party and go off on your own adventures until you’re prepared to reconcile – if ever. And even then you can hold onto that grudge when you return and slip your adversary a subtly poisoned health potion for them to drink at an unsuspecting moment. It’s those sorts of scenarios that excite Vincke:

“In a varied group there are so many different things that you can do, and because we have such a systemic approach to it then we can start talking about morphing and changing it more. I haven’t played a game like that, not on a computer at least, so I’m very curious to see what the end result will be.”

The idea seems ridiculous. How do you build an RPG with that level of freedom without the whole thing buckling under its own ambition? What failsafes do you need put in place to ensure all players can still progress when the systems are pushed to their extremes? Can you even prepare for those circumstances? Larian are well aware of the significant challenges they’ve placed on themselves in order to achieve it.

“One writer was frustrated that there wasn’t a single bloody bottleneck in the game except two. He was annoyed at how he was supposed to ensure players didn’t miss details.” Vincke explains one way they’re getting around that specific issue. Story has been seeded throughout the world – in every side-quest, in every conversation, in every place you visit – so that wherever you go or wherever you’ve been, you can start to piece it all together.

“We never know what you’re going to do, [but] we have to ensure you get something from the main story everywhere,” he continues. “We’re not doing a Witcher 3 thing with a lot of cutscenes and a lot of emotional moments because we can’t. Not with the gameplay that we have, because it has to work in multiplayer. We have to tell the story through player agency, basically.”

“[Divinity: Original Sin] was more like a toy box that you could do plenty of things with and you had a narrative holding it together. But that story got buried sometimes, so now it’s much more fleshed out and we’ve put much more time into it.”
Swen's talk at Reboot Develop last week was also about the Narrative Competitive Multiplayer concept. Hopefully a video of that will show up.

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