RPG Codex Interview: Daniel Bill on DEMIURGOS: Path of the Leviathan
Visit our sponsors! (or click here and disable ads)
RPG Codex Interview: Daniel Bill on DEMIURGOS: Path of the Leviathan
Codex Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Tue 1 August 2017, 20:24:47Tags: DEMIURGOS: Path of the Leviathan
[Interview by JarlFrank]
[Jarl places his mobile phone on the desk and pushes the record button] All right, let’s start with a question by… a dude who apparently requested a name change from DarkUnderlord. [Note: the poster in question is Freyd Rautha or Mr.Harkonnen? Whicheverisavailable; couldn’t be arsed to say out his entire name here] Who are your top five social scientists and which kinds of social sciences interest you the most?
That’s the one question I really thought about in advance, and I can’t give you a top five – but I can mention five who had a big influence on me, and whose theories also influenced the game. Plato – well, if you can refer to Plato’s work as social science. Social science is a field of the 20th century, but for me a lot of philosophers are actually social scientists. If I had to name five, I’d pick Plato, Max Weber of course, Foucault, in a certain way Carl Gustav Jung and – as paradoxical as it may sound – Sigmund Freud, too, and, uhm… who was the fifth one I thought about?
Didn’t you already mention five, if we count Plato in?
Yes, maybe, I didn’t keep track right now… Plato, Foucault, C. G. Jung, Weber and Freud… yes, that’s five already. But oh! Wait wait wait, that one’s important – Karl Marx! In a certain way of course, maybe we can talk about this later in detail. I’m not a communist and I don’t follow an agenda…
I think we’re going to talk about the different ideologies later on anyway…
It’s mostly dialectic materialism, maybe I could mention Hegel too. If you can count all these as social scientists, which I would.
Yeah. I think we’ll have to talk about this in detail later, because the ideologies are an important element of your game.
Of course! I’d even say they’re the most important element.
All right, next question. HoboForEternity…
[laughs] Props for that name!
… wants to know what’s going to happen if your Kickstarter campaign fails, as right now it’s not looking too rosy. Do you have any other ideas to get the game funded, or would you even continue without funding? Have you thought about options like Steam Greenlight – or the successor of Greenlight, since Steam is making some changes there.
Greenlight you say? We’re already on Greenlight!
Er, brainfart. I meant Early Access, for securing additional funding during development.
[shakes his head] I am a huge opponent of, firstly, Early Access crap… okay, for some – very few! – games I think it’s okay, but generally I’m a huge opponent of – you have to quote me verbatim here! – Early Access crap. There are some people who asked me why there aren’t any special DLCs for backers only, I’m also a HUGE opponent of that!
Yeah, backer-only or store-specific DLCs are rather shitty, because that way most people will never get the complete package of the game.
Exactly, yes! You know, I’m even an opponent of things like updates, because I really liked it back in the day when I had my Super Nintendo or my N64, or with Deus Ex, the first game in the series, I had a CD, and I still have that CD at home, and when one day the internet doesn’t exist anymore and we live in the stone age again, I dig out my old Win98 machine, install Deus Ex from the CD, and have the exact same gaming experience as I had back then. Even with my Wii U I won’t be able to play some games anymore if Nintendo ever decides to shut down all its servers, and that’s something I really dislike… uhm… how did I even get to that topic? I really digressed there.
We were talking about Early Access as a potential source of funds.
Yeah, right. That’s completely out of the question for me. Well, I don’t really have a plan B… the only thing I have in mind right now would be attempting another Kickstarter campaign, but I’d like to have some modicum of certainty that the second attempt isn’t going to fail too if the first one fails.
If you do that, maybe you should think about some marketing strategies beforehand. I think there have been Kickstarter projects that succeeded at their second attempts, so you might have a chance.
Oh yeah, I’ve seen a project like that recently, I think it was called Blink or something – complete bullshit! What they’re showing in their pitch video is something I could create in a week, and they even made 60k in their second attempt! They changed their name and started a new campaign, so theoretically yeah. It’s an option.
[Note: since Daniel wasn’t sure about the specifics of that project, I googled and found something called Ionia (Formerly known as Blink), which raised close to 16k. Looks like he remembered it wrong.]
And what about other alternatives if your Kickstarter fails? Would you consider to continue running the PayPal campaign on your website?
Nah, that would be a little scammy wouldn’t it? If we take in, say, 2000 € that way, I’m not sure we could deliver the game the way we pitched it. We’ve worked on it for about 2 years now, and I invested about 30k € worth of working hours if we assume minimum wage for my work. I invested about 3000 € in hardware which I wouldn’t have bought otherwise, in software, in plugins, in all kinds of things. We also received some minor private investments and I received a small government grant. If I don’t manage to secure additional funding, be it through Kickstarter or otherwise, I’m of course going to finish the game in some way or another, I’m going to use the foundation that I already have, of course – that work isn’t going to be lost. But whether I can create this game exactly like I promised in the pitch if I don’t have the additional funds, if I don’t have the community to sell it to – or if, maybe, there isn’t any real demand for this game, or if people think I’m some communist who wants to spread his agenda, then, well… I don’t know. I have other concepts, too. Now, I don’t want to come across as if I don’t care about this project, but I could also create something else if it really comes to it.
So how much of the game already exists? How far would you say has development progressed up to now?
It’s hard to say, but I’d say the most difficult parts are behind us now. That was the most important thing for me before the Kickstarter campaign, to push out that twenty minute long preview video of a working game, and now we’ve pushed out two new videos where we showed more about the game, and there are going to be more preview videos in the days to come. Right now we’re at the point where I can go into the engine and create an area – let’s say an interior room with decoration and all – within thirty minutes when I put some effort into it, and then I just pull in some Athenian citizens, of which we have 40, then I pull in the barkeeper and turn the place into a bar, kinda like in RPG Maker if people know that program. I can create areas and place NPCs as quickly right now as I could in RPG Maker.
So that means the basics of the game are already finished, that is, the engine and the systems?
Mostly, yes. Some things aren’t entirely finished yet, we still have to tweak some things about the combat system for example, because sometimes the AI spazzes out. But generally I’d say the basic scaffolding of the game, the structure is already standing on solid ground. Every single aspect of the game is designed in a way that contributes to a greater whole, and all elements interact with each other. Fear and love, the circle of ideologies, the player’s emotional instability, and so on. All these elements combine into one complete system that is coherent as a whole.
So the majority of the work that still has to be done is content creation, right?
Absolutely, yes. The story, the levels, all that.
So if the Kickstarter campaign were to fail and you didn’t manage to secure funds from elsewhere, you’d just make a smaller game that still contains the same elements you just mentioned?
I can’t give you a hundred percent on that. I mean, the ideology system and all that, I wouldn’t want it to go to waste, you know. Maybe I’d make a smaller scale detective RPG, and invest the profits of that game into doing Demiurgos properly. We have plenty of other ideas, too! Theoretically, we expected to succeed with our Kickstarter campaign, and after looking at other projects similar to ours I thought we might get around 15k or so. But we have so many other ideas that would make for interesting games, so maybe – if everything else fails – it would really be the best course of action to start out with something of a smaller scale, and then invest our profits into making Demiurgos really awesome. Our long term goal is to have our own self-sufficient game development studio where each game funds the next, so of course if Demiurgos is successful, we’re going to invest the profits into another game, no question about it.
And I guess you’d probably re-use your current engine, since you already spent so much development time on it and adjusted it to serve your own purposes?
Yes, of course, our engine is pretty good! And I think the look we’ve achieved with it is great, some people say it’s a little too gloomy, but I love gloomy.
Yeah, from what I’ve seen you aimed for a noir atmosphere. Speaking of which, does your game also feature elements of the classic noir detective story?
That has something to do with the history of the game’s development, where you were originally intended to play as a detective in Athenai, but then we realized the political component – the Persian wars – is a much more exciting scenario. So we took the detective character we had and turned him into a commissar. You’re still some kind of detective, but you work for the Stasi, to give you a comparable organization. This allows you to do some cool things, like enacting punishments on people if you feel like it or remorselessly persecuting dissidents. We still have the noir elements in the game, especially in Athenai.
How many cities/locations do you want to include in the game?
We have the state of Lacedaimon, which is centered on Sparta and consists of a couple of areas – Messenia, Sparta itself –, then we have Athenai which consists of… I don’t remember exactly, it should be about 20 areas. It’s kinda like in Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights, where the major cities were split into several districts.
Or like Fallout, right? They also split major locations into multiple screens.
Yeah, right, Fallout had it too! But now that you mention it, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 are, in our eyes, mere shadows of the real Fallout.
With this opinion you’re going to score with the Codex, mate.
In the Codex, we generally think that the only worthwhile Fallout after Fallout 2 is…
… New Vegas. Yes.
I said it first! Write that down! There are a couple of good videos on Youtube, sadly I forgot the name of the guy, but he made a lot of points on why the old Fallout games are good and the new ones are bad. But, anyway. We have those two major cities, and later in the game the world opens up, and how many locations there are depends on how much money we raise. If the Kickstarter is successful, we might keep raising some additional funds with PayPal or do another fundraiser for some stretch goals. We’ll definitely have areas in Persia, you’ll be able to visit Babylon and see the Ishtar Gate, you’ll definitely get to see the Pyramids, Argos, Korinth, and travel along the path the Persians took with their army along the coast, that will all be in the game. I wouldn’t say the world is going to be gigantic if we get funded with 8000 €, but we at least want to create the impression of a huge world, like in Baldur’s Gate, to bring that comparison again, where I always had the feeling of venturing through a giant, epic world. But if put all of its maps next to each other, Baldur’s Gate II isn’t even that large.
So you’d structure the world more like it was done in Baldur’s Gate II, with an abstract world map having locations of interest placed in it, and only those locations actually being visitable.
Yes, you can see the world map in our preview, too.
I mean, not like the first Baldur’s Gate where you have all those wilderness maps.
Nope. That wouldn’t really be fitting for our game.
Yeah. I always disliked those, anyway. They were rather boring to slog through.
I agree, yes. And while you mention it, someone asked if we have any random encounters or random events – not really. There will only be hand-made events and encounters on your journey, at least that’s what’s planned right now. For example, when you travel along the Mediterranean coast you might get an event where you come upon shipwrecked refugees, either dead or alive, on a small coastal map made only for that event. We’re not going to make any moral statements, and we won’t be politically correct. We’re not going to leave out something for reasons of political correctness, like mass graves or stuff like that.
So you will just confront the player with certain situations, and the player can react to those in whichever way he wants?
Yes! Yes, exactly. Situations with a historical background that actually happened in the past.
So the game won’t judge anything, the player has to make his own judgements.
Absolutely… or, well, it’s complicated. Of course you always have the author’s opinion… I brought one example in our last update, where I said I believe that one of the most efficient and rational approaches against radical Islamic terrorism would be Sippenhaft – the punishment of the next of kin for somebody’s crimes. But personally, I would never support a law that proposes Sippenhaft because I believe it to be extremely unethical. We’re not going to judge the player concerning whether he approves or disapproves of Sippenhaft, whether he thinks it’s unethical or not. But maybe there are some players who would disagree with the very notion that Sippenhaft is a rational instrument against terrorism. But of course, they’ll be presented with an image of our own philosophical outlook, shaped by materialist historicism. It’s quite complicated to give an honest answer to this question, you know. I really want to be honest about our possibilities – what we can do and what we can’t do. While we don’t want to tell the player what to do or think, being completely neutral in the portrayal of every situation just isn’t a thing that’s possible, I think.
All right. On to more community questions… let’s look at those asked by The Wall, that guy posted a whole bunch of questions.
Yeah, top guy!
Is there going to be character creation? The name and background of our protagonist is set in stone, but can we customize him in some ways?
Well, if we manage to get 50k € we’ll implement full-fledged free-form character creation…
As a stretch goal, then?
I was just kidding with that high goal, what I wanted to say is – our dream-game would have a character creation like that, where you can choose from five or six different backgrounds. Your character could be the son of helots who rose to his current position, for example, and when you choose a background the story changes accordingly and you’ll have much more replay value. Also the option to play a female character, Sparta is known for having had comparatively emancipated women. What we have right now is that you can customize your character at the start, with different skills to put points in – pretty much like it was done in Deus Ex. The character, the story, the background, that all stays the same, but you can make him into a fighter who ruthlessly kills everyone who opposes him, or a stealthy sneak, or a delicate flower who doesn’t want to hurt anyone.
You have mentioned other games a couple of times now. You mentioned Deus Ex…
Yes, a huge inspiration! Warren Spector backed us, just wanna mention that. Huge honor for us!
Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.
Yeah, totally! And he only backed 18 projects or so in total.
Anyway, you also mentioned Baldur’s Gate, so I’ll ask: which RPGs are your main inspirations, which games did you enjoy playing, and I’ll combine this with another community question by The Wall: which games of the past five to ten years had, from their story, setting, or gameplay, a direction you found inspiring.
I’ll try tackling this question chronologically, starting at the beginning. I grew up with the Super Nintendo, and a game from the SNES that inspired me a lot is Terranigma. It wasn’t released in the USA, so I’m gonna say this: everyone from the US who hasn’t played it and likes old pixel-games should get an emulator and play it, it’s a fantastic game. Baldur’s Gate I and II, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale, uhm… what’s the name of that game that takes place in this crazy world, with the skull…
Planescape Tournament, right! Deus Ex, incredibly great! Deus Ex is, for me, the best game I’ve ever played, and their initial plan of making UNATCO a playable choice, which they weren’t able to implement due to a lack of money, would have made it into the best game of all time. But I have to say, in recent times – maybe it’s because I’ve played fewer games recently – I can’t mention many games from the last ten years, maybe some indie games that went past my radar because I was busy with other things, but concerning triple-A games, I have to say… well, I really don’t want to make myself unpopular with such a statement, but I watched a Let’s Play of Pillars of Eternity, the first hour of the game, and that didn’t manage to grab me. Maybe because it’s a fantasy world and I’m not that much into fantasy.
Yeah, PoE’s world is a little generic. But don’t worry, you’re not going to antagonize anyone on the Codex when you bash mainstream stuff.
Pillars of Eternity isn’t mainstream though, is it? Anyway, I guess some of my opinions are a little edgy, heh.
Edgy opinions aren’t out of place in the Codex, really.
[laughs] Well then, not everything back in the good old days was bad… nah, just kidding. The most recent game that I really enjoyed, and where I played over thirty-five hours in a single weekend, was Zelda – Breath of the Wild. There are two ways of creating games: either you draw a line, and you put several branches into that line that the player can take. Let’s take as example, hm… [pauses for a while, thinking of a good example] Maybe Witcher? Actually, most games that were released in the last decade were like this. Maybe it’s easier to understand when I just give the counter-example, in Breath of the Wild every item is a fixed entity in that world and reacts accordingly with other items in the world. That means I have a generic system, not a specific system. Those are, in my opinion, the two ways you can design a game. Having a generic system is the crown jewel, the creation of a real world. A specific system fools the player into believing he’s in a real world, but a generic system is a real world. We tried to implement a generic system in Demiurgos as well as we could, as far as small indie developers like us are able to. For example through the items, you can use your lighter everywhere. If we have enough time for this, we’ll have the NPCs react to it in every situation, and the player has to consider: where and when does it make sense to use one of my items? There are no markers on the minimap where you go and press A. That’s the basic idea, and the foundation of our design.
So you’re aiming for a level of interactivity akin to, for example, Deus Ex.
Yes, they did it exactly like this!
Ultima VII would be another example you might want to compare your game to, maybe?
I have to admit that I never played it. Maybe I should!
Yes, you definitely should. It’s comparable to Divinity Original Sin, where you can also interact a lot with the items in the world.
True, I liked that aspect of the game.
Since we talked about your opinion of the games of the last ten years and you said you might have missed some good indies, I’ll have to recommend Age of Decadence.
Never heard of that one! I only heard about Tyranny, but that seemed a little half-assed to me although I thought the idea behind it was really good.
You’ll really have to check out Age of Decadence then, it was made by an ex-Codex admin and is a very hardcore RPG with heavy branching in the storyline. Maybe you’ll even find some inspiration in the ways it does things.
Definitely! Other games are my biggest source of inspiration.
All right. Let’s get back to those questions I’ve written down here. Another one by The Wall: how’s travel going to work?
Huge topic for us. Huge topic! I forgot to mention one game that served as a major inspiration to us, Morrowind. I see you nod!
[nods] I love Morrowind.
I love Morrowind too! Morrowind is, next to Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate, THE game of my teenage years. Its setting… that wasn’t an island, it was a continent, it was its own entire world. And when you used that cheat that allowed you to jump a million meters high you saw from above that it actually is a really small area. That’s a big inspiration for us. Of course we can’t create a world like Breath of the Wild that’s actually gigantic, or Witcher 3. But we want to make the player feel like he’s in a large world, and travel is a part of that. There won’t be automatic fast travel, definitely not. In no way. Instead, you’ll have different ways of transport. At the start of the game you’ll be in the state of Lakedaimon, a socialist state where there’s a lot of public mass transit, where you can ride around on the trains. When you come to Athenai, which is a very individualistic state, there are more taxis and cars, you can travel through the city by taxi. And you can travel the world by airship, or ride the Orient Express to Babylon, where you might have to get out of the train at some point and ride the rest of the way on camels. But there’s definitely not going to be instant quick travel.
So it’s going to be a bit like the silt striders and the guild guides in Morrowind?
Yeah, those giant bugs, I forgot what they’re called.
Silt striders, I just said it!
Ah, I think they were called something different in the German version.
So that’s going to be the kind of travel system you’re aiming for, right? You go to a specific place – bus stop, train station, or approach a taxi – and pay to travel to your destination.
Yes, exactly, you have to pay for the service. I hate instant free fast travel – I understand why it exists, and I think it’s done quite well in Breath of the Wild, but in pretty much every other game, especially Fallout 3 or Skyrim or games like that, it almost destroys the entire game for me. And it would be so easy to fix – there are mods that simply add a motorcycle or something like that, and require you to have fuel to fast travel.
[looks at his list of questions] The Wall also asked about random encounters, but you’ve already answered that one. Next question… labyrinths.
Ah, he wanted to know whether they can come out, right?
Yeah. Like when you encounter the minotaur and he chases you to the exit of the labyrinth, and you manage to flee, will he follow you out of the labyrinth?
Actually, it’s like this: there are no supernatural elements whatsoever in the game, except for these labyrinths, which serve as a little contrast to the rest. The fun thing about it is that we have a few areas where only specific entities – like, say, dogs – can enter, and for these there are dangers that wouldn’t be a danger for the player. You know what I mean? It’s a joke, mostly. You can enter the labyrinth as a dog, and there’s something dangerous in there that wouldn’t be dangerous to you as a human. And as soon as you get out, that danger is over. And I’m not sure how seriously you should take the threats within the labyrinths, like a giant spider or whatever, that’s not going to be in the other areas of the game. This is a bit of an experiment for us, to give the player something different – so he doesn’t just go to a place and presses A, you know? Just like with our lockpicking system, or when you cut an electric circuit. We want our game to not just be about going somewhere and pushing a button, we want the player to be put in front of different situations that challenge you as a player. And this is an attempt to achieve that.
So they’re basically small dungeon instances to inject a little diversity into the gameplay?
Yes. Basically, yes. Actually, exactly that.
All right. [goes to the next question on his list] You also mentioned you got a variety of different drugs and pharmaceutics…
[laughs] I also have some stuff here. We can give it a try later! Just kidding.
… that the player can possess, both legal and illegal. Are there any systems of crime and punishment, like being jailed for the possession of illegal narcotics, or getting into trouble for being caught stealing? Are there any local differences, like something that’s legal in Persia being illegal in Athens, and so on?
We don’t have any system planned for being jailed unless it’s a specific hand-crafted event. About the drugs, we’re not going to judge your position on the circle of ideologies at all. But there are actions of which we think they would impact the emotional stability of every sane person. Killing children, for example, or uninvolved innocents in general. Actions like these increase your emotional instability. The higher that value goes, the more likely you are to hallucinate in specific situations or specific locations, or you can even lose abilities you bought with your intellect points before. You can counteract this by numbing your emotions with drugs. At the start of the game, the protagonist is a smoker. You can stop smoking, which will raise your emotional instability right away. We want to play with that mechanic a little bit. Drugs are one important element in that entire system I described earlier, which is coherent as a whole. There are various drugs with various side effects, and you could theoretically play a death machine who kills everyone he encounters, but if you do that you’ll be an emotionally stunted wreck by the end. Maybe we’ll even reflect that visually on your character. Completely pumped up on cocaine, just bursting in everywhere with guns drawn, devoid of any last shred of empathy.
So it’s possible to play your character in a way that he becomes, through his actions, a coke-addicted wreck?
Yes, that’s entirely possible.
So you can basically play Scarface.
Yeah, but without selling drugs… I dunno if that’s such a good example.
Nah, I’m thinking of that final scene where he’s got his face buried in a mountain of cocaine and then goes on to blast a whole bunch of henchmen to bits with his gun.
Of course, of course! What did he say in that scene?
Say hello to my little friend, then he launches a grenade at the door.
Yeah, that was it! You can totally become that kind of character, yes. You can end up like that, in a way.
Next question is a long one, also by The Wall. Give me a moment to read through it and quickly translate it to German. [takes a moment to read the question] In which way will the choices of ideologies by the Kickstarter backers influence the game? Backers can choose one of three ideologies when they back your game – socialist, liberalist, imperialist. Is it going to be some kind of majority vote, as in the ideology chosen by most backers will receive bonus content? For example, if the commie bastards win, will there be Marx statues as Zeus in every corner? Will the ideology with the most backers “win” in some way?
No. No, no, no, no. The percentages of ideology votes will play a role, but it doesn’t matter which has the majority. What does matter is who paid what – when someone pays 100 euros and votes imperialist, and someone else pays 15 euros and votes socialist, that’s going to be reflected in some way. When I said that these results will apply randomly to a social structure, it’s because we’d be faced with a huge problem if I were to say, for example – just a hypothetical example – that this will impact the socialist state, and in the end 90% of backers are liberalists. This will only provide a blueprint for the player’s decisions, but it won’t have a huge impact on the game. They’re just the basic premises that the player will encounter.
[laughs] Can you picture anything with what I just said? I don’t want to describe this in too much detail!
This all sounds pretty weird… so what we can expect is that the votes of the backers will have a bit of an influence on…
Not just a bit! It’s going to have some real… well, basically… you see, the game is a combination of several historical realities. And this backer vote is one historical reality. I’m asking how one specific group of people thinks about ideological topics. And the results of this question will appear in the game exactly. This means one specific social structure will have the same beliefs as our backers.
Ah! Now it makes sense.
Actually I think I already revealed too much now, but whatever.
So basically there’ll be a group of people somewhere in the game world where the political beliefs of the NPCs are based on the ideology votes of the backers.
Yes, exactly. A group of people that might be a little larger than just a “group”. I’ll just use the term society for now.
All right. Next one by The Wall: Can you promise us that all political and philosophical viewpoints are so balanced, even Josh Sawyer would give the game his Balanced Seal of Approval™?
Wanna make an animal sound? How do seals of approval go – oink oink? [laughs] Yes. Absolutely. That’s one of our major goals. I’d rather the gameplay will be shit than the game be unbalanced. I can say that much.
Balanced just referring to the story and the choices the player will have, right? Not balanced concerning the gameplay.
Well, the gameplay will be balanced too of course. No character should be barred from finishing the game.
Yeah, but let me elaborate on what I mean a bit. Balancing is a touchy subject for us, as there can be such a thing as over-balancing. When you put a lot of effort into making every skill, every class be equally effective, they can all end up feeling the same. You’re not going that far in the balancing of the gameplay, are you?
No, definitely not. The skills and gameplay systems are completely independent of your ideology, anyway.
Yeah, but let’s talk about gameplay balancing for a moment. You definitely want the player to have different options to tackle his problems, that much I’ve gathered, and you want to have several paths that feel different from each other. Let’s take Deus Ex as an example again…
…where most situations offer you stealth or combat as options, and some can be solved by conversations.
The best example in Deus Ex is Castle Clinton, if anyone remembers that level. To get into the castle and solve the situation, you really could pick any approach. That’s our plan too. The difference is, whether you sneak, fight, or talk as an adherent of socialism or as an adherent of liberalism, that’s not going to matter. We don’t have any character classes in the game. That’s why there’s no extreme balancing, either. Every faction will have quests on offer where the best solution might be to sneak, or where the best solution might be to talk, or to fight.
So the ideological faction you join and your playstyle are completely independent of each other.
Yes, completely independent.
So you could play through the game nine times, and each time try a different combination of faction and playstyle.
All right, next question. What inspired you to make your first game a political/philosophical RPG with this much depth and complexity to it?
I’d like to combine that with the question I read on the forums, why exactly I chose ancient Greece as a setting. During my studies, I read a lot of Frankfurt critical theory, but also a lot about ancient Greece. I studied those two topics parallelly, and while I did so I noticed – while I was reading Thucydides and Herodotus – that there were unbelievably many events that seem so near to our own time, even though it all happened 2500 years ago. And it doesn’t just seem near, some aspects – like Cleon, the demagogue – are almost exactly the same as the conflict of ideologies in the 20th century. Sparta and Athens, they are essentially conflicting ideologies, and in all of Greece people were arguing whether the Spartan system was a good or a bad one, just like with communism in 20th century Europe. I just noticed all these parallels. And then I read Walter Benjamin, who tried to explain all this with his theory of historicism and the breaking out of the historical continuum, which you can read about in our Kickstarter campaign. All that just felt fitting to me, and I think that through moving the conflicts of the 20th century into antiquity, it’s much easier for the players to reflect on their actions rather than being predisposed due to political correctness or due to our modern society which, even though it doesn’t like to admit it, often portrays things as absolute which are arguable.
That means you’re combining these settings because if you placed the game in the real 20th century…
We’d have Hitler and Stalin.
And all the fascists would play on Hitler’s side while all the commies would play on Stalin’s, and every player would know beforehand what kind of character he’s going to play and why. And you want to circumvent that.
Yes, exactly this. And it’s also pretty awesome. I think this setting is pretty damn awesome.
Yeah, crossover settings like this are always pretty cool.
Athens is kinda like New York in our game, and Sparta is a combination of Russia and Nazi Germany, and so on. It’s also interesting because when you look at the 20th century, you know which sides, in retrospect, were made out to be the good guys and who the bad guys. But here, you start out in Sparta and have a certain image of Athens and a certain image of Persia, but that doesn’t mean this image is accurate and actually reflective of what you’ll see when you get there. It’s propaganda, and in our setting we can use propaganda on the player, because he initially has no idea of what those places are actually like.
Yeah, the real propaganda of our 20th century is familiar to everyone, while this one isn’t.
Next question by The Tower. Did you get any government grants for your game?
I already tried to answer that in the previous question about funding, but…
[chuckles as he reads the rest of the question] And is it possibly problematic for the government that your game offers the player viable options other than socialism, which makes you fail the diversity quota.
Can we leave that question out? It’s just so edgy. Well, we did receive money, but I don’t really want to talk about it. Should I just tell you personally or…
Everything you say is going to be published, so if you don’t wanna say anything, don’t say anything.
But that just makes it appear like I want to keep it a secret. Well, we do have funding and it’s from a government agency.
Is it some kind of art grant?
Yes, exactly. That’s why the question is so fucking edgy. Nobody called me yet to yell “What?! Your game has Nazis!?”, but I’m afraid such a call might arrive, yes. I do believe I live in a free country, maybe the most free country in the world. That’s my honest opinion. But I don’t believe that this country is absolutely free.
Another interesting question in that regard is – you don’t have to answer this if it goes into too much detail for you – how did you apply for that grant, and how does the government see computer games in regards to art? What do they support your project as?
As art. But it’s not a federal grant, I’m not exactly sure what it’s classified as… it’s complicated, I didn’t prepare for that question. But it’s definitely from the government, in any case. They see it as a sort of art project, of course there are also game development grants in Germany, but we didn’t manage to qualify for those yet. That might be an option though if the Kickstarter fails. I should also add that many of the art sponsorship organisations we messaged didn’t even give us an answer. Not even rejections, just no answer at all. We’re a little between fronts with our project – many people say our project feels more like a philosophical lecture than a game, and others say it feels very artistic, but those responsible for art grants say it’s not art, it’s a game, and somehow we can’t find anyone who gets really excited about this which is a little frustrating, I have to admit.
That’s a pretty big question in all gaming communities, isn’t it? Are computer games art? Can they be art?
I can give a very simple answer to that question: Andy Warhol and a Coca Cola poster both use the same medium, both use the same method, but only one of them is art in its actual sense. I’d say a game like Call of Duty isn’t art. You can think of it what you want, but it’s not art, because it doesn’t even attempt to be art. It’s merely an industrially produced commercial product. What we’re creating isn’t industrially produced, it’s the fruit of labor of a very small group of people. I’m entirely convinced that you can’t create a game as art when you have a large team, unless there’s a Führer* at the helm of it – or two, maybe three at the most, who either think along the same lines or complete each other in their differences.
[* Note: I chose not to translate this because the German term has much more meaning to it than any translation could; also, Daniel had to chuckle when he said it, so too much would be lost by translation]
There has to be a central vision.
Exactly, well said! Well said.
Those games that I like the best, and that I think are closest to art, are those with a tight focus and clear vision.
Yeah, like Undertale for example.
For me, Thief: The Dark Project…
Oh yes, Thief! Amazing game.
…is one of the best games ever made, period.
You mean the new one that came out a few years ago, right? [chuckles and smirks]
I’m gonna throw you out the window, dude! We’re on the fourth floor. Don't pull this shit on me.
Yeah, just kidding. I played Thief 1 when I was younger, and it’s pretty much like Deus Ex. Thief and Deus Ex are very similar in their approach. You’re put into small open worlds and receive a few mission objectives, and then it’s all up to you. That design approach is actually kinda similar to our own, we also have these small open worlds in which you can move around freely, and then you might find a back entrance, or a secret door, or there’s a guy who says “I’m starving” like in that one level of Deus Ex, and when you bring him some food he gives you a hint to a problem you’ve been trying to figure out all the time, stuff like that.
We’re getting a little off topic here, but I like the current line of discussion. Personally, I think that level design is an art form. Really well-designed levels are what I think of when it comes to the question of games as art.
Yeah, it is, but wouldn’t it be the same with the Coca Cola poster? The guy who painted the cola bottle, that’s also a form of art. But at the point where you take art and mold it into an industrial production process, the qualification of being art is taken away. I believe art can be everything and it can be nothing. That’s the thing with modern art, too. I’m not a fan of modern art – I’m a fan of expressionist art, if anything – but the idea behind it is… people always say, “meh, that guy only slapped a colored dot on the canvas”, and I can totally understand that criticism, but the idea behind it is that the artist put some thought behind his work. And Picasso, for example, was also a competent naturalist painter. He started out as a naturalist painter, and turned to abstract art later.
Let’s go on to the next community question. Kyl von Kul asks how exactly you’re trying to…
I think we had that question already, didn’t we?
… combine the ancient Hellenic societies with the industrial capabilities of the 19th century. How much of classical antiquity do you keep? He finds it difficult to reconcile ancient ideas about labor, which were rather negative – the upper class considered work to be beneath them – with the ideas of the industrial revolution. Spartan aristocratic collectivism, for example, is hard to combine with modern worker’s socialism, he says. How do you combine these two settings which are, in some ways, quite opposite to each other? We’ve had some setting questions before, but this one is a little more specific.
Right. Well, of course there will always be limits to what you can do, and there will always be people who find theoretical mistakes in the end product. We’re probably not going to manage creating a world that accurately portrays how an industrial revolution in ancient Greece would really have looked like, we know that, and we’re honest with ourselves about that. The basic idea is that we take the political reality of the Persian wars – there’s Athens and Sparta, which are opposing forces within the Greek world. There’s the Persian Empire, one of the greatest superpowers of the time. And they’re in a state of conflict with each other in Ionia and the Ionian cities, which the Persians are trying to dominate. That’s the general situation. And in all other aspects – we of course have the Greek language, we have statues in the ancient Greek style – but during the imperialism of the 19th century, people also took inspiration from antiquity. There are many statues in London which are inspired by ancient ones. In that way, I see a lot of things in common which we can use in our setting. Or what I mentioned before, the conflict of ideologies that already existed in ancient Greece in some way, or demagogy, or Athens being a trade empire and mostly liberal, and Sparta being a continental power and kinda socialist, you can see parallels there to WW1 and WW2, with England being a mostly liberal trade empire too… I see many similarities between the two eras, and we can be creative with that. Of course, we also take that creativity and put our own spin on the setting, so in the end it might only be 97% accurate to the source material rather than 100% – but we do take a lot of inspiration from real events that Thucydides and Herodotus wrote about, and we’re putting some of those real events into our game, exactly how they are described in the source texts.
All right. He also wants to know: how much Nietzsche can we expect?
That’s actually one of those fundamental questions that I couldn’t answer properly during my rambling earlier, because it’s so complex. There’s always that one question at the root of everything: how does the world work, independently of any moral considerations. And of course Nietzsche plays a role there, just as Max Weber plays a role, just as Marx plays a role, because in my opinion they all walk along the same line, because they all see the world as something materialistic. The being determines the consciousness. You can change people, you can influence them. And, oh – very important, we absolutely have to mention him, Gustave Le Bon, psychology of the masses, add him to the list of top five sociologists I told you at the start. Just throw out one of the others if you have to, hmm… maybe…
Nah, he’ll be mentioned here. The interview will be published as is, everything you say will be written at exactly the point you said it. I’m going to transcribe this verbatim and translate it to English as closely as possible. Everything you say will be published.
That’s how I do my interviews. Everything that’s said will be written.
Well, all right. [sighs and resigns to his fate] At least everyone will know my honest opinions, then.
Back when I interviewed Swen from Larian, there was one community question in my list where a Codexer wanted to know how he deals with his receding hairline. I asked that one, too.
What? My receding hairline? Oh, wait, you mean Swen’s back in the other interview. Well, how do you deal with something like this? You try to ignore it until it’s gotten so bad you need to go for the combover. And then you look if there’s any methods to fight it, like Regaine, even though at that point it’s far too late.
I think what you just said is going to be of interest to whoever it was who originally phrased that question.
[chuckles slightly uncomfortably]
Let’s proceed to the next community question. The following batch of questions is by Wayward Son…
Ah, I saw those on the forums. Good questions.
Can you tell us why you’ve chosen the subtitle Leviathan for your game?
All right. Generally, Demiurgos was the name we’ve chosen for our project. Demiurgos is – I’ve already written about that in the game’s description and on our website – in Platonic epistemology the entity from which all ideas spring. Without those ideas, all matter would merely be substance driven by pure necessity. And this demiurge is a kind of god, if you want to use that term, who puts his ideas upon the world and in this way forms its essence. And I think that really fits – there are also other connotations about it, the etymological development of that word is really interesting, you should read that up on Wikipedia or wherever, it’s quite fascinating. Those concepts really fit the story we’re trying to tell, and the role of the player within that story. In many RPGs I have the feeling that the role of the player is in some way connected with bushido, the path of the warrior. In our game that’s less the case. For us, it’s the path of the leviathan. The path of one who tries to push his order upon the world.
So Leviathan is more of a reference to Hobbes than it is to the Biblical sea monster.
Yes, it has nothing to do with the Biblical sea monster, nothing at all. I know about the creature because I was raised Christian, but it has nothing to do with it.
That means we can add Hobbes to the list of philosophical and sociological influences on your game, right?
Yeah, although I haven’t mentioned Hobbes for a reason. I think his theory is very consistent and very interesting, and it’s quite well-known too, but I think Hobbes is a great example for how historical circumstances can shape a man’s theories and philosophy. I think most people can guess what I mean by that.
Yeah. Next question – what is your position within the development team, and how many members does the team have?
I am, in our team, the demiurge. [grins] I’m the initiator of the project, and the one who combines all the assets the others create.
Meaning, lead programmer and lead designer?
Yeah, exactly. I have – maybe I’ll just give you a bit of my history as a game designer – I started with game design in kindergarten, where I drew Super Mario levels. When I was twelve or thirteen I started programming: dark basic, visual basic, 3D Game Studio, RPG Maker…
3D Game Studio? That’s that very early 3D engine from the early 90s, isn’t it?
Yeah, the worst program I ever used. Sometimes I had holes in my BSP generated landscape, and I had no idea why… eh, crappy program. Wasted years of my life trying to work with it! Anyway, that’s my background. I have some experience, I did complete about six games to the point of having a playable demo, just for fun. You know, up to the point where I could take the games and show them to a publisher… but I never did that. Demiurgos is the first one where I really want to get it out there.
What kinds of games were they, genre-wise?
I did grand strategy, RPGs, and some simpler arcade-style genre mixes, like one game that was inspired by Thief, where you have a side… uhm… how do you call it? Side-view perspective?
You mean the typical 2D platformer perspective, Mario style?
Yes. You have a city where you can move around, and when you enter a house you see it from the inside, in a cross section view, you see the guards patrolling around and you can turn the lights off and so on. It looks pretty good, too, maybe I’ll send you a screenshot, I still have it on my computer.
Sounds cool. Next one of Wayward Son’s questions. Can you give us a short overview of the game’s ruleset?
I didn’t really understand what he meant by that question.
By ruleset he means the RPG ruleset that underlies the gameplay. Skills, stats, all that stuff. Are there dice rolls, etc.
Ah, right. We tried to keep it as simple as possible. I’ll just say that, and I hope it doesn’t scare anyone away, the focus of the game is the history-driven stuff, the ideologies and all that. We have combat and the fights do play an important role, but we only implemented them as prominently as we did because otherwise, there’d be too little for the player to have fun with, to interact with – medkits and crafting and alchemy, skills, all of that wouldn’t be half as fun without combat where you can play around with it all. That’s why we have quite a bit of that.
And the combat system? Is it turn-based?
Yeah, it’s turn-based.
And what’s it like? Are the rules similar to D&D or something, to give a comparison?
Well, D&D… good question. We didn’t actually take inspiration from other rulesets, I know those rulesets and I used to play D&D in pen and paper, but I didn’t base my ruleset on that. Basically, you have different weapons and they have different strengths. That’s one thing. Also, every weapon has a special ability, for example the bastard gun – inspired by the bastard sword from Baldur’s Gate, of course – can cause sparks that set the enemy aflame. Then you have accuracy, which influences how likely it is that you hit the enemy at all. And then you have things you can take cover behind, which also affect the to hit chance. And then of course the skills, which can influence all these values. We tried to keep it as simple as possible, especially with that card system, where the player sees at one glance: there’s my to hit chance, and that’s the amount of damage I’m going to do if I hit.
That means the fights are going to be tactical, right?
Yes, I think they are, but not too complicated either. You shouldn’t expect complex fights like in… let me think… were they complex in Baldur’s Gate? I think they were, you had all those magic spells, and you don’t have those here.
Well, there were a lot of magic spells, yeah. Would Fallout 1 and 2 be a better comparison?
Yeah, maybe… Fallout’s combat wasn’t very complex. You didn’t have too many options.
And you at least have a cover system…
That’s actually more than Fallout had, isn’t it? But on the other hand, in Fallout you had a thingie-system, how do you call it? Skills, er no… huh?
You mean the aimed shots at body parts or something?
Those points. You have all those points to distribute, we don’t have such a complex RPG system as that.
Yeah, they’re called skills.
Yeah, right! We don’t have as many skill points to distribute as Fallout did, you’ll just, say, have a skill for rifles, and when you level that skill up three times, you’re roughly four times as good as someone who doesn’t have any levels in that skill. That way you can improve your abilities a little. I don’t want to trash-talk my own game, but the focus is definitely on your ability to influence the game world. We’re just a small indie team and with what we’ve already got planned, it’s too difficult to add a complex combat system on top of it, too.
The combat system, as you described it, sounds solid enough actually. But even the best combat system is useless if your encounters suck. So, are you putting enough attention on designing the combat encounters? Are they all hand-placed?
Yes, of course! We had to decide upon that early on, when we started programming our combat system. Creating one fight is one thing, creating a system that can give you 100 fights is another. And combat is going to be relatively rare. I’d say, in the complete game, when you play through it once from start to finish, you might have… let me bullshit a little, I’ll have to make a rough estimate… maybe a hundred fights at the most? What do you think, is that number maybe even too high?
If you ask me, that’s probably more than you’d have when you go through Planescape Torment once, but I’m not sure about that either.
Yeah, possibly… cut that out, then.
Maybe Planescape Torment is a good comparison for the frequency of combat.
Yes, I think so. You see, we have to design every single encounter manually. We’re placing the grid, we’re placing enemies, and we have to pay a lot of attention there in order to have the AI act intelligently. We can’t create a completely generic AI, no indie developer can do that – anyone who claims he can is either a genius or a liar. Anyone who has any experience with this knows it’s not possible. We can only try to make it appear as if our AI was super smart, and that requires time to adjust each encounter. So let’s say you’ll have 75 or 70 encounters in one playthrough, that seems like a realistic number.
And every encounter is hand-placed then, right?
Yes. We’re working on one encounter right now, we didn’t manage to include it in the preview video yet, there are some boss encounters too. Like tanks from the WW1 era driving through a street, and you have to flee from the tank while you’re also shooting at enemies. When the tank gets too close, it destroys your cover. We do want that every combat – there’s one in the preview video, with the hostage situation – has something the player has to pay attention to, and maybe sometimes it’s a better approach to solve the encounter without firing your weapon, like in the hostage situation where you could endanger the hostages. And just as the hostages are released, you shoot your enemies anyway… the player can do that if he wants. We want to make every combat encounter a little special. Hand-made.
So you’re also placing some unorthodox elements into your encounters, like those tanks that can destroy your cover, in order to make encounters more varied and exciting.
And also more cinematic and action-packed. It looks pretty cool, too, when you zoom out your camera and wonder – will that tank arrive at my position in the next turn? We also have a cool fight – it’s not completely finished yet – where there’s a submarine that submerges and rises up again occasionally, and you have to fire at the submarine from afar. And you can shoot at the periscope the crew uses to look at the battlefield, and when it’s destroyed the submarine has to come to the surface which makes it easier to attack. We also have an encounter on a train! Maybe we’ll manage to finish that one before the end of the campaign and show it off. You’re on a train and have to go forward while fighting some enemies, and when you’re all the way at the front you enter the driver’s cabin.
So systemically, your combat system is going to be simple and easy to understand, but what makes the combat interesting is the variation of encounters. That means you’ll probably have few encounters, and encounters with special elements to them, so you’re probably not going to include any filler combat either, are you?
What’s filler combat?
Filler combat is… did you play Dragon Age?
That was chock full with filler combat.
Dragon Age… [starts rambling] I don’t get what people… I played only Inquisition, and it’s… I don’t understand how one can even compare that to other games, that’s not even an RPG for me.
The first game was all right, but its encounter design was abysmal. You enter a dungeon, and it’s a huge place with a dozen rooms, and each of these rooms contains the same copypasted encounter of three melee guys, three archers, one wizard, and every encounter is essentially the same.
That’s filler combat. When you have copypasted encounters everywhere and it’s really not fun anymore at some point, because you’re slogging through the same shit over and over.
We’re not going to have copy and paste encounters at all, but if you describe filler combat like that I’d say maybe 15% of all encounters – at the most – will be filler combat. We can’t make every single encounter into something special.
Well, the definition of filler combat also says that they’re encounters that only exist to pad out the game and increase the playtime.
Well, in a certain way – when we’re completely honest, when we’re really honest – doesn’t every game have filler combat like that? Isn’t it necessary, unless you have a team the size of GTA 5’s and the budget of GTA 5, and even in that game there’s filler combat, where they could’ve put one less enemy wave into an encounter. I think every game has some padding.
But when it comes to a fight in your game, it makes sense in the story, doesn’t it?
Not necessarily, no. For example, you’re walking through Athens, and at one place you enter a side alley in the red light district – which you can see in our trailer, I think the architecture there is really cool – and in that alleyway it’s of course possible that some guys could approach you and say, your money or your life. But of course, you could also talk your way out of that situation, or you could tell them, I know a big mobster boss personally, fuck off guys. I’m not sure if you’d call that filler combat. In a certain way I’d say yes…
I’d say no. That’s an optional encounter.
Thing is, I’d never place an encounter where it doesn’t make sense to me. The most important thing in the entire game is, to me, that everything the player encounters makes sense and nothing appears out of place. He shouldn’t have the impression of being in a game, but of traveling a world and making choices, and seeing the results of his choices. And the worst thing you can do is to include implausible situations.
That means you follow a simulationist approach to game design.
Yes, definitely. I once said that it’s a bit like Europa Universalis IV, but you’re controlling one single character. Like… one action you make in EU IV is our full game. [laughs] Send diplomats to Persia, stuff like that.
All right. Wew, I still have some questions from the community!
How are you going to tackle this, dude?! Should I let my translator lend you a hand?
Nah, when I transcribe the audio file I’ll just write it down in English, the translation is no problem. But we’re already past an hour and that’s quite a lot of audio to transcribe.
Yeah. Thanks for doing this!
Next question from Wayward Son, then. Apart from English, what languages do you plan to translate the game into?
None. German and English both have top priority for us. I know some people complained about typos in our Kickstarter description, and I pronounced premise as pre-mice.
Eh, I’ve seen Kickstarter pitches by Eastern Europeans that had even more hilarious pronunciations. That’s not too surprising with Europeans.
Yeah, but I understand why it can scare people off, why it seems unprofessional. Although we aren’t professionals, that's kinda the point, isn't it? But I can promise that the English translation has a very high priority for us. Of course, I’d love to have it translated into all languages. French – I know some people who’re good at French, but whether they’re able to translate a game a like this? I don’t know. And hiring a professional translator… if someone gives me the money for that, sure! If we earn enough with the sales of the game after release, sure! But English and German are the two languages we can do without spending additional funds, because our translator for the English version is part of the team and only takes a cut when the game is released.
That means after the game is released and you make, let’s say 30k, you’d consider hiring translators for French, Russian, and so on.
Yes, we’d definitely consider that.
Okay, next question. You partially answered that already I think – why exactly did you take ancient Greek history as inspiration?
Well, some of it was just random chance. I just happened to read ancient Greek historians and they happened to inspire me. Also, Roman history is already well-tread in entertainment. Greek history hasn’t been done at all yet, as far as I know. And Herodotus and Thucydides are the two only primary sources for the Peloponnesian war and the Persian wars, so I don’t have to choose from a multitude of sources, and when I read them I thought that this particular era just fits perfectly to our concept, more so than the Roman times. And I think Greek history is a little fancier. In Roman history, at some point you just have the mighty Rome that swallows everything it comes into contact with, and in Greek history everything’s a little more ambivalent. There’s more room for us to introduce our own ideas, and to have more variation.
All right! And then there’s one last question… well, the one by ERYFKRAD about character creation has already been answered. The last one by Wayward Son is, can you describe the concept of the game concisely, and explain it a little better? What you’ve written in the Codex was – also because of the language barrier – a little difficult to understand.
Does he mean the theoretical framework with historicity and parallel dimensions, or does he mean something else?
You know what? Just give us a short, simple pitch…
…and tell us in two, three sentences what this game is.
That’s quite hard to do so spontaneously!
Try it! Give us as simple and concise a description as you can.
[takes a long pause to think about it] Well, the game wants to contrast the ambivalence of ideologies with the rationality of arguments. Every statement you can make can be identified as is or as should. An is-statement is, for example, we’re both sitting here in this office. And you can’t really argue with that, unless you’re Descartes. A should-statement would be something like, I think it’s right that you work here. Or I think it’s right that this table stands here. Or I think it’s right that a genocide has been committed. These should-statements, in contrast to the is-statements, don’t have any absolute argumentation… how should I say it… they’re ambivalent. They can’t be proven or anything. And what we want to do with the game is to show that this is how it is, and by giving the player a world that is new and unique but at the same time feels familiar, we’re demonstrating that truth from our point of view. If I had to concisely explain our game, I’d do it this way. I wouldn’t mention all those other aspects of the game, the fun and intriguing parts, because this is the core of the game. We’re living in a time where people stopped listening to each other and everything is divided into different factions. Karl Marx, for example, said things I find to be completely right and which I believe in, but that doesn’t make me a Stalinist, and I wouldn’t even say that everything Marx said was true. And thinking in extremes – as paradoxical as it may sound, considering the way we’re designing this game – the game should help people to not think in extremes by showing them that other ideas and approaches have their rational foundations, too. And that all questions of the should, all questions of morals and ethics, can only be relative. None of them can be a synthetic judgment a priori, to refer to Kant.
So we might even see some juicy bits from Mein Kampf in the game?
[laughs] This would be such a nice concluding statement! [laughs some more] Maybe under a different name, and then people have to find out on their own which statements are Hitler’s. That’s actually a great idea, isn’t it? Hey, that’s a really good idea! I’ve read Mein Kampf in its entirety… oh God, I hope the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution isn’t going to see this… and there was one page in it which I thought made sense. If we’re honest with ourselves, even in this book everyone will find at least one sentence that, taken out of context, he would agree with. So, it’s not completely out of the question to have some bits of Mein Kampf in the game. I said before that there aren’t going to be any great persons in the game who were involved in genocides, but maybe under a different name.
But since the setting is placed several millennia in the past, there aren’t going to be any real characters from the 20th century in it, anyway, only their ideas.
No, they are in the game! Didn’t I mention this in the preview video? A part of that thought experiment by Walter Benjamin, on which the whole game is based, is to say that the true historicity lies in the moment. You could swap Cleon and Hitler, so Hitler would be a demagogue in Athens, and Cleon in Germany.
So aspects of modern characters will be applied to the characters of your setting?
They’re going to appear under their real names, and we want to make portraits for all these characters. The portraits you can see in the previews are still work in progress, and I’m going to upload some finalized portraits tomorrow or the day after, so you can see what they’re supposed to look like in the end. We want to have 50 great persons in our game who have been torn from their historical context but stay within their individual context. Albert Einstein as one of the most important theoretical physicists will be included, or Max Planck, or Werner Heisenberg. Or Billie Holiday as a celebrity in Athenai. Or you might be able to meet Charles Bukowski. And we want to motivate the player to explore the world and try to find all the great people in the game and complete his encyclopedia of great persons by talking to all of them. Some of them you will meet during the main storyline, like Plato and Aristotle, or Nietzsche, or Carl Gustav Jung, you’ll definitely meet those – Cleon, too. But some of them – Bukowski, for example, or Billie Holiday, you’re only going to meet them if you explore the world. And that’s our sidequests for the game. Most of our sidequests are connected to one of these great persons. We don’t have any sidequests where some girl lost her marbles and you have to find them. Everything is big and meaningful, nothing of what you do is entirely trivial. Everything’s relevant, everything should change the story – sometimes in a small way, sometimes in a larger way.
So you’re not going to have any trivial fetch quests at all.
Nope. This is going to be the anti-trivial game. At least that’s our aim. Triviality is the last thing we’d want to have in this game, because we’ve had enough of that in the last ten years. Longer, even – goddamn, we’re in 2017! When was Deus Ex released?
2001 I think, yeah! And Baldur’s Gate 2 came out in 2000, which was a great game too – much better than the first one, even though the first was good too. And… no, we want to achieve the exact opposite of triviality!
So that’s basically one of your foundational design principles.
Everything that happens in the game has to make sense in one way or another.
Exactly! That’s exactly it. From fast travel to saving the game…
[interjects while Daniel is still talking, triggered by the mention of a non-standard save system] How are savegames going to work?
I wasn’t even done talking yet! [chuckles] Well, we haven’t fully decided on a save system yet. Actually, we wanted to have taverns where you can save your game, so you have a certain element of tension and can’t just savescum all the time, which was a bit of a problem in, say, Deus Ex, to take just an example. You could quicksave every couple of seconds, which takes out the tension to some degree. So possibly a tavern system like in classic RPGs. We could imagine to have some quicksave moments during longer missions so you won’t have to re-do them from scratch, to counter player frustration. But what’s important, I think, is that you can’t just choose to commit genocide, see what happens, then reload and try something else on a second save slot. We want the player to think about his actions in each situation, and when he makes a wrong choice he should have to live with it – or maybe a choice that has different consequences than he expected! Instead he can, on his second playthrough, think – last time I made a bad choice here, but this time this is going to end differently!
But what about people who want to quit the game whenever? Say, the last visit to the tavern was twenty minutes ago, but now the player has to exit the game and there’s no tavern in sight. Could you still save and quit in that situation?
Of course! Why doesn’t that option exist in more checkpoint-based games? Good that you mention it, we’ll definitely implement this. Why don’t more games have that option? I don’t get it.
So no matter what kind of save system you decide on, you can always save and quit if you have to.
Of course, of course. We have a completely generic savegame system right now, so from a programming standpoint it’s just one line of code. We can implement whatever savegame system we want, the architecture for that is already in place.
So you could go for an optional ironman system, right?
Whoa, good idea! Hey!
Let’s say 90% of players want to be able to save and load everywhere, and the other 10% can choose the optional ironman mode.
That’s a really great idea. Yeah.
Heh, I’m even supplying you with new ideas now.
Yeah, thanks! But one thing I still wanted to mention, it just slipped me… something important… ah, yes! The only definite restriction of our savegame system is that you can’t save during combat. Our current system can’t handle that, we’d have to program a whole new system for that.
No saving during combat is an RPG convention, anyway.
True, that didn’t work in Baldur’s Gate either. You can’t, uhm… no wait, that was when you wanted to travel. You must gather your party before venturing forth. You must gather your party before venturing forth. You must gather your party before venturing forth. Minsc, you idiot, get your ass over here!
Another interesting question, as a follow-up to what you just said about the consequences of your actions, are there going to be decisions with longer chains of consequences? So you make a decision at one point of the game, and you’re only going to see the results half an hour later, when you’ve already played on for a while.
Absolutely! That’s exactly what we want to do.
So there are situations where the player makes a choice, and even if he can save and reload the game wherever and whenever he wants, he can’t just try a different option right away because the results of that choice will only appear at a later point in the story.
Yes, absolutely. At the beginning of the game we don’t want to push too many hard choices with dire consequences on the player yet, so he can get into the game first and understand how the world works. But if you push against the helots, the state-slaves of Sparta, with full force right from the start, and Spartacus, the leader of the Spartakusbund, dies early in the game, or you cause an uprising of the helots, then of course that will have an effect on how the game progresses, and only much later will you see the full results of events you influenced long ago. And you will never be shown beforehand which results your actions will have, never. The player won’t get any markers on a minimap, there won’t be any conversations where you’ll have [Lie] or [Persuasion] written behind a dialogue option. The player has to understand the world by himself.
But you do have dialogue skills, right? Like the speech skill in Fallout. But the dialog options won’t be tagged with the skill they require to succeed.
I prefer it that way, too. With the tags, you know at first glance that this is the best option, because it’s connected to a skill check. So, generally, there won’t be any handholding in your game, right?
No, none at all!
The player is essentially thrown into the world and has to find his own way.
Yes, exactly! You start out in a very small open world, and then it expands into a larger open world, then you get Athens as a city with a pretty large open world, and later you get the entire game world to explore. This way we can, with relatively little effort, include reactions to the player’s actions. You don’t have one huge world from the start where every location can be influenced by the player from the get go, but we can funnel the player a little. You start in Sparta, do some stuff there, then go to Athens, and when you return to Sparta you can see the results of your actions. It’s a bit like in Terranigma.
You’re not having an enforced tutorial at the start, either, right? The player can jump in straight away.
There’s a tutorial of maybe ten minutes. We haven’t implemented it yet, but there are some things we should explain to the player, about the interface and all that. But the way our world works – that you will have to read between the lines, through events, through dialogues, through subtle informations. For example the fact that there are no cameras which are directly monitored. When you’re caught by a camera, it only means that you’re going to get into trouble later on. That fits into our setting, because we have no cameras that can directly connect to a monitor. It’s also an interesting aspect, like in the old Hitman games – which were also pretty cool in their open approach gameplay – that you receive some kind of report on how well you did during a mission. You may have achieved your goal, but everyone saw that you did it, so from now on it will be impossible to take quests from Athens because they know you work for the Persians, for example.
How are non-combat skills going to work? You already talked about combat skills, that you can invest skill points into different weapon skills to raise your accuracy, but what about non-combat skills? What kinds of skills do you have? You mentioned dialogue skills, are they split into different skills or is it just one skill? As in, are there different skills for persuasion, intimidation, seduction, or just one unified speech skill? And do you have skills for things like stealth and so on, that you can put points into?
Our skills are divided into different brain areas. You have the brain area that’s responsible for your own bodily awareness, for example. That is mostly responsible for combat and stealth. Then there’s the prefrontal cortex – I’m not entirely sure if my terminology is correct here, I’m not a biologist, I just read up on it a bit – which is responsible for logic thought. With what you just mentioned, things like persuasion and seduction, you’re thinking in the established categories of RPGs. We don’t want something like, click this dialogue option to attempt persuasion with a 40% chance for success, but we want the player to read the NPC. The skills that you can level up give you additional information, they make you understand the NPC’s intentions more easily and give you hints during the dialogue, or outside of a dialogue. Or your knowledge skill might tell you how a piece of machinery works when you look at it, and you get a detailed text description as a result. You don’t just get a skill that you use by clicking on a specific option.
So when you raise your speech skill, you don’t get an option in the dialogue tree that has a higher chance of successfully persuading the NPC, it only gives you more text that gives you hints about which of the available options is the best one.
Exactly. You might notice that the character you’re talking to nervously taps his right foot, for example. Maybe that information is related to an observation skill. We’ve made up a skill system for now, and we’re going to tweak it bit by bit during development. It would be a lie to claim that we’ve finalized all the systems already, but we have a fundament with which we can work, and during the development we will try to make the skill system as logical and coherent as possible.
All right! Now we already have one and a half hours of interview…
Oh boy. That went by pretty quickly, though!
That’s going to be a bitch to transcribe for me. So, let’s end this… give us a concluding statement!
We already had several perfect concluding statements!
Yeah, but then I just kept asking you stuff. Make one now.
Hm, well… maybe something completely different now. I’d really like to thank the Codex – that’s completely honest, no stupid PR bullshit – for the interest your community has shown my work. It’s pretty much the only forum to talk about the game at all, and while I don’t want to appear arrogant, I did have the hope that our Kickstarter campaign, with that low funding goal and the great alpha version we’re showcasing, would easily reach its goal. We’ve put so much thought into our game, and I’m really happy that at least the Codex community is interested in it. And when our game is to stand a chance, then it’s only by word of mouth. Tell your friends about it, anyone who could be interested in it. We’re really determined to develop this game, and I hope this interview showed what our priorities are and what you can expect from the game.
All right! Then I’ll just say thank you for the interview, and that’s going to be a huge chunk of work for me to transcribe…