RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2017 - Divinity Original Sin 2
Visit our sponsors! (or click here and disable ads)
RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2017 - Divinity Original Sin 2
Editorial - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 13 September 2017, 20:20:34Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Gamescom 2017; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke
Part 1: The Presentation
Swen invites me and a guy from a French gaming magazine into the booth and sits down in front of a laptop connected to a big screen, ready to show us some of the game’s new features. I switch on the voice recording app on my phone, and Swen says, “I don’t even know why you’re recording this. By the time you’ve typed it all up, the game will be out.” An accurate prediction – if Larian ever goes under, he can easily switch his profession from developing Divinity to practising divination.
“The framerate on this thing is terrible,” he says as he starts the game. “On the laptop it’s running smoothly, if you see the game slow down, it’s the fault of the screen. I don’t know why, but we can’t do anything about it.” There’s nothing quite like hardware issues to make the presentation of a game feel authentic.
Swen starts it off by showing us how the undead work as playable characters in OS2: rather than being their own race, the undead are more like an additional character choice, similar to your character’s sex. Just as a character of any race can be male or female, a character of any race can be alive or undead. Being undead gives you a skill that living characters don’t have: they can play dead, lying down on the ground and pretending to be a corpse. A very convincing display, since that's essentially what they are.
But of course, rather than creating a custom undead character, Swen chooses to play as Fane for this presentation, the Undead Origin Story Character. Fane belongs to an ancient race called “The Eternals” and has been entombed for millennia. In the game, he tries to find out where the fuck everyone has gone. Around himself he sees humans, lizards, dwarves and thinks: “They look like us, but they are not us. Where are all my people?” The first thing Fane does when he wakes up is eat the person who opened his tomb, because that’s how people entombed for thousands of years show their gratitude. Fane’s goal in unlife is to find out what happened to his people, and what happened to the world in general because it doesn’t look like the one he'd left when he was entombed.
The world of Divinity Original Sin 2. It's a nice, soft cloth map, just the way they made them in the old days, and it comes with the boxed collector's edition.
Swen loads a savegame with Fane as the player character to show us how playing an undead character is going to work in practice. “Everything is voice recorded,” Swen says before he begins playing. “We have over a million words in there, and they’re all voice recorded. You’re never going to hear all of them because there’s so much reactivity in the game. You’re also not going to hear all of them during this presentation, because not all voice files have been implemented yet. But on release, everything will be voiced. There were four studios recording like madmen for many months; now it’s finally done and it’s pretty awesome.” When I heard him speaking this enthusiastically about full voice acting, I knew that the Codex would become filled with comments about how this was a pointless waste of money. But Swen was so genuinely excited about this little feature that I didn’t have the heart to ask him how he'd justify this in the ensuing interview. Let us take this as a good sign instead – if he is willing to invest money into full voice acting, which isn’t cheap, he expects the game to sell well.
Once the savegame is loaded, he gives us a short introduction to where we are. This is Act II of the game, at a location called Reaper’s Coast – more specifically, near the town of Driftwood. Swen chose this location because it is the perfect setting for showing off an undead character’s special abilities.
“The first thing we’re gonna do,” Swen says, “is we’re gonna scare the kids.” Most characters will react negatively upon seeing the undead – unless they’re undead themselves, or necromancers, or witches, or other similarly inclined characters who aren’t going to throw a hissy fit when they’re approached by a walking skeleton. That means you should only enter towns wearing a cowl, or risk being attacked by the guards and having shopkeepers flee in terror.
In addition to that, undead characters really shouldn’t drink healing potions. They’re going to damage their health rather than restore it, and gulping down a strong healing potion can almost instakill an undead character. The same with healing spells – and the AI is clever enough to know that, and will actively use healing spells to damage the player if it knows he is undead. “Sometimes it will be strange because you’ll see your enemies trying to bless you all the time, but that’s because holy magic is detrimental to the undead,” Swen says. “That’s why we call it an advanced class: you really need to know the rules, otherwise you’ll be dead before you know it.”
But just as the effects of healing are reversed for the undead, so are the effects of poison: drinking a bottle of poison is going to heal an undead character, although I don’t really get the logic behind that. If you were a zombie, sure – but all undead player characters are skeletons, and how is poison going to heal a skeleton? The more logical alternative would have been to use milk as healing potions for the undead. Aw yiss. There’s a skill that lets you poison regular healing potions, and if you have an undead character in your party, you should always have a few of those in your inventory. Of course, the most interesting application of that mechanic is found in the environmental effects of the combat system: when your undead character is surrounded by enemies in close combat, poisoning the ground around him will be beneficial to him and detrimental to the enemies.
Contrary to what Swen said when he loaded the savegame, the first thing we’re doing isn’t scaring a child, it’s getting into a fight with a dwarven woman standing next to a plundered caravan wagon. Fane isn’t wearing a cowl, so she sees that he’s undead – and reacts to his presence by drawing her sword. During the fight, Swen shows off the undead’s necromancer ability by raising a nearby corpse to aid him. The cool thing about this ability is that – like many others in the game – it relies on environmental interaction. There has to be a corpse nearby for this ability to work.
When the woman is finally dead, Swen says, “As you can see, Fane’s life isn’t easy. He can’t go into town this way. He could cowl himself, or he could do something that he invented back in the days – he was like the da Vinci of his people. He invented a thing called the Mask of the Shapeshifter. The Mask of the Shapeshifter was actually one of our Kickstarter stretch goals, and it came before the undead… with good reason, since we planned to use them together.” To use the mask, you first have to use an item called the faceripper, which allows you to rip faces off any NPC in the game, as long as they’re dead. Swen uses it on the dwarven woman he'd just killed, and a ripped dwarven face appears in his inventory. By using it with a source orb, he crafts a mask of the dwarf, which he promptly equips. It magically changes the appearance of the undead Fane into that of a living dwarf, allowing him to walk through cities undisturbed.
Swen proceeds to walk into the town of Driftwood, along with his party members who are companion NPCs with their own little backstories. One of the characters in his party had gotten into trouble with the law in exactly this town before the start of the game, and the local law enforcement – called the magisters – aren't going to be too friendly when they detect him. Of course, for demonstration purposes Swen walks that character right into a magister’s line of sight. She confronts him, and Swen attempts to talk his way out of the situation, trying to pretend he’s not the one they’re looking for. He fails. But rather than complying and letting her put the character into jail, he goes for a bribe: the dialogue window offers him a couple of choices when it comes to the amount of gold he can offer, and he chooses to offer a hundred… but that sum is so high, the magister doesn’t actually believe he’d give it to her and so takes him to jail. Clever – usually, offering the highest possible bribe is the best option. Here, offering too high a bribe can make people doubt you’re actually going to fork the money over.
“I did that on purpose because I want to show you something in jail,” Swen says. “Uh… have I already shown you the spirit vision yet? With all these presentations, I sometimes forget what I’ve shown during a specific one and what I haven’t…”
Both me and the Frenchie shake our heads.
“Well, guess I’ll show you here, then.” Swen waits until the guard is out of view before activating his spirit vision, which is a source skill – using these skills will cause some NPCs to attack you, so it’s best to use them when there aren’t any neutral characters around to see you do it. In the cell, Swen discovers the spirit of a dead person, some guy named Daverick Brigsby. When he talks to the spirit, it tells him of a way out, pointing to a hidden exit in the back wall. But Swen isn’t going to take the easy way out. He has much more interesting things to show us.
He explains that at the beginning of the game there’s a black cat that follows you around, and if you manage to keep it alive you will get an achievement and the ability to summon a cat familiar, and it comes with its own unique features that other animal companions don’t have. Swen summons the cat outside of his jail cell and can directly control it like any other character in his party. The magister patrolling the hallway notices the cat, but isn’t very alarmed about it. It’s just a cat, after all. Nothing to be suspicious about, is it?
“This cat is the ultimate thieving tool,” Swen says. “It has a skill called ether swap, which allows my character to swap positions with it. You can bring it inside and do all kinds of ridiculous stuff with it, and it all works, it doesn’t break anything because of the way we built this RPG.” He positions the cat close to the exit, with a wall blocking the line of sight of the nearest guard so he can escape from jail without being seen.
In the first of the many fuckups during this presentation, Swen doesn't notice that the wall he used for breaking line of sight has a small window in it, rendering it useless for that purpose, so the guard sees him appear near the exit as he swaps places with the cat. The guard approaches him and wants to throw him back into jail.
Swen’s not having any of that, though. “I’m going to try the bribe again, and this time I’m going to choose 50 gold. That actually works on this guy.” After paying the bribe, we’re free to go. Of course, it’s a good idea to avoid being seen by the magisters from now on.
Swen switches to another character in his party – one with the Pet Pal feat – and activates his spirit vision outside of town, close to the place where he was attacked by the dwarf woman. There was a plundered caravan there, along with the corpses of the people and animals that had been part of it. “Once you activate spirit vision, it works like an aura. You’re going to see spirits around you as you walk around, if there are any. Right now, I’m showing you this because some people wanted to know if you can talk to animals when they’re in spirit form. Well, you can.”
Swen has a little conversation with the bull, but it doesn’t amount to much. In the world of Divinity, bulls can tell the future, but this one isn’t doing a very good job of it, throwing around maybes rather than giving us a straight statement. After the conversation, he decides to save the ghost, releasing its soul into the afterlife.
“But you don’t have to save the ghosts,” Swen says, telling us about a more sinister alternative. “Fane has an item called the purging wand, which gives me a skill called Source Vampirism. With Source Vampirism I can suck the source from a ghost and receive a source point.” Source points are the resource you need to use your source skills - powerful abilities that can turn the tide in a battle but which don’t come for free. “But that’s not a very nice thing to do.”
There are other fun things to do with dead people other than bothering their ghosts, too. Elves can access a dead person’s memory if they eat their flesh, so this way we can learn what happened to that caravan even though everyone’s dead. The only problem: we don’t have any elves in our party. The solution: creating an elven face mask! If we can find a dead elf somewhere, we can rip off his face and craft a mask. When wearing such a mask, your character isn’t just going to look like the race in question, he’s also going to inherit that race’s racial abilities. Therefore, putting on an elven face mask is going to give you the ability to access the memories of dead people by eating their flesh. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that design decision – it marginalizes the racial abilities by allowing you to give them to any character as long as you have the appropriate mask in your inventory. It’s an interesting concept, but it takes away an aspect of party building, making the races of your party members less important than they would be otherwise. You have a party made up of humans, one free party slot, and companion NPCs of three different races available to join you? If the masks didn’t give you the ability to emulate racial abilities, the race of the companion would play a much bigger role in your choice of whom to pick.
For now, Swen switches back to Fane, the undead character, and goes to the magisters to get a quest from them. For a while now, magisters have been disappearing around town, and we’re offered a reward if we manage to find out who’s responsible. Swen goes into the tavern and orders some stew. We don’t have an elf in our party right now, but if we had, Swen says, the elf would notice that the stew is made of people, as a flood of memories would come over him if he ate it. With that knowledge, you can confront the cook and ask where that meat is coming from. “We don’t have an elf in our party though, so we don’t know this,” Swen says. “There’s other ways to find out that the cook is responsible. I’m just going to spoil that quest for you completely.”
Swen selects the thief from his party and sneaks into the kitchen, picking a note containing evidence from the cook’s pocket. She realizes that something is missing and turns around to look for any potential thieves in the vicinity. Luckily, Swen had positioned the dwarf-impersonating Fane in the kitchen, too, and while the thief hides behind a door, the cook confronts the innocent Fane who can easily get out of this because he doesn’t have the stolen property in his inventory. Yes, this means that thieving is going to work much better when you use teamwork – someone can act as a decoy while your thief sneaks away with the stolen loot.
Swen allows the cook to search Fane, and this should be the end of this little problem. But it’s not. There’s a bug. Despite not even having the actual thief in her line of sight, she finds the stolen note and takes it back. This shouldn’t have happened – Swen had taken all necessary precautions to prevent this, using Fane as a decoy while the thief made his escape, but a bug (that should be patched out by now) ruined his carefully concocted plans.
Since Swen hasn’t read the note yet, his party doesn’t know about the cook being responsible for the missing people and he can’t continue the quest, so he tries to steal it again. But the cook’s attention level is now high, and she notices the pickpocket attempt and tells the thief to bugger off. On his third attempt, he has Fane talk to the cook, then switches back to the thief to try again while she’s distracted.
With how the presentation has been going up until now, you can probably guess how this ends. Yes. The cook notices the pickpocket attempt again, and this time she attacks, screwing up Swen’s plan completely. The time for peaceful quest solutions is over. Now, this can only be solved by violence. Luckily, the kitchen door is closed and we can keep this fight between us and the cook – if any other tavern staff realize that a fight is going on in here, they’re going to rush in to help their colleague, and that would result in a major clusterfuck.
The fight doesn’t go as well as Swen would like it either. “I’m not making a good impression here, am I?” he asks while his characters get pummeled by the cook.
“It’s actually much more fun this way than when it goes as planned,” I say with a smirk, thoroughly enjoying Swen’s predicament.
“I hope she doesn’t try to flee once I manage to get her health down. If she goes out, she’ll get the entire place involved. Let’s try to avoid this, shall we?”
Actually, that would be pretty cool to see, but I don’t mention it. Swen is stressed out enough as it is. I hear him curse “God, this game!” as he tries his best to end this fight without getting himself into even deeper shit. He used a fire spell on her, setting her aflame, but now he regrets it: “You know what the annoying part is? If she dies burning, I can’t rip her face.” And since she’s an elf, and Swen wanted to show us the corpse-eating ability of the elves, ripping her face would give him the perfect opportunity to do so.
So what does he do? He casts a blessing on her to remove the burning effect. “This is ridiculous,” he says, “but okay.” With all effects removed from her, he strikes the killing blow with a plain and regular old weapon. “Finally!” he exclaims. “Can we now finally eat that stew? Where’s my faceripper?”
He rips her face, makes a mask out of it, equips it on one of his characters to gain the elven racial abilities, eats some of the stew – and then he ends his presentation because after all those unplanned incidents there’s no more time left to show us anything else.
“So that’s Driftwood. You have an awesome big adventure waiting for you there! This presentation was mostly just to show you all the systemics in our game, and how systems fall into place. The Mask of the Shapeshifter is one of those things that probably show the best how our racial abilities work, and all that. It’s pretty awesome.”
Part II: The Interview
With the presentation over, the French journalist leaves and Swen is left at my mercy to answer a bunch of questions for the Codex. We leave the booth and take a seat outside, as someone else is going to hold another presentation in there right away while Swen takes a little break to give me an interview.
“All right! Last time I asked you a whole slew of community questions, this time I’m just going to have a little chat with you and ask questions as they come up, and try to get as much out of you as I can.”
“That’s fine. This close to release, I don’t have many secrets anymore. Still got a few, though!”
“When is the release date?”
“Not that long, then. Anyway. About the faceripper – so from what I’ve seen, it looks like you can use it to take the face of any race, and once you have taken one face, you have it forever. It doesn’t have limited uses so you have to take a second elven face after the first one has been used up, does it?”
“No, you can keep reusing it.”
“And you can use it on everyone?”
“Essentially that’s the mechanic we want you to have. You have to work for it a bit, you have to be willing to go down that route. Once you have the faces of all four races, that’s essentially four new skills you have.”
“You can take the face of pretty much any character in the game, yes?”
“The playable races, yes.”
“So if some bandits attack you and you kill them, you can take theirs. You don’t have to kill any innocents to get the faces.”
“Yeah. An important side-note is that you do need a source orb. They’re very rare, and they have multiple uses. They can also turn your weapons incredibly potent, so if they’re put into a weapon, they’re pretty cool, and they’re the only way you can actually have source points in your pockets in case you need them.”
“And the mask is going to work all the time? If you have an elven mask and you use it once, you could theoretically stay an elf forever?”
“Characters react differently to you if you’re wearing it, which can lead to interesting situations. Sometimes you may not want to be recognized. If I had been wearing the mask when I went to the magister, I don’t think she would’ve recognized me. That’s the idea behind it.”
“Are there any NPCs that can recognize that you’re wearing a mask and are someone different underneath?”
“Yep! There are people who can see that, and there are even other people with masks in the world.”
“And with those other people, is there any chance that you can recognize they’re wearing a mask?”
“Perhaps. There’s no systemic for recognizing it, so I’m not sure.”
“Can you take away their mask and use it yourself?”
Swen pauses for a moment, then says, “You know, that’s a really good question. Technically I should be able to pickpocket that person and take off their mask, so mechanically that should be possible. But I don’t think it’s been scripted that way. But it should be like this, yeah! I didn’t think of that one.”
Jarl chuckles. “About the undead. You said that when you play an undead without a mask or a cowl, people are going to run away or attack you. Are there also some NPCs who will talk to an undead character?”
“Yes, of course! The undead themselves, for instance, they would obviously talk to you. A necromancer, anybody from the Black Ring, a witch… they wouldn’t have any issues with you. They can be friends!”
“Can you as a non-undead talk to the undead?”
“Yes. Spirit vision you mean? Talking to the ghosts?”
“No! If you’re a living human, and you meet some skeletons, can you talk to them or will they automatically attack you?”
“Depends on which undead they are. You can talk to pretty much everybody in the game. There are some monsters that attack you on sight, you can’t talk to those, but other than that there’s no differentiation made. For all the other races – elves, dwarves – you also have an undead race tag… well, it’s not really a race tag, it works a little differently to the other race tags. An undead dwarf, for example, would have the dwarf tag and the undead tag.”
“Since the undead are likely to be attacked when they go into a town, could you theoretically play through the game as an undead without ever disguising yourself, killing everyone in your way, and still finish the game?”
“I’ve always said you can play the game with killing everybody. There is a… well, I’m not revealing it yet but there’s a thing for the Codex to do in Act III that you guys are going to love. I think. Some of you are gonna love it. At least one will love it. I think.” He laughs.
Jarl also laughs. “Always careful with the Codex, aren’t you?”
“So you can play through the game even if you kill main quest NPCs, right? That means there are no essential NPCs.”
“There are essential NPCs, but the game bifurcates, right? The scripters have very tight instructions, like everyone’s killable so the game should be able to continue, it’s designed this way. We have put in a lot of effort in doing that. We’re not perfect, we’re human so we might make mistakes, but our design goal is that you can kill anybody and play through the game. This is the reason why we have so many bugs in our forum, like oooh I killed Dallis at level 2, so that’s why we turn her into a dragon if you attack her. Well, that’s a spoiler for the people who didn’t do it, but yeah. The easy thing for us would be to make her invincible, but we try not to do that. I’m not saying we haven’t done it, sometimes we do cheat like that, but very rarely.”
“Since you mentioned the forums and bug reports, how was your experience overall with Early Access?”
“It’s good.” He laughs. “That’s what you get with that type of question! No, I mean, Early Access has made the game – just look at it, it’s shiny, polished, there are still a few little issues but that’s what we’re working on now and it’s why I look so tired. We got an enormous amount of feedback out of it, and the people on Early Access helped us with the balancing also. There’s still going to be some minmax opportunities in there, we can’t get rid of all of them, but overall it really plays great. We’ve had internal playtesters coming for two weeks now, they’re playing through the entire game. Most of them were playing for about a week so they’re in Act II, but some have already been playing for 80 hours so they’re about in the middle of the game. People are having fun with it, which is the most important part! And it’s big, it’s pretty big. Much bigger than we expected.”
“How much bigger would you say is it in comparison to the first game?”
“That’s a really good question. I can’t quantify it, just because of the sheer amount of permutations that you have, uhm…” He pauses for a really long moment, thinking about it. “I don’t know. I really don’t know how to answer that question. There are so many branching paths, you know… it’s big. Definitely big enough!”
“With the permutations, how often would you say can you play through the game and have a different experience each time?”
This time, he answers straight away and in a confident voice. “Fourteen times.”
He laughs. “That’s a number like any other, right? It’s probably more. You got six origin stories, you can play them all as an avatar. And then you have the races, right? So that’s six plus five, gives you eleven. And then you can play them with two, three, four characters, so that would be fourteen. I know the number fourteen because that’s the amount of voices we had to do for each avatar. That’s why I said fourteen.”
“So how much of the content could the player see in one playthrough?”
“A lot.” Pauses for a second. “Wait – couldn’t see or could see?”
“In one playthrough? Well, it’s impossible to see everything because there’s a lot of choices, you know? I don’t know how many branches we have so I can’t quantify it, but it’s a lot. There’s a lot of stuff that you don’t see. From the very beginning on, do you help the guys that come down from the ship, yes or no, that already has quite a lot of impact. Both at the story/interactive level and at skills level, like if you didn’t save the cat you’d never have that cat skill that I showed you, and that’s not the only thing that we have like that, there’s quite a few of them.”
Jarl takes a moment to think of the next question.
“So your question was how much content you wouldn’t be able to see in one playthrough?” Swen interrupts his thinking.
“Yeah, you can also answer it that way.”
“The thing is, we’ve made this game, we’re trying to make sure everything works, but nobody has been busy keeping track of the permutations. I mean, yes, we are keeping track of the permutations, but the counting? The actual counting? We haven’t done that.”
“Does every race, every character have their own content, their own unique little quests? Like things you get as a human that you wouldn’t get as a dwarf?”
“Yeah, for sure. The thing is, in a lot of situations you have completely different ways of dealing with it. There’s always persuasion, and there are different forms of persuasion, it really depends from situation to situation. I’m thinking of a particular quest, there are a couple of elves that they’re burying, doing an elven burial ritual, and as an elf you can just walk in, and I don’t think you can get in as a lizard, but as a human you might persuade your way in. There’s different ways of tackling… it’s roleplaying, you know.”
“Are some choices going to have long term consequences? Like the guys from the ship at the beginning that you mentioned, might you meet them four hours later, for example?”
“Yes. There are quite a few of those. Lots of surprises in there! But don’t ask me more, because otherwise I would spoil that. For sure there are a lot of moments in the game where you’ll think, 'Larian you’re fucking assholes!' Guaranteed.”
“So whenever you do a thing, you can expect its consequences to last for a while?”
“Absolutely.” Pauses for a moment, then says, “Your companions can leave you, you know. Your companions are not going to be your loyal slaves, on the contrary. You actually have to work pretty hard to convince them. The goal of the game is to become divine, and there can only be one divine, so to get their support you have to work really hard.”
“Do your companions also have their own agendas?”
“Absolutely. You might be in for a really nasty surprise, depends on how you’ve been treating them and what you’ve been doing for them.”
“Do they also try to influence you in dialogues, trying to get you to help them in their goals?”
“They do! You can have romance with your companions, but you can also be confronted with a situation where your companions say, 'nope dude, I’m going to become the one god here, not you.' So what are you gonna do about it?”
“So theoretically, you could have a final conflict between you and your party members in the endgame.”
“Yeah, that’s the PvP part. In single player, it’ll be against your party members! They all have their agendas – they tell you when you recruit them! They tell you what they want in life, and that doesn’t change unless you manage to change it.”
“So… how much work is there left to do on the game?”
“Now there’s bugfixing. Everything’s in, the voice recording is tight, it’s gonna be in there. We were late with our script obviously, as per usual, so the voice recording studios really had to rally to do everything. We put it in there because there was so much demand for it and it adds so much to the game. Then it’s bugfixing, but you’ve seen the game, it doesn’t look very buggy does it? You might have seen a few bugs, but I think… did you see a lot of bugs?”
“There you go!”
“There were the issues with the screen, but you said that was a hardware issue.”
“Yeah. On my laptop it was fine. But there are… ah, it’s all meaningless, it’s just a big RPG you know. And the thing we’re doing now is, we have people basically going through it and through it and through it trying to make sure… but the thing is there’s so many permutations that you never know everything. But I think it will be fine.”
“Another thing I wanted to ask was about the crime and punishment system. We’ve seen one of our guys go to jail, we’ve seen the cook becoming aggressive after catching us in a pickpocket attempt too often. How developed is the crime and punishment system? If we get caught stealing, could someone call the guards?”
“Yeah. If there’s guards around they’re gonna call the guards. Depending on whether they’re intimidated by you, they might either go into a fight with you or not. That’s basically the three states that can come out of it. You noticed they wanted to search my pockets also… was it in this presentation?”
“Yeah, so that’s part of it, searching your pockets. Essentially, when a crime is done, a crime is generated, and if NPCs can react to the crime, they will. Original Sin has this big challenge where it tries to be super systemic and it tries to tell you lots of stories, so it’s always fighting with itself. Which is what makes it cool, right? And it seems to be working quite well now, I keep finding myself in different situations and I can say I’m having fun with it.”
“So theoretically any character can go to jail when he gets caught.”
“Yeah, for sure! If you steal, or vandalize stuff, even sneaking – if they caught you sneaking and tension is high, they’ll say if you’re sneaking you’ve done something wrong, off you go. But if tension is high they tend to reach for their swords faster than send you to jail. It doesn’t have to be a jail, either. That was a village with a jail, but we’re not going to find one in some paladin outpost deep into the northern parts.”
“So would they throw you into some kind of dungeon, or just attack?”
“Both could happen. Or you could persuade yourself out of it. Or you can bribe them to leave them alone, so you can pay a fine.”
“Do the NPCs also accuse the wrong person? We’ve seen in the presentation after you’ve picked the cook’s pocket that she noticed something’s missing from her inventory, and…”
“We had this before, but we removed that.”
“So if she doesn’t find the object in your inventory, you get off scot-free?”
“Yes, the thing that happened in the presentation was actually a bug. I need to say, since you’re asking these questions, that this game is really huge, there’s a real lot of subsystems. But I don’t know why she actually… because she addressed the guy that didn’t steal, so technically speaking she shouldn’t have reacted to it. But I wonder if her check was because she could see the thief, that I don’t know. But I think I’d categorize this as a bug, the way that it went. The design should have been, she talks to one guy and if he’s not guilty of the crime you get away with it, cause that’s the way that you can game it. It’s a game after all, it’s not a simulation.”
“And if you’re completely out of sight, she’s going to calm down after a while?”
“No, they come! They come and investigate. Especially if there’s a murder, they’re really going to investigate. A lot of effort has been put in crime – I mean, it’s not Hitman, it’s just part of the RPG simulation going on. You get reactivity.”
“So from that I gather that with everything you do in the game, you can pretty much expect the world to react in some way?”
“As much as we could put it in there, yes. I think that when you play it, you’ll have an experience where you say, yep, that’s reactive. You won’t feel that you’re playing a game where your actions don’t matter, much more than the first Original Sin. This was one of the main design goals.”
“Can you also use the mask to get away from a crime? Like when you’re seen and they know your face and then you go hide and put it on?”
“That’s a really good question! I don’t have the answer for that, I’ll have to try it, it’s a good question. Depends on…” There’s a long pause. “I think the check is probably going to be at character level, not at tag level, so probably not. Something for the modding community!”
“I noticed during the presentation, while the undead character was wearing the mask, he still had an undead-tagged dialogue option. Do you keep your own race’s…”
“Yeah, because it’s your role. You can make your undead observation to the NPC, but the NPCs are not going to treat you as an undead. We differentiate the greeting, and the way people talk to you, and then there’s what you can say. So even if I’m wearing the mask I’ll still have my Ifan options if I’m Ifan, for example. Cause I am Ifan, so I can say an Ifan thing.”
“So, sometimes there might be situations, like with the elven burial ritual you mentioned, where you only get in when you look like an elf. If you are wearing a dwarf mask at that moment, you wouldn’t have your elven options available, would you?”
“No, you wouldn’t get your elven options, not the racial ones. We only do it for the origin tags.”
“Only the origin tags? I think there was an undead racial option in the dialogue.”
“Yeah, I know which one you’re talking about, but I don’t think that belongs there, to be honest.”
“Okay, so that might be a minor bug.”
“Hold on, hold on. No. The thing with the undead tags is you can’t treat them like the regular race tags, because they’re undead plus the race. So if you have, for instance, a dwarven option and you’re going to talk to someone, and you’re gonna say I will have my dwarven option… in the dialogue that you’ve seen, if there would have been a dwarf origin tag present, I would have actually been able to say my dwarven option. But I think in this particular dialogue there was just an undead option. That’s why the undead option appears. Because I am undead, and dwarf in this particular case. The systemics of this are really dependent on how they implemented it, and in this particular case I think this is what’s going on there. Or it could have been a bug and I’m just bullshitting.”
“So I guess sometimes you just have a racial attitude that gives you special dialogue options, things to say, and sometimes you have attitudes NPCs have towards your race.”
“If you really want to get into the systemics of how this works, is that we can go into dialogues and say this option only appears when you have this tag, that option only appears when you have this tag, and same goes for the questions. They’re differentiated. If you have this tag. So what that means is, the writer is typically going to write something for each origin character, and then he’s gonna put the generics in there. And then he’d go, oh, it would be cool to put something for a dwarf to say here, so I’m going to put a dwarf question. He’s not necessarily going to do it for all the races, just for the ones where he feels that it’s cool. That’s the way that the system is done. The way that the shapeshifting mask works is that it basically swaps tags around, and then just counts in the dialogues to react to your, er… to your dialogues, right? Then they have a couple of exception cases, which is where the undead comes in, cause he can be an undead and a dwarf, so you got two tags going on! So then it comes to how do they exclude them. Do they say, can you have undead or dwarf, or will be allowed both undead and dwarf? And then it’s more of a feeling matter left to the writer. And this is why my answer is confusing to you – or, confusing to myself! In this particular dialogue, I don’t know how it was done. So for the undead, typically it would be a remark that an undead would know, something like a comment on the nature of death. Then the undead tag would probably always show up then. But it’s not like a dwarven racial tag where it says, hey brother! So it’s not like that. You understand?”
“Let’s just say it’s complicated, eh?”
“It’s not! Not when you’re playing it.”
“I mean from a designer’s standpoint.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s super complicated. It’s insanely complicated. The discussions that we have about these things can sometimes take very long since you always find edge cases, but it’s not that because those edge cases exist we shouldn’t do it. Sometimes you might find things that don’t make a hundred percent sense, but essentially our attitude to that is, eh fuck it.” He laughs.
“So how much development effort and time would you say did the mask take, with all its different implications?”
“The actual development time of the mask is not that big. The thing is that you had to have all the groundwork done for it. It’s the cherry on top of the groundwork that has been done by putting all the racial options everywhere. So that’s very big, yeah. Now here’s something for you, and I’m not gonna answer it for you, just for you to think about: we have voice recording. I put on the mask of the shapeshifter. Do I swap my voice or not? What happens? If you start thinking about that, it becomes really complicated.”
“Now, for those source points that were mentioned. How many of them are there to be found?”
“No, the points. How many of them are there to find?”
“Ah, source points! I don’t know the number. You have ghost, you got source surfaces, you got source orbs, there’s the source fountains you can find, in the beginning in Act I and Act IIa – because we have an Act IIb also – you have a source fountain, and then that’s it. Then you have to start surviving on your own. So in the beginning we make it easier for you, and then it becomes harder.”
“So there are enough source points available that you can experiment with them.”
“Yeah. Except that later on, it becomes a scarce resource.”
“But you could always just hoard them, right?”
“No, because you have a cap on your source points!”
“You have a maximum of three source point slots, and you actually have to work very hard to get those source slots. You start out with one, and then you have to do all kinds of stuff to get the second one, and then all kinds of stuff to get a third one.”
“So you’re pretty much expected to regularly use them.”
“That’s up to you.”
“Yeah, I mean if you want to play it optimally.”
“If you wanna play it optimally, there’s a whole bunch of things that you can do, and this would be one of the things that you could do, yeah.”
“So which kinds of abilities are tied to the source points?”
“Each school has different source skills. I think three per school if I’m not mistaken, and you have the skillcrafted skills that you can make which have source versions also.”
“That spirit talking ability we’ve seen, does that one cost source points?”
“No, the spirit talking does not. It’s a source skill, but it’s not based on source points. It’s a bit confusing, I know. Blessing and cursing, those cost source points.”
“So they’re mostly combat abilities?”
“Well, blessing and cursing are not necessarily combat abilities. They can effect the environment pretty strongly. You’ve seen me change surfaces, and there’s puzzles based on this, so it’s not only combat. Spirit vision is non-combat whatsoever, it shows the world of spirits.”
“But that one’s not tied to source points.”
“No. Spirit vision lets you see spirits, and then you can use source vampirism to suck the source from spirits.”
“But the ability is still source-related?”
“It’s classified as source, those are forbidden magics, so if the magisters see you use them, they’ll attack you.”
“That also works by line of sight, right? If you use a source-related ability while you’re in line of sight, you get in trouble, but once the ability is active, it’s okay?”
“Yeah, once it’s active it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the activation that matters. You could walk around with the spirit vision ability active and they won’t mind, but if you cast it when they see you, that’s gonna be trouble.”
“What about unaffiliated characters? Are they going to care, or only the magisters?”
“People who believe that source is evil will care, those that don’t won’t care. So you will be able to cast source skills in front of your allies or people that don’t care. If you visit the Black Ring, they’re not gonna care. If you convince the Black Ring to let you walk around 'cause that’s not necessarily a given.”
“But you’re not going to know right away which NPC is going to react negatively and which won’t?”
“You’ll know. You’ll learn the lore of the game. I mean, you’re seeing all this stuff condensed into micro-presentations now, but it’s a long game. So you’ll learn when it’s okay to use these abilities and when it’s not.”
“So the game also takes a bit of a non-handholding approach, right? The player is free to explore things, and while he does so he learns more about the world.”
“Yes, that’s our entire philosophy. We’ve made a better journal now, so when something is told to you, you actually know it in the journal, but only when it’s told to you. There’s no handholding or quest-markers or something. You do get map markers, but map markers only appear when they’re told to you.”
“So when an NPC says, go to that mountain top, then you get the map marker.”
“You get the map marker and the journal will say, the NPC asked me to go to the mountain top.”
“About the journal, can we also check up on dialogues we had in the past?”
“Yes! Well, currently there’s a stupid UI problem through which you only have the last 100 dialogues, but it’s on the list for being fixed, so I think it should be fixed by release. It’s a really stupid problem, but it’s a problem.”
“So it’s a bug, right?”
“Eh, it’s not a bug because it’s not necessarily broken, it’s just something that annoys the hell out of me but isn’t too urgent right now. And there’s a really stupid reason, but the problem is it’s really hard to get rid of that reason, and our team is already overloaded with work. So it’s not on the highest priority. But it irritates the hell out of me! We want you to be able to go back in time and re-read all your dialogues.”
“All right! So…”
“I’m gonna have to cut you off now, as I have to prepare for my Twitch presentation. You have two more minutes!”
“Well, that has actually been most of what I wanted to ask already, so you’re free to go!”
He laughs. “That was a lot, man!”
“Yeah, that was quite a bit. I hope it will be published on the Codex before release.”
Swen smirks and chuckles, then bids me farewell as he goes to fetch some refreshments with a tired face. Ah, Gamescom, where you have one PR event after the other, and moments of rest are rare and precious. Looking at my watch, I realize that I still have over an hour until my next appointment, so I go to have some overpriced lunch at a barbecue stand…