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With ZA/UM Studio's detective RPG Disco Elysium launching in less than two weeks, the developers share a video that introduces us to Measurehead, one of the characters we'll meet during our investigation, and Dizzy DROS, the rap artist voicing him. Check it out:
Then, you may also be interested in checking out a few previews for the game. First, there's PC Gamer with their general impressions:
To get prosaic for a second, all this is folded into a classic top-down RPG. I walk from location to location clicking on objects, picking up clues or just coins, then interrogating every character who will let me climb their dialogue tree. It's Planescape: Torment if instead of being based on Dungeons & Dragons it was more like Life on Mars or China Mieville's novel The City and The City.
The thing about mysteries is that everything hinges on the solution, and if it falls apart at the finish that makes the time spent getting there feel wasted. The opening hours of Disco Elysium give me confidence, though. The writing's perfect for the genre, poetic in a "Raymond Chandler sneaking something profound past his editor" way, and there's a lot of detail to uncover. A side task to explore abandoned shops that might be cursed blew out into something far bigger than I expected.
What's more, playing through the opening a second time with a different loadout was just as interesting, changing the tone like I was watching a reboot with a different director. Now I want to go back a third time as a supergenius who can analyze tire tracks and tell you what car they came from while snapping at my long-suffering sidekick. The game's afoot, even if I've only got one shoe.
Then, there's also Jump Dash Roll with a preview that calls Disco Elysium this generation's Planescape: Torment:
Putting points into a skill may not, however, give you the outcome you expect. Your skills have egos of their own and want you to listen to them. If you don’t, or worse, if you try to utilise them and fail, they may react hard. For instance, if you have Suggestion from the Psyche set and try to influence someone, but fail and end up losing face, Suggestion may go off the rails and force you to do something you might not want to do. It’s Disco Elysium’s way of simulating thinking, a concept intangible enough in real life, let alone having it represented in a game. Kurvitz continues: “The struggle of composing sentences, hearing background fears, my conceptualisation giving me a bad joke I’m not going to act on, and so on...there’s a kind of anxiety and tension of being alive and thinking.”
Heavy stuff indeed, which makes it all the more impressive that ZA/UM has progressed this side of storytelling — the internal mechanisms which dictate what we do and say as a character — in a way that has simply not been done before. Many RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age incorporated puzzle elements into their side quests, while more action-oriented games like the Deus Ex series went in heavy on minigames. With Disco Elysium, this isn’t necessary, as Hindpere explains, “One of the biggest puzzles you’ll encounter is yourself, and specifically whether you should trust your skills,” she says. “Quite often your skills will tell you to do something, but it then turns out that doing that thing wasn’t actually such a good idea.”
Argo Tuulik, lead writer on the game, agrees that the way skills are portrayed tries to closely imitate a person’s constant internal struggle in life. “You might have an irresistible urge to go for a cigarette. This is just a thought inside your head, but it’s not always a good idea — it’s the same for our skills. They may give you bad advice.”
And finally, there's also this lengthy Rock Paper Shotgun interview with the game's developers that, among other things, lets us know that the team already has plans for a sequel. An excerpt:
“There’s no such thing as launch,” Kurvitz says. “Something that I can impress on video game journalists and fans and everyone is that, for a video game company, there is no launch.” Of course, there is the launch where the game comes out, which is incredibly stressful, but there’s also every time you put out a trailer, every time you send a preview build out to journalists, sending out review builds, the simplified Chinese launch… all launches.
Even once all those are done, the journey doesn’t necessarily end for Disco Elysium. Kurvitz had earlier joked a couple of times about saying things that PRs can’t object to, and decided to make up for anything else he might have put on the record with what he called “the magic words”:
“‘People… Hold on to your save games!'”
“That’s good, that’s good!” says Metsniit. “The save game bomb!”
Disco Elysium will have a sequel. Well, hopefully. They are quick to reassure me that, even if there is never a sequel of any kind, never a whiff of an expansion, Disco Elysium is very self-contained. But neither did they want to paint themselves into a corner. Disco Elysium is “about reapplying for your job as a human being and as a cop”, and the reward, if you succeed (which you might not) is that you… get to keep being those things. The ending, which people outside the studio haven’t seen yet, sets up a new area and the possibility for “a very large game,” says Kurvitz. “Even much larger than Disco Elysium, which is already quite large.”
An end goal of theirs is for the sequel to have a second main protagonist. Rather than Disco Elysium’s middle aged male cop, players could choose to be a pregnant woman, about five months along, which Kurvitz says would be an “incredible writing challenge” within Disco Elysium’s very weird, very internalised system of skills and thoughts. “It would be unbelievable to use our skill system to speak about the bodily sensations of having another organism inside of you, while you’re in the setting and talking to another person.” I call that quite a spicy meatball.