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A new interview with the No Truce With the Furies team has popped up on Indiegraze, and it's a good one. For the most part, the interview stays away from the boring old questions and instead digs deep to try and figure out what type of game No Truce is going to be. The developers oblige and do their best to explain their design philosophies and game mechanics, and while I find it hard to agree with some of their statements, the game itself seems extremely intriguing. An excerpt:
EM: In well-told stories, audiences often come to love protagonists who aren’t terribly likeable (A Clockwork Orange comes to mind); in NTWTF, players assume the role of a disgraced detective in a police procedural drama. To your mind, what is it about difficult situations and dysfunctional narratives that hooks gamers? As you’ve developed locations, NPCs, and subplots, what do you see as essential to maintaining a consistent yet compelling feel?
NTWTF: I think what we like about these characters is seeing other humans being human. We were taught in kindergarten under the teacher’s judgmental gaze to divide people into the simplified categories of “good” and “bad”. We were told the police are the good guys who make sure the bad guys get due punishment. Now we know, of course,that this is not necessarily true. And, forgive me for the triteness of this statement, but the bad guy is just the protagonist of his own story, right?
As humans, we’re a gossipy bunch. There’s something infinitely attractive about seeing into the thoughts and experiences of a character who seems so different from us. It’s also enlightening to see that it’s really all the same stuff that makes us tick. And it’s an opportunity to look into someone’s eyes and see beyond our own reflection.
The really killer part is realizing you can mix that experience with player agency via the magical lightning-blasting-out-of-fingertips medium of video games, which allow you to live that life. And with the incredibly overpowered 4th dimensional super power of saving your game, you can see how far you can push a situation, how insane you can go.
We do not recommend save-scumming, though. Please experience your first run of No Truce With The Furies with full acceptance of the consequences of your actions. It’s better that way. See if you have the guts.
A curious little tidbit: at one point in history, before settling on calling our system Metric, the pen-and-paper version of it was called “Come be a person!”
EM: Literary elements take center stage in NTWTF, including combat via dialogue, a thought cabinet to guide players through old mysteries and new ideas, and a keen connection to a constructed history. As you’ve added elements that bring richness to the game experience, what do you hold as your criteria? What benchmarks do different mechanics need to meet, and what kinds of hard decisions has this involved?
NTWTF: The things we have done, the mechanics we have explored, revolve around bringing fresh gameplay elements into the age-old mechanic of the dialogue. For decades the medium of games has been in a constant state of hurricane stormwinds of mechanical creativity. But, despite this fevered evolution of game design, the Dialogue as a branch of game mechanics has largely been ignored, having been thought of as “good enough” from the get-go. Imagine if FPS games today still had Wolfenstein 3d gunplay: that’s the mechanically stale state that dialogue is in. So much so that it occasionally gets attacked by gameplay-exalting, manifesto-writing designers who want to throw it out as inherently alien to video games, instead of realizing that it’s simply an underdeveloped area of game design.
We’ve taken the systems of our forefathers and tried to virtually run 20 years of video games design process in our heads, so as to arrive at a point where we feel we would be if the development of the dialogue mechanic had not been interrupted.
Should I get into specifics? Some of the mechanics we’ve come up with are the Thought Cabinet, and the red, white and black checks.
Mechanically, the Thought Cabinet offers modulation on your character build. While playing No Truce With The Furies, you talk to people, and find yourself saying some stuff or hearing about something that gives you cause to ponder. This is the Thought Cabinet: you can “equip” thoughts to ruminate over while you play. When a thought is active, it changes your stats, and can give you extra dialogue options or specific bonuses. For instance, the Inexplicable Feminist Agenda gives you bonuses against male characters.
You have a certain amount of ideas you can process, and you can switch your thoughts out, but once you’ve completed a thought or arrived at a conclusion, it results in a permanent change in your character. The fun part here is that these changes can be counterintuitive. After a serious session of philosophizing, you might become enlightened and get bonuses all over the place, or come to the conclusion that the idea was terrible and irrelevant altogether, or it might wreck you with crippling depression. It’s all fuel for roleplaying.
The black checks are passive checks that happen in the background and tie into our skill system. In our system, your skills can talk to you. Have a high enough Drama skill, and your conversations get interspersed with Drama commenting on how someone is obviously lying, thus giving you a deeper understanding of the situation. A high Half Light, a sort of strongman adrenal gland skill, can give you violent dialogue options and incite you to act on them. The black checks represent your inner impulses and psyche, and, depending on how you want to roleplay your character, you can listen to them or ignore them. They’re not infallible either and can get you into trouble if you’re not careful.
The red and white checks are dialogue options for which you roll the dice to see if you fail or succeed. Most dialogues are written to have one such check in it. White checks are simple enough. Say you’re trying to deduce something using your Logic skill. Your stats and skills get added up and rolled against the difficulty of the white check, and you either deduce something or you don’t. If you fail, you can try again later. Red checks are the juicy ones – succeed or fail, you have to play through the consequences of your actions. A red check failure is that garish pick up line you botched and can’t back out of. You’re locked into it now, the horrible situation plays out line by line, you’re digging yourself in ever deeper, thinking, “Oh sweet Jesus, why did you have to say that”? Sweet honey-dripping awkward until the merciful end.
And here is where the interconnected nature of dialogues in No Truce With The Furies shines. Depending on things you’ve said earlier, you can get bonuses or penalties on these rolls. Broke down crying in front of a girl? She might feel sympathy for you. Add to that whatever thoughts might be lingering in your head and the social effect of the clothes you’re wearing (hint: bellbottom pants really do not make you look authoritative!). All of this is weighed when you’re rolling for that red check.
This rhizomatic, interdependent web of modulation is what brings the dialogues to life. We want to write dialogue that IS the game – as fun to navigate as 3d worlds, as fun to play as tactical combat and as enjoyable to read as any good book. Them’s the criteria for our systems design.