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Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates, a Neo-Victorian RPG that we first heard about not so long ago, now has a proper Steam page that counts down the remaining days until the game's announced October 4, 2017 release. That date is less than a month away but at this point we know very little about the game itself, apart from what we could glean from a few recent forum posts. What's even more odd, is that Empyre's writer, Paul Noth, has apparently never played a video game prior to starting his work on Empyre. Another forum post explains the challenges that arose from such a bold move:
I’d like to begin by categorically stating that Videogame writers are awesome and have written many adventures over the years that I have thoroughly enjoyed. In this post, I would like to share the very positive experience I had using a writer who was not a videogame writer to provide the script for our game. Perhaps some of you may choose to try this out by bringing someone like that onto your writing team.
Our writer, Paul Noth, had never played a videogame before. I’m not sure if he had ever even seen someone playing a videogame before. He never played PnP Role Playing games growing up. He has only a passing knowledge of the Fantasy (maybe seen a few movies) genre. In other words, he was completely and totally unprepared and unqualified when it came to the task of writing a video game script.
On the other hand, he is very well read, an amazingly talented writer and knows how to deliver an awesome story.
His response when I asked him was enthusiastic. He was always up for new kinds of projects and experiences.
One evening Paul and I got together and played Fallout 2 for a couple of hours. I showed him how to move his character around, how to interact with beings in the game and most importantly, how story is conveyed in a game environment through dialogues, cutscenes and action. Although there are differences, a video game script is very similar to a movie/TV/play script. So it is not as hard as one would think to show the ropes to a newcomer.
And that was pretty much it.
A couple of weeks later, we had our game treatment. After we reviewed, edited and finally approved it, Paul wrote all the dialogues, cutscenes etc. for the game.
Not everything worked straight out of the gate. When you work with someone who is inexperienced in the mechanics of game design, you do find yourself having to discuss certain plot points that just can’t happen for one reason or another. So you have to be prepared to do reworks of certain scenes.
Which brings me to...
The Best Moment
My very favorite misstep (which, with the right attitude) is a moment of pure joy. The final climactic moment of the game: The antagonist appears with an army of giant (hundreds of feet tall) robots who shoot electricity out of their heads marching down on the player. With a top down isometric RPG where you could only see the robots kneecaps, this probably would not be the most dramatic of game endings… But I wish it could have worked.
The End Result
What were my impressions?
When you really well understand the structure of quests and side quests in a videogame, the temptation that we all feel is to adhere to that structure at all times and for all things.
For example, find person X who asks you to retrieve object Y for reward Z. Or in Billy Goat Gruff storytelling mode, deal with person A who reveals his stronger boss person B who in fact ends up being employed by person C, the real true mastermind. Or the story within a story within a story style of game writing a la 1001 Nights.
Taking a writer off the street, so to speak, and you get no rats in the basement nor old ladies with missing cats. In a way, because they do not understand how the scripts really work, you get something unexpected out of it. Instead of applying all your knowledge and experience to a script, you have someone who chooses a new path that doesn’t necessarily work but with a bit of bending and twisting, you can fit it into your game and come out with a unique storytelling style.
I’m trying to avoid spoilers in this post so I hope that any of you who found this entertaining, enlightening, interesting will come over and give our game a try to see the end result of an unconventional development decision.
And here's the game's overview and feature list from the Steam page:
In 1899, the coastal cities of the world flooded. In New York City, most people left. But some didn’t. Those people banded together into groups forming their own City-States. Italian immigrants in Little Italy formed the Mano Nera City-State, the police and government workers became the Tammany City-State and so on.
Determined to survive and even thrive in this hostile environment, they turned to the sea for sustenance. What they could not provide themselves, they traded for with the “Mainlanders”. Fresh water pumped into the city through pipes. One day, the water stops flowing through the pipes. As the city watches it’s water reserves run lower and lower, it is you who will attempt to save them…
- Superb Story: Our game was penned by distinguished author and cartoonist Paul Noth.
- Neo-Victorian Setting: Steam technology has dominated all technological advances.
- Authenticity: Many aspects of 19th Century “Gilded Age” New York can be found in-game.
- Fast Tactics Combat System: Plan your attack in peace and then execute it in Real Time.
- Art of Barter System: Barter weapons for weapons with traders. No money allowed.
- Nerve System: Nervous characters will at times fail you. But there are medicines for that.
- Archetypes: Choose from four different archetypes to find the one that best fits your playstyle.
- Professions: Characters will have 19th Century Professions that modify their statistics.
- Customization: Choose your perks and upgrade your skills.
- Unique Weapons: Weapons are modified to fit a Steam powered world. Or created from scratch.
- Medicinal Items: Genuine Medical products, many of which contain poisonous substances.
This description sounds promising. I'm curious to see if the game delivers on these promises.