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It's been a while since we heard anything about ZA/UM Studio's intriguing detective RPG Disco Elysium, but if you head on over to the game's developer blog right now, you'll find a recent article previously published by Canard PC, a French PC gaming-focused magazine, but now available in English. The article, or rather its first part, provides a fairly detailed overview of the game's features and then casually mentions that it should be launching before the year is over.
The name of the prose. Quality like this didn’t happen all by itself. In the UK office of ZA/UM (pronounced “Zowm”), near Brighton beach, I had a long chat with Robert Kurvitz, Disco Elysium’s lead designer and lead writer – an Estonian native who has what he himself describes as an unreasonable degree of perfectionism. Even the place names in the game took a ridiculous amount of work: as Kurvitz explains, “Paris, Berlin, London… All these names have evolved over thousands of years. We as humans have adapted and refined them to a point that goes beyond comprehension. This is why our place names have to be excellent too, otherwise I wouldn’t find them credible myself.” I didn’t dare point out the existence of places like Cockermouth and Lickfold, proof that human beings don’t always think things through – I was already sold on the Disco Elysium universe. Admittedly, the game could hardly have left me cold and indifferent, with its isometric viewpoint in 3D and stunning graphics reminiscent of an oil painting complete with brushstrokes showing through. But best of all is the fact that the game’s contemporary society, unpredictable climate and industrial-meets-rustic backdrops make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a sleepy coastal resort somewhere by the Baltic Sea. The vast city of Revachol is not, however, any place on Earth – you can tell by the deliciously retro technology, the strong French influences (the game starts in a harbour area called Martinaise) and a history that is just familiar enough to spark curiosity. “I wanted to create a world for people who have more or less run out of interesting history articles to read on Wikipedia,” says Kurvitz.
Text appeal. Fittingly, the multi-layered, intriguing history of this universe is not explained to the player through the usual lore dumps1, but instead comes through in snatches and fragments, which is infinitely preferable. Those particularly hungry for information could always spend a few points on the “encyclopedia” skill, which will interrupt the dialogue to bring you an impassioned history lesson – but there are so many other enticing skills available that you’ll find yourself faced with a real dilemma. Where other RPGs would normally use just three or four skills (at most) to influence dialogue, here you have a whopping twenty-four. And all of them are useful, desirable, and smart – so much so that I sat looking at the character customisation screen for a good few minutes, unable to choose between a sixth sense, an ability to lie, or hand/eye coordination: a fiendishly difficult decision.