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Robert Kurvitz, the lead designer and writer on ZA/UM Studio's recently released detective RPG Disco Elysium, is no stranger to alcohol and substance abuse. But in order to realize his dream project, he kicked his bad habits and picked up exercise. Which is quite an admirable feat. And if you'd like to learn how and why he managed to do this, what the future holds for ZA/UM Studio, and when we can expect to play Disco Elysium on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, you should check out this Escapist Magazine interview with the man.
Here are a few sample paragraphs:
“The two biggest favors anyone’s ever done me in my life are the political education from Estonian punk bands and what (lead designer and writer) Chris Avellone did with Planescape: Torment. Punk bands got me through my life until I was 27 or 28, and Chris Avellone’s contributions to video games got me past 29. I don’t think I would have had the imagination to think you could be so ambitious and literary in video games.”
Kurvitz wrote 1 million words for the game, which he said can be played for 120 hours without uncovering all its secrets. In order to keep his interconnecting narrative straight, he decided to give up all vices including drinking, smoking, and “other things that people in Eastern Europe sometimes do.” He watched his diet, exercised regularly, and monitored his anxiety levels to become “a warrior monk of video game development.”
That asceticism may seem surprising given how big a role drugs and alcohol play in Disco Elysium, starting with the main character, an alcoholic suffering from memory loss. While Kurvitz said his team has “intimate physical knowledge of mind-altering substances,” he wanted to use the game in part to warn about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
“It starts out as a kind of party joke,” he said. “Basically you wake up on the floor in the Dude, Where’s My Car? of video games. But to write the game with the humanitarian ambition we wanted, it couldn’t remain a joke. In RPGs, usually the amnesiac character has a kind of curse cast upon them and a dark shadow hunting them, and ours was alcohol.”