In the ongoing development of our first game, our primary inspiration comes from both classic and recent RPGs. Much of this remains unseen in the public releases, but I’ve already integrated one of my favorite ideas into our game.
Upon playing Mass Effect for the first time, I was surprised by how they turned interactive dialogue into a cinematic experience. Instead of giving you an exact outline of what Commander Shepard would say, you’d have a limited summary. It’d give you enough to drive the conversation in your direction, but omit just enough to make you interested in your character’s delivery. More than any other design choice in Mass Effect, that element stands out as masterful.
When I realized that we’d essentially be making Dialogue RPGs for a while, I keyed in on the Mass Effect dialogue system and took it one step further. I chose to abstract your dialogue choices down to emotions in most cases. Instead of seeing, “I’m going to kill you,” as a dialogue choice, our game might give you the option to select “Angry,” “Vengeful,” or “Cruel.”
I think it fits the characters better and forces players to read the situation rather than the character’s mind. You might be dealing with Amalia in a conversation and suddenly you’ll need to make a decision to be hasty or indecisive. Instead of perfect knowledge, you’re thinking through the character’s actions now. You have to react on a hunch and the game remembers every choice. These two forces introduce an elevated sense of pressure to an otherwise slow-paced, dialogue-centric RPG.
Given that the first few iterations of Vagrant Dreamtide will not have battle functionality, I wanted to give players some hint as to how we design. The first thing is, I don’t want you to win. I don’t even want you to know that victory is an option. Instead, I want you to be honest and trust your best instincts. If and only if, you attune yourself to the story’s logic will you be able to achieve victory.
I personally think that games are more fun when you’re not in full control. I think it’s especially good when the designer isn’t out to satisfy your every whim. A true challenge comes when you’re forced to interact with a world on terms other than your own. We seek to accomplish this by introducing just enough inefficiency to throw you off, but not enough to completely break you. The net effect is that a blind choice becomes a guided choice. A game that presents few obstacles is suddenly a landmine.
That’s not to say that there are any clear victories. It will take time before some of your early choices unwind into the story. The early segments set the table for a perfect storm of causality to come crashing down.