As a Player I Want
Since the launch of the Kickstarter campaign there’s been a lot of discussion about how the new Pathologic might turn out gameplay-wise. The subject has piqued the interest of both those who have played the original Pathologic and those who have never heard of the game before. So I thought it may to be a good idea to give you a sneak peek at how it will hopefully turn out by explaining what goals we're setting.
The original Pathologic was a game of choices… or perhaps it’s better to say “a game of dilemmas”. Let’s take one of the classic examples which is well-known to the people who have played the original game and which was mentioned in our Kickstarter pitch.
You are on your own in a town that is slowly descending into chaos. Streets are filled with disease, marauders, and straight out desperate people. The law has not been completely abandoned yet, but militia is mostly concerned with guarding their posts and holding the perimeters of infected districts, not preserving lives (including yours). You are almost defenseless (your only weapon at this point are your own hands or a blunt knife if you’re lucky). You are low on resources and health. You’re barely standing from sleep deprivation, but at the same time you are starving and about to die if you don't find food and medicine. And suddenly… what is that? A corpse of a guardsman killed by an angry mob! No time for moral anguish—you rummage through his pockets and find a revolver in decent condition. There even are two bullets left in it. What a find! Just a second ago any enemy would destroy you, and now you can easily take any life and maybe even two!
So what do you do with the newly acquired powers to grant swift and certain death? This is the moment when a dilemma arises. There are many games that provide an obvious answer: go kill some “enemies”, loot them, use the loot you got from them to kill even more “enemies”, loot them… etc. But in Pathologic you can never be sure. Fighting is the last resort, not a means to an end. The gun might misfire, enemies might have nothing of value on them, and what if your shots attract someone and you will be caught in a situation with a whole gang attacking you while you are out of ammunition and low on health already? And what is the definition of an “enemy” anyway? Is someone sinister-looking or even engaged in a witch hunt in front of your eyes, but not hostile towards you personally, an enemy? Or maybe you want to use your weapon on someone who can’t defend themselves as a “safer option”?
What some players did in this situation was they took this rare and incredibly valuable find and brought it to a pawn shop (and every shop is a pawn shop in a plague-ridden town) to sell it for a really unfair price. That allowed them to buy some ridiculously overpriced food and medicine to get a better chance of living to see another day.
So that was a dilemma. Just a single example out of many tough decisions you will have to make in the game, mind you. And I also want you to notice that there is no pre-written plot involved in this particular story. It’s just a situation that happens to YOU as a player, and you have many ways to deal with it in your own non-prescripted way. We really loved this aspect of the original Pathologic, and we want to make it even stronger. We want your every action, every path you choose while traveling across the town, every interaction you make with NPCs or the world, every struggle you encounter—to be a part of YOUR story, not just filler content between plot-related checkpoints. We don’t want to pre-determine your behaviour in the game, we just want to put you in a really harsh morally unclear situation and let you handle it in your own way.
What we are doing is creating an “ecosystem” that will allow these situations to arise. We plan to rebuild many of the key gameplay systems from scratch: inventory, combat, famine economy, scavenging, theft, and lockpicking… Actually, in some aspects the new Pathologic might change drastically gameplay-wise compared to the original one. But the feel of the game will stay the same, and I hope it will become even thicker and more accentuated.
And speaking about feelings… I’d also like to tell you what Pathologic will “feel” like. Pathologic is many things, but one of things it is not—it’s not fun.
There is a method of setting high-level concepts and goals for software development called “User stories”. It’s quite simple really: all you have to do is describe your future project in short sentences on behalf of its “end user”. For example: “As a user, I want my text-editor to be accessible from all of my devices”. Nice and easy and not controversial at all, right?
Now lets try to implement this method into video games. First thing that might come to mind is “As a player, I want to have fun”. Sounds good? “Fun” is always good, after all that is what games are about… or are they?
When we wrote “user stories” for the new Pathologic game, we realised that there is simply no place for “fun” in any of the statements we were making. No place that wouldn’t break the whole idea of the game anyway. What we came up with was more about an empathic bond between the player and the game rather than sheer “fun” or even “enjoyment“. “As a player, I want to feel the “physicality” of the items in my inventory.” “As a player, I want to feel that I have a “home” that I can go back to.” “As a player, I want to relate to the pain and the hardships my character is going through”... You can check out the whole list here and see that nothing there has anything to do with fun. But… at the same time I, as a player, really want to play the game described there and I hope that I am not alone.
It’s no secret that culture and art have the ability to strongly affect and “change” people. I believe that, when you add meaningful interaction to it, the potential of this ability rises to unimaginable heights. We are just yet to unlock it. The original Pathologic made a step in this direction. Now it’s time to come even closer…
And now I’d like to tell you about another awesome project featuring plague doctors that has been Kickstarted recently.
Darkest Dungeon is a hardcore turn-based roguelike dungeon crawler where one of the resources you’ll have to look out for is your sanity that’s slipping out of your grasp with each wounded and fallen ally. The creators of the game has also teased my interest with features like “tend to your heroes’ wounds, both corporeal and cerebral” and “meaningful permadeath”. Hurray for original game mechanics! You can support and preorder the game on its website if you like the concept.
The Russian version of the update is here.
Русская версия апдейта — здесь.