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12 days in a town devoured by plague. It's an enemy you can't kill. It's a game where you can’t save everyone
12 days in a town devoured by plague. It's an enemy you can't kill. It's a game where you can’t save everyone
12 days in a town devoured by plague. It's an enemy you can't kill. It's a game where you can’t save everyone
7,139 backers pledged $333,127 to help bring this project to life.

As a Player I Want

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Hi! My name is Ivan Slovtsov, and I am a game designer at Ice-Pick Lodge.
 

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.

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    1. Missing avatar

      Ruckenhof on

      @Luke Ridley @Laputan Machine
      I don't really think that IPL are going to limit the ability to save game drastically. They've probably meant avoiding savescumming in gameplay situations that are supposed to be tough - for example, preventing player from saving in combat is perfectly reasonable.
      But even if Pathologic intend to use checkpoints and autosaves, there are lots of successful implementations of that kind, and they usually allow player to continue playing from wherever he was interrupted.

    2. Missing avatar

      João Pedro on

      We could take the RE solution and make saves a item "ink ribbons". You have to go out of your way to find extra and the usual will only give you some.

    3. Missing avatar

      Alexander Bogush on

      @Laputan Machine
      You're right, real life doesn't give you any second chances, that's why we love games - they do give second chances or chances that will never happen in real life. I'm personally not really happy about games which force a player to play only one determined way. Every gamer choose his own style how to play. And when game itself doesn't restrict this - that's wonderful. Fore freedom - more fun.

    4. Michael on

      You both make compelling arguments about the save system... Quite a challenge for IPL to overcome indeed. It'll be very interesting to see what they decide to do.

    5. Missing avatar

      Hicks on

      @Laputan

      Hey : ) Wall of text warning ; )

      The atmosphere and challenge have always been something special, particularly with Pathologic and The Void. Choices and dilemmas are absolutely part of the game but I also think that people play games for different reasons. Your or my individual "at the time" experience should in no way be negatively affected by someone else’s playthrough unless we were to say that there is a "specific" or "correct" way that the game is meant to be played or we were to specifically look for something to find issue with in their playstyle which really is none of our business. The variety of experiences, moods and conclusions that each player can come to are part of what makes Pathologic so fascinating. One person’s use of the savegame system doesn't affect the experience of another players journey through the game and their own use of the savegame system.

      Based on the experience of the original the player chooses if and when to save. To restate; perhaps they can only play in short bursts due to limited time and need to be able to save as and when required, maybe they *want* to easily relive a particular moment or revisit a location and to share it with others. Perhaps you'll have someone that wants to have an archived save for the beginning of each day that they can then revisit to witness the differing paths that the player can take through the game. There is going to be authors intent over how they would hope the player experiences the game. There's no reason that this approach can't be encouraged or advertised but to say "this is the only/right way to play the game" does seem at odds with the open nature of Pathologic with its multiple endings and interpretations not to mention the unpredictable nature as well as the various reasons that people choose to play games. Pathologic is as much a journey as it is a collection of mechanics and we get out of it what we put in. Some people struggled to get past the second day let alone finish all three characters and get the "hidden" ending. For some it is a struggle that they continue with out of a desire to learn the narrative, for some they are wanting to experience the atmosphere, and there are going to be those that look to master the games systems and mechanics while others simply give up. The mechanics are harsh but fair. There's little reason though to make the save system needlessly restrictive when it is an individual choice on how often, where and even *if* to make use of it - particularly in a single player title.

      Of course you are going to have people that are trying to complete the game in a certain manner with self-imposed challenges and they may or may not take advantage of quicksaves, just as there will be people looking to have a "perfect" playthrough of the game and may or may not take advantage of quicksaves also. Again though, their actions don't prevent them from being subject to the same mechanics as any other player and they don’t affect your or my enjoyment of the game. You, I and they will still need to manage resources, relationships with the towns inhabitants and to navigate the narrative. If someone chooses to have a savegame prior to a particular decision then it does no harm to anyone else’s playthrough, it simply allows that player to experience the game at their own pace and matching their requirements and lifestyle or commitments while doing no harm to anyone else’s playthough.

      If you were prompted to save your game at intervals that could not be skipped - or for it to be mandatory via announced checkpoints then it would be making itself aware and clearly showing itself which would likely be jarring as going into a menu to perform the same action. Perhaps an ingame user interface, a journal that is carried and used or item could act as an activator for saving progress. Whenever we see an onscreen user interface though we are made aware that we are playing a game be it inventory, adherent list, health, dialogue with an npc or yes the main menu to save.

      I understand the appeal and have celebrated the challenge presented by the games mechanics and systems, I understand that it would likely be a more popularist approach and appeal to a wider market if the mechanics were made more forgiving and allowed for more error but I would hope that – just as with the original the design and the challenge it provides isn't compromised. Those mechanics that push survival, awareness and situational dilemmas allow the narrative and atmosphere to be experienced through them. I would hope that this core experience remains consistent and available to all players, those that found and loved the original version of Pathologic and those that are fascinated by this intended remake.

      An “ironman” mode or a similarly restrictive mode could be a compelling addition to the game to provide a more restrictive or challenging experience but to remove an optional and inoffensive system just feels… well wrong.

    6. Laputan Machine on

      @Luke Ridley

      I can sort of understand where you're coming from, and I'm not even saying I'm necessarily disagreeing with you - however, I think there's more to it than just "punishing the player" if they were to regulate the save system.

      First of all, Pathologic is supposed to be about choices, decisions, dilemmas, consequences. All of these elements make up the backbone of the entire game, you could say. Wouldn't you at least agree that an infinite, free-to-use save system would take away from that idea? Real life doesn't give you any second chances, no rewind button or replays. Imagine you are participating in an in-game dialogue, where you have to decide whether or not you want to trust the other character. It loses its edge if you can just instantly go back and undo your decision. Seeing as how decisions like this is such an integral part of the game, I think serious considerations should be made in regards to how save games are utilized.

      Secondly, you talk a lot about the ability to "choose" how you want to use these saves - about self-regulation and not abusing quicksave/quickload, etc. However, you have to remember that not all players are willingly going to shoot themselves in the foot - they're going to use the tools the game has handed to them. Also, if we go with the same line of thinking, one could potentially even argue that making the game super-easy and accessible for everyone is the way to go, because if you wanted a more grim, tough experience you could just set your own random limitations on the game - like playing it without ever using any weapons, for instance. Every decision made by IPL should work towards enhancing the player's experience of the infected town, of the irreversibility of the player's actions.

      Thirdly, (and this is slightly an aside note), remember that any time the save menu is brought up, the player is pulled out of the experience. Constantly going in to save the game would cement the feeling that it is, simply, just a "game".

    7. Missing avatar

      Hicks on

      The issue on save system is going to likely be a headache but I don't think it should be changed from the original where the player was able to save as much or as little as they chose and whenever they wanted.

      It just seems unnecessary to punish *all* players because others may choose to take advantage (or not) of a system present. Their actions and choices don't affect any other persons playthrough so if they choose to quicksave and quickload frequently - why is it a bad thing for any other player? It is down to the individuals playstyle and self control that determines how they save the game whether it be frequently, on the start or end of a day, not at all or perhaps at intervals of sections they would like to replay and experience again. Personally I've done a mixture of all of these and each gives a different feel to the game and ability to present it to others.

      Perhaps they would like to have a chronology or record of their journey through the game or not able to play for a determined amount of time to reach a checkpoint to *then* be able to stop playing. The games mechanics in the original were harsh but they fit the setting and presented a challenge, the save system allowed the player to take part in the game at their convenience though and as before. They could use it as little or as much as they wanted without it affecting any other players experience of the game. If you wanted to "iron man" the game then you could. If you had limited time to play the game then you could play and save your gradual progress. If you wanted to hammer the quick save and load keys you could. Removing the ability for the player to save at their convenience or depending on what is going on in their lives (we can't all play eight hour uninterrupted stretches) just seems too much like artificial difficulty. The game already presents an incredibly challenging but fair set of mechanics. Why add artificial difficulty on top of that?

      Sorry that this went on for quite so long but save systems that unduly punish the player - particularly in single player games where it is of no business what one player does in their playthrough compared to another really gets my back up.

      Original Pathologic was ideal, it *could* be taken advantage of but no one ever forced you to do so.

    8. Ice-Pick Lodge 2-time creator on

      @Danko It's to early to say anything specific, but "save scumming" is something we would like to get rid of in the game.

    9. Danko on

      Good day, my dear Lodge! I have an important design question I have asked awhile back but didn't get an answer for. Are you going to change save system in a way that prevents so-called 'save scumming' I.e quick loading any time your choices lead to undesired result. Do you consider checkpoint system or perhaps complete 'day reset' like in Knock-knock? It is very controversial, but I believe this is important to create real immersion. So what do you think?

    10. Wolfgang Walk on

      @João Pedro: "I'm kind of queasy about this line here."

      I can see your point. However Stalker was a shooter - and then came realism. Pathologic is a different game where usability might be more destructive to the atmosphere.
      I am not hailing the botched controls of the original Pathologic. They got in the way unnecessarily.

      IPL must walk a fine line here. The task is not to MAKE everything realistic, but to make it FEEL realistic. That means that both, too much AND too little usability will get in the way of that feel.
      An example: If I struggle to perform what in real life would be an easy thing (like finding a door closed and wanting to knock so that somebody opens), that would be too little usability that would make me angry about the controls - and thus would destroy the immersion into the world for that moment. If on the other hand the code doesn't even wait for my command to knock but automatically knocks on every locked door I face: that would also anger me, because it takes away my right to decide whether I want to knock in the first place.

      These decision have to be made for possible hundreds of situations in the game - and I'm glad there will be an alpha and a beta version so that players can give their feedback on them before release.

      With all due respect: There's no way that IPL will be right with all of these decisions from the start. And it's great to have these gameplay vivions as user stories so we can tell them: "You didn't quite match your user story in this place, because..."

    11. Missing avatar

      João Pedro on

      However, I agree with all the user points on the list. Hope you manage to achieve all your objectives there.

    12. Missing avatar

      João Pedro on

      "As a player, I want everything that happens to me to feel realistic. I want to feel the discomfort that stems from the limits of human abilities—even if that reduces “usability”."

      I'm kind of queasy about this line here. I remember playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyll some time ago and , even though I really liked the game. I tought that at some point, the game just became more of a chore to finish because of mechanics like bleeding and realistic damage. I really liked the plot, the atmosphere, It's a great game, but I don't feel the need to come back to it due to some of those gameplay choices. I never got around playing the original game, but hearing stuff like what Bernard said, I hope the need for realism doesn't overtake the natural enjoyment of a slowe paced/exploration based game Pathologic seems to be aiming for.

      Don't take this comment as me defending dumbing down mechanics for difficulty sake, I'm just saying that usability might trump realism in some aspects on the long run or as a replayability factor.

    13. Robert Matthew on

      Loving the User Stories design brief! It's clear that you had some fun with it. ("For the night is dark, and full of terrors...") Yet it also sets out clearly what sort of gameplay experience you want the player to have.

      Just one query - the section dedicated to the Plague is very negative, but I remember there being a soup kitchen/refuge operating out of one person's house in the original game. Presumably some positive aspects of living under plague conditions would also be made visible to the player, as some people within the town pull together in mutual support?

    14. Ice-Pick Lodge 2-time creator on

      @Kirill Yes that would be quite a challenge, that's why we lean more towards "non scripted" events that can not be memorized or completed with walkthrough.

    15. Missing avatar

      Kirill on

      Bernard, look, don't forget that mechanically, a stroll through town was mostly the time-flow spend between quest-points A and B. If these little stories are overabundand, then there will be a great temptation for the player to start a day, save, explore the town for these little stories to not lose on the lore, learn the location of the profitable ones, load the day anew, finish the daily quests, catch up on the profitable events. To make the player live with the choices and not to save/load to see all the lore/not to screw up at daylies, will require to rebalance the time flow and day duration. A delicate thing...

    16. Ice-Pick Lodge 2-time creator on

      @Bernard Tabora Yes! That's exactly the direction we are thinking in right now. Lot's of "micro stories" that you might or might not notice while traveling the Town. Though we don't want to have them all "pre scripted" since we would really like to bring something unique to every person who plays the game.

    17. Bernard Tabora on

      This is a very meaty update. I had never read a "User Stories" document from an ongoing project and I am glad you showed us this interesting behind-the-scenes piece.

      As much as I loved my playthrough of the Bachelor, I never went back to complete the two others, mainly for gameplay reasons. I expect alot out of this remake gameplay wise. So, as a user, I want to immerse myself in this simulation (do you still call it that?) without being hindered by its gameplay.

      I have no doubt you will fulfill this wish and this update is good proof that you will address it as an important facet, but here are some annoyances I remember.

      I remember that honest people would not go back to their houses and villains come out after 8PM unless you entered and exited a house. This made for a very direct transition gave you the feeling things revolved around your actions that weren't supposed to.

      I also remember most of the walking time in the day being eventless. The town was fascinating to explore and I enjoyed it very much without minding the walking speed, but didn't enjoy it enough to warrant a second or third playthrough. A better AI/more AI events will likely probably improve this, but is there anything planned to make walking a bit less of a contemplative act? Just a bit though, because contemplating the decaying town is, I think, a prime element of Pathologic's unique atomsphere. I also don't mean minigames or such gimmicks. Perhaps better and more varied interactions with the nameless NPCs? Or maybe adding a few somewhat hidden elements in the town's design that would reward the observant? Examples would include a hidden stash behind a loose brick/rock, a small cross behind an unnamed house indicating that an important NPC'S family member recently died and finding it would be the only way to get them to talk about it (not quest relevant, but flavour text), two NPCs regularly meeting behind a building are plotting something and you can investigate (again, not connected to quests), etc. Odd bits here and there would help us keep on the lookout and feel the town is filled with stories. Depth lies just around the corner. Or maybe across this empty lot?

    18. Ice-Pick Lodge 2-time creator on

      @Kashadoo Now that is the spirit of "design by community"!

    19. Bernard Tabora on

      @Kashadoo

      I....
      "Be respectful and considerate."
      ... don't think this is a very good idea. But keep it up, chap!

    20. Missing avatar

      Kashadoo on

      I have an idea, please tell me if you could use it. While studying at university Bachelor presumably had to live in dormitory with other students. Maybe you can expand on that idea to make him... horny? A moral dilemma: to rob a man or to turn some tricks in the alley (disinfecting his mouth with alcohol afterwards) for money. I think it resonates with the theme of your game.

    21. Missing avatar

      Ruckenhof on

      That "user stories" list you've just published is probably the most interesting and... appetizing thing i've seen here so far. It really tells a lot about the nature of a game. Maybe you should add this link to the main page.