We had the upmost pleasure thanks to Adam Felkai from Geekz.444, a real sweet Hungarian gaming site that has awesome news and cool design (like, we are honestly sorry we can not speak out brother-language to properly explore their content) to answer some really well prepared questions. As they published the interview with our Lead Designer and Art Director in Hungarian, they were kind enough to let us post the English version of it. Dig away into some backstories and concepts!
A brief summary for those who are not (yet) familiar with No Truce With The Furies. This is an Estonian narrative based isometric rpg with oilpaint-like visuals. The game shares the world of a novel’s titled: Sacred and Terrible Air (Püha ja õudne lõhn) written by Robert Kurvitz who is also a designer of the game. The novel’s genre is fantastic realism. Fantastic realism, according to your devblog means a non-static world. Would you talk a little about this?
KURVITZ: Both the game and the novel take place in a fictional world that we ourselves endearingly call Elysium. This, we dare to say, new type of setting has been dubbed fantastic realism by literary critics. If pressed, I would name three main features that distinguish this world from other sci-fi fantasy settings. These are:
1. It’s non-static as you said. Fantasy settings usually occupy a single period of history, thus forever remaining in a kind of eternal stasis (middle-ages, near-future, cyberpunk, China, you-name-it). Ours has actual six thousand years of history: it spans from its own version of the early Bronze Age (Perikarnassian period) to the early Middle Ages (Franconigerian period), to the Renaissance (Dolorian period), right up to a decade we call “The Seventies”. It’s a world like ours, one that has evolved culturally and technologically over widely varied periods of time. No Truce With the Furies takes place in the modernity of this world.
2. It has geopolitical credibility. In this world there are states, nations, boring political parties, NGOs, and defunct monarchies hanging on to tabloid media to maintain the final threads of relevance. These states, nations, continents all have credible names like Meteo, Vesper-Messina, Revachol, Graad or Vaasa.
3. This world aspires to outmanoeuvre history itself. We don’t only copy the structures and the history of our world, we try to improve upon it. As people who are obsessed with history and who have thus constructed a complete alternative history, we are always looking for ways to out-do the reality. For example, the French and the Russian revolutions are something we are endlessly fascinated with. The Antecentennial (or turn-of-the-century) Revolution is our answer to those historical events. It is an equally grand and even more failed expression of extreme humanism that lays the foundation for the political scene in No Truce With the Furies. Similarly we like to invent new names for familiar things. Motorcarriages instead of cars, anodic music instead of electronic music, pistolettes instead of guns. This should, in effect, bring out the inherent qualities of these daily objects and put them in a fresh light. Elysium, our worldbuilding project, is all about relishing the world, appreciating the world, finding out new and interesting things about the world. It’s for people who have read all of Wikipedia and want more. Another world as believable and terrifying as our own, a tool for analysing ours.
How tight is the connection between the book and the game? Is it a Witcher-like situation?
KURVITZ: Things in this world are connected to each other like things in our world are connected to each other – not like things are connected to each other in Star Wars. The book and the game share themes and historical developments. The book is set in the early seventies and the game is set in the early fifties. They are connected the way two stories set in our world would be. The fault-lines developing in the fifties are more apparent in the seventies. The situation has worsened, the political climate has shifted, but there is no Skywalker saga. The main story in Elysium is history.
Oh, and the book is Scandinavian noir, as the game is basically a French cop-show. Elysium is built to accommodate all genres of fiction.
No Truce is not only narrative centric, but one can dare to say: it is dialogue centric. The core mechanics is built around the dialogue system with things like thought cabinet and afterthought dialogoue system. After a lot of posts about it, it seems to me very complex and with an option to change the NPCs’ world view or to change ours (I mean our avatar’s). Would you talk about briefly how does it work and what can one achieve with it within the game?
KURVITZ: It’s very complex to develop, but very simple to play. I would say it’s probably one of the simplest role-playing systems we, as fans of such systems, have ever seen. The much touted Thought Cabinet is simply an inventory, like the one where you have your gun and your armour and your sword (by the way, we also have that one), but the Thought Cabinet is for thoughts, not items. So you can loot these thoughts from conversations you have with people. The thoughts you gain can be interesting concepts (like inventing the future of dance music) or personal doubts (The Hobocop Thought: “Should I become a hobo instead of a cop?”), which in turn can give you bonuses and penalties to your abilities. You can min-max basically – become the ultimate political debater or the most threatening madman! But unlike regular inventory items, thoughts can be dangerous – they evolve. That hobocop-plan might become a fixation: tell them all to fuck off and go live underneath a bridge, cause police work is cramping your style. Get -2 to Volition, -1 to Rhetoric. Whereas before The Hobocop Thought revealed bonus-extra-collectors-edition pet-bottles on the map. Sweet extra source of income!
The thing is, we really like traits as design concepts. Remember traits in Fallout? They gave you something and took something away.
As to the skill system, it’s banal really: you have twenty-four skills, divided under four main attributes. This governs everything your character can do in the world. Use Hand-Eye Coordination to take aim, Visual Calculus to find the chink in their armour, Empathy to feel their fear. We try to facilitate literary fiction-like stories.
While Dark Souls motto could be something like this: failure is the way to success, according to you failure is fun. In the game one can be silly and can do stupid things. But is this a part of a learning process (like in the Soulsborne games), or the player have to live with the consequences? (Personally I think the latter option means way more fun.)
KURVITZ: Live with the consequences. Failure only leads to more failure.
We want the ultimate failure – your friends giving up on you or you losing your job, the only thing that meant something in your life – to also be a satisfying experience. Story-wise, character-wise. Emotionally not so much. We’ve written out the failure states in this game with much more detail and psychological realism than games usually present failure. You never lose content because of failing, the content just becomes more miserable – and a lot funnier as well. So yes, in that way failure is also fun.
Moreover, it’s quite often a player’s own choice to take needless risks, to recklessly burn the candle from both ends. But you can of course save yourself from failure by dutiful min-maxing. You can be a good power-gaming munchkin. Yes, redemption for this character is possible, but we want it to be hard. There is challenge. A real strategy.
ROSTOV: A lot of video game design revolves around cajoling the player to play through their mistakes. There are lots of things you can do – from superficial stuff like hiding the load button deeper into the menu (bad idea), to adding an ironman checkbox, to actually doing some heavy duty design work on making failures fun. For example, XCOM is legitimately a much more enjoyable game if you don’t reload. And the best session of Civilization is where you’re neck to neck, making mistakes and gaining advantages, but where victory escapes your grasp on the very last second.
In that sense you shouldn’t have to fail, retry and win. Masocore was fun in 2007, but it’s 2017 now, and in No Truce we want you to live with your mistakes.
The protagonist is already a failure, an alcoholic police officer, a “disgrace to the uniform”. When I saw him and read about him, I thought: that is the charactrer I want to play in an RPG, because he is intersting. So on the one hand ZA/UM Studio has every chance to give back the roleplaying aspect to the RPG genre (nowdays RGPs are way too often superhero creators), but don’t you have fears about how it will resonate with the audience? Players socialized to be a winner, to be stronger and stronger and to get the “best possible ending”. Not only that, our society tends to hide failures and emphasize winnings, like we all do it on Facebook. The question is: do you want change our (the “Western”) way of thinking about our failures or do you only want to revolutionize the cRPG? 🙂
KURVITZ: Just the revolution for us please.
Of course we want there to be a slim chance of crawling back to the good graces of your friends and finding solace in a good work. And we want it to be realistically hard-earned. And much as you said, a player’s choice in how they envisioned this character. We don’t want it to be bleak and hopeless, just more reflective of the real-life experiences of our players. Our generation has grown up poorer and with less social security than our parents’ generation. It’s harder for us and I think it’s time for games to reflect that. Young people today are tough people. They’re the real heroes, they’re gonna have to clean up all the nafta. See that nafta? Lick it up, youngoh! No, but seriously, lick it up.
But to simmer down, we want to put the role-playing back in the Role-Playing Game. As every director knows, failure is how you instruct an actor to play the role. Characters are defined by their shortcomings and tragedies. Everyone who has played good pen-and-paper role-playing games knows this.
ROSTOV: I think winning is terribly boring. Winning happens once and leaves you with a dull hangover. There is nothing left to do after you win, only the mild depression of knowing you did it and by virtue of doing it,“it” is now done and gone. The glow of victory is a false comfort. And even personally for us failure has stalked us for a long time – before all this video games hullabaloo we were just unsuccessful writers and artists. When we decided to get into this video game making thing, we did so by saying: “We have failed at so many things, let us fail at making a video game!”
Yet among the many slogans we’ve flown on the ZA/UM flag there is also “Victory in our lifetime!”
Let’s not fail with No Truce With The Furies, that would not be good.
Is there an option for physical combat in the game? Can you kill other characters?
KURVITZ: Totally, man. You can like totally kill other characters. But it all comes in a lush, written-out naturalistic detail. Really see the light go out in their eyes. Feel sick afterwards. And get interrupted by a horrible and tactless skill-check that lets you inflict even more harm to the frail human form before you. We call it story-combat. It’s a highly literary turn-based combat, where your inventory determines the actions you can take in a branching violent dialogue. We handle everything in the dialogue engine, but that doesn’t mean the narrative is a bloodless exercise. We want to give the player great freedom at a considerable expense. But just to be clear, there are only two or three of these action-showdowns in the game, just as there are only two or three in a good Dungeons and Dragons campaign or in a nice thriller.
Will the main character have companions?
KURVITZ: Yes. One very fleshed out partner-type character, Kim Kitsuragi, your voice of professionalism. You can possibly get one or two more depending on the choices you make, but we are really tying to be very concentrated here. We want you and this character to have a professional relationship that’s fleshed out with a lot of reactivity – maybe even more than we ourselves have ever experienced in a role-playing game. This comes at a price: we can’t have an entire posse of them. Instead we are focusing on your relationship with your partner, and even more importantly – – yourself. The “you” character is an extremely complicated writing task. In No Truce With the Furies your skills talk to you. You have different conversations with your own mental faculties. That’s where a lot of the gameplay lies.
ROSTOV: Yes, it’s a bit of a wank, but I’m really starting to like the idea that beyond regular old NPC’s hanging around, you become your own companion. The way your skills interject into dialogues and how they colour your perception of what’s going on feels a lot like how games have handled companions. They have a name, they have a portrait, they say stuff in line with their nature. Your skills almost become your council of advisors, a bit like the advisors system in King of Dragon Pass. But in No Truce you invest into your skills to assemble a council of voices in your head.
I have seen a lot of imagery about a strange vehicle, a chariot-car thingy (it is on a drawning which I used for wallpaper for my laptop during this summer). Will this be the player’s means for transportation? It also suggests that the gameworld will be pretty big, is it true?
KURVITZ: We really tried to make the car interesting again for the player. In reality cars look boring and tampon-shaped, and I think people are just tired of them. But the idea of a personal automobile vehicle is terribly exciting, so we wanted something that makes you appreciate that idea again. The Coupris “Forty” Kineema is a sports model motor-carriage. It burns heavy fuel oils and electricity. However, there’s a DUI situation that initially keeps you from physically operating it. Although we are looking into turning the Kineema into a quick-travel system.
The world itself is not a “massive open-world”. Ours is a palm-sized, intricate toy-box of a world. Some bombed-out seaside ruins and a strip of urban coast. An unimportant part of the very important city of Revachol – the district of Martinaise. While Martinaise is an open world and there is plenty to explore (the level of detail really *is* incredible), a lot of this exploration will take place in the fourth dimension – the player will be rummaging through its history. This is where the non-static world idea comes into play. Martinaise is where some would say the turn-of-the-century revolution was ultimately lost. There’s a lot of history to explore. And not in a sense of a massive lore-dump manner. I think we’ve really discovered a new way to use writing to add subtle layers of history to the world.
The dialogue system with all its complexity already suggests a very high replay value. Will we get drasticly different playthroughs?
KURVITZ: Yes. One thing that I think we are doing quite differently from other games is sequencing. The order you choose to approach Martinaise determines the information you have available in each of these situations. This creates immense rippling differences in playthroughs. Only the relatively concentrated size of the game lets us keep these mutations in check. We really want this to be the game you will immediately replay.
Another thing is the variety of character builds you can create. A highly physical madman who communicates with the city of Revachol using his hair follicles will be radically different from an intellectual who employs cultural theory to better understand the world and the case at hand. There are fantastically different approaches to the police work – some of these even useless, or just downright detrimental. You can attempt using our skill system.
The oil paint-like esthetics are not only pretty, but quite unique. What were the sources of inspiration for this?
ROSTOV: The art comes together from two impulses. It comes from distaste at the saccharine slush which usually parades around as art in video games, and it comes from love for contemporary oil painting. It also comes from heavy duty navel-gazing. Looking inwards is the great plague under which art has suffered for the past century. It’s a drunk conversation at a shit party which has been going on for so long and has gone around so many bends you have to be a bit mental to want to catch up with it. The fruits of this bender have given us the ever popular “art is just random pretentious shit” idea, alienating society and culture. But looking past the surface muck you can see that some people have done tremendous amounts of heavy intellectual lifting. There are ideas on how to paint, which have gestated in a relative isolation for a long time. Ways to arrange colour, shapes or brush strokes, what to depict and what not to, how to handle sharp and soft edges and so forth. To the layman a painting is just an image, but to the artist-engineer the way a painting has been assembled sits bare for analysis. A collection of ideas, techniques, ideology and priorities. Standing on the shoulders of giants I want to go there, pick the choicest of ideas and take it back into my own work and into the game and work on it forward from that point.
It’s harder than it sounds. Surprisingly games and the technology behind them tend to railroad you into a certain look and feel and it’s a struggle to keep off that road. A lot of the screenshots we’ve shown are essentially pictures of paintings still in progress and I think they’ll change quite a bit by the time they’re done. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, I think we can go much bolder with colour and brushwork.
Speaking about sources of insparation: I read that for the game itself your sources were games like: Kentucky Route Zero or Planescape Torment and I see the connection between them and your work. However, earlier there was also a Call of Duty game on the list (it is not there anymore). Was this only a joke?
KURVITZ: In the early phases of the project – although, as far as I can see, this arrangement may continue well into the late stages as well – our own writing team was (and is) responsible for our commercial copy – that means, we write this stuff. And sometimes we are tired and we say stupid things. It’s like when we thought that the tagline “A Role-Playing Game About Being A Total Failure” was a good idea. In fact it made it sound like the game itself is a total failure. Generally in the marketing theory “TOTAL FAILURE” is not what you want to associate with your product.
ROSTOV: We’re truly inspired to make as much money as Call of Duty.
No Truce with the Furies came out of the blue in 2016 (at least for me), but according to your posts you have been working on it for a pretty long time (maybe not on the actual game, but on its dialogue system, on its world etc.). With this amount of world and mechanics building do you have plans for sequels?
KURVITZ: Of course. The world has seen seventeen years of consecutive development. We have seven isolas (continent-like landmasses), literally over a hundred nation states, over two hundred cities, six thousand years of history. To say No Truce With the Furies is a tip of the iceberg is an understatement – it’s a drop in the ocean. The rule system too has seen over a decade of hardcore pen-and-paper trial, balancing and fleshing out. The technology we’ve created – moving shadows on an oil painting – is the first time when, to our knowledge, pre-rendered backgrounds have dynamic lighting. These are all massive assets we can’t wait to share with you in our future titles as well. If the world is interested in this, then we will have tons of more. And especially dear to us is the dialogue system we’ve built – it allows for some pretty ambitious writing, while at the same time remaining fast-paced and quite flashy with its animations and sounds. This is something we would really like to take out for a spin – it’s like Bioware’s dialogue wheel, only for novel-like writing.
ROSTOV: For Robert building the world has been a life long project. In fact we became friends through it – back in our teenage years I had heard of his AD&D games which were sort of legendary in Tallinn, and I remember really wanting to get a shot at playing one of them. I was the dungeon master for my own group of friends and I also wanted a change of pace, to be a player and to play something other than fucking orcs and elves again. But the very first direct interaction I had with Robert was when I offered to be an artist to help out with the worldbuilding and I drew the motor carriage.
When can we play No Truce With The Furies?
ROSTOV: Can I reveal this? Is this still in the works? We were thinking of setting up a dialogue engine on our website built on Twine or something like that as a kind of a demo for what to expect from No Truce. It wouldn’t be as flashy as the real deal in the game, but it’d be fun and you could gauge the tone of the game and see the reactivity and writing style of the project.
KURVITZ: No Truce is going to be out in late 2017.
On what platforms can we play with it?
ROSTOV: We’re going for PC first and foremost. But we have this hope that – since our gameplay loop is essentially “talk to all these lunatics, so you can enjoy the pretty pictures” – that perhaps we can muscle in on the Android/iOS crowd. I do this thing where I keep a book in the toilet, because let’s face it, the effects of Angry Birds on your body are basically what anti-vaccers think vaccines do to you. No Truce With The Furies should be the kind of game you could play on your commute or on a flight or even on a long toilet break (they’ll be knocking on the door by the end), but as you put away your tablet and zip up your pants you emerge from the ordeal not as a numb husk of blood, bones and meat, but as a thoroughly better person.
KURVITZ: Yes, as Rostov said – PC first and foremost, although I can actually see it work on larger touch-based devices as well, and the controls are very forgiving for consoles. So nothing is off the table if we feel there’s interest.