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Meet the skills: Motorics

Motorics (MOT) covers your peripheral nervous system, your five senses, and your vestibular system. It’s our take on the classic Dexterity and Perception stats, but not only. Motorics also has an added mental aspect – your street smarts, the ability to think on your feet and maintain a poker face in stressful situations.

Above all, the Motorics skills make you cool.

And, unlike the other skill sets, they don’t come at a huge cost. Put too many points into Physique and it turns you into a violent animal – something like Marv from Sin City. Overdo Psyche and you’re Dale Cooper on MDMA. Too much Intellect turns you a Holmesian pedant. The twist with Motorics is – there is no such twist. Ultra high levels of the Motorics skills surprise you with expanded functionality. It’s the stabilizing element of your build, the binding agent.

A high Motorics cop is one smart, streetwise operator, closest to the classic Detective archetype: your Johnny Dollar or Sonny Crockett. It’s also the flashiest attribute animation-wise, and definitely the best-dressed.

Which is not to say that the Motorics skills make you perfect. You may come off as jumpy or high strung. A bit of a cokehead, even. But, honestly, that’s nothing compared to the trouble you can get into with the other three.

Let’s have a look at what these six desperados can do for you.

HAND / EYE COORDINATION

 

H/E, as we shorten it, makes you fire that gun. Makes you fire it good. The more H/E you have, the more precise your aim. And, be it a Villiers 9mm, a Kiejl Armistice, or a banged up old Liljeqist in your hand, you’re going to want to be very precise, because bad, bad, very bad things will happen if you aren’t.

Not only is H/E for aiming, or throwing – it’s also for catching. You’d be surprised how useful that is. Your partner just threw you the keys to your patrol vehicle. It’s a cool moment, but Benny Shitfingers drops them in the sewage. Vehicle inoperable. Mob boss flips a coin in your direction: here’s a tip rent-a-cop. Blam, he pokes your eye out with it.

It’s incredibly uncool to not catch things.

Oh and remember when I said it’s for using firearms? Well, the twist here is: it also analyzes them. Pick up a gun and H/E will tell you things about it: weight, calibre, reliable range. Good to have in a murder investigation if firearms are involved. And they always are. Revachol is a very gunny place.

REACTION SPEED

 

Reaction Speed also gets a little gunny. Lets you dodge incoming gunfire. It’s the yang to H/E’s yin. The anti-gun. Your danger sense. Your dodge skill.

On the mental side of things, it’s also your mental alacrity and street smarts. It helps you dodge snipes of the verbal sort: quick jabs and cheap shots, dramatic moves people try to pull on you. Reaction Speed is an alarm system.

Overdo levelling this one and you’ll develop that jumpiness I mentioned. Surely a small price to pay for not being, you know, dead. Or standing there with your mouth agape, trying to come up with a cool comeback after the she’s already gone.

If you want to build a mental powerhouse, max up on INT Skills like Logic, Conceptualization and Visual Calculus, then throw Reaction Speed in there too. They’ll call you Johnny Big-Brain now! It’s possible to be very intelligent without it, but it’s a slow, studious intellect. Reaction Speed gives you smarts.

I’s perhaps the quintessential hardboiled detective skill in the game…

PERCEPTION

 

…second only to Perception. This one’s a giant. It’s the magnifying glass in your hand that allows you to see the drop of blood in the fish tank. The keen ear that catches the sound of breathing under the floorboards. Perception governs your sight, smell, taste, and hearing.

Because it’s so all-encompassing, it’s better to say what it doesn’t do. Perception does not read tells and body language (that’s Composure, another Motorics skill). And it doesn’t detect microscopic details with your fingertips (that’s Interfacing, another one). But you’re still going to want to put a few points into this one, believe me. And, yes, it does yield clues too. A lot of clues. Even too many, perhaps? A high Perception cop is going to be drowning in little notes about the things they saw, heard, or smelled – some of them extraneous, or even misleading.

But still, be careful – too little of this one and you’ll be on an experimental playthrough of Disco Elysium: The Adventures of Johnny Blind.

Perception does all sorts of nice things outside of dialogue too, affecting how you interact with the game’s ultra-detailed art. It detects hidden containers for you to loot, and reveals hidden objects in the world – footprints on the floor, for example. Then you can use Visual Calculus (an Intellect skill) to read their size, make and so on – another example of Intellect and Motorics having great synergy for a classic detective build.

Also, expect to find hidden areas: secret rooms, doors, and rooftop paths in the city of Revachol.

The city’s also littered with these little green orbs you can click on; classic “question mark” moments that provide quick observations like: “someone left the stove on,” “water’s dripping from this tap.” Some of these orbs are only visible to higher Perception characters. You can use these hidden, golden orbs to question people: “You just renovated, but the tap’s leaking?” This is one more way environmental exploration (crime scene analysis) and questioning people (interrogations) are connected in Disco Elysium.

Finally, there are certain Thought Cabinet projects that allow you to auto-succeed, say, all hearing-type Perception checks. So there are workarounds for a low Motorics character who wants to play the “blind saxophone player” cop. (Please don’t. Also, there are no saxophones in Elysium.)

SAVOIR FAIRE

 

Savoir Faire is all about style, subterfuge, flair. Even sexiness to a certain extent. It’s our combined Acrobatics and Sneaking skill, with an added zest of verbal flare every now and then. The full package for a slippery roguish detective. You’re basically a ninja-cop, or what our worldbuilding calls a Sambo artist. (Sambo, short for Samaran Boxing, is a communist martial art from Sapurmat Ulan.)

You may also be… a bit of a douchebag, to be honest.

A police detective who sneaks out of conversations and pulls acrobatic moves can come off as an exhibitionist. The other Motorics skills affect your personality in surprisingly (for the Metric system) agreeable ways, but this one’s a wild card.

On the other hand, it’s extremely useful for sneaking into places. It lets you interact with the game’s environment in some pretty flashy ways, where our combat system blends into an acrobatics system for jumping, climbing, etc.

The twist here — and the importance of this cannot be overstated — is that Savoir Faire also lets you dance.

COMPOSURE

 

Composure is your poker face. The Motorics firewall for your inner turmoil. And also its reverse – your ability to read other people’s body language and tells – to see beneath their facade.

Composure and Perception go well together, making for an ultra-vigilant cop. Composure and the Psyche skill Volition are a good combination for a man of steel who never cracks under pressure. And you’ll be under a lot of pressure in Disco Elysium. Or, if you want to be the expert in reading people, combining Composure with another Psyche skill, Empathy, gives you X-Ray vision into people’s mental states.

If Savoir Faire sexes you up in a slightly douchey way, Composure does the stomach-in, shoulders-back type thing. A trustworthy sexiness. Great posture.

The big twist here is that very high Composure becomes your fashion sense. First of all, it criticises other people’s sartorial choices – not only are they sweating and obviously hiding something, they also have a lame floral shirt. Second, it lets you push your fashion sense on them. Make your partner wear a stupid orange pilot cap. You look too cool for others to not trust your advice.

INTERFACING

 

Interfacing is the final piece of the puzzle as your fine motor skills. Digital dexterity. Fingerworks. Oh boy, does this one do a lot of things — it basically does all the rest: takes notes and helps with handwriting analysis; interprets electrical circuitry; instructs you on how to use a simple blue button; runs your hands across the gear shaft of a motor-carriage; disentangles a Stereo 8 tape from a hawthorn tree, patches it up, and plays it at night on your short stint as a tape-jockey; runs diagnostics on a motor lorry; picks locks; does a great massage; finds microscopic tears in body cavities…

In some extreme cases (very high Interfacing needed), you can even perform what we call a phenomenological transfer: put your hands on the steering levers (motor-cars in Elysium do not use wheels) of a Coupris Kineema and know precisely what its mileage is, how it was treated by its last owner, and what road it was last driven on.

Interfacing is one of those rare skills in the Metric system that sometimes borders on the extraphysical. Extraphysical is what we call the realistically supernatural. The real deal. Reality-breaking. Interfacing’s extraphysical effects are much, much more subtle than those of the Physique skill Shivers, which puts you in touch you with the city of Revachol, but they’re there, connecting you to machinery, electrical circuits, and, most curiously, radiowaves.

You see, in Disco Elysium you can circuit-bend into radiocomputers. These machines have on-air processing. Large prime number stations criss-cross the air. Advanced tape computers use arrays of antennas to sieve through their calculations to perform advanced calculus on site: to run programmes and communicate between the remote corners of the world. There’s a Ream A24 Prefect console somewhere down there, in a hidden basement – or a church, who can say? – that you can use to circuit-bend into remote units. Access personal information, read love letters, learn ancient secrets.

Tape computation has existed in this world for hundreds of years. Who knows what you’ll find…

Oh, what’s that, mom? What am I doing? I’m playing a seventies-style cop with a handlebar moustache who frequency-hacks into ancient radio stations. It’s not basic dungeons and dragons.

That’s all for Metric, the system that powers character creation in Disco Elysium. We hope you’ve enjoyed these posts and have gotten some interesting ideas for your build.

Next time we’ll talk about the Thought Cabinet, where you develop character traits for your cop, giving your skills new and strange sideeffects.

After that we’ll finally be ready to talk about the Elysium setting – its technology, geopolitics, schools of thought, and culture.

Till then.

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Combat in Disco Elysium

Now that we have a flashy screenshot to illustrate it, let’s talk about combat in Disco Elysium.


1. There are only a handful of instances of it. These are half-scripted, pseudo turn-based, set piece combat encounters. They are not cheap to animate and program. They come along as the pace and style of your investigation dictates. When you get cocky. When you push a violent angle. When you don’t move fast enough. When you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the narrative logic of a cop thriller, or a hardboiled novel, not a war game.

But they will come along (although only one of the encounters is entirely unavoidable).

2. There are tactical choices to be made. Let’s take the screenshot as an example. The entire scene is one nerve-racking tumble of choices. These bad dudes are trying to get to what’s behind you. (Spoiler territory – not shown in the screenshot). Do you try to talk them down, try a peaceful angle? Or shoot first? As you deplete topics, the conversation will return you to this hub. Taking the shot may have gotten easier if you lulled them into a sense of security – or harder if you’ve been tricked. Your skills will advise you, guide you. But are they right? Maybe they’re just scared?

And that’s only the foreplay. When you do decide to shoot, you do so by clicking on that Hand/Eye Coordination red check. (If it’s your attack of choice of course – what’s available depends on your weapons: more on that later).

What follows is what we writers call a whirl. Think of it as a pseudo-turn. First you either hit or miss with that Villiers 9mm. The resulting havoc will play out in cool and insanely budget-consuming animations. The opposing force will then try to retaliate. At that point the screen will freeze into a time-stop. During this time-stop you take in your immediate surroundings and consult your skills. This is the titular whirl, since you’re constantly directed back to a hub of choices. You may gain tactical information from your surroundings. See what your partner is doing. All the while you’re confronted with a Reaction Speed red check to dodge the incoming enemy fire. That active check becomes harder or easier depending on your skills guidance via passive checks: Visual Calculus has drawn your attention to the angle of attack, Half Light has gotten scared and wants you to run!

Once you click on that red check, you either get shot or dodge the bullet, and enter another whirl.

Using these whirls we can (painstakingly) build any custom combat encounter, and give it the detail and skill-focused storytelling we’re going for.

3. As demonstrated, there are dice rolls, with percentages. A ton of them. We use active dice rolls of the red check variant, where both the negative and positive outcomes are played out. The stars of the show here are: Hand / Eye Coordination, Physical Instrument, and Reaction Speed, but others feature too. And as always, you can buff these rolls with the Electrochemistry system, by carrying a bottle and a ciggie into combat, bad cop style.

4. Your items decide what you can do. No gun – no shooty, etc. They also provide old fashioned bonuses and penalties to the active checks you’re rolling. Wearing a heavy armour makes dodging that shot harder. Having a better gun makes hitting that shot easier. A sports visor keeps the sun from your eye and makes you more likely to get that Visual Calculus tip during the second whirl.

And not only that – thoughts in your thought cabinet may also contribute. These mercenaries are wearing a strange new type of ceramic armour. Research it – for weaknesses! – and that Hand/Eye Coordination gets one of those massive bonuses game devs like to talk about.

5. It’s not all number crunching, it’s also about style. You’re going to want to have a high Pain Threshold character for a combat encounter, just to get painfully immersive information about your body breaking down, in exquisite, spleen rupturing detail. It’s like Nabokov said: dying is fun. (Only it’s really not). Or max out on Shivers and see what this muzzle flash looks like from the perspective of the wind; hear it echo down the street. And you can still use Rhetoric, Drama, Authority etc too — you don’t have to stop talking the opponents down, or taunting them, or relaying information to your squadmate, because the “battle grid” came out. Dialogue options can be part of the whirls.

Okay, so to recap: each whirl begins with all actors moving in a totally unique way, animated by Eduardo Rubio, our animation lead — one hell of an animator, that guy. We use time-stops at the end of each whirl. Then there are options to consult your senses, where skills jive in. And each whirl is exited by rolling another red check that begins another animation, etc. Until the situation is resolved, or you’re dead.

Oh and:

6. If someone gets killed during all this – someone important to you or the case – they stay dead. There is no disconnection between story and combat in Disco Elysium. The results of each decision you make – or fail to make, because you were trying to be diplomatic – is played out. People die, people have their bodies broken. They remember that you tried to punch them and fell over, because you were drunk. This stuff stays with you. You sustain a wound and people say: hey, you don’t look so good officer, stop bleeding in my fishing village.

If this sounds like a lot to produce, then that’s because it is. Do not expect an encounter to await behind every corner. But I thoroughly believe this approach is, if not the future of RPGs, then an early warning of that future. Consider the possibilities: fisticuffs in a burning building, a direct artillery hit on your Station, an exchange of fire during a car crash. These are all action scenes we’ve told in the pen and paper version of the Elysium role playing system. It’s our brand of pen and paper action scene – and this set piece centred combat system is our way of getting it to you, in a video game.

The beauty of the system is — we can just as well put you in a squad based combat situation, as we can have you jumping over a chasm to get into the harbour. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution for action scenes, comprising both combat, and acrobatics / environment interactions. Both use whirls and time-stops.

It is powered by Metric, our downright vitruvian character customization that represents the human mind and body in a realistic manner, and was made possible with some pretty complicated animation programming.

Next time we’ll talk about those Motoric skills that are crucial to surviving a situation like this:

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Meet the skills: Physique

These six skills are probably my favourites of the whole bunch. They were certainly the hardest to come up with. We finished Physique (FYS) while already deep into production, whereas the other three were ready years before. It’s surprisingly difficult to depict the physicality of a character – their flesh, blood and tendons – in a rule set. This is reflected in RPG tradition, where physical characters are one dimensional musclemen, somewhere between an athlete and a joke. It’s paradoxical how uninteresting it is to play a physical character in a genre that is built around them – nothing interesting happens inside the body of Conan the Barbarian.

This was our starting point: what kind of physical character would we want to play in a desktop setting? They would have to be murky, dangerous, sinewy beings. Mysteries even to themselves. More Nameless One than Torgen the Axe-Dude. To achieve this we had to come up with a set of skills that is – surprisingly – the most esoteric and out there of all the four Attributes. Instead of getting the most basic experience, you get probably the most advanced and experimental playing with a high FYS char.

Physique skills are also the most silent of the bunch. They don’t speak as often as INT for example. But the times your body does speak to you hold more weight.

PHYSICAL INSTRUMENT

 

Physical Instrument is your primary corporeal tool: your muscles and your skeleton. Physical Instrument is your hand to hand combat skill, your inner coach. He likes to be addressed as “Coach Physical Instrument”. You can call him Coach, or you can call him Coach Physical Instrument.

Put points into this guy to punch a suspect in the face. Or 360 degree spin kick the living daylights out of them. But it’s not just violence. You can use this skill to physically analyse the qualities of a “beat” on a dance track. (Coach Physical Instrument thinks it needs more bass).

In addition to being the voice of your musculature, Physical Instrument tries to give you social advice from time to time: be less sensitive, stop being such a sissy, drop down and give me fifty. Coach Physical Instrument is all about masculinity, with little to no self awareness. I like to think it governs your muscles, skeleton and your sweat glands. Add Suggestion to dial things back a little, add some sensitivity training? He turns you into a raging gym trainer if you let him run the show.

ELECTROCHEMISTRY

 

Physical Instrument is nothing compared to Electrochemistry, who turns you into a lecherous drug addict. I’ll level with you – it’s one of the funnest skills in the game. Not only does it crave for any and all substances on Earth, it’s also a treasure trove of knowledge on each of them. For some reason this cop knows exactly what GABA receptors do, what serotonin syndrome means, and what kind of cocaine the Filippian kings did four centuries ago.

But beware – Electrochemistry also governs your other dopamine responses. That is: your sexuality. Electrochemistry inserts lurid thoughts into your head, with absolutely no filter. It does not play nice either, it’s an animal. Yet it has its own atmospheric, ruinous take on reality. You should exercise caution with this guy and make sure you have some Volition to keep things in check.

Having low Electrochemistry makes you a calmer person, more in control of yourself. Having high Electrochemistry makes you not turn up to work the following day, yet more fun to be around after 10PM.

It also has a nice mechanical function. Disco Elysium lets you use potions (ie drugs) mid-dialogue. Equip cigarettes in one hand and a vial of speed in the other. Encounter a difficult check? Spark one up and then toot a line! (In secret of course, turn around a bit first – it’d be pretty strange if a cop just did a line in front of you wouldn’t it?)

Blasting a substance gives you a cute little animation and adds a temporary bonus to your Attributes. Alcohol gives +2 to Physique, for example. Electrochemistry adds extra charges to these items, so a high Electrochemistry character gets more out of their drugs. The skill also leads you down a path of substance abuse, giving you quests to procure amphetamine, or just buy a magnum sized bottle of wine.

These quests are often non-refusable.

ENDURANCE

 

Endurance is your metabolism and your circulatory system. It’s what keeps you alive. Endurance determines the amount of health points you have. Health is our primary resource pool, in addition to morale. Run out of health and you have a heart attack. Have too many heart attacks and you die. (It’s a known fact that cool cops can shake off one or two cardiac arrests like it weren’t a thing).

Endurance makes you a more robust person. The more robust a person you are, the more fun you can have. And by fun I mean drugs and silly things. Remember that vial of speed you sniffed? In addition to depleting charges, it straight up damages your health. There are medicines to heal yourself up, of course. I hear doing magnesium, GABA-max, speed and the psychedelic anti-radiation drug Pyrholidone is great, because you get to feel like a superhuman, have beautiful visions and there are NO DOWNSIDES! (Until you run out of magnesium and GABA-max).

This mad scientist’s lab is one of Disco Elysium’s more strategic elements. If it turns out the way we intend it to, it should be a pretty fun balancing act. And you get to do more of it if you have a high Endurance.

So far so normal. Until you find out that Endurance is also your gut feeling. And what your gut feeling tells you is – immigrants are bad for the economy. There are varied multistage reasons why women get paid less. You should return Revachol to the likeness of the Holy Sun In The Sky.

Yes. If you play a certain way you may find out this guy’s a fascist, much like the Rhetoric skill under INT tends to be a little socialist…

HALF LIGHT

 

Fear! Aggression! Half Light is your fight or flight response. This one’s definitely the chattiest of the bunch. Not only does he mix well with a high Physical Instrument, telling you to smash everyone in the face before they strangle you in your sleep, Half Light also has some pretty keen observations.

There is a saying in Estonian: fear has big eyes. So Half Light and its big bulging fear-filled eyes may notice things the other skills miss. Half Light does not only get scared of people, it also gets scared of ideas and concepts. Sometimes a person’s name can fill you with terror. Why? Perhaps they’re more than they seem to be.

Perhaps you’re paranoid?

One of the nicest things to do with Half Light is aggressively interrogate suspects. Barraging them with nonsensical, frightening questions: did you kill him? Why did you kill him? Are you going to kill me like you killed him?!

A low Half Light, strangely enough, makes you both less aggressive and less afraid. In a way braver.

PAIN THRESHOLD

 

Pain Threshold lets you shake off that heart attack I mentioned, like it was nothing – a pin prick. It’s your get out of jail free card for physical damage – it’s what makes you crawl forward, bloodied, ready for revenge.

Pain Threshold also doubles as your inner masochist. You like this stuff. Please, can I have some more? And not only physical pain, but also psychological. Pain Threshold seeks it out and enjoys it. Painful memories? Nice. Excuse me, bookstore woman, what’s the most excruciatingly sad book about human relations you have? I want one where they love each other but it really doesn’t work out.

High Pain Threshold turns you into a pretty unhealthy person, paradoxically.

SHIVERS

 

Shivers is the strangest one out there and it’s proven to be a favourite for many people who’ve had the chance  to play the game for longer. You know those hair follicles you have on your arm, on the back of your neck? Notice how they stand up sometimes? Accompanied by a cold sensation? Shivers controls that – your shiver response. It’s a residual leftover from hundreds of thousands of years ago, when you had a use for it…

What it does now, in the city of Revachol, in the early fifties, I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. This skill has its own storyline. The signals your shiver response relays to you seem to come from somewhere. The sensations want to tell you something.

All I can tell you is – Shivers connects you to the atmosphere of the city of Revachol. To the side alleys and the burnt down city blocks far away. It’s the sound of the streets, the ghost that rises old newspapers from the cobblestones. It turns you into a lightning rod for sudden temperature shifts, barometrics and changes in weather. Shivers even reacts to the weather our randomly generated climate system summons. If it’s raining Shivers tells you one thing, if it’s snowing, it’ll tell you another.

Ultimately, a high Shivers lets you hear and feel the city of Revachol. It is the only clearly supra-natural ability you have in the game. Figuring out what it all means and who speaks to you through those rising hair follicles, is a mystery for you to solve.

I suspect it will take quite a few playthroughs, though. This game really has a crazy amount of little things hidden in the way the skill system reacts to the things you see and do in Revachol.

Coming soon – Motorics. The cool, down to Earth counterpart to Physiques’ unholy mysteries.