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Introducing The Thought Cabinet

The time has come to talk about the Thought Cabinet, Disco Elysium’s illustrious “inventory for thoughts.” Let me start by presenting an image. A rather detailed image. Of all the icons of all the thoughts you can get in Disco Elysium, woven into a single tapestry. The Thought Cabinet art is made by Anton Vill, a concept artist known for, among other things, his work on the film Mad Max: Fury Road.

The full-resolution version of this image takes 10 minutes to load, so we’re hoping to include it in the deluxe edition of the game. Here’s the web version:

Each little composition on that image is one “Thought”. It’s impossible to get them all in one play-through, or even two. Each Thought comes into play face down. Only its name and some initial info are known to you. It takes in-game time to reveal its true identity by “internalizing” it. To truly uncover the mysteries of all these bad boys takes years of hard-core roleplaying. There are a total of 53 thoughts in the game. On average, a single character discovers and internalizes 16 of them in one playthrough.

And that, in a nutshell, is THC – how we’re abbreviating Thought Cabinet 🙂 This mega-feature has gone through multiple iterations. It’s a unifying element that ties all the game’s systems together. Thoughts are like Fallout’s “traits” (back in the 14th century when Fallout had traits) crossed with Civ’s “world wonders”. They’re loot for your mind that you collect from the world by talking to people. They function as traits, perks, reputations and alignments.

You store Thoughts in your Thought Cabinet – your mind-lab, where you cook up new ideas and obsessions. Conduct research into futuristic armour, become a free market evangelist by thinking about indirect taxes, or just contemplate suicide. All with the power of your mind.

THC is the game’s reputation system.

In Disco Elysium there are tags you can acquire that make people think of you in a certain way. Say something stupid and they will remember it, help someone and they’ll remember that too. So far, so routine. But Disco Elysium also has an internal reputation system. Your skills – your faculties that talk to you in your head – develop notions about you too. Have you said three artsy things in the last hour? Been telling people you want your name to be Raphael? Trying to recall a lost memory, or your home address? Your skills can turn these into full blown Thoughts: “Actual Art Degree”, “Detective R.A. Costeau”, “The 15th Indotribe” and “Lonesome Long Way Home”. You can turn yourself into a deranged “Torque Dork”, constantly thinking about auto-mechanical trivia. Or torture yourself with the “White Mourning” – the shadow of someone you used to love. This adds a new layer of role playing options I like to call soul customization.

THC is also the game’s perk system.

In addition to producing dialogue options and story events, thoughts have mechanical implications. Once processed, they can provide bonuses and – more often – diabolical side effects. Each is a riddle, posing a question for you to answer. The bonus (or penalty) is the Aesop at the end of that story. Thinking of love lost corrodes your soul, but it also gives you an expanded perspective: Your maximum zoom-out range is increased, letting you take in breath-taking vistas. Recalling that memory can lead to drugs being more powerful for you. When the Art Cop uses his Conceptualization skill they gain XP for every criticism. There’s even a thought that (temporarily) makes you fail all your skill checks, turning you into a walking disaster, which in turn, can lead to new thoughts.

Thoughts evolve over time.

You need to “internalize” most Thoughts for them to reach their full potential. For this, your Thought Cabinet has slots to put them into. Prior to this, you only have a vague idea of what a Thought might do. You have a set-up. A picture on a closed box.

Each Thought has an internalization period. This can range from 30 in-world minutes to 3 in-world days. Some mental projects are massive, others fleeting. When the process is complete you get an animation — not unlike finishing a world wonder in Civ. This is where you open the box, read the punchline. Face whatever wondrous and terrifying mechanical effects this revelation has on your character.

If you don’t like the conclusion you’ve reached, you can always “forget” the thought by spending one “skill point”, the currency commonly used to improve your skills. If all your internalization slots are full, you can spend a skill point to open up a new slot. Since there is a finite number of slots in your Thought Cabinet you need to curate your thoughts carefully. Players start forgetting old thoughts to make room for new ones, as they mature and reach their final form: The Soul Reaver.

(Note: Disco Elysium doesn’t actually feature soul reaving, I just made it up to sex up the paragraph.)

Some (very special) thoughts open up big things in the story.

You can finish a thought, then read its description and see that it tells you to go and ask a specific person in the world a specific question. This creates a rhythm where you talk to someone, mull it over, then return to them with a new (often revelatory) topic. Personally, I adore this part of the Thought Cabinet so I just wanted to point it out.

Finally, Thoughts are also how Disco Elysium handles classes and alignments.

Not all Thoughts are created equal. Some have a larger effect on your character than others. None more than the four Ideologies and four Copotypes. Ideologies are as close as Disco Elysium gets to an alignment system. Copotypes are how you view yourself as a police detective. Combine these two and you can be a socialist Superstar Cop. Or a centrist Sorry Cop who apologizes profusely. You can also dual-Copotype, or even mix and match ideologies. This, combined with the choices made in character creation – and the rest of the Thoughts – makes for hundreds of different builds.

So, as you can see: THC does a lot of things. I think we’ve gotten it quite nifty, to be honest.

You can get Disco Elysium on October 15th for 39.99 USD / 39.99 EUR  / 34.99 GBP  respectively.
Steam
GOG.com

– Robert

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DISCO ELYSIUM IS A COLOSSAL GAME

Let’s talk content richness and playtime.

We’ve had enough people finish the game from start to end now. We can finally say how big the game is. And Disco Elysium is, in every sense of the word, a huge game. It’s bigger than *giant* and (a little) smaller than *gargantuan*, so I would say it is about colossus-sized.

So — a colossal game.

How long is a colossal game? Well, it takes 60+ hours of continuous playtime to finish Disco Elysium if you’re a reasonably completionist player, as I am. It takes 90 hours if you’re absolutely savouring every detail. And 30 hours if you’re rushing it. Back-of-the-box, I would put playtime at: 60+ hours.

Map-wise, Disco Elysium takes place in one city district – Martinaise, in the city of Revachol. Martinaise is divided into five major areas – call them biomes if you like. Video game people love biomes:

    1. Martinaise proper, comprised of modern, renovated buildings. A dilapidated cityscape.
    2. The Industrial Harbour. Big machinery and containers upon containers of goods.
    3. The wild, abandoned urban coastline, full of ruins from a long lost Revolution.
    4. A plethora of underground areas meant to be explored with your flashlight.
    5. And a fifth area that I won’t reveal here.

All four non-underground areas are one seamless, isometric open world that you can approach in any order.

The world is about the size of Planescape: Torment. Or a sizeable chunk of the first Pillars. A sizeable chunk of Fallout: New Vegas… But the resolution – the level of detail, content density – of these areas is, I would say, about 5 times denser than any RPG I’ve played. Disco Elysium is a detective game and thus you have to be able to put it under a magnifying glass. Any part of it. Every apartment, hallway, street corner, lamp, or even trashcan needs story, writing, details and interactivity that, to me, exceeds even the most detail-oriented adventure games.

None of these areas reuse assets or look the same like games that are asset-assembled do. Sure, people have the same radio every now and then, every little room is 100% unique when it comes to layout and art. And music, too.

There are four major weather states – snow, rain, mist and clear. And four times of day – morning, day, evening, night. These all combine to make an unpredictable, moody city where time moves in a very realistic manner. Getting through one day is a massive thing. Shadows fall. Sodium lights flicker. The music changes. Tomorrow brings new NPC’s to old locations, as the world changes each day. It takes about one real life day to complete one in-world day, if you’re being meticulous.

What is there to do with one massive  day?

Disco Elysium has about 100 “quests” – or whatever you call them. We call them “tasks”. Tasks range from minor to-do’s a la “have a bath” to side-adventures that take a whole day to complete. We don’t differentiate between side-quests and main quests, by the way. It’s all one big thing — the story of your life in another world, as a detective of the Revachol Citizen’s Militia.

Let’s talk stuff  too.

You have about 100 inventory items to mix and match from. These include tools – crowbars, guns, a boombox, a magnum sized bottle of wine… – and a plethora of clothes and even shiny armour to protect yourself with. Then we also have over 50 thoughts to choose from. These go in your head, they’re a kind of special item that evolves over time, giving you all manner of perk-like effects and role playing options. So – you’re playing physical and mental dress-up, draping your detective in ceramic armour, disco duds or tracksuit trousers – all the while filling your head with notions like: poetry, technology, para-natural nonsense, or trying to remember how old you are.

40 original pieces of music play as you explore the city. Some 6 different psychoactive substances get you high as you do so. Wine, beer, smokes, anti-radiation drugs… some good old fashioned trucker speed. And so on.

Jesus, and then there’s the skills! There are 24 of them and I swear to god – the least used has around 50 cases where it does something. The really active ones have (I’m not even kidding) around 500 uses. So yeah… There are thousands of skill checks. There are literally too many to count, for various technical reasons I won’t go into it right now. Safe to say, this is the skilliest game ever skilled. The skill list of 3.5 edition d’n’d is but a baby compared to Disco Elysium.

It is one million words long.

There are 70 characters, all have partial VO. Each you can spend hours talking to, each has hours of secret content.

Aaaaaand you’re gonna have to play the thing from beginning to end three times to get to see most of it. To see all of it… I don’t think a single human being can. But the internet has proven many a boast wrong, so let’s see.

It’s honestly inconceivable how we managed to do this. I guess time is the answer. Disco Elysium took 5 years to produce. We only managed to make it so fast because we had a head start with worldbuilding. A whopping 13 years worth of D&D style pen and paper games in the Elysium setting beforehand.

So this is Disco Elysium. I think it’s gonna rock your socks off, to be honest. I realize listing all this made me sound like James Franco from Spring Breakers talking about all the “shit” he’s got, but it just had to be said…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4Yd0NH14VA&feature=youtu.be&t=64

All of this shit is for you. We’re beyond excited to see how you’ll react to it. To a game that’s just… new. A new type of game — of which there’s suddenly a metric shit tons of. On your hard drive — to approach in your own way, order, and style.

On October 15, 2019.

Steam Wishlist
GOG Wishlist

– Robert

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CHOOSE YOUR OWN MISADVENTURE – PART 2

Original article written by Izual and published in Canard PC. Translation by Steph Noviss. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share this article with the world.

“GETTING IT WRONG MAKES THE GAME MORE FUN.”

Robert Kurvitz, lead designer and lead writer for Disco Elysium, fills us in on how to lose at role-playing and what his RPG sets out to achieve.

Canard PC: In an RPG, if a player gets something wrong you can generally expect negative consequences. But how do you punish the player for their mistakes if their character is already a massive loser?

Robert Kurvitz: “You never prevent them from accessing a part of the game. A mistake should affect how you react in future, by responding to what just happened. It should make you feel embarrassed, afraid, regretful. Most of all, it has to be a genuine experience, written in such a way that the player sees the value of it as they build their character and doesn’t just want to restart the game straight after. We’ve worked really hard to make these mistakes some of the game’s best moments in terms of role-play, and I think people feel closer to their character when he gets something wrong than when he gets it right. For example, there’s one scene where you have to interrogate eight armed guys, just you and your partner. They own up to having committed the crime, but they start taunting you. “Get your gun out – you’re finished!” There’s nothing you can do against these eight guys; you’re utterly powerless, but at the same time you’re still a cop (who has to arrest them – Ed.). But if you fail to bring the situation under control too many times, you start doing truly CRAZY things. You pull out your gun, put it under your chin, and threaten to kill yourself! That would be the worst decision ever! Your partner tries to help you and it goes on for ages… Everyone will remember that moment. It’s very powerful for your character to go through that. You discover things about him that you wouldn’t have found out otherwise, and all of this will have consequences later on. Or even straight away, as it’s much harder to be convincing towards these guys now that they see you as that unhinged cop who tried to kill himself. So then you have to do a little minmaxing and redistribute points (in the character profile – Ed.), reconsider your strategy, go and speak to their boss, and think how you could manipulate them. Getting it wrong makes the game more fun.”

“I want people to expect a lot more from video game writing.”

What kind of story are you aiming to tell in Disco Elysium?

“First of all, it’s a very meticulously structured detective story. The cop is a modern-day knight. He’s the main character, and his job is to meddle in other people’s business. Everyone HAS to speak to him; he can open any door. Writers have been using police detectives ever since the French invented them in the 17th century. (To the interviewer, who suddenly becomes a representative for all French people) Thank you, thank you! Best character ever!… So, yeah, I have a lot of respect for crime novels. Everything has to be so carefully thought-out. You need to have insane plot twists, and your internal logic has to be flawless. And so we have huge plot twists and the storyline takes some completely wacky turns, but at the same time there’s also that need for realism and raw brutality. All of this is still no more than a method, a tool.

What this story truly aims to do is to express, at a very primal level, what it is to live inside this lump that sleeps eight hours a day and spends the rest of the time thinking. How this bag of flesh with a squishy head on top somehow manages to muddle through with his money. You’re stuck inside a body, inside a brain, strolling through life yet never knowing how you ended up there and why something called nature, after having created this troubled lump of a human being, is quite happy to just fling him against a wall and leave him for dead. I really wanted to use the RPG as a way to look more deeply into this problem and how ridiculous it is; its comical side but also its tragic side. And then the feeling of utter triumph when you get it right. It’s incredible – highly unlikely, but truly incredible – to get it right as a human being. Not many people manage to get it right; most of us fail. Basically, overall, it’s sort of a complete novel which works by making use of the cool and funny side of crime fiction.”

Have you identified any traps to avoid in video game writing?

“Oh… All of it, I reckon. So far, the entirety of video game writing has been one giant trap. I should clarify right away that, in my opinion, real quality can only happen when you write for video games specifically. Not when you write in the same way as you would for a film. You can produce excellent cinematographic writing in video games, for example The Last of Us among others. These are very well written, but real video game writing has to be interactive, with choices, consequences, and a story that’s a bit like a big Rubik’s Cube which adapts and changes depending on what the player does. There is huge potential in this non-linear approach, but so far all it’s done is fall into traps.

The first is never to let your skills system support your writing. You read the text as if you were reading a novel. In general, skills are useful in combat, but peaceful skills are boring, or else they are there to overcome obstacles passively. And actually it’s this under-used side of the skills system that has the most influence on the game’s writing! So there are obstacles to overcome, like “when you reach 90 you unlock this option”, and there are dice rolls where a failure doesn’t strictly change anything. Even the RPGs with the best writing, such as Planescape: Torment, are constantly battling with the Dungeons & Dragons-style skills system they’re based on. So that’s the first trap, but… Oh my god, there are so many others. So many others.”

There has been less and less tolerance of lore dumps over the last few years. How do you convey the full breadth of your universe to the player without using them?

“There are lore dumps in Disco Elysium. As long as they’re done well, it’s not an issue: they mostly happen with the “encyclopedia” skill, which provides information on the game’s universe. It doesn’t give essential, well-structured facts, though – it gives random information, pretty much however it pleases. But passing on bits and pieces of knowledge like this is one of the best ways of building a world. In real life, nobody has a user manual to explain everything – you hear little snippets all over the place. You don’t know where everything is or how everything works. This is why we shouldn’t be afraid of confusion, because in real life people are very confused when it comes to the ‘lore’ of their own world. They are faced with contradicting news sources, for example. So I like the idea of this “encyclopedia” skill, because if your character hasn’t invested in it enough there are certain things in the Disco Elysium world you won’t even notice. I think it’s good that you need to make an effort to create a character who will actually ask for these little lore dumps.”

What can Disco Elysium bring that’s new to gaming?

“I won’t beat around the bush – I want to completely revolutionise role-playing games. We need to fine-tune our game until we make that revolution possible. To revolutionise the use of stories, choices, and consequences. The use of skills. What “skill” means. I want there to be peaceful skills that actually represent real life, human imagination, sadness, the power of suggestion, dance… you know, that whole range of authentic experiences you get from tabletop RPGs and from reality. I don’t want all those body-counting shoot ’em ups, structures that encourage aggression, all those weird and idiotic things that games generally use.

I want people to expect a lot more from video game writing. I want writing to become so good that we start seeing a brain drain. With ambitious novelists and scriptwriters coming to write for games, and understanding that you can genuinely use a video game to say something that will still be of value in a hundred years. That you can express what you really want to express through our characters, and not just produce what the licence requires. I want there to be fictional universes that talk about our own real life experiences. About the political problems we’re facing, the geopolitical structures around us, the problems of the modern world, etc. Universes which don’t leave us feeling numb, alone, and abandoned after we have finished exploring them. Universes which actually equip us with life tools and provide context for what’s happening to us. Which give us the strength to carry on with our lives, instead of making us feel empty to the point where we say, “Oh my god, I want to go back to the land of the Elves, but I can’t; I’ve already seen it all”.

The best aim behind this revolution in how worlds are built is that of changing how people interpret escapism. I want them to feel good when they return, better equipped, ready to accomplish things, with new tricks to use as they go about their business. Siths and Jedis are really just tired metaphors for talking about politics. They’re dulling our minds; they don’t explain anything.

Voldemort can’t help us understand what Trump is about. It’s senseless; it makes you stupid. Fantasy worlds provide tools with which to face the world, but the wrong tools will render us incapable of doing that. I want us to build worlds which make us capable. Which help us deal with the world better.”

Thanks for joining us for Part 2, hope you enjoyed this Canard PC feature!