Realms Beyond – A classic turn-based fantasy RPG

Storytelling #1: Bringing your party to life

At this time, we had planned to post more details regarding the game’s combat system, but lately, we were also busy adding a large number of story elements to Realms Beyond and while doing that, we decided to switch tack and share with you instead our thoughts about storytelling in a party-based CRPG. Needless to say, we will deliver the promised info about the combat system next week.

You may recall that somewhere in our initial blog posts we raised the subject that most modern RPGs these days tend to tell the journey of a single character. The player is the hero, the central figure around everything else revolves, etc. This approach oftentimes leads to pre-determined companions being added to the party over time, who typically bring with them their own personalities. Since Planescape: Torment made having sidekicks with real personalities a must-have feature 20 years ago, it has literally become a genre trope.

However, in many ways, this trend resulted in roleplaying games often feeling more like adventure games where part of the story is to meet these additional characters and get them to join you. On the one hand, that is a great way to create immersion, of course, and pull players into both the game’s world as well as its storyline. It also creates an emotional attachment to these characters because of their unique personalities. I mean, what would Planescape: Torment have been without Morte, the floating and taunting skull?

On the other hand, however, it also results in a very linear way of telling a story in most cases, that resembles the way stories are told in other media, such as books or film. It is ultimately, a very different kind of experience you got from playing some of those old-school RPGs we have been recounting among our key influences.

It may be debatable whether there is one definite or perfect way of telling a story in a game, or if there are several viable approaches to it. That is not what we want to highlight here, however. Instead, we’d rather have you understand why we thought it might be interesting to choose one way of telling the game’s story over another.

To start off, let’s flip that coin back to the other side. Let’s not look at the UltimaBaldur’s Gate or Dragon Age way of telling a story, where you, the hero make friends, but rather turn to the Phantasie and Pool of Radiance way of storytelling, in which your party is making the journey.

Playing these kids as a kid with a wild and overactive imagination, it was hard not to bring the world and creations of those games to life in your mind while playing. Even though every character was not much more than a listing of its attributes that you attached a name to—and in the case of Pool of Radiance, a head and torso also—the beauty of these games was that your imagination would fill in all the blanks for you. It is an incredibly powerful tool that many writers, and filmmakers, incidentally, rely upon. Many things become much more effective when you don’t see them. It gave your imagination room to fill in whatever it thought worked best—the prettiest girl, the most terrifying monster… you name it.

The more sophisticated the technology behind computer games became over the last decades, the more they began to drift away from this kind of approach and that experience from you entirely. Everything was staged and plastered across the screen in high resolution! Have you ever played the original Fallout? Have you ever tried to create a character with very low intelligence? Imagine the planning and work the developers must have put into that game to make all of that work out the way it did, and provide such a unique experience.

Or what about all the banter going on in a game like Baldur’s Gate 2 where characters are constantly commenting on the current situation? It took over 1 million words to create all the necessary text for the game! While these are definitely cool things to have, it would also have been very cool to imagine these same things going in your own fantasy. Maybe all the pen&paper roleplaying as a kid got to our heads, but back then, you could literally smell the sewers you were exploring when the elf in your party began complaining about it. These are the small things we are so fond of.

The entire experience got even more dramatic, knowing that any of your characters could die at any moment and sometimes had to be replaced. Overall, the experience that formed in your head was much more similar to reading a book than imagining yourself playing a role in a game. It is the kind of experience we want to bring back with Realms Beyond. It does not mean that the game will be overly laconic, but we will also try not to become too verbose either. Our idea of a solid computer roleplaying experience is to get your own imagination engaged every bit as much as the visual presentation we will contribute. We want the journey to become YOURS and not something we spoonfeed. We want your imagination to fill in the best parts and for that to work, sometimes, saying or showing less, is more.

Comments in the forum