After all this time, the project's first phase is drawing to a close. The demo is ostensibly finished, the trailer's current iteration is getting positive feedback and promotional materials have been assembled. Coming toe to toe with the day of reckoning, so to speak, has put me in a state of constant anxiety.
It's been hard to think of myself as a game maker. From inside my head looking out on the world, game making is what other people do. Their projects are actual games, whereas it has felt for a long time like mine is an amateur's imitation. It's a sensation that's difficult to describe. I cannot see how any developer can put more effort/time/work into a project than I have - I've worked solidly for over two years on this two hour demo to make sure it's as polished as professional as I am capable of achieving. I've also been extremely lucky to have talented people around me willing to lend their time and expertise to the project: James Wilson, who has produced an album's worth of beautiful, original music, Kate Bystrova, who as well as providing some gorgeous concept art has been vitally helpful in helping me with feedback and my old friend Bobby MacPherson, who has been a solidly reliable critic and corrective influence on the game's script.
And yet, despite these merits, my mentality wavers frantically between confidence and uncertainty. There are a lot of high quality projects on Kickstarter (of the indie RPG variety alone) and I am forced to consider what makes my project unique amongst them (and amongst all RPGs in general).
This stream of thought will need careful fine tuning before it becomes official copy, but here are my conclusions:
- The title:
"The Erias Line" is the name of an ongoing and ambitious construction project that will link the Exclave Peninsula (see below) with the Erias Mainland (see below) for the first time. It does not appear (except by name) in the demo or any of its associated promotional materials, but will play a crucial role in the plot of the finished game.
- The story:
Orphan and Skyler have arrived in Verdamm City. They have traveled together for years in search of a place to settle and live out their lives - but they find Verdamm to be far less than the utopia that rumours and descriptions portray.
The city is decaying under the weight of a brutal depression. Mechanisation has made tens of thousands of skilled workers and tradesmen obsolete. The Exclave Kings - a powerful consortium of business interests who have become de facto rulers - have tried to counter the depression with charity and civil works projects. But their attempts to redirect wealth have been to no avail. And now they have vanished without a word from the public square, leaving their less philanthropic subordinates to squabble and compete for power as they manage the Exclave's affairs.
Orphan and Skyler are immediately swept up into this chaos and forcefully conscripted into the Operatives - a vague and secretive network of mercenaries and murderers whose ranks constitute the city's unofficial enforcers. They are given an assignment and told that if they refuse or fail it, they will be killed outright. The Operatives do not risk loose ends and have learned that valuing life is a weakness they cannot afford in these difficult times.
The assignment begins a path for Orphan and Skyler that will set them against events spiraling wildly out of control.
To survive, they must fight for lesser evils and for each other, all the while enduring the fascination of a strange, unseen entity.
An entity that wishes to test the limits of their love for one another and prove that it can be utterly broken.
My main focus was to create a story where there are no clear heroes and no starkly contrasted, generic evils. I wanted to play with the tropes of the good guys and the villains, exploring motivations and drives and fears rather than polarising all of my characters into obvious, arbitrary categories. This is not to say that there are no protagonists or antagonists, of course. But each has motivations and a back story that elevates them as characters above being simply "the heroes" or "the villains". A main theme is to stretch the limits of the characters' moral courage and relationships and to tell a story where genuinely difficult and ugly choices must be made and all good moments cherished.
To this end:
- The relationships between characters will be decided by the player, whose choices will be tracked and will influence many elements and events in the story, big and small. I am not including multiple endings based on these choices. I want to provide a streamlined story but give the player the option of pursuing character relationships, histories and secrets if they want. The choices made will therefore influence what new, optional story content is opened for exploration.
- The antagonist is not evil for evil's sake. He is motivated by envy, does not seek domination or power and is not a 'dark lord' figure. I wanted the villain's motivation to be difficult to question despite its destructive, chaotic implications.
- The game play:
Orphan and Skyler are main characters jointly, and the player will alternate between controlling them during different sections of the unfolding story. To keep the narrative streamlined, the player will only very rarely control one of the other three characters (Dillon, Regan, Nadime)*.
This project focuses on a character driven story, so new mechanics aren't a priority. In the finished game, each of the five main characters will have a unique combat mechanic, but beyond this I am not interested in reliance on gimmicks. Thus, Omnis's game play is that of a classic RPG. Turn based battles, exploration, puzzles, dungeons, side quests. All of these elements are built within the context of the story as it unfolds and nothing is inserted for the sake of it.
*(the demo download will include a 'Project Summary' that outlines characters and setting and the production process. It will also include a selection of artwork and screenshots and other visuals to give a better representation of the project.)
- The setting:
Erias (the world) has survived the natural extinction of the universe. While stars were fading from the night sky, human engineers were constructing an artificial sun - the means by which the world could be warmed and kept alive even as its star was dying. The artificial sun is not a perfect surrogate, though, because by necessity its position above the planet's surface is fixed.
In the eastern hemisphere, weather and the night/day cycle are carefully orchestrated from the sun's control centre, Solis City. This method is inefficient, however, and the unnatural distribution of light and energy has had some extravagant effects on the landscape. Snowfields have become colder, jungles more voracious. A stretch of land now exists where it rains constantly - and the rain is scolding hot.
Since the artificial sun took over, the remote, unexplored western hemisphere has existed in a state of constant, freezing night. Nothing is known in the east about this region, but it has been theorised that all wildlife, barring the most adaptive life forms, will have died out.
For centuries, humans have existed as nomads, roaming the Erias mainland in search of resources and trading peacefully with other small groups. Just over 80 years ago, a few of these groups made their way across the sea to what would later be called the Exclave Peninsula and established iron ore mines at the base of mount Errum. The resources there were so abundant that they stayed, creating the world's first permanent settlement. The relative ease and security of their lives attracted others and soon dozens of small mining towns had expanded and merged into Verdamm City.
The artificial sun opened a plethora of new technological fields, spurring an industrial revolution. In the space of a few years Verdamm City became advanced and mechanised. The idea of money (known as 'Slips') was introduced for the first time, but this signaled the start of the city's decay. Advancing technologies made many workers, who still relied on their traditional, nomad skills, instantly obsolete. Despite the best efforts of its Kings, the Exclave's currency slowly gravitated into the hands of a few, leaving tens of thousands newly impoverished.
Verdamm (and all of its worsening troubles) provides the opening for the game.
Another unique feature of the game world is that there have been no wars because there have, until very recently, been no nations to fight them. There are still no empires or rival states that could necessitate weapons development on an industrial scale. Engineers in Solis are beginning to design projectile weapons based on solar energy, but for now these weapons are a show of technology and are far from fully effective.
This creates context for a world where advanced technology exists but where firearms are the novelty province of inventors and scientists. Originally, this choice was made because I really like the aesthetic of swords in a high-tech world, but I have been careful not to shoe-horn anything into this game that does not fit perfectly within the established lore.
On a similar note, I have foregone the inclusion of 'magic' as it is commonly recognised in RPGs. For example: Dillon, the party's controller, uses 'compounds' to inflict elemental damage. My aim is to have every element fit neatly together and while it may be a distinction without a difference, I believe that having grounded explanations for everything will create a better rendered, more realised world.
As I say, these blurbs and outlines need heavy revision before they become official copy, but in this mood of promotion, it feels good to give it away in broad strokes. There's a lot more to say (and in a lot more detail) but I'm wary of info-dumping as a means of promotion and would rather, if it proves possible, that players discover and experience the world of Erias for themselves.
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