RPGs change. Even the isometric role-plays harking back to the classics had to move forward to survive. However, "move forward" isn't tantamount to "compromise." Disco Elysium has knocked the doors down for the players who want to immerse in the story, play a character, and completely forget combat. The title provided an experience as close as possible to traditional RPG sessions. Cyberpunk Gamedec jumps and rides on the same wagon. I talked to the developers, played the pre-alpha version, and decided it would be a strong title. The next (small) big thing. The indie that roared.
HELLO, DETECTIVE! AFTER HEARING THE TESTIMONY AND OUR CONCLUSIONS, YOU WILL LEARN:
- What is Gamedec and how does it differ from most RPGs?
- How does the universe work?
- Who is Gamedec?
- How is this project created?
- What will the players say over a beer when they finish playing?
Each game has a story behind it
Going to the show, I didn't really know what to expect. The first trailer and screenshots foreshadowed a moody RPG with a strong focus on storytelling, and an unusual world. And at the same time, the materials did not really say anything specific. As a result of an amusing incident (which I'll write about later), I received an invitation to the studio to see for myself what's what. It was a cold and bleak day, seemingly the default setting of the blocks of flats of Katowice, the Polish city where Anshar Studios dwell, and where I met Marcin Przybylek, author of stories about Gamedec, and Marcin Rybinski, the lead designer of adaptation.
WHO IS MARCIN PRZYBYLEK?
The man who cried after finishing Planescape: Torment. Actually, I can understand him. Author of, among others, Gamedec, White Eagle and CEO Slayer. Together with Anshar Studios, he's creating an adaptation of his book series. As a full-time employee, he acts as a consultant on the story, world, characters, and aesthetics, and also writes some of the texts and dialogs.
After seeing the presentation, playing the game, and talking to my hosts, I can safely assume that Disco Elysium has got a worthy rival. Or at least a partner in a crime, depends how you look at it. After all, this territory has not yet been conquered by either Baldur's Gate or Divinity. This was once the reign of the Lady of Pain, Planescape: Torment. But that was a long time ago. And although it's fun to return to the first Torment, you need to keep up with the times. And Gamedec with Disco Elysium are happy to take your hand and do just that.
It all started five years ago. Przybylek is privately an avid player, and he'd been trying to get in touch with any developers for a while. He gave talks about the world of Gamedec, appeared on industry events, and spoke enthusiastically about his favorite titles at conventions. Eventually, the books and the universe intrigued the head of Anshar Studios, Lukasz Hacura. Then, there was the first contact, the negotiations. Przybylek eventually he joined the team.
Gamedec started as a much smaller project. It was conceived as a narrative card game. A few possibilities were considered – including a battle game, text-based adventure, or a simple survival. But the boss eventually decided to go more ambitious.
At some point, we called Lukas, and I said "Look, maybe we can stop talking about all these weird game ideas, and just make a cool adventure?" And then he said "I had the same idea, but how about an RPG?" I say "RPG? That's even better!"
Marcin Rybinsky, together with the second designer, started the initial project. The prototype worked on ready-made, generic fantasy assets. But despite the improvisation, they knew it was legit. The idea caught on with the people in the studio, and Przybylek himself. It looked fresh. Already in that early stage of production, Gamedec abandoned a typical combat system in favor of creating a smooth, immersive narrative.
Because it's true. What's fighting like in books, movies, and narrative RPG sessions? It's quick, brutal, and finishes quickly. No complicated mechanics or tactics that would knock us out of immersion. Because experience is the basis for communicating with art – any art. Of course, there will be violence and combat in the game, but they'll be presented as scenes to play out, involving moral choices, rather than tests.
That was before Lukasz and Marcin's call we mentioned. We took a break (after the pre-production – ed. note) for another project (...). After that, I told Lukasz that I didn't really feel it, and it just so happened that he wanted to make isometric RPGs. That's the company's long-term goal. We want to deliver emotions more than just adrenaline and dopamine. ( ... ) And the head of the company said: Well, then, perhaps, let's expand the budget and make an RPG. "An RPG," I thought. "We must do something about it." Adapt it to our capabilities. How do we remove combat? This is probably the most expensive. We will make an RPG without combat, mechanics, numbers, and items. We will make a cool interactions, write a good story, everything will be fine... Now we know why there are no RPGs without combat. Or just why there are so few games like Disco Elysium. Removing combat creates a gap that's hard to bridge. It's much easier to design a combat system than draw up story branches that will keep the players engrossed. Making an RPG without combat is not really cheaper. But we made a prototype in Unity, with a single designer, to see what it might look like, whether it might make sense. And everyone liked it.
Indeed, in the course of the gameplay, I did not feel any monotony, despite the seemingly classic model. And the reason for it is that the classicality hides a ton of unusual solutions take straight from other genres.