There aren’t many RPGs that take place in fully realistic worlds. There is always some element of supernatural, fantasy or sci-fi involved. After all one of the goal of such games is to explore fantasies and provide player with experiences otherwise unobtainable.
And this can lead to interesting situations.
Some of the most memorable moments in, not only RPGs but video games in general, are interactions with odd or interesting characters. Red XIII In Final Fantasy VII, Knights of the Round table in Fallout 2, industrial machines thinking they are people in Soma and many more.
Hopefully Elemental Enigma will have its own share of interactions which will stay in players memories. Especially that many situations will be taken out Terry Prachett’s toolkit of putting real people in fantastic settings.
The currently developed demo of the game will have small glimpse of that as well. Although the location will not have that many NPCs, one might prove quite talkative. If the player will have the right skills to talk to them.
An element that can be found in all RPGs are quests.
Quests are the place in the game where story and mechanics meet. They are a great way to add meaning to mechanics, as well as provide base for interaction for the game’s narrative. There are multiple ways to approach quest design. On one end you have strictly linear storylines (often found in jRPGs), on the other you have non-linear scattered collections of stories (mostly found in open-world RPGs like Fallout: New Vegas).
Elemental Enigma aims to exists somewhere in between these extremes. There will be one story, with multiple branches. Each quest is designed to provide multiple approaches to solving it, as well as emphasising player build choices, so that depending how the player develops their avatar, each quest might play slightly (or significantly) differently.
While quests have been in computer role playing games since their inception, the idea of a quest log has taken time to appear. Quest HUD trackers are an even later development. Although Elemental Enigma is to be an old-school game at heart, it is being built with all the modern developments in mind. There will be many mysteries to be solved, but “what was I supposed to be doing” will not be one of them.
There is much more to say about quest design in Elemental Enigma. Future updates will feature more in-depth information.
Branching conversations are the staple of cRPGs. They reinforce the feeling that the player has meaningful choice in the game, as well as that they are indeed role-playing a character.
In Elemental Enigma you will talk to NPCs, as well as inspect objects and solve puzzles using a branching conversation system. Often the skills and the abilities of the player character, as well as the whole party, will be tested to unlock special conversation options. Choices in-game, as well the order in which the player chooses to pursue quests, will have an impact on them as well.
The idea is that the full game cannot be experienced in a single play-through, that how the player chooses to develop their character, how they choose to interact with the game world, will put them on their own path. Some differences will be minor, some may end up being major, but the end goal is to give the player choices, and have these choices matter.
Of course, building a game with many branches and options can get complicated. It’s important to track and react to what the player has done and how. Data required to make it work can blow up in size very, very quickly. Thankfully that is not a new problem and many games, have managed to deal with it. Knowledge and processes developed by others are being employed while making Elemental Enigma so that the best possible, most immersive experience can be provided to the player.
In the currently developed demo, there are already a number of branching interactions. Here’s an example of the data structure used to define one of them:
One of the main activities in the game will be solving supernatural mysteries. There might be weird noises coming from an abandoned building during the night, there might be a person who disappeared years ago, but can on occasion be seen in a specific place, there might be a house which turned hostile and started torturing its inhabitants, and many more. Fans of modern urban fantasy and creepypastas should have an idea what to expect.
Solving these mysteries might take many forms. A ritual might require performing, ancient scriptures might need deciphering or arcane machinery might call for being found and operated. The skills your character and their party have, will be crucial in overcoming such obstacles. And although opposition is to be expected, and combat might be unavoidable, progressing through the game will require more than just defeating enemies.
It’s quite common for 2D isometric games to have objects obscure other objects, e.g. player character be obscured by a wall that they are standing behind. Ideally the level design would make sure that situations like that didn’t happen, but in reality due to other considerations like visual or combat design, that is not always the case.
Although some games do just ignore this problem, it can have an detrimental effect on gameplay – “Where is my character?” – Pixel hunting for a head sticking out of a bush doesn’t seem like a good time.
There are multiple ways to solve that issue. Some games just fade out the obscuring object, some create a bubble around the character that makes cuts through the obscuring object. However the clearest and cleanest solution I found was to just render the character in some different way over the wall, bush or another object that would otherwise hide it.
This is much easier to do for 3D games, but with some shader and post processing shenanigans I got this to work pretty well. Now when the player party, enemies or NPCs are obscured by level geometry or decorations, they will be shown clearly. This should make navigating the player and companions through a map, or during combat much less of a hassle.