Demonicon is another game we first saw a couple of years ago, and we’ve been keeping up with its progress ever since. A fantasy-RPG set in The Dark Eye universe, think of this as a much, much darker theemed Dragon Age, with systems and mechanics modelled on the Dark Eye pen & paper RPG. Noumena, the development studio really wanted to create a dark, yet credible world, filled with extremely grey moral choices and decisions, and touching upon subjects rarely seen in videogames. Incest, Cannibalism... it’s all brought to the forefront, and not in a token side-question gesture. Not to spoil too much, but the two we just mentioned are directly related to the main quest and characters. Heavy stuff.
To find out more about the thinking behind the story, we spoke to the game’s lead writer, Daniel Hessler.
Strategy Informer: Were there any challenges involved in crafting a story that dealt with such ‘Adult’ themes? Did you encounter any resistance?
Daniel Hessler: We just did it! Kalypso gave us the opportunity to, and they agreed with what we were dong, and I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the age rating’s tell us. Basically the whole thing was about writing a good story, and about the themes that are linked to that story. The player may have some questions relating to specific scenes in the game, but these questions will be answered. Whenever there is a dark theme, it may look like a provocation but I can guarantee it’s linked to the main quest. When a subject is that closely linked, you can have different ways of showing it, so there are less challenges involved I feel. We’ve been lucky to have a good publisher!
Strategy Informer: Did you create this dark tale to make a point? To show the industry that adult themes like this can work in a videogame? Or did you create it for your own sake?
Daniel Hessler: I don’t think we are the ones teaching the industry anything, no. We’re trying to tell a good story that fits the Shadowlands and the reality of what’s happening here. The motivations and the actions of these characters need to be credible, and more than just Good or Bad classic fantasy decisions. This is my approach to a good story. You have to believe it, and if the world is cruel, then it should have dark themes. Even so, we will not show everything. The player will find hints to some of the moral extremities, and extreme acts that have or are taking place, but we do not, in fact we SHOULD not, show everything, even for the sake of narration.
Strategy Informer: Obviously The Dark Eye is an established franchise – how closely did you consult with the makers of TDE with regards to the game world, and more specifically the darker tone your story takes?
Daniel Hessler: Very closely. We have a close contact with The Dark Eye producers of the pen & paper game. We’ve been publishing some texts in their periodical, and something you can do in Demonicon is read background books that relate to that pen & paper game. The thing about The Dark Eye world is that it has many variations, so you can play a classic Tolkein Fantasy, or you could play as a Viking, you can play a fencing musketeer, or something completely different. We decided to deal with the horror approach, and the horror parts of the continent in which this takes place. We thought it would be fun to do.
Strategy Informer: What aspects of the game would TDE recognise? What nods to the wider universe?
Daniel Hessler: The Dark Eye has a real huge pantheon – lots of Gods, Demons, Places... the lore is pretty extensive. We used these names and descriptions... we even used the existing map of the main city, which is the main quest hub in our game. We even tried transferring big parts of the gameplay of the TDE system into our system – we had to change some things to make it more usable, but we’ve got the skill and talent system from the pen & paper game, but there are a lot of crafting talents like cooking etc... that don’t really fit, so we had to get rid of some. Even when you have to make decisions that have an impact on the world that relates to some official Dark Eye characters or other things, you can choose the official ‘Canon’ option, or an alternative one. So if you are a fan of The Dark Eye, you should definitely play Demonicon as it’s very thematically similar, just set in the darker Shadowlands area with darker themes.
Strategy Informer: We first saw Demonicon two years ago at GamesCom, and obviously the game has evolved a lot mechanically over the past couple of years – has the story similarly evolved?
Daniel Hessler: We re-wrote certain parts of the story and we made changes. But the basic part of the story, the core of what the game is about, has remained the same.
Strategy Informer: Are you worried about getting banned in other countries?
Daniel Hessler: We'll see. We'll see. Can't answer that now!
Strategy Informer: Of course, but when the age ratings do come in – and it’s entirely possible you may get banned somewhere, would you be willing to compromise at all? For example, if a territory had problem with the Incest content, would you take it out? COULD you take it out?
Daniel Hessler: I think there would be ways of doing it. I surely hope it won’t be necessary! But it’s possible perhaps. I think we should talk about this though when it’s time to talk about this. I hope we get to do what we want to do though.
Strategy Informer: There’s a lot of talk about how plots and characters in videogames are still fairly juvenile – do you think Demonicon is an example of what a more ‘mature’ story could look like?
Daniel Hessler: I hope so. When it comes to story-telling though, what IS mature? What is Juvenile? We can’t really distinguish because listening to a story and telling a story is juvenile in itself. I think for most people the word ‘juvenile’ means not credible, not believable as far as motivation of characters go. We’ve put a lot of effort into making the character’s motivations believable. I think saying something is juvenile or not is not really a good thing – something should either be a good story, or a bad story.
Strategy Informer: There’s a lot of ‘shades of grey’ in Demonicon, which is all well and good at the beginning, but what would you say to those gamers who, after many hours of making tough choices, simply want to be the obviously ‘good’ or obviously ‘bad’ guy for a little bit?
Daniel Hessler: Good or bad is a question of priority. Each decision you make has its good aspects and its bad aspects. It’s not that you’re choosing between rubbish decisions, all decision have good and bad aspects to them. You can still cling to classic moral ideas, like those presented by the old Gods, or questionable ideas presented by new gods... you can find some of these classic framing’s in the game. There’s the City Guard, for example, and the Smugglers, and you can choose to support either side. If your priority is to be classically good, then you can stick with that but every good action has consequences. This is what I mean when I talked about credible and believable characters – you decide yourself what is good and what is bad.
Normally, we’d accompany an interview like this with a preview. In fact we were given the opportunity to go hands-on with the game, and played through the first hour or so, plus some bits later in the game using pre-made saves. Unfortunately, we’re sad to report that the game still needs a fair bit of work. The core mechanics are there, all the content, individual system etc... are all created and are all present, but there are A LOT of technical issues to work out. Probably doesn’t help that we were trying the 360 build for the first time, which obviously has to deal with the platform’s limitations. We were unable to get some time with the PC build.
Demonicon is not due out for a fair bit yet, so there’s still time for QA etc... to forge this game into something playable, but at the state it was in at the time of play, I just didn’t feel comfortable writing up a full preview. The Dark Eye: Demonicon is due out in the Fall of 2013 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC.