Thursday, 31 July 2014

Malazan Book of the Fallen: The Game

As I have read Steven Erikson's series of books titled Malazan Book of the Fallen, I came upon the realisation that I would love to play as a character in that universe. Another great realisation was that making a game after a book has turned a certain franchise into a smashing success, while it turned some into a gigantic flop. The latter I attribute mainly to the half-assery of the studio that was making the game. The smashing success are the Witcher games, while a gigantic flop is the Game of Thrones game. Both are role playing games, yet one really understands its universe, while the other is crippled on every twist and turn by the design decisions the developers made.

This alone should serve as a precautionary tale that a game based on a fantasy series can go both good or terribly wrong. As far as I know, CD Projekt RED took the Witcher world and built upon it using their own imagination while still staying loyal to the source material. While the developers of Game of Thrones game chose the easy path and payed dearly for it. Voices of the TV series actors, insignias from a TV series, locations like they were in TV series. When you are developing a game, you are given a gift that TV series cannot have. You can stay true to the source material. You do not have to use tricks or workarounds in order to make a castle. In a game, Castle Black can look like the Castle Black George R.R. Martin envisioned, not a provincial fortress TV series had to settle down with.

In the end, what do I want from Malazan Book of the Fallen game? Well a grand mixture of Witcher and Dragon Age I. I would like to play as a Bridgeburner. And the combination of those two games as a reference serves as good example. Bridgeburners were Emperor's favourite unit that comprised people from all over the Malazan Empire. The origins could be plentiful, reasons why you enlisted in military numerous. And most of all, it would not be weird at all if the protagonist was black, white, red, blue, man, woman, or something in between. Only thing Bridgeburners ever cared about was the loyalty to the Emperor Kellanved, and doing their job.

When I say a grand mixture of Witcher and Dragon Age, that means I want the combat system of the Witcher games, and the storytelling capability and the different origins of Dragon Age. That is because combat system in Witcher games is much more realistically done than the one in Dragon Age games. Pressing buttons in order to get some attack out of it just doesn't work. The character already has a set of skill, he can then by honing them in combat learn to use in different scenarios or even changing how he does combat. The same goes for magic, just pressing a button to fire a fireball is depressing. It gives the impression of easiness, and that no effort is needed.

I would set the game before the first book in the series though. I would like to play from the formation of Bridgeburners onward. I would want to be a Bridgeburner in the prime, not when they were three steps from being dismantled as unit because they suffered heavy losses, fighting for ten years in swamps, bogs, and laying siege to cities where their own mages killed most of them by accident. Bridgeburners still endured after that, but it is one thing to be fresh and ready for combat, and other to exhausted and sick of fighting.

Another problem that goes away is the scale, if the game starts where books are already taking place there is so many things and plots that need to be taken care of, in order for the game not to just fall apart. If we start with early Bridgeburners, there is still plenty to do, many cities and continents to conquer. There is still intrigue, and that is the beauty of Erikson's world, he might have written books about one period, but you know that even before those books things were taking place, wars were fought, assassinations were carried out, and betrayals were taking place. The world is rich with history.

You could actually start the game as one of the first recruits under the Braven Tooth. You could actually see, how the old Master Sergeants got his name, you could actually get your own name. The beauty of introduction with Braven Tooth, is that you can name your character whatever you want, in the end Braven Tooth gives you the name you will be known under for the rest of your military career. This allows the developers to actually use this as the workaround why nobody is using "your" name when referring to you. Instead of inventing all possible fancy titles, here you have a name Braven Tooth gave you. You can complain to him. But don't come crying if you loose a tooth or two by doing so.

As for the clasess, the classic approach would suffice. That means three basic classes with specialisations down the line. A mage, warrior, and rogue. It is well established that Bridgeburners were the mixed sort that had heavy infantry, marines, mages, and even assassins among their ranks. Another thing is that specialisation of all three classes, especially mages could wildly vary depending on their origins and the choices they make through the game. Malazan army teaches certain skills to every soldier, but the aptitudes of every individual soldier might vary. Also, some mages might be downright weak, while others could be overpowered beyond belief. I guess this is the case for others as well, but it is never so apparently clear as with mages. And if you read the books, you will understand why that is so. And why it should stay so.

The worst mistake you could make while working on a Malazan game, is to try and balance everything. This is a fantasy setting, and if anything kills it, is the outsider's need for trying to make every option equally attractive. This is wrong. The beauty of fantasy setting is that everything is not equal, and that this disparity makes sense and follows certain rules. If the developers that would be making this game understand that, I am certain the game would be a great success.

#RPG #MalazanBookOfTheFallen #Daydreaming

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