Other than a water balloon fight in the midst of a drought, there’s nothing quite like playing the ideal good guy/ girl. You get to wear fashion-forward attire, fall in love with a personified version of elegance, morality, and tenacity, and maybe towards the end, before you save the ungrateful existence of everyone on the planet, release a heroic whimper while you resolve a few daddy issues that were rooted during the character’s entitled yet painful childhood. (I bet you can guess which character I’m referencing.)
Playing as the “saviour of imperfect worlds” or “the spanker of evil buttocks” is all well and spectacular, for it allows us to sympathise with and adopt an ideal that grants us comfort in an unjust reality, but often times we need a different perspective. We need raw catharsis. We need to know what it’s like to become a unique or quintessential villain, and discover just how nefarious we’d be willing to behave in the name of fictionalised world domination.
In King Dinosaur Game’s upcoming Strategy RPG That Which Sleeps, you are the evil, the usurper of hope, order, and heroism. As the Old One, a powerful demon who once ruled but was imprisoned in a slumber from which he’s just awakened, you wield the skills of Agents to manipulate trust and politics, from the cavernous shadows, for the purpose of frightening the populace and destabilising royal authority.
Partly because playing a villainous dare-demon percolates my depraved interest, I applied war paint to my face, moulded my lips into the jagged positioning of the most wicked grimace memory could recall, and engaged in an informative and demonic chin-wag with the game’s developers. I needed to know just what it takes to become That Which Sleeps.
|The teeth and claws of King Dinosaur Games.|
Digitally Downloaded (DD): That Which Sleeps has run a Kickstarter; its release is planned for Q1 2015. What are your priorities between now and then? How intense has this whole development process been thus far?
King Dinosaur (KD): Development has slowed to a crawl because the Kickstarter has taken up so much of our time. At first we thought we’d be working on a demo to release mid KS, but now that we have so many people that opted into Beta access our new priority is to get something into their hands ASAP. So they will follow the transformation and see the game get features and polish added as we go. It should be really fun.
DD: With the vast amount of customisable features and randomised events – personalising your demon, Scenario Generation, and adapting enemy AI, for example – the avenues to achieving a wicked victory for each player seem varied and unlimited. But this also presumably means that the length and quality of each adventure may differ significantly, which is amazing seeing how the game appears suited for infinite replays. Considering that the intended playtime for a single scenario is 3-5 hours, what variables can shorten or expand this intention?
KD:The 3-5 hours of expected game-play was estimated for an experienced player utilising an Old One that sleeps for an average period of time. By utilising an Old One who wakens quickly, you can put it all on the line with simple strategic gambles, or if you choose an Old One that is deep asleep, you can expect a much slower paced game where each and every thrust by the heroes and leaders of the world must be met in order to succeed.
The basic game is somewhat constrained by the narrative of the Chosen One and The Alliance, as the world moves inexorably towards a climactic final battle. However, we have various game modes that can be activated which can alter almost every quantitative value in the game, ranging from how long your Old One can sleep, the length of the prophecy, and even how quickly armies can rebuild.
Thanks to our backers, we also reached the Endless Simulation stretch goal which makes the engine even more versatile, allowing the Old One to be defeated, slink back into the shadows, and rise again later to retake the world.
DD: As an awakened evil, the Old One – also known as the Usurper of Dreams, the Severed Tendril, the Pestilent Soloist (I made the last one up) – your mission is to overthrow authority and reclaim your unrighteous rule. You don’t achieve this through boot-to-the-face force but with the cunning manipulation of corruptible inhabitants, Agents, of the land. What’s the story behind the origin of this idea, this primary game-play mechanic?
KD: The mechanics found their inspiration in the theme: we decided while prototyping that if we couldn’t develop an interesting and compelling mechanic that actually allowed you to feel like a manipulative evil straight out of literature, we wouldn’t go ahead with the idea. Thankfully, the same literature that served as an inspiration for the theme provided the mechanics; by analysing the situations and lore that consistently re-occurred, we found material that was both unique in regards to game design but recognisable enough to the player because of their exposure to the same material. We’re very happy with the how the game has developed, and the moments that heroes frustrate the ambitions of the player feel truly literary in scope.
DD: The Heroes, self-righteous opposition who have the potential to thwart your criminal activities, don’t even know the Old One has returned. In fact, they’re out fulfilling their own goals, duelling evildoers and discriminating against cultures they may view as substandard. The kings and leaders, on the other hand, are preoccupied with appeasing the public and maintaining power. So if a player were highly skilled and clandestine, is it possible for her to complete an entire scenario without being noticed? Is it possible to just sit back and have your tendrils massaged into a hypnotic sheen as the Heroes and Kings of the world dispute with one another?
KD: Well, the world will certainly take notice when your tentacles are firmly wrapped around the necks of the kings of the world – but you sure can make that moment a surprise. Some of the Old Ones simply lack the subtlety necessary for this approach, but others if played properly can emerge to a world so embroiled in its own affairs that they take no notice of your return. It won’t be a surprise to everyone; there will be doom-sayers wandering the streets and heroes desperately trying to get into the Royal Court. You’ll need to make sure people pay them no heed.
|The Speaker of the Dead, looking to frighten information from a haughty Hero.|
DD: Although a degree of sneakiness is preferred by, say, using the peddler, an alcoholic agent deft in selling poisoned potions to heroes and gaining a crowd’s allegiance through fear mongering, is it possible to win by manic brute force? When would this option be most ideal, if at all?
KD: Of course, sometimes when your cunning, manipulative plan to replace the king with a puppet and declare war on his neighbours is undone by a band of meddlesome heroes, you just want to let loose your hordes. Militarily, you are almost always weaker than the forces of the world – if they were unified, at least. You will need to choose the perfect moment to unleash your forces on the world – when their forces are ground into dust or their mistrust is at an all time high – then you may be able to battle their unique units and watch their capitals burn. However, other options present themselves to the wannabe warlord. You can prop up a commander as the true threat – burn their fields and loot their cities, and then let him fall. The world, unknowingly, will lower its guard thinking they have vanquished their great threat. Of course, that makes it the perfect time to unleash your real army.
DD: Could you briefly walk me through the ideal stratagem to, say, assassinate a king? What types of agents would I need to recruit and how would I need to utilise their skillsets? What sorts of challenges would I need to overcome?
KD: Assassinations are actually fairly straightforward. You either need to activate the one agent that has the assassin trait by default or recruit an assassin minion with any agent with sufficient command. To recruit assassins, you need to infiltrate a thieves guild that has turned to assassination or a religion that has murder as an aspect. Once this is accomplished, you simply need to go to their location and complete the assassination challenge.
A challenge is more difficult, and even impossible, depending on how high the order of the city is – you may need to weaken it by causing starvation, forcing them to call up their levies, causing a guild war, or several other nefarious plots. Once the king is dead, it’s much more interesting to view the repercussions. Even rival kings will be shocked at the outrage of a king being murdered in cold blood, so expect champions to be unleashed on your trail and for future assassinations to be much more difficult.
DD: Personally, I rejoice and adorn war paint made from sheep’s blood (it’s just pink food colouring) when I see the opportunity to adopt the boots, or in this case, the tentacles, of a villain in any creative medium. What do you think it is about playing ‘the bad guy’ that’s so damn enticing? What, for you, is the primary appeal?
KD: I’ve always liked the word ‘machinations,’ but I’ve never felt like I could use that term to describe anything I’ve done in a game. We wanted to place ourselves in the middle of an intense simulation and start plucking at the pieces, seeing the many ways in which it could collapse. We wanted to know why villains always did the stupid things they do in books and movies, and to be honest, after we finished up the basic mechanics, we began to understand why that happened and why evil is so easily taunted. It is very frustrating to have your schemes undone, and so tempting to unleash your legion of demons on the heroes without concern for what may come of it.
DD: Seeing that modding – being capable of making new guilds, campaigns, old ones, heroes, and so forth – is such a crucial component to That Which Sleeps, do you plan on tweaking or adding anything new to the experience post-launch?
KD: It was always our intention to continue to support the development of the game, whether that is best done by us creating additional content or supporting the community remains to be seen, but if you’ve been following us on forums and in our Kickstarter, you know how excited and engaged we are, and we want people to be enjoying That Which Sleeps for a very long time.
DD: What games are you two gentlemen playing when not radically altering the world from the shadows?
KD: Great question. We’ve (mostly) lost the ability to play games because of how busy we are, but I am sneaking in a game of Binding of Isaac every now and then, and Josh is playing Wasteland 2.