Gamedec Gamescom Preview
I was presented part of the demo of Gamedec, named an adaptive isometric cyberpunk RPG, by its developers. Gamedec is a game based on a series of books made by Marcin Przybyłek, where in a cyberpunk dystopian world a lot of people play virtual games and who are actually living those games. It all takes place in a post-transhumanist world, where the question whether AI is sentient is no longer being asked. AI is inside robot bodies in the real world and people are living most of their time in a virtual world, both of which are considered to be normal. To make sure the game stays close to the vision of Marcin, he is part of the team and works almost full time on the game by writing dialogs and advising on the lore.
A Gamedec is a detective who is specialized in solving issues in the virtual world and it is a highly respected profession. In the demo we were being contacted by a client to enter a virtual game called Harvest Time to contact someone named Stan. In the demo the Gamedec is in the low city of the real world, and is making his way to the game bar. The city we get to see in the game consists of two parts, the low and the high city, which are very different from each other.
At the start of the game you get to create your Gamedec, which is accomplished by dialog options from which you get to make your choice. This will result in things like the detective's background story, but also his or her aspects. An aspect is something similar to the tags in Original Sin 2. You could have the aspect of being from the low city when you are born there. But you can also get aspects while playing. When, for example, you try to hack a station an intelligence roll is performed and if you meet the criteria the hacking can start. But, if you successfully hack a station enough times, you can get an aspect, showing that you are that kind of person. You could for example, get an aspect named 'Hacker Man' , which gives an instant success on hacking, because you did that already so often. The aspects in the game do not come in levels, you either have them or you don't, but some of the aspects do have tiers, where you could evolve the aspect into a higher order aspect. There is also the possibility that you lose an aspect. However, as this is still under discussion, that actual implementation might be somewhat different from what was shown.
What is also still under discussion is how the character will evolve. One of the things being discussed is a karma model where your karma is determined by your choices and actions.
Dialogs in Gamedec are branching dialogs where you get dialog options that depend on your character build and your previous choices, similar to how this is done in other RPGs, like Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin (ed: examples given by the developers).
Every obstacle you encounter in the game will often have more than one solution, so the player has maximum flexibility in deciding how to overcome the obstacle. Whenever one of the designers has thought of an issue that needs to be resolved, like the need to cross an electronic barrier, they have a few mini P&P sessions around that to see what the people in the development team come up with as potential solutions, which then leads to the implementation of the options you as a player will have in the game. With this they want to prevent the game to follow the standard tropes to solving issues and provide maximum flexibility to the player.
As mentioned you need to find Stan who is in the virtual game named Harvest Time. As a Gamedec you need to login to the game by going to a location that has special couches for this. By putting up a helmet and wear a special suite that preserves your bodily functions, a connection with the virtual game can be made.
Harvest Time is a hardcore free-to-play grinding game, where people grind resources, similar to Farmville, to earn money and to compete against each other. The developers are at the moment working on three other virtual games; a world with dinosaurs, a Sin City type of gangster world and a dating sim world.
The intention is to have each virtual world feel like you are part of that game. It will also show UI elements that belong to the type of game you are logged in to. In this virtual game, people are harvesting goods, cows are making milk and the UI has elements like the amount of money that you have earned. The developers want to make each virtual game feel different and for that reason every virtual game will have different game mechanics.
However you as a Gamedec, are not here to play the game, but to find Stan. By talking to people you can find someone who knows where he is and who can mark him. In that case some small moving chevrons show that point you in the right direction towards Stan. Augmented artefacts, like this, are only possible inside virtual games.
Once you find Stan you will learn what the problem is and you will be asked to help him. You can do this by talking to the various people in the virtual game to gather information. Usually there is more than one way to find the information you need, so if an option to gather information is blocked, there most likely will be another option available to you. When you have gathered enough information a deduction can be made. This is supported in the game by means of a deduction window. It shows on the left hand side the information that has been gathered up to now. Depending on what information is gathered one or more deductions will show (or none if you have not gathered enough information yet). You can select the deduction you think fits best. This is not necessarily the right deduction, but by selecting the deduction you want to go with, you are choosing your truth, because it fits your agenda or because it matches your personal views. The game will adapt to your choice and will present new options in the deduction window, belonging to selected deduction, for which further information needs to be gathered in order to reach a conclusion of the case. This might not lead to the absolute truth, but it leads to an outcome, which is based on your choices and decisions. It is also possible to finish the case in an early stage, by selecting the solution you think is the right one. This might not be the right one, but the game will adapt to your choice and go with that. It also makes you 'solve' the case a lot faster.
Each case in Gamedec that you have to solve, has more than one possible ending. However, the game itself has a linear structure where you solve one case after the other. The choices you make in each of the cases will impact the characters that are involved in that case. In later cases you will meet some of these characters again and your previous choices will influence the attitude these characters will have towards you.
The developers aim for you to spend 45-60 minutes on a case when you play it normally. But when choosing the shorter path, as described before, this can be reduced to about 20 minutes.
Gamedec has no combat system. There is violence in the game, but it will play out through cut scenes or dialogs and not via interactive combat. An example was given where the Gamedec was meeting a gangster, supported by two bouncers and two turrets. My character could say "I'm going to kill you", but the turrets or the bouncers will likely kill the characters first. I could however, hack the turrets to kill the bouncers, or bribe the bouncers to hack the turrets. In that case my actions would not lead to my death, but to the death of the other. All this takes place without a combat system in placer, which is a deliberate choice as the developers wanted to make a narrative game where choices matter.
The books on which the game is based, are about a detective, who does have a gun. But even in the books the Gamedec only used the gun once or twice. The game is focusing on the first two volumes of the series. The books following those two moved away from the cyberpunk Gamedec theme and has slowly moved to a space opera, where the sixth volume is about a 100 meter big mech flying in space.
The books are currently in polish only. Translation of the books and publishing them is under discussion at the moment.
Even though it is a cyberpunk game there is no augmentation to enhance your character. This cyberpunk world takes place a lot later than for example Cyberpunk 2077 and the world has evolved into having tools that make living easier and change how the people think about life and death. You can become immortal by putting yourself in a game and live your life there for as long as the game exists.
Although in the 22nd century many things have changed, human nature has not changed much. There still is a need for Gamedecs to solve the problems of the real and virtual worlds.
Gamedec is now in pre-alpha and there will be a hands-on session at Pax West. After that the team will decide on further planning of the game. At the moment there are just a few playable cases, with more cases coming, but the game does have a meta story overarching all these cases. This overarching story is established, but they do not know yet how many endings there will be, nor how many cases there will be in the game upon release. Currently they are thinking to realize a gameplaying time of 8-10 hours, but thanks to the branching and the way the game adapts to your choices there should be quite some replayability.
Personally I am looking forward to this game and am quite interested to see if they can make it work, but it probably still takes a while before we can talk about a release of Gamedec.