Disco Elysium - Previews
Some previews for Disco Elysium.
I’ve played only a small bit of Disco Elysium, but that was enough for it to get its hooks in. It’s an RPG with very little combat about a down-on-his luck cop trying to get his job back while working a case across a single city block. Some more recent devblog posts have gone into detail about all it contains: weather states; times of day; game time that advances by the player reading a line of dialogue; 24 skills, which butt in to your thoughts to have their say on what situation you’re in; over a hundred inventory items; about a million words. It’s funny and inventive in ways games rarely are.
Disco Elysium also has a Thought Cabinet, an inventory for brainstuff. Kurvitz went through about 12 different versions of how to do it. Maybe thoughts could also be wounds. Maybe the position of thoughts, their relative inventory slots, could affect each other. Maybe the health system could be balanced on the Thought Cabinet. In the final version of Disco Elysium, the Thought Cabinet interacts with many other systems in the game, and it takes a while for you to uncover what a thought actually is by ‘internalising’ it. An average play through results in 16 fully internalised thoughts.
The prose in Disco Elysium has a very organic lilt which seems borne of tabletop role-playing games, though it turns out that this is no coincidence. “I’ve been playing pen-and-paper since I was fifteen or sixteen,” says lead designer Robert Kurvitz. “I’m something of an evangelist, and I started pouring into it my ambitions as a novelist. I was playing it with my young artist friends back then and we went really highbrow with it. I think it’s as good as storytelling and culture gets. The problem is you can’t record it. You can’t take it anywhere. I shudder to think of all of the hundreds of really, really good pen-and-paper games which just evaporate, so we decided to build our own world and ended up dedicating a large part of our lives to try and encapsulate this in a video game.”
Kurvitz has a point. For anyone familiar with tabletop role-playing, whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons, Cyberpunk or any one of the countless settings and scenarios available, there’s nothing quite as magical as achieving something seemingly impossible with a character of your own making by simply forming an idea and executing it with a dice roll. Capturing that moment of tension in a video game has still not fully been realised. As the likes of BioWare’s games developed from the homely isometric feel of Baldur’s Gate to the bland Mass Effect: Andromeda, more and more of that tabletop personality dissipated. It was this need to transport organic world-building outside of verbal narration which influenced Kurvitz’s own novel — and this in turn led to the success and significant funding required to create Disco Elysium.
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