Bound by Flame is the new morally-charged RPG from Mars: War Logs studio Spiders. Dave Cook talks with project manager Walid Miled about how the thirst for power can irreparably corrupt even the noblest of warriors.
”The moral slant is made more intriguing given that the player’s demonic partner isn’t actually evil. Its motivation is a mystery. The team were keen to avoid making this a choice between good and evil, but to keep things more ambiguous so that vital decisions would be less clear-cut.”
There are a lot of games that offer a degree of moral freedom. In the road to launch, we often hear a lot of hollow promises that players will face excruciating choices with far-reaching, profound ramifications, but in reality the bulk of these titles offer binary decisions with clear-cut outcomes.
It’s challenging to write and then develop a game that really nails the crushing duress that comes with a genuinely taxing conundrum, or those that reward moral inclination with tangible change within the world-state.
Fallout, The Walking Dead and Mass Effect are just a few series that go above and beyond the glut of transparent ‘good choice, bad choice’ games out there, but the point is that developers are certainly getting better at putting us on the spot, kicking us out of our comfort zones and watching us squirm as we stare down narrative junction points with no visible result in sight. We often make a call and soldier onward in the hope that our choice won’t come back to bite us further on into the tale.
That’s powerful from a story-telling perspective. Creators have recognised this and over the last ten years have become quite fiendish in the way they work morality into their games, and are now designing titles to give gamers a heightened degree of plot ownership. More than ever before we, the players, are the story-creators in essence, and that is a level of interaction and immersion other mediums simply cannot deliver. There are more developers using the interactivity of games in such a manner, and Bound by Flame team Spiders Studio is one of them.
Launching May 9, Bound by Flame is a new action-RPG set in the land of Vertiel; a dark realm that is being smothered by a wave of misery and death caused by the murderous Lords of Ice. After an ancient ritual goes horribly wrong, your hero becomes bound to a demonic spirit that tempts the player with god-like abilities at every juncture. While this power may help bring a degree of peace to the decaying world, the true price is your humanity. Just how far are you willing to sacrifice your very being? That’s the question Spiders want you to pain yourself over while playing.
”Similar to BioWare’s morally-charged Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, Spiders is working romance options into its RPG. The story itself will be both dark and mature in keeping with its harrowing setting.”
As you submit yourself to the entity your human appearance will give way to a monstrous veneer, and that’s when people around Vertiel and your companions will start to question who you are.
While speaking with project manager Walid Miled over Skype I was told that your fellow adventurers can leave at various points in the quest if they feel they can no longer trust you, and there’s also the risk of locking out sections of the plot altogether depending on your inclination. It sounds like a deeper format than your average binary experience.
“It was part of the core at the start,” Miled says of the moral system,” different endings, companions… how they react, how the quests lock and how other quests open. We had to go through all of this and make sure that the player gets a different feeling depending on the choices in the story, gameplay-wise, and so that the character really evolves visually. This has a real impact on the gameplay, so yeah it was really a core part of the game.”
The moral slant is made more intriguing given that the player’s demonic partner isn’t actually evil. Its motivation is a mystery. Miled and his team were keen to avoid making this a choice between good and evil, but to keep things more ambiguous so that vital decisions would be less clear-cut. Short-term advantages such as unlocking new combat options across the game’s three XP-based skill trees may sound tempting, but refusing to submit to the entity will have its own benefits as well. In the end you will end on one of three endings denoting human, demonic and neutral leanings.
“We encourage repeat play in many different ways, ” Miled goes on. “There’s the gameplay first, because you can really specialise your character’s… I could say class, but there are no classes in the game. It’s more about your skill tree because you have two fighting styles, so we encourage repeat play in the gameplay and fighting, but also choosing demon or human will make some characters stay and others leave, then there’s all those different endings. When the player starts over they can have a totally renewed experience.”