See you on the island
A plane crash, a deserted island, and a crew of “mouth-breathing tourists” as your only companions: although it’s a pitch we’ve heard before, developer Owlchemy Labs’ take on the Lost-famous formula promises to be new, improved, and worth sticking with from beginning to its numerous, varied ends. As a survival game, Dyscourse is full of tangible dangers that can bring about those ends abruptly—such as poisonous snakes and wild boars—but one of its greatest challenges is the human psyche. Dropped into the shoes of Rita, an art graduate-turned barista-turned makeshift island leader, players will get to know their fellow castaways and make critical, interpersonal decisions that will affect the group’s chances for survival.
One such choice is shown off in Dyscourse‘s Kickstarter video: Rita sends the mustachioed tourist with a fear of snakes to subdue a venomous enemy, with less-than-desirable results. She could also opt to dispatch the snake herself, which keeps everyone alive and well. Alex Schwartz, Founder, CEO, and Janitor of Owlchemy Labs, told Gamezebo: “With a Kickstarter video, it’s tough to build characters and show consequence over time, so George getting smacked down by the snake could have looked arbitrary in the setting of a two minute video. With an actual playthrough, though, you come to love (or hate) the cast of wacky characters on the island, and uncover important bits of info and background on the characters, their skills, and their motives through dialog and various moments.”
Those moments determine the direction of each playthrough, which vary greatly thanks to Dyscourse‘s emergent gameplay. Even seemingly minor choices can create diverging paths that change one player’s experience when compared to another’s. “Those choices you make at any time are also not ‘pre-set’ in that you will always see those same options,” Schwartz said. “For example, if you learned a specific bit of information about a character, or saw them do something sneaky, the option to bring that up, or use that information against them will be ‘unlocked,’ whereas players who didn’t come across that info due to going down a different branch would not be able to see that option, but instead have a whole different parallel experience happening.”
This also means that no single playthrough will let you see everything that Dyscourse has to offer, and no specific path is the “best” way to play. “One thing to watch out for is using ‘victory’ in a game like this,” said Schwartz. “Obviously, most people are concerned with getting rescued, but we try not to award getting the most people out alive and rescued as the only way to enjoy playing the game. Sometimes it’s fun to watch the world burn. There are indeed multiple endings and multiple different ways to arrive at each of the endings, which makes this a very unique play experience.”
Owlchemy has also avoided labeling specific in-game choices as being preferred: “One of the key tenets of our design is to never label a specific path as completely right or completely wrong. As with real life, every choice has a ripple effect on the world, possibly strengthening bonds with one person and possibly weakening bonds with others,” Schwartz said. “There is no Paragon and there is no Renegade. Depending on your mood, motives, and past choices that led up to your current predicament, the decisions you make certainly have a lot of dependencies. Showing the gravity of your choices in an easy to understand way is one of the challenges of the design, and something we’ve been working to build as awesomely as possible since we started the game.”
Without a decidedly best path, Rita’s decisions are strictly the player’s. “You can play in a way that develops trust and compassion among [Rita’s] fellow castaways or you can act aggressively and focus on your own well being, possibly to the chagrin of your fellow survivors.” Of course, playing nice might come in handy—besides asking others to do your snake-disposing dirty-work, Rita can take survivors on scouting trips of the gigantic island. With the game’s “memory marker” system, any areas Rita or another survivor has visited can be backtracked to via mental footsteps, creating a logical and unique replacement for an actual (and unavailable) map.
Although there will be long island treks, frying pan fights, and other survival necessities, one of Dyscourse‘s main goals is to create a cohesive story, experienced through your many decisions and personal interactions. “When designing Dyscourse, we didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing,” Schwartz said. “With our previous titles, we built a racing game about smuggling stuffed animals over the border, and when we tackled a line-drawing game, we made it about a lumberjack out to get revenge due to the untimely tree-related death of his granny. With a survival / adventure title, we felt there were enough resource-driven, crafting-style open world survival games and wanted to do something really different.
“We’ve ended up with something more toward a mission-directed experience but it only feels like that when you break down the game from a technical level and observe the nuts and bolts [that] comprise the backbone of the game. When played, it feels more like a fluid story, with dramatic action, moral decisions, and fight or flight moments, but with each playthrough having the possibility of being vastly different—your play style determines how your experience is forged within the wildly branching dynamic world of the game.”
The many variations and branching paths of Dyscourse will continue even beyond this initial installment. Rita’s story is merely the first of a multi-scenario plan that will be finalized with the help of Kickstarter backers and beta testers. “Thanks to the magic of Kickstarter, we’re able to get our game out there much earlier than if we had to work alone in a silo creating the whole game,” Schwartz said. “This allows us to gather feedback from our fans, which we plan on gathering in buckets once we launch our beta. With the beta, Scenario 1 (with Rita as the protagonist) will be launched and we can see what worked and what needs to be improved. Based on that feedback, we’ll determine how we want to mold the future Scenarios, whether Rita will stick around or be solely confined to Scenario 1, or some weird blend of the two. Our current thought process is that each Scenario represents a new plane crash, with a new cast of misfit survivors, but it’s a bit open-ended at the moment.”
Open-ended is the name of the game for Dyscourse, from its branching emergent paths to its multiple scenarios to even its own future. Although Owlchemy Labs has managed to build much of the already breathtaking world with funds from its past games’ sales, they have turned to Kickstarter to ensure it can be completed. From what we’ve seen so far, it would be a shame to leave this one behind.