Thinking about how those different angles can be approached in a game that can only provide the player’s perspective is intriguing, but the storytelling in Shattered works in a particular way that means other perspectives have to be considered. “There are three main ways to discover the story,” Denis-Venuat told OnlySP. “The first and most obvious is via the character of the Whisperer. He is a little white creature that looks a bit like Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and you discover him right at the beginning of the game. He follows you throughout the whole game, and you realise that no characters can speak except for him. This means that every time you meet a new character the Whisperer will interpret what the new character is thinking, so everything that you hear from other characters actually goes through his perspective first. You have to try to work out what the characters are actually saying versus what the Whisperer is interpreting.”
As a result, the game’s narrative goes through a filter of sorts before the player experiences it. This idea is interesting, and sets up the mystery of whether the Whisperer is a close friend and confidante, or someone with a potentially malicious agenda of their own. Denis-Venuat told us that this debatable trustworthiness is a major part of the game, and extends even beyond the Whisperer.
“That is definitely something you have to question,” she said. “You understand pretty quickly that you will have to be careful with what he says. You also have to consider and be careful of some scrolls that you will find, hidden everywhere in the game. They are all from the same book, the Geodesian book. The Geodesian is also a character who you can possibly meet, depending on how you play the game. The scrolls are based on what he wrote during his life, so it’s his own perspective of what happened in the world. You are also able to find other things, like real physical objects that contain memories of what was there before. These can be words, or sounds, or other things like that.”
Therefore, much like a puzzle, players must piece together a story that makes sense to them and to consider these different perspectives on the world and decide what is truth and what is a distortion of reality. The player must seemingly also try to decide when these other characters and things are manipulating their world view and try to avoid falling into the trap of just taking one thing’s word for granted. Failing to pick up all these fragments is also possible, and as such building as clear a picture of the world may be difficult.
Denis-Venuat addressed this potential lack of information by saying that it was definitely something interesting to consider as a writer. “It is very interesting to imagine what the player will actually understand, and I think this is actually quite appealing because we already have some people that followed us through the Kickstarter and played the pre-Alpha who are speculating about the end of the game and trying to understand already all of the story, so it is really cool to see that and to see that people are actually interested and understand the fact that they have to think about it to understand what the story is about.”
The process of fragmenting the story into these segments to create that sense of mystery was one of the main challenges for Denis-Venuat, but it is one that she is enjoying immensely. “I think it’s the main challenge for me, to really cut the story into pieces that are still relevant to each other while being spread across quite a wide world. It’s also really fun too, but the challenge is also making sure that people who don’t necessarily want to explore everything and spend 50 hours in the game collecting everything still understand a little bit, or enough.”
The impact of player agency poses an interesting problem for a writer in the sense that each object’s level of importance must be weighed against the likelihood that the player finds the item, scroll, or character, and its value to the overall narrative. “Yeah, that’s the main problem,” Denis-Venuat chuckled. “That’s the main thing I had to work on when going from the paper RPG to the video game. I had to consider what I could simplify, and what I could keep as complicated as it was before, while thinking about how people will understand it. It was quite comforting to see that people at a very early stage, just the pre-Alpha, were already diving in to it.”
As well as having to consider all these elements, Denis-Venuat and the team also devised an original language that makes up another crucial part for the player to decipher to piece together the tale. The creation process for that language was intriguing to learn about, as was the question of whether the team had built it into a fully-rounded language or intends to use only fragments.
“We really wanted to have a language of our own to add a little bit more mystery,” she explained. “We studied a lot of dead languages with the idea of mixing a little bit of everything to create a kind of modern language by combining the roots of all the dead languages that we looked at, with absolutely no ambition to be historically accurate.
“All we wanted was to make up an imaginary language, but also make sure that it had some actual roots from real ones. Of course, we wrote the core of what we needed for the game, but we went a little bit further to ensure that, if we need anything more, we already have a structure that we could use to go deeper into it. It’s not a completely defined language, but it’s close. We were really curious about the process and it was something that we have a lot of interest in. We learned a lot of things, it kept us going and made us consider what we could and couldn’t do. It was a lot of fun, actually.”
The language plays a large role in the puzzle and exploration element of the game, which sounds in general as if it blends RPG and adventure elements together to create something that feels expansive. However, the title also features more intimate puzzle work with a tight focus on story. Denis-Venuat explained that this merging was intentional and inspired by games the studio has enjoyed.
“At the beginning we had several leads to choose from, and we ended up with this,” she said. “I think it’s a nice mix between different styles that we liked. We really wanted a big part of it to be exploration We really loved Journey and Shadow of the Colossus, and we loved the big empty spaces and the way they told their stories without dialogue or written words: just with the environment. I think we really wanted to have something like that. It had to have adventure game characteristics to match the complexity of the story—making exploration an important part of what the player discovers or doesn’t discover. We also had a really huge crush on Dark Souls for a long time, so I think that’s where the big bosses come from, and also inspired a lot of the RPG elements, along with our tabletop game, of course.”
Screenshots that are available of the environment certainly paint a striking picture. The game’s imposing backdrops invoke games such as Shadow of the Colossus, with the setting almost becoming a character in itself. Denis-Venuat explained that that was intentional and spoke a bit about the nature of the environment.
“We like to think that places tell their own stories. As you may have seen, the world of Shattered is broken up into three separate continents, so we have one which had to be more, not quite joyful, but colourful and not too depressed in general. Then there was another that was linked more with madness, so the colours had to follow that idea, and the last one is the darkest; everything there tries to capture the essence of nightmares.”
As a result, each area has its own character, its own striking colour palette, and its own personality. These distinctions should make exploration more interesting, especially since each space seems deeply connected with other aspects of the game. “Everything is very connected, so if I write about a very lost or sad character, I already know where they have to be because there is a particular place in one of the continents that is all about the people that got lost, and so they all end up there. It’s very metaphorical, so the emotions and emotional states of the characters are very linked to the places where they belong.”
Shattered is a project full of ideas: both visual and thematic. As a result, Denis-Venuat’s perspective on what she wants players to take away from the game is interesting.
“I think the general idea is that truth is always subjective,” she explained. “You have to question things and not follow what you’ve been given without thinking. Of course, the ultimate goal would be that people remember and enjoy the story and the process of understanding it—how much of a struggle it could have been to actually put all the pieces together. We also want them to remember the atmosphere surrounding everything. I imagine Shattered being kind of a dream in itself. I think it would be so cool if when people finished the game they had the sensation of waking up from something. I think that’s my personal wish.”
Shattered – Tale of the Forgotten King currently has no release date, but it was Greenlit on Steam and will be coming out on PC in the future. A companion mobile game, Driim, is due for release soon.
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