Years ago, I was hired to work on a specific feature for a game. The feature was ultimately canned and the project changed devs, so it’s gone for ever. But this feature stuck with me.

I call it « The Village ».

#narrativedesign
The Village sounds very simple (it's not).

It’s about creating a meaningful location for Players where they can:
- Bring new NPC,
- Manage NPC functions & roles,
- Witness their progression & choices.
The Village existed before:
- The Homestead in AC 3 (evolved from the Brotherhood in AC2),
- Skyhold in DRAGON AGE INQUISITION,
- The Hound Pits Pub in DISHONORED,
- The Base of Operations in THE DIVISION.
- The Normandy in MASS EFFECT.
And I’ve seen the Village quite often lately:
- The Wenja Village in FAR CRY PRIMAL,
- Ravenshold in AC VALHALLA,
- Fort Tarsis in ANTHEM,
- Evan’s kingdom in NI NO KUNI 2.
- The camps in RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2.
What I find is that most of these games are unable to reach the level of complexity and depth necessary to create the perfect Village.

And I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
The feature was a failure for me: lack of experience, to some extent a lack of support from other areas. It was an important feature, but also the first to go when the development became complicated.
And it’s fine, it was years ago, I am more experienced now. Hopefully.
With a bit more knowledge in scoping & in prototyping, I could have proved the concept. I did a text version, which was nice but key people weren’t convinced. Just too many words.
So the first thing about Villages is the complexity of NPC: the more NPC you have, the more relationships you have to build, sustain, and make interesting for Players.

It is difficult.
People change the way they talk considering the other person’s status, rank, success, role. Especially in closed environments. What if NPC A was NPC B’s boss in one game & their assistant in another? Different barks, lines, animations?

Scope’s dying (pictured below)
Then you have to make sure the overall progression feels good and stays meaningful. RDR2’s camps are great but their gameplay purpose which seems so important at first disappear when you reach the middle of the game.
Whereas NI NO KUNI 2 gives you more compelx tools to build YOUR town but ultimately the game is so easy that your efforts are unimportant and unseen.
So.

It’s hard to find the right balance between complexity and scope.

That’s why we focused on factions: instead of managing NPC, we tasked Players to deal with alignments & "political" views.

Pic: the design for our Village dialogue flow
Suddenly NPC A & NPC B will be represented by their faction not (as much) their personalities. It makes things a bit less deep, sure, but it becomes manageable. A bit more. And it’s way clearer for Players.

It’s not subtle, but gameplay can’t be too subtle in our genre.
ANTHEM does it with its 3 factions—even if their opposition & relationships are mostly for show. THE DIVISION tried to create opposition between civilians & military—it’s gone from the sequel, and not that important tbh.
There are some good things to see in our references: Skyhold is the second Village and it is created out of resilience. It’s beautiful, powerful, meaningful. It does not change enough and leave very little room for choice.
That's fine, because how much it means for the cast.
The camps in RDR 2 are teaming with gorgeous, expensive scenes which helps to carry the narrative to the finish line. The party sequence after getting ••• back is a wonderful moment. Because it’s not part of a cutscene, it feels even more important.
ANTHEM’s Fort Tarsis evolves.

Slowly, but surely. It gets better. The marketplace becomes crowded. Life is back as the Frontier is pushed back. It’s wonderful. But it’s very disconnected from the gameplay or the factions.
Our take was to offer 3 factions, 3 ways to deal with the end of the world. Survival. Community. Authority.

Each NPC would belong to one of the factions.
Set an NPC to a job & it would wield different outcomes: ressources, side missions, look & feel.
Moreover: the Player’s choices in dialogues or side missions would taint them with a faction. They would start to lean towards one side, be seen differently by other people. And then they would ask you to make decisions.
Someone stole food?
Survival NPC would shrug & probably outcast the culprit. Community would want to see a trial & a fair but harsh sentence. Authority would execute the culprit on the spot.

(SURVIVING THE AFTERMATH does this quite well imo whereas FROSTPUNK is very binary)
And then you’d get specific bonus & boons from same-faction NPC. You would get free ammo from the Survival NPC if liked. Lines & barks would change.
(3 factions because 3 is the magic number because it doesn't HELP the Player, but make them DOUBT for a second)
That was A — M — B — I — T — I — O — U — S.
I don’t think we would have been able to do it properly for many, many reasons, including my own lack of experience. But it was a nice feature.
Every time I see a Village in a game or in a trailer — like in DYING LIGHT 2 — I am EXCITED.

It means other ND tried. It means they had similar issues, found different solutions.
Some spent a ton of money. Other couldn’t & went with different ideas.
It taught me that the more complex & connected a feature is, the stiffer the whole design becomes.

And also I personally think we couldn’t have done a proper job. But it could have been quite a fantastic try.

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