Freedom to choose your own path, and watching the world change along with those decisions, was part of what made tabletop games the joy they were. Game developer Josiah Brooks hopes to bring this back, with Ortus, reminiscent of the classic Baldur’s Gate and Diablo series, with an open system modeled after tabletop RPGs.
Brooks said when he and the team at Jazza Studios they started production, he was involved in two D&D campaigns, “and the freedom and sense of fulfillment I got from being part of such an open changeable world was something really cool,” while with the classic RPGs, “they’re still long-time favorites of many people, regardless of how flashy and fancy games have become.”
“Ortus is something we’re very proud of in the sense that the players choices are open and totally effect the main story, and every time you play the game differently, the main plot will have changed because you have changed,” Brooks said via e-mail.
He added, “If you play the game twice differently twice, you’ll end up down separate story paths, make totally different friends, quests, items, and the end half of the game will be massively contrasting.”
The problem, according to Brooks, is that many games tout choices as key features, but the open-ended systems typically don’t go beyond side quests or item customization. “The main plot itself is something stale and linear, or they fake offering a variety of choices but end up playing the same ending cutscene anyway,” he said.
Ortus will try to break this mould with several different approaches, including advanced NPC interactions, an open skill tree, and an intricate system for reputation and alignment.
Aside from getting NPC companions, players can make friendships, fall in love, build alliances—or betray them. According to the team’s Kickstarter page, they’re not just trying to create a game, but rather “we’re creating a world for you to play in – full of as much backstory as there is good old hack-n-slash.”
There will not be a set skill tree—meaning players aren’t locked into the usual “higher, mage, archer, rogue, etc.” Instead, entire groups of skills open up layer-by-layer as players level up, and players can save stat points until they unlock the ones they want.
Skills aren’t just for fighting either. Although it has hack-and-slash elements, players can avoid fights altogether—maybe by tricking opponents, persuading them that violence isn’t the way, or by lying.
Doing what’s right or wrong will impact the game though. Players can be good or evil, which is measured separately from their reputations and sanity.
The reputation and alignment system will have a cross-shape to it, and the player can be a dot anywhere on that chart.
The good-bad system opens some interesting doors for players. They can steal from a house or take down an annoying NPC, but this will affect the character. Players won’t always have to deal with guards either—they can cover up their tracks.
Some choices will also be tough to make. Maybe people won’t think well of a good choice, and while an act like feeding a starving bandit will raise their alignment, it may lower their reputation around town.
“Throughout the game everything you say and do will slowly be calculated and changed a marker on that cross shaped symbol, to represent where your character is in the game and how others see you,” Brooks said. “It’ll be a visual reference for the player to understand why some people might treat you differently each time you play.”
The player’s position on this chart will also impact the ending—with even a slightly different position altering the final outcome. The ending, Brooks said, “will be a combination of summaries rather then a single clip, meaning you’ll be played back a result of all the big changes you’ve made to the world in the game every time you finish it (which each vary too depending on your reputation and alignment, and sanity).”
The four people developing Ortus have worked on it full time over the course of the last year. The project is currently on Kickstarter, where they’re raising funds to finish development.