Welcome once again to PCGamesN’s Spotlight on Greenlight, our regular Saturday feature where we look at the best and the most interesting Greenlight games that are hoping to make their way onto Steam. We’ve already looked at dozens of other titles in weeks past, so do take a look at our back catalogue.
Something foul’s afoot in the sea-hugging town of Kingsport. Their solitary detective has died in a tragic accident and you’ve been shipped in to deal with the recent spate of mysterious happenings. I’d love to tell you more about them but as all the game’s horrific mysteries are procedurally generated they’re going to be unique to you.
The Kingsport Cases is a Lovecraftian detective game where the world, the characters, and the puzzles are all procedurally generated. While we’ve become accustomed to games creating their worlds on-the-fly with fancy programming algorithms, usually we’re left with narrative-less games, it’s rare to see a developer hand the reins of the story over to the computer.
A procedurally generated story is an ambitious project, simply because it will be easy to spots points of repetition. If the murder victim is frequently found in the kitchen, we’ll notice. If the groundskeeper is Scottish nine times out of ten, we’ll notice. If the mad scientist is always the millionaire philanthropist that the townsfolk all say wouldn’t hurt a fly, we will notice.
Developer Machines in Motion have come up with a pretty ace system to avoid repetition and to create a sense that the town is a living place which continues from playthrough to playthrough. Writing in a blog post, they say “our system generates a number of characters who each have a role they will play in the story and a goal they hope to achieve by the end of it. These goals and roles are dynamic and will shift with the actions of other NPCs and the player character (PC). They will obtain knowledge or clues either through their backstory (also randomized) or through conversations with (again) either other NPCs or the PC. This knowledge can be about the world, it can be secretive info on their understanding of the occult, or any number of other things relevant to the story at hand.” So while you are investigating the world and trying to crack the case so, too, are the other characters. They’re each going to be trying to learn about the procedurally generated world around them.
As well as being active within each case, once generated, the characters will be stored in a database that the game will sometimes draw from when creating new cases. So, your charitable mad scientist may well appear in multiple stories.
If Machines in Motion can pull that off it will be a phenomenal achievement. And, by pull it off, I mean more than have recurring characters appear in the world, these characters will need to be folk we want to meet time and again, which means fresh dialogue, well written lines, and, well, anything that leads them away from being stilted puppets that seem, for all the world, to have been created by a computer.
There’s an awful lot that could go wrong with this project but that’s because Kingsport are reaching for something that even a well-staffed developer with publisher support would struggle to pull off. So, while the game may look rough around the edges, that ambitious kernel deserves a big thumbs up on Greenlight.
If you’re still not convinced, to tie-in with the launch of their Kickstarter campaign, Machines in Motion are planning on releasing an alpha demo in the first week of May.