Under the Hood 3: Narrative & Exploration

Listen, child, once we were feared across the whale road.

Your forefathers were little more than pirates, but it was their wyrd to conquer Britain. The Welsh steal cattle and boys, the Picts prefer sheep. They are weak and make poor slaves.

In the days of my grandmother there were many warlords, now we are the seven kingdoms. Woden still favours us, but our kings have gone soft and pray to the White Christ.

Travel the whale-path, child. Come back rich, or don’t come back at all.
— Text fragment from The Great Whale Road

If you have made it this far, the writing can't be all bad. Much of the inspiration for our game comes from stories - sagas, historical accounts and last but not least historical fiction. Being a fan of series like The Warrior Chronicles and The Long War, stories were an important design influence from the start.

Instead of going with an overarching main story, we decided to focus on the stories of single characters instead. The aim is to give all champion level characters a background story, desires, fears, and a quest or two. Some of these quests will be adventures, others mainly dialogue-based and sometimes we might even mix in a classic go-there-fetch-this quest. 

At the start of a singleplayer game the player selects their party leader from a small selection. The choices will be culture specific and we are considering to combine this with a background story selection step, to define the starting setup for each game. So players will be able to influence if they were born into a family of farmers, slaves or nobles. Once the player has chosen they are presented with a ship and their first followers.

Managing these followers and recruiting new ones is a core objective in The Great Whale Road. Not all characters will be compatible, and the leader's renown will decide if personal differences are a cause for witty banter or gory bloodshed. Imagine the family drama at Christmas when granny knows how to use a spear and your uncle is a psychopathic axe-murderer.

Recruitment, crew management and quests will integrate with the exploration gameplay. When we started to look at the historical setting and the world map, we realized that we would have to find a compromise between procedural generation and manual design. In general, a historical map limits the options and you cannot go wild adding rivers and land masses procedurally. On the other hand the coastline along the North Sea changed quite a bit since the seventh century, which provides some flexibility.

We will be placing historical (towns, trading hubs) and fictional (beach markets, small hamlets) locations along the map. They might not always be at the exact historical location, but they won't be too far off either. The player will navigate the coast, hearing rumours about places, heroes and villains further afield.

In the current version of the design, the player always has a home settlement to return to and supporting the settlement is essential. But we can envisage a mode where the player is a refugee, migrant or exile looking for a new home, and finding one would be the main objective. After all, historically this was a relative short time after the migration period. And yes, occasionally we watch the news too.