When Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor debuted in 2014, many critics hailed its Nemesis system — which had enemy NPCs keeping track of the player’s in-game actions and responding to them — and predicted that other developers would steal the idea, but none did. Enter Ken Levine of BioShock fame.
“The game that inspired me most — that we were maybe onto something, on the right track — was Shadow of Mordor with the Nemesis system,” Levine said of his new studio Ghost Writer’s approach to its first game during an EGX Rezzed interview with Eurogamer in London.
“That was a very limited, rudimentary approach to it, that covers a very narrow area,” he continued. “It’s more of a metanarrative, and there’s not a lot of dialogue support for that stuff, so our thing is much more ambitious. That sort of gave us, like, ‘OK, maybe we’re not completely crazy in what we’re trying to do.'”
Levine explained that having the game world make these sorts of overt reactions to the player’s actions is something his studio has branded “Radical Recognition,” the concept of which is a core component to whatever it is that Ghost Story is working on.
“If the player does something, the game should — as often as we can — recognize that accomplishment, or failure, or whatever it is and find ways to have the world feed back that it cares,” he said.
Today’s interview wasn’t the first time Levine showed an affinity for this type of system, either. Way back in 2014, he sung the praises of Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system in a post on Medium. “By breaking down the elements of character into small chunks and re-combining them based on randomness and, more important, responses to the player’s choices, Shadow of Mordor tells a story that could never exist in another medium,” the game designer said at the time.
In addition to explaining how his unnamed title will be similar to Shadow of Mordor, Levine also name-checked Telltale Games’ works as games that Ghost Writer’s mystery title will definitely not be like. Levine’s next game features a traditional kind of video game narrative, but it’s also a very systems-driven experience.
So instead of featuring branching paths like a typical Telltale game, Ghost Writer plans to tell a story in much the same way that past Levine games like BioShock and System Shock 2 have. Further, the new game’s story has a lot in common with the latter game in particular. The goal, however, is for the game to “react and comment on much more small-level actions the player takes.”
Another trend Levine isn’t jumping on is the proliferation of open-world games. Ghost Writer’s debut title will also follow the BioShock approach to game world building, so gamers should expect a small but intricately detailed universe.