out perform // outlast // out work
In an all-happy-things-all-the-time place like Out of the Woodwork, it may seem like death is something we would like to avoid talking about. As you read this on your computer screen, phone, or whatever you are using, the word death is sure to resound with you somehow. Maybe you’ve lost a friend recently or maybe you’re remembering a time long forgotten. Maybe you’ve started considering your own time in life. Maybe it’s just a word. The knowledge of an approaching death is one concern that unites all of mankind. What do we do with it? Why does the thought of death tend to depress us?
Video game developer Dean Razavi put his talents into action in order to explore these questions in his new RPG Puzzler, Vidar. In a recent interview with Mad Cow Gamers, Razavi explained, “about a month prior to starting to design Vidar, I lost a dear family member and mentor. I wanted to take the opportunity that a game presents to work out some feelings about how death impacts a community, and to tell the stories of those left behind to grieve.”
One of Vidar’s major selling points is the fact that all of the characters, at some point, will die. Each play-through randomizes the order in which characters die, and the player rushes to slay a beast that is preying on them before everyone is destroyed. The object is to save as many lives as possible. Each time a character is lost, everyone in the town reacts differently. Some deaths inspire others to stand up for the remaining townspeople. Not only does every death impact the community in Vidar, but the order in which these deaths happen changes the story. Each villager performs a unique role in its community, making each death a significant change to the game itself. For example, if the doctor is lost before flu season, there may be no one to treat your friends should they grow sick.
Despite its seemingly morbid philosophy, I believe that Vidar is actually a study on the value of life and importance of every individual. Dean Razavi and I have personally experienced, the world changes when someone leaves it. Every person exists in a space that cannot be reproduced. The psychological complexity of Vidar has convinced me that I will not only be playing a game, but taking a look into the value of human life.
Vidar currently consists of a small core development group. The concept, mechanics, and game itself were designed by Dean Razavi. Pixel artist Becca Bair lent her abilities in order to create Vidar’s visuals, logo, and character designs. Adrian Jakubiak composed an engaging soundscape for players to enjoy as they make their way through the game, and Tess Baines voiced the trailer and demo. In our interactions, I received nothing but positive feedback from the development team. “It’s a blast to work on Vidar!” shared Becca Bair, “I love creating the characters and environments that Dean dreamed up.” Adrian Jakubiak was similarly optimistic. “For me, Vidar is not a game,” he mused, “it’s an inspired, ever-changing novel that uses computer game mechanics as an innovative medium. And in that spirit I created my music.”
I conducted the following interview with the man who started it all, Mr. Dean Razavi.
A lot is going on in Vidar, although fortunately not all at once. The game takes place in the eponymous town which currently has a Beast problem on its hands. Every night, this hidden Beast comes out of its cave and feasts on a villager in town. A blizzard has blocked roads and supply lines, cutting Vidar off from the rest of the world and trapping these villagers with no escape. By the start of the game, only 24 townsfolk are left alive, and many are resigned to their fate as Beast food.
The player plays as the Stranger, someone who gets lost in the blizzard and arrives in Vidar at a time when everyone is trying to leave. Taking up the town’s cause, the Stranger’s goal (and the player’s goal) is to find and kill the Beast before everyone in town is dead. These 24 NPCs each have their own stories, their own plot arcs, their own quests to give the player. But they also have relationships with each other – Vidar’s residents are friends, family, lovers, neighbors. So when one person dies, it sends the plots of the living spiraling in dozens of different directions. What the blacksmith needs changes depending on whether the city guard is still alive, and on whether her apprentice is still alive; the blacksmith can build you a tunnel deep into the Beast’s cave but only if the alchemist has enough oil to light the street lights at night; the blacksmith can reinforce the doors of the Church to help people use it as a fortress, but only with the priest’s cooperation and only if you bring her sufficient ore. That is, every single person’s plot is dependent on every other person being alive or dead – until ultimately that villager dies him or herself.
Because the order of deaths is random in each game, the story that’s told in Vidar is different every single time you play.
As the player progresses, you’ll learn more about the town’s past as well; it was once the capital of a long-gone kingdom, and more recently the townsfolk defended Vidar from two warring factions. All of these historical events crop up and grow as part of the story as the player descends deeper into the Beast’s cave.
Gameplay alternates between two main phases. First, the player gets as much free time in town as they want. This involves talking to the townsfolk to hear their troubles, receiving and turning in quests and getting rewards, occasionally finding secrets or completing quests, and participating in “town wide events.”
These are events which trigger when very specific conditions are met. One example we’ve posted on the Kickstarter is a flood which can block off some NPCs. If 3 particular townsfolk are dead and none of their quests are complete, and 2 particular townsfolk are still alive, then a water goddess figure will come and flood the town. She’ll keep the rain up unless and until the player decides to sacrifice a villager in the goddess’s name; if the player delays too long, it can trigger another event spreading the flu throughout town. This event also changes depending on who is alive (for example, if the doctor is alive when flu season triggers, the flu will be taken care of much quicker).
The player decides when they want to enter the Beast’s cave, at which point they’re timed. In the Beast’s cave, the player is confronted with dozens of environmental, dungeon-exploration puzzles. Think Zelda but without the combat – just the puzzle parts, where you’re trying to get from point A to point B. These puzzles are also randomized, so that if you want to come back and see a new story in Vidar on another playthrough, you won’t just breeze through the dungeon.
The cave is divided into several “biomes” – players can see the Ice Cave in the demo on the Kickstarter page, and in the full game they’ll see different settings (creatively titled Dark Cave, Water Cave, and Boulder Cave in my notes) which each feature different art and also different puzzle themes.
As the player descends, they’ll need to make a critical strategic decision – try to solve more puzzles, or complete quests given to them by the NPCs. These quests can get quite complex (in the demo, you can check out one which involves trying to rescue the clockmaker’s son from inside the cave) and so can take up time, but the rewards will help you going forward. It’s a balancing act.
At the end of the in-game day, the player is teleported back to Vidar, and another villager is killed. The pattern continues until either all 24 are dead or the player makes it to the base of the cave to confront the Beast.
Right now, the player gets 10 minutes in the cave each day before being teleported back to town. That’s subject to change. One of our Kickstarter rewards is access to the Vidar beta, and based on the metrics we see during that beta test, the 10 minutes might get shorter or longer before release.
But fear not! A lot of quest rewards in the game extend the time you have in the dungeon. Sometimes it’s just 5 minutes on one day. Sometimes it’s adding time permanently for every day going forward. My favorite quest rewards is a campfire, which let’s you spend the night in the cave and continue from where you are the next day. Someone will still die, (and if you had a quest to return to them, oops), but it’ll help you get to the bottom of the cave faster.
There are also occasionally quest rewards which prevent an NPC from dying that night, so it’s possible to get more than 24 nights to make it. But of course, what quests and what rewards are available is random from game to game!
What’s awesome about the engine I’ve built is that I can just keep adding more puzzles and more maps to the cave with extreme ease, and I’d love to continue to support the game after release with map and puzzle packs. I also have this totally undetailed dream of a website where people can write the story they saw in Vidar. With 62,044,840,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible story combinations, I want to see people share what they got, and inspire other people to play just one more time so they could see something like that.
In a few weeks we’re announcing a competition to decide on the design of one of the villagers – anyone can come vote for which sprite they like better! And on February 8, I’ll be spending the whole day streaming development of the game, so people can come chat with me as I make the game!
We’ve got a ton of really awesome, Kickstarter-exclusive rewards that allow backers to see their content in the game. You can add the names of people in Vidar who died before the player arrives, and you can design your own puzzles or quests or town events. You can also get an exclusive box set of the game for that extra retro/nostalgia feel! The support is critical to make a game of this scope – art is expensive, y’all. So if you’re excited about the rewards, or about the possibilities in the game, we need you!
I will personally be backing Vidar and am excited to join in testing the game. I invite all of our readers to join me in this exciting time. It is a rare opportunity that we have been given to help people achieve their dreams, and to not only watch but experience the creation of entertainment itself.
See you in Vidar! I’m Chancy Johnson, here to bring an exciting game~
Out of the Woodwork.