We're big fans of inkle's work here at 148apps, even if the lower case "i" does make my Grammar Hat twitch uncomfortably. So, the news of a new project coming from the studio was bound to get us excited. That project is 80 Days, an ambitious narrative-focused game inspired by the work of Jules Verne that utilizes a fairly cool steampunk theme.
Players take the role of Passepartout as he helps (and suffers) Phileas Fogg on their epic journey around the world in 80 days. Set for release this Summer, 80 Days promises plenty of different paths to success with many decisions to take, much like in the Sorcery! series of games. Perhaps most interesting of all, there'll be a networked live feed ensuring that players can keep track of what's going on with other players, all in real time.
Fascinated by the general premise, I was able to discuss the game with inkle's Jon Ingold and Joe Humfrey, as well as the game's writer, Meg Jayanth, to learn more.
148Apps: Why did you settle on the idea of 'Around the World in 80 Days' as the core inspiration?
inkle: It was one of those light-bulb moments when you think, "that's perfect, why has no-one done this before?" 'Around the World in 80 Days' is perfect for a branching narrative adventure. You have the entire globe to explore, choosing your own route across all of the continents. The goal is simple, but there are thousands of ways to approach it.
The setting is fantastic too, and we've had a lot of fun with that; taking Verne's original vision of the British Empire in 1870s and blowing it wide open to incorporate other cultures, and a broader and more inclusive approach. Our players will have a richer, wilder, more unexpected world to discover. There are no simpering Indian princesses to be rescued here; they're much more likely to be revolutionaries fighting for Indian Independence. And, depending on your choices, maybe they will rescue you.
And best of all, at the heart of the story is the relationship between Phileas Fogg and his loyal valet, so we've got loads of opportunities for character interaction as well.
148Apps: What inspired the steampunk style look?
inkle: 1872 was a remarkable year in history because it was the first time it was even conceivable to go around the world in as little as eighty days. But for our version we wanted to allow the player to choose from thousands of possible routes, which all need to be competitively balanced against each other, so you can race against other players.
So, a steampunk twist gave us that freedom. And it suits the style: Verne's writing is the original steampunk; he put rocket ships on the Moon, submarines under the sea, and found dinosaurs at the center of the Earth. And so with our writer, Meg Jayanth, we've built an 1872 we think Verne would have loved. Where, say, traveling via the airship network along the east coast of our Africa is a viable gameplay option, has its own unique set of characters and narrative outcomes, and above all, is just plain cool.
But we also knew steampunk is quite a common look and we wanted something that goes beyond the usual look of rust, cogs, kitsch, and cosplay. We wanted a classier 19th century science fiction, so we asked ourselves, "what would futuristic look like to someone in 1870?"
So we've got something quite new. 80 Days isn't steampunk, exactly; it's more like 'Minority Report' for Victorians, with clean, bold colors, smooth gradients, and stark silhouettes that take their lead from the Art Deco movement of the 1930s. Hence the our tag-line: "The year is 1872. Welcome to the future!"
148Apps: Is the game solely a matter of making text-based choices or will there be any combat or any other interactive elements?
inkle: 80 Days is a half-and-half mixture of interactive story, and something like a board game. During the story sequences the player makes story choices, and once again we've used our inklewriter engine to allow us to write thousands of options all of which are remembered. But in-between the story sections the player makes strategic decisions about which routes to follow and which way to explore the globe. Go across Siberia, or through India, or take the ship from South Africa to Australia, or mix-and-match between them?
Each route has its own costs, dangers, limitations, and benefits, so there's this strategic layer to plotting your course, and you can drill into that as much as you want - weighing up the options carefully, or simply trusting to your instincts and seeing what happens.
To help you gather clues about the world, there are hundreds of characters to talk to and a simple but fun conversation mechanic for doing that - and you can also use the live feed to watch other players of the app, and see what they've done, and pick up hints on what happened to them.
And finally, there's the trading mechanic! Most cities in the world have markets where you can buy and sell items to help you out of scrapes, but also to make a profit. Make sharp deals and you can net a fortune: but too many bad decisions and you might end up sleeping rough on the streets of Acapulco.
148Apps: How open-ended will it be? Are you able to travel around in any order?
inkle: We have over 150 cities scattered across all the continents of the world, and there are routes from every city to every neighbouring city - and each route is unique, with its own story-content, characters, disasters, and opportunities. We're fairly sure this is the largest - and certainly the most complex - interactive story ever created. (Yes, that means it's even bigger than Sorcery! 2 was.) So you can go whichever way you want.
On top of that, we've also made each play-through of the game a bit different, with different items, routes, characters, and connections. We've been inspired by roguelikes to use a mixture of authored and procedural content, so hopefully this'll be an adventure people can go on again and again.
148Apps: How long do you expect one play-through to take?
inkle: Each game should take a few hours - 80 days, played out in accelerated real-time (although, it does depend how fast you read, of course!).
We like the idea that in a single game session you can get around the globe, and have a full story; but that this is a game you might want to replay a few times to try and hit that 80 day target.
148Apps: The live feed of other people's progress sounds unique. How exactly will it be demonstrated to the player? Is it separate from the rest of the game via a leaderboard or something similar. Or is it always there for players to see to add some urgency?
inkle: We think there's never been anything quite like it: it's a live feed of events displayed on the game globe in real time, as and where they happen. And if you see something that catches your eye, you can zoom into that player and see the full route they took around the globe. It's a cool feature but it's also a big part of the game - getting clues as to which routes are fastest, safest or most profitable can be really important to how you play.
Meanwhile, you'll be racing recorded players pulled from our server as you go, to give the game that competitive edge. Leading the pack can be quite exciting - but it can be quite a kick when you fall behind!
So this is way more detailed, and way more integrated than a simple leaderboard. It's more like a social media stream, but into the app itself. And we can't wait to release the game - because we'll be able to sit and watch people playing it ourselves!
80 Days is set for release in Summer 2014. I'm already salivating at the thought, so yes, expect a review around that time.