The best game I saw at this year’s BIG Festival wasn’t among the nominees or even at the Panorama Brasil booth. I was at a table in the crowded cafeteria of Centro Cultural São Paulo that Arthur Protasio, the narrative designer of Sword Legacy Omen, showed me the amazing tactical RPG from Fableware and Firecast Studio.
Sword Legacy Omen is a tactical computer RPG with beautifully animated graphics. Its low fantasy medieval looks are charming and took heavy inspiration on old Disney movies like The Sword on the Stone and The Black Cauldron. All these elements are among my favorites and Sword Legacy seems to be doing everything right – the game was nominated for Best Brazilian Game in BIG 2017 and received awards in Brazil and England some months ago.
The game has three pillars: the tactical gameplay, the dark fantasy art style, and its ambitious narrative design, and the last one were what captured my attention: the game is a new chapter at the King Arthur tale and it delves deep into the origins of the sword Excalibur. In the game, you embark on a re-imagining of the classic mythos as Uther, a vengeful knight aided by Merlin, an eldritch sorcerer and other 6 companions, exploring the five kingdoms of a broken Britania to get the legendary blade and confront the sinister Duke of Wessex and decide the fate of the land.
The narrative of Sword Legacy is dark and epic, and it fits unexpected well with the cell-shading graphics of the characters. The game has this “Disney movies gone wrong” vibe that gives Sword Legacy a unique personality and keeps it apart of Banner Saga, one of its developers’ major inspirations.
Fableware is not a typical game development studio, Arthur tells me. They develop narrative content for animated movies and other products since 2014. “We work with narrative design”, he explains. “To me, it means we design a story to convey emotions in an organized way, at any platform. A narrative is not just the text, but the experience of the story, the message. What is the message do you want to convey with your game or movie?”.
Sword Legacy Omen is co-developed by Fableware and Firecast Studio, who created the first prototype of the game in 2014. It was a tactical strategy game. The Arthurian mythos was there, but the plot and all the details like cutscenes, dialogues, descriptions, was developed by Fableware after the two teams joined forces in 2015.
Narrative design is game design
The narrative design of Sword Legacy gives the game not just a good story, but a convincing scenario and characters. “Narrative design is game design. I cannot think about the story without taking into consideration the game mechanics and how do I put it all together. If I do that, I’m not developing a game, I am writing a book.”
From what I saw in the first mission of the game, Sword Legacy’s narrative is engaging and punctuated by clever dialogues that feature characters, give credibility to the scenario and lead the story forward. Some characters of the game have a greater personal connection with certain stages. That is, if you have a certain character in the group at that time, he will make different comments and dialogues that will enrich the narrative about that particular location.
In fact, the characters ask to go with you to these locations. Arthur gave me an example: “At some point in the game, you need to travel to a monastery. There is a priest among your companions, Felix. He will ask to go with you since that is his monastery. Take the priest in the party and you will gain points of renown to use during the quest. Also, he will tell some exclusive lines about the place and its history when you are there.”
To establish when Sword Legacy Omen happens, Fableware has done a lot of research on the formation of the people occupying the lands we now know as the United Kingdom. The game is set on Broken Britania – a reference to both the fragmented lands of Sword Legacy and the legendary warrior Britania, who fought against the Roman Empire.
“There is plenty of items and references in the game that play along with this interesting moment in time: those are the days after the Roman Empire and before the Arthurian kingdom. It is a mix of fiction and reality since Uther and his party visits kingdoms like Northumbria, Anglia, Mercia, Kent and Wessex, places that existed in the real world”. In the same way, the narrative uses well-known characters from the Arthurian chronicles, like Merlin and Igraine, to strengthen and give credibility to the unprecedented story Sword Legacy: Omen is trying to tell.
Arthur told me that there will be a moment in the game where the player needs to make a big decision, with consequences both in mechanics and narrative. Of course, he didn’t tell me what is the decision or any details about that. “We take care to recognize the player by his strategy at all times, not just in this particular moment”.
To balance the player choices with the narrative is a big part of the Fableware challenge in the game: since the characters in Uther party are all very important to the story, there is no permadeath to add tension like in many other strategy games. The developers need to find other mechanics to do that.
Sword Legacy Omen development is almost finished and will launch at some point in the third quarter of 2018, Arthur revealed. The game will be published by Team 17 and is exclusive for PC. What about tablets and consoles? “We are focusing on the Steam release now. Let’s hope it will be a great hit and then we’ll see what happens”.