Date: April 28, 2021
The Forgotten City is an upcoming narrative adventure game set in an ancient Roman city, where the player will unravel the supposed utopia’s mysteries with their wits, their brawn, or clever exploitation of the time-loop. It is being developed by Modern Storyteller, with support from Dear Villagers and Film Victoria. The Forgotten City releases this summer for all major platforms, and you can wishlist it now on Steam.
Managing Director Nick Pearce was kind enough to step away from his work on the game long enough to answer a few questions for EiP.gg. See the whole interview below, and check out the game’s official site for more information!
Games in the Unreal Engine can vary wildly in how they feel and control. Can you compare the movement and combat in The Forgotten City to any other games that share the Unreal Engine, or would you describe the feel and movement in TFC as unique?
Player movement should feel pretty familiar to people who’ve played the mod. It definitely doesn’t feel “zoomy” like some Unreal Tournament games do. This is a game about investigating a mystery via thoughtful conversations, and exploring a richly detailed ancient Roman city, so the player movement speed is an appropriate pace for that.
The game revolves around an all-important rule that must be followed; is it fair to say your background in law influenced the game’s plot?
My legal career definitely makes me a bit of an aberration within the game dev industry, and I’m comfortable with that. Good storytelling requires diverse experiences to draw from, and as someone once said, a legal career is an adventure in applied ethics. All the weird things I’ve read and thought about have affected the game in countless ways, and one clear example is the little-known fact that fan-favorite character “Dooley” from the mod (who appears in the game as “Duli”) is a fictionalized version of a client I once assisted, pro bono. In the game you’ll also find plenty of characters operating in “grey area”, having found loopholes in The Golden Rule. And you’ll be able to exploit those loopholes, too.
Morality seems to play a strong role in the game’s story. Are there any philosophical questions (or answers) the game is trying to present that you can share?
The game is definitely more interested in raising questions than imposing a particular point of view. It explores questions like: Is there one morality which is objectively correct, or is morality all subjective? In other words, as a modern time traveler suddenly finding yourself in ancient Rome, should you follow the classic advice “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” or stick to your guns?
In terms of characters, endings, and puzzles, how much carry-over will there be from the original mod to the stand-alone game?
I think if you enjoyed the mod, playing the game will feel like a whole new game, but comfortingly familiar at the same time. The script has been re-written and is more than twice as long. As for characters, some have recognizable equivalents from the mod, and others are completely original. There are more endings, they’re all new and different, and the best ending goes way beyond what was in the mod. The puzzles are all new, though some of them draw inspiration from the mod. It really is a re-imagining, not a remake. I really wanted to make sure fans of the mod will be happy, but at the same time, that they’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Can you talk at all about the choice to set The Forgotten City in a Roman city?
I think an ancient Roman city in the first Century AD is a much better setting for the game than a fantasy setting, for a lot of reasons. I can’t talk about all of them, but here are two:
First, historically authentic ancient Roman art, architecture, costumes, and customs provide for a far more beautiful and cohesive environment than we could have made, if we’d simply invented a new fantasy environment.
Second, moving the game to the ancient world allows us to tackle real-world philosophical questions, quote real philosophers and historians and poets and refer to real historical events, and explore fascinating aspects of our history which few people know about – including the fact that the ancient Romans were quite familiar with collective punishment (of which The Golden Rule is a form).
What was the most challenging part of developing The Forgotten City?
The game is extremely ambitious for a core team of three people. We’ve all had to wear a lot of hats. The biggest challenge was always going to be including deeply interactive, beautiful and well-animated non-player characters. There’s a very good reason why traditionally, narrative-driven indie games like Firewatch avoided non-player characters altogether, and it’s because it’s very, very complex. But this is a game about talking to people, so we were committed to nailing it from the outset, and after a very long and difficult road, we’re thrilled our characters and dialogue turned out as well as they have.
Since the team all works on different things, I expect there might be multiple answers for this question: What part of the game is the team the most proud of, or what was the most fun to work on?
We’re most proud of the way our characters turned out. The most fun thing to work on was definitely The Golden Bow. It’s a mythical bow (from Greco-Roman mythology) which turns organic matter into gold. At some point in the game you have the option to acquire it, and after that you can use it to do all sorts of fun stuff, like turning enemies into golden statues, then kicking them into other, oncoming enemies and knocking them over like bowling pins.
Any games or other media that the team would cite as inspiration?
I think if people enjoyed the mod, Star Trek, Stargate, the HBO TV series Rome, classical mythology, and/or Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries, they’ll be in for a treat.
What would you estimate is the gameplay time for The Forgotten City, if you include all possible paths?
You’d definitely need to play it more than once to do and see everything. I think your first play through might be 8 – 10 hours, and your next one might be half that again.
What’s next for Modern Storyteller once The Forgotten City is released?
We’ve got a bunch of exciting ideas, but first we want to wait and see how well TFC is received. It’s a bit of a gamble, because this game is unlike anything else out there, but I suspect there are a lot of mature gamers out there looking for thoughtful, philosophical games which respect their time and intelligence – and I really hope they discover and enjoy The Forgotten City.
I’m with Nick in hoping that The Forgotten City is well received, as I’d like to see more games released that challenge our beliefs, rather than just our reflexes. Let us know what you think about the interview or The Forgotten City in the comments!