I’ve just finished reading Q, a novel by the Italian literary collective Luther Blissett (that actually being the name of a footballer, a name they deemed to be inherently comic), which I absolutely loved. I recommend that everyone interested in URR give it a look since it looks at a lot of themes similar to those I’m trying to convey in the game, and so I will avoid spoilers, but there is one crucial point here (and that is mentioned in the book’s blurb, so it’s not a spoiler) – the narrator adopts a wide range of names and identities throughout the book. The book – set during the Reformation – emphasizes, albeit implicitly, the impossibility of ever being truly secure in knowledge of someone’s identity in an era where transport is limited, countries appear “massive” without aircraft and trains and cars to traverse them, and for all except the highest-ranking members of society there are no clear records kept on who is who, who lives where, and who is from where. Reading the book managed to segue quite nicely into some thinking I’ve been doing myself recently, but the book made this all the more certain in my head: URR has got to have a disguise mechanic.
Of course, we can still have a layer where the player can “earn” permissions to certain areas via transparent means. By which I mean – bribe someone to give you documentation to access Place X, or earn the loyalty of a religion so they’ll let you into Place Y, and so on – but surely we could take full advantage of the detail of the world’s faces/clothes/cultures/social norms/etc by implementing a disguise mechanic. I think this would have several components:
- Appearance: add items for the temporary dyeing of hair and lightening/darkening of skin tone and temporary facial tattoos, and allow for adjusting hairstyle. Other NPCs will, in part, judge whether you are part of their nation based on how your face/hair look.
- Clothing: the player adopting certain items of clothing lends other NPCs to assuming the player belongs to certain categories. This would be both clothing, but also things like rings, necklaces, types of armour worn, weapons sheathed, etc.
- Speech: this is a really interesting one, and I suppose ties back into the ongoing question of “how is the conversation system going to work?”. It would be amazing if there could be some kind of system where the player can try to “fake” the forms of speech expected in that nation/culture/religion, and the better they can do this, the less suspicion they fall under. Perhaps the player can offer special greetings once the player has heard them once (“Greetings of the Divine King of the Snow!”) or generic greetings if not (“Greetings”), and the more “generic” comments the player makes, the more suspicious NPCs become, but the more the player knows what needs saying, the more they’ll fit in. Equally, once one becomes used to how people of a certain nation speak, perhaps one can select what “style” of speech to speak in a given conversation? That could be so interesting (in my current ongoing drafting of how conversations are going to work, I’m working on trying to define methods for generating different styles of speech).
So once you adopt the first two – dye your skin, and find the right clothes – you’ll be able to walk around in most nations undetected. But if you want to talk to anyone there, you’ll need to mirror their patterns of speech – and, equally, perhaps a particularly isolationist nation has a lot of guards on every major trade route, and you’ll be challenged by them even if you look like you belong to that nation?
I think there are so many interesting potential gameplay experiences here: to some cultures your character presents themselves as they “truly” are, in other nations you entirely try to fake it, and maybe in other nations you play it by ear? This seems like another mechanic which would really take advantage of the detail in the world if we can make NPCs very observant about when something seems to be “off” when looking at/talking to the player.
Whether this will be 0.8 or 0.9 remains contingent on precisely how large 0.8 ends up being – is it just NPCs, or is it conversation as well? – but this is definitely going to turn up very soon, though it might be in a different release to conversation per se. If anyone has any other ideas for some more details on this mechanic, or perhaps how it could work in other contexts, or other parameters we could civilizations vary by: let me know!