Polyptical Discourse: The Kingsport Cases

By Adam Smith on May 22nd, 2013 at 8:00 am.

There’s probably a Greek myth about ambition*, in which a chap of limited means egregiously overreaches and ends up having his face used as Hades’ loofer for the rest of eternity. The Kingsport Cases certainly has its arms extended far and wide, but I’m hoping its fate will be kinder. It’s a Kickstarter project, with an alpha demo, and while the cash target is a mere $20,000, the scope of the game is enormous – Lovecraftian horror with procedurally generated maps, characters and mysteries. Delicious.

While H.P. Sauce Lovecraft may well have been a purse-lipped purveyor of terrible opinions on his fellow humans, I do enjoy the chap’s ideas about cosmic horror, and it’s impossible to deny the influence of his writing on my own thinking and the wider arena of this culture called pop. I’m an admirer of the deeply flawed but atmospheric Dark Corners of the Earth and am surprised, most mornings, by the lack of a sequel, spiritual or otherwise.

The Kingsport Cases, with all of its random elements, may not be that game. The focus on unpredictable stories, characters and maps could create messes rather than mysteries, but the procedural plots are generated from basic blueprints, ensuring the designer and writer can hang the code’s creations from a solid structure.

Will [Kingsport] start to feel the same? Is the game truly infinite? At some point, yes, you will dry up the storylines, locations, and overarching plots. The only things truly infinite are the characters and random maps. But with four planned locations, a minimum of 20 story blueprints in each one, dynamic goals and several divergent paths based off adaptive story-telling, you’d probably have to play through the entire game at least 20 times to see identical content again.

With an estimated 2-3 hours of gameplay per case, meaning 8-12 hours in one playthrough, that’s 160 hours to 240 hours of gameplay before you start to see things playing out exactly the same…That is 8 scripted games worth of average playtime in one product, if the average game’s playtime is roughly 30 hours.

Think contained areas, perhaps with reality-bending extensions and detours, and a focus on investigation rather than running, jumping and punching. And that is precisely what I’d like from a game called The Kingsport cases – mysteries to solve, people to interact with and abominations to discover in the darkness. Hurrah.

The alpha demo is available right now. I haven’t been able to try it because I’ve been stuck on a small raft with an ancient laptop for the last two weeks. This is the first time the tides have carried me within range of a wifi signal.

There are only thirteen days left on the Kickstarter clock and Kingsport still needs almost $15,000 to succeed. I’m charmed by its ambitious attempts to terrify and intrigue me, and perhaps you will feel the same? If so, you could vote for the game on Greenlight, if Gatsby isn’t hogging the damn view, his eyes like drops of sour champagne.

*Maybe just look toward waxy-winged Icarus or the appalling driving of Phaëton. The modern version of Phaëton’s story would star a teenager called Freddy or Percival-Alphonse who, despite his youth, looks almost exactly like Boris Johnson’s haircut. Infuriated that his father – an investment banker/lawyer/cabinet member/judge – won’t let him drive his zippy sports car, the floppy follicular fussbucket throws a tantrum until mummy and daddy acquiesce, then proceeds to lose control almost immediately and is on the verge of ploughing through a crowd of plebs who are queuing for a pasty outside Greggs when an armed policeman intervenes and saves the day.

The lesson is easily understood – never let a non-Euclidean haircut drive a car.

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24 Comments »

  1. magogjack says:

    YESFACE!!!!

  2. BTAxis says:

    I’m always skeptical when people boast randomly generated content as a strength of their product. My experience with random environments, especially roguelikes, is that it does nothing to alleviate the monotony that comes from playing the same dungeon/area over and over again.
    That said I have no idea how their “adaptive storytelling” is going to pan out, it might work.

    • Mike says:

      And yet, we need to do this kind of thing to see if it can work, to evaluate and work out new techniques and strategies for solving this problem you’re talking about. I’ve been following Kingsport for a while and their take on procedural narrative is great and deserves being played out in full. I really hope they get funded.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Yeah, I agree. This is the exact kind of crow-funded project that appeals to me.

        I’d rather help them try to pull it off then sit on the side and tsk tsk if things don’t go perfectly.

        I also look at it as I’ve wasted many many times the $25 I spent here, on pre-ordering “AAA” games that left me so bored and disappointed I never bothered finishing them. Nowadays I’d rather risk my “pre-order” money on the little guys with the big goals, instead of the big guys with the little goals.

  3. Snids says:

    H. P. Lovesauce.

  4. Niko says:

    Non-Euclidean eldritch procedurally generated maps of cyclopean proportions, eh?

  5. Premium User Badge

    Hidden_7 says:

    Oh my goodness yes yes yes! I’ve been waiting for someone to attempt a game like this, that is procedural mysteries to solve, for some time now. Was beginning to think it may well be impossible. Which it still might be, but we’ll never know if we don’t try will we? Glad to support this one.

  6. Muzman says:

    Sounds insanely ambitious for an FP game. Probably a turn off for many would be backers. I hope they keep at it if it doesn’t hit target (why don’t more people flexible fund? I guess that seems like shady begging comparatively. Which is silly)

  7. Daystar says:

    This looks awesome!

  8. Casimir's Blake says:

    I’m reminded of Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi, with its randomly generated vampire-infested castle setting. Other than that and Daggerfall… there aren’t many first person games with randomly generated maps are there?

    • BTAxis says:

      Hellgate London has random maps, I think.

    • Soldancer says:

      There’s an upcoming one that I’ve seen mentioned here on RPS a couple times. Has skeletons and stuff. Looks kinda neat.

      The last paragraph and preceding Gatsby joke are golden. This is why I love RPS.

      As far as the game, it sort of sounds like a video game version of something like Betrayal at House on the Hill or Mansions of Madness, which are two of my all-time favorite games. I’m pretty excited about this!

      • tk421242 says:

        Man I so wish there were digital single player versions of Mansions of Madness or Betrayal at House on the Hill just like the Elder Signs game. I have spent many hours with Elder Signs already find it to be quite a nice game.

        • Soldancer says:

          Elder Signs is pretty great in person, too. There’s something special about sitting around with your pals fighting off Cosmic Horrors and knowing that it’s just starting to a) go your way b) go horribly, terribly wrong.

          Plus it’s way faster than Arkham Horror.

  9. destroy.all.monsters says:

    If only I wasn’t astonishingly broke.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Anyone tried the alpha of this?

    • tk421242 says:

      I just spent a few short minutes with the alpha demo and I can see where the promise is in the game. I was not able to really do any serious investigating or anything of that nature but simply roamed a few random halls and found a dagger in a chest in a basement. I quit and restarted and the layout was swapped around a bit.. this time found the dagger in the same room but this time in a different part of the mansion.

      It seems like a unique enough project for me to consider especially in light of their modest goal. Being a huge Lovecraft fan of course does not hurt :)

      I will spend a bit more time with it this evening and hopefully get a taste for just how random things can be.

  11. Lanfranc says:

    Are there any Greek myths that aren’t about overreaching ambition in one way or another? Prometheus: “I can steal from the gods and get away with it.” Orpheus: “I can get my wife back from the Underworld.” Oedipus: “I can avoid my destiny.” Sisyphus: “I can basically do whatever I want to.”

    • tormos says:

      hubris (the primary tragic flaw of the protagonists of greek myths) could be partially covered by ambition. More precisely, it’s self confidence so great that one would offend a god.

  12. jonahcutter says:

    Ah… smart, goofy nerds who talk too fast while enunciating poorly.

    MY PEOPLE!

    I’m in.

    btw looks like the alpha demo is downloadable from their website for anyone

  13. The Random One says:

    I don’t know what a loofer is, and Google didn’t help, so I’m forced to assume it’s the porn parody of Looper in which future sex gangsters send people to be fucked to death in the past, until one of them is forced to outfuck their own, more experienced future self.

    That or a loafer you wear on the loo.

  14. G_Man_007 says:

    I’m afraid the Gatsby joke went over my head… :(

  15. WJonathan says:

    Looks like a Lovecraftian-scale disaster. Procedurally generated plot arcs and characters? “the procedural plots are generated from basic blueprints” No, it’s either randomly generated or it isn’t. If it’s blueprinted, then it isn’t really user modified. It’s either a random mess of a story-driven game, or it’s a standard narrative with ostensibly branching paths that only lead back to the primary plotline. Either way it’s been done, and I don’t see evidence of any innovation here.

  16. bongosabbath says:

    His monitor setup. Wow.
    Ahem. This is something I can definitely get behind. Although I don’t exactly get fuzzy feelings when I hear the phrase “procedurally generated”