Disco Elysium was by and far my own game of the year for 2019 and it made RPS’s list of best PC games of 2019 as well. Its gritty, ugly characters are memorable and its plot, despite quickly getting convoluted, is as hard to look away from as the latest original series from your TV subscription of choice. Rather than other text-heavy RPGs, though, lead writer Robert Kurvitz says that Twitter was what ZA/UM felt they were competing with for players’ attention.
In an interview with GameSpot, Kurvitz explains that contrary to the hand-wringing we’re all subject to about young ‘uns these days, people really do like reading. They read Twitter, text messages, chat apps, and Reddit among so many others. It’s just a matter of making the text “snappy” enough and displaying it well.
Kurvitz explains how Disco Elysium’s text is displayed in the bottom right corner of the screen where players may already be used to looking at their operating system’s dash, rather than in the center bottom the way that so many other RPGs display dialogue. He also believes that text is best read in a column, unlike the wide, short text boxes of something like the original Fallout.
Disco Elysium’s dialogue jumps up with each new line, at times without any input from the player. “We wanted to build a dialogue system as snappy and addictive as Twitter,” Kurvitz says. Even as a big fan of RPGs and an avid reader, I often find myself needing to take breaks from dense world-building of other settings like Pillars of Eternity.
With Disco, I spent an uninterrupted eight hours on a Saturday reading without a thought for the clock. Others may have had different experiences, but for me ZA/UM nailed writing engrossing dialogue. In RPS’s Disco Elysium review, Alice Bee calls it a flawed masterpiece, but masterpiece nevertheless.
Later on, Kurvitz also explains Disco Elysium’s quirky Thought Cabinet system that became what he calls a “quagmire feature” for the studio, constantly absorbing time and money by never being quite perfect. In the end, ZA/UM kept the system for inventorying the detective’s thoughts simpler than they might have, though the possibilities of having the placement of thoughts in the inventory affect one another was part of the iterative process.
Late in the video, Kurvitz says he’d like to do “what Baldur’s Gate 2 did for Baldur’s Gate 1,” which I suppose we might take to mean that ZA/UM are planning a direct sequel to Disco Elysium which they’ve already made mention of ideas for. For the studio’s next game, whatever it may be, Kurvitz says he’d like to have more combat, though still in the style of dialogue-based combat from Disco Elysium. He’d also like to do a sex scene, which, well we’ll just have to see how that goes, but I’d trust Kurvitz to write one with a blend of cringe and humor that makes it memorable at least.