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Inkle on Pendragon: how being evil was the key to making its replayable story click

Turn-based Arthurian legend game Pendragon is the next game from Inkle Studios of Heaven’s Vault and 80 Days. RPS chatted with narrative director Jon Ingold at PAX X EGX about its replayable story that—spoiler alert—always ends with a deadly battle between King Arthur and Sir Mordred, and how playing as a villain helped keep the story from going stale over the course of multiple re-tellings.

Ingold says that Inkle was looking for ways to fit a story to their new turn-based strategy game without players getting sick of reliving the same plot again and again.

“I had a breakthrough when I suddenly realized something that’s actually really obvious about Arthurian legends which is that I’ve read [them] hundreds and hundreds of times in different tellings,” Ingold says. As Katharine points out earlier in the interview, we’re not short on round table stories at the moment, which is to say nothing of all the versions that have come before. Upcoming film The Green Knight is one part of the legend, and heck, so is Monty Python And The Holy Grail, isn’t it? Pendragon isn’t just one single new retelling of the legend, Ingold says. It’s a bunch of them all packaged together.

“Instead of making Pendragon the story of the fall of Arthur, it’s a machine for retelling the story of the fall of Arthur,” Ingold says. Each playthrough can include different characters and their resulting adventures. “You get different angles on it every time you play it and all the little bits of narrative kind of add together so you do get a greater sense of the story the more that you play because you see more aspects of it.”

It especially began to come together, Ingold says, when Inkle realized that an essential part of the storytelling was the motivations and dispositions of various characters. “The moment of realisation for us was when I had a game where you were playing as Guinevere—I think she was the first character that we put in the game because we liked that start of Guinevere going off to find Arthur, that felt romantic and epic—and then the idea of having Morgana Le Fey, who’s like the evil witch and very much the villain of the Arthurian legends, being a playable character, who’s just really mean, all the time, to everyone, and is constantly nasty, and that just reframes almost everything that she says and does.”

“We realised that this idea of an unlockable roster of heroes gave us a nice game structure, because you could unlock heroes on one run and then play with them on the next run, but it also gave us lots of interesting ways to change up how the game feels to play.”

Inkle aren’t the first to tackle a repeatable story, of course. The way Ingold describes Inkle’s goals sounds a bit like the replayable retelling of Hamlet in Elsinore, which has Ophelia returning to the same tragic story again and again to push it in new permutations. Unlockable characters remind me of Nerail’s Reigns: Game Of Thrones that puts various characters on the iron throne until they meet one of many possible grim fates. At a meta level, it’s quite neat to see replayable stories themselves going through various iterations as different studios take slightly different strategies.

You can hear more about Pendrgon’s development in RPS’s EGX interview above and catch other show info on the PAX X EGX site.

Pendragon launches next Tuesday, September 22nd. You can find it on Steam and GOG.

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