Spring Cleaning Update: Focusing on Narrative

Hi all—the past few months have been chaotic to say the least. [For posterity’s sake, we are in a global pandemic!]

But for the Boreal Games team, the abrupt change in routine has given us pause. To put it simply, we’ve been able to take stock and finesse some higher-level issues after focusing on development details for so long.

Since we pivoted to a single-player from a multiplayer format last year, many aspects of development became simpler. On the other hand, world-building needed to become far more emphasized. We realized lately that in our change of focus, we had built something that functioned well without feeling finished or immersive. And after some recent reflection, we’ve made progress on ensuring that the game feels as fun as it is smooth to play.

In this update, we are sharing the first glimpses of the storytelling overhaul we are giving Crystal Companies. We hope this work will culminate in a playable version that we can be proud to show you! Until then, here’s a glimpse into the path we’re taking toward a more story-driven final product.

Who, what, where, when

The idea behind Crystal Companies has always been simple: You lead a prospecting company in a crystal-rich frontier, and competition with other crystal companies ensues. In the multiplayer version of CrysCo, each game instance consisted of a procedurally generated arena where you would battle an opponent in a turn-based fashion.

The single-player version of Crystal Companies, however, lost the competitive novelty associated with a human opponent. This made the abstractions more obvious and the game instances more repetitive. The goal of adding procedural, rogue-like expeditions was to restore replayability through a new means. Item management, overworld route planning, and progressive randomized deck-building were introduced to complement the new expeditions mode. The environment and random events also were new focal points. The new challenge, though, was making sense of this rebuilt world. We needed to answer some basic questions explicitly to make the world feel real.

Who

First off, we decided who the player is: A new arrival to the frontier; naive and with few resources. It turns out, the frontier is past its prime; the news of great fortunes being made there are overblown. You can’t afford to leave, so you are offered a contract position as an imperial courier. From there, you work your way up to running a full-fledged company—if you (quite literally) play your cards right, that is.

What

You begin by essentially running errands for other, more established frontiersman, which as a term is a bit of a misnomer considering more than a few women have established successful crystal companies. You traverse various environments in your wagon, with few companions, to carry news and crystal between encampments and forts. Along the way, you may even gather some crystal for yourself, not to mention alliances that will help you grow your company.

Where

The frontier is a vast place. No two regions within it are exactly alike. The variety of environments is amplified by the fact that crystal itself is an energized material. As crystal is dug up and moved around, the landscape becomes more volatile. Natural disasters and even supernatural phenomena increase as crystal is unearthed. In addition to natural disturbances caused by crystal mining, there are political fights over access to land and the resources bubbling to the surface.

When

Time is a relative concept in the real world; it’s arbitrary in an imagined one. But one big change the in-game storytelling underwent was changing where the named characters—the captains—were in their timelines. Instead of imagining them as at the beginning of their journeys, we put the player there. The captain characters are now in the mid-stages of their development. Not only are they more useful to the story that way, they can also act as mentors to the player as they progress in their quest.

All of that to say…

We are re-imagining every touch point the player has in order to instill storytelling throughout. UI/UX is the main area of change so far. Here is a first look at what we are creating:

Newspaper-inspired UI will enable players to gain context for gameplay within a framework that also serves to advance the game’s narrative.
We’ve mocked up a series of examples, like these, and we expect to integrate this content systematically with in-game scenarios and situations.

Essentially, players will become keyed into current events through a newspaper-like interface. New missions and items can be found within the pages of periodicals, as well as additional context for the events that occur over the course of your expeditions. Paying attention to the news will pay dividends as players plan their expeditions.

On the Horizon

While we are farther away from releasing Crystal Companies than we’d hoped to be at this point, we are excited to be able to share what we feel is an exciting prelude to a promising version of the game. We are currently commissioning some new art in addition to firming up the storytelling elements of the game. We are looking forward to sharing new developments with you soon!

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