When I die, just upload my consciousness to Nightingale, the upcoming Victorian dark fantasy open-world survival game from Inflexion Games. I was interested in the online adventure when it was announced, but after chatting with studio boss (and former manager of BioWare) Aaryn Flynn, I’m all in. The vintage, sinister supernatural take on magic and monsters is refreshing in a morass of medieval games, and exploring new realms through enchanted gates looks way more fun than the ultra-realistic survival games where you dehydrate to death before you can even find a weapon.
“One of the things we say is we don’t want survival in our game to be punishing or punitive,” Flynn explains. “You know, we think it should be more optimistic and challenge-based so certainly, you will meet some very serious challenges that are going to really force you to think and plan and experiment and fail a few times and maybe finally come back. But we don’t want that survival craft experience where you’re just feeling very punished.”
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You must be smart though, because the realms of Nightingale are full of things that have fallen straight from the pages of storybooks and legends, and it looks like some of them have a whole lot of teeth. On top of that, the world Nightingale is set in – an alternate Victorian age where magic has been harnessed but not entirely domesticated – has gone rogue, leaving you in the world of the Fae. Think fairies but cruel and powerful, about as far away from Tinkerbell as you can get.
“Luckily for us with the survival crafting genre, there’s a really great conceit that launches most games, which is that you find yourself lost very far from home, then you’ve got to start with next to nothing, and you’ve got to start to survive. So we can do that with our setup, the world has been plunged into a cataclysm,” says Flynn.
“In your attempts to flee that cataclysm and get to the magical city of Nightingale, you use the portal network – which connects Earth to these magical fairy realms – but it has malfunctioned. You find yourself lost in the deep Fae realms. This fellow comes along to ask you certain questions and provoke you to go explore and do things. And so that becomes our setup. From there, we can begin to storytell and do some things that are going to bring players along on an adventure.”
The trailer also hinted at an interesting way of dealing with the magical creatures you encounter. In one instance an angry giant is being battled, in another, it seems as if that same giant is being placated with an offering. As someone who will want to hug every monster I meet, I check with Flynn if I’m in serious danger.
“Oh, no, not the least,” Flynn promises. “There’s quite a number of creatures that come across whom you can have a friendly or positive approach to. We want that choice to be meaningful to players, and we learned lessons from role-playing games about what a meaningful choice is and how to frame it.
“So let’s say killing the creature might give you a different reward than then befriending it. We want you to make that choice consciously so that it’s consistent with how you want to play as opposed to being a false choice, where it doesn’t really matter what you do. We’ve got to really pay that off.”
And of course, the development team knows that being able to pet the dog, even if in this instance dog means weird enchanted pixie, is non-negotiable in 2022.
“We totally get that,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to pet the rabbit.”
I might want to be able to commune with magical creatures, but I hate people. Online adventures always make me wary that I’m going to end up trapped in a raid group with a guy called Psycho, but Flynn reassures me that there will be plenty to enjoy as a solo Realmwalker.
“I think a good balance for us is that the vast majority of things should be playable solo. If you’ve got friends it might go a little faster, might be a little easier… But it’s got to be very enjoyable as a solo experience.”
One of Nightingale’s biggest innovations is its Realm Card system. These cards can be crafted with rare resources and then used at portals to whisk you away to new realms, and by selecting certain cards you can tailor the environment, the monsters, and the resources you’ll find in them.
“It was an idea from very early in the genesis of the game, reveals Flynn. “It was good that it was because it allowed us to spend a lot of time investing in our procedural generation system, so all these terrains are procedurally generated. By playing the cards at the portals, what’s on the other side of that portal takes on the attributes and the influences of the cards. Fortunately, we’ve had over three years to invest in that system and grow it and build it, and make it ever richer. And so I think if we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t be able to pay it off.”
Flynn admits that the studio isn’t entirely sure what the plans are for the end game in Nightingale, a game I already know I’m not going to want to finish. He points to an NPC in the trailer and explains the team’s current thinking.
“I don’t know that we’ve solved that yet. We definitely have ideas. So you know, that the character at the beginning here, he’s gonna play a role. He’s our narrator, he’s going to play a role in the earliest moments of your experience. He’s going to send you off on an adventure.”
“Then that NPC is going to take you to another character, another adventure, and so on. Then all that should culminate in a big payoff and reward and the game just continues to get more layered and more nuanced, to give you richer possibilities. We can, of course, also expand the game with new realm cards and everything. So it’s a great set up for us to help grow the game through Early Access.”
I had expected to be stumping up for yet another game subscription – and would have done so happily after speaking with Flynn – but you can forget about awkward free-to-play systems or monthly bills from Nightingale.
“You know, our job right now is to make a great experience that’s worthy of the modest upfront price we’re asking for. And then let people fall in love with the world.”
Nightingale has a vague release date of 2022, and will start off in Early Access on PC. If you can’t wait, you can sign up at the official site for a chance to be part of the playtests, but just know that if you get in to one and I don’t, I will come to your house and steal your PC.
“I’ve been telling folks it’s our first game as a studio, so we’ve got to get it right,” says Flynn. “We certainly take that very seriously.”
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