Imagine a game where you’re a spy, you must infiltrate a small town, gather as much information as you can and ultimate escape in one piece. The trick is, you have to blend right in plain sight of everyone, communicating and talking with them and even developing friendships and deeper relationships in order to extract the information you need. The name of the game is Fan The Sea, and the object is to discover what the secret project known as “Fan The Sea” is all about by lying, lying and lying some more.
The game uses a unique, layered system for interaction and character building, where players must lie their way into the hearts and minds of the village folks. However, suspicion will be the main weapon of the townsfolk. You’ll have to maintain your lies, remember personality traits, and avoid being spotted out for suspicious behavior. All the meanwhile you’ll have to juggle a budding relationship with the only person who does know that Isaac is a spy, Claire. Her job is to get Isaac out of the city using a stolen enemy ship if he can succeed in his mission. Of course, if the townsfolk find Isaac with Claire, it’s all over.
Fan The Sea is currently seeking votes on Steam Greenlight while also wrapping up a crowd-funding drive on Kickstarter. Developer Josh Myers from Embodied Productions was willing to answer some questions about the game and discuss in detail some of the more complicated aspects of the game’s design. You can check it out below.
One Angry Gamer: So where did the idea come from to make a game about maintaining cover using espionage tactics and lying through clever conversational tricks?
Josh: Well honestly I got the idea for the game from the limitations I had as a developer. As a film school graduate, my screenwriting degree taught me everything I needed to know about story structure, character design, and dialogue branches, but nothing on coding or art. Meaning, if I was to make a game, I’d have to teach myself everything: and since I didn’t want the game to suck, the actual programming and process behind the game would have to be relatively simple. That’s where the interactive story genre came in.
I loved playing Firewatch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Gone Home, and To The Moon, and was enthralled by their form of storytelling. Using them as pillars to influence and inspire me, I came up with Fan The Sea to cater to my strengths of storytelling and dialogue, with that same strength simultaneously serving as a unique and engaging noncombat (read: simple coding) mechanic.
OAG: Fan The Sea seems to have a very layered and complex interaction system amongst the NPCs and towns people. Will the varying degrees of different relationships (for better or for worse) determine the ending of the game?
Josh: Short answer: no. Long answer: yes. Fan The Sea toes that line between being an interactive story game and a RPG. It’s an interactive story in the sense that the player will experience a pre-determined story that fundamentally can’t be changed. It’s an RPG in the sense that the choices you make impact the flavor of that fundamental, unchangeable story. In order to avoid a sense of fatalism for the player, despite the surplus of dialogue options, there will be multiple endings for non-fundamental events, that are completely dependent on your actions. These non-fundamental events, in turn, impact the fundamental events. An example of this would be wingmanning for the bartender as you try to hook him up with a school teacher. So while the ultimate ending of the game will result in either ending A or B, how each player arrives at that drastic choice will be different. It’s very similar to Mass Effect in this regard.
OAG: The description of the Suspicion Meter reminded me of the NPCs in Hitman who would eyeball Agent 47 until they eventually ran and alerted a policeman or a guard. What’s the actual detriment of having people discover that you’re a spy and does that trigger a fail-state for the game?
Josh: That’s actually a pretty solid comparison: only they’re eyeballing you the entire game. The fail-state of the game occurs when Isaac’s identity is directly questioned in a “Town Meeting”. A “Town Meeting” is triggered when either three NPC’s suspect Isaac, or if Isaac fails to wiggle out of a “Condemning Action”. During the “Town Meeting”, the player will have one final chance to prove their innocence. This involves rebutting the evidence the NPC’s have against him and leveraging the positive relationships the player has with other NPC’s.
During a “Town Meeting” Isaac will have to leverage his positive relationships to counteract his negative ones, banking on them defending his character, which is most likely a falsehood. “Town Meetings” are guilt trips to the extreme, as the player witnesses the divisiveness and impact their lives have on the small community. It’s possible for the player to wiggle their way out of a “Town Meeting”, but all of Isaac’s relationships take a hit, even those who favored him before. If Isaac fails the “Town Meeting”, the player loses and returns to a checkpoint to try again, or to try to avoid the “Town Meeting” all together by performing a different set actions.
OAG: Now speaking of Hitman… when things began going south in that series it’s always possible to simply whip out the piano wire and get rid of a witness. In Fan The Sea, will players have options of silencing those who may have discovered that Isaac is a spy or are there any alternatives that players can use to maintain their cover?
Josh: As interesting as 2D pixel assassinations would be, that won’t be an option in Fan The Sea. Let’s say for example that two NPC’s suspect Isaac is a spy, but Isaac hasn’t been caught in a condemning action yet (stealing military documents, meeting with Claire, etc). The player knows they have to tread carefully, or a “Town Meeting” is around the corner. Suspicion is like a disease. If more than NPC has it, it’s easier for Isaac to acquire it. The best path the player could take is try to repair those two damaged relationships, and stop this suspicion from spreading.
Fan The Sea takes great strides in mirroring reality. When things go south in the game, there isn’t a cure all, just like there isn’t if things start going south in the real world. Everyone has experienced the dread of knowing that their lies are beginning to unravel and they’re one slip up away from getting caught: Fan The Sea thrives in that tension, and it’s not designed to be easily fixed. The NPC’s in Fan The Sea are complex, with their own backstories and prejudices, and a game-long memory: it’s best to view them as people, instead of NPC’s that’ll like you if you complete their fetch quest. At its heart, Fan The Sea is conversation about authenticity, and much of the thrill in the game comes from navigating that tension.
OAG: And with so much of the game relying on dialogue choices and embodying a fake persona, is it possible to play Isaac a certain way and still make it to the end of the game? Similar to how you could be a complete douche bag in Mass Effect but still beat the game.
Josh: With Isaac being a spy and the NPC’s being so fleshed out and dynamic, the player won’t be able to make it if they just pick the douchiest thing to say every single conversation with every single character, in the same they won’t be able to make it if they always play the saint. This is only possible because of the amount of depth the NPC’s have.
Since most of the game is text based, and my strengths lie so largely within that narrative field, each character is incredibly detailed and dynamic. They have to be, or Fan The Sea will fall flat. With so much hinging on conversation and story, every single character in the game has to be bursting with life. Because of that, if the player takes a classic RPG “paragon or renegade” approach, the NPC’s will call them out on it: the AI is too smart for that. The entire design of Fan The Sea revolves around authenticity, so much so that it forces the player to “play along”, if you will, and truly take on the role of a manipulative spy.
OAG: The concepts for the game are truly unique. I honestly can’t think of another game off the top of my head with a concept like this, which makes me question how long will the game be and will Fan The Sea be designed for a compelling single playthrough or is it being designed with replayability in mind?
Josh: Thank you! Fan The Sea is designed to last about as long as Firewatch and To The Moon, about four hours, six if you really dive deep with all the non-fundamental events. We hope to make it even longer if we hit our stretch goals and are able add new material. The game is designed for a single compelling playthrough, based solely off its design as an interactive story game. The RPG element of it, though, will keep players coming back for more, as they’ll be curious to see what the other ending of the game would be, and how handling non-fundamental events differently would impact the overall arch. So you get the best of both worlds.
OAG: The project so far has been receiving a lot of positive feedback on Steam Greenlight. Have commenters made any suggestions compelling enough that you’re already considering adding to the game or is the direction for the content already set in stone?
Josh: The direction is set in stone for the most part, though we’re always open to feedback and suggestions! The biggest feedback we got on Greenlight is that people totally hate RPG Maker, and would love to have the game available in different languages. As far as RPG Maker goes, we’re hoping to acquire enough funds to have our own hand painted tile sets and art style, so that we can break away from the negative stereotypes and stigma associated with the engine. It’s encouraging for us to look at To The Moon as well, a huge success, and see that it was made in RPG Maker XP. As far as languages are concerned, we really hope we can afford to have the game available in more than just English, but that’s entirely dependent on if we hit our stretch goals.
OAG: I imagine Fan The Sea might be a tough sell for some gamers, but who would say is the general target for a game like this? Is it the visual novel fan? The JRPG fan? The strategy fan? The hopeless romantic or the espionage and tension fanatics? Who is sort of the prime demographic for the title?
Josh: The prime demographic are interactive story gamers. If you liked Firewatch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Gone Home, To The Moon, or even Dear Esther, you’re going to love Fan The Sea. Because of the RPG non-fundamental events, we’re hoping to attract some fantasy RPG fans as well. Our illustrator, Maerel, has a knack for that anime art style, but the semi-realism paint style we have now is just anime enough to pique the interest of the JRPG fans out there, while not turning off the rest of the world who doesn’t care for it as much. Fan The Sea is a game you play at eleven at night to feel something. If you find yourself in any of the categories listed above, we at Embodied really think you’ll enjoy playing our game.
Huge thanks to lead designer Josh Myers from Embodied Productions for taking time out to answer the questions regarding the upcoming game Fan The Sea. You can learn more about the project by visiting the official Kickstarter page.