Humanity was never supposed to wield magic. It's a lesson we will learn the hard way in Nightingale, the gaslamp fantasy adventure coming from Inflexion Games in 2022. The studio was founded by former BioWare developers, a group attempting to leverage the experience it gained through work on the Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Knights of the Old Republic franchises and apply it to the burgeoning shared-world survival crafting genre. This is a space Inflexion CEO Aaryn Flynn has been eager to explore for some time now.
"One way to share a compelling world with players is to give them the opportunity to share it with others, and I really believe in that as a powerful mechanism for gameplay. The vision for our studio is 'creating fantastical spaces in meaningful places,'" says Flynn. "A lot of us draw meaning from a place – physical or virtual – because of the common experiences we have with those who are in it with us. In that notion of 'meaningful places' is the fundamental recognition that places are at their best when they are shared with others, and that's what we want to explore with Nightingale."
Building fantastical spaces
Developer Inflexion Games
Publisher Inflexion Games
'Fantastical' is an apt way to describe the story Inflexion is weaving here. Nightingale is set hundreds of years after the Fae first made formal contact with humanity, a mysterious faction from another world that left magic in the hands of a privileged few. "Nightingale is a city that grew around the study of magic, and it's one of the strongest places for it in the world. From there, humans have been building a network of portals to take them into the Fae realms," says Flynn.
At the outset of Nightingale, the arcane portal network collapses, stranding countless travellers in mysterious and perilous realms. You'll play as one of the missing, an ordinary human that's forced to become a Realmwalker to survive. However, the mystic arts won't be something you will understand right away. "Magic is still seen as a very mysterious thing. It's not a part of everyday life – people aren't making breakfast with magic, as you might see in Harry Potter. It's a powerful force that few hold."
Flynn teases that the potential for us to commit to the study of magic is there, but first you will need to figure out how to survive the realms. Working alone or with other Realmwalkers, your ultimate goal is to find a way back to the city of Nightingale using the broken Portal Network – navigating a labyrinth of Fae realms filled with lush landscapes to explore and loot, local life to meet and befriend, and eldritch creatures to battle and defeat. How you approach that task is largely up to you and your friends – should you want to bring any along for the ride.
"From the moment you establish your estate (your first step arriving in the game), we want players to have a lot of freedom over the types of experiences they have and how they choose to progress," says Leah Summers, director of production. "We want players to have a lot of freedom when it comes to how they express themselves across Nightingale's realms. There will be progression to some degree in terms of tools, items, and areas you will be able to access, but the rhythm of that is something that we're very conscious of. We want players to feel capable at all times whilst growing and evolving."
The BioWare factor
2021 proved to be a stellar year for survival games. Whether it was the streamlined systems of Tribes of Midgard, the pointed progression of Icarus, or the general genius of Valheim, the genre feels as if standing on the precipice of true evolution. Inflexion Games is entering it at a pivotal time, then, with what it believes is a focus and experience that will help set it apart from the pack.
"Survival crafting has really been this wonderful genre that's been incubating within these smaller, very talented teams," Flynn says, noting that the 100+ developers at Inflexion have paid close attention to the "pioneering work" that has been completed in this space since Nightingale entered production in 2018. "I think there's still a tonne of evolution to be had in the survival crafting genre, and we believe that world-building is a big, big part of that."
World-building is where Inflexion feels best positioned to leverage its experience. Many of the developers leading production of Nightingale are ex-BioWare staffers, a studio that Flynn says gave him "a huge appreciation for the quality of world-building in an experience." He adds: "Obviously, at BioWare, that experience was in RPGs, and here it is in a shared world survival crafting game. But world-building is what we have spent a lot of our time on."
Aaryn Flynn may have credits on the Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and KOTOR but he says we shouldn't expect a binary morality system in Nightingale. Instead choice and consequence will be naturally woven through the survival systems, pointing to the giant in the trailer as one such example. "We're not judging players with their choices like that. But we do want to make sure that players feel that there are consequences to their choices."
That investment is born out of a desire to create "an interesting and challenging world" which you'll be able to explore, harvest, and eventually conquer on your own or, preferably, with friends. "One of the things that stuck with me from my time at BioWare was seeing these incredible worlds come to life that resonate so deeply with players, and how the experience of playing a BioWare game can bring together players through the sense of a shared experience," says Summers. "Ultimately, combining that shared experience with a rich game world, to create places that players can get lost in, drives our approach to developing Nightingale."
While Inflexion isn't ready to detail the intricacies of the narrative, art director Neil Thompson believes that progression through Nightingale is a descendant of the work the team completed on single-player RPGs in the past.
"The experience of developing narratively led games also influenced our desire not to introduce a linear narrative in Nightingale. Giving players a premise and a world to inhabit allows for the creation of stories driven by a player's (or groups of players) experiences within the world of Nightingale on a session-by-session basis that are far more powerful and personal than anything we as developers could create."
Exploring new realms
Your adventures are set against the backdrop of an alternative Victorian world at the turn of the 19th century – gaslamp technology, dark magic, and nightmarish monsters. Thompson believes the period is "astonishingly rich from a visual perspective and has allowed us to borrow from all kinds of inspirational sources" which span both fictional and historical. As an example, here's how this decision impacts creature design: "Our more fantastical creatures are inspired by the folklore of the past; we wanted to ensure that our fantastical creatures don't feel 'sci-fi' in appearance, so many have magical aspects or elements to their design that enhance the otherworldliness of the realms they inhabit."
Flynn won't say whether the realms we'll be looting and exploring are procedurally generated just yet, although he does confirm that we've seen just three of biomes (forests, swamp, and desert) so far, with still more variety to come from this beautifully twisted network of explorable spaces. "The Fae realms are places of incredible magic and so you should expect a lot of differentiation as a player as you move between them discovering, learning, and taking on challenges."
Thompson says that the richness and depth of these spaces will go beyond visual variation, with each environment type impacting the way we play and the sorts of ambient life we will encounter. "The freedom to explore new and interesting places is key to Nightingale. There are many different biome types, and each allows for differing environmental challenges, as well as bespoke wildlife and creatures, and providing the space and resources necessary for base and structure building to aid in their adventures."
At the heart of the game is this need to return to get back to Nightingale City, although you'll be in no rush. Flynn is keen to express that you'll have "autonomy over where you go" and that the team is focused on providing good motivations to leave your created estates behind to go out exploring. "If you're in a realm that you really like, there's no reason to have to leave it – except that you can't get certain resources unless you go into them. We're trying to pull you into other realms, not push you into them."
As for the city itself, Thompson confirms that reaching Nightingale is just one part of the adventure, rather than the end of it. "As the (possibly) last human city, it has a more familiar look based on the architecture of the time, and you can expect there to be some interesting NPCs to interact with there."
Surviving the wilds
"We have the main objective, which is to find a way back to the city of Nightingale, but there will also be other things for players to do and explore, including quests that you can receive from NPCs," says Summers, who notes that you'll be able to help lost citizens that you encounter across the different realms. "That's as well as players being able to express themselves, building settlements and allowing them to craft better tools and equipment to aid in their exploration."
"It's also important that players are able to accumulate the skills and tools to be able to use the world to express themselves in ways beyond just the main narrative or quests. As a studio, we like to use the phrase 'endless adventures' when describing Nightingale," Summers continues, "so we want to make sure that whatever type of player you are, there are ways to interact, explore, discover, and grow the world around you in ways that feel meaningful."
This can manifest itself in several ways through Nightingale. You'll acquire new skills, equipment, and fortifications gradually, unlocking portals to new realms over time. But Inflexion is keen to establish interaction beyond a cycle of exploring, looting, and surviving against the elements and enemies you'll encounter along the way.
If you watch the reveal closer, you may even spot a tease of one of these 'meaningful' interactions. "We showed in the trailer that giants can offer the player rewards if you make an offering to him, but also later the giant tearing down a player-built village – two different outcomes based on how the player interacts and the choices they make," says Thompson.
"We want to convey a sense of optionality and allow players to find alternative ways of interacting and benefitting from the creatures they encounter," he continues, with Flynn adding that this encounter was designed to "show a dichotomy of choices that Realmwalkers get to make – and there'll be potentially different rewards and outcomes for that."
Crafting and customization
Thompson explains that "player expression is one of the cornerstones" of Nightingale, although Inflexion isn't quite ready to detail the systems at the heart of this upcoming survival crafting experience, nor is it ready to confirm how large team-sizes will be in this player-versus-environment (PvE) focused experience. The reveal trailer (recorded with pre-alpha game engine footage) conjures a picture of Valheim meets The Forest and, with playtesting of Nightingale set for early this year, we won't have long to find out for ourselves. In the meantime, Inflexion is happy to tease.
"We want our players to be the Realmwalker that they want to be in this world. That means there are character choices and customization," says Flynn. You'll need to collect resources to create the tools, gear, and weapons you need to survive and progress, sure, but you'll also be able to make more granular changes to the composition of your outfits and their color configurations – all of which is born out of the crafting side to the game. "You want a different color coat? Then go craft a different color coat or get your friend to craft it for you, whatever works."
Inflexion also promises that Nightingale will feature a robust construction system, allowing you to build everything from small farms and estates to larger-scale villages and fortifications – everything you need to let a little community of players live off the land. Again the reveal trailer indicates that construction will be pretty modular, letting groups build intricate encampments, which they'll need to be should you want to survive sieges from the Bound and other large-scale creatures.
What's important about these aspects to the game, Flynn suggests, is that Nightingale is open-ended enough that you can invest your time and resources in-line with your interests. "If there's a reason to invest in a major space, kind of like the village setup that you saw emerge in the timelapse, then, by all means, do that. If you'd rather explore, discover mysteries, or take on more challenges (which are ever-present, they are always there) then you can go do that too. You get that choice as a player."
Fight to survive
Art director Neil Thompson says that there will be plenty of opportunities to just bask in the beauty of the Fae realms. "Yes, there are some truly terrifying creatures, but there's also gracefulness and an otherworldly beauty to a lot of the life that exists within the realms. Our demon deer is a magical being that can resurrect other wildlife, and this creature (like many) is not aggressive unless provoked. It was important to us that players can choose how to interact with the creatures and environment of Nightingale in a way that doesn't always have to be aggressive."
One aspect of Nightingale we're keen to see more of is its first-person combat. Given the threats we'll be up against and the alternative-history gaslamp fantasy setting, it's given Inflexion Games plenty of leeway to get creative. Summers says that "weapons are rooted in a recognizable reality." A creative decision you'll see reflected through the guns, blades, and tools in the game. There will also be sorcery to contend with, should you discover and master it.
"We want there to be optionality in terms of how you approach combat – balancing multiple combinations of techniques, experimenting with different loadouts, playing with others to take on challenges. We also want to make sure that we have a good balance between combat and non-combat solutions," Summers adds, pointing to the encounter with the Giant as one such example. "It's exciting to think about the diversity and strategies that players might take when approaching combat in the game."
As for the types of enemies you'll be fighting? Flynn says that the team is always thinking about how it can "make the world seem all the more surprising and threatening", a decision which has ultimately led to gothic-inspired enemy designs that are one part European folklore and two parts Eldridge monstrosity.
"You do get to see a lot of the 'Bound' in the trailer, created by the Fae in mimicry of humanity. They feature a range of different skills, magic abilities, and weaponry, and we've only really shown a small taste of what they're capable of in our reveal," Thompson says. "There will be other large-scale creatures that players will encounter, including, at the top of the food chain our apex monsters (Ishmael makes an appearance in the trailer at the beginning and end) though whether you as a player are wise to attack such a formidable creature; we leave to you to decide."
We'll be making those decisions soon enough. Nightingale is set to launch in PC Early Access in 2022, with playtests set to commence in the first half of the year. If you'd like to give the game a go, you can sign up at www.playnightingale.com.
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