It may come across as strange for a developer to write a review of their own game. I decided, as part of my process on working towards a full post-mortem on the project, to attempt to write a very honest self-appraisal of our work.
I named this Steam account after our company, but my name is actually Gregory MacMartin and I am the C.E.O. and lead game designer for iDGi. To see the other stuff I've worked on in my career, checking out my LinkedIn profile is probably a good place to start: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drschelter
CONSORTIUM is the greatest achievement of my career. It was also by far the most difficult project. I'm proud of nearly every game I've contributed to, but almost nothing touches this one in terms of my professional and personal pride. It is a completely original and unheard of experience that follows no genre conventions, and I can say with all honesty that no "big money, low risk" publisher would have ever approved this.
I formed iDGi in 2006 with the goal of making truly story driven single-player games with a strong moral compass. Games that treated violence seriously, and games in which there are actual consequences to killing or causing general mayhem. In particular after working on the extremely violent title “Scarface: The World is Yours,” I was becoming quite sick of meaningless violence in games.
CONSORTIUM is the first result of this intention, a game where violence is only an option, and not forced upon the player. It has in many ways surpassed what I originally envisioned. The final experience itself is also quite different from what I originally envisioned.
The game accomplishes something that I've been striving to do my entire career: seamlessly blend interactivity and narrative. It relies heavily on player action, inaction and dialog to move forward, and the game stays "out of the way" of the player as much as possible. The result of this is that when you complete a play-through, the precise experience you had is quite unique to you. Due to the mass of variables in play, it is almost impossible for any two players to have the same experience, and the replay value is very high. You really need to play it at least twice (making different decisions and doing different things each time) to get a strong sense for what the game is really all about.
That said, this fusion has left some gamers, in particular those who play it like any other game and only go from objective to objective, with a very short experience that could leave some unfulfilled or even downright confused. In particular the fact that you can "finish" the game without solving one of the core story threads (a murder mystery) causes some to think that the game doesn't ALLOW players to solve the mystery. Looking back, I would have put more work into the murder mystery solving aspect to allow for more ways to solve it across the story, rather than only having one opportunity to choose the culprit after handling the investigation and before its resolution one way or the other.
True Role-Playing :
Without a doubt, our game puts the "role-playing" back into RPG. We consciously shed all of the pen&paper conventions that pretty much all CRPGs still use to this day. The focus of this game is largely built around realistically interacting with virtual people. My brother Steve MacMartin wrote the entire interactive screenplay (over 500 pages long!), and while we worked closely together throughout, the game's characters and dialog are as good as they are largely because of his focus, dedication and passion for what we were trying to do. We had a lot of fun working with the voice actors as well, both of us casting and directing them through all 4,500 lines of dialogue, who equally enjoyed the game's concept and the often unexpected or unusual lines they had to work with.
The system we invented is far from perfect, however... with tweaks to how it works for the sequel, we will be able to branch much more and allow for much deeper conversations that affect the overall story in more tangible ways. The game also originally had players able to upgrade their gear, but this was cut fairly early on for scope reasons. You can bet that this level of gear customization is one of the key features of the sequel!
Story and World is Law:
Quite literally, everything in CONSORTIUM is there to serve the story and world. Absolutely nothing whatsoever is "gamey,” meaning everything you do, see and hear are fully explained as being in-game. The result being that CONSORTIUM is not really a "game" at all, but is truly an interactive narrative experience. If you like to immerse yourself into a game world, then this game is for you.
A common criticism leveled at the game is that the combat experience is lacking. We developed a ton of combat mechanics and related systems, but many of them do not really get a chance to *shine* during a playthrough. While this depends largely on player choices, it is still very true that the constrained environment of Zenlil does not lend itself very well to particularly interesting or engaging combat scenarios that make use of all the Consortium Bishop mechanics. While I AM proud of the fact that combat only happens based on whether the player takes the story there (see above), the flexibility of the combat and enemy A.I systems don't become apparent until many playthroughs . Obviously, this is one of the things we'll be addressing directly in the sequel, which will be taking place across a huge and open environment. I must also admit that the virtual trainer (VT) stuff did not turn out as good as it could have been. The overall mechanics of the Civilian Defense scenario could have been far more fleshed out on its own, but time and resources worked hard against this. We had also originally envisioned multiple different VT scenarios being in the game, and even had another designer and a concept artist working on this, but it simply wasn't a sustainable effort and I had to end up taking on the VT stuff entirely on my own.
On the Game's Length:
Game One of the iDGi-1 Trilogy originally included a large skyscraper environment as part of the first game. It took us a year of production to realize that this was an impossible goal. We therefore heavily expanded the story of what happens aboard Zenlil to compensate for the loss of the tower, which ultimately resulted in the game having the deep and multi-threaded story that makes it what it is. We worked hard to try and make the story as self-contained as possible despite the game ending in a cliffhangar. I think we partially succeeded with this goal, but if I could go back I would simplify or cut the entire mission briefing altogether and only instead hint at the next game. I would have focused us instead on wrapping up and providing a more definitive ending to the Zenlil story.
I recommend this game! ;-) Seriously though, at the very least I can pretty much guarantee that you have never played anything like CONSORTIUM before. If you like science-fiction and single-player story driven games, you simply MUST play our game. Trust me, it will be a true treat! Because I made it, I can easily see the missing pieces, many of which account for some of the criticism of the game (technical issues notwithstanding). But this first game firmly establishes the core game mechanics, world, characters, GUI and the beginning of a powerful interactive narrative that we're driven to complete! With that groundwork firmly laid, the path to making the second game is very clear from a development perspective. I for one am excited to be able to take everything we've made and refine and expand the hell out of it, taking into account all of the incredibly helpful feedback we've received since launch.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the experience!