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New Nightingale Trailer Shows Off The Game's Victorian-Themed Multiverse Travel

The survival-crafting game will feature multiple faces from real-world history and literature.


A new trailer for Nightingale, a survival-crafting game being developed by ex-BioWare devs at Inflexion, was shown during The Game Awards, giving players a new look into the game's unique realm-traveling gameplay.

The game centers around the relationship between humans and Fae, a race of magical beings that guided the course of human history behind the scenes. In the late 1800s, a deadly infection entered the human world and destroyed it, leaving stragglers and survivors to travel the different realms in order to survive.

Characters in the game are pulled from real-world historical figures of the time period, including influential journalist Nellie Bly and renowned mathematician Ada Lovelace. Existing fictional characters of the era will also appear, with one notable example being Allan Quatermain from the 1885 novel King Solomon's Mines.

To learn more about this unique historical survival game, we spoke to three members of Inflexion Games--CEO Aaryn Flynn, director of production Leah Summers, and art director/head of audio Neil Thompson--about design choices, player feedback, and more. The difference between developing for AAA games and a small independent studio was discussed at length, as all three are BioWare alumni with Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and more among their credits.

We also touched on the benefits of player feedback early into a game's development cycle, both through closed alpha tests and occasional questions to the community via Discord, as well as the implementation of historical figures into the world of Nightingale--which includes how their real-world exploits influenced their design choices.

This interview was transcribed from a video interview and edited for clarity.

GameSpot: The first thing that stuck out to us was the use of actual historical figures as Realmwalkers--Ada Lovelace and Nellie Bly being two examples. Were there other names kicked around that you think might fit into this world as a Realmwalker?

Neil Thompson: When the team was very small, we always intended to put real people in here. Considering the time period we're using, it's not covered by copyright anymore, so the world is our oyster in that regard. Most of them started as particular characters of interest, but as the time got bigger and we brought writers on board, they had brought characters from history that they thought were interesting and relevant, so we started refining our list from there.

There's a lot of interesting characters in there that aren't necessarily front and center in the public eye--I had never heard of Nellie Bly before this project, for example--but in the context of Nightingale, which is all about adventurous souls that become Realmwalkers, Nellie Bly definitely fits into that mold. She was an adventurer herself as well as a reporter, which makes her a perfect fit for what we're trying to do.

Aaryn Flynn: We learned Nellie is very American-centric because of her role in taking journalism and revolutionizing it the way she did. For those of us that got exposed to her, we thought she was a super cool character and story, and from there we asked, "If we preserve the character and the reality of what she accomplished, what if she were a Realmwalker, doing what she did in the real world out in the different realms?" That's the kind of fun we like to have: take a historical figure, imagine them as a Realmwalker, and see if that elevates what they can do based on their real-world experiences.

Are there fictitious characters planned as well, outside of real-world historical figures?

Flynn: Yes! We have Allan Quartermain, who's a character in a book, and we said, "Instead of H. Rider Haggard inventing a character named Allan Quartermain, what if Haggard was instead documenting the adventures of the greatest Realmwalker and selling those books as his biographer?" This way we can capture both Haggard and his creation Quartermain in the lore at the same time. We have other fictitious characters, like Henry Hyde, that come forward and become prominent in our lore.

Thompson: We have some of the classics as well; Edgar Allan Poe is in there, Oscar Wilde, just super interesting and colossal characters that fit right into what we're trying to do here.

Flynn: There are others, but we're saving them for when you get into the game.

Could there be more meetups between real-world authors and the characters they've created? Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes would be an interesting pairing, for example.

Flynn: There certainly could, but one thing I do want to stress about our lore: We don't say that the authors created these characters. Instead, these characters were real Realmwalkers first and foremost, and the authors shared relationships with them in one way or another, which led to their stories being told. We don't want to try and conjure these characters out of thin air; we're more interested in saying they were real people who had their stories told by authors and biographers.

From a concept and design perspective, would you say it's more challenging to adapt these known entities into your game, or to create a character that's unique and new for your world?

Thompson: I think it's actually easier to take the historical figures and insert them into our world, because generally we choose them because there's something about that character, or things that they did, that lent themselves to the world of Nightingale. I think it could be more challenging with a pre-existing fictional character though, because if it's a famous fictional character, people will have a pretty good idea of what their expectations of that character would be, which makes it a challenge for us to subvert them. With a real person in a fictional world, meanwhile, you can do whatever you want.

What are some of the challenges in creating unique realms for these characters to visit, while staying within the parameters of the Victorian themes you're leaning into?

Thompson: If you think of the realms as a sort of parallel universe, they've always been there, humans were just never able to connect to them. The portal magic is inherently Fae, but what humans have done is use science to "hack" into it, and use Realm Cards as "addresses" to different realms. What's in those realms is entirely up to us.

We started designing them as recognizable biomes--deserts, swamps, forests, etc. However, within them there could be some fantastical elements, like architecture or remnants of ancient civilizations now gone. Also, because there's been a relationship between humans and Fae, you might find other humans out there as well as the remains of human-based industrialization that's gone on in these worlds. In one instance you'll find a village that's been torn apart, but whether that was by wild creatures, Fae, or something else, we don't know.

While the realms themselves are interesting, it's finding old remnants of past civilizations in each one that's super enticing to us.

Regarding the Fae, when we hear that word we think of Celtic/Gaelic folklore, but we do know that it's more of a broad term. Is there a particular part of the world's folklore that you're pulling from in regard to the Fae, or is it a more general interpretation?

Flynn: We definitely started with Celtic and northern European folklore, but we did eventually branch to some eastern European and other more broad definitions as the lore deepened. The idea, to Neil's point, is that the Fae have been dabbling with humanity for thousands of years--they probably helped build the pyramids, for example--so for all of these real-world mysteries we have today, you can imagine the Fae had a hand in making them happen.

The setting of Nightingale lends itself to a lot of different gaming genres. What about the survival-crafting genre made the most sense? Did you want to make a survival-crafting game and then built the setting around that idea, or did you have the setting first and assign the genre to it?

Flynn: The world came first, for sure. We thought about this thing we wanted to do and places we wanted to go for a long time. The three of us here and others in the studio had helped build Dragon Age and Mass Effect, so we've done the more traditional high fantasy and science fiction genres. For this we thought about contemporary fantasy or a setting that was a little bit more grounded in reality, with elements that are more relatable and understandable but at the same time having enough room to push things into some novel places. We also have a deep love for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which is a big influence.

From there, we wondered what we would want to do in a world like this, or what type of gameplay would be fun in this setting. Being a smaller studio than the ones we've worked in before, we tried to figure out the best idea that we could manage and still do a great job with. One of the great things about survival crafting is so much of what you do is about empowering players to chart their own adventures. We don't have to bring along heavy-handed storytelling tropes or big cinematics or stuff like that. I love those things, they are super fun, but at the same token they're also very expensive and time consuming--for example, Dreadwolf is still not out yet. These things take a lot of time, they want to get them right and I respect that, but the survival crafting genre is cleaner that way; it lets you focus on gameplay and elements that aren't as development intensive--even though with everything we're working on, it's still super important to get it right. We've played survival crafting games, we liked them, and we thought they were fertile ground, so all of those things came together and led to this.

You mentioned working in the AAA environment before, are there parts of this development cycle that, pulling from prior experiences, you might not have been able to do in your previous studios?

Flynn: When it comes to the amount of money and effort that goes into these AAA games, you start to struggle to take risks. You really start to weigh the risks of trying certain things, but withs starting a new studio and having a clean sheet, you sort of have the opposite problem: You have to take a risk and put yourself out there in order to get noticed. You have to change your mindset; "huh, we're here to take risks now, that's surprising. That's a big difference."

In our AAA experience, it was "why are you taking a risk? That seems bad, why don't you just do the tried-and-true things that we know work?" Honestly it's a spectrum, there's not absolute truth or falseness to either side, but for us it's more about how we can weave these things together. We've certainly leaned on some things we've learned in the past to limit risk to ourselves--using Unreal Engine, making the game first-person, and more--but the biggest difference is that we now realize that we're here to take a creative risk and we will succeed or fail based on the execution of that risk. Did we pick the right one? Based on the feedback we've heard so far, people are telling us we are taking the right risk, but now we have to pay it off with enjoyable gameplay in order to live up to the expectations we've set for ourselves.

The fundamental difference for me is the culture of risk-tasking. Back when I was at BioWare 20 years ago, it was like what this studio Inflexion is now, we were all about risk taking. "If we don't get this right and we don't do a cool Star Wars game, we don't have a game to make, so let's go make a cool Star Wars game." That's the biggest difference for me.

Leah Summers: One of the things we certainly didn't get the opportunity to do previously was things like closed alphas, working with fans directly, things like that. We played for a few hours with a bunch of folks two weeks ago via Discord, which let us show people things we're working on, works-in-progress that aren't good enough, anything along that spectrum. It allows us to ask players directly what they like, what they don't like, what do you want and not want, and it gets us more comfortable with showing a game in an earlier state than you were ever even imagine to in an AAA setting.

Flynn: It goes back to risk-taking; by showing people our game early on, it allows us to get feedback early from people who ultimately, hopefully, will buy our game. To us that's super valuable, and we're lucky to be in the kind of environment where we can do that. It's definitely a revelation when you start doing it after not doing it for 20 years.

When it comes to the general public, it could be argued that a lot of information they lack about game development comes from not being allowed to see how games are made, and never building that basic knowledge. Do you find a lot of value, from an educational standpoint, in bringing players in so early?

Flynn: The thing that's so exciting nowadays is that players are so sophisticated these days. They're smart, they've played all types of games, and they have so much to offer in terms of perspective. It's been remarkable to read essay-quality feedback on some of the things we've done, to the point where we're learning ourselves from this really insightful thought, from someone who put a lot of time and effort into our game, on something that we were a little bit blind to because we're focused on other things. I've been so impressed by the level of sophistication and thought that the 500 or so players we've brought it to try our game so far put into feedback, even when it's negative. "I don't like this, I don't understand how this is supposed to work, or how it connects to this to make this," which has made me wonder "hm, why is this happening?" It's been wonderful.

Summers: A term we have for it is "dev goggles:" after working on a project for so long, you can become blind to some things that for players are either massive stumbling blocks or aren't as fun as you thought they were. Just being able to hear that feedback early on gives us time to reach, go into the game, and switch up our priorities. It's a big development challenge for a AAA title, where the dev cycle is regimented and scheduled and dealing with big cinematics months and months in advance, but here we have the luxury of saying "people are saying this, let's make this our priority and shuffle a few things around" which is very different from what we've been able to offer before.

Flynn: On the flip side, sometimes you're a little nervous about something and the players come out and say, "This is great! We really enjoyed this!" and you're like, "Oh, that's great, let's pay that off." That sense of hesitation evaporates, and suddenly we feel more confident and empowered which takes away that apprehensive feeling of "are people going to like what I'm working on?"

How long did it take you to get out of that AAA mindset, the "I shouldn't do this, it's too much of a risk" mentality you mentioned earlier?

Flynn: We're still in it! (laughs) I think we'll be in it until we ship, honestly. But we have hundreds of players in our Discord as we mentioned earlier, and we can throw a quick question to them whenever we want and get instant feedback. We're not asking our players to design our game, per se, we're not looking for a "design by committee" approach as we have a strong vision for what we want to do, but there's so much room to evolve and adjust past our initial design.

The player death mechanic is a prime example: we had convinced ourselves we needed to be punitive with death, because we wanted there to be stakes; we wanted to tell our players, "Hey, you'd better be smart about this, dying is painful!". Taking all of your stuff, leaving it in a chest, and leaving you naked and afraid was a common trope in the genre, and it's what we thought we were going to do. Suddenly, people were saying, "It is so painful to go back and get my stuff," and we thought, "Is this something the entire genre has been complacent on?"

Our lead game designer, to his credit, said, "Well, what if instead you kept the basics of your gear--weapons, clothing, etc, but you lost the stuff in your backpack and got hit with a debuff that expires over time?" We thought that was super clever, and now that's our mechanic in-game. I think this will make the overall gameplay much better and keep players in that adventuring mindset, instead of feeling broken and devastated as a player. Some players, after losing all of their stuff, may not want to go back and keep playing. You have to be so invested in a game in order to get over that mental hurdle. It's definitely a struggle to balance a threat that hurts but keeps a player motivated versus a punitive penalty that crushes the player's spirit.

Nightingale will be PC only at launch, and then eventually it will come to consoles. What about that approach made it appropriate for your dev cycle?

Flynn: It simply comes down to being a small studio and how difficult it is to keep multiple platforms going at once. For simplicity's sake, we'd rather put our effort into making a great game, and sticking to one platform make the most operational sense.

Summers: It's a matter of focus, it's best to put our development budget into the PC. The one thing I do want to mention for those people who do love consoles is, while we are PC-only, we do have gamepad support, so console players should be able to jump in with no problem.

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