A strange whisper: Six Ages will be 2016's follow-up to the classic King of Dragon Pass11 Sep 2015 0
If I were about to be banished to a wifi-less desert island and (through some extraordinary mercy) was granted one game to accompany me for the rest of my lonely, coconut-eating days, I would very probably bring King of Dragon Pass.
There is nothing in the world like King of Dragon Pass. It is part text adventure, part Civilization-style 4X game. It takes place in a low-fantasy world that feels genuinely mysterious; you are the elder of a Bronze Age clan in a land where magic and myths seem very real and your neighbours aren't always human. This is a game that is big enough to warrant an 800-page wiki of which I have never seen one kilobyte and never will. The mystery of how the game works is too precious to me.
King of Dragon Pass is a game of such intimidating quality and daunting magic that, since its original release back in 1999, no one has ever made a serious attempt to copy or duplicate or "reimagine" it. I wouldn't trust anyone to do it, anyway. Well, except for one guy: David Dunham, the principal designer of KoDP. And he's going to do just that.
Six Ages is coming at the end of 2016 (hopefully), a game that Dunham tells me is "a proper successor to King of Dragon Pass". I'm not sure that the world deserves a follow-up to KoDP. We haven't exactly been on our best behaviour lately. But I'm not going to try and talk Dunham out of it.
After the jump, everything that King of Dragon Pass creator David Dunham has told me about Six Ages.
Both Six Ages and King of Dragon Pass are set in the world of Glorantha. Created by writer, game designer, and "practicing shaman" Greg Stafford, Glorantha is a low-fantasy mythos that started in the 1970s with a tabletop wargame called White Bear & Red Moon and continued with pen-and-paper RPGs and computer games for years, culminating with KoDP in 1999. Though it has its core of die-hard adherents (who raised a quarter-million dollars in 2012 on Kickstarter for a Glorantha reference book), Glorantha never achieved the breakthrough fame of Middle-Earth or Westeros. In a way, that contributes to its mystique: playing King of Dragon Pass feels genuinely strange and occasionally disturbing, feelings that aren't easily invoked by a world-famous franchise that you can find represented on school backpacks and 7-11 Big Gulp cups.
"I’ve always been a fan of Glorantha," Dunham told me earlier this week, "and I had a number of ideas for another Gloranthan game that never quite gelled. One of them clicked into place around the time Shenandoah Studio shut down the Philadelphia studio. So I started discussing it with Robin Laws. We kept the idea of advisors with personalities, but changed their skills slightly to fit the theme of the game."
Six Ages will be broadly similar to King of Dragon Pass -- from what Dunham's told me, you can probably still expect to be leading a clan in Glorantha, taking advice from your selected ring of clan elders and juggling the political, economic, and military fortunes of your people through interactive "scenes". Six Ages is "[n]ot necessarily a sequel in the usual sense, but taking a look at the parts of KoDP that worked well, and using them to make a new game that’s even better," says Dunham.
That iterative approach is an extension of the philosophy Dunham has been bringing to King of Dragon Pass for almost twenty years. It would be misleading to call it "a 1999 game", as it's been in almost continuous development since then. The initial PC and Mac release was updated several times, but then KoDP went quiet for a while -- until it was reinvigorated by an iOS release that Dunham's company A-Sharp brought out in 2011. The iOS edition was the biggest thing that ever happened to KoDP: it sold many, many times more copies on mobile than it ever did on desktops. The increased interest led Dunham to go back to developing the game part-time while he worked as the lead dev at the ground-breaking Shenandoah Studios, makers of Battle of the Bulge and Desert Fox. More content and UI revisions have streamed out for KoDP over the past few years, and the mobile version is now the definitive edition of the game.
While KoDP has changed significantly since the iOS version first launched, Dunham is looking forward to starting fresh with Six Ages. "One part of KoDP that occasionally drew complaints was its abstract combat system," says Dunham. "I don’t want to change the overall character of the game, but I’ve currently got a combat system that remains fairly abstract, and fits with the interaction style of the game, but also gives you more ways to see and influence a combat in progress."
Combat isn't the only aspect of Six Ages that's getting rebuilt. "One of the themes of the game will be exploration, so there are some twists to KoDP’s approach. One of these relates to timing — exactly when the events of an exploration occurred was kind of hand-waved in KoDP. Now we’re allowing an explorer to have an interaction, and then return home in separate turns."
There's also changes coming to how the game presents the world of Glorantha itself. "[Glorantha] is in new hands these days," Dunham says, "so we’ve been working closely with [new license holders] Moon Design. Their 800-page Guide to Glorantha is a primary reference, but I seem to have almost every book they publish open as a PDF. Glorantha is incredibly detailed, but Six Ages will be adding more, in the same way KoDP did (and at the same time, hopefully making things as accessible as possible even if you have never encountered the world before)."
Dunham is maintaining a religiously- (or shamanistically?) updated blog as he and the A-Sharp team work on Six Ages. You can also follow Six Ages on Twitter. Make a sacrifice to Issaries for Dunham & Co. to make their planned 2016 iOS release, and maybe I'll have a new game to bring to my island exile.