Unrest has a distinctly Indian setting, it takes place in a fictional city based on Jaipur, and it deals with complex socio-economic issues, many of which are still prevalent in modern-day India. This is not your average RPG.
Unrest is heavily conversation-driven, with its 120,000-word script intertwining the lives of its five characters, who will deal with moral choices so decisive that they can even lead to their deaths.
Developed by Arvind Raja Yadav’s Pyrodactyl Games, Unrest is heavily conversation-driven, with its 120,000-word script intertwining the lives of its five main characters, who will deal with moral choices so decisive that they can even lead to their deaths. Combat is almost absent, and that’s just another one of the many fresh ideas Unrest brings to the table.
Unrest is out later this month on Steam, having made it through a fruitful Kickstarter campaign, but Yadav admits that he hadn’t expected the crowd-funding experiment to succeed.
“When we launched the Kickstarter campaign, we were quite pessimistic about it,” Yadav says, “but then because of the support, we were able to scale up, and this was the best possible way to scale up because we had the capital to do it. That gave us confidence that people liked the game idea and that the setting held promise. So we rebuilt the game from the ground-up – new art, new levels”.
That support was vital because Unrest introduces many firsts to the RPG genre and takes many risks, most prominent of them being the Indian setting, with five characters that find themselves having to deal with uniquely Indian issues and situations.
Arvind Raja Yadav, founder of Pyrodactyl
Unrest’s crowd-funding campaign was a resounding success, raising 12 times more than its $3,000 goal.
“We’ve constructed several socio-political situations within the game. For example, in the scenario that we have in the demo, there’s a lower caste girl in an arranged marriage with a merchant of a higher caste. There are situations around that. Why is this higher caste merchant want to marry her? As the girl, you have the option to run away from the village, cancel the marriage, etc. The demo scenario can end in seven or eight different ways.”
It’s not hard to see where the team’s pessimism was coming from. Issues of caste and arranged marriage, while commonplace in India, are alien to Western audiences, particularly Western gamers, so the Unrest team was rightly cautious about the game’s Kickstarter prospects. But Unrest’s crowd-funding campaign was a resounding success, raising 12 times more than its $3,000 goal, and coming through Kickstarter has had its obvious advantages.
“The one big advantage was that at no point did I have to justify my game design to somebody,” says Yadav. “I love the fact that our backers have never told us that they wanted us to change something they didn’t like. They’ve been supportive of the vision from the start.”
“This really frees the team because if artists can draw without being forced into certain conventions or worrying about whether the higher-ups will accept it, then it really allows them to be creative.”
Unrest’s development team is spread all over the world. While Yadav is in Jaipur, the team’s animator is in Hyderabad, while others are in the US, Canada, the UK and Estonia.
“The other bonus is that we’ve been doing monthly live streams and our backers give us instant feedback. So rather than being in a box and not knowing what the players might think about the stuff we’re working on, we’ve had 2,000 people who at some point have given us their feedback, and that’s really helpful,” says Yadav.
Also unique is the fact that Unrest’s development team is spread all over the world. While Yadav is in Jaipur, the team’s animator is in Hyderabad, while others are in the US, Canada, the UK and Estonia. However, Yadav says the geographical distance between the team hasn’t been as big a hurdle as one might think.
“We have a rigid schedule. We have one-hour meetings twice a week at fixed times that are convenient for everybody. We did delay the game for about three months or so, but I think a couple months delay might have happened even if we were all in the same place,” says Yadav.
“So while there may be some overheads, the advantage is that we’re not bound by a location. If there’s someone who happens to do something really well but is located in another country, that won’t stop me from having their help. So the expertise they bring offsets these overheads.”
Unrest has five playable characters, each with their own back stories and struggles as they live through events that affect an entire city.
Unrest has five playable characters, each with their own back stories and struggles as they live through events that affect an entire city, but Yadav says each of them will affect the overall story in their own way and based on player decisions.
“It’s one story, and the lives of all five characters sort of intersect. One of these characters is the “main character”; I won’t tell you which one because that’s part of the surprise. The lives of the other four characters just so happen to intersect with this major power play that’s going on in this ancient fictional Indian city named Bhimra”.
Bhimra is a city in turmoil after most of the ruling royal family has been murdered, creating a power vacuum that has led to a social uprising. Much of Unrest revolves around how various residents of Bhimra deal with the situation they now find themselves in. The city itself, while completely fictional, is based on Yadav’s hometown.
“The reference point for Bhimra was mostly Jaipur, which has lots of palaces. Because of the proximity to my location, I would go around and click lots of pictures to use as reference. If you see the palace level of the game, you’ll see the influence that Jaipur has had,” says Yadav.
The choices you make in Unrest will have far-reaching consequences, with the most dire outcome being the death of your character.
“The game also has influences from many time periods. The Gupta period was a big influence, but then there are elements of medieval India too. We weren’t going after historical accuracy, so we thought it would be better to include multiple influences and also to use what we already had to come up with the setting.”
The choices you make in Unrest will have far-reaching consequences, with the most dire outcome being the death of your character. And when a character does die, there’s no respawn option; the game and the story simply carries on without that character.
“All the five characters are mortal beings, so there are situations where you’ll have to think about whether you’re putting yourself in danger, and whether it’s worth the reward,” says Yadav. “If you die, the game moves on, but the subsequent chapters are affected by it. For example, if the priest character dies, suddenly everyone is scared and there will be more guards around because it’s a priest that’s been killed. It also shows how the social systems work because certain lives are valued more than others.”
Add to the possibility of your character dying is the fact that Unrest features almost no combat. If anything, Yadav says that if you find yourself in a combat situation, it’s probably too late already.
Almost every violent scenario can be avoided if you’re careful and if you don’t say the wrong things to the wrong person during conversations – Arvind Raja Yadav
“The danger in this game mostly comes from the character being in a place where they shouldn’t be; a seedy back alley, for example. There are very few combat situations, but if you find yourself in one, it means almost certain death. That said, almost every violent scenario can be avoided if you’re careful and if you don’t say the wrong things to the wrong person during conversations.”
The conversation system forms the very core of Unrest, and throughout the game you’ll be forced to make decisions by way of conversation that won’t just define your character’s fate, but also alter the course of the game itself in some way.
“The entire game has five-to-six endings, and the way we do this is by turning the ending into a scenario in itself. So what players say and do at the end and the surrounding situations – the condition of the city based on your actions – will affect it. So it’s not like different cutscenes or concept art slideshows are going to play based on the ending,” says Yadav.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an RPG with moral choices or branching storylines. In most of those games, the choices have amounted to little since they had fixed, pre-determined endings that you were nudged towards.
I’d certainly recommend playing through the game at least twice because that will show you how things changed in your previous playthrough – Arvind Raja Yadav
“One of the reasons games are forced to do that is the gameplay length,” Yadav explains. “The strange thing about RPGs is that often the game’s length is advertised, like ‘this is an 80-hour RPG’, and ‘this is a 120-hour RPG’. The problem in such big games is that a different branch would become a different game in itself.”
“A single playthrough of Unrest will take four-to-five hours; more if you read slowly and tackle all side quests. So with smaller scenarios, we were able to offer more variety when it comes to selecting options. I’m not saying that we managed to solve this issue, because you can’t really account for every single thing the player could think of, but this is how we’ve chosen to approach it.”
“I’d certainly recommend playing through the game at least twice because that will show you how things changed in your previous playthrough,” Yadav says.
Pyrodactyl has also been very careful in its approach to side quests, ensuring that the quests themselves fit the various characters and the game scenario.
“Rather than having generic stuff like ‘get me five objects’, we’ve integrated the side quests with the character type. For instance, for the priest character, players can choose to distribute medicine to people that need it throughout the city, or ask rich merchants or temple patrons for donations. So we’ve kept them in-character,” says Yadav.
When your [Kickstarter] campaign is hitting stretch goals and everything seems possible, you have to be careful not to over-promise – Arvind Raja Yadav
Yadav looks back at his first experience with crowd-funded game development with a lot of positivity, but he does have a few words of caution for developers who choose to go down the Kickstarter route.
“The one thing that developers have to be sure of is to not lose sight of their vision of the game. When your campaign is hitting stretch goals and everything seems possible, you have to be careful not to over-promise. You might still make a great game, but it might be just 50 percent of what you promised,” he says.
The other advantage of going through Kickstarter, especially if the game is successfully funded, is the amount of attention the game gets because of it. Unrest has been covered by several top publications around the world, including Time, Kotaku, Edge, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, since the conclusion of its Kickstarter campaign.
“It has certainly helped to a certain extent because Kickstarter success stories are still a bit of a unique thing. There’s still this element of ‘Hey, this team actually managed to deliver after the Kickstarter’, but aside from that, we’ve also showcased the game at expos and that has also helped a lot. Once people play the game, they are more keen to read or write about it because then they know it’s real,” says Yadav.
With Unrest now almost done and ready for release, Yadav isn’t quite sure what comes next for the game or for himself.
“We’ll definitely support the game post-release with bug fixes and such. Whether or not we make any expansions is completely dependent on how the game does,” he says.
“I will definitely make another video game [laughs]. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I have a few ideas written down somewhere and floating in my head, but I haven’t committed to any of them yet.”