Venice: 1499

Game Design (1996)


During late 1995 and early 1996 I spent a copious quantity of my free time persuing a personal game design. After a great deal of historical research and technical pondering, this idea evolved into Venice: 1499, a historical adventure game that played itself to conclusion, daring you to change the tides of fate before it was too late. Slated ideally for a release in 1999, 500 years after the story was to take place, it was an idea that seized even my employers at Presage Software, convincing them to provide me with the platform to pitch the concept to individuals such as Brian Fargo, the president of Interplay.

While the design itself was never realized as a game, the research and effort I put into this game design taught me much about the process. I accumulated over a thousand pages of reference documentation, developed technical plans, and laid out the story arcs necessary to pull together the game. I have never doubted that someday all that hard work would find an appropriate use.

What follows is the text of the Game Design Overview which was given to Brian Fargo to take away from the presentation, that day in early 1996.

Venice 1499: Game Design Overview

Venice (venis) 1 seaport in N Italy built on more than 100 small islands in the Lagoon of Venice: formerly a maritime city-state extending over most of Venetia and Dalmatia.

500 years ago the darkness of medieval belief still held the hearts and minds of Europe in thrall. Serfs served their feudal lords, war ruled the day, witches and wolves reigned by night, and the faltering Pope was the voice of God on earth. There was little hope of a better life at home, while abroad the corruption of the Church, the failure of the crusades, and the expansion of the Muslim Turks over the Christian nations of Europe was evidence of God's judgment on a people steeped in sin. Only a few years before, a few humanists in Florence had raised a banner of hope, decrying the evils of the age, pronouncing the Church unfit, the rulers unfair. Savonarola led this democratic rebellion, enticing workmen such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci to help him create his vision of the future. It was a short-lived blossom, the Church, together with France, crushed Florence. Michelangelo and Da Vinci fled, Savonarola was burned at the stake. The feudal darkness descended anew, disturbed from slumber only for a moment. It was 1499. It was the end of the world.

While medieval strife and iron shackles chained the peoples of Europe, there was another power abroad in the world. This power claimed allegiance to no feudal lord or church. In the city that was her soul men worked to create a future they believed in. By the designs of their own hands they decided their fates, by ballot and by belief. Art and learning flourished as in no other city under this humanist doctrine, and more books were published at presses here than in the rest of Europe's nations combined. Her navy had the most advanced ships, and a paid, volunteer service whose honor it was to defend their home. Though Florence may have been the spark that ignited the Renaissance, it was here that the fires were fanned to brilliance. Her name was Venice. Yes, she had seen setbacks in the east, where the Turk sought to control her ports. But her arm had never been longer, her luxuries and riches more refined, her freedoms and fame more renowned at any other time in her thousand-year history. It was 1499. It was the dawn of a new age.

Yet for Venice there were storm clouds on every horizon which she was too proud to acknowledge. The peoples of Europe grew jealous of her, for she controlled every trade route to the spices of the Orient and every path of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Church grew weary of her insolence and godlessness, and prepared a Writ of Excommunication. Rulers grew fearful of her expansion, and hungry for her gold. Together with the Church they joined forces in an unheard of alliance, raising a holy army to humble her western flanks. In the east, the Turks had amassed a secret war fleet of unparalleled size, to rain fiery death upon the infidel and take back what Venice had stolen over the centuries. And from the insignificant country of Portugal the small crew of Vasco De Gama was preparing to sail around Africa, a voyage that would open trade routes to the Orient that were cheaper and faster than anything to which Venice could lay claim. This news would in turn cause the famed Banks of the Rialto, symbol of Venetian prosperity, to falter and fail as fearful investors withdrew their money in a crashing wave.

These storm clouds gathered and brewed, and when ready, they struck as one. Their patter became an angry downpour, then a howling deluge. And still the winds blew on.

It was 1499. And for Venice, it was the end of the world.

Game Concept:
Venice: 1499, is an social-interaction adventure game wherein the player converses with and manipulates the famous figures of the Renaissance, in a milieu filled with intrigue and steeped in history.

Product Goals:
Venice offers a degree of exploration and nonlinearity that is unprecedented in the adventure game genre. The interactions of the player with the characters in the game changes the story as it unfolds, so that the events and storyline the player experiences need never be the same twice. The adventure is extremely nonlinear, so that the feel is more of being immersed in a true historical simulation than a simple adventure game, yet this is a history told in which the player is a fundamental part of the story, able to make their own decisions, and able to influence the decisions of others so as to rewrite the events of the history we know today.

Venice is targeted for Windows 95 and Macintosh platforms, for 16-bit stereo audio and 256 color high resolution graphic CD systems. The target market is broad, consisting of both men and women, teenagers and above. The style of game should appeal to adventure gamers, role-playing gamers, and those persons who do not often purchase "ordinary" computer games, due to the richness of the environment and the puzzle/interaction/exploration nature of the story.

Visual Guidelines:
Venice is a city of fabulous architecture and art, and this will be reflected by the sights you see as you go about the game. The sounds of church bells, the fogs that rise at night, the people which fill the market, all will be present to convey the depth and feeling of this most cosmopolitan of Renaissance cities. There is a wealth of period art and architecture to draw from in creating textures and designing the buildings and streets of the city. References also exist as to the clothing styles that are appropriate to persons of different rank, sex and status, and these should be consulted and used. In those areas where full freedom of motion is present, the world should be rendered in full color, as appropriate to the hour of the day (or night) and the setting in question. If full freedom of motion is not present, a sepia-tone line-drawing type of rendering may be used that maintains the level of visual detail while providing a stark contrast to the colorized areas. This separation will preserve the richness of the environmental experience, while channeling game play into progressive arenas.

Venice in 1500. Click for a larger version.

Music And Sound Guidelines:
A rich, renaissance city of music, Venice lived in sound as much as in vision. There are many individual artists throughout the city who play instruments to make a living. The gondoliers were known for singing, and the church bells could be heard at any hour tolling in different voices from different directions. The water laps in the canals as the tides fluctuate, and foremost, there is the sound of life. Venice is a dense city, full of people going about their lives. Ambient sounds should be prevalent, indicating this chaotic richness. Sound will also form a fundamental basis for playing the game, as the player overhears snatches of conversation, or listens for the direction of approaching footsteps so that they know which way to flee to save their life. Music in the game should take whatever form is appropriate for sustaining mood, and can be modern. Ideally, the music will flow in and out through the ambients, so that the presence or lack of music becomes a subtle effect. In those instances where the player is near a local musician or group of musicians, the background music should fall to ambients, allowing the period instruments to be heard.

Script Guidelines:
As Venice: 1499 is an adventure game founded in the precepts of social interaction, it becomes necessary that a script be created for the different things that characters within the game might say to the player, or to one another. These lines of script should have appropriately recorded vocal talent that conveys character and mood. Script must be determined for the various states that each game character might find themselves in, both in terms of their own location, goals, and emotional state, as well as taking into account the state of the player and the player's responses to them. There will end up being a large body of script per character, however, the generation of this script can be easily segmented for production purposes.

Game Competitors:
This game is definitively an adventure game, however there are no close competitors to it. Other adventure games offer a series of linear puzzles in a fairly open environment that may be explored. None have the full freedom of movement or the type of independent characters in Venice. These elements and the real-time unfolding of the story create an entirely new category of nonlinear adventure, one in which both the player's direct actions and the actions of the simulated characters of Venice cause the story to flow through many possible channels to completion.



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