Ah, there it is again! The attempt to understand a game concept immediately by assigning a genre label to it. And while I totally understand the benefits of categorizing games in genres, it puts you in quite some trouble when YOUR game doesn't really fit into the established set of genres. Which is the case with Black Falls. So, to answer the genre question, I will start by explaining what it is not.
While Black Falls has a lot of branching dialogues, some kind of quest system and an emphasis on character relationships it's certainly no traditional RPG. There is no character creation, no leveling or skill-tree and there is no combat at all. Still, the sections in Mass Effect in which you're walking around the Normandy or the Citadel talking to people, learning who they really are and trying to gain sympathy with the ones you like - this is what Black Falls is about (by the way: it's not just Mass Effect, nearly all BioWare games have sections like that). Another important trait Black Falls shares with most RPGs is the freedom of choice. It's up to you where to go next, with whom you're going to talk and whom you're going to help. The avatar is completely under your control and you decide what kind of person you want him to be. So, if taken literally there is certainly a lot of role-playing in Black Falls. But the term is so much coined by its pen & paper ancestors, where combat is an essential part of the experience, that it would raise wrong expectations to call Black Falls an RPG.
The genre most people associate with Black Falls - when they just see our graphics - is the classical point & click adventure. I can see why people have this association as most 2D games without combat and a focus on story are point & click adventures, but despite the look and its story focus Black Falls has not much in common with typical adventures. The main reason is that people usually expect a point & click adventure to have puzzles of some kind and there are no puzzles in Black Falls. As a player you are not searching every inch of the screen for items and there are no "right" or "wrong" answers when talking to NPCs. And while many point & click adventures feature branching dialogues, they rarely offer choices that affect the story. So again, this genre label would lead to wrong assumptions.
"Alright, now I gotcha! It's something like the Telltale games!"
And again, you're right and wrong. Just like Walking Dead and other Telltale games Black Falls will be released episodically and will offer a story-driven experience with an emphasis on player choices. But besides that there are a lot of differences. Telltale for example relies heavily on quick-time events (QTEs): To slay zombies, open doors and basically everything else. They do this, because it fits their cinematic style with carefully scripted camera movements etc. For Black Falls we intentionally focus less on an action-packed presentation (no button smashing), but much more on relevant story choices. We chose this different mode of presentation, because offering choices with long-term consequences is extremely difficult and incredibly expensive, if every scene comes with dozens of perfectly timed camera sequences, facial expressions and QTEs.
"No combat, no puzzles and no quick-time events - what the hell am I doing then?"
Well, most of the time you are talking to your fellow colonists. That's why we like to call Black Falls a dialogue-driven game. But just because there is no physical combat, doesn't mean there is no conflict. You are in charge of leading a bunch of very different individuals on an unexplored planet far away from civilization. All characters have their own opinions they want to be heard, their own goals they try to achieve and their own fears they have to fight against. A perfect recipe for a lot of trouble and it's up to you to deal with it.
Words are your weapon. And time is your enemy. You always have to choose: Which places of the colony you want to visit? With whom you want to talk and whom you want to do a favor? You could talk with Kaelyn for over an hour, learning a ton of details about her and intensifying your relationship - but maybe you should have spent some minutes with Tanner, so he could have warned you about Aidan plotting his revenge. Figuratively speaking, the characters are the puzzles in Black Falls. Learning what makes them tick shall be challenge and motivation in itself.
"Ok, but is this even a game?"
Well, what makes a game a game? For us Sid Meier hit the nail on the head with his famous definition: "A game is a series of interesting choices". And that's exactly what we're aiming for: Lots and lots of choices, which hopefully a lot of people find interesting regardless whether it's called an adventure, role-playing game or anything else.
Posted in Game Design