Nightingale Q&A – Ex BioWare GM Explains Game’s Transition from Online RPG to Survival
When BioWare General Manager Aaryn Flynn left the company in July 2017, it didn't take long for him to resurface as the head of a brand new development studio at Improbable. The company known for the SpatialOS cloud distributed technology had realized they could use the creative expertise of veteran developers to showcase their tech and Flynn certainly fit the bill.
Having worked at BioWare for nearly twenty years, he is credited for contributing to acclaimed games like Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, and Mass Effect 2.
Those titles had one thing in common: they were all roleplaying games. That's why we were far from surprised when we learned that Flynn would be doing an RPG once again, albeit one focused on multiplayer. Just before the pandemic, our Canadian editor Nathan Birch even got to sit down with the man himself at the Reboot Develop Red conference in Banff, Alberta. During one talk there, Flynn had namedropped Neverwinter Nights as a design inspiration, and that certainly got us interested.
Fast forward to late 2021, though, and the game's unveiling at the latest Game Awards event turned out quite differently. Titled Nightingale, the game turned heads thanks to the unique blend of Victorian gaslamp setting and Fae-based fantasy elements, but it's now classified as a shared-world survival crafting game rather than a roleplaying game. Players find themselves stranded away from the human world and are tasked to survive and travel through a series of realms connected via magic portals as they search for the last bastion of mankind, the fabled city of Nightingale.
We had the chance to interview Aaryn Flynn to discuss the project's shift and its many intriguing features. As a reminder, pre-release testing for Nightingale begins later this year on PC, and you could register on the official website.
When we last heard of your project, you mentioned it would be an online RPG with some inspiration from Neverwinter Nights. To be honest, Nightingale seems a big departure from that, at least at first glance. Why did you operate this shift? Is there anything left from the original pitch, in terms of RPG elements specifically, like levels or anything of the sort?
That’s a good question. It isn’t a case of where we started working on one thing and then scrapped it to start on something else. It was down to the process of iteration and evolution as we honed in on aspects of gameplay, shaped the world, and expanded the team with new members adding their own ideas to the mix. As we latched onto different concepts and mechanics, we found that the experience was pushing us more into the direction of the survival genre, and so we embraced that and started to focus our efforts into doing something unique within that space. There will be RPG-like elements in the game, and there will certainly be other gameplay aspects that will be familiar to other genres and projects that the team has worked on in the past.
The announcement also doesn't mention SpatialOS anymore. Instead, it says you'll be using the so-called IMS tools. Can you be a bit more specific on those?
One of the great benefits of being part of Improbable has been the ability to leverage the tools and expertise of developers and engineers from across the world. With IMS in particular, this is an expanded suite of tools that Improbable offers, which includes networking and other backend solutions, among other services. We’ll be able to go into more detail about exactly what that means for Nightingale in the future as we talk more about connectivity and multiplayer.
The press release hints at direct support coming from Tencent. Did Inflexion receive a separate investment from the Chinese company?
All I can say right now is that we’re incredibly fortunate to have the proud support of Tencent on this project.
Nightingale is officially labeled as a shared world survival crafting game. Let's try to break down exactly what that means. For example, will you have to manually join a server from a list or will the process be seamless? How many concurrent players can be on the same server? Are there going to be private servers at some point?
A lot of those details we’ll be talking about in the future but what I will say is that we have a mantra at the studio, which is ‘a million realms, one universe’. What we mean by that is that we always want to give players the sense that they’re connected to one another. That the world exists beyond their experience within it. When Nightingale begins, survivors of the cataclysmic event have been scattered across the realms, and so we want to represent that through unifying the community in a way that feels present and meaningful to the player. Part of that is players intersecting with one another as they traverse the realms.
Moving on to the survival aspect, can you give us some examples of these elements in Nightingale? Will players be required to eat, drink, sleep, etc.?
We’ll be going into more depth around the gameplay systems in the future, but players can expect a good grounding of survival elements within Nightingale. We want to put our own stamp on them, but players expect a certain palette too. What we’ve tried to do is find ways in which we can expand them, or refine them in ways that make it unique to the Nightingale experience.
There's no shortage of crafting-focused games lately. How do you plan to make yours stand out from the crowd?
That’s a difficult question in some ways because we don’t spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to other titles, or looking at a game and thinking to ourselves ‘Let’s do that but better’. I love crafting games, and there are times when you’re hit with some great feature or idea and that will spark a little inspiration. But to go back to your original point about what makes us stand out, you know, I could provide you a list of things that I think achieve that, but so much of it is down to the individual and the ways in which they interact with the world. What’s important is that we create a backdrop that offers an abundance of choice as well as tools, to be able to embark on an adventure that feels unique to the individual.
For those who aren't that much into crafting, will there be other options to gather materials and loot, such as adventuring in content like dungeons, in Nightingale?
There will be quests in the game. There are NPCs that you’ll be able to interact with that will offer you quests and you’ll be able to gather materials and other things by completing those. The size and scope of those quests we’ll be talking about later but as you can see in the trailer, there will be some definite challenges that may require you to team up with other players to overcome.
You've said that Nightingale is focused on exploration and players will be exploring a lot of different realms. How big are these realms? Did you use procedural generation in any way while building them?
There are still parts of the realms and our technology that we’re developing, so we aren’t able to confirm exact sizes or be specific here. However, one of the things that I feel really differentiates Nightingale is the diversity of worlds that players have to explore. Rather than a singular map, players have access to a multitude of realms, each with their own look and feel, creatures and challenges. That’s really exciting from a development perspective, as we can constantly find new ways to surprise and challenge players.
One of the features we've already seen is the players' ability to choose how to deal with the giant, for example. Are there going to be any specific karma-like bonus or malus side effects to choosing one way or the other?
It starts with offering that choice to players. From there, choices are only meaningful if they have consequences. How those consequences play out depends, but we’ll have more to share on that in the future.
The trailer seemed to feature a prevalence of ranged combat. Will it be equally possible to specialize in melee combat? Do you plan to make it easy or hard to 'respec' your character?
Definitely. We want players to choose what works for them, based on advantages, disadvantages, and individual playstyles. We serve up the options and let players choose. That is so important to the survival genre.
Do you intend to add a main quest of sorts for whenever Nightingale gets out of early access?
We do have the main goal for players, which is to navigate the realms and find a way back to Nightingale City. Within that, there will be specific quests and interactions that will further that journey. But this isn’t an RPG, so it would be wrong to think along those lines when picturing that.
The Victorian and Fae-inspired gaslamp fantasy setting certainly appears to have struck a chord with most gamers. Why do you think it's not that widespread in videogames so far?
That’s a good question. It’s hard to say why it hasn’t been widely seen in games to date. For us, the setting came from a place of trying to ground our fantasy in something more familiar and contemporary - a little more tangible to other settings. I’ve worked on high fantasy and sci-fi franchises, as have other members of the team, so it was also an opportunity to think about a new type of fantasy universe to explore. Worldbuilding is so important to who we are as a team, and we felt that this gaslamp, alt-Victorian setting held a lot of richness and depth that we found really inspiring and invigorating to jump into. At the same time, we don’t want to offer a “Victorian-era simulator” - something that brings along the trappings of the Victorian era. We take inspiration from the setting and use it to create our own thing.
One of the big questions I've personally had since the reveal is, what happens when humanity does manage to get back to the titular magic city? Is that supposed to be the end of the adventure or a turning point instead?
We have a very intentional tease of the city within the trailer. It’s a physical place that players will be able to reach at some point on their journey. I can confirm that reaching the city won’t be the end of the game - another developer I used to work with would call this “the complication” - and there will be things and people to interact with once you reach the destination.
Will the game be ported to consoles eventually? If so, do you plan to add cross-platform functionality once that happens?
We’re not really thinking about that right now. We’re concentrating on making the game great for our PC early access later in the year.
Some in-development games are being upgraded to Unreal Engine 5. Did you evaluate such an opportunity for Nightingale?
We’re always excited to see evolving technologies and tools, as well as ways in which other developers utilise them to push boundaries in game design. When the time is right for our game and team, we’ll take a good, serious look at UE5.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about Inflexion Games and Nightingale?
It’s a huge relief to have the game out there and very gratifying to hear the response from gamers. We’re a new studio still finding our way and learning about ourselves, but we’re very fortunate to be in the situation we’re in. I hope we can live up to the expectations!
Thank you for your time.