PREVIEW+INTERVIEW: True Tales of Nocked!

Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood is a new text-based role-playing game that blends interactive fiction, resource management and base building against the backdrop of Sherwood Forest.

You are Robin of Locksley. Hounded from your home by the Sheriff of Nottingham, take control of your fate in this extravagant, illustrated role-playing game. Rob from the rich and give to the poor, cross swords with the Sheriff of Nottingham, and above all, lead Sherwood through the turning of the seasons and into a new age.

By your actions, gain gold, renown, followers, and even a measure of grace. Then spend those resources to fortify your forest home, accomplish special missions, and change the course of Sherwood’s destiny. Will you save your plundered gold to rebuild the walls of your home, or send it to the poor and dispossessed to increase your renown and attract Merry Men to your cause? And what of the rising bounty on your head?

Consider your choices carefully, for the consequences of your actions are not always readily apparent. For better or ill, in ways both small and large, you will change the course of history.

Nocked! is powered by Unmapped Path’s proprietary engine Disbound, which easily adapts Twine games into mobile apps. This exciting adventure includes:

  • 10+ hours of gameplay incorporating 400,000+ words of text and 4,500+ unique narrative actions. (That’s over four novels worth of material)
  • An enduring cast of characters both old and new, including: Maid Marian; Little John; Dame Elspeth, knight of the Shattered Round Table; and Amaranth, the fearsome Dragon of Sherwood.
  • 9 romanceable characters, including same- and opposite-sex relationships.
  • Play as either a man or woman with 5 unique backstories that change the way the world responds to your actions.
  • 4 difficulty levels. Resource management can be an afterthought or a vital element in your decision-making.
  • 3 customizable bases, each with a unique look and play style. Build your base and see it reflected in the art and story.
  • 50 different endings. See the culmination of your choices and their effect upon the world.

The evocative — and plentiful — artwork featured in Nocked! is also worthy of attention, as it adds a significant level of atmosphere and visual style to the screen. This is a game that should please fans of interactive fiction, fantasy and the legendary folk figure, and anyone desiring an adventure where story options and player decisions then lead to individual conclusions.

GameBookNews recently asked Andrew G. Schneider (Writer and Game Designer) and Amanda Spaid (Artist) to talk about their game’s development process, storyline, mechanics, presentation and other issues of interest.

Andrew Schneider:

Nocked! is almost four and a half years into development at this point, with the last year and a half spent looping in Unmapped Path, Amanda (artist), and Stephanie (our friendly graphic designer) to transform a large mess of Twine code (actually Twee, Twine’s command-line twin) into the game you see today.

I’m primarily a self-published science fiction and fantasy author, with a number of Dungeon and Dragon Magazine credits to my name. Several years ago I was knocking around the idea of writing a riff of a Robin Hood novel when my wife pointed out the benefits of doing a bit of light game writing — expand the reader base, broaden the portfolio, and all that jazz. In that vein, Nocked! was conceived as a quick, 50,000 word project (about the length of a short novel), but I quickly realized there wasn’t any way to tell the story I wanted within that otherwise reasonable word limit. Also, I wanted to get all the things I loved about digital RPGs — base building, romance, resource management, and real story consequence — and integrate that into my own game as best as possible, given the limitations of a text-based, multiple-choice interface. Over the next three years the word count grew, and I went through several different code bases and potential publishers before settling on Twine and self-publication.

Amanda Spaid:

I’ve worked with Andrew on a few projects in the past, but nothing with this sort of scope. Andrew was confident in my abilities and gave me some initial direction, but for the most part he gave me free reign on the project and the art style.

This project was a challenge in may respects. One of the more intriguing parts of the game is that Robin can be either male or female with multiple backstories — which meant that I couldn’t depict the central protagonist. Most of my work is figurative with a focus on exacting portraits of people and animals, so to do a project that was almost completely landscapes and suggestive silhouettes was a very different change of pace for me.

Andrew Schneider:

Why Robin Hood? I like to think of my writing as accessible – I want a reader to be able to pick up something of mine and immediately be able to understand and identify with some aspect of the characters or story, even as subtleties and twists reveal themselves over time. At the moment of Nocked!’s inception, there were few subjects that tickled my fancy and held broad, nigh universal appeal, than our friendly bandit, champion of the poor, and enemy of the powerful.

Within Nocked!, Robin Hood exists in something of a moral grey area. On one hand, he robs from the wealthy — honest or not — and on the other, he gives to charity. We tend to side with Robin as he strikes a blow for the common people, but consider Robin’s actions from a player perspective: do you rob the merchant just because he’s rich? Does he deserve to lose his wealth and livelihood to further your own goals for societal change? I’m happy to say that Nocked asks these types of questions every now and again, in between the buckling of swashes.

Coming from that direction to the idea of Renown: Nocked!’s abstract mechanical measurement of Robin’s notoriety with the common folk. Whether he’s robbing from an undeserving merchant, freeing a group of wrongfully imprisoned peasants, or attacking an evil noble, he’s still playing to his base and the people love him for it (much like a modern politician). There are distinct story consequences to each of those actions, but he gains Renown regardless. Mind you, your options trend towards fighting the Sheriff — this isn’t a game like Fable; you can’t go around kicking puppies or insulting villagers to show the darkness in your heart.

Similarly, the Merry Men are primarily a resource abstraction, a benchmark of progress, and an enabler of player agency. But they are also people loyal to your cause and willing to put themselves in danger for your goals; much like other resources, story actions can cause you to gain or lose men independent of assigning them to tasks. This is true for the semi-abstract crowd as it is true for your named companions such as Little John or Will Scarlet.

Your journey through Nocked! might see you end up with trolls, ogres, fairies, and even women in your retinue, but for simplicity, they are all called Merry Men. The traditional characters, from Much the Miller’s Son to Allen a Dale are all present (and independent of the Merry Men resource), but there are a few surprises, and not everyone is exactly who you’d expect — nor will you necessarily meet all of your potential allies on a single playthrough.

Amanda Spaid:

Visually, I wanted to keep the style as traditional as I could get away with and drew inspiration from various watercolour landscape artists. I tried to keep my style somewhat loose so that I wouldn’t spend hours picking out every blade of grass or rock. I also spent an inordinate amount of time picking through photographs of the British Isles and Iceland.

Oh, man, so many scrapped sketches — thankfully they’re digital. There were quite a few times when I’d give up on a particular concept and move on to something else just to take a mental break. I think we went through four or five different iterations of the Tree Base in particular before I finally hit on something that worked.

One of the most challenging parts of illustrating Nocked! was the narrow aspect ratio of the banner images. I think they’re something like 1 to 3.25. It’s difficult to convey towering trees and deep canyons when working with a document format that’s both short and long, but I hoped that I managed to convey massive scale and sweeping vistas despite these constraints.

Andrew Schneider:

The turning of the seasons in Sherwood is an important element in the game. One of the big challenges I presented to Amanda — and that I feel she excelled at solving — is depicting similar scenes over time, recognizable but different. And I won’t say the words ‘scope creep’ — but my initial estimates on the amount of art needed (some 30-odd pieces) was perhaps slightly off, and then she kept drawing and drawing and drawing… The flexibility of the digital watercolour technique was a huge boon, especially late in the development stage. I could say: I need that piece, but at night and in winter, and she would make it happen.

Returning briefly to Robin’s moral ambiguity — I’m hesitant to ascribe a good/evil axis to Robin. The choices and situations presented in Nocked! drive towards Robin’s ultimate goal: defeat the Sheriff of Nottingham. If there’s one common thread, it’s that Robin trends towards the heroic — be that hero or anti-hero; you can succeed as cutthroat Robin, forgiving Robin, or any myriad paths in between. The mechanics — such as Renown — ultimately serve the story, not the other way around.

There’s a lot about Nocked! that’s informed by my own storytelling style as a tabletop RPG player and game master (a dozen+ years of primarily D&D, with a smattering of other systems). I tried to hold myself to the standard of my favourite video games of yore — Planescape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate, the original Fallout series; and drew inspiration from the mechanics and structure of games I played during the writing process — Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the Witcher series. I also watched every Robin Hood film and TV show I could get my hands on, and tried to infuse the game with some of that brash, pulpy fun, while being cognizant that a lot of those stories are modifying the Robin Hood myth to tell their own tale; in that, Nocked! is no different.

In Nocked!, I strive to allow an opportunity for all Robins, even as players will ultimately create their own particular Robin. Nocked! is full of swordfights and archery contests, just as you’d expect. But it’s also full of fairies, and dragons, and is chock-a-block with English folklore and my own fantastical imaginings. My Robin Hood is your Robin Hood, even as your Robin Hood is unique to you. Slay the dragons, ignore the fairies, lose the archery contest, and walk off hand-in-hand with Little John; the words are mine, but the world is yours. What story will you tell?

Available on iOS for iPhone and iPad, Nocked! will be released in less than a month on July 8. You can read much more about the game at the developer’s website, where you can also view gameplay or live-action trailers explaining the types of choices to be made during Robin’s journey.

Thanks to Andrew and Amanda for providing their time and thoughts about Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood

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