From Skyrim to Secret World: The Hidden Origins of The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes

From Skyrim to Secret World: The Hidden Origins of The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes

The most often mentioned and visually prominent inspiration for The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes is, of course, Baldur’s Gate, a fact I’ve never denied and have mentioned myself several times. But beneath the Infinity Engine of a surface, there are other less obvious sources of inspiration, namely because these games did not affect Book of Heroes with what they did, rather than with what they did not do or have. 

I bought Skyrim from Steam pretty much right after it was published. I had played a few hours of Oblivion but was put off by the disparity between its promised freedom and the reality of available actions. The game gave off an illusion of “complete freedom”, but more often than not failed to offer the most sensible option (something commonly referred to as ludo-narrative dissonance). Skyrim seemed to fare a bit better on that front but was unable to deliver on another central promise: deciding your own destiny. You could, in theory, trot your very own path through the vast game world, but had no way of communicating your goals to the game, which would only react to your actions in regards to the main storyline, everything else feeling little more than a facade. I wanted a game where, instead of or in addition to the main story, the player could have their own story the game would mechanically recognise.

The first concept art for the game

A few months later, in the summer of 2012, I started playing The Secret World. I’ve never been a big MMO player, mostly due to the online games not having features I was interested in, but being a fan of The Dreamfall series I had pre-ordered the game and played in the beta weekends. There was a lot to like in The Secret World: the story and puzzles delivered as promised, but the clunky engine was clearly not meant for a game such as this, and the combat was bland and often just got in the way of the actually enjoyable parts of the game. While I don’t roleplay in MMOs myself, I prefer to play on the roleplaying servers and did so in the Secret World. I observed people roleplaying elaborate backstories with the game again being utterly oblivious to such actions. I thought it should not be overly hard to provide the player background options for their character that the game could recognise both storywise and mechanically.

The mockup used in the first pitch materials

These two realisations lead me to start designing a concept for a new kind of roleplaying game, but for a long time that remained as a text file with a small number of bullet points. At the same time, I had a small multiplayer co-op prototype that began as a cyberpunk infiltration game, morphed later into a mystery-laden word game and ultimately into a more traditional fantasy roguelike. Like the concept, the prototype lied dormant, biding its time.

Fast forward to late 2016 when the foundations for the company that became Random Potion were being laid. I was working as a freelancer at the time. I wanted to get more experience on multiplayer to broaden my skill set, so I had recently dug up both the multiplayer prototype and the roleplaying game concept when a friend asked if I could come and talk about something in a local IGDA night. I threw together a small presentation with Tuomas, who ended up working at Random Potion for a time, and was blown away by the excited reactions to the concept. We quickly decided on the newly resurrected concept for the first game of the nascent company. It was only at this point when the Baldur’s Gate style visuals and gameplay were integrated into the design.

The first mockup with an actual in-engine screenshot

It’s now almost three and a half years since we started working on the game that became The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes and less than a month until it comes out. Exciting times! The revelations I had with Skyrim and The Secret World are now in the game as Personal Storylines and Backgrounds, both of which you choose during the character creation. Both of the systems could certainly be expanded upon, but even as they are they should help bring the game closer to a tabletop experience and help pave the way for a new kind play for digital roleplaying games.

The game will be out on 9th of June on Steam!

I hope you have fun with the Book of Heroes!

– Arto Koistinen / Lead Designer of The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes.