We visited the Utrecht University Museum to research 19th century science and medicine for Book III & IV! It was very informative as well as a little creepy.

Not pictured: horrid looking medical tools used on actual people. We’re very glad we don’t live in that time period…

VALUE Streaming the Past is now LIVE on TWITCH!

Join us and VALUE for a Live let’s play of Herald’s demo and Sid Meier’s Colonization with a discussion about the history of colonialism and how it is presented in both games. Our creative director Bart Heijltjes and our writer Roy van der Schilden will be present to discuss this topic!

VALUE – Streaming the Past

Tomorrow [May 16th 17:00 CEST] will be a Live let’s play of Herald’s demo and Sid Meier’s Colonization with a discussion about the history of colonialism and how it is presented in both games. Our Creative Director Bart Heijltjes will be present to discuss this topic.

Attend and join the discussion

The VALUEproject is an academic research group exploring the intersections of archaeology and videogames. Their goal is to raise academic awareness for the importance of this new field and to showcase research possibilities.

The Journey: A Herald Story Blog (2)

Previous parts: Part 1

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Hello, it’s me again, Roy van der Schilden, writer and narrative designer for Herald. In the previous blog I explained how I got stuck writing the narrative for Herald. When this happened, I knew that I needed more inspiration to be able to continue. After talking with family and friends about the topic of colonialism, I figured that as a Dutchman, I might have always had a somewhat limited view of the subject to begin with. The Netherlands has a long history of empire building and colonization, so perhaps the narrative told here is a bit one-sided.

As much as I love reading historical novels, the popular material I’ve read is all written from a western perspective. For example, one of my major inspirations is Max Havelaar by Multatuli, but this is a story about the views of a Dutchman in the Dutch East Indies. Even when I started searching, it was hard to find anything that was not written from the colonizer’s perspective. But I was vigilant and I stumbled upon a (quite famous) novel called “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.

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The story of “Things Fall Apart” is written from the perspective of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and local wrestling champion in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia. As I read the story, I felt like it taught me more about being colonized than anything I had ever read in an actual history book. I do not know whether “Things Fall Apart” is based on factual history, but the way in which the culture of the Igbo people and the colonization of their land is described by Chinua, inspired me to continue writing in an entirely different way.

The story of Okonkwo, just as the story of Max Havelaar, is very personal. The people described in these novels all feel very real and the actual history is often just a backdrop. As I said in my first blog, Downton Abbey brought me back on track, but I now knew what it was that I felt was missing from our story so far: A timeless personal narrative.

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What Downton Abbey does very well is that it tells a 21st century story in an early-20th century setting. While the sets and clothes are all meticulously era-appropriate, the characters and their motivations are a lot less ruthless than their real-life counterparts whom we know about. But for the story and its message, this is hardly a problem.

Just like Downton Abbey, Herald itself is not an entirely accurate historical account of 19th century history, but it doesn’t really have to be. To better support the underlying ideas and message of Herald, we decided to set it in an alternate history. This world is tailored to convey a message about our current situation, while using the look and feel of a period drama. I’ve still incorporated many historical events into the story of Herald, but as inspiration rather than as fact.

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Herald is, after all, a story about people (then and now), not a history lesson. After this personal revelation I was up for the next big challenge; to find Devan Rensburg and his personal drama. To do so I spoke to people from many different cultural backgrounds, all of them had fascinating stories to tell, but a few really stuck with me. More about this, next time.

Part 3

The Journey: A Herald Story Blog

Hello, I am Roy van der Schilden, lead-writer for Herald. This week, and the next, I would like to give you some insights into the development of the story for Herald in a four-part blog series titled: “The Journey.” I will explain how we got the inspiration for an Interactive Period Drama with an alternate-history setting. Rest assured that none of these blogs will contain any major spoilers, but they will provide an in-depth look at our development process.

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When we started this project we knew one thing for certain; we were going to make a story-driven video game with moral choices that would challenge the player to think about their position in society. At the same time we wanted to use our knowledge of dramaturgy to make a game that resonated with a broad audience and felt distinctly different in tone than most other story-driven games on the market today. No zombies, no werewolves, no fairies or wizards, but a setting that could actually take place according to the laws of nature in our world. This didn’t mean it couldn’t contain fantastical elements, as long as those elements had a grounded reason within our physical reality. (like, for example, a psychosis or a very advanced technology) 

Of course, when you start a new project, you never know where the journey will eventually take you, hence the title of this blog series.

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In the very beginning, there were actually three ideas for a setting of a new game. Two of which I am not going to elaborate on, but the third one stemmed from the fascination of Bart, our creative director, with the changing times of the 19th century. As he explained, the people of the 19th century western world, just as most people today, witnessed great technological advancements in everyday life. While most viewed this as an exciting era of change, there were almost as many people who feared the industrialization of society would lead to its ultimate downfall. During the 19th century, warfare gradually changed with the introduction of ‘total war’; the complete mobilization of society for national warfare, culminating in the horrors of the first World War in the early 20th century. So the people of the 19th century were perhaps correct to be skeptical of the mechanization of their world. As the technology advanced, human feats became greater, for better and for worse.

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To inspire ourselves, all of our core-team members created something unique for this setting to narrow down the subject of  “change during the 19th century” to something more concrete. As the writer for this project I created a short piece of dialogue that was inspired by Multatuli’s Max Havelaar, a famous Dutch work published in the 1860’s about the terrible mismanagement of the colonial Dutch East Indies. Max Havelaar’s story was crucial in our inspiration for the game, as the theme of colonialism later became an important part of Herald’s story.

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So eventually we had “change during the 19th century” as a theme and “19th century colonialism” as a subject. What followed was a game concept where you boarded a ship and visited several colonies. A story started to develop around a great tea clipper taking an inspector of the realm from colony to colony, to observe the current affairs of the failing colonial governments. As much as I liked the idea, it eventually proved to be a bit cold. The inspector was a somewhat bland character and a true personal dilemma was hard to find, and even harder to tie into your actions in the game.

Going back to the drawing board, we struggled to find what the core experience of our game would be. It needed to be personal, yet universal. It needed a strong message, but with room for interpretation and reflection. We had so many contradicting values that, for a time, I didn’t really know where to go with the story. 

Soon after that, Bart and I rediscovered Downton Abbey, a series that we had first watched while on a skiing trip with Bart’s parents. At the time, I didn’t expect this series to inspire us to create the game we are making today, but it did. More about that next time.

Part 2, Part 3