“And that there, is the Rani. She’s asking you all these questions about this ship you sailed on.”

That’s right, parents – you can just drop off your kids at our booth, and we’ll provide them with a live translation and interpretation of this game about colonialism, racism and identity. Easy peasy.

“And so, this sailor … is angry, because … the captain … doesn’t treat him like other sailors … because … well … he has a different skin colour and all that … but then … you, Devan, can say you don’t think it is because of that, because … ugh… the sailor … he does things that aren’t allowed … and … well, that could be the reason too.” See, easy peasy!

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 (3)

Previous parts: Part 1, Part 2 

While doing research for Herald I spoke to many people about the themes and subject of the story. A friend of mine was doing a project together with documentary maker Sunny Bergman about white privilege in the Netherlands. While this wasn’t exactly the theme of Herald it did have some clear connections with my own research. So I was invited to attend a “Salon”; an open discussion night about the subject where we could talk freely and learn about each others ideas and opinions. Sunny did a couple of these as research for her documentary “Our Colonial Hangover”, which mainly focuses on the much debated traditional Dutch figure of Black Pete.

The night itself was enjoyable enough, but the feeling I got from most of the discussion bothered me. Most of the guests were in disbelief about the level of ignorance of the Dutch people regarding white privilege. Some told stories that opened my eyes about a few strange issues our society still has, like Black Pete and the lack of diversity in the media. Others had more personal stories that, for me, didn’t seem to be a problem with society in general but more with the people involved. But what mainly bothered me was the pent up anger I felt with some of the attendants. What had actually happened to them to feel so disappointed and angry with the way some things are? Surely, the modern version of Black Pete as a jester can’t be that bad, can it?

It was clear to me that the frustration and anger over racism and white privilege goes a lot further than outdated traditions. As Sunny’s documentary showed, it is almost impossible for any human to be completely unprejudiced, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the people who stand out most for being different pull on the short end of the stick. Traditions like Black Pete confirm black people’s position as a minority of Dutch society with a troubled past. By re-branding a nasty part of their history as some kind of joke we aggravated those people that valued the truth behind the character and its origins.
What makes it even worse for me is that the annual Keti Koti festival, the celebration of the abolishment of slavery in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles, is not at all known by many people outside of the black community. None of my family members ever heard of it, not a single one.

When I left Amsterdam the morning after the salon, I thought about the discussions of the night before and my own place in Dutch society. I know that it was difficult for me to adjust to the idea of being gay and having a future with a man. I wanted what my parents had for a long time and felt like I could not live up to the standards of “normal people”, whatever those are. While I won’t say that this is the case for all minorities, I do believe that a lack of identification with a mainstream identity can lead to frustration with the environment you live in.

As a writer and storyteller, I believe that being content with your personal narrative, the story of your own identity, is very important to your self worth. And if we keep celebrating the lives of famous Dutchmen of the Golden Age, why can’t we celebrate the lives of all those freed slaves on July 1st?

In my discussions with Bart the next couple of days, I discovered a pattern that would ultimately lead to Devan Rensburg’s story. It seemed that national identity and personal identity are very much linked to one another. I wanted to do something with this, so Devan became a man stuck between two worlds, born in an eastern colony but raised in a dominant western empire: the Protectorate. Yearning to find his roots and uncover his lost past, he would sail back to his country of birth in search of his origins. 

I liked the idea. It had a strong personal motivation for the main character to go on a quest, and the theme of 19th century colonialism was a perfect fit for his story. I knew I wasn’t finished interviewing yet, I had barely scratched the surface of this topic, so I went out looking for people who were in the same position as Devan Rensburg: Caught in between worlds. More on this, next time.

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