Dev Diary #3 — Narrative: Story and Lore
Hi everyone and welcome to a new Dev Diary about Story and Lore!
I’m Michelle (@Michellek), a narrative designer at Triumph, and today I’d like to talk about the narrative in Age of Wonders 4. Our internal narrative team consists of me and Jakob (@eomolch). The contents of this game were created together with several external writers, including Raymond Bingham, who has played a role in the games since the beginning of Age of Wonders.
First of all, a (light) spoiler warning! We will talk about the story of Age of Wonders 4. If you want to go in blind, I suggest you stop reading here!
Narrative in Age of Wonders 4
The story and world-building have always been a pillar of the Age of Wonders games. Every game was filled with strong characters, expansive back-stories, and loads of lore to enjoy. The same counts for Age of Wonders 4, in which we use new systems to allow the player to immerse themselves in their own story as rulers and creators of their empires and people.
With each successive iteration of Age of Wonders, we have added more gameplay depth and more immersive ways for players to roleplay the ruler of a fantasy realm. This has its effect on our approach to narrative: Instead of having a fully scripted campaign story that the player follows - with perhaps a couple of branches - the in-game narrative needs ways to adapt to who the player is and their actions. Through this, we avoid narrative vs gameplay disconnects, difficulty spikes, or blocking parts of the customization/empire development possibilities.
So our goal is to create a universe rich in lore, which reacts to the player’s choices instead of a more linear traditional scripted adventure.
This requirement led us to develop a new Narrative Event System which confronts your ruler with quests, leadership dilemmas, and boons coming from your empire, the larger world, or the cosmic affinities. The system is able to render scenes with animated 3D characters and provide multiple-choice options. We’ll foreshadow this system in this journal, in Jakob will go in-depth in one of the upcoming!
This Journal will focus on the following
The premise and expansion to the Age of Wonders Universe
How lore is integrated into the game
The Story Realms in Age of Wonders 4
But first, a trip down memory lane.
Previously in Age of Wonders…
As you may remember, during Age of Wonders 3, the high elf Sundren and human Edward banded together to found the Torchbearers: an initiative to bring the people of Athla together against the Shadowborn. The Shadowborn was a conniving cult who aimed to sow dissent and destroy the Seals that protected Athla from the greater magics beyond. The Torchbearer heroes stopped a war between the kingdom of the High Elves and the Empire of the Commonwealth, but they could not stop the Shadowborn from destroying the Seals.
The Shadowborn broke the Seals on Athla, allowing ancient powers to return.
The magic that Athla had been protected from for many years, flooded back in. Elemental forces were distorted, climates changed, and the great empires of Athla fell.
Through the cataclysms, the Valley of Wonders remained.
Age of Wonders 4’s story starts here, on Athla, where we follow a mortal champion who finds themselves ascending to Godirhood. But they will quickly meet the Wizard Kings of old, who return to reclaim the lands they were banished from… And thus the Rise of the Godir, the main storyline, commences.
Wizard Kings of old return to reclaim Athla.
When Wizards like Yaka, Karissa, and Nimue left Athla to find fame and riches in the Shadow Realm, they did not expect Merlin to Seal away their only chance of returning. Stuck in a void between realms the Wizards were subjected to terrible visions and maddening voices, confronting them with their biggest fears and ambitions. The Torment of Shadows, as they called it, left them scarred and warped. Some souls who succumb to this torment are lost, forced to wander the void forever. Many dangers lay beyond Athla… yet some claimed new domains, creating their own followers and bending faraway realms to their will.
Pictured here is a Lost Mage unit, a wizard that succumbed to the torments in the Astral Sea. The breaking of seals between worlds set these monstrosities free and they can be found around places of high magical potency.
The Astral Sea
There have always been hints of worlds beyond Athla within the Age of Wonders lore. In Shadow Magic, one of these other worlds became very real, with the invasion of the Shadow Demons from the Shadow Realm. All of these worlds are connected through the Astral Sea, a vast ethereal ocean where magic ebbs and flows, influencing all worlds drifting within.
In Age of Wonders 4 the premise and structure of the game allow us to make the many unknown worlds not the distant origin of invading forces, but places to explore. You can visit the homeworld of fiends and demons, explore the origin of the elves, and of course, claim a realm for yourself. The Astral Sea is vast and filled with many wonders, creatures, and dangers. An entire universe awaits you!
The Astral Sea is filled with many wonders, creatures, and dangers.
The Godir Pantheon
Through their connection to the Astral Sea, ascended Mortal Champions and powerful Wizards alike find themselves blessed (or cursed) with unforetold powers. They are Godir, god-like beings, who can travel the worlds and can even use the forces of Creation to create their own followers.
All these Godir, regardless of their alliances or morality, are part of the grand Pantheon of the Astral Sea. The Godir of the Pantheon are quarrelsome, and alliances between them are formed and broken easily. The most outspoken alliances within the Pantheon are the lawful Covenant, which opposes the conniving Shad’rai.
Every new Ruler who leaves their mark on a realm can become a member of your Pantheon!
Welcome to Magehaven…
All Godir find themselves in Magehaven at one point or another. Magehaven is a world in the Astral Sea where the Pantheon of Godir hold its most important forum of dispute and council. It is protected by an unbreakable spell, which prevents any harm from being done to a living creature or soul. Therefore even the fiercest enemies can meet there to negotiate their conflicts. Among the many wonders of Magehaven are the World Gates, which act as magic portals through the Astral Sea and allow ambitious Godir to explore new realms.
Welcome to Magehaven!
The Astral Sea features many worlds to explore and conquer. Each world plays its bigger or smaller role in the various intertwining conflicts and stories of the Fourth Age.
The realms that play a bigger role are called Story Realms. The main game features five Story Realms at launch in a storyline called Rise of the Godir, which will let players immerse deeper into the lore and get a better understanding of the Age of Wonders Universe.
All Story Realms feature voice-acted briefing and debriefing scenes with bespoke art, and we use Narrative Events - described in more detail below - as the engine through which the story is told. And you will find that characters from the earlier games make their (in)glorious return.
All Story Realms feature voice-acted briefing and debriefing scenes.
Your adventure starts on Athla, where you will experience the return of an old threat. Only your ascendance to powers larger than life may save your people from what awaits beyond the World Gates. And even that is only the beginning, for a grand plot unfolds in Magehaven, defining the fate of all Godir within the Astral Sea.
Welcome to the Valley, o King!
The new nifty Tooltip system allows us to put in lore in any location, without breaking the gameplay flow. To differentiate lore tooltips from gameplay tooltips, they are rendered in a parchment style. Simply hover over an underlined word to learn more about the Astral Sea and the creatures within! As with regular tooltips they support nested “tooltip in tooltip” functionality.
Lore and backstories about characters, Tomes, Ancient Wonders, and other secrets of the Astral Sea can be explored in-game.
Lore can be found in-game in Events and descriptions.
A lot of our narrative efforts when making Age of Wonders 4 went into the creation of a new dynamic event system and its content. The new Narrative Events provide a framework for telling stories that emerge from the world and the actions of the player. On a structural level, they connect gameplay systems that normally may not have direct interactions, leading to interesting decisions and unique opportunities. On a narrative level, they make the worlds that the player Godir visits come alive, provide meaningful roleplaying options, and make the experience more tangible, when they zoom in on the backstory, problems, and motivations of heroes, cities, or monsters dwelling inside a dungeon.
We will look at the involved mechanics and surrounding systems of the event system more in-depth in a future dev diary, but as a glimpse at what the Narrative Events can entail we will take a brief look at the event below:
What is the price of zeal within a faith-based empire?
The above Narrative Event may be encountered by players who have erected an empire deeply entwined with the order affinity. By invoking a strong sense of faith within their population they are attracting fanatics, eager to impose harsher rules to further consolidate their vision of a perfect theocracy. – Will the player capitalize on their zeal? Or will they forego their extreme measures and protect the common people?
With the combination of rich Lore, Dynamic Narrative Events that react to your choices, and carefully scripted Story Realms, we aim to bring a more immersive experience to you than ever before!
Stay tuned for a new dev diary next week and consider adding the game to the Wishlist!