ADOM was the first major roguelike game to put a focus on the actual story. It (after the very first release) went farther and farther beyond the classical theme of “crawl into the depths of a dungeon to fulfill some quest and loot your heart out” (although the very first version was just that). A surface world was added shortly after and populated with settlements across the map. Various in-game characters became part of the story, sometimes with agendas of their own. Additionally more and more secrets and arcane background lore was added to ADOM. All in all it’s still much less than what you will find in games like Skyrim – but that’s at least partially intentional.
What we found is that this kind of “light” level of story depth actually adds a lot to the immersive experience of roguelike players… they are very well accustomed to using their own imagination to breath life into colored letters – so much more do they identify with and elaborate on story parts exposed to them. And for me as the author and designer of the game it is an extremely fulfilling experience to receive questions about the background, suggestions for new details and so on.
But finding the right kind of balance is not trivial.
ADOM as a roguelike game provides lots of procedurally (randomly) generated content – maps, parts of quests, treasures, bosses and so on. Tying this into a very detailed and intricate story either would limit the bounds of procedural generation (because too many things would be defined in a hard way by the actual story) or might cause excessive logic problems because the details of the story don’t mesh well with the randomly generated content. While there are attempts at generating procedural stories, most such attempts either are very limited in scope or do not produce texts (the main way to tell stories in a roguelike as dynamic graphic & scene generation – besides being an extremely complex topic in itself – do not fit into the sparse budgets of most roguelike developers).
Some games circumvent this by generating history for in-game monsters, items and places (e.g. Caves of Qud or Dwarf Fortress). While I find this very flavorful I personally always shied away from this as in many cases (e.g. Dwarf Fortress) I feel overwhelmed by the amount of lore without any or very little impact on actual gameplay. So the idea of having lots of procedurally generated lore in a game is fine for me but I find that from a pure game-play perspective it doesn’t add too much to my style of playing, because I want to start playing and not sifting through a novel to see if there is anything relevant to the game I want to start.
A lean approach to this can be interesting as far as I am concerned (by e.g. providing procedurally generated rumors or story tidbits that hint at procedurally generated locations which in turn might harbor procedurally generated treasures and/or enemies). But because I like my games to always be random (and thus seed-based games that reproduce the same background) I do not want to be buried under mountains of inconsequential (and often word-wise repetitive) lore.
For ADOM II, which is no longer in development (just putting the rumours to rest here) I started experimenting with the ideas of randomly combining disjoined story lines at certain interaction points (read about the legend of Fnuk, king of all orcs, as a sample for this). For Ultimate ADOM we will reprise this idea and strengthen it by adding powerful factions to the game to which the player character can either swear allegiance to, or not. Factions represent forces of Order, Balance and Chaos, though even those nominally on the same side will pursue their own agenda. Being faithful to the tenets and goals of a faction will carry advantages while opposing them actively might incur their wrath and enmity. For clever players, there might be opportunities to play one faction against another.
In Ultimate ADOM: Caverns of Chaos there are a number of factions available, some of which we already introduced:
- Andor Drakon, Lord of Chaos
- Rolf, last Dwarven Emperor
- Brannalbin, mysterious master of magic
- Gilah Nan’Dramoth, enigmatic and shifty mercenary
These factions (or their representatives) will also venture through the Caverns of Chaos, working on their own goals. You might encounter emissaries, thwart their machinations and thus immerse yourself into the political power struggle in Ultimate ADOM’s Ancardia. During character generation you may choose to work for or join one of these factions. This will provide your character with initial benefits and interesting, faction-related situations during your quest. What these are, you will have to find out for yourself.
To keep the rich lore of Ancardia, collected by our trusted community in an amazingly detailed wiki, Ultimate ADOM: Caverns of Chaos begins where the original ADOM left of. The war between Order and Chaos has resulted in a cataclysmic event. An unknown champion has descended into the depths below the Drakalor Chain and defeated Andor Drakon, or so the Church of Light claims. In truth, the battle resulted in seemingly mutual destruction in which reality was rent asunder and rebuilt from fragments. What happened to the essence of Andor Drakon and the unnamed champion is not known to the player at the beginning of the game, though different factions claim to know very different things.
Rather than hunting for a villain and try to kill him, your character will have his, her or their own agenda which may match that of their faction. For example, the few remaining followers of Andor Drakon claim HiS essence survived and is located in the depths of the Caverns and task you with reclaiming it, so hE might be returned to glory.
If they cannot bribe you to perform that task, they might try to perform this task themselves, and if you are too slow to prevent them from rescuing the essence and using it to resurrect their Chaos deity, you might be in for a fight you beyond your abilities.
While doing so, you may become entangled in Rolf’s war against Chaos. He is determined to bring Order back to Ancardia, but for Rolf this means establishing the Dwarves as the ruling race, which is a goal that might not mesh with the player character’s agenda.
Then there are faction leaders like Gilah, who may fight for fun, for money or for revenge, depending on her current mood. Or the mighty archmage Brannalbin, who cares nothing for the struggle between Order and Chaos but only for magical power and knowledge. Strengthening one faction might weaken another and alter not only the course of history but also the course of the game.
Still all this is going to work on the level of the “Fnuk” storyline linked to above: We won’t create overly intricated storylines but a bundle of variant stories for each faction which will have certain points in time where they interact or overlap with others, potentially altering the way your quest progresses.
From my point of view this is exceedingly appropriate for a procedurally generated game story and hopefully will hit the right mix between detail and “open world”. Some of the best stories in ADOM were created by having players connect previously unconnected dots… this is what we aim for. Your character will define their own story, we just provide the framework and opportunities to do so.