Worthplaying | ‘Broken Roads’ (ALL) Featured At PAX Online, Further Explains Moral Compass Mechanic & Changes

Born of a love for traditional computer role-playing, Broken Roads is an upcoming isometric post-apocalyptic RPG providing a rich, engaging narrative and an all-new morality system. Using fixed-camera, hand-drawn isometric props and environments, the game will allow players to experience a ravaged future in a story of survival, introspection and community as they make their way across a desolated Australia.

The game tells the story of a group of companions as they make their way across Western Australia, encountering new friends, overcoming terrible enemies, and uncovering a mystery behind ever-stranger happenings in the Never Never.

Broken Roads real-time exploration and turn-based combat is beautifully illustrated with hand-drawn artwork throughout, with the goal of offering an experience of playing in concept art – 3D characters, VFX, 2D environments and props all follow this painterly style.

The game also presents players with an original morality system: the Moral Compass. This novel design sees dialogue options and questing decisions influence, and be influenced by, a character’s philosophical leaning. Player decisions will shift a character’s philosophical leaning and alter their future choices, as well as open up Moral Traits which can help or hinder.

“We’re really happy to be among the talented crew of local game developers who are once again able to show off their titles on the international stage,” says Craig Ritchie, Game Director on Broken Roads, “and this would not be possible without the support of Creative Victoria. We were disappointed when PAX Australia was understandably cancelled earlier this year, so it’s fantastic that we’re all still able to be a part of this online event.”

“Being at PAX last year, for my first time ever, was an amazing experience,” says Tim Sunderland, Drop Bear Bytes’ Audio Lead, “and a real eye opener to the phenomenal talent Australia has to offer. It was truly inspiring.”

“Having the support from Creative Victoria both last year and now has been a crucial step in getting us to where we are,” adds Sunderland. “Being able to interact with gamers and devs alike is so important whether it’s in person or online, and finding a way to still make this happen is a positive for the whole industry and a testament to the commitment of PAX, Creative Vic and of course the gamers!”

The two-minute video for the event includes an as-of-yet unheard piece from the Broken Roads soundtrack, composed and recorded by Sunderland.

“The song in our PAX video is titled ‘Caravan’, “he says. “I wanted to write something that made the player feel safe and at home to get a bit of respite from that harsh, post-apocalyptic Australian setting. I used a lot of acoustic guitar as we often associate that with sitting around a campfire, relaxing, eating, telling stories. Then I sampled a flute I made out of bamboo and a few other natural sounds to build up a warm and cosy atmosphere blanket. Something I’d gladly have someone tell me made them fall asleep.”

The Moral Compass is Broken Roads’ unique take on morality and alignment. It allows characters’ morality to gradually shift based on the player’s actions and decisions. Pivoting around a central point, and represented by a golden arc called their ‘World View’, players are able to choose dialogue and quest options from within that golden arc.

At character creation, you will be asked a series of questions that present moral quandaries or describe situations where there is no clear right or wrong solution. How you answer these will determine your starting position on the Moral Compass.

As you go through the game, certain choices, dialogue options, quest or adventuring decisions and the like can have a moral component or relate to a particular world view (of course they don’t all, as a lot of conversations are simply conversation). These options are all located somewhere on the Moral Compass. Your character’s philosophical leaning is marked by a white dot, and there is a golden arc extending around that point, which is their World View.

Your range of possible options that you can choose from is determined by your World View. If you make a decision on the fringes of your World View, your philosophical leaning will shift slightly towards that direction. You may also find that the dot which marks your current position moves more towards the centre of the compass, widening the golden arc. Alternatively, if you make choices very close to your current philosophical leaning, the white dot will move more towards the outside of the compass, and your World View will narrow. This is intended to simulate broad-mindedness and narrow-mindedness, as you have a character who is either open to a wide range of ideas but not necessarily focused on any particular system of thought, right through to somebody who is incredibly focused and possibly rigid in their ways of thinking.

While being broad-minded opens up more options for you, it does prevent you from benefiting from particular moral traits and attitudes that are dedicated individual may be able to enjoy.

Moral traits in Broken Roads behave like unlockable skills or talents which you can have active when they are within your worldview. If you look at the moral compass you’ll see an inner darker ring, and an outer lighter ring, which marks the difference between higher-level and lower-level moral traits. Higher-level and lower-level here simply refer to if you’re focused enough to have your philosophical leaning such that you are in the lighter area of the circle.

Moral traits generally provide bonuses and penalties that range from simply unlocking more dialogue options, through to allowing the use of certain weapons, or temporarily providing extra talent points or buffs to your base attributes. Here as well we don’t want things to be too easy: many traits bring with them some kind of detriment as well, ranging from combat penalties to outright preventing choices from certain moral quadrants while active.

A Change of Quadrants

First up, we’ve decided to change one of the quadrants from ‘Existentialist’ to ‘Humanist’. This came as a result of wanting to broaden the scope of that quadrant and incorporate a wider range of options that range from human-centric concerns for the individual to the group, while still allowing for inherent meaninglessness to gel with the border of the nihilism quadrant. And hey, Existentialism Is a Humanism, if Sartre is to be believed… Thankfully, most of what the team have incorporated in the Existentialist moral quadrant to date fits into the now Humanist quadrant, but with room for more nuance on top of it.

So, why four quadrants, and what is the significance of the borders between each quadrant?

As we explained in the overview blog, we have never intended the quadrants to represent good or evil, nor be simple stand ins for these. We want the chosen quadrants to represent a makeup of a character’s attitudes, values and general outlook in dealing with the situations that may be thrown their way in a desperate and savage post-apocalyptic world. The quadrants are also intended somewhat as non-exclusionary representations of attitudes towards individual and group values, and the border between each quadrant should flow logically into the next as well.

The humanist’s moral decisions can range from what they feel if is right for the group, on the Utilitarian side, to what is best for themselves, and all other considerations be damned, on the Nihilist side. In turn, the Nihilist edge of the Machiavellian quadrant can have some choices where it’s very clear that that character truly does believe that “the ends justifies the means”, regardless of harm caused. Likewise, the Machiavellian decision points closer to the Utilitarian edge can be seen as choices which benefit the larger group (in this instance, your companions and the convoy on the whole) and their standing amongst the various factions and powers at play in the world of Broken Roads, as how you handle yourself and your group can affect the convoy’s reputation. If Machiavellian actions can be seen as those which best serve the pursuit and maintenance of power, just what the power is serving will depend on where in the quadrant an action may sit.

Moral Memory

We also wanted to be sure that the golden arc representing a character’s World View, while limiting, did not feel restrictive. What we have settled on is a means whereby every decision in a moral quadrant expands (from the centre outwards) a persisting moral ‘memory’ that allows players to then always choose options or traits that fall within that memory’s area (note: moral ‘memory’ is the working title until we land on something final), even if outside of their golden arc.

Until now, characters would need to make numerous decisions on the fringes of their world view before their golden arc swung around to another quadrant and those options then became open to them. Now, they can make ‘low level’ decisions or take less extreme dialogue choices in other quadrants – everyone can be a little bit selfish under certain circumstances, say, or it’s easy to see situations in this world where being that little bit more threatening than normal can solve an immediate problem. This allows a character to have a little of each quadrant available at all times, but the really focused choices will still need to be within the golden arc.

Thus, while the compass is 360° around, the centre to the periphery is only 100. Your moral ‘memory’ in each quadrant will fill at a slower rate (currently looking at 1 or 2 per decision) and will be capped at a maximum of 75, thus making higher-level moral traits and options only ever possible if your golden arc covers them.

The current design also has it that your character starts with each quadrant at 25, meaning basic decisions from every philosophical leaning are always available to the player. We’re testing out having higher level decisions reduce the moral memory of the opposite quadrant. For example, a decision point in Machiavellian located between 75 and 100 would reduce the moral memory of the Humanist quadrant by 1, but not below a minimum of 25 again. Staying in one quadrant will make you narrow-minded but able to use higher-level options and take advantage of higher-level moral traits, while a wider range of choices results in a more broad-minded character who may have additional options, but not able to use certain moral traits.

More to come

We’ll do more a focused look at each quadrant and their moral traits as well as the specific workings of the Moral Compass in our upcoming blogs. As development progresses and we test, build and evolve all of the above, there’s no doubt that new and interesting adventuring elements and combat effects will arise from the Moral Compass design. We’re still more than a year from launch, and with the tech built out and a huge amount of time being put into testing and tweaking now, we’ll continue to iterate and improve as we go!

Drop Bear Bytes is comprised of industry veterans and talented newcomers, with alums from the likes of CCP Games, Riot, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and Torus Games. The environments and props are being produced by Mighty Vertex, the art studio behind the isometric graphics in Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun series of RPGs.

Broken Roads is in development for PC, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One, scheduled for release in Q4 2021.

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