The title of this post is a ridiculous question to me. At the very least it should be a ridiculous question to any game designer, but I also think it should be a ridiculous question to any gamer. It appears the latter is not the case, because its a question I’ve gotten more than a few times when I try to describe what this game is to people. I suppose it makes sense, because games wherein you control a single avatar tend to be about killing enemies in one way or another, and people may not have considered how very specific that paradigm is.
I’m not saying there isn’t innovation left to be done inside that box, or that I think people should stop making these kinds of games. Combat is human, and its an engaging subject to make games about. But there are other aspects to humanity that we can explore through games. I have nothing against dude-killing games, but I do think its odd how many game designers seem to only think inside of that particular box. There are certainly many genres that typically don’t involve combat, but when I describe Eastshade as a single-player, first-person, open-world game, people usually think Role Playing Game. And everyone knows that the particular role you play in a Role Playing Game is the role of a hero. And everyone knows that heroes live primarily in worlds where 90% of the population are wandering bandits waiting to be killed.
So the question “If there is no combat how will the game be interesting?” makes the same amount of sense to me inverted: “If all you do is kill dudes how will the game be interesting?” To a person who’s played mountains of games wherein you spend most of your time killing dudes, the latter seems like a ridiculous question. When you strip away the weird box thinking part about dude-killing, the question becomes “What will make the game interesting?” which is basically asking “Will the game be good?”.
So will Eastshade be any good? The game has changed a lot from what I initially set out to make. There used to be survival mechanics, which gave people something to grab onto when trying to understand what the game is (courtesy of Minecraft). Those mechanics are gone now. So what’s left? If I said its like a first-person, open-world adventure game it wouldn’t be totally off the mark. But the state of a traditional adventure game’s world is completely dependent on the player’s state through the game. The guard won’t move from the door until you do some absurd chain of lock and key puzzles to make it happen. Eastshade goes on without you, and the feedback from the world is more systemic, predictable, and granular.
What if I put it to you like this: Eastshade is not a game that you play, but rather a place that you go. There are daily solar and lunar eclipses, the conifers are purple, much of the architecture is spherical, and the people look like monkeys. Stuff happens. Do you want to visit?