“How would syndicates abuse their power without the oversight of a government?” asks Hannah Williams, one half of Seattle-based Whalenought Studios. That’s one of the many questions that Copper Dreams, the studio’s second RPG, looks to answer.
While RPGs are often set in vast fantasy worlds, Copper Dreams‘ cyberpunk world takes place on an isolated island called Calitana. It’s a place where the uncivilized aspects of humanity can be drawn out, where food is scarce but copper is cheap, resulting in an economy based on the metal, and a culture obsessed with technological body alterations. “We thought it would be interesting to explore what happens if the citizens of that prosperous world are given a one-way ticket to a secluded frontier planet, then more or less abandoned for several decades,” Williams said.
Inspiration for the island setting of Calitana has come from many places, but two films had the biggest impact on its design. Hannah said that Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) was an influence due to how it managed to turn “paperwork into a weapon,” and create situations that were both frightening and humorous. The John Carpenter-directed Escape from New York (1981) is the other main drawing point as it presents the “grit and despair of an isolated area” that Whalenought envisioned for Calitana.
This isn’t the first time that Escape from New York has influenced videogames. For instance, it was one of the biggest inspirations behind Konami’s landmark MSX stealth title Metal Gear (1987). And, just like Hideo Kojima’s signature work, Copper Dreams will require players to use stealth to outsmart their opposition. “[Stealth is] crucial in a dystopian world where technology has enabled those in power to create a surveillance state to make sure no one is threatening their interests,” Williams explained. “Shooting out cameras, taking down bots, and turning off the electric grid are critical skills to outmaneuvering the eyes that are always watching.”
While Copper Dreams’ stealth is largely a byproduct of the game’s dystopian setting, it’s not the only aspect that has been designed around it. Role-playing norms such as standalone weapons and character classes are all but gone here. “[It’s] not unlike going to a tattoo parlor, but certainly a little more painful,” joked Williams, who explained that players will be able to visit cybernetic artists who will modify their bodies with a wide variety of weaponry and armor. “You’ll be able to rid yourself of your inferior fleshy appendages in favor of cybernetics like blade arms, a harpoon attached to your elbow, pneumatic fists that generate electricity from the force of contact, and many more.”
“It’s like Lord of the Flies, except Piggy has a chainsaw arm instead of a conch,” explains Williams. She told me that players will also be able to get enhancements that impact areas other than just combat. So, if you’re having trouble with stealth, you can get “dampening legs that allow you to jump and run with the silence and grace of a cat.” Similarly, players will be able to get plated armor grafted onto the bodies that will help shield players from damage.
Whalenought has also worked hard to make sure every conversation in the game ties back to the main story. Simply talking to a shopkeeper can teach players more about the island, and the goal is for players to unravel Calitana’s mysteries at their own pace. “There won’t be a quest log,” said Hannah. “We believe that a game is more fun and rewarding if the story and important information isn’t spoon-fed to you, but discovered with your own intellect. Nothing ruins sleuthing around an open world more than a pop up congratulating you for discovering something before you’ve realized it yourself.”