After registering in forum this topic has become one of first, I’ve read:
I disagree with OP in many aspects, but as many other readers of that thread, I liked the content of first two sentences. Well, mostly. So, I thought about getting my thoughts straight and written in separate thread.
Let’s start from the beginning. KCD is an openworld RPG game. We like such games for the element of sandbox - you get the whole world to your services soon after start, and can do whatever you want (restricted by game mechanics but hey, that’s pretty much anyway). Now and later I’m going to compare the game with Elder Scrolls series and Fallout (new ones), because that are one of few other games in pretty similar genre and gameplay concept, I had experience with.
One of main problems of sandbox RPGs is time restriction - or maybe it will be correct to say “feel of time restriction”. Usually in such games we have some main quest line to drive our character - and that is cool, until we want to dive in daily routine of wandering around the world, completing side quests, crafting and etc. Actually, noone hurries us, but it feels weird to hunt for loot and treasures, when according to main story your character has some serious (at least for himself) obligations. It wasn’t that bad in Oblivion and Skyrim, where main story stuff happened step by step and, well, from RP perspective you couldn’t do much with this (as both opening Oblivion gates and dragon attacks do not depend on protagonist actions - if we do not look into game mechanic, just analyze general ingame situation) so you could afford yourself to deviate to other activities. Fallout 4 on the other hand demonstrated how you shouldn’t make main quests - and a father/mother, who looks for lost son in post-nuclear wasteland, actually don’t give a f*** and wanders around for weeks and months without purpose, just looking for crafting resources and expensive loot. Damn, they should have just killed the boy in prologue and that would be better motivation - simple revenge, that is not something you would hurry with normaly when finding yourself in the new unknown world. Well, good example is Fallout New Vegas, where you have revenge motivation, which doesn’t make you really hurry - taking into account that your charater got shot in his head and partial amnesia as a consequence, so it is normal that he will explore and hunt for resources which could help him in his main mission.
The fact that it is not just a marginal minority, who feel themselves weird about playing sandbox and not beelining main story (as their character should have sometimes) is proven by existence of “alternative start” mods for Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. Some players tend to like gameplay mechanics and the setting but they don’t want to be the center of the game world. Just some random noname guy/girl who wanders here and there while stuff of world importance happens somewhere else (or not happens at all).
Ok, back to KCD. Our protagonist here is a blacksmith’s sone who is driven by wish to avenge his parents and return the last sword, made by his father, to his master. So motivation is more or less good, can’t say anything here. But, here comes the immersion problem - quests or the main line do not hurry you to complete them, but from RP perspective you would want to complete them as soon as possible. Henry is awake in the mill - time to report to Radzig about the sword, Henry got lesson from the captain - and strict order to report for duty as a town guard, get equipment - and go in patrol just “right now”, Henry beats Hans Capon in the tavern - and gets order to go with him for hunting, so it is logical to assume, that you will execute that order just the next day, and so on with every other quest of the main story… It is not bad that you are not forced to follow that quests as soon as you get them, but if you deviate for some really long time - it simply feels weird. Roleplay, you know.
So, here comes for the rescue the same concept of “alternative start”: give the player a character without past (partial amnesia could help), any important connections with other persons in the world, no main story or anything. Just you in the open from the start world of Bohemia in 1403. Same mechanics, same sidequests, just no main storyline. How could it work?
1) The world: we can simply take post-Skalitz state of affairs as the start. Same stuff happens (in game mechanic - not happens, but who cares) all around, but this time it is mostly not our concern. We solve our simple problems: what will we eat today and where will we sleep.
2) Story: you don’t actually need well developed story for sandbox. But, some starting background could be useful. So, we can minimize changes and take “Skalitz refugee” variant. It is optimal for a sandbox start - because in the time game takes place you can’t just run from your everyday duties if you are a peasant, and if you did - and took path of bandit or a poacher, you are an outlaw and not very welcomed in the cities. Role of burgher is kind of too weird to make - okay, you have home, and some work to make a living, but it is hard to justify, why in the name of gods you leave safety of city walls to wander in the world filled with bandits, cumans, marauders and such. As a noble, well, you have a lot of obligations and will be actively involved into political events, so, not great to make too - we return to the same problem, we tried to get out of.
So, yes, refugee. Poor, having no home (old one in Skalitz is destroyed), just an improvised bed in the refugee camp to start with. Motivation? Motivation is simple: survival. You don’t care about political stuff, who fights whom and such, you don’t want revenge because have no idea, whom to address it to just as have zero opportunities for it. So, yes, survuval. In theory you have a master, Radzig, but what is really good in refugee start - Radzig is not in the situation to care about your disappearing as he won’t even know about the fact of your existence to start with. And noone care, so from immersion point you don’t have any problems with doing whatever you want.
3) Quests: in vanilla KCD a lot of sidequests are somehow tied to the story of main character - for example, we get into criminal world of millers simply because we owe money for own healing. Also, we wake up in the Peshek’s mill, and he thinks that we are more or less a person who can be trusted with delicate affairs. But, if we start as a refugee, we lose roleplay ability to get a lot of quests, because noone in the sane mind will give us some really important task - just because of how we look (not great at all).
So, new paths to drive player into the world out of Rattay walls have to be created. How can this work: we wander around town and hear random people speaking with each other about random stuff. Near tavern someone gossips about millers who are suspiciously rich so they possible somehow connected with the thievery - we hear this and get the sidequest to check Peshek and ask for some work of “delicate nature”. And hey, he gives us the chance with the same quest with the ring and executioner, and well, you know, what will happen later. Another dialogue about war, roaming all around Bohemia and how unsafe are the roads - and our protagonist gets the brilliant idea to try the “career” of marauder or even bandit, robbing random people on the roads. Someone speaks about recent execution of the poacher - “hmm, what actually am I going to lose if I try?” Local alchemist needs some herbs - looks simple to look for some in the nearby forests (and it is also damn leagal - to start with). Well, you get the general idea - couple of dialogues here and there, and so our character decides to leave the relative safety of town walls and bet own life on opportunity to make more money than just by begging or beating other refugees/beggars for bets (because town folk won’t fight with us in our current state).
Main feature of “sandbox” mode as how I see it is that there is no such thing as “main quest” there. All quests have the status of sidequests. You find them, complete them, look for new work. Or don’t look - and just hunt, loot bandits, search for herbs and practice alchemy. It is KCD after all - and you have a lot of things to do there to make a living. And without obligations of avenging your family and serving your master, the way how you make a living is restricted only by your fantasy.
Some of the main story quests from vanilla can be given to us in the “sandbox” mode as same sidequests. Simple job for money - which can be given to us if we have right reputation. A lot of stuff in vanilla that Henry does, could just as well be given to random hired sword - because why not. So, if we assume that we play in the world where Henry never existed or got himself killed or just doing something else, why won’t WE do some job for searching bandits who razed the stud farm in Neuhof or scout their main camp in Pribyslavitz… Well, you get the idea. Radzig (and not only he) has certain lack of men, who know how to hold the sword, so I don’t think, he would refuse suggestion to get another more or less experienced mercenary from time to time. Of course, not all main quests could be re-used this way, but some certainly could, so why not. Who wouldn’t want to drink again with Father Godwin - the best priest, I’ve ever met.
4) Reputation: assuming that we don’t have same plot armor as vanilla Henry - we are NOT him, we have to behave properly, taking into account our status. What could do some blacksmith’s (or not exactly…) son, working for a noble as a warrior and just person for various tasks, we as a starting beggar can’t afford. At least, at the start of game. But, as we all know, clothes make the man. So, if we don’t want to be treated as a beggar, maybe we shouldn’t look (and act) like one?
So, how I see it: clothes importance should be increased, with some effect, defining as whom do you look right now. Like: beggar, burgher, hunter, marauder, trader, nobleman, wandering knight… Some works (and so, quests) can be given only to the person looking as someone else - or at least, better than beggar. More perks for improving disguise and actor abilities of character could be pretty helpful here - just as placing more skillchecks all around the world. Reading can also become even more important in this aspect - when you are definitely going to be in the need for more knowledge of different professions and social statuses to look like anyone, you are not really. Because, you really don’t want to explain to the town guards, why exactly you are dressed as a rich merchant or noble, while you obviously not some. Maybe you are a looter and should be punished… Wait, is this blood on your clothes?
Imagine oportunities which such system opens for a high level character - he can enter the castle as a noble guest (fake one, and it is some real crime, but, you know - high risks, high stakes) and then steal everything he can reach. Or, you can try some thievery in the homes of commoners - and then dress up as a noble to avoid checking up from the town guards, if you have high level speech skill (otherwise, effect will be quite the contrary of expected).
The perk from the stealth line for common face (or smth like that, don’t know how it named in English - I play with Russian loc) could help a lot with the fact that someone in the town/village could see the suspicious evolution of our social status. Like, really, today we are a merchant, tomorrow - mercenary, next day - some noble from somewhere out of Bohemia and etc… Reputation in each settlement can be tied to “personality” they saw there - and the memory of us in certain role will be slowly (or not) decay until we either refresh it with the visit, some talks here and there and such, or being completely forgotten so we can try being someone else. If you don’t care much about playing roles with some shadowy intents, you can simply dress as you like and be a random burgher/mercenary by default - social statuses without many benefits but also not many disadvantages.
About influence of reputation on the prices: sure, if the merchant doesn’t know us, or we don’t look like the person who could obtain good, we sell, in some more or less legal means, he won’t give us a lot. But, if we are more or less known in the town/village, and have more or less good reputation, price will increase - not drastically, after all we want to fight the not very immersive fact that every beggar can come out of the town, loot some random unlucky bandit or simply wanderer - and get money for weeks to live.
5) Character creation: ah, finally the most tricky part… Well, I’d not expect to get highly customizable system of creating any person you could ever wish, “a-la Skyrim/Fallout 4”. A lot of resources to waste on this - not a DLC level already, something more for KCD2 (or 3 - well, the one, where we won’t play as Henry). So, here come some options…
First one is simple: we play as same Henry, or it may be correct to say, as person who looks like Henry. And has his voice… And name… Okay, we play as Henry, but we ARE not involved in main story line this time (because of the lack of any…) in some other way than we are a random refugee in Rattay now and noone cares about us. So, it is “alternative timeline” where Henry is really a blacksmith’s son and never thinks about unpractical stuff as avenging parents and such - because he can’t do anything, and never seen the face of guy to raze Skalitz, and never lost the sword, and have more important things to do, like you know, survive.
Second is more complicated: creating a small preset of faces and voices to chose from. Some variety, but need to write from scratch more sound for dialogues… is not very optimal. Also, we will anyway play as some Bohemian guy - simply because for a girl our survivalist career will look really weird if we speak about RP. And ability to roleplay as some random wench somewhere is funny but don’t think that it’s going to be something really popular or replayable. Make fun and create couple of Youtube videos - maybe, but does such outcome really worth time and resources…
Conclusion: So, yep, somehow like that… Feel free to comment and post your ideas on the topic: I’ve also posted this as an experiment about how many people could also be interested in such “simple” sandbox, made out of existing game world and story with minimal changes. As I’m new in this forum, I have no idea about how feedback and massive reaction of players affects devs - but experience of discussions in “paradoxplaza” keeps me sort of optimistic.