SPECIAL GUEST POST! Nick Pearce is the Creative Director and founder of Modern Storyteller, which is deep in development of The Forgotten City. It’s both rare and welcome to hear from a games developer, especially one with a vested interest in Classical reception, and I’m delighted to share Nick’s thoughts with you on his current project. —Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming
I’m a game developer working on a game called The Forgotten City, a time travel murder mystery set in an ancient Roman city. The premise is:
Deep underground in an ancient Roman city, 26 trapped explorers lay dead because one of them broke a mysterious law. A portal leads back to the past, allowing you to change their fate—or witness their deaths in a time loop for eternity.
We announced it at E3 2018 with this trailer:
Some of you may be aware that our game is a re-imagining of my mod, The Forgotten City, which has been downloaded over 1.7 million times and won a national Writers’ Guild award. Of course, I’m determined to make everything about the stand-alone game better than the mod, and one of the most radical changes was switching from a fantasy setting to an ancient Roman setting, complete with authentic art, architecture, and costumes. Why? I’m glad you asked!
Personally, the experience of discovering and exploring a mysterious ancient Roman city, isolated and forgotten by the world, would be one of the most mind-blowing experiences I can imagine. You could think of it as discovering Pompeii 2.0, but in this case, you can travel back in time to change the fate of the people who lived there.
Sure, I could have just made up a new fantasy setting, but any setting I could have imagined would pale in comparison with a thousand years of rich architecture, art, costumes, mythology, and philosophy that already exist—thanks to the combined efforts of millions of Romans over the course of their flourishing civilization. Of course, all of this means there’s an enormous amount of source material to draw from. So, I visited Rome and other parts of Italy, read a lot of Roman history books, listened to lectures, watched documentaries, and scoured the internet for pictures of Roman streets, arches, temples, aqueducts, forums, mosaics, columns and niches—all in the name of creating an archaeologically authentic experience that’s enjoyable for everyone from history buffs to the completely uninitiated. Despite my extensive research, I don’t consider myself an expert in ancient Roman history, so when I heard about a young archaeologist who used her degree to translate ancient writings from another popular game, I reached out immediately. Her name is Claire Manning, and I’m very pleased to have her on the team, helping out with targeted research.
By weaving the story into an ancient Roman setting, we’ve been able to enrich everything about the game, and I hope it inspires some gamers to share our interest in this period of history as well.
The game takes place in a city where if one person commits a sin, everybody dies—they’re turned into solid gold statues. It explores the philosophical “what if” question of whether it’s possible to overcome the timeless problems with human nature by imposing draconian laws, or whether the cure is worse than the disease. This story fits remarkably well within the framework of ancient Roman mythology because this is exactly the kind of messed up experiment the ancient Roman gods got up to; in the story of Baucis and Philemon, Jupiter and Mercury destroyed an entire town after it failed their bizarre morality test.
The premise is also a vehicle for exploring the difference between right and wrong. While many people think they know the difference, I think their confidence would falter if their own life—and the lives of everyone around them—depended on getting it right every time. In the game, one faction is attempting to revive ancient Roman customs in a desperate attempt to appease what they perceive as the gods. The setting allows us to explore questions of right and wrong from a range of philosophical perspectives from that period of history, from the stone tablet inscriptions of the Roman Republic, to the cold hard logic of Stoicism, to the empathy of Christianity.
I can’t wait to release the game in 2019 and show you what we’ve been working on. I invite you to sign up to our mailing list at forgottencitygame.com, add the game to your Steam Wishlist, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube. As an indie studio we don’t have a big marketing budget, so we’re always grateful to anyone who can help spread our message to interested friends!
—Nick Pearce of Modern Storyteller