Norwegian independent studio Red Thread Games, known to gamers for adventure titles like Dreamfall Chapters and Draugen, has re-emerged to show their upcoming game Dustborn. The game, published by Quantic Dream, is Red Thread’s first attempt at the action/adventure genre.
Read on for the full edited conversation with Founder, CEO and Creative Director Ragnar Tørnquist, known for his work on the Dreamfall franchise as well as Anarchy Online and The Secret World when he was still at Funcom.
Dustborn will be released in early 2024 for PC (Steam, Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X.
What can you tell us about Dustborn?
Dustborn is very different from the stuff we’ve done in the past in some ways. In other ways, it is very alike what we’ve done in the past, being a story driven single player game. This time it’s an action/adventure. There’s more emphasis on action, and it’s also a road trip, which is hugely important. It’s a game about people. Our games are very character driven, but this game more so than any other, and we have mechanics tied into the relationship building. You can affect the people in your crew in various ways.
In Dustborn, we’re constantly surprising you by throwing you into new things without any preparation whatsoever. But you can’t fail in this game. It’s all about playing the way you want to play and making the choices you want to make, and the game will adapt and allow you to continue.
This is a game about the language and the power of words. Pax, our protagonist, has powers tied to language. She can use what we call Vox or vocals in order to emotionally, physically, and mentally affect people. She can basically tell her crew to shut up when they’re arguing. And even though they know how our powers work, they are affected by it. This is a game about propaganda, about the power of language, for good and evil.
The crew has stolen something. They’re transporting an object. They’re gonna leave this country called Pacifica, which is essentially California, and enter the American Republic, and they’re going to transport this cargo across all of America.
Does the rest of the crew have powers?
Yes. Pax is not the only one with vocal powers. One member of the crew, for example, is emotionally vulnerable and sometimes needs to basically create a shield around herself in order to protect herself both physically and emotionally.
Another has the power to make the crew feel better. That helps Pax since she has been hurt from whatever happened before the game started. Even though it’s not healing her, it’s making her forget the pain.
The members of the crew know each other well, so there’s a lot of banter during the game. Dustborn is all about learning who these people are, how they relate to each other, and how to affect those relations with the words you choose throughout the journey.
Can you talk about how dialogues work in Dustborn?
Our dialogue system is built on a lot of the stuff we’ve done in the past. First off, you have the ability to interrupt people. We can cut into a conversation. You can change the direction of the conversation. People will keep talking if you don’t talk, so you have a way to sort of either sit back or just jump in. Sometimes that’s gonna have different effects.
For example, when there’s an hourglass near the dialogue options, it means that this dialogue will eventually time out. You don’t have to say anything. Sometimes that’s a good decision, and that will, of course, change certain things.
It will change the dialogue options you have available. It will change the information you learn, and it will change how people feel about you. Sometimes saying the right and wrong things will affect how they feel about themselves. We let this one time out, and then the conversation continues without you.
Sometimes, staying silent will also benefit as new dialogue options open up. We get a new topic, in this case, talking about our favorite fast food. Dialogue can also time out, so by waiting, I could have lost some of those dialogue options as well. But there’s no wrong way to do it. It’s just that you change the way you experience the story.
Will there be any way to check the relationship status with your crew?
We have a UI in the game that we’re not showing today, but that gives you more insight into their emotional state and how they feel about themselves.
I understand that music plays a very big part in the game. Is that correct?
Absolutely. Both as a bonding thing, for example with a little singalong on the road, and in the gameplay mechanics.
Were the songs made specifically for Dustborn?
This is our world, and it’s a very different world from the real world. We also wanted the music to reflect that, and we wrote a lot of songs that are tied more to our reality in the game.
The gameplay mechanics I mentioned are related to the crew posing as a band to slip through the border. This is where it gets like a rhythm game. The thing here is that you do not have to be good. Dustborn will never ask you to ace this. This is just a question of playing; if you do badly well, you’re a bad band, and that’s the story. If you don’t find this a lot of fun, you’re going to only have to do it a couple of times. But if you like it, then you can practice more. You can try to become really, really good at it.
We want people to feel like this is just a fun diversion unless you’re really into it. In that case, you can make it a bigger part of the game. If you do badly, the game will respond to that. If I do well the same thing, the game will incorporate that into the story. It’s something you can pick up pretty quickly, anyway. By the way, this is where Dustborn comes from. It’s the name of the band.
The game is also formatted like a comic book. Instead of chapters, we have comic book issues, each with a cover. We have more comic book elements, too.
Are there puzzles in Dustborn?
We don’t really do a lot of those in the game. It’s more about setting up these whole dramatic scenes and then letting you use the crew in whatever way you want to use in order to get through it. Sometimes it will be harder, of course. There might be multiple solutions to a problem, but we want this to feel like an engaging narrative experience that constantly pushes you forward.
It’s more about how you decide to play it rather than you scratching your head and puzzling out what’s happening. The story and the characters are always at the forefront.
Is it possible to piss off some characters so much that they would leave the crew permanently?
The crew will change throughout the game, although we are not going to put players in a situation where they say the wrong thing and a person leaves. All that stuff is part of the narrative.
The choices you make are more about how people feel about them and how they feel towards you, and that changes the dialogue in the game. But we were hesitant to do a thing where if you said something wrong, they would leave.
By the way, the bus is an important part of Dustborn. You’ll spend a lot of time on the bus. Here players can do different things, such as interacting with the crew, building more of these relationships, or practicing with the guitar. When you’re on the bus, you can always take your time. Just take it easy. The bus and campfires are where we get to do more character exploration.
How is your version of America different from the real one?
It diverges starting at some point in the fifties or sixties. Both California and Texas have seceded from the nation and up in Canada, there’s been some changes too. We are going to be covering all of this during the game. The journey covers a vast number of geographical areas, a lot of interesting terrain, stories, and characters we get to meet.
What are the action elements of Dustborn?
Like I said earlier, the game is about the power of voice and that manifests itself in the action sequences as well. This story is about relationships and dialogue and exploration, but it’s also about facing this authoritarian regime, and sometimes you’re going to have to do that with weapons.
Combat is divided into three key features. One is the bat, which is a ranged and melee weapon. The second is the group who are there to assist you. Sometimes you will be joined by two, three, or four crew members who are there to fight. And the last one is the power of weaponized voice. Unfortunately, when we fight robots, that’s not gonna do us much good because robots do not respond to language.
Combat is inspired by old-school brawlers like Streets of Rage or Teenage Ninja Turtles. We want it to be fast-paced, visceral, fun, rewarding, empowering, and most of all, easy to get to grips with. While the combat system has a bunch of different elements, you can just mostly resort to using your bat and you got to get through it. Also, we have different difficulty modes for Dustborn. You can play in a more narrative mode, making combat very easy to get through.
If you get knocked out, the crew will pull you up. The crew can also handle themselves quite easily, so you can let them do a lot of the fighting.
For people who might not want to engage in combat, is there a way to play through Dustborn and skip these fights?
No, you will still have to play them. But for the most part, as I said, it’s not going to be very difficult especially if you set it on narrative mode. But I think this game is dependent on the action as well. It is a story about confronting the enemies that are hunting the crew across America, so we need some action to tell that story. That was always a challenge for this game. Are we going to be able to do something that engages people who are mostly narrative players who are in this for the good story and the characters and also have them play the action? And I think so far, testing has shown that people do appreciate it and it doesn’t feel too hard. It doesn’t feel too forbidding. But you’re right. If you’re somebody who really doesn’t want any combat, then this game may not necessarily work for you.
Actually, there aren’t a lot of combat encounters in the game. I think there are about 10 in total, so sometimes you can go an hour and a half without fighting at all. Dustborn is mostly about exploring with good character interactions. It’s not a constant thing, and you can even avoid combat in a couple of cases. If you’d rather run away, you can do that as well.
I think most people are going to enjoy this, but yeah, this game is not going to be for everyone, and that was never our intention either. We wanted to create something fresh and different and varied and a bit crazy in a marketplace where we have a lot of games doing the exact same thing, looking very alike.
I think it’s refreshing to get something that includes all these gameplay modes, and we haven’t even shown you everything. There are definitely some features that we’re still keeping hidden. It’s been fun to make. It’s been a new challenge for us, especially to craft the combat, because we’ve focused a lot more on storytelling and choices and consequences in the past. This time we’re going a route that’s much more about relationships and about action and the road trip. Again, it feels great to do something new.
Are you looking into doing early access or some sort of feedback period with the public?
We’re not talking much about that, but Dustborn will not be an early access game. There might be other ways for people to test the game, but not like an early access, as it doesn’t really make sense for a single player game.
One of my friends is a big fan of your writing work. She wants to know if there’s anything more in the works for Draugen or if that story is done and dusted.
Dragon did OK. It wasn’t a huge success for us, but we’re really proud of it, and we have a story in mind. Hopefully, one day we’ll get to the second part of that story.
Thank you for your time.