Novel Games – The Dresden Files

There are many games out there with worlds based on works of fiction. From The Witcher games, based off Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, to the Sherlock Holmes titles and even such adaptations as American McGee’s Alice.

Novel adaptations as games have become a common thing, sometimes more prolific than even film tie-ins, offering a deeper and more compelling experience than those. Novel-based games often have a thoroughly crafted universe to draw from in terms of plot, characters and gameplay design options.

Last time we took a short at Simon R. Green’s Nightside. For this second issue we’ll look at another popular Urban Fantasy series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. You will see that while their fiction genre is the same, the two would be completely different as games!

The world of The Dresden Files is wide and complex, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I’ve forgotten to add something to the game. Note: If you haven’t read the novels, there might be minor spoilers ahead.

  • Genre: Action-Adventure-RPG
    • The Dresden Files’ protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a Chicago-based Private detective/wizard for hire. As such, he’s often involved in Police investigations and private cases, gathering clues, but also pursuing and fighting suspects and magical creatures alike. The character and the events are a mix of brains and brawn, with new abilities and power-ups popping up now and again.
      When you combine them, you have RPG, Adventure and Action game elements.
  • Gameplay: Puzzles, Crime Scene Investigations, Combat, Conversations.
  • Similar Games: The Witcher Series, the BatmanArkham Series, L.A.Noire, Murdered: Soul Suspect.
    • The above games all contain detective work, investigating crime-scenes and seeing through suspects’ bluffs and misdirection.
    • They also have exploration of the game-world in a sandbox style, with each clue guiding you to a new place or objective.
    • Finally, The Witcher games have magical elements, from alchemy to spellcasting and rituals, which are recurring elements of the Dresden Files, and thus offer the best in terms of inspiration for Game mechanic implementations.
    • Batman games offer Free-flow combat and the seamless combination of physical attacks and gadgets, which would suit The Dresden Files quite well.
  • Main Mechanics:
    • Bob: Harry has a personal assistant and library in the form of Bob, a spirit of intellect in a skull. Bob offers advice and guides Harry through the more complex magical problems he encounters. All he asks in return are trashy romance novels.
      • Hint System: Bob can give the player hints as to where they should go or something they missed in a previous investigation.
      • Tutorials: When they are performing rituals and creating potions, Bob will give the players a minor tutorial.
      • Bestiary | Glossary: Important information about the world such as Factions, Leaders and the big nasty monsters in the world are all part of Bob’s repertoire. As such, players can find relevant information with him, or discover enemy weaknesses.
    • Equipment: Harry has at his disposal a variety of enchanted items, for protection and offense. His warded Duster reduces damage taken; The Shield Bracelet helps him create a shield in front of him; his staff and wand channel his magical powers. His mother’s Pentagram amulet serves as a focus for a variety of spells and can create a faint light to illuminate surroundings.
      • Equipment Upgrades: The character upgrades items using currency obtained from Magical Sidequests and Factions.
      • Alternative Design: The character can upgrade items without cost but most first find the magical formulae for the upgrade. These are improved or advanced spells or potion recipes.
      • These two designs can be used together as well, depending on difficulty level.
    • Combat: Harry might have a code of honour but he fights dirty, using every resource at his advantage. Then again, he rarely fights normal folk and must use everything in his arsenal just to make it out alive. Combat seamlessly mixes his rather clumsy combat style with magical abilities, items and other spells.
    • Magic: Harry is a Wizard and as such can cast spells, but he’s never had a great deal of control, thus requiring special items to channel his magic for him, such as his wand for fire spells and his staff for shockwave attacks. The Magic in the Dresden Files game will be one of these types:
      • Combat Magic: Using items to channel his powers, Harry can unleash elemental spells on his enemies. New items acquired throughout the game offer him new spells to use. Some items are progression-locked while others are optional.
        • Magic uses Mana as a slowly recharging resource. Upgrades can increase Mana recovery speed.
      • Rituals: By creating a circle in the ground and using different Foci, the player canperform complex magic. Harry starts with few Ritual spells, such as Tracking Magical Aura, but can acquire more over the course of the game.
        • Veils start off as Rituals but become standalone through upgrading.
      • Wizard’s Sight: Offers important information about places and characters, revealing investigation hotspots and piercing Veils. Wizards rarely use thesight however, as it can overwhelm them.
        • To mirror this, using the Sight continuously drains the player’s Health.
      • Experience: Completing missions, successful conversation sequences and combat all give Harry experience points. Each time he levels up, he can allocate skill points to improve his abilities, such as the strength and effectiveness of his spells.
      • Investigations: From crime-scenes to suspect’s apartments, Harry is often on the lookout for the next clue he needs to crack a case. Information found during investigations will influence future conversations as well as open the way for new quests, items and even enemy weaknesses.
      • Conversations: Depending on whom he’s talking to, Harrycan be an annoying Private Detective, a Wizard of the White Council or someone you don’t want to mess with. The different conversation options fall into one of these categories:
        • Interrogation: Only available if Dresden finds evidence to use against the character.
        • Diplomacy: When reason, understanding and a bit of caring can do the job. Not Harry’s strong suit.
        • Bluffing: Sometimes Harry stretches the truth to get his way.

Characters can offer Information or Favours. New missions can also come from a successful conversation.

  • Difficulty Level: The difficulty level increases enemy resistance and damage as expected but also ‘improves’ their AI, requiring good tactics to take them down.
    • Higher Difficulty Levels also make the equipment upgrade requirements more stringent.
  • Allies: Allies will offer information and/or items, as well as support in missions andsidequests of their own.
    • Karin Murphy is Harry’s closest friend but also his employer when working with the Police. She’s short but strong and is ready to do anything she can to help.
    • Molly Carpenter and Family: Molly is Harry’s apprentice and her father is a close friend to Harry and one of the Knights of the Cross.
    • Thomas Raith: Harry’s half-brother, a Vampire of the White Court.
    • Waldo Butters: One of the city’s Medical Examiners. He gives Harry access to the morgue when investigating. He’s also a big polka fan.
    • Mister & Mouse: Harry’s pets. Dog is a mystical shrine dog, quite dangerous to his enemies. And Mister…is a cat, there for food, comfort and to have his way around the house. He also serves as a host to Bob.
  • Factions: The Dresden Files has a vast number of characters, but most are part of one faction or another. Here are some of the recurring ones. A factions are allied, B are enemies, C are a bit of both.
    • Gentleman Johnny Marcone (C): Chicago’s biggest crime boss and Baron of Chicago according to the Unseelie Accords. He’s been both an ally and enemy to Harry, depending on the circumstance, but he has a strong code of conduct, something that more or less extends to all his employees.
    • The Red & Black Courts (B): Red Vampires, in their true guise, are deformed giant bats, while the Black Vampires are closer to the image of Nosferatu, corpse-like. The Red court was, for most of the series, at war with the White Council of Vampires.
    • The White Court (C): White Vampires aren’t like others, as they are more akin to Succubi and Incubi, feeding on sexual desire. They are as scheming and manipulative as the other courts and powers of the world, but the current leadership is willing to help Harry.
    • The White Council (C): The leaders of all Wizards, the White Council sets down the rules they follow, including the famous Seven Laws of Magic. The council doesn’t forget and rarely does it forgive, and as such, Harry often finds himself at odds with them.
    • The Fae Courts (C): The Faeries are inscrutable, completely alien to humans. The one thing they all have in common is they enjoy games, playing with the lives of mortals and they can’t tell lies. Harry’s relationship with the courts has changed quite often, and even at his closest to the Winter Court, it doesn’t mean they will all be allies. The Fae aren’t really predictable.
  • Saving: The game features both autosaves and manual ones. Autosaves occur after every fight, conversation or similar sequences.

The above design notes are just barebones and don’t come even close to an actual game design document. I will revisit this concept in the future and flesh it out more.

Let me know your thoughts on the design in the comments. And if you want me to do the same for another novel, let me know as well!

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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