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BROKEN - Worldbuilding & Story Development of an Original RPG

I designed the original version of this digital RPG under the working title Within, but the final product written here is a collaboration between fellow DigiPen designer Nathan Kinnick and myself.



Digital RPG Narrative & Systems Design


Broken is a 2.5D stealth poetic experience in which the player is a spirit who phases into and out of human hosts in order to discover why it has been sent to investigate a corrupted world.


The player, Estée, enters the game’s world, reminiscent of late 19th century Savannah, GA, through a séance performed by Shamira, a young female magician’s apprentice. Estée and Shamira form a symbiotic relationship in which Shamira acts as Estée’s human host. The player PHASES between spirit form and biotic form in order to reach different areas and find more clues about why the entity has arrived and from where it came. Many of the quests have underlying Shakespearean references and story lines, and the player is rewarded for discovering them. Shamira and Estée are periodically guided by the Caped Man, who often dispenses quests and provides information about player controls and mechanics.



The player uses the main mechanic of PHASING to progress through the game, phasing into different hosts in order to accomplish different tasks. In order to phase into biotic form, the player requires a vulnerable or willing living host, ranging from humans to animals, into which Estée may phase. The more the player phases successfully, the easier it becomes to phase (see GOODNESS METER).

Phasing Resistance

There is a negative correlation between the ease of phasing and the duration that a player may remain inside a host. Each creature in the game has a phasing resistance rating, while the player’s ability to phase into a creature is determined by the player’s Goodness Meter, which ranges from -10 to 10. The Goodness Meter acts as a modifier to the being’s phasing resistance and the amount of time that the player can remain inside a being. If the player’s Goodness Meter rating is positive (above 0), it increases her target’s phasing resistance by that number but also increases the amount of time that the player may safely remain in the target before breaking that target by that number. If the player’s Goodness Meter rating is negative (below 0), it decreases her target’s phasing resistance by that number but also decreases the amount of time that the player may safely remain in the target before breaking that target by that number.

In order to successfully phase into a creature, the player must push an increasingly complicated sequence of buttons/keys in a certain amount of time. The higher the level of creature, the more complicated the sequence and less time the player has to complete the sequence.

The player cannot phase into certain beings, such as the Caped Man.

The player gains -1 Phasing Resistance if the player engages in phasing without her target detecting the attack.

When the player phases into a host, the player can read the panicked thoughts of the host. The thoughts become increasingly erratic and afraid as the host nears its breaking point. These thoughts reveal deep, dark secrets about some seemingly normal people.

Sample Phasing Encounters
  • Positive Goodness MeterPlayer: +2 on Goodness MeterOpponent: Basic Creature – 5 Phasing Resistance; 4 Time Units

In this case, the Basic Creature’s Phasing Resistance increases to 7 (5 + 2) while the Time Units increase to 6 (4 + 2). This gives the player 3 minutes to perform actions inside the creature (30 x 6 = 180 seconds = 3 minutes).

  • Negative Goodness MeterPlayer: -9 on Goodness MeterOpponent: Basic Creature – 5 Phasing Resistance; 4 Time Units

In this case, the Basic Creature’s Phasing Resistance decreases to -4 (5 – 9) while the Time Units decrease to the minimum of 0.5 (5 – 9 = -4). This gives the player 15 seconds to perform actions inside the creature (30 / 2 = 15 seconds).

Time Units

Each unit of time is equivalent to 30 seconds. Time Units have a 0.5 unit minimum and a 10 unit maximum.

Spirit Form

Spirit form is the form in which Estée can move through certain walls and structures in order to access hidden information and locations. While in spirit form, Estée cannot make physical contact with any inanimate objects. Only a few beings can see Estée while she is in spirit form, such as the Caped Man, Shamira, and members of the Order of the Harbinger.

Biotic Form

Biotic form is the form in which Estée inhabits a living (biotic) being. See PHASING.

Home Base

Shamira acts as Estée’s human host, providing a place for the player to safely inhabit a living being without danger of breaking the being. The player stores her inventory in Shamira. Shamira may also accompany a player when the player is in her spirit form.

Character Movement

Keyboard Input

The player uses a simple W-A-S-D movement system. W moves the player northward, A moves the player left, D moves the player right, and S moves the player southward.


Estée always has one offensive move: phasing. She can always leave Shamira and possess the opponent, walk away, and return to Shamira.

Placeholder: Shamira cannot engage in combat, even if she is hosting Estée. However, Shamira does possess passive rogue skills (sneaking, poison, etc.) and has an ability to hide from sight and/or escape.

Win/Lose Conditions

A player cannot "lose" the game unless they simply stop playing it. The goal is for the player to unravel the mystery of its existence and finally confront the antagonists.


If the player phases into an enemy, such as a guard, the player may use their abilities but the player must also be wary of the other enemies in the area detecting behavior that is incongruous with the enemy type.


If the player inhabits a living being for a certain amount of time, that being will BREAK. The amount of time may vary based on the type of the being. When a being breaks, it will eject the player from its body and change its behavior. The following is a list of possible new behaviors:

  • Begin attacking the player.

  • Ignore the player so that the player can no longer communicate with the being. The player may become stuck inside the being’s body and have to restart that area/level.

  • Become completely incapacitated. If the being was a threat, it will no longer attack or harm the player.

  • Incapacitate enemy permanently

  • Gain permanent minion who can be summoned/accessed at any time

  • Gain magical/unique abilities permanently (telepathy, charming, flying)

  • Assisted suicide

  • Permanently lose the ability to enter/use the creature

  • Story-based consequences (e.g. lose ability to complete a quest)

  • Increase Broken Counter, tipping the player towards

Broken Counter

Every time the player breaks a creature, the player’s Broken Counter increases by one. The higher the player’s Broken Counter becomes, the more often the player is regarded as an evil entity by Shakespearean NPCs. However, the increase gives the player a positive reputation with the Cult of the Harbinger. Regardless, the Protectors are not affected by changes to the player’s Broken Counter.

Goodness Meter

The player’s measurement on the goodness meter affects how the player interacts with other creatures and objects in the game. The Goodness Meter ranges from -10 to 10, defaulting at 0 at the start of the game.


  • Estée/The Harbinger

The game’s protagonist as whom the user plays; an ethereal entity who has the ability to possess living things, from animals to humans. Estée’s home body is Shamira, and while in Shamira’s body, Estée can enter into combat and conversations, retrieve equipment, and use all of the powers and abilities that the player earns or steals throughout the game. While in other hosts, however, Estée can only use the powers and abilities belonging to that particular host.

  • Shamira

Estée’s long-term human host and travel companion. She stores the player’s inventory, gives the player advice about the dystopian world and helps to direct story progression, and may use every power and ability that the player accrues through body possession. Like the Caped Man, Shamira’s ancestors were placed on Earth to aid Estée in determining the fate of the Earth and humankind. Shamira’s specific role is to act as a human guardian of Earth whose goal is to guide humankind towards prosperity, fairness, and enlightenment and to pass the tradition on to subsequent generations. Estée is sent to Earth because Shamira’s line stopped passing down the tradition, leaving humankind to decay without a protector.

  • The Caped Man

The Caped Man is a human assistant to the protectors. Like Shamira, the Caped Man’s ancestors were placed on Earth to aid Estée in determining the fate of the Earth and humankind. His specific role is to provide quests that: inform the player about the extent of the world’s decay; give the player opportunities to try to help society recover and reform OR to try to destroy it; give the player clues about who he or she is, as well as about the roles of the player, Shamira, the Order of the Harbinger, the Caped Man himself, as well as others; guide the player towards the final battle with the Order and provide advice during the player’s meeting with the protectors. His presence and actions create a dynamic of intrigue and mystery that serves to drive the player to continue playing in order to learn who he is and why he’s helping the player. Rogue Protector who still believes in the good of humanity OR member of the Order of the Harbinger leading Estee into a trap – depends on actions in game.

  • The Order of the Harbinger

The Order of the Harbinger is a religious cult focused on eliminating the entity whenever it returns to Earth. They boast a secret method of preserving their traditions even after the planet is reset and of actually killing the entity rather than just its human host. The cult does not favor the corruption of humankind, but it seeks to prevent the destruction of all life on Earth by destroying the entity completely rather than preventing or curing the corruption.

  • The Protectors

The Protectors are the ethereal guardians of Earth. They promote harmony, peace, justice, and love on Earth and are of unknown origin. They cannot walk on the planet, even in human hosts, so they send the entity to Earth whenever humankind is in danger. The Protectors judge whether the planet should be destroyed, reset, or left to heal itself, but they gave the entity the free will to make the final decision. They cultivate bloodlines on Earth to act as human protectors and assistants as preparation for any future need to decide the fate of the planet.


The majority of game play takes place outside in an urban environment. The game is set in an alternate timeline in post-apocalyptic London in the 19th century. Technology that has been rendered obsolete litters the streets, such as rusted out cars and downed power lines.


A caped man periodically leaves information regarding quests involving both good deeds and government subterfuge for the player to complete in exchange for clues about the entity’s origin. The player may choose to be a benevolent savior, an arrogant tyrant, or somewhere in between based on conversation choices. The friendship that the player forms with Shamira also is based on conversation, quest, and possession choices. In order to complete these quests, the player must often possess the bodies of other characters for a variety of useful reasons, including potentially gaining their powers, finding useful equipment and interesting world lore, and using the other characters’ outer appearances as camouflage. This same mysterious caped figure also refers to the entity as Estée.

The player also gradually learns that humans are generally weakened by the entity’s possession, with more vulnerable living creatures, such as animals, children, and the elderly, sometimes dying outright after the entity leaves their bodies. This potential murder dynamic introduces an aesthetic of a moral dilemma for the player, who may elect to conduct a cost-benefit analysis regarding the beings they possess following that realization. The player may also ignore this side effect completely, which will affect their relationship with Shamira, with other potential allies and enemies, and with the Protectors.

In addition to government officials and the city’s vices, also standing in the way of the player’s progress are the members of the Order of the Harbinger, who refer to the entity as the Harbinger. The members of this religious cult are persistent in attempting to capture, study, torture, and kill the entity for reasons that the player must uncover; that is, to stop the Harbinger from destroying Earth for a fifth time. The cult members steadily adapt to the entity’s powers of soul possession and mindreading, proving themselves to be especially lethal foes as the game progresses. Eventually, the player learns that it was sent by the ethereal protectors of Earth to cleanse the world of the evil and destruction caused by humankind. The climax of the game is a great battle in which the player possesses an army and clashes with the Order of the Harbinger. In addition, if the protectors judge that the Earth cannot be restored, the player has the ability to kill all life on Earth so that the protectors can heal the planet and restart all life at the very beginning. The protectors’ judgment is based on the way that the player responds to their inquiry near the game’s end, which is partly dependent on the player’s mindreading skills and behavior throughout the game.

Other information affecting the player’s decision to destroy all life: the revealed knowledge that the player has already cleansed the Earth four times in its past and yet humans continue to destroy it; the possibility that the player would have to kill Shamira in order to reset the Earth; the possibility that the player could kill Shamira if the player ends his or her symbiotic relationship with Shamira; the fear of having the entity’s own memory reset once again so that it won’t remember any of its adventures or friends experienced during this fifth attempt to save Earth. The player must choose among the options of destroying the Earth completely, resetting the Earth, or simply returning to the protectors and giving the Earth a chance to heal itself. If the player destroys the Earth, the player and the protectors collect all of the souls of the Earth’s dead and travel to another galaxy to search for a more suitable planet. If the player resets the Earth, the Earth is shown healing itself and returning to its healthy splendor, and Shamira is shown as one of the first humans. If the player chooses to let the Earth try to heal itself, Shamira remains alive as the Earth’s human guardian; Shamira was able to act as the player’s long-term host without adverse effects because her bloodline has been cultivated by the Earth’s protectors to serve this exact purpose.

Copyright Alexandra Lucas and Nathan Kinnick 2014

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