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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Frankenstein's Legions game overview Part 5

Today's post is the final part of the Frankenstein's Legions high concept document. In a parallel universe, Eidos did this game instead of - well, take your pick!

The Notebooks of Doctor Frankenstein

“A dream has power to poison sleep.” – Mary Shelley

Tom Clerval, raised in the United States by his father, an exiled French aristocrat, enlists as a surgeon on the British allies’ side during the Promethean War of 1821-36.

Clerval has inherited the notebooks of his godfather, Victor Frankenstein. Although familiar with Frankenstein’s experiments, he has never put the resurrection procedures to use – not even when, a few years before the start of the game, his fiancée Victoria died by drowning.

When, after fourteen years of war, the fanatics of the Second Convention that governs France restore Napoleon – “the Boney Man” – to life, Clerval gives in to pressure from his own side and agrees to release the Frankenstein notebooks. Clerval insists, however, that the use of resurrected men in battle remains limited and Sir Percy Blakeney, the head of military intelligence, concedes.

Clerval and his platoon of monsters become a legend on both sides. He rises swiftly through the ranks, turning the tide of war with a series of decisive pitched battles coupled with daring raids behind enemy lines.

Although kept strictly under guard at Versailles, Napoleon succeeds in restoring his former lieutenant, Marshal Ney, to command of the French cavalry in place of the Convention’s general. Internal political divisions within the revolutionary government begin to pave the way for Napoleon’s return to power.

After a year when the fate of Europe hangs in the balance, the Allies (Britain, Prussia, Russia, Austria and the United States) finally manage to split the Convention’s forces and defeat the army of Citizen Valdemar at Crecy. However, Napoleon seizes power in Paris and returns with a new army raised from the dead.

Clerval is betrayed. When he encounters other monsters on the Allied side but not controlled by him, he realizes that his best friend has given the technology to the government. Angrily he vows to wage a war to end all wars. He swears to Blakeney that, when Napoleon is defeated, he will destroy Frankenstein’s secrets for good. It seems an empty boast.

During an expeditionary attack in Eastern Europe, Clerval’s army is seemingly surprised by Napoleon’s larger force. Defeat seems inevitable, but Clerval retreats into the steppes as winter closes its grip. The intense cold of the Russian steppes disables Napoleon’s cannon – his “beautiful daughters” on which his tactics depend.

Clerval defeats Napoleon’s army only to discover that the Emperor has fled. He overtakes him on the road to Paris. Marshal Ney, sickened by the barbarity into which the war has descended, offers Clerval a duel and is killed. Clerval destroys Napoleon with a bomb that blows his body to pieces.

A last mission, this time in the English countryside. Clerval locates the laboratory where the Allies are creating monsters and destroys it, ensuring that Frankenstein’s notebooks go up in flames. Clerval’s last remaining monster sacrifices itself to save him from the flames.

* * *

Epilogue: Napoleon’s personal physician arrives by carriage at Vilnius in Lithuania to oversee a huge excavation. A tall figure emerges from the carriage – Marshal Ney, but now with his head shaved and a scar indicating cranial surgery. He surveys the excavations, which are revealed to be the mass graves of the Imperial Guard, crack troops of the Grande Armée who had died of starvation during the retreat from Moscow more than twenty years before.

These are the best troops the world has ever seen. They lie in the soil, still with their weapons and uniforms intact.

“The cold has kept them young,” says Ney, although he speaks now with a Corsican accent and a cadence that is instantly recognizable. “Glorious sons of France, now you can arise and go home at last…”

The Emperor raises his face to the west. We go close on his eyes, which are burning with an inner light as he speaks over the open graves:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me – he shall never die.”

Smash cut to black. Music and end credits.

Look & Feel

“What disturbs our blood is but its longing for the tomb.”

In the gothic romances of the early 19th century, nature is seen as immense, remote and daunting. Man is a speck in the eye of an uncaring universe. Against this world view, the idea of a mortal man daring to usurp the power of life and death becomes both inspiring and doomed to catastrophe.

Weather and environment in the game convey the gothic view of heightened reality. Fast-moving clouds send ragged shadows racing across the hills. Rain gusts in horizontal sheets and sluices off gutters. Snow swirls like fine desert sand in the wind. Fields become mires of mud or featureless blisters of rock-hard frost.

The interface utilizes a crackling, dynamic, scratched-negative effect. Icons seem to flicker unwillingly into life, accompanied by a mournful electrical hum.

The main game screen will present a behind-the-character 3D view of a nightmarishly ravaged European landscape – blasted heath, craggy hills, unkempt cemeteries, wild forests, sullen cities. The colors are stark and desaturated. On the surface this is the mid-19th century, but in spirit it calls to mind the horrors of modern mechanized warfare from 1914 onwards.

Frankenstein’s Legions will employ a stark visual style to evoke hyper-real images of a landscape blasted and laid waste by war. Common images: storm clouds over churned mud, stumps of splintered wood in the earth, barbed wire, mountains shouldering the sky, carts carrying body parts from the front, gibbets creaking in the wind, shrapnel whip-cracking the air, handkerchiefs covering the face from the stench of formaldehyde, lightning rolling along the hills, the hollow stare of patchwork soldiers driven beyond madness, the unease of living officers in command of reanimated men.

Sounds: sullen mutterings of villagers, keening wind, weeping from mourners at the graveyard, the distant rumbling of thunder, the howl of wolves, the shriek and snort of frightened horses, muffled voices from taverns at night, forlorn cries from mountain caves, the thunder of cannon, the whistle and crump of exploding shells, pebbles clattering down a steep cliff, the relentless wail of dying men, the dismal groans of the resurrected. During gameplay, the only sounds will be environmental: wind, gunfire, footsteps, the shouts of men, the snarl of monsters, and so on. The use of incidental music is restricted to inter-level cutscenes.

* * *

I can't wrap up this saga of the Frankenstein's Legions game without mentioning that I originally conceived it, not as a squad-based tactical game, but a classic eye-in-the-sky RTS game. In that version, players chose to be one of three "races": Prometheans (creating Frankensteinian monsters), Artificers (creating armies of proto-industrial robots) or Expurgators (religious zealots opposed to meddling with nature in any form). At the turn of the millennium, however, there was a sense that the time of those old cerebral games was passing. Game design has its fads like anything else. The character-based game into which FL evolved would cost millions to develop, though, whereas the RTS could be perfectly adequate as a tablet game with almost retro graphics à la Starcraft. A famous game industry figure was fond of saying in the late '90s that platform games were dead, then a few years later that classic RTS was dead, but I would say: never say never!


  1. It's unsure whether the US would have sided with the European Powers because of the coming "Monroe doctrine" (1823) which took back principles alreeady set by G.Washington himself.

    1. Good point, Olivier. In any case, I'm sure it would take the US a while to decide whether to join the Frankenstein War, and on which side, but eventually they'd see that there were no safe sidelines.