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When Disco Elysium was released in 2019, it started racking up awards. The game won prizes at The Game Awards, DICE, GDC, and the BAFTAs. Despite the role-playing game’s success, developer ZA/UM always wanted more for Disco Elysium. That doesn’t mean that Disco Elysium, as released two years ago, was an unfinished game; rather, ZA/UM hadn’t yet seen the success necessary to fully fund everything else its designers wanted to build.
“The Final Cut was very much the plan from the start,” lead writer Helen Hindpere told Polygon, referring to the upcoming, extended release of the detective game. “In many ways, this is the Disco Elysium we dreamt of launching when we started development in 2014.”
Disco Elysium is a not your traditional role-playing video game. It’s akin to pen-and-paper role-playing games, with no combat; decisions are made through dialogue and skill checks. Players take on the role of a detective who has no memory of his past but has been put in charge of a murder mystery. The mystery itself is almost secondary to the player’s choices in the story; you can decide what kind of person you are, and those decisions send the detective and his personal politics down one of four main paths: communism, fascism, moralism, or ultra liberalism.
Image: ZA/UM via Polygon
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut, which is scheduled to be released in March, is still that game, but with “more beauty, more freedom, more things to do,” Hindpere said. After all, she continued, there’s “always more room for virtue in the code.”
With the success of Disco Elysium, ZA/UM was able to put more into Disco Elysium: The Final Cut: new storylines, characters, and cutscenes, plus a full English-language voiceover. The Final Cut will be available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and as a free upgrade for existing players on Windows PC. (It’ll come to Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series X later in the year.)
Games like Minecraft, Overwatch, and Stardew Valley are never truly finished. It’s something that makes games unique — people don’t expect them to be quite done when they’re released; there’s always something that can be patched in.
“We don’t listen to a Beethoven symphony and say, ‘Needs more flugelhorn,’” Hindpere said. (Though, perhaps, Beethoven did feel that way!) “I think that’s because games are just larger in the promise they hold. It’s a sheer scale thing. The human ear can only hear so many notes in 40 minutes, but all senses over four days? We can perfect that experience to kingdom come.”
She continued: “The expandability of games, especially RPGs, stands testimony to just how grand an art form they are. People are still perfecting Fallout: New Vegas to this day!”
More to matter
For The Final Cut, ZA/UM focused its effort into a few different areas: recording voice overs for the entire game (1.2 million words, Hindpere said) and expanding the scope of its political choices, both of which were requests from Disco Elysium fans.
“Before I launched Elysium, I always thought that the ‘listening to our fans’ stuff was just lip service,” Hindpere said. “You shouldn’t listen to anyone, especially with an uncompromising story like ours. But it turns out there’s wisdom in the masses, too. A million people coming through your game will have smart things to say about it. Most of it is still hot garbage — but some of it is pretty smart.”
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Hindpere said some people criticized Disco Elysium’s political choices, that they don’t “matter enough” in the game. ZA/UM picked through this sort of criticism, analyzing what players were really getting at. The team asked themselves, what does it mean for your politics to “matter” in an RPG?
“Disco Elysium is a politically realistic game,” Hindpere said. “One drunk cop won’t start the World Revolution. That kind of ‘I choose which side gets to win’ power fantasy was never going to be part of Disco Elysium. But we did have extra content planned — political content that we couldn’t get into in the original release.”
In The Final Cut, each major ideology will have its own exclusive questline, called Political Vision Quests, to follow — something to explore, even if it’s headed straight toward failure.
The new content is tailored toward each ideology, different than a “more classic expansion area that’s equally available to all builds,” according to Hindpere. That’s what makes Disco Elysium unique; it is ridiculous and outlandish in its tone, while still telling an important and political story. The character, and what players do with him, is where conflict is created, with everything circling on player choice — what to be.
Voicing the world
Disco Elysium builds a complex world around the central character. It changes based on player choice. The game’s world is illustrated through a series of non-playable characters, but when it was first released, it wasn’t fully voiced. There was a lot of voice acting, but not nearly the entire game. ZA/UM undertook an immense challenge in voicing the entirety of Disco Elysium for The Final Cut, and that’s something that will pay off for all players. (Especially console ones, who won’t have to rely only on reading large swathes of text.)
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To put these voices in the game, ZA/UM looked in-house for a voice acting director, something that large RPG game studios tend to outsource this task, Hindpere said.
“The amount of lines is just too large, I guess,” she explained. “With us, the acting must come from the same place the rest of the game comes from. Our ambition, our risk.” Jim Ashilevi, a classically-trained theater director, was tasked with the job, and teamed up with writer Cash de Cuir and original voice acting director Mikee Goodman.
“The characters of Disco Elysium are all real people to us,” Hindpere said. “We wrote them in sincere belief that they truly exist. That they have souls that demand dignity. This means we absolutely could not do tongue-in-cheek video game VO. We didn’t have that to fall back on.”
Revachol, where Disco Elysium is set, is “a world capital,” she said. “Broken and busted, but still — it represents, in its own way, the whole world. The people of Revachol need to sound like they come from a myriad of different cultural backgrounds. In essence, this means a lot of accents.”
The focus was on creating a world that came to life with the different voices. “In this babel of voices, tweeting birds, a mad dawn of chorus,” Hindpere said. “It’s beautiful.”
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