Nerdsworth Academy

A hero runs into battle, supported by the spirits of his ancestors.

Massive Chalice | A strategy game with demons and family values

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Anyone who reads this blog knows that I absolutely love roguelike games. Whether it is Dungeons of Dredmor or XCOM or Brogue, the thrill of knowing my actions will have severe, potentially game-ending consequences is something that I can’t get enough of.

Because of this, when I found out about Double Fine’s new Kickstarter project, MASSIVE CHALICE, I immediately got excited and backed the project straight away.

The Pitch

The premise is this: You are the immortal king or queen of a fantasy realm that is being invaded by demons. Play consists of two main parts: a turn-based tactical battle view, where you command a small group of heroes and must vanquish demons; and a strategic view, where you manage the affairs of state and prepare to endure the long invasion. The game is structured much like XCOM.

However, the war won’t be won in a day, a year, or even a lifetime: the war takes place on what the designers call the Epic Timeline. All of your warriors will age and their skills will wane. Heroes can also be “retired” and set up in castles to establish a Bloodlines.

Bloodlines allow you to preserve some of the power that the hero has accumulated. Children of a particular Bloodline will inherit some of the talents of their parents, and eventually grow to become great heroes in their own right. In addition, certain items, called Relics, will only be usable by members of a particular Bloodline. You will be able to marry Bloodlines together, getting heroes with talents from multiple Bloodlines, allowing for a wide range of customization and a high degree of replayability.

Crafting a Heroic Story

As you can see, the potential for emergent storytelling here is huge. Based on the decisions that you make as a player, entire families can become legends or be wiped out completely. Also, because the families have certain skill sets, it may be that you lose access to a certain class if the family is wiped out.

The developers have also talked about the ability to research demonic technology and how doing so many corrupt a Bloodline, giving the offspring additional negative traits or even sterilizing the family.

Also, I must say that Double Fine is being quite clever with this from a gameplay perspective: one thing about XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that the end of the game tends to be easier than the start because you have an entire squad of badasses. However, in Massive Chalice, even the strongest hero will eventually die of old age.

Nurture, Nature, and Class

Although certain abilities or skills may be passed down via genes, Double Fine has talked about how some skills or abilities may be learned instead. For instance, if a child from a warrior family is given to an archer family, the character might learn some archery skills as well, becoming some type of hybrid class. Much of the way that classes and their abilities work is still up in the air at the moment.

There are really a lot of ways that a class system can be implemented to allow for some hybridization, without creating specific hybrid classes. It might be that characters have a primary and secondary class (something like Guild Wars), with abilities chosen from each. Or perhaps that each character has a class, but then certain skills are trainable by any class.

Personally, I think that I would do something akin to the way that Dungeons of Dredmor does it: each character has a number of skill trees that are associated with certain character archetypes, such as Warrior, Rogue, and Wizard. When the character is born, they are assigned a tree (or two) from the archetype of their parents’ Bloodlines. Perhaps each family also has a “favored skill”, that every member of the family starts with. So everyone from the Kraken Bloodline starts with the “Heavy Armor” skill, but they can be randomly assigned the “Axes” skill, or the “Swords” skill.

Then, as the character ages, they are assigned additional skill trees based on how they were raised and who raised them. In this way, you’d be able to create vastly different characters but still have some of the same skills passed down from generation to generation. Obviously, I don’t think that you’d need the 7 skill trees that Dungeons of Dredmor has for each character, but it would be an interesting approach, I think.


One thing that I felt I should mention here is that while the game clearly has a heteronormative bias, in that it is primarily about heterosexual relationships, the developers do mention that retired heroes’ duties will extend beyond producing children and that homosexual relationships may also appear in the game in one form or another.

Because the game is in such an early stage of development, precisely what these duties entail hasn’t yet been nailed down. However, Brad Muir, the Project Lead, does mention the idea that a hero might settle down and focus on becoming a scholar of demonic artifacts.

Another point that is brought up in the interview is that both male and female characters will be equally powerful in the game world: not only in terms of their battle statistics, but also that both will be able to create Bloodlines.

Keep up the fight

I’m pretty stoked about MASSIVE CHALICE. The game definitely fits into a genre that I love. I highly recommend that you check out the project on their official Kickstarter page and watch the interview with Project Lead Brad Muir.


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