Double Fine's turn-based strategy game Massive Chalice is heavy on bloodlines. Set during a conflict that spans several lifetimes, players can't get too attached to a single character, or even a generation of characters. Death is inevitable. If the battlefield doesn't claim you, old age will.
Massive Chalice is built on not finding, but creating, new blood. Players match and marry characters with varied genetic and personality traits in hopes of creating powerful new warriors. But though the game's pool of pairable characters is far smaller than what we're used to in everyday life, Double Fine was careful to rule out one potential problem — incest.
The developer discussed allowing players to marry characters within those lines or perhaps even add a trait that pertained specifically to characters born from an incestful union. After research into incest and common laws, project lead Brad Muir told Polygon, the team decided to make the cutoff at the second cousin mark.
"This is one of those weird, 'where do you draw the line?' things," Muir said. "You have to be beyond second cousins before you can show up on the marriage list. You're not allowed to do it."
A demo of the game gave me the chance to fiddle with Massive Chalice's matching system. Each character has a set of personality or genetic traits that help define their skills in battle. Characters that are nearsighted, for example, have a shorter sight range than most. An optimistic character will often estimate a higher hit rate than what he or she actually delivers, while a lone wolf trait means the character fights better alone.
"We don't have any fantasy races that are playable," Muir said. "These traits are very human things you would come across in people ... I really wanted it to be more human. I think a lot of fantasy games get too far away from actually feeling grounded."
The goal is to match characters with good genetics, but successful families rely on more than just those skills. Fertility rates are unique to each character, as per the game's randomization. Some couples will have an overflowing family, while others aren't guaranteed to have any children at all. Adoption comes into play for gay couples, and children assume the family's traditions as though they were of the same blood.
Massive Chalice's complex systems of marriage, reproduction and everything in between isn't quite complete, and Double Fine continues to address the oddities that arise. The developer has considered amending the game's current "compatibility" setting — which Muir calls too reminiscent of a dating site like OK Cupid — to account for things like huge age gaps.
Lifespan in the game is randomized, though Muir says most characters have an age range of 45-75. Although older characters are less fertile, it's still possible for characters to reproduce at 60 — a choice made after Double Fine decided to nix menopause in female characters and make the sexes equally capable for reproduction despite their age. Players can retire characters that survive battle, and having kids will ensure that some of their experience is passed down to each new child.
"We really want you to get attached to the characters, but not too attached," Muir said.
"They might not be perfect. Their kids might not have the exact same genetics as them, but you're really attached to the bloodline."
Full disclosure: The writer of this story has a personal relationship with an employee at Double Fine unrelated to this project. You can find information about Polygon's ethics statement here.