We have seen procedurally generated characters, procedurally generated planets, procedurally generated weapons, procedurally generated levels… What is less common is procedurally generated stories.
Developer: Sinister Systems
Publisher: Sometimes You
Release date: 30th of September, 2016
Genre: Simulation, Management, RPG
Daily Chthonicle lets you slip in the shoes of a newspaper agency manager in a very dangerous world, featuring the Cthulhu mythos and its cosmic terrors from early 20th century author H. P. Lovecraft. Things that are not from this earth appear in catastrophic events, cultists are up to no good, monsters stir in the darkness… and you send your faithful reporters to go down the rabbit hole, at the expense of their health – mental and physical.
The interface of the game tries to be realistic, in the vein of what you might be familiar with in Papers, Please: chunky pixels, old photographs, a noir retro look, and almost everything that you can manipulate is in front of you. There is a board featuring a map of the city with notes relative to the different events, and reporters can be dispatched by clicking on a note that you think is worthy of investigation. However, unlike Papers, Please, there is no physicality to the interaction and there is a bigger scope to the game with many things to interact with: there is a huge management sim dimension in there. The problem is that the interface with visuals to click on is too dispersed, and I ended up wishing for more classical lists and tables rather than this obscure and clunky realistic approach, especially when I cannot have all the information I need under my eyes. This is especially true for the laboratory. The lab allows you to mix potions to create spells, but it is so tedious to click through everything to find the potion you are looking for that I ended up giving up on this aspect of the game and using the potions raw rather than mixing them.
There are procedurally generated stories that gradually unfold before your eyes, but their presentation is very far from literary. “Amanda Kushner was seen with Simon Kegg. S. K. used giant spiders to attack A. K. The spiders also attacked Jeremiah Carter. J. C. had an affair with A. K. and that is why S. K. used the spiders.” The abbreviations make stories that sound very simple needlessly hard to follow; when there is a sudden report of an advancement in a case and I am asked what to do next, I often can’t remember who is who and I can’t display the history of the case on the main screen so I end up randomly ordering my reporter whether to follow someone or not. All this part of the game completely flew over my head, and with the clunky interface it was a miracle that the game still hooked me. You might ask yourself, why is that?
Under that weird interface hides a very sophisticated RPG management sim. The equipment of the reporters can be customized, so that they have good weapons and sampling tools to bring back new potions. When injured, they need to be hospitalized. When disturbed, they are sent to therapy. They can learn magic. They can be equipped with a bible, a dog, a lock pick… And whenever trouble arises, you have some information on the type of the monster and you can find the adequate tools to deal with it. The different cases are often linked to a sinister large-scale event that you can eventually overcome. Those events are randomly generated, but it is possible to choose some familiar ones in skirmish mode (i.e. Cthulhu), which is a nice touch.
In conclusion, Daily Chthonicle suffers mostly from a bad interface, it does not meet its goals in terms of providing meaningful procedurally generated story-telling, but the game hiding under the outer shell is a fine one; an interesting management sim, with great RPG elements in how to deal with encounters. The weird horror setting is used well and makes this game stand out despite not being a polished product. Imperfect but very promising, I would love to see a sequel with a more classical and clearer interface.