Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
September 15, 2019
arrowPress Releases







If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Why depicting gruesome historical moments in games can be a tough call

March 31, 2017 | By Bryant Francis




History, no matter whether it’s written by the winners or by the losers, is full of brutal, ugly moments that nevertheless shape who we are as a society today—and how we make games inspired by those moments. Cities, religions, and historical groups make great fodder for game design, but how do developers cope when trying to adapt their more grisly elements?

If you’ve been pondering this question about your own work, you may want to check out The Great Whale Road, a game we streamed today with Sunburned Games developers Joachim Sammer and Mary Kenney. It’s one part King of Dragon Pass, another part Banner Saga, and in between the more conventional historical RPG moments, it tries to grapple with the ugly realities of medieval slavery that formed the commercial backbone of its setting.

Some of those realities are tackled through quests and moments where players can decide to free slaves, here called “thralls,” but there’s one mechanic we wanted to discuss with Sammer and Kenney. As the player progresses, they’re able to purchase thralls from marketplaces in order to sell them down the river. It’s not a mechanic any developer would touch lightly, but as Kenney, who did much of the historical research for the game argues, they couldn’t tackle the subject without it. 

“[Slavery] was such a big part of commerce, but also crime and punishment,” she says. “It was very much affected by this system. It’s a tricky mechanic, but it would have felt disingenuous if your’e trying to present what a culture was like.” 

“The things that were good and the things that were really really really really not good, this is part of the infrastructure they were building.”

Sammer tells us that the game’s audience skews older, and says he hopes they can process the presence of slavery in the game from a more mature standpoint. “I would be more worried if it was a game for young schoolchildren,” he says. 

Kenney also says that the quest and event systems gave them a way to explore the realities of this early medieval slavery, mostly the horror of its conditions. “We have the mechanics in the market to create an authentic setting, [but] it’s never in a quest ‘also it would be great to enslave people.’ I think we hammer home how horrifying this practice was over and over and over again.”

For more insight from Sammer and Kenney on the development of The Great Whale Road, including how they reinvented their combat system during Early Access, be sure to watch the full video above. And while you’re at it, you can follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, gameplay commentary and editor roundtables. 



Related Jobs

Sucker Punch Productions
Sucker Punch Productions — Bellevue, Washington, United States
[09.12.19]

UI Artist
Cold Iron Studios
Cold Iron Studios — San Jose, California, United States
[09.12.19]

Senior Content Designer
Cold Iron Studios
Cold Iron Studios — San Jose, California, United States
[09.11.19]

Senior Systems Designer
Wargaming Mobile
Wargaming Mobile — Berlin, Germany
[09.11.19]

Lead Producer









Loading Comments

loader image