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Pyrodactyl Interview: No absolutes in Unrest

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If you’ve been following GamerTell, which I hope you have, I’m sure you’ve noticed the recent focus on Pyrodactyl Games’ Unrest. A Kickstarter success story, this narrative-driven adventure just released and grabbed me. I connected with the game and fell in love, then finished it with a broken heart. Frankly, Unrest‘s “ending” left me wanting to riot.

Shocked, appalled, incensed, and upset, I immediately emailed Pyrodactyl Games’ Arvind Yadav for answers. I had to know why Unrest ended like it did. There was so much unsaid, and I was craving closure. Yadav graciously granted me an interview, unfortunately it brought me no resolution or peace. The interview is spoiler-free when it comes to the story – but go in knowing that it does heavily address the fact that only one character stars in multiple segments and that every playable character’s tale ends in a cliffhanger.

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GamerTell: Why is Asha the only character with multiple “chapters” within Unrest? Why does the player never return to any of the other characters’ stories?

Arvind Yadav: Creatively, we wanted the main characters’ chapters to stand on their own (apart from Asha, whose arc is deconstructive of a traditional RPG protagonist). Practically, follow-up chapters would make the game fractally complex to design and program. We had a choice between showing more viewpoints in Bhimra or dedicating all of our resources to one or two, and given our creative goals (and financial restrictions), we had no choice but to go with the former.

GT: Do you have any creative reasons for not providing resolution to any of the characters’ stories within the game?

Yadav: Yes, absolutely. Morality in RPGs tends to be a matter of action and consequence; you rob a man, get five evil points, he dies, your party’s reputation decreases by six. Providing this much focus on ends, not means, has a reductive effect on how players interpret those systems.

Unrest offers the idea that sometimes, there is no right and no wrong decision–sometimes actions must be weighed and judged without knowing what the consequences will be. Even someone playing the game a second time has no way of knowing whether Tanya’s marriage to Hanu will end in an uneasy alliance or an abusive, miserable domestic hell–and each time the player chooses, they must choose not based on what the outcome will be, but on what they feel is right.

GT: Who made the decision to end Unrest on a cliffhanger, and why?

Yadav: The decision emerged organically. One of the main ideas of the game is that casting Unrest’s story as Asha’s Heroic Narrative–her fall from safety, her struggle to survive, her triumphant rise to power–is absurdly, inherently artificial. Obviously the story of Bhimra’s troubles began far before Asha came into being, and obviously it will continue long after she gets her “happy ending.” Unrest has a cliffhanger ending because to the real story, the story of Bhimra – told in part through Tanya, Bhagwan, and Shyam – has no clean ending.

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GT: Was the abrupt end due to a lack of funds?

Yadav: We might have tied a few things up if we had more money, but if we weren’t happy with how the game ended, we would have kept working on it. This game was made by a team of five on a budget of $30,000 over the course of 1 year – and to be honest, that is not enough money to pay enough wages to one person, let alone five. During the year, one of us worked at Home Depot, and three of us had to freelance alongside making the game to pay the bills.

GT: Did you anticipate positive or negative reactions from players when they reached the end of Unrest? What did you want people to take away from the game?

Yadav: We’ve had a lot of both positive and negative reactions to the game, but even most of the negative reactions are inherently positive. Certainly the game frustrates some by not answering all of the questions it raises, but for the most part, those are the questions we want to stick with the player. If they walk away fully understanding the context and stakes of a decision and still wondering if they’d done the right thing – that’s ultimately far, far more meaningful to that player than if we’d simply told them, “Yes, you did,” or “no, you didn’t.” Of course, you are free and welcome to disagree with our interpretation.

GT: Will there be any Pyrodactyl Games-created mods that will tie-up Unrest‘s loose ends?

Yadav: At the moment, no mods are under discussion. If created, such mods would probably answer more small questions than large ones. This might change depending on how Unrest does, we definitely would add to the story if we were able to sustain ourselves while doing so.

GT: Is a sequel in development? If so, will it import players’ Unrest save files so each characters’ stories can continue from where they left off?

Yadav: No sequel is planned or under development. If created, it is improbable we would draw from player save files. We would be more interested in exploring new issues than revisiting old ones, and would do so only if we thought we could complicate or re-examine those scenarios in an interesting fashion.

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I suppose I understand better now why Unrest ended the way it did, but I still can’t help feeling cheated out of a story. I can honestly say I’ll never play it again, even if it would mean seeing some different takes on events, because I can’t get over the feeling of being robbed of a complete story. To me, a cliffhanger feels more like a cop-out than an attempt to depict a situation that could have no “clean ending.”

Unrest is immediately available on Steam. Windows, Mac, and Linux players can pick up a copy for $14.99.

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