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Story, Plot and Narrative Design Discussion Thread

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#1 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 07 February 2015 - 08:24 AM

Quick FAQ:

 

What is this thread for ?

 

It is for discussing the narrative elements of a fan mission you're working on, and how they tie into the gameplay and technical aspects of the mission. If you're stuck with developing the plot for your FM, or are unsure of how to continue, or have the feeling your writing is not up to snuff, you can always seek advice in this thread.

 

Why did you start this in the Editor's Guild ?

 

Truth be told, I was seriously considering starting this thread in the I Want to Help subforum, but then I noticed (and realised) that most of the FM development threads are in the Editor's Guild anyway. So, I decided to rather start this discussion over here, in order to avoid making it "orphaned".

 

But I have a really minor storytelling question... Is it still okay to ask about it here ?

 

Of course it is ! This is practically the only "official" thread on narrative design we have now, so feel free to ask about anything that's primarily related to the storytelling or characters of your FM, and so on...

 

Do we already have any useful resources on narrative and storytelling design ?

 

Oh, certainly. The Story and Plot Design article on our wiki, contributed by demagogue. You should definitely give it a read. :smile:

 

Any other threads or articles you might recommend ?

 

Sotha's Mission Design Tips article is also just as helpful as demagogue's (and quite entertaining in places).

 

There's also the Inspiration Thread, providing mostly visual inspiration for FM building, and the Historical resources article, providing links and bibliography for topics related to period living and social history that could influence an FM's design and events.

 

If you find any more in that vein, feel free to recommend them here, and I'll add them to an impromptu list.

 

----

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the thread is your's.

 

 

----

 

(Last updated: 18 April 2018)


Edited by Petike the Taffer, 18 April 2018 - 06:23 AM.

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#2 demagogue

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Posted 07 February 2015 - 08:50 AM

For the record the link to that wiki page is http://wiki.thedarkm...and_Plot_Design

I think this thread would be a good place for people to put their comments and advice on what makes good story telling too. Or even examples of people's favorite models of plotting they've seen.


A few of my favorite models are Rowena's FMs, where a lot of the NPCs are secretly connected and there's lots of revelations made, and every scene adds a bit to the story right up to the end. The IF Anchorhead where the narrative plot and gameplay plot were very integrated. And maybe Another World where the climax was unexpected but very poetic and fit the story.

I like the model of thrillers like that too, where the plot ramps up in risk or whatever to a climax as revelations are made, so by the time you reach it you know what it means. That's why I like to start at the end and work backwards in writing a plot out, and I think in terms of nodes or revelations that push the story along.

I think big plot twists--like your best friend is really the bad guy all along--are getting a little overplayed, but unexpected plot twists are still good, like the bad guy you thought is still a bad guy, but in a completely different way than you expected. But whatever you do, set it up with lots of supporting readables and info that build up to it over time. I also like the ideas of narrative consistency, all the pieces work together, and economy, there's not a lot of fluff and each piece does some work.
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#3 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 07 February 2015 - 09:03 AM

For the record the link to that wiki page is http://wiki.thedarkm...and_Plot_Design

 

It's already linked in the FAQ, I didn't just put it in italics, you know. :)

 

And thanks for all the contributions. Speaking for myself, though I have heard a lot about the quality of Rowena's missions, I haven't played any up until now, whether for TMA or TDM. Did she create any for the latter ?



#4 demagogue

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Posted 07 February 2015 - 09:14 AM

Ah, now I realize that links don't show up on my phone. =L

Lady Rowena hasn't worked with TDM--maybe we can persuade her--but I know she's working on a new FM because she's posting in the T2 Editor's Guild forum.
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#5 Sotha

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 04:59 AM

Using the elements contained here could be used to craft plotlines of varying complexity.

A really good read for anyone who wants to make stories.

The problem is, once you have read it, you start mechanically identifying the story elements in the entertainment you consume.

http://www222.pair.c...eroom/plots.htm
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#6 Moonbo

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 10:51 AM

A while back I played through a spate of really fun T2 mansion missions (Ashes and Dust, Vandal, Rowena's Curse, Ominous Bequest, etc.) and noticed that for the most part they followed a somewhat similar, but very good narrative setup.This particular style was driven by the fact that the plot (for the most part) had to introduce everything in readables. To compensate for that, they linked narrative progress with spatial progress (i.e. all information was revealed at the same time the player unlocked access into new geographical areas). Anyways here are the notes I wrote down back then:
 
1) The player is an outsider who enters a location for a relatively straight-forward mission/purpose (steal the thingy, uncover the whereabouts of the person). There is a much bigger set of things going on but they are not aware of them at the start.
 
2) The player proceeds to enter deeper and deeper *into* the location the longer they play. Usually this penetration is in three broad stages:
 
a) “The Outskirts” - Usually the player is able to move around the outer fringes and main pathways but other pathways are initially locked. In this first stage, the player uncovers readables which introduce the main characters inhabiting the location (dukes, lords, servants, etc.). These are very brief and deal not with dark secrets but with things that you normally would hear from a person if you were just getting to know them - their general attitude, their relationship with the other main players. Often there are two or three main characters and you get to read what they think of the other main characters in these readables. There are usually small side characters who leave notes you can pick up which lead to side stories or hints to loot (maids in love with guards, dude hiding loot in the attic corner, etc.) but also give their impressions of the main characters.
 
b ) “The Inner Places” - Through the professional’s actions they find a key (or flip a switch) which unlocks places where they could see but were previously closed of. Inside these places the professional finds readables which reveal the inner thoughts and dramas of the main characters (i.e. what they really feel, what horrible crime they committed as a result of these feelings). Again, this usually is shown from both the person who did the secret thing and the person who had the secret thing done to them. It also reveals a CURRENT situation which is the culmination of these previous acts. A key is gained to The Core.
 
c) “The Core”. The professional finds himself having to resolve the current situation by going to The Core (a central place usually at the heart of, or under the bowels of, the location). Here they confront the main characters, or resolve what the main characters set loose, solving the pain or healing the effects of a betrayal. They are thanked for solving the problem, and are able to leave the location. 
 
In particular, the FM Rowena’s Curse was great because
Spoiler
 
Of course with any narrative setup repetition leads to boredom, but so far this setup if done well makes for some really fun FMs.

Edited by Moonbo, 08 February 2015 - 10:51 AM.

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#7 Obsttorte

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 02:14 PM

I personally don't care much about the story in a game. My personal point of view is, that if I want a good story I read a book or watch a movie. :P

 

But more seriously: I think the most important part to take into consideration is that the player has to be able to follow and understand the story. This means, that you have to make sure the player is not required to read all the readables in a mission for example. Especially when aiming for a nonlinear mission, which is more or less the holy grail in stealth games, it is quiet certain that the player will not come across everything you have added to your mission to tell the story. In addition, as we are an international community and most players may not speak english as their native language, they may give up on reading everything carefully if the readables tend to be quiet long.

 

Which leads me to my second point: Keep readables as short as possible and do not only rely on them when telling a story. Voice-overs and dialogues between npcs are a nice way to tell the story as well as non-lingual approaches as well.

 

The second thing may be hard to understand, so let's give me an example.

 

Let's say you have a manor and you want to let the Lord or whoever is residing there to appear as an filthy asshole. Placing an obvious but secret passage which leads towards the (female) servants quarters, with holes in the wall the Lord could peek through to observe the servants will tell as much as any readable. You can use such approaches for anything. They are more difficult to setup, but are universally understandable and do neither require the player to readup a lot of stuff nor break the mission flow due to it.

 

I mean, there is nothing more annoying as if you have to "pause" the game every minute due to having to read a readable, even if the story is interesting. The focus should always lie on the player playing the game, not reading books. ;)

 

This are very general thoughts about how to embedd a story in a game. When talking about how a good story should look like, I fairly doubt there is one correct answer. Tastes are very different. I personally, as said, do not lay much focus on story, so I prefer it easy to understand and nailed down to the point. Other players may like it moer extensive.

 

I guess the best approach here is to setup the story in a way you prefer it in games. If you pefer short and easy stories, don't setup complicated stuff because you think players may like it. In general, when mapping always do the things the way you want them to be, and never think about what the players may want. The latter approach is the best way to make things wrong (as can be seen in many modern games unfortunately :( )


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#8 161803398874989

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 04:25 PM

My personal point of view is, that if I want a good story I read a book or watch a movie.

The word you're looking for is "plot". Story is all those things you described: the history of the locale, the characters of the people, their interactions, etc. etc.


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#9 Obsttorte

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 04:34 PM

And what is the plot?


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#10 161803398874989

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 02:24 AM

And what is the plot?

The single or multiple storylines. What drives the "action".

 

That's all just my ideas though. Don't take them too seriously.


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#11 demagogue

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 03:36 AM

That's what I wrote about too. I distinguished storytelling and plot.

 

- Storytelling or story elements include readables, VOs, interior design, visual storytelling things, etc, and are just the pieces you can make a story or just give flavor, or anything in between. They don't have to add up to anything deeper, but they can. And I think it's totally valid to make an impressionistic FM that doesn't have a real story, but just soaks with atmosphere or a cool gameplay flow.

 

- Plot is the actual engine that drives action when you're going through an FM, that pushes a flow through a beginning, middle, climax, to a denoument, and it uses storytelling elements in a specific order and way to do it.

 

I like Moonbo's take too. It reminds me of the old Egyptian temples. The outskirts are big and public information, but as you get deeper, you unlock progressive stages where things get smaller and more intimate (i.e., more exclusive access), until you reach the holy of holies, which is the climax.

 

The other common model I see is the hub and spokes model. After winning over a safe hub, you go down a number of spokes off of it to complete sub-goals in any order. Then the story emerges when all the pieces add up, so different players get the story in different orders but it's the same story in the end. Probably after you get all the pieces, then you can enter the climactic scene. So it's not entirely inconsistent with the Egyptian temple model either.


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#12 Melan

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 05:38 AM

I have enjoyed experimenting with non-linear plot composition. Here, you have a central plot (enforced by the mission objectives), but this is surrounded by multiple incidental sub-plot unfolding simultaneously, with various degrees of connection to the centre. During the mission, the player may reconstruct the story piece by piece, from documents, environmental storytelling, and his or her own deduction. Some may arrive at different conclusions and interpretations. Emergent gameplay with an emergent story built on associations and arranging the pieces of the puzzle.

 

Obviously, this is not for everyone, and I try to add a strong core storyline that appeals to the people who would prefer to focus on getting things done. But I believe games have unique capabilities to present non-linear narratives, play with unreliable narrators (although the real coup would be subverting the player experience, which Bioshock tried and failed), and generally do something different than books and films.


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#13 Obsttorte

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 05:39 AM

In german we use the same term for both, so I wasn't aware of the difference.

 

EDIT: In regardence to nonlinear storytelling, it may also be worthwhile trying to let the story evolve depending on players actions. I mean that the story changes in dependence on what the player does. Many games already tried this, but it always came down to such black and white decisions that in the end doesn't make a big difference. But I see a lot of potential in this approach, although it would be very difficult to do well.


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#14 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 01:46 PM

My, my, this thread has taken off. :smile: I'm glad it's successful.

 

Using the elements contained here could be used to craft plotlines of varying complexity.

A really good read for anyone who wants to make stories.

The problem is, once you have read it, you start mechanically identifying the story elements in the entertainment you consume.

http://www222.pair.c...eroom/plots.htm

 

This is a great find, Sotha.  ^_^ I've already bookmarked it. B)

 

 

snippet

 

This can be tricky to pull off well at times, if the author just decides to go for the "megalomaniac" approach to designing a mission. Back in the day, I've played several Thief FMs that just went on and on and on and kept piling up story element upon story element to the point of complete tedium or as if deliberately trying to confuse or dazzle the player. I prefer a mission's story - even a very carefully paced, slowly developing one - to not be too overwhelming in one go. Sometimes, it's better to keep things relatively simple (read: non-convoluted) and save part of it for later missions (especially if the whole narrative warrants a campaign), rather than trying to cram in every possible plot twist and extention to a story of a single mission.

 

That's what I wrote about too. I distinguished storytelling and plot.

 

- Storytelling or story elements include readables, VOs, interior design, visual storytelling things, etc, and are just the pieces you can make a story or just give flavor, or anything in between. They don't have to add up to anything deeper, but they can. And I think it's totally valid to make an impressionistic FM that doesn't have a real story, but just soaks with atmosphere or a cool gameplay flow.

 

- Plot is the actual engine that drives action when you're going through an FM, that pushes a flow through a beginning, middle, climax, to a denoument, and it uses storytelling elements in a specific order and way to do it.

 

I like Moonbo's take too. It reminds me of the old Egyptian temples. The outskirts are big and public information, but as you get deeper, you unlock progressive stages where things get smaller and more intimate (i.e., more exclusive access), until you reach the holy of holies, which is the climax.

 

The other common model I see is the hub and spokes model. After winning over a safe hub, you go down a number of spokes off of it to complete sub-goals in any order. Then the story emerges when all the pieces add up, so different players get the story in different orders but it's the same story in the end. Probably after you get all the pieces, then you can enter the climactic scene. So it's not entirely inconsistent with the Egyptian temple model either.

 

I enjoy your definitions, particularly the metaphores used for those two common types of approach to a mission's narrative.

 

And that sentence I bolded in the quote ? I completely agree. One of the strenghths of Thief and TDM is using the very environment and locale as not just a setting for a story, but as the story, however mundane it might seem at face value. 


Edited by Petike the Taffer, 12 February 2015 - 01:57 PM.


#15 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 11:40 AM

Weird question, but for all I've read of Newport, I haven't seen a single FM set there. :huh:

 

I was wondering about this precisely because I wanted to know if it had been portrayed in any FMs, as I'm planning of using it as a setting in my own. I'd like to keep some of the "lore" on it (for lack of a better term) consistent, hence my search. (I've also been expanding the wiki's list of towns appearing in TDM, but that's more of a secondary concern.)

 

Aside from the discussion on how to translate Newport's name in the German localisation, I have not see a single mention of it. So, is it currently in limbo as a location concept for the TDM universe ? :mellow: Was it at least mentioned in some readables in any particular missions ? I'd really like to know. :blush:



#16 Springheel

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 11:58 AM

for all I've read of Newport

 

 

What have you read?

 

Aside from the discussion on how to translate Newport's name in the German localisation, I have not see a single mention of it.

 

 

:huh:


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#17 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 12:49 PM

 

What have you read? :huh:

 

:D :blush:

 

Well, here are some links:

http://wiki.thedarkm...'s_Guide#German

http://forums.thedar...e-5#entry294719

 

"And that's all she wrote...", basically. Which surprised me, as I was under the impression that Newport is this already FM-established town, in the vein of Sotha's Glenham (and its multiple appearences, direct and through mentions).



#18 Springheel

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 01:48 PM

It may be mentioned in a fm, but there is no established lore for it that I know of.
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#19 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 02:52 PM

Sounds like the perfect opportunity for your's truly to finally use it for something. :D I also plan to have an off-handed reference to Singsmarsh in the FM, as one of the character's family originates from there. It's a town briefly mentioned (but not seen) in the older mission Lockdown.



#20 Noordung

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 03:50 PM

Maybe it is just an example how to translate. Stonebridge as Steinbrücke and Stone Bridge as Stein Brücke. You see 2 words in English as 2 words in German ans 1 word in English is 1 word in German. Could be just that. But I do not think that translating town names is necessary. Why not just leave them. Because if towns in north have more German names, how would you translate those?



#21 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 04:28 PM

Eh, but I'm not into translating the names of the settlements (despite working on a localisation now, which I will soon be finishing).

 

I just wanted to ask whether Newport was ever used as a setting in any FMs, since I want to use it in mine and was  interested whether there is any lore about it to build upon. I guess it'll fall to me to establish some stuff about it then ! B)



#22 Noordung

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 05:40 PM

Can not say for sure but maybe it was used just for translating example. You could always just use new name. Instead of port you can use haven and you have Newhaven. Southaven, Northaven, Easthaven...



#23 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 04 March 2015 - 01:00 PM

Can not say for sure but maybe it was used just for translating example. You could always just use new name. Instead of port you can use haven and you have Newhaven. Southaven, Northaven, Easthaven...

 

But I like Newport. ^_^

 

I'm already thinking about explaining its name as the result of some colonists from Bridgeport (and eventually elsewhere) originally founding a trade post with a small dock on the site of the future town. Over time, it became strategically important or lucrative for local shipping routes. What until then amounted to a hamlet, quickly grew into a bigger village, and eventually, a town. I might add a few colourful details to the backstory of the town (with a hint of inaccuracy or popular misconceptions). Some ideas I've had is that the creation or development of the the naval trading post might have been spearheaded by some nobelman or businessman who was originally from Bridgeport, but became infamous or unwanted over there (due to making enemies, or embarassing himself among the local cream of society, or having major debts or other economic problems) and decided to move out and start anew. Plus, he coupled this with an "I'll show them !" attitude and was instrumental in trying to prop up Newport's growth as a potential rival to Bridgeport. Ultimately, it didn't end up that way, but in the 200-300 years time, Newport did become a fairly major town (or small city) on that part of the coastline.

 

Obviously, this backstory idea could influence the visual presentation of the town. Like many boom towns throughout history, I think Newport might be an odd mix of very regular town planning and very higgledy-piggledy, spontaneous construction from the past. The former would be predictable in parts of the town that were meant to serve as something of a "display case" of its economic prosperity, while the less regulated architecture would litter the bits that few cared about in the long run.

 

As for the distance from Bridgeport, it should be at least a few dozen miles. In our modern measurements, maybe some 80 kilometers down the coast.


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#24 Noordung

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Posted 04 March 2015 - 03:14 PM

Nice. But why is important? Surely not post for long range trading because it is too close to Bridgeport. Could it have a big river? Some rivers were very important for trade. I noticed in one map that Bridgeport does not have a river, just gulf for nice harbor. Some wide river like Danube where ships could sail far north to rich mines would be good for back story.

Also dark secret why the post was empty... Plague, pagan attack, or maybe some supernatural powers...

Anyway it is your story. :D



#25 Springheel

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Posted 04 March 2015 - 03:24 PM

I'm already thinking about explaining its name as the result of some colonists from Bridgeport (and eventually elsewhere) originally founding a trade post with a small dock on the site of the future town.

 

 

Just because they both have "port" in the name doesn't mean there has to be a link between the two.  Also, Bridgeport is on the edge of a collapsing Empire that has lasted for a thousand years or so (basically a Roman Empire that made it to medieval times and then invented steamworks), so the idea of "colonists" founding a town 80 miles away seems a bit dodgy.  Any really large settlements would be much older than a few centuries.

 

In the grand scheme of things, how a town was founded is not especially important for story purposes...what's more important is thinking of interesting things that are happening there now.  There are lots of possibilities there.  Barbarian invasions, Menoan conflicts, Inquisitions, religious conflicts, political intrigue, etc.


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