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Story, Plot and Narrative Design Discussion Thread

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#26 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 07 March 2015 - 01:37 PM

 

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.

 

Uh, yeah, I almost forgot about Bridgeport still being in The Empire ! :( :smile:

 

However, you've just given me a good idea on how to modify the backstory of Newport in a way that doesn't conflict with Bridgeport's history and what we know about The Empire. B)


Edited by Petike the Taffer, 07 March 2015 - 01:38 PM.


#27 Paralytik

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Posted 07 March 2015 - 07:03 PM

Very nice thread, good idea to start it. :)

I've made some notes on this subject, specifically, I've tried to make some simple templates for story/plot/level designs that directly links gameplay elements and game mechanics with the story-telling. To do this, I first started to narrow down what I imagine a common mission would consist of, in terms of gameplay, which for me is the most important part. If a mission is not fun to play, it doesn't matter how well-written a plot might be.

So, let's say you are a thief, which is quite common in TDM missions. What do thieves do? They steal things from others! :D In the TDM universe, this usually involves entering/breaking into locations where valuables are kept, like big mansions, religious buildings, warehouses, and such.
A natural start for a mission would then be to present the player with a location they are supposed to break into. A fairly straight-forward start of a story idea right there if you ask me. So what to pick? Castles, mansions, churches, temples, workshops, taverns, inns, forts, towers, warehouses, mines, sewers... all of these would fit quite well into TDM and its medieval steampunky, grimy setting.

So here comes the actual organization of gameplay elements I've done so far, namely methods and routes that can be used to enter a location.
I've divided these possible routes into three easily definable larger categories, which I have called the following: 

Street Level, Roof Level and Underground Level.

By doing this, we can begin asking ourselves questions about the location we have chosen, and by doing so, expand on different plot ideas we might consider, but might be unsure of how to develop further. Here's some examples of routes that falls into the different categories.

Street Level

  • Through doors, gates, windows.
  • Through/over crumbled or collapsed walls, construction sites.
  • Through abandoned, adjacent buildings/structures.
  • Secret doors, hidden passages.

 

Roof Level

  • Jumping from adjacent buildings.
  • Natural formations; hills, cliffs, trees.
  • Climbing on facades, balconies, higher set windows.
  • Ladders, vines, ropes, chains, pipes.
  • Ventilation systems.
  • Skylights, holes in roof.

 

Underground Level

  • Tunnels.
  • Sewers.
  • Pipes.
  • Catacombs.
  • Caves.
  • Mines.

 

It might seem obvious and not very helpful, but when doing this and making a few choices in planning a mission from a gameplay perspective, I think it will be easier to come up with a consistent story and plot that fits seamlessly into the level design, and also make it easier to plan out different features of a level. Of course, these categories are just suggestions and quite broad in definition. Most of them can be divided up into smaller segments and combined in various ways, or to offer ideas for alternative, optional routes into, or out of, the same location.

I hope some of you might find this interesting and/or helpful in some way. This way of thinking and dividing down things into concrete bits of gameplay can also be used when considering loot placement, audio queues, AI patrols, progression tempo, etc. :)


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#28 Morat

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Posted 07 March 2015 - 07:30 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 :( )

 

Very good points you brought up here. I especially agree with your first statement. Gameplay is king and story is second for me, which is why the Thief 2 FM, "The Art of Thievery", by Rich Cull remains one of my all-time favorite Thief FM's. It has very little in the way of story and is pretty much 100% gameplay focused. The result is an absolute beast of a mansion mission full of Mechanists, loot, and security devices. I think this mission more than any other I've played really captures the "core" of the Thief gameplay, which will no doubt disappoint those looking for a solid story but for people like me that don't care all that much, it's fantastic from a gameplay perspective.

 

I would really like to design (or at least play) an FM that tries to take a stab at minimalist storytelling (similar to Dark Souls or Half-Life), where very little is given in the way of exposition and it's up to the player to get engaged in what's going on. I haven't seen any FM author attempt this for Thief or the Dark Mod (point me to an FM that does if you know one). Games like that tend to draw me in much deeper than something like Metal Gear, which "holds you down and continually vomits exposition into your face," as Yahtzee Croshaw put it. It's just as annoying when Thief FM's do this as well.


Edited by Morat, 07 March 2015 - 07:31 PM.


#29 ashpl

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 06:02 AM

Which leads me to my second point: Keep readables as short as possible and do not only rely on them when telling a story.

 

As a player that's the main problem with a lot of the fan missions I played so far : Everybody and their dogs keep detailed journals and write down notes for everything, and that's often the only way the story is told. Now I understand how hard it could be to come up with other solutions to embed a story, but I think it could be less redundant if : 1 - Personal writings weren't so often blatantly displayed and kept secure, hidden or at least kept away from curious eyes 2 - Journals/notes weren't so talkative 3 - Written elements were more diversified. I don't see this often bills, accounts, activity reports, drafts, etc. Remember the Bafford's manor, there was an underground room where he kept his accounts : A glance at it and we get clear hints on what kind of activity he was involved in, yet it was just pages of expenses and incomes reports.

That's what I would like to try to work on : A good separation between what is private and what isn't, hints and clues "diluted" in a more various forms of documents and overall shorter and more "believable" writings.

On a different subject : There's no Keepers in The Dark Mod. How would you legitimate the use of glyphs in TDM's universe? I'm not fond of magnets, magicks and stuffs but this idea of hiding passages or whole rooms with a simple sigil is great, as it is awesome by itself and a convenant way to give power to a character (highly evasive), solve level design problems (hide areas where suspicious activities take place in a credible way) and work as a reward for exploring the map (sikrit stashes).


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#30 demagogue

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 06:39 AM

We have Inventors, which in my vision of them have secret entrances like that all over the city, with plenty of schemes and intrigue. Not enough stories have been made about them.
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#31 Springheel

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 07:34 AM

On a different subject : There's no Keepers in The Dark Mod. How would you legitimate the use of glyphs in TDM's universe? I'm not fond of magnets, magicks and stuffs but this idea of hiding passages or whole rooms with a simple sigil is great,

 

 

Magic exists in the TDM setting, and there is a guild of sorcerers in the city itself. 


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#32 ERH+

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 03:25 AM

On the subject of plot design I would like to point to http://dramatica.com/theory/book . "Dramatica" itself is a program designed for making a blueprint of all elements in your novel (characters, plotlines, events, logic and agendas of all actions) -but aside of software they give you a theory book, with contains explanation of every story element and what role it plays behind curtains. By the story making process you will be asked multiple times "what is it for?" :

 

Main character is a static entity by itself, so he need a influence to be forced or lured forward. For the story sake different characters should play a consistant (from a maker's point of view) role and shouldn't double each other in one role without reason. In simplest view they are divided to 8 archetypes: pursuing protagonist - avoiding antagonist, reason based, controlling, logical thinking type - uncontrolled, emotional feeling type, faithful sidekick - disbelieving sceptic, main character's/quest's guardian - tempting contagonist with bad influence, making main character reconsider its path. Later it is explained to mix archetypes in one person by distributing more than one in motives, methods, perception, and characters role in overall story structure.

 

Change occurring in story may be mirrored in change of main character -it may take time and be showed by same event opening and closing story, only character's action shows he is not the same, or the change may be forced by culminating pressure, leading to "leap of faith". Or maybe character's motive will be to not be affected, and in the end is the influential character who will change.
Story logic should be clear: main character/influential character should change/be faithful, with leads to his win/doom, while moral estimation of it is positive/negative. From good willing antagonist point of view the opposite actions are the cure for the problem, and the best antagonists are those who are likeable; fighting more and more ongoing obstacles can be not worth the main goal and may lead to reconsidering it just like antagonist person would do; etc. etc.

 

I have found this lecture very, very, very influential and enlightening.


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#33 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 05:02 AM

Yay, nice find ! :)

 

 

The blog of Frictional Games might be of interest to those who ponder about narrative elements in gaming. Particularly horror gaming, but not just that. Here's a chronological list of some of their interesting articles on narrative design:

 

A History of Violence (Part 1)

A History of Violence (Part 2)

A History of Violence (Part 3)

What will save you ?

Nothing will save you !

The Problem with Obstacles (Part 1)

The Problem with Obstacles (Part 2)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 1)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 2)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 3)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 4)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 5)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 6)

Puzzles in horror games (Part 7)

The struggle between Light and Dark

Why Horror Games Suck !

Future of video game interaction

When focusing on fun fails

How gameplay and narrative kill meaning in "games"

Exploring deeper meaning in games

Storytelling through fragments and situations

The judgement predicament of audio and graphics

Why trial and error will doom games

Experience and live - not compete and beat

Why I hate "Cinematic"

Where is your self in a game ?

On game lenghth

What video games lack: Deeper intent

Story: What is it really about ?

How the player becomes the protagonist

Player-avatar symbiosis

The Player - the artist ?

Is the player an artist ? - Redux

The Problem of Repetition

Narrative not a game mechanic ?

Unconventional Design Tips

10 ways to evolve horror games

The Self, Presence and Storytelling

High-level Storytelling Design

Goals and Storytelling

Puzzles, what are they good for ?

Puzzles and Causal Histories

Nailing down terminology

5 Core Elements of Interactive Storytelling

Useful Tips for Horror Game Designers

4-Layers, a narrative design approach

Alien: Isolation and the two hardest problems in horror

Thoughts on Alien: Isolation and horror simulation

 

Obviously, not all of these are 100 % relevant to TDM's style of gameplay, but they can still provide some food for thought. B)

 

 

Also, possible tips for FM makers:

 

On versioning (or how the simplest thing can save you from the hardest pain)

What could possibly go wrong ?


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#34 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 09:21 AM

Question:

Do you think it make sense for two different crucial characters to be both orphaned ? Is it improbable or not ? In one case, by an epidemic that hit the town years ago and killed off a lot of locals (leaving only the character's older brother, who nevertheless still died a bit later). In the second case, by an accident (either at work or due to weather/travelling) for the first parent and for the second parent, due to a different premature death.

 

While I'm not one to think that life in a pre-modern society was "nasty, brutal and short" (as it's often sensationalitically described), it's nevertheless a fact that life expectancies were a lot lower than today, medicine for more serious ailments was not as reliable, serious injuries or illnesses were often a death sentence, and hygiene could have been sometimes poorer and inadvertently spread diseases. So, personally, I don't find the idea of both characters being orphans and only having distant surviving relatives to be that far-fetched in a society based on this period. But... Just in case, I'd like to hear your opinion on this as well. I dislike the cheesy "you, our hero, are conveniently an orphan !" scenarios and tropes that so often occur in stories in general.



#35 Anderson

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 10:02 AM

Question:

Do you think it make sense for two different crucial characters to be both orphaned ? Is it improbable or not ? In one case, by an epidemic that hit the town years ago and killed off a lot of locals (leaving only the character's older brother, who nevertheless still died a bit later). In the second case, by an accident (either at work or due to weather/travelling) for the first parent and for the second parent, due to a different premature death.

 

While I'm not one to think that life in a pre-modern society was "nasty, brutal and short" (as it's often sensationalitically described), it's nevertheless a fact that life expectancies were a lot lower than today, medicine for more serious ailments was not as reliable, serious injuries or illnesses were often a death sentence, and hygiene could have been sometimes poorer and inadvertently spread diseases. So, personally, I don't find the idea of both characters being orphans and only having distant surviving relatives to be that far-fetched in a society based on this period. But... Just in case, I'd like to hear your opinion on this as well. I dislike the cheesy "you, our hero, are conveniently an orphan !" scenarios and tropes that so often occur in stories in general.

 For more authenticity you may make one of them to have been abandoned/abused by their real parents at some point (their identity is still known) - very likely dysfunctional families were present in those times, as during hard moments there may be a turning point that unveils how a person really is. 

The idea may be further developed to have caused a sort of a state of mind specific to the character's possible drama as a consequence to those events (especially if they are from childhood).


 "I really perceive that vanity about which most men merely prate — the vanity of the human or temporal life. I live continually in a reverie of the future. I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago. The result will never vary — and to suppose that it will, is to suppose that the foregone man has lived in vain — that the foregone time is but the rudiment of the future — that the myriads who have perished have not been upon equal footing with ourselves — nor are we with our posterity. I cannot agree to lose sight of man the individual, in man the mass."...

 

 

- 2 July 1844 letter to James Russell Lowell from Edgar Allan Poe.

 


#36 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 20 March 2015 - 08:02 AM

That's true. However, I want to avoid making another "I was abused, pity me" backstory and instead go for something subtler, as the former can feel somewhat gratuitous. While abuse in families, etc., was less detested in earlier periods, it would have still been met with opposition from some people who would learn about it. Also, I find bad family relations that gradually spiraled out of control more compelling for a backstory, rather than just throwing in random domestic violence as the explanation for everything.

 

Nevertheless, the backstory of both characters will be gradually revealed, even if I lay out the basics of it in the first FM.



#37 Noordung

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Posted 20 March 2015 - 08:32 AM

Question:

Do you think it make sense for two different crucial characters to be both orphaned ?

Sure, why not? they could be old friends from orphanage or from streets...



#38 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 08:28 AM

Sure, why not? they could be old friends from orphanage or from streets...

 

The latter might make some sense, but the former less so, as they were already over ten years old when they were orphaned. Most orphanages would probably take in only younger children, even though I'm not entirely dismissing the idea of them taking in someone in their very early teens. Still, it does seem a bit late to me. Most children of that age, with such a fate, would probably just be left to their own devices on the streets.

 

The female character, though without parents, has some surviving relatives (a grandfather and an aunt), while the male character is pretty much all that's left of his family (his brother being the last member other than him to die, though that occured more than a decade before the story starts).



#39 Springheel

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 09:48 AM

Ten year olds would have jobs already, unless they were upper class.
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#40 Petike the Taffer

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 11:36 AM

Ten year olds would have jobs already, unless they were upper class.

 

Exactly, that too is why I find it implausible for them to be in an orphanage while over he age of 10.

 

Speaking of which, the male character and his brother do get a job after they survive the plague that killed off their parents and other siblings. Their dad was a farrier, so they try to get work in that particular trade. Unfortunately, the brother dies two or three years later, and the male character is forced to fend for himself. Worse still, the local smithing guilds have an old bone to pick with the boys' families and the two boys themselves, so they make sure they can't get a job in Newport while the current leaders of the guilds are in charge. Eventually, the sole survivor of the family gets into dire straits and turns to odd jobs and small-scale thieving to feed himself, only to be introduced by some fence he met to the world of professional burglary. He gradually starts focusing on thieving for a living (by night, of course), as his earnings at that time played against him just settling down with a normal occupation.

 

I plan to have the character take up a normal trade (probably as a cobbler) once he moves out of his old hometown to Bridgeport, but he won't exactly be willing to let go of burglary even after that, using his day job as a front for what he's up to at night...


Edited by Petike the Taffer, 21 March 2015 - 11:42 AM.


#41 ashpl

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 05:28 PM

@demagogue, Springheel : I forgot the part about magic and the Hermetic Order on the Wiki, thanks. Knowing that I think this should be way easier to integrate glyphs and magical powers. There is definitely something more to do with the Inventor Guild, yes.

 

A few months ago I stumbled upon a Let's Play of a TDM mission where pop-up messages were used to display what the player character was thinking or feeling at the moment. It' a great idea that I would like to use myself, but I can't remember the name of the mission. Anyone know which one I'm talking about? It might involves undeads but I'm not even sure of that.



#42 Springheel

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 07:17 PM

The Training Mission uses pop-up messages, and I know Heart of Lone Salvation starts with one.


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#43 VanishedOne

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 07:24 PM

I don't remember for certain, but maybe Alberic's Curse?

Some things I'm repeatedly thinking about...

- louder scream when you're dying


#44 ashpl

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Posted 22 March 2015 - 02:54 AM

Yes this is the one. Thanks folks, 'going to play those two and dive some more into the Training mission.



#45 Baal

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 03:42 PM

I need a short bit of flavour text on this guy (written on a plaque beneath his bust):

bust.jpg

 

It has nothing to do with the missions story, but I need a name for him to refer to in an objective. And it would be cool if it told the player something interesting about the history of the Dark Mods world, whatever that would be. Anyone interested in helping me out?



#46 Moonbo

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 05:08 PM

"Lord Harmon, fifth Baron of Bridgeport. Crowned by his brother, deposed by his son."

 

Something like that?


Edited by Moonbo, 31 March 2015 - 05:09 PM.

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#47 Bikerdude

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 05:13 PM

I don't remember for certain, but maybe Alberic's Curse?

Yes, next to the pond.

"Lord Harmon, fifth Baron of Bridgeport. Crowned by his brother, deposed by his son."

Sounds good, Baal..?



#48 Baal

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 05:14 PM

Yes, that's great. Does it fit the canon? Thank you very much.



#49 Moonbo

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 05:15 PM

It does now :-P.


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#50 Baal

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 05:24 PM

Ok, there isn't much canon to contradict. We'll take the risk. :)





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