Why doesn't storytelling take precedence over gameplay?

 

What if the gameplay was part of the storytelling rather than separate?

 

How would the gameplay tell a story and what would that story be about? 

 

 

Team

Philip Begel, Mark Hansen

Special thanks for the voice acting talents of Saeed Al Saleh & Francesca Palermo!

And a big shout out to the amazing ink/painting artwork of Pieter Sneep!

 

 

Duration

Winter 2015; 10 weeks

 

 

Role

Creative Director; Narrative Writer; Level Editor 

 

You Exist

by

Mockingbird|Interactive

A narrative driven 2D role-playing game about what it means to be a human being or just a simulation of one. (note 2018: before Westworld or The Talos Principle dangit!!)

Developed, wrote, and designed the game's world, characters, story, and gameplay in GameMaker Studio. (Placed in top 12 in ‘Foundations of Game Design’ course out of 30 groups while attending University of California, Santa Cruz).

Controls:

Move:                     W, A, S, D
Talk:                        Space   

Exit Talk:                 ESC
Save:                        F5
Reset Dungeon:     Enter

  • Enter the Void and collect the world fragments in order to be able to exit the dungeon.
  • Your health will degenerate rapidly so you must navigate the dungeon quickly and figure out the most opportune path to make it in time. Power-ups along the way will assist you with added speed and health. 
  • Completing a dungeon by collecting all the world fragments will restore parts of the town that did not exist prior allowing you to explore and interact with the town to go more in depth into the backstory or simply continue to the next dungeon that has opened up and continue restoring the world.

 

 

 

What I Learned

  • From Story to Gameplay: When integrating the story written to work with both gameplay and the game's narrative, it has to involve a point to trim and condense it if it's grown too large. As I tried to attempt a screenplay of the game, it was a balance of not giving too much power to the narrative to the point where it could hinder the gameplay design. Gamers and critics can destroy a game over the telling of the story, or lack therof. It can be lost in the transition from the word document to the game screen, and turn out as overbearing, repetitive, unoriginal, or just plain bad. So it's crucial to get it right. 
  • The Right Narrative: When writing the game, even with a first and second draft finished, I learned that writing is a highly iterative process. Collaborating is wonderful in helping to focus on stronger ideas and ignore the weaker ones. As we ran through story ideas I intuively knew that the right story or premise can launch a game. Seeing other teams' projects in the final competition made me see that even tried-and-true gameplay concepts can be adopted to a great narrative to make new contexts and make the familiar fresh again. 
  • Team Responsibilities: What I learned from a two person team is the amount of work that needs to be done to make the game feel right. There's so much to do to view the work objectively and see what needs more development like breaking the story apart, characterization, the level concepts, and even structuring of an individual setting. Building towards an even more cinematic experience requires paying attention to elements of the game we didn't even have the time or skillset to implement such as the fundamental placement of helpful characters, the lighting of a room, etc. The language of a video game in storytelling is that the story has to be told by being visually conveyed through the environment rather than explicitly stated.

Process

Physical Prototype

A physical board of a typical dungeon in our game drawn on paper. It is a maze that the player starts at the bottom of and has to collect the 3 Cosmo pieces scattered around the maze, signified by the treasure chest icon, to advance. The player moves at a fixed rate. They only have 1 minute to complete the maze to mimic the health degeneration and we place another board over the player with a hole to simulate the limited Point of View of the player. There are 2 power-ups scattered around as well that will either add an extra 30 seconds to your time allotted or increase the players speed shortly.

Testing Results:

Participants found the game simple, but still had trouble navigating the maze. They managed to do so in under a minute, but many struggled and had to do it over again. The maze was longer than they thought and when they realized that they needed all 3 pieces to complete the level they suddenly were aware of the pressure to win. Initially, the struggle was seen as problematic, but reviewing the experience players had, we saw that they were actively navigating the maze to find the pieces to reach the exit and the fog of war truly added a layer of complexity to the level so we decided to keep the mechanic.

Future innovations:

  • Add monsters to make level more challenging that the player would hack and slash through. Costs time to fight a monster so player could decide to fight or find another way around them.
  • Monster may drop a Cosmo piece that is necessary to exit the dungeon or a key to a secret area of the dungeon
  • Better weapons could be acquired throughout the game to deal with monsters more easily.

 

Schedule

  • Created to map out the 10 weeks span of the project from conception till a computational prototype and playtesting. 
  • Included over 30 tasks within game building, documentation, playtesting, and asset creation with detailed descriptions for each (e.g. Create Lindlum NPC sprities), duration of time needed to complete (e.g. 5 hours), deadline to be completed (e.g. Between weeks 5-6) and who it was assigned to. 

 

The World

 

 

Locations

Lindlum 

Creator: The Eminence

A village of composed of a wise, shamanistic culture in-tune with their natural surroundings. They believe in their omnipotent God, The Eminence, whom they attribute all natural forces to, including their souls. Their peaceful lives allow them to take a rational approach to the mystical world around them and ponder the philosophical implications of humanity’s existence without condemnation.
Upon Restoring the village from its Abolishment, talking to the people reveals they are shocked to learn that they were sealed away or that such a thing could even occur. They mention how the tales of the Abolishment only started a few months ago coinciding with the disappearance of their Creator’s presence in the world. They take a heavy interest in your newfound ability and its potential connection to their Abolishment.

 

 

Castlecity of Vainglory

Creator: The Man/The Lady

This overpowering castle-city stands atop an otherworldly, lush cape overlooking the cyan sea below. The Man first appeared in this world at this site and created Vainglory. Upon restoring the town, the citizens are found unfaltering, having grown up with seeing so-called divine creation before their very eyes before, causing them to be devout, religious zealots. The people attribute all occurrences that have happened as Judgment from their God whose name they only refer to as Ash Zephyria. They believe He is the one and only true God to serve and their religion in honor of Him has no place for amendments. They beseech you to serve their God and reminisce about the times He and The Lady used to reside in the castle giving them an almighty sense of comfort and safety.

 

 

Magnapolis: The Invincible City

Creator: The President

A utopian city built from the extraordinary collective intellectual capabilities of the human mind through science and imagination. The Invincible City is built of luminous blue skyscrapers, translucent irregular pathways, and ingenuity. The streets are kept so clean the long robes of the national dress will not get dirty. One can travel the city by zeppelin or floating plate lifters. Most shopping is handled by computers, with no physical shops in the shopping arcade.
Upon restoring the city, the nobles are not surprised by the Abolishment and seem to know exactly what the nature of it is and even your own very ability. It is known that their leader, The President, was open with His people and encouraged them to continue the quest for humanity’s ever expanding knowledge and question their existence. The people find your journey pointless and have nothing substantial to say to you without their leader whom they admired passionately. They mention how they witnessed the disappearance of their leader recalling how The Man and The Lady arrived once and proceeded to see their leader. Soon after, bursts of light expelled from his palace and settled at the skirts of the city and coastline, becoming the crystal pillars. They believe it was His raw power that condensed to form them; their only worry was where the rest of Him and His power went, as if The Man or Lady had taken it somehow.

 

Cursed World: Xorn

Creator: The Dark

Miasmas of ill intentions gather in this place; never once was this world anything more than a cursed and wretched pit. Pilgrims of Dark; grotesque, nightmarish creatures roam the charred earth here. The features of the land share the same pleasantness as its inhabitants. Floating castles line the infinite night sky and a silent town lies by the water.
Never is this place restored, for it should never be. This was the first place that The Man Abolished. Only traces of it remain on the outskirts of the other worlds that happened to creep into worlds with life, clinging onto something to continue spreading their corruption.

 

Characters

The Man

Believes that if such fringe science is possible then there must be a being greater than himself or any human to be able to create a complex universe where his own Earth resides. He finds it unnatural for humans to try to play with this power given the feebleness of human nature that he has witnessed first-hand. When humans gain absolute power they will be pushed to the edge of their conscious capability and become corrupt. He seeks to abolish any remnants of his and his fellow scientist’s presence in this world in order to not muck across the laws of the cosmos any further.

The Lady

Believes in creating a new world where humanity can prosper beyond any limitation. Uses you to show The Man that humanity can still be made pure despite the extremities they’ve witnessed by The Dark and The President.

The Eminence

Believes in applying the laws of nature we know to create, and simulate, a new civilization, but doesn’t care for the individuals, only research and pushing the limits of what is possible in this world.

The President

He believes in applying humanity’s vast intellectual capability to its eventual progression to immortality. Struggles with achieving this through scientific means, as the initial and only way before, but now finds himself in a place where the apparent “magic” that he and the others have stumbled upon can fulfill all those wishes.
Unlike the others, who avoid contact with their creations, he actively engages in heavy talks with them, but upon beholding the capability for humans to use their gift for corruption and absolute power, he died to avoid himself succumbing to it, as well.

The Dark

He believes and revels in absolute power and pushing the limits of what is thought possible. Goes beyond the ideas of The President and wants to push humanity to a new form that could have the potential to spread to all the corners of this cosmos; a beautiful new step in our evolving legacy towards immortality. His actions did not go unnoticed and he was killed by The Man and The Lady.

You

What’s there to say about you? You don’t really have a purpose unless you want one. You think you were a resident of the town of Lindlum since you have a mother there, friends and people who know you. But this is a world where anything can be created; and so were you and your memories and everyone else’s memory of you. Your purpose was just to be used as the player in a game between two people who are toying with the fabric of the 'verse. Will you choose to stitch back the fabric as The Man believes, abolishing this world and ending your existence, or will you try to make this world a new home for humanity to flourish, prosper and start anew?

 

Terms

 

Cosmo: Anything that has been Abolished such as a person or a place is transformed into this raw material of the 'verse. Only someone with a Great Soul can gather a Cosmo piece and restore it.

Abolish/Abolishment: The central characters have the power to build as they please and also to erase anything they please, too. This process is called Abolishment: to destabilize the molecules used in any creation and return them in a raw form back to the 'verse, but they are not gone forever.
The power of Abolishment is tied to destabilizing the molecules of anything and sealing them in the form of the raw 'verse (a Cosmo piece). Those with a Great Soul can Abolish anything, even themselves. Should oneself be in a life or death situation they can Abolish themselves and be sealed away within the Great Soul, destroying their physical form. When another person comes along and tries to wield the Great Soul’s power, they will be met with the prior person’s essence that can attempt to take over the new host’s physical form thus being physically reborn in a sense.

Restore/Restoration: All these Abolished creations can be Restored by the same power to bring back the molecules to their original physical space. A Cosmo piece can be Restored and its contents will return to their prior physical space.

Soul: The power of the 'verse that the central characters draw upon to construct the world. The Lesser Soul is a source of power that the created-people have, which is too petty to have any power to manifest physically like the Great Soul. The central characters have a Great Soul, which is the power they gained when they entered this world. When they die, their Great Soul cannot be contained any longer in a physical form so it becomes erratic and eventually condenses.

  • A Great Soul can never be destroyed. If no humans are present then the Great Soul will crystallize. If any human is present and observes the raw power of the Great Soul, then the influence of their Lesser Soul is enough to inherit the power of the Great Soul in the form of a physical item.
  • If someone holds a Great Soul then when they die, their physical body dies but their Great Soul lives on. The Great Soul is its own entity; the person who it belonged to simply remains as the arbiter of that Great Soul even in death where they are powerless. They remain in a sort of ethereal limbo tied to the Great Soul.
  • The Great Souls of The President, The Eminence, and The Dark were all examples of what happens when the physical vessel dies. Their raw power was transformed into a physical item upon inspection by a human observer: a crystal figure from The President, a smooth orb from The Eminence, and a sword from The Dark. Only The Dark understood that they could still live on if they Abolish themselves into their own Great Soul item and be Restored in the future.

 

  • The Smooth Orb: An odd stone ring containing a fiery heat. Our deeds will come back to us in some form or another, both good and bad. A powerful soul is like a curse.
  • The Crystal Figurine: A massive crystal in the shape of a dragon. Our deeds will come back to us in some form or another, both good and bad. A powerful soul is like a curse.
  • The Blade of Xorn: A blade with teeth on all sides; an exquisite display of deadly features. Our deeds will come back to us in some form or another, both good and bad. A powerful soul is like a curse.

 

 

Abilities 

What if people, through exposure to the Great Soul, could somehow develop abilities similar to what only those with the Great Soul could achieve? They wouldn’t be as powerful, but whatever they can do would be called “magic” by them.

Mental Stats

Intellect: Intellect represents raw intelligence and ability to think logically and solve problems. Intelligence represents a characters knowledge of physical spells. Characters high in this stat will be able to effectively use powerful Physical Magic and not waste energy in doing so. This is the preferred attribute for those who want to be able to use the strongest available magic to obliterate their enemies.

Intuition: Intuition represents the ability to perform on instinct and whatever "feels" right. Those with high intuition know that their instincts won't fail them in most cases.

Willpower: Willpower represents mental fortitude and ability to resist attacks on the mind and horrific or stressful situations. It also represents a characters natural common sense, so to speak. Characters high here will make better judgment calls based on the current situation.

Charisma: Charisma represents your force of character and personal magnetism.

Magic Stats 

This represents your control over magic as a whole. The higher this stat, the more effective your character is at manipulating raw magical energies in an effective manner and using only what is necessary to achieve the desired results.

Rules on Magical Stats: All those inhabitating the world possess magic, it is inherent. However, not all people are especially skilled. Each type of magic has many passive benefits, for example you can use physical magic to enhance the speed at which you run, or use mental magic to shield yourself from probing. Magic is based off of manipulating energy to achieve a desired result. Magic is dealt with in terms of force, the higher level of force the more it drains from you. Force that exceeds magic capabilites will do actual life-threatening damage to the caster, and higher force will drain more thoroughly. Not using magic for a time and allowing the mind and soul to rest is the only way to "restore" your magic.

Physical Magic: Physical magic governs the area around you. The basic function is telekinetic effects; which deals with the exertion of your will upon the physical world. This includes basic telekinetic thrusts, pushes, and manipulations, to more advanced techniques such as specialized force on an object (cutting, slashing, etc), heat and cold manipulation (exciting the molecules in the air or slowing them down), summon pillars of flame from the earth, send mini-tornadoes at foes, and ultimately use the most damaging magical attacks among other such effects. Physical magic takes a toll on the physical body; those with higher toughness and physical magic aptitude are able to use it longer. Overuse of physical magic can drain your energy or even cause physical wounds to manifest themselves on the body, even resulting in death.

Mental Magic: Mental magic represents proficiency with mental magic, which deals with exertion of your will upon the minds of others. Abilities such as telepathy and mind control fall under this category allowing placement of magical barriers, heal grievous wounds, or assault an enemy's mind. Using mental magic drains mental energy, causing you to become unstable or burned out, and having a high willpower helps you resist the effects of using it. Overuse of mental magic can cause you to lose your grip on reality, even driving you temporarily or permanently insane.

Soul Magic: Soul magic is the most powerful and the most dangerous. It reaches into the aether and draws raw and untainted soul energy into the world. Two basic forms of soul magic are aether projection, detaching your spiritual consciousness and projecting it into the aether where you can observe and move quickly (albeit leaving your body unattended) and aether sighting, which allows you to enter a mode of viewing where you perceive only living creatures or plants and the very ley lines of magic. Soul magic can also be used to summon aether forms, concentrated soul energy that has taken on its own sentience and shape, into the world and bind it to you for a brief period of time. It also allows you to shape raw aether to blast away at your opponent's soul in an attempt to defeat or even slay them. Soul Magic takes a toll on the soul itself, and those with strong charisma and soul magic aptitude are able to use it longer. Overuse of soul magic causes the body to stop functioning as well, until you no longer have enough of a soul presence to keep it functioning enough to keep you alive. Drained soul energy manifests itself through sluggish movements as the body begins to shut down, no longer recognizing the presence of a soul or lifeforce within it. Those with more experience and self-assurance are generally regarded to have stronger souls and be more resistant to its adverse effects.