alias_sqbr: (genius!)
[personal profile] alias_sqbr
For genusshrike.

This is something I'm still figuring out, so instead of trying for any general statements I'll just go through the approaches I've taken so far.

Asides from my general plotting approach of "start writing and keep going til you hit a snag, then go back and plan/edit", I guess the basic thing I do is
1) Come up with the "good" paths/endings, structure the game around them. These are usually fairly linear.
2) Come up with any other long paths, make them consistent with the good ones.
3) Always poke at both what would be in character (as with any story) and at what a variety of players might want to do at any given point, even if it's self destructive or messes with my plot. "There are two doors. I decide to open the one on the left." is less fun than letting the player TRY both doors but the one on the right is locked, and the latter isn't much more work.
3) Add little bad ends here and there where it makes sense (and maybe some shortcut funny "good" ends)

First, three silly/toy VNs:

Mass Effect 3: the goal with was to parody Mass Effect 1 and 2, so I had a structure where pretty much every choice was (1)Diplomacy (2)Violence (3) Flirting, and at the end you got the relevant choices you'd picked often enough (or none, and you died). Once I had that structure I stole the plot from what I expected/wanted from the game: start as a prisoner, get control of the ship, visit your crew, solve the quarian/geth conflict, visit the citadel, final boss confrontation with the reapers. Asides from affecting the ending the choices you made had very little effect so there was really only one path, made of modules you could play in different orders. Much like Mass Effect! :)

Mass Effect 3: Endings Edition: This had exactly the same plot as the real end of Mass Effect 3, plus every choice I'd wanted during the game but didn't get. Not my deepest game :)

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came: The main plot of this is just the plot of the poem (well, the tiny bit of the poem I adapted) Then I thought about the various decisions Roland makes and what might have interesting consequences if he'd chosen differently. I settled on turning back, since he thinks about it so much.

Next, my only completed serious VN:

SOON: This was VERY COMPLICATED to plot what with all the time travel.
First I came up with the basic idea: you can travel to 1993/2003/2013/2023, changing the future as you go. The initial plan is to remove Fang from existence in 1993, but this ends badly. Your other goal is to remove the robot threat in 2013 while it's still young and vulnerable (originally by reasoning with the AI, but this was too much effort) In the process you get to know Fang better, maybe at uni in 2003.

Then I sat down and figured out what Atlas (or their lab), Fang and the AI were up to in each year, and came up with a "Go back to 1993 and remove Fang from existence, the future is flooded" bad end and a "destroy robot threat in 2013, go to 2023 and everything's better" good end and coded them in. Since these are mutually exlusive, this was basically two separate very simple linear time travel stories. But it wasn't a very fun game yet!

I added placeholder dialogue for all 12 time/character possibilities then just played around with the time machine, adding conversations which didn't change anything but illuminated character and seeing how things flowed together. This led me to Atlas's personal character arc: you give young!Atlas advice in 2003 and 2013 which turns 2023!Atlas into the kind of person who can work with Fang to save the world. The nice thing about this arc is that you can see Atlas with and without the character growth at various times. I changed my "save the world from robots" plot to center around the arc. At this point the game was still simpler than the final version, many time/character combos could be safely ignored.

Then I went back and made everything consistent by drawing a diagram of the 12 character/time combinations and figuring out what choices in earlier times they'd be affected by, eg Atlas in 2013 is friendly if you gave them good advice in 2003, angry if you gave them bad advice in 2003, and ignores you otherwise. Choices off the main path usually resulted in short "oops this doesn't look like a good timeline" scenes/lines. I then playtested it for HOURS AND HOURS, trying every possible combination I could think of.

Once it was all consistent, I sent it off to my beta Alice, who said it was good but needed more Fang and should intersect with every time/character combination. So I sat with my diagram and came up with a few extra hoops you have to jump through, especially involving Fang, and then did the whole "thinking about consistency, playtesting all the different combinations" thing all over again. And then I was DONE.

Finally, my massive VN in progress:

Copper Rose:
This is a collaborative unfinished dating sim.

There are various love interests who you get to know and eventually choose between (assuming your previous choices made them like you) for a romantic/platonic relationship. There is also an overarching plot which interweaves with and is affected by your choice of love interest.

To begin with, you could talk to whichever characters you liked in whatever order, unless it was daylight and they were a vampire etc. This quickly became IMPOSSIBLE to keep track of, especially with multiple writers. How would Character A react if you hit on her when you were already dating Character B? How can you kill minor character X on one path if you want them to show up on another? And so on.

So we changed to the more common visual novel format: an initial period of railroaded conversations with all the LIs where you make choices that may or may not get them to like you, then a pivotal moment which puts you on the path for one specific LI. These paths are all separate and mutually exclusive, though there are some common scenes which show up on all of them.

A little after this I was having trouble figuring out one of my paths and decided we needed a stronger overarching plot, so we came up with a basic structure and goal all the paths would share.

The main focus right now is on that intial setup period, since we all have to be happy with it. Also we plan on releasing it as a demo. We have the major plot events (arriving in town, the pivotal moment when you choose a love interest etc) done and are mostly just filling in more LI specific scenes. We're plotting that by dividing the day up into time periods (morning/afternoon/evening/night) and putting roughly one scene per time period, then discussing our plans for each scene, making sure that (a) each LI gets a reasonable spread (b) the events in those scenes flow together logically and (c) the scenes work both for player characters who like that LI and for ones who don't.

We're also separately working on our paths beyond that point, but I can't see any way to discuss those without MASSIVE SPOILERS so you'll have to wait til the game comes out ;)


HMMM. Ok, this is very tentative, I haven't tried articulating this before. But I guess the way I see it there are a few approaches to playing a VN, and I try to keep them all in mind:
1) Try and make the "right" choices to get to the "good" end
2) Choose a character interpretation and stick with it even if it ends badly
3) Experiment with different choices to see all the outcomes, including trying to do everything "wrong".

I like subverting the first approach, eg the way that the stated goal of SOON (remove Fang from the timeline) is clearly morally wrong and shortsighted and kills everyone. But I left signposts pointing to the ACTUAL "good" end, because I can't stand games where the "right" choices are arbitrary or deliberately obscured and you have to go around trying everything until you stumble on the artificial combination of correct choices. A few detours on the way can be fun, constantly replaying the same scenes over and over is not.

I generally only really write one fleshed out path, any bad/alternate ends are usually pretty short and detours take you back to the main path pretty quickly with the odd changed line here and there after that. So in a lot of ways my interactive plots are pretty linear. But the kinds of plots I write are different to my non-interactive stories. One thing I really like is the Bioware-esque thing of posing moral dilemmas and then showing what happens as a result of the player's choice, even if it's just by adding a few changes here and there. Choices should have consequences.

I really like the IDEA of different, equally valid aspproaches none of which is blatantly the "good" end, but in practice tend to achieve this with superficial alterations since writing more than one version of a path is a lot of extra writing! I'm struggling with this in Copper Rose, trying to make both the romantic and platonic versions of the story equally compelling. For now I think I'll write one then go back and see what alterations I need to make to include the other, because keeping the two approaches in my mind while I try to construct a satisfying plot is hurting my brain.

Aaaand that's all I can think of. If you have any questions let me know.

Date: 2014-01-19 02:28 am (UTC)
genusshrike: 'Wish' icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] genusshrike
Process is interesting, thanks for sharing!

originally by reasoning with the AI, but this was too much effort

Ha ha ha, no wonder the robot apocalypse happens! :D

Date: 2014-01-28 08:23 pm (UTC)
lea_hazel: Don't make me look up from my book (Basic: Reading)
From: [personal profile] lea_hazel
This is all very interesting! I still have hopes of progressing my own branching storytelling skills, but that must be on the back-burner and it's going to take an awful lot of time.

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