Natural Language Dev Blog 02: Narrative Planning

 

First of all, I would like to welcome Jonathan Levstein to the project! Jon, an experienced web developer, founder of Toronto Game UX and technical lead on the next Aether Interactive project, will be taking over the technical side of the project. We are excited to welcome him to the team and you can all look forward to beautiful design on the in-game website!  Thanks Jon!

We are now in the narrative planning stage of Natural Language, working on the overall rollout of the project. The early stages of designing an ARG can be challenging – trying to assess how best to communicate a branching narrative and planning puzzle structures. You want to be sure to hit all your major plot points, using different and engaging means to communicate each. You need to plan the difficulty curve of the puzzles and make sure they offer diverse challenges to players. And, most importantly, you need to plan how you’re going to get all this content to the player, and how they will interact with the game and advance in the narrative.

For Natural Language, we broke the story into 6 key sections, and then discussed the important points of each. Once we identified the key points, we could worry about delivery methods and get into the details of the rollout.

The next major discussion was content delivery and points of interaction for the player. Due to the constraints of this project, we had a clear delivery method – a few email accounts and website. The player would receive instructions via email, learn the bulk of the narrative through the website, and progress with both. While pathfinding can be a key gameplay element for many ARGs, I prefer to offer a clear path forward for players. No matter how challenging the puzzle, the player always has a clear input method that they can validate their answers. As a player, I often get frustrated when I’m stuck not knowing whether I haven’t found the right key or the right lock. Therefore, in Natural Language, we will always give the player two means to test a possible solution – either through replying to emails or direct inputs on the website. No matter how complex the process to find the key, the player will always know what it unlocks. A handwritten email response will be unfeasible on a large scale, but the Canned Response Gmail Lab  can do a remarkable amount of different responses to key words and phrases.  I’ll go further into Canned Responses in a future post, when I discover just how much we can squeeze out of it for this game.

Below is the template we used for planning each section of the game. The format helps quickly identify the focus of each section as well as identifying a communication method of each narrative point. It can also be helpful for planning the themes of various puzzles, to ensure you give the player a variety of different styles, and closely tie the mechanics of the puzzles to the narrative of the section. Feel free to use the template for whatever purposes you like. You can access an easier to use version of it here, on Google Drive.

Section 1: Name

Overview: One sentence highlighting narrative and core mechanics of section

Mode of communication: Means of getting information to the player

Assets needed: List of all sites, comms channels and visual content needed

Narrative Info:

  • Each narrative point that is delivered in the section
    • Given via: Means of delivery

Hidden Narrative Info:

  • Any hidden/optional/side quest narrative material delivered
    • Given via: Means of delivery
    • Consequence of discovery: Will this affect the progression of the game for the player or the community as a whole?

Puzzles/Tasks:

  • Overview: One sentence highlighting mechanics of each puzzle
  • Puzzle Type: (visual, audio, codes, research, logic, etc)
  • Focus: Thematic focus of the puzzle
  • Player’s goal : Stated goal, either known to the player once they uncover the puzzle, or once they solve it

Result: One sentence highlighting conclusion of the section and what has been gained by the player (and or the community as a whole) by completing this section.

Notes/Links: There are also notes and links to things you wish you had time to read.

That’s all for now, see you next week.

Patrick