Recipe and Plot Work

Today began with some follow-up on yesterday's items and recipes. I had to create the sled item stats, recipes, and some new conditions for when the sled is equipped. I decided to try making two sled items. The first is a plastic sled, the second is a sled with a strap.

The main difference is that the strapped version is beneficial when equipped, while the un-strapped version is a hinderance. I figured squatting down and tugging a sled by the front lip is actually more work than just walking upright. Conversely, a sled with a string makes carrying additional load possible before becoming encumbered.

Both have negative effects on player visibility and tracks left behind, however. As with the shipping cart, people and creatures can hear it from a mile away.

I also decided to try making the sled with strap craftable from any large, rigid, flat container, instead of strictly the plastic sled ingredient. I can't recall any containers that fit the bill right now, but if any more get added in the future, they should be possible ingredients for the strapped sled.

The rest of the day was spent brainstorming plot. I have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the world, but I wasn't entirely sure what the player's role in it would be. There were mysteries to solve, of course ("Who am I? Why was I in stasis? What happened to my memory? Why is someone trying to lure me to my doom?"), but I wasn't sure if there were any bigger questions.

I actually spent some time in the library reading a book on plot archetypes and storytelling. It actually got me thinking critically about some elements of the story, how the protagonist and antagonist can be related, motivations, and critical scenes. I noticed a few opportunities for foreshadowing and tension, and maybe even some places I could work in a betrayal or alliance.

I think I determined some things about our protagonist that I wasn't able to answer before, and also some things about both he and the antagonist that can make them more well-rounded.

Finally, I did some reading on the plot templates the author called "quest" and "adventure." Both seemed far more apt descriptions of the goings-on in NEO Scavenger than some of the others I perused (such as "the rescue," "the escape," "the chase," etc.)

In it's current form, NEO Scavenger is almost a dead-ringer for the so-called "adventure." Most of the plot centers around action, exotic locales, and the protagonist using tools and wit to overcome obstacles. There's little character growth in such a plot, as it's more about causal scenarios. Indiana Jones might be a good example of this.

That's well-enough, but the "quest" plot-type actually enticed me a bit more. It contains many of the elements of "adventure," but involves one key difference: character growth. In a "quest," the antagonist is seeking something, whether it be a person, object, or place, and they meet resistance along the way, and the journey transforms the way they see themselves or the world. They finish their story having changed in some way. Examples of this type of plot might include Gilgamesh, or Don Quixote.

In retrospect, one could argue that many "adventures" are also "quests," so this may be more subjective in nature. But the point of interest is whether to allow the player to "grow" their character somehow. When faced with certain obstacles, are there opportunities for the player to overcome their weaknesses? Or to change their outlook?

It'd be a tricky thing to accomplish. Player choice makes narrative hard to predict or control, and player customization makes it even harder to prepare for. With so many possible outcomes, I'd be hard-pressed to write satisfying growth opportunities for each combo.

However, maybe there are some ways I can let the player develop their own character over the course of the game. Not just adding new skills and items, but actually changing they way they behave. Does the character learn to be brave after starting a coward? Or do they become jaded after starting naive? Maybe they are faced with a choice between exposing a lie and maintaining secrecy, each with penalties?

Lots of food for thought. However, today helped me get a handle on many of these things, and helped me identify questions I'd like to answer. And as usual, it reminded me how hard writing can actually be :)

Have a good night, all, and see you tomorrow!


Kuranes's picture

Sounds good. But when it comes to character growth there already is one present. In the story template Hero's Journey, a hero sets out on a quest, grows from the experience and returns to make the world better with his acomblishments and gained knowledge.

This is already happening beneath the hood in Neo Scavenger.

A player slowly gains bigger and bigger insight into the workings of the world, with a larger frame of reference they are better able to make sound desicions when faced with dilemmas in the wilderness (and by dilemmas I don't mean plot encounters, but stuff like "is this scavenging this house worth the risk?" or "which of these two items should I bring?"). So in some form there already is character growth present. Although it isn't the character played that is growing, but the one playing.

dcfedor's picture

That's a good point. I'm pretty proud of the way NEO Scavenger encourages the player to grow in skill, rather than the character. It's a game one "get's good at" rather than a game where one grinds to increase their character's strength. I can't take credit for planning it that way, but I'm glad it turned out that way :)

And you might be right that the player doesn't need growth on a grander scale than personal. Learning how to survive against nature is no small accomplishment.

I just wondered whether there was an opportunity (or a need) for the player to be presented with a dramatic choice, rather than a practical one. Most everything the player does now is fulfilling a practical need, but otherwise is emotionally shallow. Are there dilemmas the player could face which change the role they play?

E.g. in a pen and paper game, I might decide that my character is a coward. Being a good player, I opt to run away or hide when confronted with danger. My DM, however, may create a challenge that requires bravery to do something noble or important. Maybe I have to face my fear and fight against terrible odds to stand up for myself. And in doing so, the story becomes one of a coward-turned-hero. (Ok, so I grew up with Kenny Rogers's music.)

Such a story is more satisfying than one of a brave warrior who stands up for himself against terrible odds, because we already expected that of the warrior.

It might not be necessary to have such a moment, as the "adventure" plot structure illustrates. I was just wondering whether it'd be desireable (or possible).

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Kuranes's picture

Character growth (as in you example with the coward, not the numbers kind) could be intresting indeed.

But I fear that there needs to be a clear seperation between the mechincal character and the conceptual one.

If not, since this is a game in a rather clear form (with choices, consequences, priorisation, scores, increased understanding of the mechanics and no way to turn back on your mistakes), people would go for the "obvious" routes, that being those with the most to mechanically gain from.

Being tied into the mechanics, I think, would undermine the story and character development somewhat since the players would have two layers on which to choose, mechanically and conceptually. And mechanical gain is far more influental than conceptual.

But presenting the player with pure roleplaying choices might be viable, I just fear they'd feel weak if tied directly to the game state.

Kaaven's picture

What about this?

The game's lesser encounters have a clear construction of presenting player with couple of, morally different, choices - from selfish helping to strait out shooting wounded dudes.

The game could store the player's decisions in such situations (as well as some other similar factors, such as number of men killed) and later use such data to present him with specific mid- and endgame encounters (or parts of ones), more fitting his play-style and "moral" attitude. That would create a sort of meta-game of discovering different ways to finish the game and rewarding for consistent play-styles - not by bonuses or being easy but by unlocking different parts of the game.

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