Burst of Plot Planning Work
Note: I apologize for the late news this evening. We had a power outage until a few minutes ago.
Hope everyone had a good weekend. While I wouldn't say my trip was relaxing nor fun, my time away from work did give me a chance to step away from NEO Scavenger and come back with a clear head.
I managed to catch up on messages this morning, and it seems things were relatively calm around here. A few bugs have cropped up in 0.979b, and I'll start addressing those in a patch soon. In the meantime, however, I decided to spend some serious time on plot today.
My plot planning work last week left me with a lot of questions and loose ends that I wasn't sure how to tie up. I did gain some useful insight while examining the plot elements and key characters in my world, and spent some more time researching plot techniques in the library. But a lot of it felt contrived or hokey, and I didn't feel like I finished the day with a solid direction in which to move.
Today, on the other hand, was much more successful. I started by taking a step back and trying a few different plot outlining techniques, including Randy Ingermanson's "Snowflake Method" and Michael Hauge's "Screenplay Structure".
I started with the former method, slotting what I already knew about the world and my plot decisions into the recommended steps. It was pretty easy at first, since I knew a lot about the major players in the world, the goals, and several important conflicts. However, as I started to map out the progressive "disasters" prescribed in the Snowflake method, I realized that a complete story might end shortly after entering the DMC if I wasn't careful.
In a novel, that might not be a bad thing, as I could draw out the intervening trials and quests to reach the DMC as much as needed. However, as a game, that only represents a few hours of gameplay, and a lot of unused map.
At this point, I dug out an old character I was toying with a while back, and created a hypothetical meeting with them to see where it could go. I also started examining Michael's Screenplay Structure, to see if that perspective could inspire any new ideas.
After retracing the plot's steps in the screenplay structure, I started to see some interesting opportunities emerge. The quest to reach and gain access to the DMC fit nicely with steps in the typical screenplay, and I saw an interesting interaction with a character that could result in more conflict, and more challenges outside the DMC. In this new revision, the currently playable storyline (reaching and entering the DMC) occupied a smaller portion of the overall screenplay, and left a little over half the screenplay as new content.
What's more, the new revision felt much more satisfying and plausible. It had some good rising and falling action, and felt like a story that was going somewhere and concluded, rather than a meandering fizzle.
Part of the improvement, I think, was trimming down the story to tackle fewer questions. My original vision had Philip tracking down who he was, why he was in cryo, who's meddling with him and why, and then doing something about it. After doing these analyses, it became more clear that each of these questions was an interesting story in itself. The quest for Philip's identity, who he really is, could be a satisfying adventure of following leads and being foiled several times, reaching some climactic ending where he finally achieves his goal, and being faced with what to do about that discovery.
I think keeping the main plot limited to that one goal is more reasonable than trying to conquer five goals in the same narrative. Trying to do all five satisfyingly in a single narrative would probably feel like I'm jamming exposition down players' throats, assuming I could even do it before the player got bored of the game. And even if the main plot covers less, there's still room for optional side-quests to reveal bits of useful info or challenge/reward.
As of this evening, I've got a new plot outline that covers about 70% of the story, and I have an idea where to go with the rest. Tomorrow, I can look at this new outline with fresh eyes, and see how it feels. If it sits right, that should help me figure out what's left to be done, how to handle remaining skill balancing, and plan requirements for the remainder of the work.
It's nice to have all the pieces lined up for once, with a roadmap to the end. Unlike some of the sprawling plot threads I've had in previous iterations, this one's feeling a bit more solid!