Plot Planning Done, and Starting Work on a New Encounter

Hope everyone had a good weekend!

Last week, I managed to get quite a bit of plot planning done. Most of the work centered around figuring out how to let the player uncover certain answers and backstory that could satisfy their curiosity. I want that process to feel player-driven and organic, rather than railroading players down a linear path.

I also thought of some end-game scenarios. Certainly death is one end-game. Permanent incapacitation/imprisonment will likely be another. However, apart from those possibilities, I also want there to be a player-signaled end.

There won't likely be a "big boss fight" climax, followed by "the end" as with many games. Rather, the player will be uncovering snippets of info, and will have to decide when they have enough to "move on." This moving on will likely be a deliberate step the player takes to leave Michigan, and start their next journey/investigation (i.e. a sequel).

That said, there should still be climactic moments to experience. Just not the typical three-act structure.

So with all of that structure roughed-out, I decided it was time to start working on the details. Today, I started mapping out one of the next encounters in the DMC. It's just interconnected nodes in the editor right now, but I can already see some interesting opportunities for technical skills to shine. Navigating a social environment inverts a lot of the skill priorities, as strength won't go as far as finesse when dealing with some organizations.

Tomorrow, it looks like I'll need to start filling in more specific text in these nodes, to see how it plays out in practice. I have a few nodes which currently have multiple inroads, but they might need to be split into variants depending on which route the player takes.

Overall, it feels good to have a rough sketch done, for once. The plot has been such a question mark for so long, it was a major source of stress. Hopefully, the outcome is as satisfying to you guys as I picture it in these early stages!


Scavenger's picture

Interesting idea with this 'moving on', though possibly worrying one as well. Can you elaborate how it will work? Will there be any conditions allowing one to move on, differences in ending depending on when and with how much info, what choices one decided to move on?

dcfedor's picture

I haven't gotten too specific with it yet, as it's just a rough idea. I'd be interested to hear what you consider to be worrying, in case I'm missing something.

Essentially, the player will be able to take some action to signify that they're ending the game. At the moment, I'm considering making this action exiting the map to the south. Doing so will likely be harder than it is currently, to the point where it might be fatal if one just bee-lines south from Cryo.

Depending on when the user triggers this event, I was thinking they'd get a different ending. E.g. if they uncovered zero clues, they get one "explanation," but uncovering one or more clues results in different endings for different combos. I'd really like it if there were additionally some stats or other bits players could compare with each other (e.g. the "Game Over" screen's hours survived, or disposition, fleshed-out a bit).

Still pretty nebulous, though. Sort of an "I'll figure it out when I get there" leap of faith :)

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Kaaven's picture

Don't know what Scavenger's concerns are but, after reading your explanation I can see two possible problems:

- Many players might finish the game too soon - clicking an option to go south to check what it does and suddenly ending the game while one did not plan that might be as frustrating as loosing a character to some unfair pre-set death condition. Also, those who might (wrongly) think they are ready to go, ending the game without experiencing, for example, 70% of content (and there will be many people who will play the game once) will leave unsatisfied, or even angry, that way. A sub-quest, unrelated to the main story but necessary to leave (like gathering a complete environmental suit for example) could theoretically "force" players to stay with the game long enough and prevent random "Ups, I left!" situations - but it would be, in essence, return to the standard, closed type of story...

- Allowing the player to decide when to end might possibly leave him a bit directionless. Like the "after the end game-play" in games like Fallout 2 or Far Cry 3 - it can be done and there are some things to do, but seriously, no one does that for too long (other than the most hardcore fans wanting to see EVERYTHING) because playing like that lacks any focus or direction, rapidly becoming a boring chore.

Basically it comes down to question - is there a plan to make (most of) the players do more than a minimum before they leave the sandbox ?

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dcfedor's picture

I think I can make it pretty clear that travelling beyond a certain point will end the game. E.g. it spawns an encounter which amounts to "This will end the game, are you sure?" It certainly shouldn't be possible to end the game accidentally.

Plus, I'm considering making the area to the south a hazardous environment, so your "gathering a complete environmental suit" is not far off. I've been planning to make the southern edge of the game map coincide with the northern boundary of The Great Black Swamp. Historically, a toxic material was used in that area to either eradicate something or prevent something's passage across it, so it acts as a geographic boundary for all except air travel or special equipment.

I'm thinking that one particular plot thread will suggest that more of the mystery lies south. And it might have to be something of a "no turning back" moment. E.g. Michigan becomes too dangerous, and the trip south is a least-worst option for survival.

I may also be able to make the ending more encouraging than discouraging. Perhaps it doesn't kill the save file on ending, so the player can re-load and continue playing. Or maybe the premature ending can offer something humorous, or at least different from a more established ending.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Malacodor's picture

I'd prefer finishing the game with an encounter. For example some people are traveling to the south with a truck and Hatter asked them to take the player along. Hatter could also tell the player that there might be more to find out before finally leaving.

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dcfedor's picture

That shouldn't be too hard to do. I think the important thing we're saying here is that it needs to be a deliberate, logical step that the player takes to end the game. And the player needs to see it coming, in case they want to wrap-up loose ends first.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games