Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Iconifying the universe

Dear gods above, please strike me down if I ever again come up with the idea to make a game based on narrative. Amen, etc.

So the good news is that the game's storyline is done. Finito. Färdig. Very hesitant to touch it again now, except for minor edits.

The bad news is that it's quite long.
However, I've broken all those words down into a timeline:
Not a public transport map.
First of all, the story actually has an ending now. Or, should I say, the first book of the story has an ending. After Ivar fails to create a portal home he teaches the player how to alter their size and become teeny tiny. Yrsa and the player go to see Ísafold for help. She sends Yrsa away and captures the player, who has to use their newfound shrink ability to escape. They then meet up with Yrsa who has found out about the ghost children trapped in Grárs amulet.

"It must be children from the picture you found. They came here just as you did. Maybe they can help us... It's our only hope. We have to do something, because you can't stay here and I just found out that my mother is an evil witch."

End of book one!

I've also figured out the missions for finding the items Ivar needs to make a portal home. The player has to summon a ghost to investigate a terrible murder, open up a strange puzzlebox (to be defined...) and choose to either dance with the elves or capture a wisp. The entire story also has a lot of cool little changes and additions that came from the feedback talks, such as early hints to the missing children, more sneaking, side missions and the whole bit where Ísafold captures you.

As a story, I believe it works. Now to make it a game.

I've identified the mission types/core interactions based on the mechanics they use.
Top row: numbers 1-4, bottom row: numbers 5-7

1. Quick-time events: swipe/tilt/tap at the right time to progress through the event.
2. Sneak: use the Sneak ability to avoid danger (trolls, predators, ghostly shadows, etc).
3. Object search: search the scene to find items.
4. Riddles: some enigmatic characters in the game will only help you if you can answer their riddles.
5. Dialogue: choose your answers carefully to find out information and progress the story.
6. Item puzzles: combine and use the right items, in the right order etc. Also involves giving items to other characters, investigating items (similar to LA Noir) and custom item interactions (similar to the winding/pulling/zooming controls in The Room).
7. Shrink: use the Shrink ability to fit into small spaces.

Nearly all chapters and objectives will require the use of more than one interaction.

I've also created some character and creature icons.
I should probably have added a glow effect to that wisp.
Using these icons I should be able to quickly communicate what goes on in each chapter without having to type out and/or storyboard each specific interaction.
Yes, I will reconsider the amount of stars in the sky...
Together with separate explanations and images of the core mechanics, even simple pages like the one above should give a good enough idea of the gameplay. I can also add variables, difficulty levels, relevant items and other designery goodies to these one-page descriptions.

More complex and wordy missions can be broken down into timelines of their own:
The player can choose to dance with the elves and give up their name, or to capture a wisp.
In this mission, the player has to summon the dead mother of a raging ghost in order to reveal the truth behind their deaths.
Naturally, these timelines and pages can also be supported with images, text, quotes, and detailed level/scene designs. If I end up doing the level design document for instance, these high-level objectives will give the detailed missions purpose and grounding. yeah. The timeline is done, I just need to iconify it and stick it in the final doc. I suppose could post the text here as it is, but I doubt it would do me any good...

Friday, 8 March 2013

Chapter one

I don't even know where or how to begin this post! Figuring out how to present stuff is even trickier than figuring out the stuff itself...

Right. So I wrote a very rough draft of the key events in chapter one. It's quite linear at the moment, but I think that once I have a core storyline in place I can work on branching it out, figuring out the exact puzzles and adding side quests. I'm scared that if I start making this thing too massive and sprawling too soon I'm just going to panic... So for now, neat and simple = good.

A while ago I started drawing a map, while only having a vague idea of what was actually supposed to happen in the game. It looked like this:
It was well on its way to Pretty, but far from Functional and Relevant. My newest sketch is the opposite way around:
Each area consists of a scene with a number of fixed cameras that the player can move between.
Movement is handled through spline-based camera transitions. Footsteps coupled with a light bobbing effect create a sense of walking. Simply tap on a location (indicated with subtle particle effects, or similar) to move there. The "edge-paths" lead to new areas. The different areas can only be reached in order, so the player has to go through the plains and the bog in order to get from the first forest area to Ivar's farm.

Once in a location the player can tap and drag to move the camera around, similar to how the camera is mapped to the mouse in an FPS. Releasing leaves the camera in the last position which allows the player to pick up items, inspect things or interact with characters. I'll figure out the detailed mechanics later on - for now it's all about getting the key events ironed out.

The story I've written now doesn't really outline any particular mission types, but again - it's coming! I want to have lovely sidequests about bears waking up in the middle of winter, helping Ivar get a little farmstead of his own, finding all of Yrsa's lost sketches and describing sights, smells and sounds to a ghost who has lost most of his senses. I'd love to do "investigate and report"-type quests because they encourage both exploration and self-expression. Hidden object-style missions would work beautifully too with the camera controls, especially if you add a bit of a parallax effect... Tasty. You could easily have a ton of collectibles in the scenes too, that would unlock some bonus content if found. Fun stuff! But first things first.

To recap, this is (currently) what is supposed to happen in chapter one:

Arrive in the otherworld.
Meet Yrsa.
Find Ivar.
Get Ivar's trust and learn about the world through a series of missions.
Get the required portal-making items.
Ivar tries to open a "portal" to send you home, but fails.
Something points towards magical interference...
End of chapter one.

So let's begin...

You're in a forest. It's night time. A small path ahead of you leads through the woods.

Your ears are freezing. You must have dropped your hat.

New objective: Find your hat.

Look around to find your hat and a chocolate bar. Pick up the items. They end up in the inventory.
Select the hat in your inventory and use it.
The hat is "equipped" and disappears.

New objective: Find out where you are.
Move ahead.
A tree branch moves to your left, and a moment later there is a sound to your right. Something - or someone - is darting around among the trees.

New objective: Investigate the movement.
Follow the darting movements by looking around. 

YRSA appears. She looks curious but hesitant. She doesn’t seem dangerous. Maybe she can help you?
Yrsa wonders who and what you are. She wants to know if you're nice or a meanie.

"Who are you? WHAT are you? Are you some kind of strange troll baby? You're awfully tiny for a troll. I don't think you could hurt me even if you tried, but I'm not gonna come any closer until I've figured you out! Nope!"

Dialogue option 1: Nice
Give Yrsa the chocolate bar by dragging the item from your inventory to her. She doesn’t eat the chocolate, but is absolutely taken with the shiny wrapper. She loves it!

Dialogue option 2: Mean
Look around. Pick up snow. A snowball appears in your inventory. Drag it to Yrsa to throw it. She isn't amused and tells you to let her know when you feel like being nice. She disappears back into the forest. Tap the location to bring her back and give her the chocolate bar.

After proving your niceness, Yrsa turns to say "it's OK - you can come out now!"
A strangely-coloured squirrel appears to sit on Yrsa's arm. 

" can talk to squirrels?!"
"So can you", the squirrel replies. 

The squirrel explains that you're in the otherworld and that here, forest animals can talk. Yrsa says you're the first human she's ever met. She's very excited about it.

"Are you saying your squirrels don't talk? Wow, you guys are weird. But don't worry, I'll look after you while you're here!"

The squirrel says she knows someone who can help you. Yrsa brightens.

"Oh yes! Ivar! He's terribly cranky, but he knows more about crossing the boundary than anyone else! Let's go find him. See if you can run ahead and find him, can you?"

The squirrel runs off.

New objective: Find and talk to Ivar, whoever he is.

Yrsa moves ahead, urging you to follow.
Move ahead.
The trolls
The path leads to an opening in the forest. What looks like three trolls - trolls! - sit around a small fire.

Yrsa tells the player to be quiet and avoid the trolls by sneaking around them.

"They're downright nasty. Ugly, smelly, horrible, nasty creatures!"

She moves ahead and motions for you to follow.
Move ahead.
You move closer, but the noise you make alert the trolls. They start looking around for the source of the sound.

Yrsa comes back and teaches you the move silently ability. When active it allows for silent movement for a few seconds, effectively making the next camera transition soundless if timed well. (Note: this needs refining.)

Use the sneak ability to move past the trolls.

There are several troll groups in the area. Use your new ability to sneak past them. Some trolls are static and some move around, which require you to time your movements carefully. You eventually reach The plains.

[ no picture yet - this area didn't exist until a short while ago! ]

There are a couple of trolls up ahead, but no trees to hide behind. Yrsa says you'll have to take a different route to Ivar's house.

Use a smaller path to the side to move to the next area.
Lights and fog 
The forest opens up to snow-covered bog/wetlands. Small trees, bushes and patches of open water can just about be seen. A heavy fog spreads. 

Yrsa takes out a small lantern.

"Come on, let's hurry up before the fog gets really bad!"

Within moments, she is gone. Her lantern light can be seen flickering in and out through the fog. 
...and then, other lights appear, too. Laughter and words can be heard and seen swirling through the fog (I want to figure out some kind of puzzle/interaction with the fog-words...bear with me)

New objective: Find Yrsa.

Yrsa's light was yellow, but the will-o-wisps (irrbloss) are blue-ish. Look around to find the yellow light and move towards it.

You move deeper into the fog. As you near the river you can see the yellow light up ahead, but as you come closer it changes colour to blue. You hear a giggle. The light then goes out, and a big, beautiful horse materialises in front of you.
The horse speaks. 

"I'm faster than moonlight, swift as a spring river. The wisps don't dare bother me. No trolls can catch me. I can leap between the worlds whenever I desire. Don't be afraid - just climb on to my back and I'll take you home."

And then a small, bearded man appears, cursing like a sailor and swinging a lantern madly about him. The horse shrieks and runs off.
...I just realised the scale issues in this sketch. OH WELL
Ivar approaches you. He says that you were lucky that the squirrel saw all the trolls and mentioned that the forest keeper's daughter might be bringing a human through the fog, or you'd be dead by know. 

"I suppose you don't get brook horses in your cushy little human world, eh? Or wisps? Well, the horse will drown you and the lights will lead you in circles until you starve or go mad - whichever happens first. You'd best remember that, because I ain't saving you a second time."

He mutters and walks off, cursing about silly humans. Yrsa reappears.
She looks worried and ashamed, and apologises profusely.

"...but on a positive note, you probably just met Ivar! Let's go find him before the grumpy bugger sneaks off!"

Exit area.
Ivar's house
A small, run down wooden cabin stands among the trees. Outside, the same man who saved you from the brook horse is chopping wood.

You approach him. He doesn't look happy to see you.

"If I'd known you'd come back to pester me I would have left you with that blasted horse! Get out of here!"

You insist you need help, but Ivar rants about how he doesn't like humans, how they don't even believe in him any more, how they only cause trouble and how they don't belong on this side of the veil.

"Why would I help you, a snivelling little human-whelp? You haven't even lifted a finger for me! I saved your life and in return you do nothing but bother me. Unless you can somehow conjure up a horse to help me haul logs from the forest you won't be of any use to me! Now go!"

Yrsa reassures you that he'll come around - he's just a grumpy old man who hasn't been treated well by humans. You just need to prove that you deserve his help.

She says she knows where his old farmstead is - they could go and check it out! Maybe there's something there that he'd value?

New location on map: Ivar's old farmstead
You reach an old, abandoned farm. A few derelict buildings huddle around each other in the middle of overgrown, snow-covered fields. It's completely quiet. 

Note: this is the "otherworld version" of the farmstead and I really want to figure out some ways to make it weird and eerie. Maybe the windmill sails move when you look away... Etc.

STORY PAUSE: this is where things become a lot more loose. I want the game to open up a little bit around this point, because it's been entirely linear up until now. 

The objective "get Ivar's trust and learn about the world through a series of missions" is very much up in the air still. Some options:

·         Find and give him a gift?
·         Make him porridge? (The tomte LOVE porridge!)
o   Yrsa goes to fetch some porridge-rice from somewhere
o   Leaves you alone to explore the rest of the farm
o   Use items around farm to make porridge when she returns
o   Find: matches/fire-making-kit, pot, water
·         Get him a horse? Harness the brook horse (I like this one)
o   Restore the harness
o   Go to the lake
o   Lure out the horse
§  How?
o   A game of riddles! Player wins - horse is tamed.
·         New clothes to "free him" (see Dobby)?
o   Find old farmer's clothes in abandoned farmhouse
·         Restore/repair the farm?
·         Give him some animals to care for; his own little farmstead?
·         Get him a dog?
o   Find an abandoned wolf puppy!

So yeah, that bit is still up for discussion. Hooray for Skype! Anyway, I'd like to give the player a few missions to tackle, as well as the option to do the quests in any other they want. I also think the player needs some alone-time; Yrsa might have to run off to do something elsewhere at this stage.

Assuming that Ivar does come around - however it happens - he then helps the player open a portal. Or he tries to, at least. He sends you out to acquire some needed items:

(These notes are getting sketchy now, apologies! Hope they make a little bit of sense.) 

An irrbloss in a lantern - to light your way back
·         Get this by obtaining a lantern
o   From Yrsa/Ivar? Farmstead? Build one?
·         Go back to the bog  tainingg is tricky - ves you clue
·         Follow the irrbloss - labyrinth/follow puzzle
o   Follow correct light/correct path
·         Reach the end - catch the light with the lantern (swipe-based minigame)

An object from both worlds - to create the link
·         From Ivar's farmstead
·         Returning to the farm can be tricky
o   Potential padding here
o   Trolls, wolves etc...
·         Ivar gives you a key to a locked box, inside is a piece of clothing from "his" farmer given to him as a gift
·         OR it's a puzzle box; Ivar gives you clue about how to solve it
·         Other clues around the farmstead (symbols etc - see Year Walk) 

A knife - to tear a hole in the veil
·         Given as a gift from Ivar, after doing the other missions
·         OR from second abandoned farmhouse - steel is valuable and Ivar might not want to give his knife
o   Trolls are afraid of steel - finding a knife would make sense for later episodes 
o   Second farmhouse could be MEGA creepy and wonderful!

 ...and that would be about it for the main quest. Ivar then tries to open the portal but fails because of Ísafold's spell, and you must investigate... In chapter two of course; only £1.99 and available now from an app store near you!

But now I must stumble into bed.