Figuring out the Narrative Structure

MY initial reference for narrative structure has come from numerous places. I have delved into the endless pages of The Ultimate Guide To Video Game Writing and Design by F, Dille and J, Zuur Platten which has given me a theoretical side to the narrative process. Alongside this I have looked through the archived content on the Game Career Guide website, plus of course actually using my first hand experience of playing games. All of the relevant references can be found in alternative blog posts.

The first thing to outline within the process was what type of narrative did we need, linear or non-linear. The decision for this came out of me referring to my target audience, as stating in my brief game bible the game is designed to appeal to both male and female gamers, with a nice balence between hardcore and casual gamers; as stated before this will of course depend primarily on the gameplay mechanics. Also within this bracket of target audience the passion for an interpretation of historical warfare will be needed to appeal to the player. Following suit of this target audience, I was posed with two options, I could follow a structure similar to Dragon Age:Origins and begin by giving the player an option, which relates to a unique start then progress into a linear story or I could start them all in the same boat and allow them to choose their options as they progress, almost like a tree and similar to how Fallout is structured. From simply looking at this, I realised several problems on each side:

  • Alot of the current mission ideas consider that the player can play on either side of the war.
  • Currently neither side of the war is catergorised as “the bad guys’, so if I go down the route of having a very linear biased to one side story, much like modern day ‘hero’ games, then I need to decide which is the good and the bad side. This choice will however  restrain the allowance for choice within the game, and as it is an RPG game, this is an important part.
  • If I allow the player to choose either side, how do I approach this? When you consider that in most games they allow for a cut of point, a good example of this is Fallout New Vegas. Within this game the player could choose to hate both sides, the NCR and Ceaser’s Legion and they could go around kill everyone of them in sight up until a point. This is where the game splits for the alternate endings, and depending on what side the player chooses, they will get a clean sheet with them. Another strategy used in this game is that they warm the player of the cut off point, you can do missions for all the different parties up until a certain point and when you hit that a little pop up appears telling the player that if they continue there is no going back.

After thinking over all these points I ended up clasping at straws, and decided that there was no real way to sort it out until I had a good idea of what the actual gameplay would involve.

So, as you can see above I began to start coming up with ideas and bouncing them off of Luke and his back story to figure out how the narrative would need to flow.

What came out of this brainstorming session was the key to this whole project! It is where I realised that I needed to start considering a vital part of the RPG, the leveling system. Essential the narrative structure is not only about telling the story, it is about how the player progresses through the story. How do you make the player feel engaged and as if they are actually achieving something, it is all about the progression through the narrative and figuring out how to balance this.

So this was the birth of the realisation of the Battle for the Wall of Kastor and its relevance and importance in the player/character progression. During this part there were alot of alterations and changes where I considered how the battle would play out, who are the key characters and why? What does the player get as a reward and how is this reward decided? The idea of the how the reward was decided was the hardest part of this, because I knew that the reward would be the specialist level class, but actually how the game would decide this baffled me. After some consideration I decided that it would need to be predefined, depending on how they had played the game up until the cut off point. This left me with a pretty clear narrative for the mission, prior to this point in the game the player needs to:

  • have chosen a side for the war
  • have been given an odd number of skill points so that one class from the two is more advanced than the other
  • have an understanding of the elite classes, most likely from seeing them during previous missions, possibly aiding/working with them – this may not seem it but it would be vital, the last thing I want from this battle decision is the player to be left unengaged, so hyping up the elite classes and how they are needed for the big final battle is important. Plus simply just the fact that the player is now being assigned a set class/armour and other perks that have significant advantages and disadvantages against all the other classes. Dropping these into the story early on will allow the player to be able to transition straight into the new combat styles without too many pitfalls.

Also, after the cut off point the player needs to:

  • be allowed time to train in new combat especially if something completely new is introduced i.e. flight. Possibly they do a set of missions in their new class before the main battle for the Wall, in terms of narrative these would need to be something along the lines of setting up strategic points for the battle, claiming territory or Luke’s mission idea of reclaiming the Sword and Shield for the mediator.
  • possibly be giving a number of skill points to unlock perks in the new class before the main battle.

 

Below is my final rough idea for the whole narrative structure through the game which encompasses all of the above.

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