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Cryo - From Ideas to Plots

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Estok    104
This thread is about the organization of an multiplot game story, following the design of Cryo. This thread deals with the questions: 1) Given a set of ideas for a multiplot story, how do you turn it into plots? 2) How do you organize the plot elements so that a branching tree is not needed to represent the structure? Cryo In Cryo, the PC is revived in the future, where the peaceful appearance hides an emerging war. In the story, the PC will explore and investigate the world to learn the truth behind the conflict and to decide a solution for the conflict. The story will revolve around 4 main characters (the RNPCs) and 9 additional NPCs. All of these characters are involved in the overall conflict, interpersonal conflicts among one another, and inner conflicts about themselves. All of these conflicts are integrated such that each inner conflict is intertwined with the interpersonal conflicts, and the interpersonal conflicts are interwined with the overall global conflict, and altogether convey a set of central ideas. By simple estimation, if there are 1 global conflict, 5 interpersonal conflicts, and 13 inner conflicts to resolve, there are 19 threads in total. Note that none of these are modularizable 'side stories'. These are 19 interacting threads, where the intermediate state of one thread affects the development of another. The keyword here is 'intermediate', meaning that all 19 threads are being presented concurrently, where each ending of the story correspond to the inference of the endings and states of these threads. How do you organize a plot of this size? Structure A representation using a branching tree is not efficient. Because the flow of the plot structure is not of dividing into possiblities, but of interaction between the threads. This is the situation: As the PC explore he will encounter events. At each event, the PC will perform an action of make a decision which will open or close future possibilities. You can imagine this: The PC is trapped in a labyrinth with many doors where most of them are locked. Behind each door, there is a set of switches. The PC can set the switches to unlock the doors. In this analogy, each Room is a plot element; each Door is the set of rules that permit or deny the PC from viewing that plot element; and each switch represent the choice or action the PC makes or perform. This means that the representation of the plot is not a flowchart in the chronological order of the possible plotlines, but a flowchart of dependency in terms of the doors and switches. In reality, the representation will not be a flowchart at all, because each door will required a number of switches to unlock, making the graphical representation more like a neural network. So an organization simplification is to not draw the connecting lines, and organize the plot elements by their approximate positions in time and location. What does that mean? Example: In Cryo, the PC will spend a variable amount of time at the excavation site after he is first revived. The PC will get to know the RNPCs by exploring different part of the site. Events will also occur at different time periods. Using the above organization method, the representation of the plot elements would be like this:
           PC_Room    Ctrl_Rm    Health_Rm    Lounge    Garage    Hallway

Day 1      E1 E2      L1 S2      S3 S4        S5 K2     F2 F3     S6 F4 G3
           K1 S1      F1 G1                   K3 G2 G4  K4 S7    

Night 1    E3         F5 G5      F6           G5 G7     S8        S9 K5 G6

E=Generic Event Template; 
The main building at the excavation site has six rooms. The story begins on Day 1 with the PC wakes up in his room. Not including the standard opening sequence , the above shows that there are four additional events that the PC may encounter in that room. Each of those four events has its own 'entrance rule' and a set of choices. During the day, the PC will roam about the main building and meet with the NPCs. For each event the PC visits, that event will block the entrance of other events, and the timer will increment towards nighttime. Each even you see there is actually a template of the event. The details such as whether the RNPC likes you or not are all embedded in the same event. For example, suppose you go to the health room and the game engine considers all the possible events behind that door and gives your event S3, and S3 is the event where a jar accidentally falls out of shamila's hand. Whether the PC is able to catch the jar is considered setting a switch. After that initial event, Shamila is going to greet the PC, depending on whether they had met before (S1) and whether the PC caught the jar. All of these details and variations are embedded in S3, which can be recursively expanded as micro-events if necessary. Looking at the events for Day1 again, there were 22 events. The PC may encounter only 4 of them before it is night time, in any order permitted by the entrance rules. During the night the PC may encounter 1 event. You can imagine what this would look like if you try to draw this as a tree of a flowchart. This is what the current representation of Cryo look like: Cryo.jpg. Each rectangle is a clickable object, that will display a summary, the entrance rules, and effects of the corresponding plot element. The main portion of the story (the middle to the bottom area) is the set of current plot elements (approx 400 and being expanded based on their thematic and semantic requirements, you are again invited to imagine what it would be drawing a tree or a flowchart for it or trying to use post-its) What is hidden here is the underlying variable structure that allow you to traverse through the story. You can see that the actual plot element mapping of Cryo does not have a distinctive time axis like the example above. This is because most events do not have a set date that needs to be encounted. The time axis is replaced by the gameplay stages, starting from the PC being revived, PC following an RNPC to learn about the world, PC investigating the conflicts, and PC making a decision about the conflicts. So this is one way to represent the plot structure. The remaining questions are: - How is the plot map populated? - How do you know that the a deadlock will not result where all the doors are locked? Constructing the Plot Map The cheapest way to do this is to introduce the standard escape sequence. In a mystery game this correspond to the endings where the ghost kills you while you are sleeping after you have exhausted all clues. The second way is to construct the plot map using a top-down method, where you begin with the complete but mosaic plot, and then recursively expand it. When you do this, one thing you will notice is that the count of the plot elements expand very quickly. Because you will be focusing on three things: Thematic, Emotional, and Semantic flow of the story, meaning that for every plot element you add, you must also add the prerequists of that element. This is a duh that enforces the contents of the entrance rules. This is also the basis of why the plot is guaranteed to make sense starting from the begining node. It guarantees that you will never encounter an event out of context, because in order to reach that event, you must have also visited the required events. One thing that will become apparent when you populate the plot map is the distribution of the plot elements. One of the objective of Cryo is to space out the events related to the same thread, so that the PC doesn't stay in the same place the whole game. Other properties that will become apparent include the screen time ratio of the NPC.
See any flaws?

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