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outlining a branching plot (from Xenallure)

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I was actually doing some writing for Xenallure this week, and I wanted to get some second opinions on it. For those of you not familiar with Xenallure, it is romance RPG (similar to a dating sim). The main character is an avatar which can be male or female and does not have a personality of its own, but is given a personality therough the player's actions. There are 10 'romanceable' NPCs which the player can try to seduce, make friends with, or become enemies with. Each rNPC has their own subplot, and the way these subplots weave together creates the 'multiplot' game story. So, as lead writer (I'm looking for a co-writer, anyone interested?) I have to create an outline for each character's subplot and what major branches it has (usually a main 'good' branch and 'bad' branch for each character, and then variants of each of those). Interestingly, I have found it more useful to group the characters into pairs or trios and develop their subplots like this rather than doing each alone. Here is an example of a branching outline created around a pair of characters:
Quote:
Lion and Follow: Follow sees Lion at the Competition Field, gets a crush on him, he rebuffs hir for being a Novrevel, and sie decides to crossdress as a Virtuá to try to win his affection. Eventually Lion will find out the truth, and from this point their story can either go well or badly. In the bad version Lion angrily rejects Follow, breaking hir heart. Flaw is enraged at the insult to his best friend and defeats Lion humiliatingly at the Competition Field. Lion, already feeling insulted by Follow's deception, now becomes furious at Novrevels in general and stirs the other Virtuésse up against them. Lion becomes a general in a war between the races. The climax of the story then involves the player taking a side in the war and fighting a climactic battle. In the good version, on the other hand, Lion has fallen in love with Follow and, after feeling a bit shocked and hurt, decides to accept hir as a hermaphrodite and Novrevels as people. To everyone else Follow continues to play her role as a Virtuá, and 'she' and Lion get married. Flaw makes peace with Lion and embraces the Virtuésse half of his own nature, and possibly begins a romance with Skew. Follow and Lion live happily ever after as Virtuésse, having a bunch of kids. The two other alternatives to a Lion/Follow romance are if the PC romances one or both of them. The PC can interfere at the following points: 1) Defeat Lion at the competition fields, causing Follow to admire the PC instead of Lion. 2) Prevent Follow from crossdressing after being rejected by Lion. 3) Distract Lion from paying attention to the crossdressing Follow. 4) Warn Lion that Follow is a Novrevel. Or, if Lion finds out that Follow is a Novrevel and rejects hir, the PC can catch either one of them 'on the rebound' or can try to prevent Flaw from attacking Lion and get Lion to apologize to Follow and accept hir as sie is.
So, opinions/sugestion/thoughts...?

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If you will notice, Flaw is in paragraph 2 also. These pairs of characters aren't completely stand-alone, Flaw's role as Follow's best friend and Lion's rival is important in creating connections between this little chunk and the rest of the game's plot.

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Maybe I should explain why I think it's good to do this in pairs of characters. If you are familiar with my little calculation for the number of plot strands in a story, you may remember that I said every story has:
1 overall plot strand, 1 plot strand for each major character, and 1 plot strand for each relationship between 2 major characters (some of the relationship strands can be excluded if the characters do not interact with each other much durin the story.

So since Xenallure has 10 major characters, it has a theoretical maximum of 1 + 10 + 10factorial = 56 plot strands. In actuality there will be more like 30, but still that's a huge number and difficult to work with. Splitting the characters into pairs is helpful because in pairing each character with another it is most closely related to, you are taking care of one of the important relationship plot strands as well as two of the main character plot strands. So you are taking care of 3 strands in one go, and then it doesn't seem so impossible to get to 30. [smile]

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The sample story fragment seems pretty good to me, although I do find it hard to get used to those hermaphodite pronouns!

I was planning on posting a question in this forum on the weekend on writing scripts for branching subplots, because it's something that I've been wondering about for a while; how can you best write a dialog between characters in a scene if there will be many variations depending on their past history?

That probably doesn't make that much sense, which is why I'll probably ask the question again as a separate thread once I've put the time into figuring out the best way of phrasing the problem, but maybe you could explain how you are planning on writing each scene out for Xenallure. For example, the Competition Field seems to be a fairly pivotal scene in your example, but there are a myriad of different ways that scene will play out depending on the relationships between the characters and the player's choices. How would you write out all the possible dialog combinations that could happen in that scene?

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The Competition Field is actually a location in the game where several scenes take place at different times, and it is also an area which the player may avoid entirely and not see any of the scenes. But sure that's a good idea, I'll think about how I would write one of the pivotal scenes and maybe type it up tomorrow. My approach is going to be a combination of a flowchart showing all possible branches of each dialogue exchange and a game state data file where variables are set if certain things happen and a later dialoge exchange can check the variable to see whether they happened or not, determining which version of the dialogue to use.

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In the first chapter of a game where the PC is at the Competition Field, Lion will defeat Diamond in the championship match (unless the player wins the tournament, which is impossible on the player's first visit to the Competition Field during the first playthrough of the game, but maybe be possible by the end of the first game or beginning of the second game.) After the match Lion will be surrounded by a crowd of cheering female NPCs. (Unless the player wins, in which case the PC will be the one surrounded by fans.) Follow will look between him and the seething Diamond, then say something soothing to Diamond. (Player also has an opportunity to say something soothing to Diamond of congratulatory to Lion?) Diamond will storm off. (Player can choose to leave with Diamond?) Follow will approach Lion and ask for his autograph. Lion will rebuff hir because sie is a Novrevel. Follow will leave. (Player can choose to leave with Follow?) (Player can discuss what just happened with Kitten, whether it was wrong to be mean to Follow just because sie is a Novrevel.)


Well that's what I have so far, I don't think it answers your question yet, but tell me what you would like to see added to it.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
In the first chapter of a game where the PC is at the Competition Field, Lion will defeat Diamond in the championship match (unless the player wins the tournament, which is impossible on the player's first visit to the Competition Field during the first playthrough of the game, but maybe be possible by the end of the first game or beginning of the second game.) After the match Lion will be surrounded by a crowd of cheering female NPCs. (Unless the player wins, in which case the PC will be the one surrounded by fans.) Follow will look between him and the seething Diamond, then say something soothing to Diamond. (Player also has an opportunity to say something soothing to Diamond of congratulatory to Lion?) Diamond will storm off. (Player can choose to leave with Diamond?) Follow will approach Lion and ask for his autograph. Lion will rebuff hir because sie is a Novrevel. Follow will leave. (Player can choose to leave with Follow?) (Player can discuss what just happened with Kitten, whether it was wrong to be mean to Follow just because sie is a Novrevel.)


Well that's what I have so far, I don't think it answers your question yet, but tell me what you would like to see added to it.


That addresses part of my question, I guess. I can see how you are approaching the problem of writing the story; as a programmer I'd call it a "top-down" approach, where you start with the high level concepts of the story (such as blocking out the scenes) and gradually fill in more detail as you work towards the fine details of the full script.

The thing I've been wondering is what form that script would take. If it were purely linear, then it's easy to just use an approach similar to screenwriting or a theatre play, but for a scene with multiple options it's a bit more complex. In the Competition Field for example, I'd assume the dialog between the characters will change somewhat depending on what actions the player takes (especially if the PC wins the competition), but not enough to warrant writing the scene out several different times. I suppose it is easier if the key outcomes and order of events in the scene are mostly fixed (as they seem to be in that example, although the number of options the PC can take is quite large). However, if the relationships between the various characters are not fixed, it would make writing the appropriate dialog choices very convoluted.

My question revolves around how a writer could actually represent something this non-linear in the same level of detail as a screenplay using a simple word processor. I guess I'll try to write a few examples tonight so I can better explain this as a question in the forums.

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I agree with the flowchart. A screenplay would not be able to cover even two branching possibilities, it seems, and would take an inordinate amount of work and space to be only mildly effective.

And the approach for grouping the characters makes a lot of sense. Even though each character lives his or her own life, he/she associates with those groups, and is greatly affected by them (that is, everyone in the group is often affected by the same things). It should also help make things more comprehensible to the player.

Still, I assume you'll develop certain aspects individually - I don't mean just personality traits, but that individual rNPC interactions with, say, the PC would not always translate into an effect on any group.

I would say to be careful with the good/bad branch, but I don't think you need a warning [grin]. The example you have is a well done branch, without a stupidly obvious 'good' or 'bad' action by the player resulting in a stupidly 'good' or 'bad' response (as does occur in FAR too many games). The variety of options you're making is immense, and really impressive. Allowing the player to make such wildly different actions in ways that are not always obvious (for example, warning Lion that Follow is a Novrevel and then catching one of them on the rebound - a type of action rarely allowed in games!) but still able to majorly impact the game... I have no end to this thought, but I think it's well done.

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Thanks [grin] You know, I think that's one of the most profound compliments you can give someone, to say that you trust them to do a tricky thing right.

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As far as I am concerned, working a multiple-character multi-ending story is through 3D. I have tried the 2D approach of flowchart, and it just wouldn't be lisible after two or three choices, since I had taken the approach of saying that EVERY choice, and action had an effect over EVERY character. It means that, at some point, you have to make choices in your design.

If I understand correctly your first example, it could very well be set in terms of BASIC.

If XXX then YYY

Through this way, you can have multiple values for each pivotal point, without it being set in the flowchart.

Let me explain and give examples once again.

Let's say you envision the tournament in Competition field. Things can go a million different ways. You have to consider many different parameters.
1) PC doesn't participate in tournament
2) PC doesn't make it further than first round
3) PC fails during final round
4) PC wins final round

If 1 is true at T=2h00 of play, then, some events cannot occur, such as one character falling irredeemably in love with PC, since PC has not shown action.
If 2 is true, at any time, then some things cannot occur, since the combat prestation is only background noise to main story.
If 3 is true, then
3-1) PC has inflicted less than 50% HP damage to opponent. Outcome is Opponent scorns PC, potential lover sees the PC as weak and feels no attraction towards him, PC sees himself as a weakling with either a grudge against himself for being so weak, and a strong desire to work out as fast as possible, or against the opponent personaly for shaming him in front of everyone, or against the opponent's race, for having unfair advantages (don't ask)
3-2) PC dealt between 50 and 80% HP damage to opponent. Outcome is opponent scorns PC but sees him as potential threat, potential lover sees the PC as attractive, PC sees himself as failing because of the opponent and has a grudge against either the opponent or the entire race
3-3) PC dealt between 80 and 99% damage to opponent, Outcome is opponent has respect for PC, potential lover has a crush on PC for being the underdog, PC sees opponent as a strong and valiant character, holding no grudge against him or his race.

If 4 is true before T=2h00, then every potential lover gets a crush on PC (fan effect), PC feels no contempt against opponent's race, opponent's feels a neverending grudge against PC



Then, what comes about coming events depends on what has happened previously. But this 3D flowchart is only effective if you have a timeline which can be affected by the PC, but also exists without him. Things have to happen at different intervals, meaning that your game still plays, even if PC doesn't move from starting point.

Am I clear?

Yes, it means an incredible amount of creative writing, twice as much proof-reading and double-checking, and approximately a factorial of primary nodes. But the effect is somewhat simpler to code, I believe. Which means that most of the game is an interactive story, with REAL roleplaying. If you have a character that spends his time fighting whoever happens to come his way, he is bound to become unpopular, except with those who do the same. And even though... On the other hand, if he doesn't fight at all, some of the events are blocked to him anayway... If he fights too little, he doesn't win all hearts with the tournament. If he fights too much, he doesn't have time to compete in the tournament, nor interest himself in romanceing...

This way, you have much more power over the overall design,a nd about five times as much work on your slate. But feel happy. By the end, it will all be yours...

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