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Liza Shulyayeva

Opinions on resetting difficulty+experiencing the same series of overarching events from multiple characters' perspectives in different playthroughs

17 posts in this topic

I'm curious about people's views on having the player (optionally) experience the same story from three different perspectives in different playthroughs. I was originally going to post this in the Writing forum, but realized the question is more about the overall player experience in terms of progression rather than the story itself. Apologies if I was wrong and placed this in the wrong forum.

[b]The idea: [/b]The core mechanics basically involve an Asteroids-like multi-directional shooter and build on that. The player selects a character they want to play out of three at the beginning (female, male, AI) based on a brief description and an overview of strengths/weaknesses. Player completes playthrough with that character, then optionally chooses another character to use and starts from the beginning of the overall story timeline. I'm guessing each character's playthrough may take 45 minutes to an hour (but this estimate is still very flexible).

[b]Progress:[/b] Most of the core mechanics are complete (with much refinement to go), but in terms of content right now I am building levels for the first character, allowing me plenty of opportunity to vary up what I'm going to do with the other two based on feedback I receive here.

[b]Question[/b]: As a player, would you prefer to experience the same series of events through another character's eyes/personal perspective or would you prefer to just have each character progress you further in the main story of the game without overlap? Do you see the former working? As an example:

[color=#ff0000]Character A: Starts at Level 1, Day 1.
Level 1: Recover Blue Widget from planet.
Level 2, 3, etc
Finish playthrough[/color]

[color=#0000cd]Character B: Starts back at Level 1, Day 1.
Level 1: Defend main ship from attack for X time while Blue Widget is being recovered from planet.
Leve 2, 3, etc.
Finish Playthrough[/color]

versus

[color=#ff0000]Character A: Starts at Level 1, Day 1, finish at Level 10, Day 10[/color]
[color=#0000cd]Character B: Starts at Level 11, Day 11, continuing where A left off.[/color]

The first case would be a matter of optionally restarting from the lowest difficulty after you are done with whatever character you chose to play first.

The second case would be a matter of continuing the difficulty progression with each character. You would have no choice in what character you use - you'd start with A, go on to B, finish with C. I guess technically here you don't even [i]have[/i] to have multiple characters with this option, so the main question is - do you see the first case working to deliver a positive player experience?

[b]Original Rationale:[/b] I had hoped that if I can do this right, I can potentially have the player glean new pieces of understanding or information as they experience what's happening from varying points of view. Seeing things from different perspectives is interesting to me personally, and trying to intertwine three paths in that way successfully is even more so. However, I'm not sure if this is actually as potentially fun and interesting as I'm hoping it could be, or if this would give the player the most enjoyable experience even if I manage to do it right in terms of writing this thing. Which is why I'm here, looking for opinions [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]
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I like the basic idea and it has been used in movies (Run Lola Run) or even games (resident evil, kind of in SC I).

The trick is,that even when using the same timeline you should deliver only a part of the story per playthrough with overlapping events, which will start as random event the player will not really recognize as story plot at first , but will resolve as clever story plot later. But avoid redundant story playthrough, the story telling should show really unique views of the same story which construct to an unique experience once you see the whole picture (after playing all game sessions).
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[quote name='Ashaman73' timestamp='1349942460' post='4989011']
I like the basic idea and it has been used in movies (Run Lola Run) or even games (resident evil, kind of in SC I).

The trick is,that even when using the same timeline you should deliver only a part of the story per playthrough with overlapping events, which will start as random event the player will not really recognize as story plot at first , but will resolve as clever story plot later. But avoid redundant story playthrough, the story telling should show really unique views of the same story which construct to an unique experience once you see the whole picture (after playing all game sessions).
[/quote]

Thanks, Ashaman, that helps. I think I need to figure out a good way to balance just how much you can resolve as one character. That is, should playing through all three characters be considered a requirement to reaching some sort of satisfying conclusion or should the player be able to finish one playthrough with Character A, B, [i]or[/i] C and be satisfied with the ending, then play the others if they want to gain more interesting but not necessarily required insights into the overall events of the timeline? This is all in terms of revealing the [i]overall[/i] story of this journey - each character will of course have their own missions that are relevant to their individual narrative and progression through this timeline. Edited by Drakonka
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[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349943145' post='4989015']
should playing through all three characters be considered a requirement to reaching some sort of satisfying conclusion
[/quote]
I would vote for this one.

I really recomment to play [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarCraft"]Star Craft I[/url] (might be the same for SCII, but I never played it), considering that it is a RTS, uses three different armies and three interweaved story parts, which combines into a single (epic) story plot (though I'm not 100% sure if they share the same timeline). Edited by Ashaman73
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[quote name='Ashaman73' timestamp='1349943728' post='4989019']
[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349943145' post='4989015']
should playing through all three characters be considered a requirement to reaching some sort of satisfying conclusion
[/quote]
I would vote for this one.

I really recomment to play [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarCraft"]Star Craft I[/url] (might be the same for SCII, but I never played it), considering that it is a RTS, uses three different armies and three interweaved story parts, which combines into a single (epic) story plot (though I'm not 100% sure if they share the same timeline).
[/quote]

I think the fact that I haven't played SCI yet is shameful, and now that I know its story elements are relevant to this idea it's doubly shameful! Will definitely be getting it.

Thanks again!
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[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349943145' post='4989015']
That is, should playing through all three characters be considered a requirement to reaching some sort of satisfying conclusion or should the player be able to finish one playthrough with Character A, B, [i]or[/i] C and be satisfied with the ending, then play the others if they want to gain more interesting but not necessarily required insights into the overall events of the timeline? This is all in terms of revealing the [i]overall[/i] story of this journey - each character will of course have their own missions that are relevant to their individual narrative and progression through this timeline.
[/quote]
I personally like the second option more.

But please understand that these are completely different game design options. The first is designing a game for a single playthrough of three-part story. The second is designing game for replayability.

In second case you could even do the following:
Save all relevant decisions/events of playthrough with character A. When replaying with character B, insert these events into story as computer-controlled events. When playing with C insert the events of both A and B. If playing again with A, insert B and C events, but let player to choose new storyline for A...
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[quote name='Lauris Kaplinski' timestamp='1349954346' post='4989057']
[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349943145' post='4989015']
That is, should playing through all three characters be considered a requirement to reaching some sort of satisfying conclusion or should the player be able to finish one playthrough with Character A, B, [i]or[/i] C and be satisfied with the ending, then play the others if they want to gain more interesting but not necessarily required insights into the overall events of the timeline? This is all in terms of revealing the [i]overall[/i] story of this journey - each character will of course have their own missions that are relevant to their individual narrative and progression through this timeline.
[/quote]
I personally like the second option more.

But please understand that these are completely different game design options. The first is designing a game for a single playthrough of three-part story. The second is designing game for replayability.

In second case you could even do the following:
Save all relevant decisions/events of playthrough with character A. When replaying with character B, insert these events into story as computer-controlled events. When playing with C insert the events of both A and B. If playing again with A, insert B and C events, but let player to choose new storyline for A...
[/quote]

I was originally leaning toward #2 as well, but am still weighing my options. The idea was quite similar to what you suggest, though I haven't yet done any real experimentation with that mechanic because right now I've only gotten as far as one character.

Using the example in my original post with Level 1 objectives for characters A and B, I was thinking perhaps I could check if the player had already completed Level 1 with character A (retrieving Blue Widget from Planet) and how long it took them to do so. Then if they go back and play character B, the amount of time they have to defend the ship for [i]their[/i] level 1 scenario (defend ship while Blue Widget is being obtained) could be equivalent to how long it took character A to complete that level.
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I plan to do something similar in my game. There will be two sides of a single story - girl and boy viewpoints. The first playthrough will always be as a girl and the second character will only be unlocked after finishing with the first one. The main story will remain the same - and does not require second playthrough to be understood. But there will be many new details in story, game mechanics and environment to be explored.

One thing that has to be thought out is how to "force" player to be at the right place at right time if story requires so. I.e. if during the first playthrough character B was covering character A in certain quest then what to do, if player decides to ignore character A completely while playing with B?

In your example - what to do if something has to happen according to scenario A logic but not according to scenario B logic? Say computer-controlled player B defended the ship of A and destroyed enemy mothership (with big explosion). Now when playing as B player will not attack mothership, but simply keeps it away from A while mostly dodging missiles. So according to game logic mothership should not explode, but according to story logic it should.

My current plan is to be flexible with timings - i.e. all important events from the first playthrough will become "checkpoints" in second. The story will not advance until player has gone through them. But I have no idea whether it works.
Such things have to be solved in game logic level. But if done right they can make story much more engaging - at least for those players, who like familiarity.
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[quote name='Lauris Kaplinski' timestamp='1349962356' post='4989092']
I plan to do something similar in my game. There will be two sides of a single story - girl and boy viewpoints. The first playthrough will always be as a girl and the second character will only be unlocked after finishing with the first one. The main story will remain the same - and does not require second playthrough to be understood. But there will be many new details in story, game mechanics and environment to be explored.

One thing that has to be thought out is how to "force" player to be at the right place at right time if story requires so. I.e. if during the first playthrough character B was covering character A in certain quest then what to do, if player decides to ignore character A completely while playing with B?

In your example - what to do if something has to happen according to scenario A logic but not according to scenario B logic? Say computer-controlled player B defended the ship of A and destroyed enemy mothership (with big explosion). Now when playing as B player will not attack mothership, but simply keeps it away from A while mostly dodging missiles. So according to game logic mothership should not explode, but according to story logic it should.

My current plan is to be flexible with timings - i.e. all important events from the first playthrough will become "checkpoints" in second. The story will not advance until player has gone through them. But I have no idea whether it works.
Such things have to be solved in game logic level. But if done right they can make story much more engaging - at least for those players, who like familiarity.
[/quote]

I think to get around the kind of issue you describe I'll need to not have too much involvement between characters in any one character's playthrough, which I think may not be how you were envisioning your version of this kind of scenario in your game :). My characters will be operating in the same timeline, but with their own missions and paths that are not necessarily intertwined in each level. Eg when playing A, you won't often be directly involved with B and C in the same level at all. A is flying to some position to recover Blue Widget while B would be staying behind to defend their main ship. Because each character as I envision it now has their own "job" (eg A is a Scout, B is a Defender/Fighter), they will have different kinds of missions and objectives that are designed for their role and while they'll be going through the same journey from Day 1 to Day X, they will (mostly) be doing so in different locations, scenarios, and kinds of objectives.

I did plan on having the kind of scenario you describe - having Playable Character B defend NPC version of A in a particular mission. In this case PC B will only need to follow the path that NPC A takes and keep it alive. If NPC A dies, the player (as B) fails. However, I don't think much disruption would be possible here because:[list=1]
[*]Any such interactions between characters would not involve a computer ever killing a mothership (and then when played as that character being able to do something different). A mothership would be a boss, so I see no reason to have an NPC as opposed to the player fight a boss.
[*]In addition the defence mission PC B gets (where they are defending NPC A) would likely not appear as a playable level when playing through with as A at all. It would simply be an "event" that happened as part of their narrative, not necessarily something they directly play through.
[/list]
So the two characters, when played, would not be able to create different scenarios on different playthroughs and NPC characters do not perform elaborate or extremely significant actions (like killing a mothership).

I plan on allowing the player to play characters in any order, so it will be interesting to try and tie in the pieces of information they get in their missions in a way that makes sense regardless of which playthrough comes first.

This is an ambitious project (for me) because of these kinds of challenges and the amount of content involved. I have built a large portion of the core mechanics already so it definitely feels doable, but I'll need to be careful to keep my scope in check.

The idea you described sounds very interesting also, would love to keep up with your progress if you keep something like a dev blog.
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[quote name='Ashaman73' timestamp='1349943728' post='4989019']
(though I'm not 100% sure if they share the same timeline).
[/quote]

yes, they share almost the same timeline, a little offset for the side of the protoss

[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349950592' post='4989045']
I think the fact that I haven't played SCI yet is shameful, and now that I know its story elements are relevant to this idea it's doubly shameful! Will definitely be getting it.
[/quote]

yes, it is. PLAY IT NOW! [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/rolleyes.gif[/img]

[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349957345' post='4989070']
Using the example in my original post with Level 1 objectives for characters A and B, I was thinking perhaps I could check if the player had already completed Level 1 with character A (retrieving Blue Widget from Planet) and how long it took them to do so. Then if they go back and play character B, the amount of time they have to defend the ship for their level 1 scenario (defend ship while Blue Widget is being obtained) could be equivalent to how long it took character A to complete that level.
[/quote]

this I like the most.
this way you can see what the npcs while you were doing was saving the universe
thus the feeling that they are useless decreases ...

[quote name='Lauris Kaplinski' timestamp='1349962356' post='4989092']
In your example - what to do if something has to happen according to scenario A logic but not according to scenario B logic? Say computer-controlled player B defended the ship of A and destroyed enemy mothership (with big explosion). Now when playing as B player will not attack mothership, but simply keeps it away from A while mostly dodging missiles. So according to game logic mothership should not explode, but according to story logic it should.
[/quote]

make it a requirement. make the game in a way that the objectives of the PC at each level are equivalent to what the AI did on the same level on the playthrough of the other characters.
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[quote name='Drakonka' timestamp='1349964493' post='4989103']
I think to get around the kind of issue you describe I'll need to not have too much involvement between characters in any one character's playthrough, which I think may not be how you were envisioning your version of this kind of scenario in your game [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/smile.png[/img]. My characters will be operating in the same timeline, but with their own missions and paths that are not necessarily intertwined in each level. Eg when playing A, you won't often be directly involved with B and C in the same level at all. A is flying to some position to recover Blue Widget while B would be staying behind to defend their main ship. Because each character as I envision it now has their own "job" (eg A is a Scout, B is a Defender/Fighter), they will have different kinds of missions and objectives that are designed for their role and while they'll be going through the same journey from Day 1 to Day X, they will (mostly) be doing so in different locations, scenarios, and kinds of objectives.
[/quote]

Fair enough [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/wink.png[/img]

Keeping character-level interaction low certainly simplifies things. But in that case what will be the story that is told from different perspectives?
[list=1]
[*]Backstory - just reveal different pieces of full puzzle in different paths. IMHO backstories are overused - but they may also be very addictive if you have/are a good writer.
[*]No story at all - only general references to previous missions. Links between playthroughs are implemented simply via game mechanics.
[/list]
The second variant is more interesting for me (although you can probably mix tory and game mechanics too).
For example it can be used to make quite logical level/difficulty system. At first playthrough you are completely free to choose pacing, mission order and so on. On second you are constrained by previous one. On third you are constrained by both previous one etc.
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Whether you want it to be sections within the main story or as an incentive to replay the game will probably force you into completely different design decisions.

Either as a chain of three interchangeable campaigns, with major events consistent and safe to work with, or you'll have extensively test where the player's actions are allowed to change the results. Might also be a good idea to set hard limits to make sure they can't make another section too difficult to play through as well - In your example about retrieving the widget, taking far too long with Character A might make it too difficult to keep B alive. It's also a little unfair if the default values for B's mission are more preferable than the version you saved with using a mediocre performance by A.

Games like StarCraft and Kingdom Under Fire run the "same place, different perspective" narrative very well, but by necessity the events are strictly canonized and stick to a linear result. Either you win "their way" or else you can't progress/lose outright. I think SC also preferred that you play each campaign through sequentially, and didn't unlock the next race until you'd put in at least a few levels into the preceding one, so you were forced to learn the basics from one point of view before the others. That doesn't sound like the way you'd hoped to structure your game, though.

You might look to Mass Effect's 'mutable' storyline system for tips, but it was little more than a series of flags that controlled very small issues. Most were generally self-contained and there didn't seem to be a lot of interaction between results unless they were already heavily involved with each other.

American Nightmare also had you run through each section three times as the story progressed, but varied the content by making the characters aware they were "caught in a loop." On revisiting an area, things you had figured out the first time might no longer be necessary to do, or taken care of by friendly NPCs now aware of the plot. Some objectives were designed to only need to be done once, too. (E.g. Instead of using a key, a pass-coded door is an obstacle the first time, but your character still remembers the code next time and can focus on doing different objectives instead.) This might be an option if you want to skip some sections if they were already played through by another character, letting the next player do a completely different sub-mission that gives more insight into the story.

If you're going to go with a mutable storyline, I strongly advise you get every single design decision and flag onto paper first, because you will be erasing and timelining it repeatedly until you've got it fully fleshed out. Trying to keep track of that many story variables while you're coding it will get more tangled than a string of Christmas lights.
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Thanks for your feedback, Mito!

Lauris, the story could still be told from different perspectives. My story, for example, involves a number of people attempting to survive on a spaceship on a journey between two planets. My female character's main job is that of a Scout. My male character's main job is essentially of a Defender. The first "encounter" of the game involves the ship going past the moon, where character A's job is to bring back Blue Widget. In the meantime (simultaneously) character B would be defending the main ship against attack. So even though the two characters are not in the same exact place on their mission when they are being played, they are in the same general [i]time[/i] and are able to pick up different pieces of information over the course of their personal missions (in my case through gathering rubble from their kills). Therefore they see the same overarching journey differently.

Thanks, Haps, I'll check out all of the examples you mention. I think I'll definitely have to contain how much impact each character can have on the next playthrough. I want there to be [i]some[/i] influence ideally, to where you would notice that your past history is impacting the current playthrough to an extent, but I don't think that being able to completely change major events or the outcome of the entire journey is necessary for the direction I had in mind (at least as it stands now). The goal is more to allow the player to piece together parts of this story through different characters' "simultaneous" experiences. I'll definitely aim to get all of this down on paper before building this entire structure. Edited by Drakonka
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I've played Live a Live. The innuendos were not as obvious (you didn't always have player 1 onscreen when playing player 2's walkthough) but stories criss-crossed in such a way that it was refreshing.
Overally, I feel like this really gives confidence to the player in the script and narrative. It shows there was a lot of thinking in making it right. It really reinforces the positive opinion the player has over it because it is tangible evidence of quality.
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I always liked this idea, my favourite [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilogy_of_Error"]episode of the simpsons[/url] follows a similar structure. And provides some interesting material for this kind of scenario.

Looking at it through a story-biased lens:

I think the best way to do this kind of thing is to take as much advantage of it as possible. Players should be rewarded for participating in the different views, they should see and experience things unique to their character.

But they should also find things that are not explained from their play through. Thus adding an additional reward for players who are playing a second or third character as they find story clues that only make sense because of their earlier playthroughs. This could even involve events where the player has to contend with the after effects of actions taken by one of the other playable characters(but they wouldn't know that one of the other characters had caused them, unless they had already finished one of the other playthroughs).

And now to reverse everything I've said, A single playthrough should still feel like a whole complete story. So it should have a sense of accomplishment and should leave the player feeling like they resolved whatever story based threats were revealed to their character. Otherwise, while playing all three characters would be rewarding, playing only one would be disorienting and present an story that feels incoherent.
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Thanks, Orymus, that was the idea here as well - you are in the same time, but you are not necessarily always in the same [i]space[/i] as the other characters. Eg one character's mission could be to explore a location while another character's simultaneous mission could be to retrieve something from a different nearby location.

In terms of giving confidence to the player - I can see what you mean, but it's also very easy to screw this kind of thing up if I don't structure each story properly, which would have the opposite effect.

thePyro, this is going to be one of the biggest challenges - making each playthrough satisfying while still making the player curious about what they could find out in other playthroughs and tying them all together. Should be interesting to try to write!
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I love multiple perspective structure, which makes the player try to puzzles together all the answers and fill in the blanks rather than spoon feeding a rather straight forward story from one perspective. Such structure often gives an impression of a bigger world too, when not everything resolves around one character but is all mixed and matched.

One of my favorite examples comes from anime called When The Cicadas Cry. It uses a different and more intriguing, imho, structure than one you described. The way it goes is that the series is divided into four "question" story arcs and four "answer" arcs. Each question arc tells same story but from the perspective of different characters, often with different event results (someone dies in one arc, but survives in other), yet succeeding to keep main background story the same. As you can guess from the name, it mainly rises questions as well as explains what is going on with each character as you see the story from their perspective. Then we have answer arcs which provide tidbits of answers to each other and question arcs.

It's a cool way to keep the watcher intrigued as you cant predict exact outcome of events in every arc despite following story similar to previous one, all while they are keeping the main story intact, feeding you tidbits of clues.

When implementing such different perspective story in a game, it may be a good idea to make drastically different gameplay for each of the characters to keep things fresh. One character could be engaging in gun battles while other is all about hacking computers to avoid direct encounters. Or it may be enough with slight mechanics variations. I checked your game out on your blog; you probably thought of it already, but it could be interesting to have variations such as one character is a pilot and the game plays as an Asteroids alike game, while the one staying on the ship plays in a complete different manner, solving tech problems instead of engaging in action. Although it would be bit of a challenge to avoid alienating players when switching from one kind of gameplay to other.

Lastly I find it much more interesting story telling wise when you build the multiple perspective story in a way that when experienced from a second perspective it completely changes the meaning of events you experienced in first perspective. This way, instead of telling parts of same story you first tell a coherent story from first perspective then tell it in a different way that completely changes the way player perceived events in the first play through. A simple example is first story telling of a crew member who sacrificed his life in an attempt to diffuse a bomb while later arc reveals that it was in fact him who set it in the first place. It turns the players view on the story upside down, making him unsure what to expect and wanting to find out more, to find out whether his new guess is accurate.

Basically you tell the story in a coherent A(a1-a2-a3)-B-C way in first perspective, where event A is detailed event from that first character perspective and B is something that happened on the ship which first character heard about. But second perspective reveals much deeper A-B(b1-b2-b3)-C details of B that changes the way it was perceived when you player first characters perspective.

Phew.. Hopefully that made sense. Also, high five for Ukraine game devs in Stockholm o/ Edited by Cronnix
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You've brought up some really interesting points, Cronnix. I was definitely hoping to work in the kind of perspective shift you described (with your bomb diffusion example). I haven't yet decided to what extent I'll apply this throughout the storyline (as this entire thing can get very tangled with so many perspective shifting elements!), but it's on my list of things to try.

I also see your point about having the gameplay be different. While I still plan the core of the gameplay to be the same for each character (a multi-directional shooter), each character is planned to have its own job/role on this big journey, so will lean toward different types of objectives (one might get more exploration missions, another more defence missions, etc). I definitely want the experience of each character to be different and think that these kinds of mission type changes coupled with each character going through their own version of the journey in terms of narrative should accomplish that if I manage to do it right.

Yesterday and today I've been writing the overall "saga" of this journey - what happens with the main ship itself - and taking down notes of which major events can turn into missions for each character. Once I know what happens on this big adventure I can break scenarios off of it and turn them into individual missions. Then I was going to drill down further into each other and decide exactly what each player finds out in each one, and how it connects to the others' discoveries in the same timeline.
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