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Glitch25

Planning a Complex Narrative

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I'd like to begin writing a rather complex narrative, dialogue trees, level design, key events, perhaps a timeline of sorts. How might I go about doing this? Writing it all down in Microsoft Word or Notepad seems to be rather inconvenient and unnecessary, in doing so any member involved in that area of development would have to read the entirety of the document and re-read sections if changes are made. A summation of major points in the story but still provide enough detail to quickly grasp the scenario? Should it be segmented into levels? Or what if the game were to be free roaming? What if choices can be made to alter future events? Dialogue choices? What if most of the story is told through the environment? So many questions.

 

Perhaps an example of this kind of story telling would be the Marvel or Star Wars universe...or the non-fictional universe.

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_galactic_history

https://keithroysdon.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/marvel-cinematic-universe-timeline-infographic-01-4578x1450.jpg

http://astroclock2010.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/geological_time_spiral.png

 

If the story were to persist for two or more years within that universe. Or, as one the characters from Baccano! said, "Rid yourself of this un-ending illusion that stories have clear beginnings and endings. Stories never begin, nor do they end. They are comprised of people living. An endless cycle of interacting. Influencing each other and parting ways. As long as stories are told they should not have clear endings," How might it be best planned out? Or at least described to those developing the interactive experience?

 

TL;DR, I suppose my question would be, how are interactive stories usually planned out?  And what programs should I utilize to do so?

Edited by Glitch25

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Wiki can be useful, but there's no real silver bullet here because it's hard to visualize all of the branches.

 

I like to use pencil and paper.  Don't go into too much detail on anything until you have everything mapped out and understand the structure, or things can get messy quickly.

 

Once you do, just focus on making a visualization to help people follow it (some kind of illustrated or branching tree, or category list with subsections and various links).  Then you can work on adding details.

 

Doing it page by page with a wiki is the best method I know for detailing things and keeping up with changes.

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There are different types of game mechanics used to create interactive story.  Some data structures are better for some of these game mechanic types.  Which ones are you intending to use?

 

I'll list some here to show what I'm talking about, but this is not a complete list.

- The game has a global timeline, or several global timelines in parallel.  This allows the world to change permanently in response to key plot events.  (E.g. Skyrim, Final Fantasy 7)

- The game has chapters or days, where the player can strategically spend their time at a particular activity or location.  Generally each unit of time spent at an activity raises or lowers stats related to that activity, and the game's plot progression is controlled by the current levels of these stats. (E.g. Harvest Moon series, Grim Grimoire, many dating sim RPGs)

- NPCs are state machines and the game as a whole is a simulated world which will proceed along its own path unless and until the player interferes. (This overlaps with the previous category a bit.  E.g. Harvest Moon series, The Sims, Fallout series, Grand Theft Auto, Way of the Samurai series)

- Plot branches occur in dialogue choices only, and the overall plot has a tree shape, or the shape of several parallel trees that overlap a bit and have a few places where branches rejoin. (e.g. The Longest Journey, Crono Trigger, Radiant Historia)

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Doing it page by page with a wiki is the best method I know for detailing things and keeping up with changes.

 

 

That's rather interesting, I hadn't thought of that, although I'm still curious as to how larger story driven games design these complex narratives.

Can you create a private wiki page? 

 

 

There are different types of game mechanics used to create interactive story.  Some data structures are better for some of these game mechanic types.  Which ones are you intending to use?

 

Well to briefly describe what I'm working with, a first person game that will tell a single over-arching narrative from multiple perspectives; multiple cultures or species.

 

I'd like to have the world persist without the need for player interaction, most narrative events arise from taking optional paths your companions suggest. Or are perhaps instigated through exploration during or after the primary gameplay experience. There are some planned events, but they're hardly found by linear means. Most narrative is given through optional character interaction during periods of rest, this allows me to pace the story well and also to give the player some 'quiet time' to think about the game world. All key events can be witnessed first hand, but they're never forced. I'll provide subtle hints to guide them, but the choice to follow is their own. Events can take place without them being present.

 

Dialogue trees are closest to what I'm considering, but I'm not sure I'll go with the traditional method used. Instead I've worked out a sort of 'binary' system for ease of response, yes or no, positive, negative or neutral, agree or disagree, etc. Responses for quick interaction while preserving immersion; rather than reading through an extensive amount of text to select something closest to what you want. Which also permits ease of calculating an NPC's admiration or aversion towards the player.

 

Let me know if that description is sufficient, I really appreciate the responses so far, you two. Thank you. biggrin.png

Edited by Glitch25

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I recommend using a program like Evernote for organizing your work. It helps you organize a bunch of notes using tags etc. it loads and switches between documents fast which is good when dealing with a large amount of notes. As for organizing the narrative I think you should at the center have some kind of unifying theme - something that ties all the story-lines, events, scenarios, character developments, world developments together. E.g. lots of things happens in the Lord of the Rings - bunch of different races, power-struggles, various battles, various disputes between characters and groups of people, but at the center is the ring that symbolizes this dynamic of unity / domination, it's about uniting against evil. Tolkien didn't put all that complicated stuff (multiple races etc) for random world-building reasons, they served a purpose for the narrative.

 

Your Baccano! quote suggest you are looking for a theme that is more open-ended, but you'll still have some kind of theme. What is the game about? Where does it take place? What can the player do? What can't the player do? What paths can the player take and how does the player progress? Think about your choices and preferences and how they might tie into some kind of theme. 

 

The more open-ended your theme is the less you actually need to organize your story-lines and scenarios. E.g. if it's about "power-struggle" then you can just let the game mechanics of the game tell the story - different factions battling, different ways to influence factions, to gain power, etc. You don't care so much which event takes place in what order, the direction things are going, just how they influence the power-dynamic. In that case you just need to have certain parameters in place for a certain event/story-line to be triggered, e.g. if faction X controls castle Y and you are from faction Z then you can do story-line C which on completion changes the parameters and potentially opens up for new story-lines.

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There are different types of game mechanics used to create interactive story.  Some data structures are better for some of these game mechanic types.  Which ones are you intending to use?

 

Well to briefly describe what I'm working with, a first person game that will tell a single over-arching narrative from multiple perspectives; multiple cultures or species.

 

I'd like to have the world persist without the need for player interaction, most narrative events arise from taking optional paths your companions suggest. Or are perhaps instigated through exploration during or after the primary gameplay experience. There are some planned events, but they're hardly found by linear means. Most narrative is given through optional character interaction during periods of rest, this allows me to pace the story well and also to give the player some 'quiet time' to think about the game world. All key events can be witnessed first hand, but they're never forced. I'll provide subtle hints to guide them, but the choice to follow is their own. Events can take place without them being present.

 

Dialogue trees are closest to what I'm considering, but I'm not sure I'll go with the traditional method used. Instead I've worked out a sort of 'binary' system for ease of response, yes or no, positive, negative or neutral, agree or disagree, etc. Responses for quick interaction while preserving immersion; rather than reading through an extensive amount of text to select something closest to what you want. Which also permits ease of calculating an NPC's admiration or aversion towards the player.

 

Let me know if that description is sufficient, I really appreciate the responses so far, you two. Thank you. biggrin.png

 

If you want an overarching more-or-less-linear narrative, I would go with:

- The game has a global timeline, or several global timelines in parallel.  This allows the world to change permanently in response to key plot events.  (E.g. Skyrim, Final Fantasy 7)

 

This means that you organize organize your design process by making a timeline.  Spreadsheets and flowcharts are both pretty good for timelines, and hyperlinks can be used to turn the index page of a wiki into a timeline.  (Yes you can have a private wiki.  I am not personally a fan of wikis but that's because I personally like linear lists and 2D charts but I personally find more-than-2D organizational systems like wikis to be confusing to work with.)  Flowcharts are often preferred by arty, visual people, while spreadsheets are often preferred by people who like history and math; either could work fine for your game concept if I'm understanding it correctly.  Do you want a more detailed description of how one of these methods would be used?

Edited by sunandshadow

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Can you create a private wiki page? 

 

You can have private entire wikis. Wikipedia uses set of wiki web software (called MediaWiki), Wikia uses a different set of wiki web software (apparently MediaWiki with custom additions, that are merged back into MediaWiki). Both are publicly available for running your own wiki, if you have some way to host them - either on your own webhost, or one your own local PC if you set up a local "webserver".

 

There are others as well, both commercial (like Confluence), and free ones like TiddlyWiki. I don't know how much I'd trust TiddlyWiki with important data - last time I tried it it felt (personal opinion) rather fragile - the idea of all the content being stored in a single webpage along with the code and markup just doesn't sit well with me. Better back it up regularly.

 

There are others you can look over and see what works with you. Zim looks like an interesting bet.

However, you might also want to pair your personal wiki with a mind-mapping tool. XMind is freemium, with a no nagging feature-complete free version.

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I recommend using a program like Evernote for organizing your work. 
 
As for organizing the narrative I think you should at the center have some kind of unifying theme...
 
Your Baccano! quote suggest you are looking for a theme that is more open-ended, but you'll still have some kind of theme. What is the game about? Where does it take place? What can the player do? What can't the player do? What paths can the player take and how does the player progress? Think about your choices and preferences and how they might tie into some kind of theme. 
 
The more open-ended your theme is the less you actually need to organize your story-lines and scenarios. 

 
I'll give evernote a try, it sounds like it could be rather reliable. I think I can come up with a unifying theme, I'll make some notes of what you've suggested and go over it later. Maybe I should look at the story structure for some of those longer series, a narrative that expands beyond a single film or book. I can only think of a few games which have done just that. I think; as the title for this discussion says, is going to be complex. I'll try to manage my scope well, a single narrative to encompass all the cultures, and then minor stories between factions, and lastly individual characters. The level of influence choices have within the narrative should be interesting to experiment with.

 

Thank you for your help so far, Opwiz. :D
 

If you want an overarching more-or-less-linear narrative, I would go with:
- The game has a global timeline, or several global timelines in parallel.  This allows the world to change permanently in response to key plot events.  (E.g. Skyrim, Final Fantasy 7)
 
This means that you organize organize your design process by making a timeline.  ...Flowcharts are often preferred by arty, visual people, while spreadsheets are often preferred by people who like history and math; either could work fine for your game concept if I'm understanding it correctly.  Do you want a more detailed description of how one of these methods would be used?

 

Global timeline, as in key events that affect all the cultures present within the game world, or at least very significant ones. Correct? A single player choice may create a domino effect that sets off a huge change in future occurrences. Less significant events may also affect minor outcomes, say for example anything between individual characters or any small factions or groups. Yes, I've considered a timeline, although the programs I've found all seem to be rather restricted. It would be interesting if I could lay out even the most minute of events. Like a zoom function, scroll out to see the largest, global events. Scroll in to see small character or group events, even further in to see dialogue events.

 

I may still try the wiki, as Servant mentioned, I could host it through my own webhost. Multiple methods may work well together. A flow chart sounds wonderful, but it requires a great deal of effort to complete. A spreadsheet might be my best option to begin with, from there I can dedicate the time to work on a very well planned (and very long) flow chart. I would very much appreciate an example if you had one, that would help me to an enormous extent. I've been looking for references for the structure of this process.

 

Thank you very much for your help so far, sunandshadow. :D

 

You can have private entire wikis. Wikipedia uses set of wiki web software (called MediaWiki), Wikia uses a different set of wiki web software (apparently MediaWiki with custom additions, that are merged back into MediaWiki). Both are publicly available for running your own wiki, if you have some way to host them - either on your own webhost, or one your own local PC if you set up a local "webserver".
 
There are others as well, both commercial (like Confluence), and free ones like TiddlyWiki. I don't know how much I'd trust TiddlyWiki with important data - last time I tried it it felt (personal opinion) rather fragile - the idea of all the content being stored in a single webpage along with the code and markup just doesn't sit well with me. Better back it up regularly.
 
There are others you can look over and see what works with you. Zim looks like an interesting bet.
However, you might also want to pair your personal wiki with a mind-mapping tool. XMind is freemium, with a no nagging feature-complete free version.

 

I'll look into that software, I do own a website domain. So I can work with the host I have to get this setup. Private for the time being, and public when it's ready. (I really wish Wikia supported that option) I am researching Confluence at the moment, I'll trust your judgement about TiddlyWiki. Zim sounds like it may be promising. I've been working with Xmind to map out some relatively simple concepts, it get's to be rather, well, condensed after some time. I'm not sure how to spread things out a bit more with that program. 

 

I really appreciate your assistance so far, thank you! :D

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Dialogue trees are closest to what I'm considering, but I'm not sure I'll go with the traditional method used. Instead I've worked out a sort of 'binary' system for ease of response, yes or no, positive, negative or neutral, agree or disagree, etc. Responses for quick interaction while preserving immersion; rather than reading through an extensive amount of text to select something closest to what you want. Which also permits ease of calculating an NPC's admiration or aversion towards the player.

During investigating the internet for meanings about in-game dialog structures, I came to a similar conclusion regarding to phrases to be said by the player.

* They should not be (too) verbose, especially but not exclusively if voice acting is in play. This allows to pick a phrase but being still interested in reading / hearing the verbose one.

* They should be marked regarding to their effect on the interlocutor, so players not speaking the game's language natively need not understand the nuances in sentences.

* The choices should be limited to a few (perhaps at most 5 or so).

* The game settings may provide to switch on/off a kind of help for conversation in that choices are sorted regarding how good they fit the player character or the story.

 

However, such things are controversial anyway...

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