I'm currently writing the document for a game. The game has two campaigns, which tell two different stories that explore these themes in different ways, and carry their own independent themes in addition to these. The game is set in an alternate history US, during a major civil war that takes place in the year 2010. This way, the game contains little real-world politics and little of the racism inherent in modern shooters, as neither of those is the main point of the game. There are two playable sides, the loyalist United States and the rebelling American Republic, and there is one campaign for each. (I'm trying to talk him into making them separate games.)
My friend, Jeremy, has written the US story, entitled "The Tower". He wanted me to post it here for feedback, so here's a summary. Now I should note that anyone can die at any time in this game, so the listed character deaths are at the times they are guaranteed to die if they haven't already. Also, I'm going to switch between 2nd and 3rd person, I apologize for that.
I'm mostly looking for an opinion on how well the messages are conveyed through the story, and ideas on how to convey them better in areas they are lacking in any way. This includes a message that is delivered clearly but without grace or subtlety. The nuke scene doesn't count, that's already canon, even as decidedly unsubtle as the message behind it is, so unless there's a better way to portray it changing the actual event then it's better to focus on other areas. If you can't tell what the messages are, I'll post them, but if that's an issue that arises then the story clearly hasn't accomplished its intended goal.
Also, the title refers to the tarot card, "The Tower", which when used in fortune telling is supposed to indicate a great loss or tragedy.
The US character is named Andrew Ashton. Andy is a 15-year old white man with an average build, who entered the military last year by lying about his age. The player has a lot of control over his statistics and abilities as the game progresses, allowing them to mould Andy to fit their play style, but when the game starts they can't change very much and your most significant choice is his loadout. Andy is a member of "Civil Maintenance" or CIVMAIN, (a dumb name, but they tend to do that) a fictional army special forces unit designed specifically to operate within the United States during periods of civil war. The main qualification for being in this unit is having the appropriate "moral outlook" for this kind of work, and Andy passes that with flying colours. You can customize your equipment, but by default you wear light ballistic armour with a helmet and use an Mk. 14 EBR, MP5SD, Beretta 92, a long knife and four satchel charges. As the youngest member of the team, you're the one usually tasked with stealth kills, where your knife is the most effective as the MP5SD is too loud and has too little stopping power to be an effective stealth weapon.
His squad leader is Fergal Gallagher, a 56-year old Irish man with a lithe build, past the retirement age but still there regardless. He's a veteran of the clean-up, a major humanitarian operation the US was forced into by the Japanese, where they had to work to reduce fallout levels across Europe after using nuclear weapons on it to drive back the USSR after its expansion. He's strongly against the clean-up, having been there in that hellish slog where US soldiers were often shot on sight by bloodied locals looking for revenge, and says it should be the "Ruskies'" job because they "forced our hand". There is a massive, high-profile incident that occurred while he was deployed that got him kicked back from colonel to 2nd lieutenant, removed from active duty and given a desk job in the states, but he won't talk about it. He managed to appeal to them and get himself promoted to 1st lieutenant and put back on active duty, although the only branch with questionable enough morals to take a racist that has previously tried his hand at genocide was CIVMAIN. He wears extra-light ballistic armour, but doesn't wear a helmet. He carries a Steyr Elite, M16A4, Beretta 92 and a long knife. He's the only officer in the game who doesn't carry a sword, which he shrugs off. He claims he's too old to be effective in melee, but this is a lie. His age is just as much of an issue at a distance, he really avoids close quarters because he's a coward. He also claims he doesn't carry explosives because he's too old to throw, but in truth he's just afraid of premature detonations and would rather foist the danger onto his men.
His squad's demolitions expert is Aasim Abbas, a 24-year old black man with a light build. His past isn't uncovered immediately, but he actually used to be a "patriot" in the western half of the country before the split who snuck into office buildings at night and placed explosives or incendiaries to destroy them. His goal was, as he put it, to destroy companies sympathetic to the secessionist movement, and prevent a civil war. Clearly, he failed. He was hired by the US military when the war began, and although he isn't treated any better because his past actions were illegal, he was allowed to skip straight to the test in the demolitions part of training, and he passed. This gave him more time to take up a bar-tending job at the barracks and earn some extra money, which he has spent on his gear as he doesn't have a family and his employee discount has gone unused because he's actually straight-edge. He wears light ballistic armour, complete with a helmet. He carries an M4A1, MP5L (fictional version, 900rpm, solid stock, longer barrel, made somewhat heavier to control recoil, extremely accurate for a submachine gun), Beretta 92 and a long knife, with two satchel charges and four sets of breaching charges, except for the first mission where he carries four satchel charges.
His squad's grenadier is Aaron Rojo, a 36-year old latino with a powerful build. He joined the military to gain respect in a nation that hates him, and was shunted into CIVMAIN because it was the branch least concerned with the (highly exaggerated) risk of him being a spy for the Third World United, a recently developed nation that has a mutually hostile relationship with the United States. (Both blame the other. Long story.) He's still treated terribly, but he remains confident that with enough effort he can gain his unit's respect and get past the stigma associated with his race. No amount of effort can ever accomplish this. He wears medium ballistic armour, complete with a full helmet. He carries an M32 MGL, M4 Super 90, Baretta 92 and a long knife, with four frag grenades and four incendiary grenades, except on the first mission where he instead carries four satchel charges.
The prologue is a training sequence, just a review drill before deployment. It can be skipped, but should probably be done because it doesn't take very long to do and teaches you plenty.
The game starts off with a dream sequence, where they fight with pathetically weak enemies that look like caricatures and deal damage that inexplicably heals after being dealt, in chaotic setpieces all coloured greyish-brown with an airstrike sequence that inexplicably gives the player control and ends with an encounter with an unnamed Japanese man drawn as a racist caricature with an exaggerated, offensive accent who plays a scenery-chewing villain with a desire to see America burn but who dies in a single shot anywhere with any weapon. Then he starts moving again, and the scene ends with the player waking up just as his eyes reopen and reveal a smooth, black surface where his eyes should be. Andy wakes up with a confused look on his face.
Andy's first mission is a minor "peacekeeping", something easy for them to start with, just going across town to find an American Republic recruitment centre and shut it down. This mission goes fairly smooth at first, they sneak in during the night, kill the janitor, place explosives and leave. The player doesn't find out until it's too late to do anything about it that the bombs aren't going to go off until the centre opens in the morning. Andy doesn't question this, but Aasim does. Fergal tells them it's to ensure they kill the staff that works at the centre, and Andy adds that any civilians caught in the blast will have it coming since they'd be going to enlist with the AR anyway. Aaron remains silent, but was looking at the Andy until the moment they said this.
Andy's second mission is a minor "peacekeeping" as well, going to prevent the AR from sending aid to the bombed recruitment centre by giving them a more personal issue to take care of. They sneak into the vehicle depot of an American Republic base, killing two guards on the way, and plant bombs around the fuel and ammunition. These bombs also won't go off until the bombs at the centre do. On the way out, your squad gets spotted and a sniper with an anti-materiel rifle puts a hispano round through Fergal's chest. He's dragged into the car and dies on the way back to the base, but not before detonating the bombs at the base early. During this scene, a helicopter is scrambled, but can't find the car since it's a normal, black sedan and looks like every other black sedan in the world, of which there are many in this area alone.
The bombs at the centre go off as intended in the following cutscene, but the American Republic sends aid even with the damage done to their base and their own casualties.
This act starts with a cutscene, as due to a lack of other options Andy is given a temporary promotion to allow him to take the place of his leader until a new one can arrive. No new leader ever arrives. The first mission under his command immediately goes awry as they are supposed to be inserted using an unmarked civilian vehicle and take out a communications centre, but a major offensive happens while they are en route and they are cut off from command. The communications centre is still destroyed, but the AR demonstrates its ability to adapt by switching to civilian communications (cellular phones) for unsecured transmissions and old-fashioned methods (courier) for secure ones, so this has less effect than anticipated.
The team is now trapped behind enemy lines, although their enemies can't bring forces back to attack them as they are too busy with the offensive, and the team has to carry out the other mission on their own without their intended support. Since they were told to wait for support, the men debate whether to carry out the other half of the mission (using the blackout to take out a small military base nearby) now or try and return. Either way, they fail and Aasim gets shot multiple times across his legs and abdomen. He doesn't die, but he is in critical condition and has to be left at a hospital. Andy and Aaron break into a vacant apartment and hole up there for a while.
This time, the player has a dream that their new safehouse is attacked, but instead of enemy soldiers, the door is kicked down by civilians. Men, women and children burnt and mangled, like they were trapped under burning rubble. Bullets can hurt them, but barely as they don't appear to bleed and while they move slow the player's weapons do little to slow them down. The player can win this fight, but they're more likely to lose, despite the civilians being so slow and unarmed. They are vocal, accusing the player of murdering them and questioning them as to why they deserved to die. Instead of attacking, they grab the player and drag them to the ground, each one making the player steadily weaker until they become completely helpless and black out. Each one that is stopped slumps to the ground and dissolves, steadily healing the others near it, but harming the player. The player probably won't win this fight, as the dream ends either when they get defeated or after a preset period (not long enough to win in) passes. Even if they do win, they don't get anything for it.
When the player wakes up, they find the US army launching a counter-offensive that has set their apartment building on fire, and they need to escape. This isn't hard, but on their way out they pass wounded and dying civilians injured by the bomb, the fire, and the stray bullets and some of them are mangled pretty badly. The player can choose to try and help them, and likely be successful with some, maybe all if they move fast, and this gesture actually rewards them, even if they won't suffer any serious penalty for choosing not to save them.
Afterwards, they can check in with the soldiers nearby and assist in the counter-offensive. Along the way, they see a lot of bombs getting dropped, which results in a lot of destruction and death on the ground. There are people all around wounded or killed by stray bullets, most fired from vehicles and especially aircraft, as the US's counter-offensive shows a flagrant disregard for human life and is sending bullets and bombs tearing into civilian houses for the crime of being relatively close to the AR troops. The AR resistance is getting stronger and stronger as the fight goes on, but then suddenly drops off as the AR troops reluctantly pull back. The player goes to check one last house at the end, where a couple enemy troops went. They make their way in without support, since the enemy's numbers are small and made up of wounded, and they kill the guards without much hassle. Approaching the last room, Aaron gets a blade pushed up under his chin and is held hostage. The girl holding the sword has him disarm himself, then tells the player to similarly disarm. The player can try to attack her, which causes her to push her sword through Aaron's head and drag it out down his throat and into his chest. She then lunges at the player, and it is difficult to avoid her literally taking him apart. (Don't worry, checkpoint when you enter the building.) You can also try disarming, then you have a chance to negotiate. If you fail, she kills Aaaron and attacks you, and with you unarmed you are completely screwed. If you succeed, she'll let you go, but she'll kill Rujo anyway as punishment for killing her men. You will leave there without your weapons if you choose to negotiate, but you'll get new ones before your next deployment. The player walks back out east through the battlefield to their car, back at the burning apartment building, to find it destroyed. The mission ends there, with the point having been the trip, where they get to see the dead and wounded from the recent battle along the entire way. The dead are watching, their eyes following the player, some even looking up at them while in their peripheral, moving when the player isn't looking, even whispering behind your back, but stopping when the player is looking.
The player's dream this time around has them walk that last battlefield again, from east to west, this time already destroyed, the dead rising as the player gets close. Dead combatants are now eyeless monsters called "soulless" that suddenly getting much closer or much farther from the player while the player is looking away from them. Dead civilians also rise, but are a much more durable creature called a "spirit" that moves slowly, is vocal, regenerates and is difficult to kill. These come in two varieties, "vengeful" spirits attack and do damage normally, and "lost" spirits that act like those in the apartment, but the lost spirits keep their distance until the player reaches the house where Aaron was killed, bombarding them with questions instead of dragging them down as normal. The player can hold out against them once they arrive, or let them have their way. (Letting the lost return you has no penalty, but damage done by soulless and especially vengeful spirits carries a real-world penalty.)
The player wakes up again, having found their way back to the base after the last offensive, to find the base under attack. The AR is NOT happy about losing the ground they just took, or the sheer number of civilian casualties the US inflicted along the way, and they've launched a massive counter-counter-offensive. The US is getting rather irritated at this, because they've been playing "hot potato" with Chicago for the last two years and it's going nowhere fast, but despite being clearly fed up they won't discuss what they're going to do about it.
You are now sent to destroy a missile base on the outskirts of the city. You are added to a small airborne unit and dropped a little over a kilometre from the target, but get caught and the airborne holds off the enemy while you sneak out and proceed to the target on your own. You have to progress with stealth to stand a chance, but that's not hard because there are a dozen US soldiers having a shoot-out with the AR not far behind, in a very defensible position. When you get close, signal for an air strike and the strike will clear the path. Troops will attack them from the north as well, giving you an opportunity to sneak in on the south side. When you get in, plant explosives and get out before the bombs go off. (Ten minute timer.) An AH-64D will divert from the fight to try and track you down. You can either sneak away undetected while it keeps searching the immediate area or has to return, or try and fight. This is a fight you probably won't win.
This time, extraction just doesn't come, as the extraction helicopter is shot down by the Longbow, very easily, if you haven't taken it out. You now have to recover what you can from the downed helicopter after taking down the Longbow, which includes a resupply of ammunition, and make your way back east towards the base. This is a long walk, with patrols out looking for you, but you don't need to go the whole distance, you just need to make it back to the front lines of the present offensive, ten kilometres away. Walking is totally feasible at that distance, but it'll go a lot faster if you can hijack a vehicle. (It's not stealing if it's for America, right? Right?) When you get back, you find it impossible to punch through the lines and go back, leaving you stuck. You attempt radio contact with command, but all they do is ask if your mission is complete, then hang up. You hole up in an abandoned house, as you realize your forces are pulling back and the outskirts of the city. You try to sleep, confident that in the basement you'll be fine, unless somebody bombs the building you're in.
Your dream now has you being chased by a helicopter again, in a city on fire as bombs fall in the distance. Then the bombing stops, the planes fly away, and the streak of a missile comes down from the sky. The explosion consumes the entire city, killing you and the helicopter.
You awaken to the building shaking, and walk outside. There is a mushroom cloud rising in the distance, and some of the skyscrapers have fallen. Those that haven't fallen are heavily damaged. A second missile comes down, still off in the distance but not as far, shaking the ground. The first missile's impact area is glowing from the fires the missile kindled, and soon the second follows suit. A third missile falls on the other side, and once again the ground shakes as this one collapses buildings around you, now close enough that you can be wounded, possibly very badly, from it. A fourth missile comes, farther this time, and is the last missile. During this, eight other missiles approach but are intercepted in-flight by anti-ballistic missiles. The fires are spreading, you're wounded, people are screaming, many trapped or burning, some are out for blood. You, being the closest US soldier, are their target. You need to escape the city while being pursued by a lynch mob, and while you run you find the dead and wounded all around you, many lying in the streets. Worse, the crowd chases you *towards* the nearest blast area, and you will eventually find yourself running across irradiated land amongst burning buildings, when the crowd finally decides to stop pursuing you. Now you proceed through a nuclear no-man's land, where the earth is scorched, the buildings are broken and burning, and everyone around is wounded, dying or dead. You can try to help survivors, which will ease your character's conscience a bit. You eventually find a car in a parking garage, steal it and leave.
You make it back to your base, finding it partially destroyed and littered with area denial weaponry, as you start to get sick. Your car is out of gas, and you need a new vehicle, so your only choice now is to make your way into the base, but you'll find all the vehicles are gone, with the fuel and munitions left over having been demolished with explosives. Now your best bet is to get to the medical tent, looking for something to help you with the radiation. When you do, you'll be treated to a short montage of your character's efforts to treat themselves throughout the day, then lying down and trying to sleep after hooking themselves up to an IV.
Your dream now has the dead of the city coming to the base after you. Their numbers are dependent on the number of people you saved in the last sequence, and the number of them that are "vengeful" and how many are "lost" spirits (vengeful ones attack and deal damage that penalizes you when the dream is over, lost ones grab on and weaken you without actually causing damage) is also dependent on that. In fact, if you saved everyone (not possible) you'd have no enemies at all and this dream would be skipped, whereas if you save nobody (entirely possible, if you're a heartless bastard) there will be a thousand of them, effectively an endless horde, and they'll all be vengeful. This time, you have a bit of hope in that they soldiers left many surplus weapons and even some ammunition behind, even if the vehicular munitions were destroyed and there's nothing in the central storage area. Kill all the attackers or let them kill you, and you're done.
The act ends with a cutscene where Andy, still sick but no longer getting worse, makes his way out of the base and walking off to the east.
Andy returns and is taken off active duty, being sent home with an honourable discharge without a psychological evaluation. When he gets home, he is depressed and suicidal, and this only gets worse when his parents shut the door in his face, telling him they don't have a son. Andy sits down on the steps and puts a gun in his mouth.
If the player doesn't intervene, which they are given no hints they can do, he'll shoot himself. Poorly. The player can also fire the shot to cause this without the wait. This leaves him with a head wound on the front steps of his parents' home. His family look out at him. His mother cries, his father calls an ambulance and his little sister runs out to him, trying desperately to save him. He can grab the gun again, and she'll take it from him, crying as she finishes him off. It takes multiple shots. Alternately, he can grab the first aid kit, helping her save him, and if this is done fast she'll have him stable long enough for the paramedics to arrive. As another alternative, he can do nothing or push her away, which will lead to him dying a much slower death. He can also grab her, which leads to him barely surviving, but his family accepting him back. No matter what, if he doesn't die from this he ends up on suicide watch.
If the player uses the "aim" key first, then fires the shot, the shot will be much better. Their sister will rush to them, crying and asking them why they did it, mostly incoherently as they are now paralysed from a shot to the thalamus and she doesn't realize they're still alive. The player is still alive long enough to get a good amount of shame from listening to her.
If the player also has a number of keys they can use to put the gun away, and leave. Andrew was seen doing this, ends up on suicide watch and his parents will never accept him back, but his sister doesn't blame him for what's happened and visits him frequently. Either this, or him shooting himself and surviving by hugging his sister is the happiest ending, depending on your point of view.