Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Experiment in Storytelling

Another week come and gone. I've amazed myself with how much writing I've done this week—about 20.5 pages of written material (written mostly in screenplay format), and to think that it was all written without a deadline! I am so glad college is a thing of the past now!

What the hell was all that writing about? Well, I'm glad my ventriloquism skills haven't been pointless, because I'm glad I made you ask that!

There is a small project I am working on for a game called Amnesia: The Dark Descent. For those who do not know, Amnesia is a first-person survival horror game with realistically simulated physics (you can pick up stuff, drag stuff, throw stuff, etc.). The game doesn't focus on nailing headshots like pretty much every other kind of survival horror game, and unlike drivel like “Saw 31 in 3D ” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the game induces horror by messing with your head, and NOT by including buckets of blood and gore (although there is plenty of blood in the game). It's one of the few instances of horror that is actually worth experiencing, because psychological horror is the only kind of horror—shock scares and disembowelments might make you uncomfortable, but they won't chill you to the bone like Amnesia will.

Here's the trailer, for those who are intrigued.

The project I am working on is a modification for the game, a “Custom Story.” Whereas Amnesia is a horror/puzzle game, the mod I am making is little more than an interactive narrative—there won't be any monsters or any serious puzzles to solve, there will just be the narrative and the level exploration.

The story is called “My Love,” and it is about a young man who becomes lost in his thoughts, and he must sort out his memories by diving headfirst into a traumatic experience. It will be told through personal narrative, through the echoes of past conversations, and through the uniquely-arranged level design—it is all about observation.

Here is the link for some more information on the project: "My Love"

There are numerous characters, and will require the talents of several individuals who are confident in their voice acting abilities to bring them to life. As it is, some talent has already been recruited for the project, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to just throw out a little advertisement. I AM LOOKING FOR VOICE ACTORS (See the link above for more information about it). If you're interested (and don't have an account at the Frictional Games forum), send me an email—it'll be posted on my blog profile.

Working on such a project poses some unique challenges for me, as I have never really delved into game design in any serious fashion. It is all well and good to write a few sentences in a word processor and create a complete, coherent narrative, but the process for creating a narrative for a visual, interactive experience is much, much different. How much of the story do I put into the actual dialog, and how much do I tell through the player's own observation?

Most players don't want to be spoon-fed the story with cutscenes and scripted events removing control from the player—but it's also very easy for the player to miss crucial information by skipping over notes and dialog by not directly pointing these things out to the player. As I work on “My Love,” I am forced to ask myself, “Am I being too blunt with his portion of dialog? Is there some way I could make it subtle, yet easily noticeable by the player? How do I draw the player's attention to this detail without big glowing arrows and sound effects?”

As an amateur writer and a total “noob” at game design, it's important to learn about storytelling from a new medium. Most professional writers for video games don't ask these questions and fail to translate the pen-and-paper narrative into an interactive narrative, and because of this, they take a potentially awesome story and grind it into the dirt (which is why there are so many games like “Left 4 Dead” or “Doom,” which lack any real story—it's much easier to just design a shooting mechanic than to create a cohesive storyline). And while the game itself might be good, the story is left to suffer.

Trying to combine gameplay with story—it's not easy, and I know “My Love” won't be the perfect blend. But I consider it to be a personal experiment in a new medium, in how to combine the two in the best what that I can manage. I am working the project pretty much entirely solo (except for the voice acting), so we'll see what it is I can manage with my limited set of skills. I hope, when it's released, and if you're the type to actually play games (much less actually owning Amnesia!) that you will be able to enjoy it for what it is, and not for what it is not.

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