Monday, 15 March 2010


Ah, a beautiful forest!
I can have a wonderful time in here, chopping down those trees and fashioning them into paper birds and leafy diadems and wooden dresses! Hurrah!
Chop, chisel, weave, pulp, fasten, saw, hammer.
Gosh, that was fun!
Oh, but look now! My forest has all gone. Cripes, there's nothing to do here now; it's no fun any more. :o(

So our player moseys around the first act locations, solving puzzles and poking her nose into dusty alcoves and she's having a ball. Then she unlocks the end-of-act chokepoint and pootles around some new environments...
But when she comes back to those first few locations, there's nothing left for her there any more.
So what the game designer has cleverly done is to insert a well into that opening act, and that well can only be utilised once our player has collected the well transmogrifier gun from a later act (which she fires upon the well, metamorphosing it into a time-travel capsule, or somesuch)!

One of the greatest lessons I've learned as a writer is that things must constantly change. Or develop, if you will. Nothing stays the same. And for as long as our reader senses that things are moving inexorably towards the climax of a lifetime, she'll continue to read.
Not only is this true of games too, but it also affords us an opportunity to redefine those deforested areas (which often persist as floppy and redundant appendices) through developments in narrative, context, and/or functionality.

Here's an imaginary first act.
It's an explorable area containing three puzzles, each of which needs to be solved before the chokepoint opens into the second act.
It would be simple enough to lock the chokepoint the instant our player progresses to the second act area, and to never revisit the first act locations again; but this ain't good when you're working with a small team and small budget: I need to get bang for my bucks, which means reusing assets where possible.
It would also be simple enough to leave those first act locations as they were; but then they're no fun at all!

The riddle we can guess, we speedily despise - not anything is stale so long as Yesterday's surprise.
[Emily Dickinson: The Riddle we can Guess.]
So into act one go those act two puzzles!
And I'm sure you can see how this would build up over four or more acts!
(I have no idea at the moment what proportion of puzzles in the first act should be approachable in act one, act two, act three, and act four: I'm presuming that the majority should be doable in the first act itself. Gonna be trial and error for now. I'm also experimenting with the proportion of previous acts that can be revisited.)
But we can go further than this!
We can use the narrative to change the context of that opening act and, with a few graphical adjustments and a new soundtrack, the opening act is transformed!
Perhaps act one is set in a tranquil forest, and then, in act two, our player enters a laboratory and unwittingly releases a mutagenic virus, and then, on returning to the act one forest, our player discovers that the trees now have columns of beady eyes and limbs burgeoning with teeth, and that once mellifluous soundscape of warbling birds and buzzing bees has become one of splintering, straining limbs and buzzing flies.
And best of all, the narrative is/can be changed with minimum dialogue! Wahay!

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