Dialogue vs. Riddles

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I don’t like riddles/puzzles in adventures. Never have. Some are forced (“Before we chase after the mysterious killer, we have to reassemble this industrial vacuum cleaner”). Almost all are jarring, stalling. Almost every riddle would be cut out of a movie because they stall the storyflow and make no sense.

So, if you ask me where the focus should be in my game, I would place it on Dialogue. I know, people don’t want to read, people are easily bored. But what do we have in movies: Scenery, Movement, Expression, Dialogue, Action….  Rarely riddles.

If riddles are the difference between 1.5 hours of a movie and 9 hours of a game, they can’t be the solution.

I will try to wrestle with this, but I had a first idea yesterday: I can use some ideas which I have gathered for my “rpg concept”:

Basically, the first step is to make the system good. I have the feeling (which is certainly a very arrogant one) that on average, most decisions in game development are “convenient”. “Well, audience wants a story where those things happen, the other games usually do it like that, what about dialogues, well these are usually done like this, blabla.” They usually focus on a good polished product, not on reinventing the system.

How many games try to be innovative? Not many, in innovation there is danger. Mankind will go the easiest way until it sinks into the sea, only then will we start to think about boats. Even though there are other possibilities, we will burn petrol until it’s gone, then we will realise “damn, we need it to manufacture plastic”. That’s just the way we are. We will make the same FIFA game every year until we no longer make any profit. That means, things will never change, until nobody buys those games anymore, THEN “the genre is dead”.

I think, before I write a single line of text, I need to find a way to make the whole thing meaningful and interesting in general. A bad system can’t be saved by good writing (i.e. the dialogue is totally unwanted and unnecessary, but brilliant). One example is the dialogue system of Mass Effect 2, with spontaneous good/evil QTE decisions, good idea!

But here is my first idea, I will model my own dialogue system on my favourite dialogues in books. Games usually make a big mistake: They remove subtext from dialogues. Have you ever seen a game where you have those 2 options among your dialogue options:

“I will certainly do that!” (truth)
“I will certainly do that” (lie)

They always assume, if I say yes to somebody in a game THAT I MEAN IT. Yes, I will complete that quest (fuck off!). That’s bullshit, you don’t know how people talk. If you remove the inside of things, they collapse. If you remove all the awkwardness, politics, intrigue, manipulation and guesswork from talking to people, then YES, it’s boring and irrelevant.

LA Noire tried to do a lot of things there, but it didn’t really work.

In books you get six channels of information:

What the hero thinks.
What the hero says.
Outside perspective of the hero.
What the conversational partner says.
What hero can deduce from the partner’s tone, expression and body language.
Outside perspective of the partner (not necessarily the same as the one above)

In games, we only get 2 to 4 of those. I want to provide all 6. Combined with dialogues you can honestly botch, with consequences, with special rewards if you did it really well.

I prefer this a lot over “hmm, I forgot to bring my car keys, so I just go back to… Oh damn, I need to fetch my 3 key cards first and solve that number slider puzzle again.”

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What is “my genre”?

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I was asked to be more precise. Well, this can take 1 or 2 years to finish, so I won’t certainly be totally transparent here and spill everything I come up with. But I can be less vague.

One of the first things I needed to do (in my spare time consisting of a few minutes spread over the course of an average day) is to find WHAT I want to do here.
While I can recognize a good puzzler, I feel drawn to a story. The things which touch me most are books. Of all the things with a story, I like RPGs and adventures the most. I have an RPG concept which I am not working on for many years now 😉 I can’t see myself realizing it without a big team and budget.

Javier of the Cabrera Brothers somewhat inspired me. They finished their game Cypher as a duo, selling it online. It’s real, it’s done, it’s out.

The only way I see myself ever getting there with the limited time and money I have is to make an adventure, too. Why not, I love that genre.

Having settled on a type of game, I needed to find my subgenre.

I like humour but it is really hard to make a game that is funny. Also, I want a less shallow experience. Something thoughtful.

Fantasy, Horror, Drama, Crime… Hmm. I love Fantasy, but my other concept is Fantasy, aiming to be a great RPG. I put all my ideas in there. I want something darker. Crime, yea, but I want it to be philosophical, meaningful, and close to myself. I am somewhat shying away from a classic crime story, although I might end up playing with it.

Mystery or Horror. I am totally blown away by Agustín Cordes’s script for Asylum (<- please help to Steam Greenlight it, one click if you are logged into Steam). But somehow, I want it to be less horror. I want it more emotional, slightly creepy, unnerving but not shocking or terrifying…

Mystery it is. Some of the movies I like the most are somewhere near here. Angel Heart, Dark City, 6th Sense maybe, Matrix, a bit Ninth Gate, Inception even, Fight Club if that makes sense…  With themes of darkness, occult, supernatural, a bit of horror…

That’s the realm I am at. Movies which inspire. With an interesting world, with twists, with depth, layers and mindfucks.

So, I am trying to write a mystery adventure. My main goal is to make it “very good” and to make the best story I can find in me, putting soul and substance into it (things that really move, bother, haunt me)… Let’s see how far I come.

Keeping it real

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It is indeed possible to write a song, a novel, an episode, a story-heavy game, basing it totally on a good thought. A nice idea with which you have a cold, analytical, detached relationship.

But I think, if it is THE story for you, something close to your heart, close to your personality, something in which you invest a part of yourself and are quite worried how you should ever pull this off a second time – THAT might turn out great.

As I said, in this early early phase of writing a game, I try to be aware of what I want it to be BEFORE I write it. I don’t want to see where my writing takes me, and then find out “it’s not a game I would like”.
I sometimes have a problem with adventures when I see the pencil outlines: I see it was designed as a crime story “people will buy”, with a guy, and a girl, and a gun, and a car chase. I sometimes feel it’s “only a game”. Only another story. A run-of-the-mill novel.

This is OK, this can and will happen, people get paid to write scripts and books, those need to sell, and people cannot write their best thing ALL THE TIME.

But I don’t get paid, and it’s OK if I only complete ONE game script I personally think is great. And I can work on it as long as I like. So I will see that it will not be just another thing.

One of the strategies I follow is to base it on something close to me, to put several aspects of me into the character that hurt, that are complex and hard to grasp. I will use this script to delve deep into my soul and put some weird, painful, human, “real” things into the game.

It’s not a game “about me”, not at all. But the character will have an interesting past and a current situation that is also relevant to me and to many other people.

Before I blurt out what exactly he is and does, let me write on this a bit further. I tend to jump to ideas very fast and stick to them. I have to probe it a bit and see if it’s still good in a month…

Baby steps

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The work on my “meaningful adventure” has begun. In my little spare time I managed to find my genre (mystery adventure), and lay out the 6 columns that a game has to rest on to be “brilliant” to ME. I don’t “know it all”, I just know what I like. And if it is to me the best script ever, it can’t really suck too hard for others. So, before I write one word, I exactly define the meta qualities everything must have or it will be trashed.

An interesting gamble: While I want to finish it and want to see it released and want it to reach many people, I deliberately refuse to  check the angle whether today’s audience will buy it. I don’t give a fuck. I want to have “that is one great game script” and not “stupid, but what a seller”. So, how good it might sell is not relevant. Publishers, similar to humans, are wrong all the time anyway. We only know what didn’t sell last time. And cold-heartedly reassemble past successes to a new sure-to-succeed-formula will only create a cold, empty zombie landscape of games that try too hard but are built of sand.

Good sign 1: I got 3 messages by people possibly interested in working on it with their company. Yes, I have many friends in the game business but I really did not expect anyone to give a rat’s arse about what I start to sketch in my little dungeon. But I take it as a boost of morale, nothing more. Maybe I WILL finish it!

Good sign 2: Two of my six columns concern the character and his place in everything. So I am trying to discard down to a short list of possible characters just right for my story (even though that story is still just a spark). I have one candidate I like, which makes a lot of sense and has many layers already. Just an idea, nothing more. My first try. But this morning, I make myself a drink and I realize I MISS that guy. What the fuck? Last time I missed a character from a game was Black Mirror 3 and Fahrenheit. Just MAYBE I really found a character close to my soul, that’s more or less 1 of my columns. You cannot write a meaningful big story about somebody you cannot relate to, or rather, who is not a part of you. You must not think like him, you must FEEL him. Or else it will be shallow, just another game. And that is NOT an option.

#GAMEDESIGN. <- Whenever you see that, run.

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[NOTE: I have redesigned the Game Design Category, you can now recognize it by it’s look, not the Hashtag Gamedesign – Me, January 2016]

It has begun. I have started to work on a game of a scale that can be finished by a team of 3. I don’t have that team, but I don’t have talent or experience, either. Who was ever stopped by that? See!

I am a composer in a world of game developers. It’s like working at the cash register in a brothel and never having sex. I am constantly creating, composing, designing… But I forgot to dream up stupid stuff… Maybe it’s that I miss the roleplaying days, where I created dozens of worlds…

Don’t know, fact is: I know where I am going. I know what kind of game I want to make. I have a few ideas.

I hav no team, but it’s no big deal. I can search one later. In case you wonder, these roles I will try to cover myself.

Writer
Composer
Sound Designer
Pimp (ing it to the publishers)

I have already written a dozen game stories and concepts for other people, not really for myself though. I have written stories and lyrics for albums, including long stories for concept albums. And composing/sound, well that’s my job. In those fields it will be KILLER. It’s me reputation on the line.

I “just” need

Artist and

Coder.

3 people should do. It’s a story-heavy game, I try to be very very low on ressources. It MUST be a simple approach… But that is far in the future. What I have to have now is something to dream about while I work, something to look into the clouds about and say “I wonder…”.  I will try to have THE Script. Then I might feel driven to finish it.