So, you might ask, why am I making characters walk across the screen? For what purpose do they exist? Well, it stems from an overriding desire to just make games, a long spell of just having that urge without a story or device to hang it on, and from finally having an idea that recently gelled into my head.
After recently discovering the web comic Questionable Content (yes, several decades and gazillions of strips after everyone else on the internet), I started thinking about how to do something similar in adventure game form. Specifically, having a large ensemble of characters in a sitcom-ish setting with their interpersonal relationships as the focal point of the story.
I gave it some more thought — at least to the point where I could no longer be accused of outright plagiarizing Jeph Jacques — and decided to combine my newfound love of cartoon characters having somewhat believable relationships with my love of sitcoms that don’t suck. Specifically, shows like Scrubs (before season 6), 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and especially the surrealistic depictions of office culture in Better Off Ted.
So, I came up with the idea of setting a game in an office situation where the ensemble cast were all low-rung employees in the “technical department” of a large, multinational corporation. This is the bit that’s pretty much lifted straight from Better Off Ted: the company is of such size and is so bad at inter-office communication that very few of its employees know exactly what they’re working on.
For the sake of an overarching story in my game, I would have our little ensemble find themselves working on a “secret project” that they don’t actually know what is. They know it has something to do with artificial intelligence, and as a proof of concept they have successfully introduced self-awareness into the office photocopier — but, to avoid overcomplicating things, they’ve left out social skills, manners, or regard for human life*.
What that project is, is of course much bigger and scarier than any of them can imagine. But this mystery is not central to the story. It’s more like the “mytharc” of The X-Files — it’s there and evolving in the background, and occasionally we’ll get another piece of the mystery, but really it’s about the day-to-day life of the characters.
In adventure games in general, I think there’s sometimes too much focus on getting the plot moving; getting to the quest part; getting onto the adventure. And I want to see what happens when I don’t give you a quest outright. I want to see what happens if instead I throw you into a mix where you get to be the character; not just direct his/her actions.
I also want to accomplish this by introducing two things:
- Multiple playable characters
- Multiple relationship paths
The first one is nothing new in adventure games — I think we can all agree that Day of the Tentacle did it spectacularly. The difference is that, in my game, you don’t get to pick when to play the other character. I’m going to do that for you, similar to when a comic strip or sitcom has several plots going at once and switches perspective.
The other is relationship paths, and this idea is pretty much nicked from The Pandora Directive: The central plot will stay the same, but the way the characters interact — specifically, how you choose to interact with them — will alter some of the interpersonal business that goes on. It won’t affect the story itself, but it will affect how the story plays out.
Lastly, I’m also going to be doing this …
Or, episodic, if you will. Call it whatever. Much like that kebab you had after your 19th tequila shot, it’s coming out in chunks, is what I’m saying.
The reason here being that I honestly don’t have much of an idea of where the story is going — and I really feel the story, or, rather, the characters could go on forever. This whole idea about “the secret project” is just to get me started. I want to see these characters grow close and interact, and add new characters, and discard old ones, and basically keep it going for as long as I’m interested.
That has to happen organically, over time. Which is why I’m spending this “pre-production” time building as many character sprites (with as many facial expressions as I can think of), and as many rooms (or, sets) as I can, so I have the building blocks necessary to just get in there and write.
That leaves the question of how to carry on with the choices the player made in previous “episodes” of the game. But I think I’ve got that sorted, and I’ll explain how it works later, ‘cos this post has frankly gone on long enough by now.
* This is the bit that’s probably going to be pegged as one of the things I’m ripping off of Questionable Content but actually it’s more inspired by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its “Genuine People Personality” robots.