Crunch for 1st user-testing session, Narrative Refinement

For the first user testing session, I really wanted to create enough of the game for the players to get a good idea of the premise and concept. I wanted to create what will essentially be the first section of the game, that provides the set up to the rest of it, which will take place on the surface. Obviously, it will not be as polished as it will be at the end, but the essentially function and sequence should be the same.

I made a basic first section to show the premise, from Digby’s home – where they receive a letter informing them that they were not successful in their farming application but have been invited to be a part of a new mission, the player then sets out to met the sender of the letter in the surface preparation room to find out what the mission is. The player will see a brief overview of the city and meet the NPC who lays out the basic premise of the rest of the game – to establish a new settlement because Chasm is becoming overpopulated.

I created some basic backgrounds without shading or much detail just to give the player a decent idea of the space and kind of place that Chasm is. I will refine these later with background characters, details, objects and some NPCs to interact with.

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Here’s a playthrough of how this version is looking, ready for testing. Excuse the ugly watermark, I need to find a good screen recording software.

chasm 25th feb test vid.gif

Here’s some of the feedback I received during the first user-testing session.

  • More obvious what doors are interact-able, perhaps with the mushrooms as indicators or closed and open curtains.
  • Perhaps have more detailed character portraits to show expressions and more personality.
  • make the letter more obvious.
  • good dialogue, shows mystery well
  • players had the idea that they needed to make mushroom lamps due to the first interact-able object’s info
  • perhaps crafting- to survive longer etc.
  • stealth sections? or more gameplay?
  • more obvious interact-able icon for the first object – to introduce the mechanic
  • some interactions are a little confusing.

From the feedback I can see that I need to work on portraying the interact-able objects more obviously, defining which ones are interact-able and which ones are just decorative. Although I don’t want to discourage exploration, but it could become frustrating for the player to miss things or get tired of trying to interact with things and nothing happening.

I’m glad that people enjoyed the dialogue and found that it introduced some mystery, which was my aim.

I need to think more about including any other mechanics and how to code them. I want to include a stamina mechanic that drains the longer you spend on the surface and I did want some interactions between the player and the mysterious creatures on the surface but I’m not sure how in depth I can manage.

Fergus McNeill, author and interactive narrative designer, visited to chat with us about how to write successful, impactful stories and give us some feedback on our game narratives. I discussed what I wanted to achieve in my narrative, and how I could tweak certain aspects to make it more effective and purposeful. He gave me some advice on how to keep the player interested by refining the driving force of the main character to something stronger than just a want, or because they are bored. I think I can change some aspects of the set-up of my game, the reason Digby wants to go to the surface, in order to make it more powerful and relatable. He also urged me to look at what I really want to convey to the players and what I want my game to be. I think I have got caught up in trying to keep the plot relatively minimal, as I’m worried about whether I will be able to achieve it working by myself. But really, I should be going for what I really want to happen and if it doesn’t work out perfectly, then at least I tried and didn’t water my ideas down. I don’t think I’ve been letting my idea evolve as much as it could, as I’ve been trying to keep it tied down to my original idea. But, really, I just want to create something with a cool world and memorable, fun characters. I said before that I wanted to keep the environmental message subtle but it’s been in the back of my mind as something I need to focus on more than other aspects.

Characters are, for me, the driving force of a story. When I read/watch/play things, I can think the world-building is interesting and the plot is engaging, but if the characters are weak then I feel no attachment to the story. For my game, I really want the characters to be the central focus of the narrative. The plot keeps the game flowing, the world provides context, along with some environmental messages. I want to make the environment almost a character in and of itself, and I want it to be immersive and intriguing. But the feelings I want to get across to the player will mainly be delivered by the characters – working together against adversity, community and inter-connected-ness – essentially ‘friendship is magic’ : )

I need to have a think about how to change certain aspects to make the story more powerful, and include more ‘peaks’ and ‘troughs’ for the characters. I’m debating as to whether to add more to Digby’s reason to want to go to the surface (to be noticed and be a ‘hero’), on the one hand – it shows their idealistic nature when compared with the other team members, who have been banished or been driven by unfortunate circumstances. I think it might show Digby’s naive, self-centered nature when they find out the other member’s reasons for going. However, on the other hand, if I start with a more vague reason – just wanting to go – then will it keep the player’s attention? or will it just be lacklustre and not urgent enough? I’ll have to think.

After talking with Fergus, I think including some more dramatic scenarios throughout the game, rather than just passive observation and exploration, would give the story more drive and purpose, and keep the interest of the player more. I will have to think how to include these, whether through gameplay or cutscenes?

 

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