TAG | game writing

*The ranger enters the tavern and finds a table close to a window where she can watch the storm come in from the West…*

Familiar?! 

Hello, I’m Brooke, and I owe a lot to role playing games and video games for my love of writing. All those hours spent with friends writing character bios and posts were a blast and they were also making me a better writer.

Ever since Full Throttle, Sam & Max and Vampire The Masquerade *swoon* I’ve wanted to do it since I was a kid. I used to tell my sister stories with the SNES Mario Paint with Mouse, with bad illustrations (I made character sprites with the stamp tool).

Last year, I was offered the chance to be the writer on a Voxel Agents project, a new adventure puzzle game for iOS. I was pretty excited and I hoped that I would be good enough.  It’s called The Time Project, because there is no official title yet (titles are so hard…).

I’ve been writing lots for the game already and I think we have a good story going but there is more to do! I’ve settled in with the team (they’re ridiculously friendly and talented bunch of people), and there’s lots going on in the office.

A few weeks ago, I asked the team (Henrik, Jon and Maya) if they’d be cool with me keeping a journal of our adventures with The Time Project. I’m interested in how other people make things, what their creative process is like, and I hope someone finds this interesting, helpful, entertaining, or at least something different and fun on their dashboard. 😀

Stay with me as I get the .gif etiquette right. Give me a hand if I stuff it up 😀

In the words of Patsy Stone: Cheers, thanks a lot!

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*The dusty tome opens*

In the beginning…

When I write, I like to thrash out a rough draft as soon as possible. The writing is always terrible (really terrible) but it creates some outlines of characters, settings and usually gives me an idea of the overall core of the story. 

So, I was really interested to learn that this team does the same thing when they’re making games. They thrash out a rough prototype to see how it’s feeling and working. 

Seems like a pretty universal concept. Test early, fail fast because that’s how to make your creative project better!

The Time Project has been a concept the Voxel Agents have been working on since around 2011. Different teams have produced different concepts and I find it cool to see how the project has evolved. So let’s take a look, eh Watson?

Henrik worked with some of the other Voxels on a prototype that took three days to knock together (which kind of blows my mind). Henrik tells me he made a few diorama inspired games in uni and was/is in love with Super Mario 3 for being one big stage play. When he showed me this, it blew my mind (I haven’t played this game since I was a kid so I didn’t realise just how obvious this concept was!).

And thus, Time-Travel Treasure Hunt was born!

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It looks like a fairy tale pop-up book!

Time-Travel Treasure Hunt is a hidden-object game where you have to find stars hidden in the scene (keeping with our references to theatre). These scenes change over time and show a simple story that the player can reverse and fast-forward through at any time.

One of the things they learned was that giving the player the power to move time worked perfectly with the idea of looking for objects. Not only because it’s so pretty to look at and encouraged exploration but because it allowed for a pleasant surprise when things in the environment aligned ‘just so’ to reveal something new. 

I feel fiction works in a similar way. I’m looking for ways to arrange elements in the story that leads to a surprise. But surprise doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘plot twist’. Maybe it’s a character decision or much like Time-Travel, a change to the environment that challenges the characters to act. 

This surprise cannot be cheap. 

They must feel somehow inevitable and attainable (believable) for the reader. It is the same for games like Time-Travel Treasure Hunt, the puzzles must be believable, attainable and, at their best, fun!

See what you think: Time-Travel Treasure Hunt is available online to play. 

There a total of 10 stars. See if you can find them all. Time-Travel Treasure Hunt [35 MB]  It’s a bit of a wait time on the download (sorry!).

Henrik talks more about the game over on the Voxel Agents blog and I should probably link to that, so here we go!

That’s the first phase. Stay tuned for more ancient history very soon 😀

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*The vellum pages turn*

In just 14 hours, the game became something else, something more…

(I don’t know why I’m going with this dusty book motif, but hey, I am!)

Sometimes, writing is super hard. Sometimes it helps to just speed through and don’t think too much about what you’re writing. Other times, it’s fun to have write-ins with your fellow writerly peeps. National Novel Writing Month comes to mind. I haven’t done this challenge yet but I imagine the game development equivalent is something like…

…The 48 Hour Game Making Challenge held at the ACMI in Melbourne, that birthed the next iteration of the Time Project! 

Henrik and other Voxel Agents took to a public space and actually only needed 14 hours to take the Time Project to the next level. Here is what the set-up looked like:

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I get to live this every week, watching fellow creatives make games is interesting, each have their own idiosyncrasies and I look for them when I watch the time lapse video.  I like watching Henrik’s headphones go on and off, as well as his hair becomes messier, haha! 

One of the cool things about the Game Making Challenge was the general public could watch, ask questions and offer ideas about the project. The team were keen on making the most of the experience and set-up computers for people to wander into the ‘studio’ and make sound effects for the game. They also gave ideas about the name for the game and contributed to the artwork (very cool!).

The team crammed and crunched.

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They blogged live from the event. 

And, behold…

Time Trackers was born!

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Is pretty, yes? 

Definitely still has a diorama, fairy-tale pop-up feel! 

Crammin’ and crunch’ certainly has it’s benefits. I feel for me, doing this on a second draft (much like the team has done here) would work better. I’d have a good idea of the basic concept and overall story, then I could focus on re-hashing and finessing some elements of the story that wasn’t quite working. 

In Time Trackers, there is definitely a marked improvement in the way the observational puzzles come together. 

See what you think 🙂  It’s completely playable right now! (with some installing of the Unity web player)  Or it’s in iTunes! 

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I have recently done another draft of the story for The Time Project and so I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have an adventure.

Adventures are an exciting, bold experience in a different place that challenges us. Adventures may expose parts of ourselves that we didn’t know existed.

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Adventure stories are usually based around a quest where a character has a strong desire for something. Usually an object like a treasure chest. This is the outer, physical adventure, the journey the characters must embark on to get their hands on the goods.

A character’s outer journey often mirrors some kind of inner journey  (to use Michael Hauge’s terms).

At some point, usually at the height of the adventure, these two journeys collide. The adventurer must complete their inner journey in order to complete their outer journey.

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana is on an outer journey to save his father which becomes the larger effort to get the Holy Grail. His inner journey is a bit more up for interpretation, but I see it as about him growing closer to his father despite their differences. This is shown by him literally following in his father’s footsteps in two ways: by following his father’s journal and by trying to catch up to him to save him.

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Both Indiana’s outer journey and inner journey inform one another, and are reinforced all throughout the movie. There are many points where the inner and outer journey meet. In the case of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they are tilting towards one final decision: to keep the cup or let it go. Life or death.

So that’s all well and good, but do characters always have to have an inner journey that results in a change?

No!

Some characters refuse to change even though they have gained insights throughout the course of the story. Others may completely miss having an insight or a realisation, but us readers have it instead. Some characters triumph by not changing, by staying true to themselves despite challenges at every turn. The adventure tests their mettle.

I’ve been thinking about the outer and inner journeys of our characters and how challenges in the game can harmonise or complement their journey. How they walk, how they look at one another, the world, the environment, the myth and lore. When it comes to challenge, I also think about how the game is played because the puzzles are the challenges for the player. 

Solving puzzles affects the outer and inner journey of our players. My goal is to connect a player’s inner emotional journey with our game to the physical journey of completing our puzzles. They must either complement or harmonise. What do the symbols in the puzzles mean? How are they a part of the story world? Asking questions like this help me figure out how puzzles can inform the story and how story can inform the puzzles.

I do this because I think part of what makes a good game is one that takes us on an adventure, an outer and inner journey that allows us to have an insight, a realisation. 

It makes us feel a bit different for having played it. 

Maybe expose parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed.

It’s no small task but that’s what’s keeping me out of trouble at the moment!

<3 B

Photo attribution: photo 1, photo 2

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Writing in Games: It’s Much More Than Narrative – IGN

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Sep/15

1

AgentBrooke

I’ve been doing storyboards for The Time Project today which has been fun but tricky. I’ve been working with Jon to find the best way to convey the story in the the game in a way that feels natural and consistent. 

I feel this one is the most accurate summary. Back to the drawing board tomorrow!  🙂

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Jun/15

12

AgentBrooke

Storyboarding fun in the Voxel Agent office!

<3

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Mar/15

25

AgentBrooke

Location concept for The Time Project

I find it so interesting how much story and history can be conveyed in these concept images. Jon has such a keen sense for both of these things — this temple feels alive! 

We are always exploring and brainstorming to find ways to tell this story with mysterious locations that have old things, new things, and curious things.

Hard to say if this location will make it into the final game but it certainly captures a feeling we want to imbue it with!

I wonder what challenges could face our adventurers in this golden, subterranean temple?

Hmmm… I think I will go write something about that..

<3 B

More of Jon’s art things!!

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