Narrative in a Procedurally Generated WorldComplications Ensue
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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

On our Kickstarter we've been getting a lot of questions about the sort of narrative we'll have -- the sort of narrative we can have in a procedurally generated world. We Happy Few is a roguelike, which means that each time you die -- and you will, a lot, at least till you get the hang of it -- we will generate an entirely new world for you. The Train Station will be over here instead of over there, the Fountain will be over there instead of over here; and there may be entirely different microscenarios in some of the houses.

Well, we are going to have a lot of traditional narrative in the game; we're just not putting it in the pre-alpha build that we're showing to people. We'll also have a lot of environmental narrative.

Traditional Narrative

I have already written complete stories and dialog scenes for at least three playable characters.

What a traditional narrative in a procedural world means for us is: there are scenes out there for you to discover. But you have to go out and discover them.

For example, let's take the guy in the middle. His opening scene is going to give you a hint that you might want to find a guy who's living in the Train Station, out in the Garden District. (That's what the Wellies call the bombed-out areas of town. So jolly, our Wellies. Nothing gets them down.)

But where is the Train Station? You'll have to find it, won't you? Fortunately it is quite tall (and rather beautiful):

You can spot it from afar. Also, if you are as clever as I think you are, it occurs to you that Train Stations are often attached to train tracks.

When you get to the Train Station, a scene awaits you. You'll meet a character, and learn about their past together with you, and the world's past. And maybe they will offer to meet you at another location. If you'd like the story to continue, off you go to find that location. This one will be a little less easy to find, but still not that hard — except that simply surviving in our game is hard.

And so on through a few more scenes that tell you a complete story. You can also, at any point, abandon the story and simply craft the things you need to get out. That will be harder, but you never have to complete the story to complete a playthrough.

Once you unlock another character, you can play as him or her. He or she will have their own story, and different strengths and weaknesses.

So our stories are your basic linear stories. The "procedural" difference is you have to go out and find them, without a search radius painted in yellow on the minimap, or footprints illuminated in red because you used your Witcher Senses. And any given scene will be in a different place each time you play.

Also, of course, our dialog is more nuanced. People in our game never say exactly what they're thinking, or what they mean. They don't even necessarily say what they want. We have messed-up people in our game, whose flaws get in their own way.

Environmental Narrative

But, as I said, we're saving all those yummy cut scenes for later. (And they are yummy. I've already recorded and edited scenes with Alex Wyndham (Rome), Charlotte Hope (Game of Thrones) and Allan Cooke, and they are some of the best actors I've ever had the pleasure to direct. I've also cast some amazing other actors we haven't announced yet.)

But in the mean time, there is quite a lot of environmental narrative.

There are Uncle Jack's broadcasts. You can't miss them. They're everywhere, except in the Garden District. We've recorded about two hours of Julian Casey's brilliant Uncle Jack, including some bedtime stories you will probably not want to tell your kids.

There are the "signs" you will see throughout. Graffiti in the Garden District. Propaganda posters from different epochs in the recent past. Useful items you can find or steal here and there that also tell you about the world and how it got that way.

There will be micro-stories, or scenarios, to discover in buildings throughout the various biomes we are creating. Some micro-stories will tell you about the overall history of Wellington Wells. Most will tell you about how the people who live in that house in the Village are dealing with life, or how life went wrong for the people that used to live in that house in the Garden District.

And, if all goes well with our Kickstarter, passive dialog. Lots and lots of passive encounters. We hope to get the Wellies talking among themselves. No promises, but I have written pages of conversations, including one which might be inspired by the Monty Python "Cheese Shop" sketch.

So we are planning a rich narrative, set in a procedurally generated world.

See? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 


Shots fired to call out Witcher.

Expect disappointment at release when your stories lack the emotional weight and depth of character.

Nice to reach for the stars though. And the nuance of you writing dialogue that doesn't really mean what it means cause la la will be interesting.

By Blogger Unknown, at 9:59 AM  

Well, I can of course fail utterly! In which case, feel free to mock.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:37 AM  

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