The other night at the bar, one of the company founders asked me to name one of the things I like most about the game. One of the things that came to mind is how we are telling the story of the world.
What we try to do in We Happy Few is “pull” narrative: we try to provoke the question in the player before we present the answer. I call it “pull” because the question pulls the player into interrogating his or her environment to find the answer.
Our narrative is “dirty.” Most of the stories we tell through lore and through encounters have relate at most tangentially with the player character’s overall goal. NPCs aren’t there to serve your story. They’re there to serve their stories; it’s only an accident that their story intersects with yours. When you meet them, they’re in the middle of something important to them, and they have somewhere else to be after meeting you.
To me, this feels more like real life. No one is on Earth to serve your life story. They are there to serve their own life story. Even your Mom, who loves you, is living her own story. It may be her goal to see that your life is a good one, but that is still her goal, not your (related) goal. To add to this notion, quite a few of our NPC stories intersect with each other. You are not the nexus of all that is interesting. Some NPCs hate each other. Some love each other. Some love and hate each other. Such is life.
In other words: we are hardwired to turn our experiences into story. Which means that, by giving the player chunks of narrative content that could add up to a story, we allow him or her to tell themselves their own story. To my mind, the Holy Grail of game storytelling is: get the player to tell the story, rather than telling the player the story.
The individual chunks of narrative need to be linear in order to bear meaning – Arthur’s story isn’t choose-your-own adventure. But I aim to give you spaces in between the cutscenes which you can fill in. I’m only showing you the peaks; you fill in the rest of the mountain.
That’s my goal, anyway: to let the narrative breathe.
Rest of the update