Disco is Dead! — Narrative Design & Writing Defining the Narrative’s Theme, Story and Characters

Focusing on the Disco

In the last few weeks, the narrative has been developing smoothly and is starting to solidify. Our team has decided to focus on disco nightclub level, so we can have a vertical slice by the end of this year. In fact, the scope has now been reduced to add more quality to our levels. So, we merged the nightclub level and cultist level to make it more engaging story. Cultists at a disco nightclub?  Yes, please.

Focusing on the Same Vision

Since the narrative team composes of three people, it will be hard to keep everyone under the same vision. So to start off, I have given every narrative designer a research document template to research the following topics relevant to our game:

  • 1970s – Las Vegas, famous crimes, events, history, fads, entertainment, fashion and other media to consider
  • 1980s – Las Vegas, famous crimes, events, history, fads, entertainment, fashion and other media to consider
  • Cops – Film, televsion, buddy cops and other media to consider
  • Lovecraft Themes – Lovecraft quotes, Cthulhu,  Re-Animator, zombie stories

With this research, our team was able to learn more about these decades to grasp a better understanding of the timeline, and discover potential elements to add to the plot.

Since the narrative team has not been able to write much yet, I asked for each of them to write funny, juicy and essential moments that they would like to see in a vertical slice level. The structure is constantly being updated, but that should not stop the writers from writing interesting moments, interactive or not! Our entire team had a creative session earlier, and during that session we all brainstormed potential slapping scenarios. The narrative designers can use examples brainstormed in that session or create new ones. Once we have all our interesting moments written out, I’ll implement them into the draft script for the vertical slice level. Since now the writers are now writing, I had to make sure that we are all writing consistently. So, after constantly iterating and finding inspirations from other non-linear scripts such as Telltale Games, I finalized an interactivity narrative format formula. The game’s narrative will be written in film format through any typical screenwriting software. However, since these programs do not support non-linear stories, this formula will help us organize the game’s interactive moments:

interactivity-narrative-formula

The numerical list can help programmers quickly identify how many choices/results there are. Capitalizing the important terms can help differ the interactive parts from the rest of the script. The SLAP CHOICES / END can notify the reader that the interactivity has ended and is resuming to the linear part of the story.

Focusing on the Story Concept

Not only do I work with the other narrative derringer,s but also communicate with everyone else on the team, including the level designer, artist, UI designer and programmers. Not everyone on the team knows the story, or has the take to read the script, so I made story concept guide that the entire team can use to understand the narrative. This guide is meant to be clean and simple and so far includes:

  • Settings – Description of the setting, maps, list of backgrounds needed for cutscenes and reference photos.
  • Characters – Brief description of characters, concept art and a link to the character design docs.
  • Key definitions – Key words that are relevant to understand the story
  • Spelling/grammar guide – A place to reference how characters should speak, such as 1970s slang, and the formula to write interactive scripts.
  • Record of choices – A list of choices with their consequences to keep track of interactivity and non-linearity.

Focusing on the Characters

In the original game, the characters’ personalities were not discuss, so they both seemed to possess similar personalities. However, this does not work that well in the buddy cop genre. The two somehow need to have opposite personalities to develop better conflict. We definitely wanted these two to both love disco and both have a hatred for a certain NPC character, currently named Chad. So I developed character design documents to figure out what characteristics, attributes and traits can make these two characters different.

Reggie – He’s cool, tough, confident and says the best one-liners at the right time. His way of working and thinking is more logical. However, he has a high-temper and hates being disrespected because it is humiliating to him. Despite looking strong, he eventually discovers he has a high-pitched scream once confronted by a zombie-like epidemic.

Kenny – He’s witty, creative, and makes a ton of jokes. He’s not as serious and spends more time enjoying every moment of his job. He acts over-confident in his actions, even when it goes horribly wrong. He can be easily startled and is terrified of the sight of blood. Once he confronts the zombie-like outbreak, he will be constantly screaming in terror through the bloody and gorey situations they go through.

just-them

A huge factor I personally wanted  to implement was diverse characters that are different gender, race and sexual orientation. When it comes to gender, unfortunately, the player-characters should remain male. If the two player-characters were female, they would not look tough if they just slap zombies away. Keeping them males that can only slap makes it more enjoyable to watch and not judgmental to laugh at. That does not stop me from designing a badass female though! And that character will be their captain, named Trudy. She will be not be a sex icon, have no love interest, wear appropriate uniforms and modest clothing, and will take her job as a captain very seriously. Even though our player-characters are male, that does not mean they are going to be white. Reggie has a African-American background,  Kenny has an Asian background, and Captain Trudy will be Latino. A character named Chad – an annoying character that tries to join the players on their case and is eventually revealed to be the mastermind villain – will be a white character, so that way the game can quietly nudge the players to notice that the diverse characters are, for once, the main characters. Although the game takes place in 1979, an era of racial discrimination (and even today sadly), there will be no mention of gender, race or sexual orientation discrimination. The game will also allow the players the freedom to express their player-character’s sexuality though slapping choices and will not be punished for it. The two player-characters can even be an item themselves!

After the NPC human characters are finished, I will develop the zombies with the lead game designer, level designer and artists to create the zombie-like enemies. In the meantime, there is one character that is taking a long time to develop, because of his complexity – and that character is Chad. How can we design a character that is encouraged to be slapped by the players – but is still lovable – and make his reveal as the villain unexpected and yet it makes sense? I will be conducting a separate case study about how to design his character.

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