My team and I came together for our 4th-year capstone, each of us looking to create a game that incorporated something that was important to us. Each of us brought different wants to the table a selling point, engaging systems, and for me it was story. So we started from scratch and came up with a new game; Project Magrathea.
It is a 2D side scrolling Metroidvania style game where the player takes on the role of a private investigator in search of the illusive woman. There are two game modes, one being the side scrolling part of the game where the player will talk to NPCs (Non-Player Characters) to gain information, and the other being the galaxy map similar to that of Star Control ii’s map, where they will move from planet to planet.
But where does the story fit in a game like this?
That is the question I have been working with for the past week. We have a general idea of how the story will be presented to the player (Environment, NPCs, and Inner Monologue) but, as the Game Writer I was unsure of what kind of story we were telling and the structure that it would then take on.
So I started at the beginning. It’s a space noir game which lead me to look for references and I found inspiration in them. I also read a variety of narrative design related books to help me find a starting point. What I pulled from them was a new way to approach my current problem.
We knew that we wanted the game to be quirky, and had settled on the idea that this game would be a parody of the noir genre that had satirical elements to it. The best way to poke fun at a genre is to “overdo it”. The tropes for noir films and detective novels play a key role in the story. This led me to look into the Hardboiled detective and Femme Fatal tropes which quickly became the defining feature of the protagonist (Private Investigator) and antagonist (The Illusive Woman). Figuring out these two characters and the roles they play helped me to determine what roles they were supposed to be filling out in the story; it was a jumping off point for me.
Next, I looked into different story structures other than the traditional 3 act structure and how they were adapted into novels, movies, and games.
In looking at this I also found more tropes that characterize noir stories. One of these being Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot, this could be comprised of cover ups, red herrings, and consecutive crimes committed to cover up previous crimes. Using this as a guide for the story helped me break my thinking down even further so that I did not feel so stuck.
Having this general structure helped me to break up the story as a whole, but not how it would fit into our game. So I looked at other narrative games and how they separated their story into sections, one of these games being Mass Effect. While it is a huge game it has the element of having players travel from planet to planet chasing the antagonist, which is what the story of our game revolves around. I broke down the progression of Mass Effects story as the player made their way across the galaxy. In the end, it broke down into 3 major parts minor crime, major plot, and conspiracy.
Creating this basic structure to indicate the main elements that I needed to include in the story so that it played out as a hard boiled detective novel helped me come up with different plot lines that the game could follow.
Now that I have plot points for the overall story I can begin to break them down into missions and see how they will fit into the game. One way is that each mission or crime to solve could take place on a single planet or environment. Or each mission could take the player across a couple of planets, which would promote the player’s knowledge of the in-game space.
Going with the second approach does raise some questions.
How many times will players have to jump between worlds?
How can missions be broken down?
How will the story be continued as the player moves between worlds, or is that even necessary?