Tension, Chapters!


Sometimes in games, like in composing music, the obvious thing is the right thing to do. I need to separate LUI into areas, for each chapter. My existing scenario.txt file says this is with a spacetime rift, basically the PC (player character) is from another dimension than NPCs (non player characters). When the player goes to cross a bridge, for instance, he steps into a spacetime rift which puts him in a subworld, which I will tell you now is Strawberry Shortcake Land (assuming I go with this idea...) NPCs do not even see this rift and do not fall into it.

Now, the other day, I was thinking how to divide into chapters, and I felt that this kind of setup was too artificial. Players resents being railroaded too much. But players also are easily lost in a game that does not railroad them enough. And at any rate, this isn't a railroading issue, this is more of a boundary issue. But the same holds, player's don't really like artificial boundaries.

But do they feel any better about artificial boundaries masquerading as level design?

The alternate choice is to have a more "natural" reason for each chapter, like the bridge being out, or a monster blocking a cave, or whatever. Maybe it will seem less obvious and more organic to the player. NPCs would have to be affected by it, though.

There is this concept of blue mountains, say from LOTR, where the world is so much more immersive from the idea that there is much more backstory than you are really getting. For Tolkein, there really was this backstory, as Tolkein himself was truly insane and had crafted a fantasy universe which is IMO still unrivalled, at least if you are looking at a fantasy world created by one person. You need a book like The Tolkein Companion which is essentially a encyclopedia of all things Tolkein to get a good grasp on how huge and detailed his universe really is.

So level design has to keep the player within the designed space while making it seem like there is space outside of that to explore. Tricky! I think oldschool RPGs do this an interesting way, by creating a world on two levels: a massive overworld, and then detailed subworlds such as towns or caves that dot the landscape and you can enter. This gives the feeling that the massive overworld is somehow "complete" while only filling in the details where it matters.

In LUI, then, if I choose spacetime rifts as a method for blocking the areas, the player, while recognizing them as artificial, will still have a sense that there is a world outside of where they can explore. Since I'm going to expand this world per chapter, this makes a lot of sense. If I just make it, "The bridge is down! We can't go across until the bridge is repaired..." it might SEEM on the surface to be less artificial than a glowing blue gateway on the bridge, but at the same time, players are smart enough that this will take them out of the system.

And then, it gets harder to construct backstory because NPCs have to know about the bridge being down, and how it affects their lives, etc. etc.; all simply because I want to release the game in chapters! How much better to just have a simple device which the player will still recognize on some level is a "Chapter Boundary" but which allows for a greater sense of fantasy.

Ok, that was a useful blog for me, I've settled this issue pretty clearly! It was obvious, but not obvious why it was obvious.

Today's list looks much like last day's list, as I didn't get much of that stuff done. =)

2007-05-07


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