I Blather More About Games

So, as you all know by now, working on this StoryNexus game. (I’ll shut up about it soon, I swear!)

And I’m having a thought, and would like to bend your ears about it for a minute, so those of you who know something about these things can tell me whether it’s a brilliant idea or a very stupid one.

My goal with this whole thing is to release a nifty but finite game. A game with an end point. I do not want to be like Fallen London where I am on the hook for the rest of my life writing content and there is no ultimate end. (Nor am I particularly interested in handing it over to someone else to write content–I am not a collaborator by nature, and the very, very few people I’m willing to write in tandem with are all very very busy on their own. This is my personal vision. I’d be delighted to see fan art or fan fic, but I’m not wanting to hand off canon, if that makes sense.)

Much like my time with webcomics, I want to do something that ends.

But, also much like webcomics, I am prone to epics, and this is already looking like it will take some time, and I’d kinda hate to be hammering on it for six months with nobody other than playtesters getting a chance to look at it.

Finally, I’m seeing that I want to do two different things—one is “Explore this really neat world I made! Isn’t it cool? Look at the stuff!” and the other is “AAAAGHPLOTATTACK!” and have things get darker and weirder (insomuch as one can get dark and weird when one is a stuffed animal.)

So what seems to me like the best solution is to divide things up into three Acts. You start in Act I, you go around and explore the world, you look at the neat stuff, you have a couple of quest chains, and you decide What You Want To Do With Your Life.

I release that, with a skill cap/content wall at the end of Act I, when you’ve learned the Way of the Whatever You’re Going To Do With Your Life.

Then, while people are poking it and getting bored with it, a few months later (realistically speaking) I release Act II, in which Bad Things Start To Go Down.

And then, of course, some time later, we have the fairly short Act III, in which you face down the end boss and I figure out how to write an endboss using the StoryNexus engine. (Still pondering that.)

It’s worth noting that the game is set up with three distinct Ways, so there would be some difference on replay, and I THINK the system allows the game to set a marker so that if you played through as a Hunter, say, at the end you could unlock something on the next playthrough–probably a different playable race, like Rubber Chicken or something. (I have no idea if there’ll be enough replay value following a different Way to interest anyone at all, mind you.)

The advantage I can see to this is that it lets me achieve both goals with “This is the world! Neat!” and then “Oh no, the world is blowing up and you have to save it!” Establishing normalcy, as it were, then wrecking it. Plus–and this is a big one!—one of the inherent problems in this sort of game is that you’re pulling the same low-level cards over and over and you get very bored with them. Doing this would probably be the most elegant way to punt all those low level cards from play–once you’re high enough level that you’re moving to Act II, it’ll set markers that remove the super low-level and milk-run cards, which will only be in Act I, and start allowing cool and dire random happenings that are pretty high level.

Plus it lets me release the first Act so that I can see if people are actually enjoying the damn thing before I embark too far on the rest!

Possible downsides—it will probably take a lot less time to play through Act I than it takes me to write Act II and I get angry e-mails/people are bored/I am hit by a bus and it’s never finished.

And it’ll be harder to playtest and I’ll have to introduce a dummy skillset that isn’t subject to the level cap, then go back and manually change everything once the balance is right.

But I’m mostly seeing upsides. Does anybody have any thoughts or things I’m likely overlooking? (My apologies, O internet brain-trust, for rambling on about this so much, but I’m excited and wanna do it right!)

  • reply Tami ,

    Call the released Act 1 “Beta” and you’ll be fine as far as the gamers are concerned.

    • reply Wolf Lahti ,

      It sounds as though your proposed structure directly addresses my complaint in this post, so go for it! 🙂

      • reply Don Hilliard ,

        “Insomuch as one can get dark and weird when one is a stuffed animal.”

        That’s what’s made this whole thing FUN!

        Pludwump and Quippet particularly. The vibe I get is something along the lines of Jim Henson’s darker work – either THE DARK CRYSTAL or, even more appropriately, the little-seen LAND OF ZORCH pieces that were part of Saturday Night Live!’s first season.

        • reply SqueakyTiki ,

          I’d play it! I think the three-phase approach makes sense.

          • reply Al the K ,

            Go for eet! The division into acts works great.

            Perhaps one way to keep everyone occupied with Act I is to have a couple quest chains (or parts, or whatever) that are less commonly encountered. Players trying to play all permutations or trying to repeat specific game arcs will be kept happy IMO.

            • reply Hawk ,

              All those are good ideas, especially calling it “Beta.” It certainly sounds nifty thus far just in outline.

              It definitely works to have well-defined Acts to things. That’s how they handled Diablo 3 after all. (I haven’t gotten through Act 1 yet in that. eesh.)

              Looking forward to hearing more about it actually, and even playing it!

              • reply Escher ,

                I like the plan you’ve outlined here. Act I as a “getting to know you” that focuses on world exploration and learning the engine — establishing normalcy, like you said — is really important. Things going bad and weird don’t feel so bad or weird if you aren’t used to a different status quo, especially in a world that has a vastly non-standard status quo. So yeah, I like the idea of having time to just fool around in the universe and learn about being part of the tribe before that all gets torn away.

                And having it remove the low-level encounters when you get into Act II: Shit Goes Downhill makes a lot of sense. It kinda reminds me of Final Fantasy 6 (aka 3) where you start out in the “world of balance”, which has tougher monsters and weaker monsters, but isn’t really a challenge past level 30-ish, and then once you trigger a game event, Kefka brings down the apocalypse and you pick up months later in the “world of ruin”, where the monsters are all tougher and everything has generally been beaten to hell.

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