Saturday, February 18, 2012

Journal #3

Protege: Story Structure

I have always been interested in chess as a game and as a way of analyzing the world. This gave me the idea that instead of having a traditional structure I would have the overarching narrative structure be backwards - by this I mean that the narrative will start at the end of the story, and the player will progress through the game in a sort of detective-like fashion, replaying events that have already happened. In this way the player will in a sense discover what happened throughout the course of events leading up to the the introductory cut scene. However, after every 2-3 missions the player will be transported back to that first scene where more will be revealed about the story and about his opponent/teacher.

(I’m not sure if this is what you wanted for journals, but I find myself wanting to explore and develop the idea for this game through these weekly writings.)

First Scene (non-playable):

Name: Grant Heckler

Occupation: Master Thief

Current Predicament: Shot and pissed off

Grant stumbles through the unlocked door, his vision shifting hazily from the window to the outlined shape of a man sitting at a chess board. The soft light coming in through the curtains barely lights the room, but Grant can still see that the man is troubled.

“My only question is why.”

“Why can be a powerful question, one that can’t always be so easily answered. You should know this by now. Perhaps if you sit and share one last game with me we will come to an answer.” the Old Man said, gesturing at the board and the empty seat across from him. I can feel the blood slowly trickling down my arm to my wrist and off each digit of my hand. The bleeding has slowed; but not enough.

Lowering myself gingerly into the offered seat is difficult, as you might imagine, and doing it with a loaded gun clutched in an unsteady hand is not helping the fact. I place the gun on the side of the board, aimed to the right of the Old Man so as not to tempt fate. A black pawn is already sitting out on the board waiting for its competitor.

“I respect your choice to always be white,” sighed the Old Man. “Sadly, it is not an affectation many can afford to have.”

“You know just as well as I do it’s not a choice with me. I just don’t have it in me”

“Ah...that’s where you’re wrong my boy. You, more than anybody, should know that everyone has it in their nature to be evil.” The Old Man said, grinning sadly. “The human mind, and body, cannot exist without this opposition. Even when we play this game it is simply a distillation of the ongoing struggle we have inside our own shells.”

“We will see, that I can promise you.” I said moving my own pawn out.

“The very nature cannot but help but express itself, even in this playful medium...we have played together many times; you should trust me by now on this.” The Old Man said, considering my play.

“Old Man, this will be our last conversation. I would hope that the least you could do was be honest with me.” I said, taking the glass of whiskey he handed to me.

“So this is to be the way of it then? Very well...our time together has meant a great deal to me, and I wouldn’t want you to think that I was not aware of your sacrifices.” He takes a drink, quiet now in his thoughts. I can see his eyes tracing the outline of the gun sitting next to the table. I wonder if he has one stashed away inside his coat; maybe under the table or behind the chair.

The game progresses past its opening moves, both players feeling out the other, waiting for a weakness, a dropped guard, a mistake. There is no sense in holding back any longer; everything they are will be revealed on the board, and left there after they are gone.

“First question: Was there ever a real patron?”

“No. There has always been only me.” said the Old Man. He looks sadly at me. “There won’t be anything left of either of us after we’re done here will there?”

“No, there won’t.” I said

Friday, February 17, 2012

Project #1: Story Structure


He lives alone in a small rundown closet of a room, surrounded by flaking walls, mildew and the sound of the train passing by his windows, rocking the glass in their frames for all they’re worth. A worn and frayed copy of The Once and Future King sits by his bed, the only personal possession in sight. He speaks to no one and no one speaks to him; he prefers it this way.

Amidst all the dust and decay of the apartment there is one space that is kept clear, spotless. The closet is immaculate, a shrine to years past and days to come. If his final hour should come today, no one will ever say that he didn’t keep a tidy closet. It’s the little things that matter after all.

Some might call what Lawrence has no life at all; when he sits to quietly consider it late at night he might be inclined to agree. But there’s nobody to ask and nothing but the distant lights in neighboring buildings, floor by floor of isolated insomniacs unable to reach out and say ‘good evening’.

The black hat goes on above the black coat, draped over the black shirt. The tan boots are tied over the white socks. Lawrence looks over the subway map on the wall in the closet, the red circles glaring back at him in desperation. If the wall could talk it would tell him to reconsider, to stay. The world as Lawrence knows it doesn’t allow walls to talk, and neither would it allow him to listen even if they did. He picks up the briefcase by the door and unlocks the deadbolt, leaving his Arthurian bible for whoever might come calling after him.

He leaves without a second look, locking the door quietly behind him.

And now, a question:

      • When reading or viewing narrative media do you usually root for:
      1. The Bad Guy
      2. The Good Guy
      3. Both, Neither, Don’t Care
        • If you answered a), proceed to the middle section titled Black.
        • If you answered b), proceed to the middle section titled White.
        • If you answered c), proceed to the middle section titled Red.

BLACK: (middle 1)

He knows he is under surveillance. It’s not hard to see. The tan sedan with matching three foot antennae on the hood two blocks up; the navy sedan one block down; the man casually smoking across the street for hour on hour. Even in a perfect world Lawrence can’t bring himself to believe the man hates his blackened lungs so much.

As he walks up towards the subway line entrance on the corner the tan sedan turns out into traffic, the approximation of inconspicuous. Navy sits and waits, holding its position in the hopes that Lawrence might be spooked, run, make it necessary to give chase. All the while the pseudo smoker strolls along half a block back, admiring the classical architecture of the slum he is passing through; as if it mattered.

Lawrence reaches the top of the first step leading down into the dark underworld of public transportation and stops, turning back slightly to make eye contact with his pedestrian pursuer. The left side of his mouth twitches up into a smile; or maybe a smirk; an approximation of a sly grimace. The man’s eyes widen, knowing the truth of that smile.

“STOP!” the cop yells, charging at Lawrence.

Lawrence is gone, fleeing down the steps two at a time, jumping the fare meter and disappearing around the corner his pursuer almost on his heels.

“Stop that ma...!” the sentence remains unfinished in the stagnant air as Lawrence thrusts his straightened knuckles into the mans throat. He crumples to the floor, eyes wide with shock and betrayal. Lawrence never promised anybody he would play by the rules.

It goes dark; who’s to say dark isn’t the new light.

And now, another question:

      • What kind of narrative ending do you most enjoy?:
      1. The hero exacts justified revenge and rides off into the sunset.
      2. The hero is vilified for something he didn’t do, but accepts his fate in order to serve the greater good.
      3. The hero survives the ordeal, solves the problem and is allowed to live happily ever after.
        • If you answered a), proceed to the ending titled The Outlaw Josey Wales
        • If you answered b), proceed to the ending titled The Dark Knight.
        • If you answered c), proceed to the ending titled To Catch A Thief.

WHITE: (middle 2)

“How many would you like sir?”

“Excuse me?” Lawrence looks around to see he is standing in front of a flower stall on 1st Avenue, a favorite of strolling couples and old winos.

“How many roses would you like?” the girl asks again, smiling.

Why was it so hard to focus on this simple question. He looks down at his hands, the left holding a few crumpled bills, the right empty.

“However many this will get me.” he says, handing the flower girl the remains of his fortune. She smiles warmly, not sure what to make of the man who one minute is there and the next is not. She takes Lawrence’s money regardless and in exchange hands him two brilliant red roses and one white.

“Come back anytime!” the flower girl half shouts at Lawrence’s receding back.

Two blocks up, one down. Lawrence walks steadily, no hurry in his step. He can feel the shadows moving behind him, in front of him; waiting for him to make a move. He makes an odd picture of the ridiculous as he breaks into a sprint for the lip of the subway station, flowers in hand, sun on his face and a large, stupid smile on his lips.

The number 12 train is slowing to a halt as he jumps the fare meter. The doors slowly slid open with a dull hiss as the trapped air vents into the station. Lawrence jumps through the doors of the closest car and sits down slowly. The doors shut. He is safe.

The three men come from nowhere; too late. The steady momentum of the rails is carrying Lawrence out of there grasp. He looks down at the roses in his hands, the stems slowly dripping a few drops of blood; his blood he notices with some confusion. He relaxes his grip and pulls out two thorns from each palm, placing them gently on the seat next to him.

The darkness in the tunnel is slowly replaced with light as the train breaks back into the world.

And now, another question:

      • What kind of narrative ending do you most enjoy?:
      1. The hero (forced to be a ‘bad guy’) exacts justified revenge and rides off into the sunset.
      2. The hero is vilified for something he didn’t do, but accepts his fate in order to serve the greater good.
      3. The hero survives the ordeal, solves the problem and is allowed to live happily ever after.
        • If you answered a), proceed to the ending titled The Outlaw Josey Wales
        • If you answered b), proceed to the ending titled The Dark Knight.
        • If you answered c), proceed to the ending titled To Catch A Thief.

RED: (middle 3)

Her gravestone is as bare as ever. The few years of rain and snow have already started to erode the beautiful engravings, leaving a half finished mess of soggy cherubs and withered flowers in the stone. Lawrence stands at the head of the grave with no flowers and no tears. The rain was enough for the both of them.

“Your predictability almost makes my ulcer twitch, you know that?” says the man in the black flannel suit. He stops beside Lawrence, his umbrella shielding them both momentarily from the downpour.

“Take off your sunglasses. Nobody likes that guy Detective; nobody, not now not ever.” To Lawrence’s surprise he complies. His unshielded eyes are not much of an improvement; cold and lifeless as the tempered glass squares he carefully folds into his pocket.

Lawrence takes a last look at the beautifully rendered angel at the base of the gravestone, still miraculously intact, and turns to walk away.

“You keeping yourself straight?” the Detective asks quietly, his calm menacing.

“Straight as a winding road in the desert Detective.”

Two associates materialize out of the fog next to the Detective, watching as Lawrence makes his way down to the curb and out of the cemetery gate. He pauses at the wrought iron fence, gripping one of its spiked bars until he almost breaks the skin of his palm; turns back and forces himself to wave at the trio standing on his sacred ground.

Lawrence let go of the gate and continued down the road, hoping to lose himself in the rain; he knows purification doesn’t come from the cumulous layer above.

And now, another question:

      • What kind of narrative ending do you most enjoy?:
      1. The hero (forced to be a ‘bad guy’) exacts justified revenge and rides off into the sunset.
      2. The hero is vilified for something he didn’t do, but accepts his fate in order to serve the greater good.
      3. The hero survives the ordeal, solves the problem and is allowed to live happily ever after.
        • If you answered a), proceed to the ending titled The Outlaw Josey Wales
        • If you answered b), proceed to the ending titled The Dark Knight.
        • If you answered c), proceed to the ending titled To Catch A Thief.


The sun sets on a clear grey sky. Lawrence sits on the patio of a local coffee house, exhausted and alone. His coffee is too sweet; to crisp. He wanted bitterness. The two cops sitting three tables down from him don’t seem to mind the coffee house offerings; fate is a funny thing. Lawrence doesn’t believe in fate; he simply acknowledges that fate may sometimes believe in him.

“Car 247: Explosion on the lower east side, warehouse district. All units in the area respond to the scene. Be advised there may be armed individuals at the site, use of caution heavily advised.” the radio squawks. The two cops throw down a few dollars and make to leave quickly.

“New information forwarded: Warehouse involved in explosion incident linked to gang affiliated drug trafficking. Please be advised, any suspects at the scene are assumed armed and dangerous.” The cops walk hurriedly past Lawrence on their way to what he assumes is a squad car.

He returns inside now that it looks like rain again. Patrons and staff are clustered around the small television at the end of the bar trying to make sense of the chaos onscreen.

“Earlier this evening, a warehouse with gangland drug trafficking ties was the scene of a massive controlled explosion on the lower east side. Suspects who survived have been linked to a string of murders that took place last year, culminating in the abduction and murder of fifty-one-year-old neighborhood bank employee Charlotte Givens. Mrs. Givens was survived for a short time by her son, who died in a tragic automobile accident two months later.”

Lawrence steps behind the counter while the barista is occupied and pours himself a cup of strong, black, bitter coffee.

“Happy Birthday mom.” he coughs, walking back to his seat on the patio.

THE DARK KNIGHT: (ending 2)

Lawrence did not kill the men lying on the floor in front of him; he would have liked to. If he was honest with himself he would admit that killing these men was exactly the purpose in mind he had when trying to find this warehouse. When he got here everything was different than he had imagined it.

Some ten or eleven men were sprawled out across the room in various positions of rigor mortis, a few shell casings here and there; sulfur strong in the air, no windows. Lawrence picks his way through the mess, not wanting to disturb the dance-like choreography of the firefight laid out in front of him. He steps to each man one by one and takes a hold of their hands. There are six men with spiderweb tattoos on the inside of their palms; five without. Six men who deserved what fate brought to their doorstep. The other men Lawrence didn’t pass judgement on; he didn’t care.

Sirens are getting louder outside, the night air crisp and clear amplifying the sound. Lawrence takes out a photograph of a woman, black and white, her hair big and tall as was the style when the photo was taken. She is smiling, but not at the camera. She is smiling for the person taking the photo, and that smile is for him and him alone. Lawrence turns over the picture and takes out a black pen, marking out a number and a street address. He bends down and carefully places the photo on a dead mans chest making sure it will not be missed when the police uniforms search the scene. Car doors slam with a jolt; Lawrence is already gone out into the alley and away. His time will be soon enough.

Lawrence returns home to his decrepit apartment and sits; waits. Today was not supposed to end like this. But he chose, and he will honor his choice. He picks up his battered copy of The Once and Future King and opens it without aim and begins to read. He smiles, the sound of sirens approaching once again; coming to take him to Avalon.

TO CATCH A THIEF: (ending 3)

Six men were killed tonight. Six men that should have died by Lawrence’s hand, but did not. Six men who were no longer sons, fathers or friends. Lawrence prays for those six men; but not too hard.

He had wanted to go out tonight; tonight had been the finale, the end. The walls had convinced Lawrence otherwise. No vengeance on a moonlit street; catharsis in an abandoned warehouse. Fate had delivered justice to Lawrence and returned him his sanity, fragile as it is.

Lawrence walks out into the crisp night air with a bag under his arm. Around the corner the small park is lit by street lamps and a few lighted windows from across the street. He picks a spot out in the grass, still damp from earlier showers, and takes out a small tube. It goes into the ground a few inches, leaving the fuse exposed. Lawrence kneels down and unpacks the rest of the meager bags contents. A small photograph of a smiling woman, black and white; taped to the hull of the tube, followed by a white envelope, no writing on the front only a thin black line across the front.

The fuse quickly catches the flame from Lawrence’s lighter as he steps back to the cover of a tree. Three, two, one; the tube takes off into the sky barreling towards the moon. Lawrence leans against the trees trunk and looks up, expecting. Nothing.

Flashes of red, blue and yellow light the sky with no discernible patterns. Lawrence doesn’t care about patterns. The fireworks are beautiful in their randomness; like she was.

He returns to his room after the sky lights have died away, his tidy closet still tidy. He is alone; quiet. Lawrence doesn’t mind the quiet. He can finally hear himself think. He considers that his life as Lawrence is over, his objectives complete. Lawrence packs a suitcase from his closet for the last time, throwing away the marked subway map. His copy of The Once and Future King fits nicely in his jacket pocket; he likes the weight of it there, comforting. When he leaves the room this time he glances back. He doesn’t see himself in the room anymore. He see’s himself in the world.

Journal #2

Brief thought from last class:

We discussed the concept of emerging narrative at some length during our discussion of story structure last class, and how certain games and narratives rely on the audience to know a certain amount about the context of the story before interacting with whatever media we’re talking about. The question I had was if for example audiences are expected to have a grounding in the narrative context of a game (from outside media or previous games), would it be possible to create a franchise of games that deliver a strong narrative in the first game, while delivering less and less narrative in each successive game, thereby putting more responsibility on the player to in some ways fill in parts of the narrative in their imaginations. Just a thought.

Protege: Early Cut Scene Idea

Setting: The camera looks up at skyscrapers and high rises from street level - pans down and zooms in on the front revolving doors of the Millennium Building as Chris walks in.

Chris yanks the side door open and strides inside, not stopping to bother with the revolving doors and hordes of pedestrian traffic struggling to make headway. The main elevator bank is up ahead but that is not his destination. He is looking for the guarded elevator, the special elevator; the deadly elevator if you’re not careful. He proceeds over to the right side of the lobby, weaving through the morning crush of foot traffic. He sees his destination now, the elevator sitting comfortably between two burly security men in dark suits, their side arms almost visibly straining the fabric of their coats. Chris sizes them up and approaches what appears to be the senior guard.

“I’m here to see The Bishop.” Chris says, holding eye contact.

“I’m not familiar with anyone by that name sir. Is there something that I can help you with?” the senior guard smoothly replies. He didn’t even blink when Chris dropped The Bishops name; these guys are pros.

“You can help me by getting on the radio you’ve so cunningly got stashed in your pocket and tell The Bishop that Rook would like a word. I’m here at his invitation, so please don’t draw this out any further, for your sake.”

The man eyes Chris up and down, lingering on his Converse All-Stars and slightly worn jeans then nods to his counterpart who disappears mumbling into his hand and touching his earpiece. Chris stands quiet and still, noticing that he is a good half foot shorter than the remaining guard. Not the greatest odds should this go sideways.

The second guard returns and quietly pushes the elevator call button; going down. The senior guard stands in Chris’s way for the briefest of seconds, then moves aside.

“Gentlemen, it’s been a real pleasure.” Chris says as he settles into the elevator.

“Enjoy your stay.” the senior guard replies; the quiet in his voice unsettling.

A sane person would expect the sub-basement floor to be damp, dark and a bit musty; but sane people don’t belong in this brightly lit underworld. Anyone with their sanity still intact is long gone, miles away or a few feet under.

The elevator doors open revealing a surprising scene laid out in front of Chris’s eyes. Classy light fixtures dangle expensive looking halogen lamps from the ceiling shedding soft light on the rows of classy desks lined up symmetrically with each other. Everything in the office is dark wood and stainless steel; a perfect picture of post modern chic.

A man Chris only knows by the briefest of conversations as Kent is waiting patiently by the elevator doors, ready to guide Chris through the maze of busy workers murmuring quietly into their phones.

“The Bishop would like to apologize for the inconvenience upstairs. If he had known you would be showing up so promptly everything would have been in order.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. I thought it prudent to get here as soon as possible; the Old Man thought so too.” Chris replies.

“In that case, please follow me. The Bishop is waiting.” Kent turns and walks towards the back of the room towards a dark, unadorned wall. As they move closer Chris can see the barest hairline fracture outlining a door, which moves aside as if it was never there when Kent pushes in some unseen place. The room behind is anything but similar to the work room outside.

This is all I have so far, but I want the player to get a feel for a large conflict early on, even if the main players in the conflict aren’t quite apparent yet. After this cut scene, I was thinking of incorporating a section of dialogue where the player would have some control over what direction the conversation takes; a sort of interactive fiction portion maybe. I might work on this more in coming journals.

Journal #1

Game Idea: "Protege"

In recent years I’ve been increasingly fascinated with games, and the subsequent stories that have gone with them, specifically games that have managed to integrate certain aspects of gameplay so thoroughly with story as to make it almost impossible while playing to tell them apart. For instance, in the Assassin’s Creed franchise the gameplay mechanics of stealth and acrobatics are molded into the driving story that motivates your playable character. Likewise, in many of the Splinter Cell franchise games, the idea of stea

lth action mechanics is integral to the story and to how a player relates to the gaming experience.

As this observation hits home with more and more games, I look around the gaming world and wonder if it is ready for a type of game that is not as heavily dependent on intense action, but still maintains the level of story involvement and ga

me mechanic integration that I discussed above.

Game Philosophy:

In this vein I’ve been rolling around an idea for a game based on the atmosphere and look-and-feel of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief. I think what I’ve been trying to create in my head is a game and an accompanying story that communicates the same kind of on screen presence as Hitchcock’s direction, the same kind of magnetism th

at Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and countless other great performers exude. I’m not quite sure what to call it, but the goal of this project in my mind is to attempt to transfer some of that to an interactive format.

Rough Story Outline:

At this point I only have the smallest inkling of the story as a whole. It focuses on an elderly master thief, a man of a different generation than his apprentice or ‘protege’, attempting to both impart his knowledge of his craft, albeit a mostly illegal craft, while also passing on his worldview. This leaves the story wide open to explore personalized choice in the gameplay and at the same time make the evolving story more tailored to the individual gamer. The main idea is to allow the player freedom of imagination within the game-space, regardless of gender, age, race etc. On the other hand I may have been reading too much of Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken of late, and lack the professional jargon to adequately flesh out my idea.

Game Mechanic Thoughts:

If I had to pitch this idea proposal, I would say that the game mechanics would ideally focus on areas of stealth and low level action already touched upon in several titles in the past few years. However, if it were possible I would take the idea further and attempt to create a level of gameplay in which the different types of movement that a playable character could take advantage of was integral to gameplay. If I had to put a name to it I might somewhat confidently state that ideally it would have a Myst-like feeling of gameplay, but with a more involving playable storyline. A game that drew the gamer in with the minutia of the game mechanics and story.

Thoughts on Reading & Possible Game Applications

After attempting to complete The Book of Sand I found myself intrigued by not only the story, but by the execution of the interactive experience. Not only has Maximus Clarke made an accessible interface for an out of print text, but he has successfully made the interactive experience into an intriguing game. I gather from his introduction that that was the end goal all along, but I had my doubts in the beginning about whether or not it would be as engaging as a good story driven Playstation game.

This kind of choose-your-own-adventure format is not exactly new, but gripping examples are few and far between. The Book of Sand’s format has convinced me that story can ultimately drive gaming and draw the gamer into the experience, as well as vice versa. Even something as simple as trying to figure out the ‘correct’ order of the pages, which is in essence spiritually similar to puzzles and problem solving used in conventional platforming games, has added an element of competition to a wonderful story.

In a broader context, this example of new and old media compatibly fusing is in my opinion in direct contradiction to the current mainstream market approach to game development. While technological evolution (e.g. new game engines, graphics etc) is a necessary and sometimes crucial aspect of the industry, it is not true that the old cannot be reinterpreted into a new applicable format. Also, the industries mainstream affiliation with franchise games (and their associated story components) such as Call of Duty and other ‘empty’ games should not in my opinion be taken as gospel. There is a market and an audience for games with new ways of integrating story into game structure, from the smallest level design to the end cutscene.

Applications to Above Game Idea:

I would like to incorporate this concept into the game framework I have begun to sketch above, where the story is shaped by the causal aftereffects of each choice the gamer makes, allowing the story to be shaped in an almost direct feedback loop from the gamers controller to the interactive experience.