Why Not Games




City: Moana

Written: 2016-12-09

November was an unproductive month and this story is proving a little less tractable than would be ideal. The former is uninteresting, but I would like to talk about the latter a little bit more.

On The Quiet Sleep and Chores

The heart of the narrative of The Quiet Sleep was in balancing family and your secret agent work. That ended up being diminished in favor of a more linear narrative that deals with the player deciding whether to fight their programming or accept their mission. However, a legacy of that original narrative is that the game is built around balancing chores.

This structure produces a feeling that the player is constantly just trying to stay ahead of everything falling apart. This leads to tension but doesn't actually lend itself well to forcing decisions. The Quiet Sleep doesn't force a decision about which failures to accept and isn't structured around recovery from those failures. I'm okay with that story doing what it does, but I want this story to be more about deciding where to progress and where to fail. This game is structured to be endless, which requires escalating difficulty.

On Moana

I watched Moana a couple of days ago and Whiplash a bit before that and they've helped crystallize what I want to say with this. Moana is a fun movie that I really enjoyed and it does a few things very well. I really liked seeing a brown heroine and the lack of a central romance. I also liked the music and I thought the movie looked fantastic. It just had moment after moment where I was blown away by just how good it looks.

However, I'm honestly tired of the abstraction of the struggle that these stories push. It would be ridiculous to go to a Disney movie expecting anything else, and having it do something else would likely hurt them as narratives too. I love Disney movies and I don't want them to change. I do however want a greater variety in the narratives around struggling. Not from Disney, just in general.

Stories like Moana don't do anything to convey the sacrifice and the effort in the struggle. Part of this is that their formulaic plot has made every twist predictable and so the struggle feels cheapened. Again, this is fine for Moana. You need this for movies built to achieve what this one does. I feel the same way about Whiplash though. Moana says that as long as you want something and you are willing to make the decision to go after it, you'll get it and Whiplash states that if you want something and are willing to sacrifice everything for it, then you'll get it, but if you want to be great, you need to sacrifice everything for it.

I feel that both of these statements have lose so much nuance that come close to being meaningless. With this story I want to speak more about the decisions that you need to make in the struggle. I want the player to understand the potential losses associated with blowing people off for work. When the protagonist breaks up with his girlfriend in Whiplash it holds no weight because the viewer doesn't feel dependent on her. The viewer barely feels the importance of the music as well. Also, these narratives deal completely in emotional impact and barely touch the rationales of the choices.

I want this story to be about the struggle in a little more detail than I'm used to seeing. I want to see this be about trade-offs and the inevitability of self-destruction with a certain mentality. The decisions here need to be considered and need to focus on salvaging what you can from a sinking ship. This is a little tricky because communicating that players have to make a strict choice while keeping the game open is non-trivial, but should be doable.

On This Story

The key still feels like it is in the branching states that I described in City: Technology, but the tight interlinking that this requires makes it hard for me to fully wrap my head around what I'm trying to build. It is fairly trivial to set up a lock and key situation across the traits from nothing more than the currency conversions of towers, but figuring out which locks and which keys is tricky and I haven't been able to fully solve how to work that out yet.

- @murthynikhil

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Written for Why Not Games.