Video Games

Diary of a Game Developer: Episode 2 – Story & Mechanics

Diary of a Game Developer - Episode 2 |

Diary of a Game Developer - Episode 2 | This post is part 2 in an on-going series about my adventures as a first time game developer. You can find part 1 here.

In last week’s episode I told you all about what kind of game I want to make and what tool I’m using to make it. This week I’m going to focus on what kind of story I want to tell and how I’m planning to tell it.

In Episode 1 of my game developer diary I mentioned that I’d been inspired by the Lifeline series of mobile games and their mechanic of one-to-one communication and limited interaction options. I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts that deal with ghosts and hauntings, so the idea of communicating one-on-one with a spirit quickly became the focus of my game. The next logical step was to set the game in a haunted house, with the bulk of the story told through interactions between the house’s new owner and an old spirit trapped there for some reason or another.

I’m not too concerned about trying to reinvent ghost stories (or interactive fiction, for that matter), so I’m okay with leaning heavily on tropes for a lot of the story. However, I also really liked the idea of both characters being women as a way of contrasting and comparing women’s places and opportunities throughout history. The playable part of the story would be triggered by a young single woman moving into a house she has just purchased, realizing the house is haunted, and then choosing to try to communicate with the spirit.

When communicating with a ghost, the most obvious mechanic would be to use some sort of spirit or Ouija board, but being that I’d already chosen to make the game in Twine this seemed a little awkward. Granted, I could use Twine to prototype the game and then choose a more full-service engine to create some sort of Ouija board interface, but this seemed like it was complicating things before I’d even started. I’d need an artist and probably a programmer, and…

And that’s when I got really inspired. Instead of playing as a living woman borrowing a Ouija board to try to talk to a ghost, an unlikely situation for any modern woman, why not make the ghost the playable character? She could be discovering her story at the same time the player was in order to set her spirit free. I also liked how this twist automatically added constraints to the interactions since ghosts very rarely just sit down and tell you their life story. They communicate by knocking things off shelves and opening closed doors. Exactly the sort of interactions I wanted the player to choose from.

I’d been struggling for a long time with where to take the story beyond talking to a ghost, but once I finally sorted out who the playable character would be everything else started to fall into place. The woman moving into the house is a young social worker named Amanda. She is single, but saved up so she could buy her own house by the time she turned thirty. She is recently single and the spirit initially takes a sort of maternal attitude towards her, covering her with a blanket when she falls asleep on the couch, etc. At the same time the spirit sort of admires Amanda for how she has embraced the opportunities she’s been given, things that never would have been possible for the spirit. The two characters would grow to respect and care for each other, with most of the action driven by their investment in the other’s well being.

Now that the broad strokes of the story and the characters have been established the hard work of structuring it all into something that resembles a game begins. But more on that in Episode 3.

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  • Reply
    July 13, 2016 at 6:36 am

    Oh this sounds so neat and I love that twist of characters, I think it would definitely be more fun playing the ghost! Sounds awesome Mariko!

    • Reply
      July 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks! Some of my game dev friends brought up comparisons to an old game called PolterGus where you play as a ghost knocking stuff around, but I’m pretty sure my game will be quite different.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2016 at 11:07 am

    This sounds so great Mariko! I love the setting, and the ghost being a playable character I think is an excellent addition. Definitely looking forward to hearing more about this project!

    • Reply
      July 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks. I’m still having trouble carving out time to really work on it, but I feel like things are finally starting to come together.

  • Reply
    Dina Farmer
    July 13, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Oh I like that idea! You can discover who she is and it will only drive you to play more as bits of her story are unraveled! i love it

    • Reply
      July 14, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      That’s the idea, anyway. We’ll see how it plays out as I delve deeper into making the game.

  • Reply
    Jane Y.
    July 26, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Sounds absolutely fantastic!

    • Reply
      July 28, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Thank you, Jane. We’ll see where things go from here, I guess.

  • Reply
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