Monday, 11 February 2013

Saying more, writing less

My primary focus over the last week or so has been story and exposition. I've put a lot of thought into the kind of world Luminesca takes place in and what its denizens think about it. In fact, conveying these ideas is one of the primary reasons I'm making Luminesca at all. It's a project with which I want to say something and there are specific messages that drive everything in the game. The current build merely hints at these underlying messages, so I'm developing them further for the next update.

Ever since playing Ico, and seeing Fumito Ueda's efforts to strip out many of the superfluous elements that have seeped into convention in modern games, I have understood the value of minimalism in game design. This design by reduction approach is applied to Ico's story exposition and the result is a game that drip-feeds just enough ambiguous plot detail for the player to grasp what is going on without resorting to heavy-handed verbosity. It is this level of elegance that I want to achieve in Luminesca.

I've long believed that video games are at their most elegant when they convey their core ideas via interactive systems, so at first I was averse to using text. I was adamant that I could communicate all my ideas through interaction and imagery alone. I've come to realise that certain ideas are best expressed with words, strung together by a loose interactive framework, but to avoid the aforementioned verbosity trap I've restricted myself to a very simple dialogue box system (shown below).

These dialogue boxes pop up when the player approaches another character, and disappear again when they move away. They can be displayed repeatedly in case they were missed the first time, and the player is still free to move around, unhindered, while they are being displayed.

While this maintains a lot of flexibility in the player's experience, this is actually a very inflexible system from a development point of view (the text boxes are a fixed width and do not support multiple pages). I've built them that way for two reasons: firstly, it is technically more simple to implement but, more importantly, it forces me to condense my writing into smaller chunks. These small snippets of characterisation tend towards quick adsorption by the player, which is crucial if you want to attract their attention and discourage them from skipping through lengthy dialogue.

But this is not the only advantage of concise writing. There is a gap between what stories say and what the audience hears. The more a game withholds such information, the more players must step forward to bridge the gap with their imagination and personal reflection. Players must engage with the text if they want to make sense of what's going on, rather than just sitting back to be spoon-fed messages. Will players want to make sense of it? I hope so, as this desire ties closely into the central themes of the game.

So what are these messages in Luminesca I've been referring to? You'll have to play (and read) the finished game to find out, or pre-order now to get a sneak peak of it in development!

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