I just finished playing Firewatch, which I really liked. It is a game that essentially tells a linear story, but does a good job of making you feel like an active participant. Traversing an open world goes a long way towards that, but it is mostly achieved by building a meaningful relationship with another human being. The quality and nuances of the interaction with this other person is probably the most player-pliable part of the experience. We tried something along the same lines once.
Granted, the vast majority of our output here at Glowing Eye Games has no narrative. For the most part we make card and board games for iOS. Well-crafted card and board games, but nonetheless games that do not warrant a story. However, we did dip our toes into narrative based games a little while ago with a small Flash based choose-your-own-adventure game called Hell City, and a much larger project called Dead Reich that was released on Amazon’s Kindle Store as an ebook in two parts.
Dead Reich was built around two core ideas. The first was narrative three-dimensionality, the idea that as in a 3D game, a player could move around a given situation and approach it in different ways, which in turn would dictate how the various other characters would react. Dead Reich’s first part very much explored this concept and allowed the player to approach the core location from different sides with different ‘game-play pockets’ on each route in. Not quite an open-world, but an attempt to create something similar within the constraints of a semi-linear narrative in book form.
Dead Reich’s second part continued using these ideas, but was primarily interested in building a relationship with a secondary character.
Trust plays a big role and has a direct impact on how the story progresses, adding a few twists and turns depending on how the protagonist gets on with his opposite number. Similarly to Firewatch, however, the story funnels towards a single ending – although the big finale has actually four different versions, depending on which branch you ended up after navigating the meaty and complex middle.
I was very pleased with Dead Reich when it was finished. Aside from going through the process of writing a coherent story with complex branching and interconnections, I had also explored a few options of how to make a linear story interactive and re-playable, and it was interesting to see how Firewatch had come up with similar concepts, even if it is presented in a far more exciting package than our previous effort.