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How One Night Stand creates an emotional bond with a character
"The main thing I wanted players to feel was compassion for the woman, or guilt if they snuck out as soon as they could."
January 26, 2017
10 Min Read
"The main thing I wanted players to feel was compassion for the woman, or guilt if they snuck out as soon as they could," says Lucy Blundell, creator of One Night Stand.
In case the title didn't give it away, One Night Stand is a game about waking up next to a naked stranger after a drunken night. In it, players will be able to play out that uncomfortable situation in multiple ways, deciding whether or not they want to get to know the smiling young woman, Robin, they woke up next to.
Thanks to Blundell, many players will get to know her. And that's because Blundell creates an instant bond between the pair by using unique visuals, investigative gameplay, and the highly-personal environment surrounding players to paint a picture of an interesting person that's refreshingly human.
Blundell creates an intimacy between the player and Robin within moments of starting the game, placing the player directly beside her in bed, her bare back to them. That closeness is jarring, as the player is still just figuring out their place in the world, and this sudden closeness to a character with no warning seems meant to leave the player feeling vulnerable, confused, and a little intrigued.
That closeness carries an even greater impact due to the game's rotoscope art style, in which the artist draws over frames of live action to create fluid, realistic motion. Robin seems to shudder in the cold in these first moments, a small touch of realism and vulnerability that players will continue to see throughout the game through her movements. It lends her a feeling of reality, even though she nothing more than code and animated images.
"Rotoscoping like this is rather unique in video games: It makes One Night Stand literally stand out whilst giving it the breath of real-life, necessary for the game's impact," says Blundell.
The player will continue to witness this as Robin gets up and speaks to them. As her dialogue appears on the screen, she will play with her hair. She'll smile. She'll tilt her head. She shows signs when she's delighted, and signs when she's upset at something the player says. These small motions come alive in the rotoscope style, having been drawn over the actual body motions of a person making these gestures.
In this case, it was Blundell herself who brought Robin's actions into reality. "So, the stranger in One Night Stand was actually acted by myself, and, because I'm not an actor, a lot of her mannerisms are like my own."
Blundell sought to capture the kind of natural mannerisms that people showed while speaking to one another. This wouldn't just be a game where players would be speaking to a still image of a character, but one where they would be interacting with a person who reacted to what they said, demonstrating body language that indicated her mood as she spoke. It would create that extra connection with the player by emulating that crucial body language we see in real conversation.
"I recorded myself chatting about all kinds of things to get a wide range of emotions. There were many takes and I only ended up using a few seconds of clip for each animation. As the quality didn't matter so much, I used my phone's camera on a tripod to get the footage - nothing too fancy!" says Blundell. "I realized later on though, to my horror, that I needed more emotions to tell the story effectively. This wouldn't have been such a huge problem, but my hair had grown out and I'd dyed it a different color. I don't think you can tell too much from the sprites though!"
That sense of reality would be key in connecting the player to the story. For the player to immerse themselves in an experience, anything that bridges the gap between the game and reality helps break those barriers down. In this situation, that meant making the player feel like they were sitting in a real room and talking with a real woman.
"I wanted to add life-like animation and sounds with limited music. I spent a lot of time getting the camera angle correct: I wanted it to feel as though you're really in that room, where the main character lies in bed, looking towards the stranger who's blocking his way out," says Blundell.
This is where rotoscoping excelled in communicating the game's emotional impact. It is The art is stylized, helping players let go of themselves to enter a world of fiction, and yet touches on reality in ways few other games do by giving attention to body language by drawing the art over an actual person. Through that style, Robin is fictional enough for the player to enter her world, yet looks real enough that they develop a bond with her. Robin's smile warms the heart and makes the player like her because that smile is that of a real, smiling woman.
"It's almost like sitting opposite from a real woman, and her appearing more real, makes her more relatable and easier to feel compassionate towards," says Blundell.
Learning about her
As players learn to like the woman they've woken up with, they become curious about her. Even so, they're in a situation where the character has forgotten everything they know. That's convenient, as the player also has no idea about her, making the two share in the experience of learning about Robin through the environment around her.
"I really just wanted players to go in, with no memory (like the main character) and go from there. I intended there to be many emotions experienced whilst playing, each reflecting how you played," says Blundell.
Players can examine items that are lying around Robin's room whenever she steps out (which is often, given that she's hung over as well). These objects will tell the player more about Robin's life, from the books she keeps on her nightstand to the movies on her shelf to the guitar in the corner, all hinting at who this woman is.
These pieces, without spoiling the story, all paint a picture of an ordinary, but interesting, person. Robin has hobbies that are fun to learn about and that tell the player about her past. She has opinions about literature that the player can discover. All of the items in the room show the life of the woman standing in front of the player, and if one of these particularities strikes the player in a certain way, that can change their bond with Robin.
Blundell does this with careful item placement, having thought hard on what items would tell Robin's story well, and hints to the player to click something to know more. She took a closed environment and filled it with objects that would further tell Robin's story, letting the player choose what intrigued them to press on.
This only made sense to her in creating it. She wanted the player trapped in this situation, navigating the sudden relationship they would have with this stranger. This meant staying stuck in the room (unless the player chose to leave), and working within that environment to further strengthen the character she wanted players to care about.
"I wanted to create as close to a real-life experience as possible. Being a visual novel, One Night Stand's gameplay is somewhat limited, but it does feature many choices and point-and-click investigations, so it made sense to break both of these aspects up at various points throughout the game. However, I didn't let the constraints of a visual novel stop me from making the game as immersive as possible," says Blundell.
Though trapped in one room, the player can see that there are interesting aspects about this stranger that they can learn more about. Robin is a complex character, and through seeing what's in her living space, players can be drawn into her life in multiple ways. There's lots about her to get to know, ensuring players will likely find some reason to want to keep talking to her.
Hearing her story
"I love games with lots of choices, especially choices that matter!" says Blundell.
Robin comes alive through her motions. She has an interesting background that players can learn. The final thing that connects the players to her is their decisions in the game's world. The player chooses to get closer to her or not, and those choices matter most by how easy they can lead to ruin in this vulnerable situation. "As it is a delicate, intimate situation, things could go either way rather quickly depending on your actions," says Blundell.
Players can push for too much information on something private and find themselves booted out. They can touch the wrong item and get kicked to the curb. The player is in a delicate position with Robin, and it is not as simple as prodding the right dialogue options until the player reaches a desired outcome. Blundell has programmed several different timings and moments when things can be accessed, and in doing so, created an experience that feels more dynamic and real.
"The story unravels to the players differently each time. For example, if you look at the pills on her beside table before she offers you some, your character doesn't think too much of it. If you look at them later on instead though, he becomes suspicious of her and can actually accuse her of drugging him. Coding all these variations for all the items was not an easy feat!" says Blundell.
Depending on the timing in which the player looks at an item, it will change Robin's reaction. This feels closer to navigating a real-world situation than finding the right item to play with in a game, even though that is technically what the player is doing. It has been made that much more complex to make it feel more like the player is actually learning about someone in a challenging situation. It's not always about asking the right questions about her stuff, but about knowing when you're close enough to her, emotionally, to ask her.
This is further strengthened by just how fast the player can fail. "I think, in a morning after situation where you're hung over, confused and facing a complete stranger, you'd naturally have a racing mind, which is trying to scramble and piece together exactly what happened to you," says Blundell. "I believe many small, incorrect choices could result in you being thrown out quite easily... It's a very delicate situation that the main character has to tip-toe around, so, naturally, the choices you make would result in various outcomes."
The whens and how that factor into when the player looks at an item make things feel more natural and real with Robin. Pressing for information when you hardly know her can come across as rude and crass, reflected in her reactions to it. However, asking about that same topic after the player knows her better results in a more intimate look at the woman's life. It grants the game this sensation of meeting a real person, with all of the pitfalls and pleasantries that come with it.
What the morning brings
"I think most players feel awkwardness and embarrassment from being utterly clueless and trying to win her over," says Blundell.
The player may wake up in an awkward situation in One Night Stand, but they'll soon find themselves charmed by the nervous, shy woman standing before them. Through their own decisions and actions, they'll navigate a treacherous relationship that rewards players for kindly getting to know the person before them, letting them bond with her slowly and realistically.
Robin is an intriguing character, fleshed out with all manner of hobbies and interests the player can discover through the environment around her. Her room tells a story, if the player can safely find it. Her mannerisms add onto that story, creating that realistic connection that makes her feel like more than just a still image players are moving with dialogue options.
Through this mixture of all three of these elements, Blundell has created a realistic, heartwarming character that will charm many players, drawing them into her life and making them hope they'll have a chance to meet this lovely woman again.
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