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Merging puzzles and story in Simon the Sorcerer

An overview of how we are developing the story and game design alongside one another for the new Simon The Sorcerer game. Originally posted on http://www.storybeasts.com

I have been dragged out of my cave to write about writing adventure games, and somehow tie that to what we’re doing with Simon The Sorcerer.

So, first and foremost, I’m Dave and I write stories for things; games mostly. How does that differ from other mediums? Some days I don’t know, other days it’s very clear (and clever). See games are, despite your mother’s best arguments, a very unique beast. And rightly so, talking about writing for games as a singular is like talking about writing poetry as a singular – sonnets are different from haikus, which are different from [whatever you call] poems about flowers. What do I know about writing love poems? To my wife’s sorrow, about as little as I know about writing FPS games (which is to say sweet sod all).

What am I saying? Essentially, that Journey's story is differently written to Mass Effect's. And my job on Simon The Sorcerer is somewhere in the middle. Probably more so than any other genre, the story and gameplay are very well connected in adventure games: the story is tied to your advancing gameplay, your gameplay options limited by story. You unravel the story as you play, you play the story as you unravel. And that is where I come in. I plan out the story and work with the game-play designer, Claudio, to tie it in with the puzzles. The stages go something like this:

1 – The big picture idea

What is the new instalment to Simon's adventures about? We knew we wanted to do something with a second protagonist fairly early on to give this game a distinct feel from the others, so that informed a lot of what we are doing with Simone and the other dimension (which fits Simon’s escapades thus far quite well). I don’t want to say too much here, but this stage is filled with lots of talks about who our villains shall be, what they want and how it impacts Simon – he’s not the traditional hero, after all, and needs more than the promise of a medal to get involved…

2 – Episodes

Once we decided on making the game episodically we discussed the number of episodes we want to make. We bounced around the number five for a while (Telltale and others paved that path for us), but we ended up feeling like three was a better fit for the story and resources we had (or, in the case of the latter, the resources we hope it is possible to crowd-source). So the big picture gets broken down into three parts, each self-contained enough to be a fun play, with cliff-hangers and resolutions galore (in time).

3 – Puzzles

Then Claudio comes in and we start hammering out the details – what locations we need, how many characters are going into the game, who will they be, what villains and friends do we want to see re-emerge and what new characters shall we introduce – all of that stuff. Oh, and of course how many puzzles we’ll have and what they shall actually be.

4 – Writing

Then comes lots of writing. Clues hidden in dialogue, jokes at people’s expenses and so on. HotSpots to click on and lots of ways Simon can tell you that you’re doing it wrong (which is actually one of the hardest parts – how to keep saying “no” without irritating players?)

5 – Play and iterate

Then we go back and do it all again – characters get merged, puzzles dropped or replaced, friends become enemies, enemies becomes friends, all that stuff. Locations change, new ones are added as we realise that you can’t go from A to C without a B in there somewhere.

6 – Record words (depending on the KS)

Of course, words are best brought to life by actors and, Kickstarter willing, we take the final draft of the script and record it with Chris Barrie and other fine thespians. We had a lot of fun with Chris recording the kickstarter trailer (coming soon!), and he really brings Simon back to life, so we’re hoping that we afford to bring him on for the whole game.

7 - Release, recover

Deliver game to players. Sit on twitter and forums, refreshing for opinions. Ignore the good, embellish and dwell on the bad. Have a coffee, write something else.

Conclusion

Anyway, it's not rocket science, but that's our process. Hopefully this is of interest (maybe even use?) to you. If you have any questions, stick them in the comments below and I’ll (try to) answer them. Also, feel free to keep up to date with us and the game's progress over on the site or via twitter. I don't know how to embed links, so you'll just have to find us yourself. What an exciting adventure for you that should be.

Later, magic chums!
Dave.

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