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Why the Computer Virus Simulator doesn't have cutscenes, even though it has dialogue

Originally born out of the necessity, I've since then come to realize that I've struck gold.

When I've read the excellent article by Alexander Freed a couple of minutes ago, it inspired me to write this one.

But first, let's start with a story. Once upon a time, I've been designing the dialogue system for my game, Computer Virus Simulator in order to add a meaning to the levels. I knew full well that I can't hire voice actors and I didn't even want to since one of the design principles of the game is that anything I can do as a dev, the modder should be able to do as well (that's an interesting topic on its own and I hope to elaborate in a separate article), at least as far as the main campaign is concerned. And with full voice acting, the modders simply wouldn't be able to, unless they'd get exact same voice actors or their soundalikes. Long story short, I've decided to go with text+bark thing that games like Banjo-Kazooie popularized.

But then, I had to design and develop a system that enables modders to do a scene so they can add a meaning to their own levels. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to since it'd require basically remaking Unity's animation system inside the game and I didn't want people to have to download a freaking game engine just to make few levels. Modding should be easy. This meant that I had to settle for a dialogue editor and then add an option to play the dialogue in the game via the dialogue trigger.

This also meant that I couldn't stop player's movement during the dialogue as I simply knew that even if I'd make the player invisible during the dialogue someone will be able to get some sort of Kaizo trap that would kill player right after the dialogue had ended. So I've made it so the dialogues just play out at the bottom of the screen and player may read them or just ignore them.

Then it dawned on me. I've made it just like Half-life, if Half-life used non-interruptive text boxes instead of voice clips. And was a third-person 3D platformer.

The thing is, as it stands now, in the CVS control is NEVER taken away from the player (aside of loading, but that's obvious). And I didn't have to make a muted protagonist either (the Virus is veeeeeery talkative, just ask him on Twitter). Take that, Gaben! The player controls the Virus even since the game starts. The main menu serves as a playground where the player can get used to the movement of the Virus, where various options such as playing the game, level editor or options are represented by doors the player physically enters. Even exiting the game is done via one of these (placed in a way that they can't be entered by accident), though the player could just use alt-f4 for that and I wouldn't blame him/her.

So how does it pertains to the article mentioned in the opening?

  • Because the player is always controlling the character, the player-character bond is strong and player is fully immersed into the character, despite constant banter and going away from a silent protagonist as far as possible.
  • The fact that the game has no cutscenes to speak of, solves the "meanwhile" problem. The player always has the same info as the character. Thanks to the fact that I've avoided the silent protagonist archetype, the player also has a view into the character's mind (please note that the Virus' views does not represent my own) which strengthens the bond and enhances the immersion - yes, you are in control of that character, but this character has a mind of its own, it's not a mindless jar you pull your soul into and actually feels alive and fun to be around.
  • Because of that, I feels like I've successfully sidestepped the issue without resorting to the silent protagonist trope and while still making the game within budget constraints and with making sure the player has as much power when it comes to level creation as I do.

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