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Designing for an Open Narrative - Drop Dead Gorgeous

A Quick Recap

In my previous posting, I ended up with a few questions that needed answering. Since then my team and I have come together to answer these questions.

  1. How many times will players have to jump between worlds?

  2. One or two times between decided locations. The player will experience the main hub one planet and a small enclosed space meaning that they will use the galaxy map at least 2 times. All of this will cover one mission.

  3. How can missions be broken down?

  4. Each planet that is traveled to will be a main mission. These can be interconnected with other planets in small ways.

  5. How will the story be continued as the player moves between worlds, or is that even necessary?

  6. Backstory can be provided through conversations with the car (Victor) as the player travels through the system. This will allow the players to reflect on everything they have learned so far.

An Open Narrative

Open narratives are commonly seen in sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto. Now our game is not nearly as large as Grand Theft Auto but it does allow for the player to experience the story in any order. Unlike these games, ours will not have a form of gating that will prevent the player from discovering different narrative keys. Creating a narrative like this does create some difficulties. I have to make sure that no matter what actions the player takes they are still able to arrive at the proper conclusion.

This is something that we tested when creating a prototype for our dialogue system. We drew out a rough map and made a silly story that proved that players could follow information to reach the conclusion. I then re-skinned the prototype with a new story that was more reflective of the game we are trying to make.

This image shows me creating the critical path and the main beats of the “first mission” and then adding red herrings to throw the player off. The idea is that the player starts in the apartment and end at the helicopter pad. They would go from the Apartment to the Hotel, then UNCE where they will learn that the person they are looking for is trying to get off planet leading them to go to the shuttle yard or the helicopter pad.

This is what the final path ended up looking like in terms of all the locations that they player could gain information from.

After coming up with these guides I gathered some playtesters to try out the new story.

Playtest #1: Katherine

The lines on the map indicate the path that the playtester took and where they made notes along the way. This playtester already knew how the dialogue system worked and was able to make their way through the story quickly.

Playtest #2: Mernan

This playtester did not have any previous experience with the dialogue system and took a bit longer to reach the end, but they were able to successfully reach the end of the prototype.

Both of these playtests show how the players can take any path that they like to reach the end and just how different these path ways can be. The first player took a much more linear path than the second hitting all of the major locations. The second player bounced around a lot going back and forth from location to location.


I found that while testing the players would tend to rely on the first two generic dialogue options that were presented to them rather than using the map to gain more information. This lead me to the conclusion that the options before the map should help support the use of the map or be completely arbitrary making it so information can only be gained by using the map.

Option 1:

  • Player asks about NPCs husband

  • Learns that he’s been cheating she can see where he’s been spending their money on the credit card bill

  • Player uses map to see where the most money has been spent.

Option 2:

  • “Some weather huh”

  • NPC responds with arbitrary answer about the weather

Moving Forward

Currently, I am working on a story treatment that will outline the final plot points for the first mission. Once I have it outlined I will test it by having other narrative designers read it to create the round table experience. Hopefully, this will help me catch any major issues in the story before moving forward. You can see some of my process work below.

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