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A note on story in Custom Stories
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Robosprog Offline
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A note on story in Custom Stories

Now, some people here are going to get annoyed at how I use the custom story I am creating as an example for story. I do not think my story for it is perfect nor what you should follow - I am just using it as a basis for what should be done.

Anyway, let's get started shall we?

Section 1: Action, Reaction, Consequence
"What does that mean?" a few of you may ask. Basically, every action has a reaction, for starters, I'll use a real example, a very simple one: You are hungry. You get something to eat, you are now no longer hungry.
That, is a very basic example. You feel hungry (The action), so you go and get some to eat which is your reaction and the consequence is you are no longer hungry.
Now, something I've noticed in a few custom stories is that this bare bones essential of story telling is missing. Some of the custom stories I've seen have this as their story: "You need to get out." Right, what part of this sequence is that? You can't really tell as there is nothing more than that. Why do we need to get out? What will happen when we do?

Now, a better way of doing this would be using this instead of just "you need to get out"
You are hearing strange noises and are becoming unsettled, you try to get out of the house and get help.
An awful, simple example but far better than simply "You need to get out"
Now, a much better example would be: "As of late, you have been hearing strange, unsettling noises around the mansion and recently your wife who has been comforting to you lately has left to visit a friend. The noises have only gotten worse since her departure and now you're terrified, too scared to talk louder than a whisper to the servants and you've decided to leave for the village until your wife returns."
That is far superior compared to the simple "You need to get out" and doesn't take very long, isn't too complex or simple and doesn't read like you're barely out of nursery.

Now, every little thing we do is fuelled by an action, but often it is better to let the player decide the reaction instead. Some of you may protest that they may react in so many ways it's impossible to support that.
Well, it's not.
The usual reaction when you are confronted by a monster is to flee or hide. Support those 2 and you have the majority of reactions sorted. Some bizaare individuals may desire to throw something at the monster. Add a script to make it use it's crying animation for grunts or idle for brutes (You can make your own for custom monsters) whilst making it immobile when a few certain objects nearby hit it. Or every object if you wish.
Some may even want to try to dodge past it, that's easily accommodated. Some may want to break open that window next to them and flee. Let them, but have them die during the fall. It is possible to support just about every single thing that someone wants to do. It is sometimes difficult though.
You should always let the player decide what he wants to do.

Section 2: Atmosphere, Emotion

Now, atmosphere is one of the trickiest parts of a custom story to get right, let alone controlling the emotions of the player. However, if done right it can transform a custom story from unpleasant experience to high octane nightmare fuel.
Some people here may think that Amnesia's music or sound was what made it terrifying. Now, that is their opinion and I won't say they are wrong. But, if you take away Amnesia's story then the game becomes far less terrifying. It would basically be someone running through rooms with monsters which he runs and hides from... and there are games like that, hell, Mario is slightly like that apart from the fact you can jump on the mo- oh wait.
Now, having the greatest story ever told through video games may affect the horror factor of your game - but not much. The situation is what creates that terror and paranoia, that caution you get after the first sight of a monster.
And infact, those jump scares can provide it better than other scares depending on the situation.
Now, some people will disagree here but it's true. If a jump scare makes sense and isn't ridiculous (Teleporting naked guys, I'm looking at you.) then it can be more effective than nearly any other type of scare. Think of the terror and caution it creates, all it needs is a situation it makes sense in.

Now, there seems to be this general thought among people that torture, rape, etc make for a dark disturbing atmosphere.
This isn't true.
For example:
"The castle was full of horrific torture devices and the wives were raped by the lord when they didn't want to have sex"
That isn't disturbing at all. The fact that you had to use the word horrific would mean it's not horrific without the word. You are telling the player what to feel.
Then, how do we create a disturbing atmosphere?
Well, in a video game where you can control every single part of the map, it's fairly easy. In my custom story, the first 3 maps have no notes at all, no sense of a story. But, you start off feeling quite comfortable and as I played through it, and a friend too, you heard quiet sounds in the background, whining, footsteps. You felt uneasy soon enough.
That is a great situation in which to introduce these "disturbing" aspects of the story, as the player isn't too terrified to just not care, and not too calm to not be affected. When they are uneasy, that's when you introduce it.
However, even then it still feels a little.. dull. And what made some of the torture devices in the original game so horrifying? Why, flashbacks and the fact that you could hear the woman crying out for mercy... whilst feeling uneasy, not sure of what is exactly happening and paranoid of the monster stalking around the prison.

And atmosphere, what makes a dark atmosphere, a light atmosphere?
Well, humour can have quite alot to do with it.
Let's look at Portal 2, the atmosphere in that game was dark, nobody can deny it. Why was it dark? Well, because of the humour that came out of the situation. Sure, some of the characters had a bit to do with it, but the level design didn't. The music had nowhere near as much impact as the humour which was dark and to an extent morbid.
Now, this isn't to say you should have "the cake is a lie" posters stapled all over the custom story. No, what you can do is have the antagonist, or the protagonist comment on things using dark or deadpan humour. Or, another style if you feel so inclined.

Another is description of what actually happened with said torture and rape, (No erotica though) and let the player feel disgusted instead of basically saying "This is what you should feel".

Section 3 The Unknown
Now, I can tell someone here is going to go "wut, thats a gameplay element retard" (Perhaps kinder than that). Yes, and no. It is a gameplay element but it is also a story element "but just have nothing there retard" well, I'll explain why you don't do that.

See, the unknown is not just unknown, but mysterious. Something that is extraordinarily hard to capture through story, because you have to make the player not understand anything about the creature, but understand something about it - a double negative. How this is done is through illusions. "poofers retard" No. Not poofers, rather something more embedded into the backstory of your custom story.
In the old archives, as I believe they are called, is a note from a book that describes folk lore around the area, and these "gatherers". Now, you are suddenly wary of those sounds that echo in the room. Wondering what that piano noise is..
Folk lore, something deeply embedded within all histories of all cultures is what can turn the unknown from something that makes you tense to full on paranoia. For example, (I'm sure this has happened to everyone at one point) you are exploring an old ruined castle, you travel into the dungeons and hear echoes and drips. Later, you read about an old ghost or monster that used to haunt those dungeons, creating strange unintelligible noises before hunting it's prey or whatever. Folk lore, things that are not neccesarily true can often be more terrifying than just complete unknown.

I entertain this idea that innovation is what can make horror far more terrifying than something used before. Something you have never experienced. People forget that the unknown can be used to introduce these, and that the unknown won't just be that grunt - people expect that. What you can do is simply download another monster, get to work on the backstory and folk lore and let them EXPECT a grunt, something different, softer.
Then you introduce it.. partially.
Do never let them get a good look at it, as this ruins the unknown effect and the next thing I will be addressing..

Right, so you have gotten your first glance of the monster, but you're not quite sure what you have just seen. Now is the time to turn on the high octane nightmare fuel.. by not letting you see it and using it's noises for ambience. The ambience is obvious but the length of not actually seeing it will be surprising. I believe that not letting it be seen for a minimum of at least half an hour of gameplay. They become paranoid, but by the last 5 minutes they will be relaxed before it pops up again - and this time it knows you're there.. and you won't want to look back, so it remains unknown and all you know is that something inhumane is trying to kill you or god knows what.

Rather effective, no?

Should it appear again? Personally.. not really. After that, you could use another custom monster and simply leave you wondering..
"What the fuck was that?"

Section 4 Historical Compatibility

Wait, what?
Yeah, I just confused myself..

Oh, yeah, right.

When people create dialogue in custom stories, you use standard modern English 90% of the time. You don't take into account the time period and how the language would differ. Now, narration is fine, but why is it in every custom story there is a babelfish? Because we don't take into account these tiny little differences in language (Or huge). It's not really hard to change the dialect, as a quick google search reveals pretty much everything you can want to know.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg.
When we build a village outside, or a castle, we seem to forget how different life was back then, and I'm not just talking living conditions but how people actually thought. You wouldn't build a village with a square often enough - towns, perhaps - but usually it revolved around a well/tavern/church. You don't build villages for the sake of villages but for reasons - farming, money, religion. People settle areas for a reason.
Sure, a village might look nice perched on that cliff but WHY IS IT THERE. Mining? Farming? Is there a keep nearby with a lord?
Also, population: Whilst the population of villages were small, they were not hamlets as you tend to see in custom stories - yes, I understand that you want a lag free map and so on, but really, how hard is it to copy paste those premade houses, and if you want, stick a few doors on them and lock said doors. It's not hard, add wells etc and hand build a church somewhere near the centre. A village population can range (1000AD-1200AD) from around 80 to about 800. And that's being small. However, a family in these times would also range usually from about 5-12 people. All houses with one room usually, and a basic dirt floor. So really, were looking at about 80 or so houses per village, and that's not counting farms, wells, lumber mills, mines. (Continued tomorrow)

(Finally! Now for the next three parts.)

(This post was last modified: 05-07-2012 10:05 PM by Robosprog.)
04-13-2012 11:54 PM
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A note on story in Custom Stories - Robosprog - 04-13-2012 11:54 PM

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