When the idea for a game is fresh and everything is possible, it’s a good idea to start with some sort of structure — any structure really — to help you and your team get your hands around the scope and complexity of the project you’re planning. We were fortunate that HRO came with a story structure built in… Many early television writers followed a classical three act narrative structure. It usually boils down to Act I “uh oh, here’s the trouble we’re in,” then Act II “oops, the trouble just got way worse” and finally Act III “the heroes triumph over certain death.” This three-act format lent itself well to the organization of the individual stories in our branching sci-fi adventure.
And, when it came time to structure the overall sweep of the game experience, we also looked back to out source material for inspiration. HRO has been put together as a “season” of “episodes” in the classical TV sense — ie without a “season arc" and in individual modular story units. This allows us to order and re-order episodes on the fly and to insert (or delete) unlockable episodes without impacting the overall flow of the experience and without the player seeing any of the behind-the-curtain juggling. Additionally, it means we can release the game with a first “season” of episodes and go back later to develop and release new content as new seasons using the same framework.
Of course, we have to account for the consequences of the player’s actions. Unlike a classic TV series, characters in HRO do die, people leave the crew or are revealed as villains, and later HRO episodes need to acknowledge those variables. This has mostly been resolved through (a) a combination of avoiding calling attention to the timeline variations and (b) custom work-arounds to fill in the player-created blanks. So if an episode calls for the participation of the ship’s doctor, but for some reason the doctor is no longer on the ship, we either refocused the story so the nurse fills the doctor’s story role (avoiding the problem), or we wrote in a substitute doctor’s worth of content -- which only some of the players would see in that story (the players who caused the doctor to be absent in the first place in that earlier episode).
It sounds complicated. Let’s hope it works in play testing.
Worthing and Moncrieff, LLC is an independent developer of video game stories founded in 2015.