Branching Story, Branching Characters (Or: What’s taking so long?)
More than a year has now passed since the release of Act III, which is more than the amount of time it took to make Act III from scratch. I’m sure a lot of you are wondering what in the world is taking so long to update some graphics, fix some bugs, and upgrade the gameplay.
The short answer is that I’m trying something very different with the new content and it’s taking an enormous amount of time to implement properly. Most of it boils down to the new story choices.
You’re not in control
One of the core ideas I wanted to play with in Act III is the notion that you don’t actually control Auria. You can influence her, but ultimately, she is her own character. When story choices are brought up, you are given an opportunity to affect her state of mind. When you influence her to make a decision, you’re affecting her on more than a surface level; Auria must justify the decision to herself and, as a result, it causes her to grow differently depending on the decision.
When you decide to do something violent or selfish, you aren’t causing Auria to randomly have a violent outburst like in many RPGs with these decisions. Instead, you’re encouraging her to grow in a direction such that being violent and selfish is a part of her character and she will be more inclined to do this in the future. This is why, in the Relinquish ending, you don’t have any further choices in the story once you go to Halo Locks; your choices have caused her to become hardened and grow in a specific direction with enough momentum that she won’t look back again.
Those choices were fun in Act III, even if they made the dialog and cutscenes a nightmare to write and organize. But I wanted to do something more in the Complete Edition. After gathering feedback from many players and playtesters, I decided to add more of these choices and not just in Act III. Now choices of this nature are in place in Act II, as well.
This has proven to be a logistical nightmare.
Now that you’re able to affect Auria’s characterization before going into Act III, that means that the way she thinks in the rest of the game can be different.
However, your choices now have impact on more than just Auria. For players of the original game, you’re in for quite a surprise. The story is now capable of branching radically in Act II based on your choices. These branches have huge consequences for the other characters, in such a way that their states of minds and their relationships with other characters will change.
So, what this has done is created more than just branching story – there is now branching characterization. The way certain characters grow and develop is now based on the choices you make and their consequences. This has required forking almost every scene in the game (in both Act II and Act III) to accommodate for these different possibilities.
Not only that, but I want to ensure that regardless of the path you choose, that everyone is characterized and developed in a way that creates a satisfying narrative, such that no matter what you do, it feels like you’ve done the story in the intended way (even if there isn’t one).
It’s been a lot of work, and there’s still a lot of work left to do, but I’m confident that it will pay off in creating a rich, enjoyable experience.