There’s a lot to do in “Nikria’s Menace”, and game design in general, for me, but I have a pretty good handle on where I’m going with it as a text game.
Or, I thought I had a handle on it until I tried out some other games: yes, my friends, game-testing continues, as reading does for a writer. Ok so Arcanum isn’t a text adventure. Nope, not in the least, though it does have a ton of text to it. I LOVE what they did with the writing. Love. I don’t know when I’ve ever been this much in love with a game’s writing style and application. LOTRO only half counts because it is, after all, based on one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time (I’m biased and I don’t care). Now, I’m going to go into detail why it is I so love the writing to this game:
1)The manual is actually written in the style of the land there, which if you don’t know is Steampunk (with Victorian-esque leanings). It’s beautiful. It gets you a very good feeling for the world, too; reading the manual while the game downloads will get you some good flavor. There are a few things within this which don’t really go too well and could use more explanation, but otherwise it’s fabulous!
2)The storyline of the world is damn fine, from the beginning onward. You get a lovely cinematic to start it all off, and some stuff about how you got to the crash site.
3)Dialogue. Dialogue is fantastic! When you begin the game as a solo player and are wakening from a crashed zeppelin, you come across Virgil (who’s a healer – and that’s very important, at least gameplay-wise). You can get into a long conversation with him, a short conversation with him, a medium one – your choice. The writers gave you lots of options. There’s stuff to talk about, you can ask him questions, etc. Believe me, this takes a LOT of writing. I’ve mentioned it before, but it does take a lot, I can’t stress it enough. My hat’s off to the writers for actually taking the time to put that much writing in, because it’s not easy though it pays dividends at the end, and I am so glad the creators of the game GAVE the writers their head and allowed them to do it! Hell, being able to play a game where this is going on lets me know yeah, I see how much work they put into it and YES, it IS worth all the blood,sweat and tears. From Virgil onward, yeah dialogue as a solo is amazing. In multiplayer, it’s great too – you come across a dwarf who’s complaining about the elf in the next room, the elf rolling his eyes at the dwarf… in the town, every merchant or person you come across says stuff to you, some are just chattering to one another… yeah it’s good!
4)Details. Here’s an important thing: I was doing stuff in solo and couldn’t figure out why I kept dying whenever Virgil and I got to the pass with a ton of wolves. My husband mentioned to me, “Does Virgil have equipment?” No. He didn’t. Because I’d gotten so used to the more-or-less automatic gearing of NPC’s in MMO’s – actually even GW2 is guilty of this one (ever played a Charr and had your warband be amazingly squishy, but they “seemed” to have gear?) – so I didn’t even think about “gearing my team-member”. Now, I know that kind of thing existed – I’ve played Albion and had to gear my team-members, game-tested Final Fantasy and had the same thing, but somewhere along the line MMO’s gave up on that idea, yet kept NPC’s squishy, which makes for a bad combo (and from my own analysis, bad writing). Arcanum is indeed an older game, but I can see where some remnants of older ones are, and it’s making me think.
5)Quest-writing: Ahh, finally: well-written quests. I’ve only gone so far into this game, but so far so good: no “kill ten rats”, for one thing! You aren’t the Second Coming either, and you really aren’t the Chosen One. You just happened to survive the crash, which amazes Virgil, but he doesn’t seem to be the best judge of character. In multiplayer, you get asked to help people out at this village that’s been attacked and the elf and dwarf aren’t wholly sure what’s going on. I like it when the amount of writing tropes is lessened! And you can wander around, you don’t HAVE to go save the village immediately.
Arcanum has definitely made me think, and given me some good ideas about how to further write my current game, and games going forward. I already do have some NPC’s you can talk to (and should), but the way I have conversations/dialogue working is changing a little bit. I’m not entirely sure how this gets coded in, if it’s more strings of Booleans or not, but now there’s two kinds of dialogue: 1)direct conversation – where Player just decides what to do out of a bunch of verbs like “buy”, “ask”, etc. 2)in-depth conversation – where the Player can ask “about” various things (for example, at some point he/she finds something, and later can ask NPC’s about the thing. Or, he/she could ask about somebody like for instance Spaud. Yeah, I’m writing a little differently. I think both kinds of conversation/dialogue are important, so I’m going to leave both in. Variety’s important too!
It’s also made me wonder what other writing styles in games exist…