The narrative within this game is one of the most essential parts of this game, to design Ella and I worked together to build it. I decided to split it into chapters and develop it uisng post-it notes so we could quickly move it around and interchange parts, this way we could develop it one stage at a time, and wrap these up into small packages. This also gives us an element of modularity, we were able to easily move parts of the story around and change events on the timeline. Each chapter features a specific event, location, and people.
We had to be careful when designing the narrative in the chapter format not to create several different games in one, and not to create one single blurred experience, each chapter tells a short story in its own right but needs to add to the overall story of loneliness and loss that the final chapter demonstrates, we plan to use foreshadowing and emphasizes the endpoint and premise of the story using the tower of Babel.
In chapter one, the player begins the story, they start of in their hometown of the violin people, this is based loosely on the small Italian town of Manarola. They will learn the basic controls here for movement and possibly how they can use their instrument to interact with other people. After this, they will be drawn to the sound of a distant piano coming from a direction, visual prompts will direct them towards the place they need to be which will trigger a camera change, this will adjust towards the direction of a large tower in the distance where the music is coming from. The camera angle will change allowing them to leave the chapter one town
Chapter 2 is the home of the flute people, this is located in a treehouse like structures that the player will come across, They are a sky people and will be hidden in out of reach tree houses, some will potentially scuttle through the treetops etc. The player will hear random tunes from the flutes that will play in a subtle, cautious manner. The player can play notes back to them, this will cause them to pop out of their hiding places for a short time, after doing this several times, and the player has progressed a certain way through the treehouses, they will be met up one flute person, the player will then have the opportunity to play to them, this will create the synchronization required to progress, this will then trigger a camera change that will show the tower once again and the sad piano music will be audible for a short time.
Chapter three is designed around contrast to the last area, this is the brass civilization that will be noisy and extroverted with people playing music the same music on the street, this will be somewhat repetitive, the player must look around and find the one person not playing the same music as everyone else, upon finding them they will be able to synchronize and the others will become quiet. After completion, like before a camera change towards the tower and piano player allowing them to progress to the next area.
This is the previous home of the flute people, but everything’s broken and in disrepair, The player will venture through the ruins and hear a booming, they will move closer to it and suddenly a large giant will appear, after a moment, they will pull out a triangle and begin tapping it slowly while looking reproachfully at the player. The player will then be able to play the giant a tune who in turn will join in with the triangle, he will begin to smile towards the end. The synchronization ends and the player can clearly see the tower now and the music there has stopped.
Chapter five begins with the player adventuring up to the tower and upon finally reaching the top, sees two pianos, one slightly smaller without a player that looks sad and unloved, the piano player begins a sad tune, after some time the player is prompted to join in. After some time during the synchronization, other instruments will join in, as the camera pans behind the player to reveal all the previous musicians, they all play towards a crescendo in which turns from a sad lament to a beautifully hopeful conclusion.
Hidden or not fully explained story elements:
This game touches on a lot of deeper meanings, it’s not proving a point, but representing beautifully simple emotions that relate to loneliness. The first is in chapter one, this presents itself as the player, they are drawn towards the tower and the piano by innate curiosity but also a desire for something that could end in forming new relationships outside of the original hamlet of buildings. Chapter two and four are linked, the location of four is the original home of the flute people that was accidentally destroyed by the giant, they migrated to the treetops in an attempt to avoid large stompy feet. This is also why they are inherently shy as a civilization, they are untrusting and have suffered loss and trauma that they are trying to recover from. In chapter four, the giant is the last of his kind, wandering through endless miles looking for a friend, he discovers the flute peoples village and accidentally destroys it in excitement. The Giant suffers from more apparent loneliness and is quite literally alone, At the point when the player discovers the giant, he has almost given up hope of making a friend after giving destroyed the village. The brass people are a story of trying to fit in but not succeeding, the person you play with cannot join the others and feels like an outcast while the others cannot break out of their loop of all sounding the same having lost their own creativity in fear of becoming left out. Finally, chapter five is simply loss, the foreshadowed story throughout the whole game is this loss that is presented in the form of the pianists lament from the tower. They have lost their partner and dearest friend, thus the two pianos that will never play again, the attempt to bring both of the pianos to the top of the tower is both to project the music but also because it’s the closest to heaven so that the music will reach their partner. At the end of the game, all the civilizations gather to the top of the tower to amplify the music and add a part of themselves to the music. The loss is something that resonates with every civilisation and although they cannot directly communicate, they all know deep down the cause for the music and the original player curiosity is also a pilgrimage of respect as it is an adventure to make new friends.
Development and thought process:
During the development of the narrative there were several elements I kept in mind, firstly I wanted to encompass loneliness into the story, as our main theme it was a place of starting and although I understand that sticking with one thing over creative development isn’t always a good idea I also wanted to create a consistency within the narrative that people can connect with. This became fundamental for me; I wanted a game people can relate to in some small way. Something people can take away and understand without it having to be forced on them. I am very much a fan of non-definitive narrative design, I believe part of the story comes from the player’s interpretation of what they perceive rather than being told how to feel at a given time. Sometimes things are best left undisclosed so that players can exercise their own creativity in figuring it out, for example when one reads a book, although descriptive writing builds up a canvas, it’s the reader's interpretation that brings life to the world and to the story. With completely defined details the outcome simply is, rather than could be, thus the air of mystery and excitement can be lost in the folds of transparent narrative.
Something I was aware of during the process of working on this narrative is that our primary medium for communicating is music, this is not a replacement for English and cannot be treated as such, Eventually this led us to the textbox dilemma but this will come later. Not only this but we want the narrative to appeal to all ages, we can add undertones that may appeal more to adults or teenagers but we want the content to be accessible to all ages. Keeping it simple but meaningful was key to achieving this, creating basic and not overly complex scenarios is the key to maintaining a quality of conveyance, getting enough information for the narrative to flow but not too much to bore the player.
The textbox dilemma:
This arose during the later phase of the narrative design. As we interacted on our narrative design and added small backstories and character’s histories, we ran into the issues of how much we can tell the player without using actual language as a medium, the issue with text boxes is that once you give the player a new medium, it will break the ambience of the musical medium, as this is key to achieving our balance and feel it became a problem. There will be an inconsistency with the deliverance of information if the player is given text boxes to understand information but is meant to derive information from the music as well, this disconnect could prove fatal to our design, however on the reverse side, we sacrifice potential nuances within our narrative.
There are ways around these nuances including visual and audio prompts, foreshadowing and possible interactables however logistically this is more work and we have a short space of time to create the game. In conclusion on this subject, the safe option is to use text boxes however we will sacrifice our ambience, feeling and all subtlety within the narrative, on the reverse side, we will have more work to do, from this we interated our story design to a more simpler form that does not require textboxes as there’s very little that is required to be said to emphasise the narrative.
Narrative sits at the core of the project. Until Ella and I built the foundation for it, we struggled to make any progress with the game at all, things simply didn't fit into place and there was no cohesion, after developing the narrative structure using post-it notes it allowed us to be sure about instrument choice, art style and how the mechanics might work.