NEON STRUCT is my first game in which writing plays a major role. In Eldritch and my older hobby projects, narrative was thin to non-existent. I can’t recall ever writing character dialogue.
My inexperience in that realm—and its disproportional importance in this game—is part of why I chose NEON STRUCT over other game concepts I was considering this year. If I don’t challenge myself to acquire new skills, I will stagnate. I don’t want to keep making the same games over and over.
Because I feel far less competent as a writer than I do as a programmer or even as a designer, I haven’t blogged much about the narrative of NEON STRUCT. But I recently had an interesting experience with writing that seemed worth sharing.
By virtue of writing a game with a fixed and clearly defined scope, I have naturally landed upon what I guess is called the fractal or snowflake method of writing. Beginning with a high level premise (“A spy on the run from her former agency uncovers a global surveillance conspiracy.”) and a series of levels which seemed like interesting stealth game destinations, I have gradually explored and expanded the story as I work on each level.
This week, I built the game’s second level. I have known for months that this level would serve as the catalyzing moment in the story, but the details of it remained fuzzy until this very week. As I considered the specific conversations that the player would have with characters in the level, I began to worry that the premise of the level and possibly the entire game was flawed. By working from a top-down story expansion, I had only considered major beats and not such subtleties as character motivations and backstories.
So I stepped back from the game’s content and explored the story further. I developed backstories for each party and found rational explanations for their actions. I even discovered a clever way to connect two remote parts of the story. It felt like solving a jigsaw puzzle, turning the various pieces until they aligned and cohered into a complete picture.
Then I wrote the actual game dialogue, and almost none of that background made it on screen.
I think that’s okay. I want the dialogue in the game to be concise, even minimalist. Maybe it’s my lack of confidence as a writer, but I want the game to say only what it needs to say and nothing more. But the exercise was not in vain. My exploration of the story solidified the foundation for what is presented to the player. It can now withstand questions about logic and motivation. And if nothing else, I learned something valuable from the experience.