We’re coming towards the end of the term and we should all be finalising our thoughts and ideas about our games and our dossiers, except for me.
I have recently read Espen Aaerseth’s paper on ‘Quest Theory,’ and it has made me think a little bit more about my game, Remnants of Dream, and how it is understating itself.
Aaerseth (2005) looks at quests games and says there are two ways they can be defined, but in the interests of Remnants of Dream, the second definition applies which is that quest games depend on mere movement from A to B (pg. 497). These types of quests are simple and often involve a storyline, in essence, a sequence of set events that lead to a particular outcome which cannot be altered through gameplay (Aaerseth 2005, pg. 498).
What is important in these types of games is the game landscape, as quest and space are intrinsically linked, and the game landscape that Remnants of Dream currently utilises is of a unicursal nature, which Aaerseth says, because of its sequential structure, can be easily ornamented with story-like elements (2005, pp. 499-500). Quests are effective in that game designers design these quests to exact control over the player, using them to impart information that pass as stories, but stories that situate the gamer as an archaeologist rather than an author, uncovering the story as they play (Aaerseth 2005, pg. 504).
What Aaerseth (2005) ultimately says about this topic, is that successful productions of this type need to find a balance between the landscape and the path forward, or story, as the landscape must disguise the unicursal nature of the path, making it appear as the true path, as if there were multiple choices to begin with (pg. 504).
While Remnants of Dream is a game that is slightly unicursal in that it has a set path moving forward depending on how you play the game, it has three paths that may be travelled to reach one of three different conclusions. What I have come to realise about my game, is that the landscape I am creating does not allow for effective story ornamentation, or, to put it more bluntly, the world I am creating has a lack of synergy with the story thus creating a game that understates itself with a story that feels stilted and rushed because the landscape does not allow for effective pacing or ornamentation.
The cure for this problem would be to invest more time into building a landscape that allows for story element ornamentation, more simply, I need to create a better world that will support the story in its pacing and ornamentation. How do I do this? I believe it is simply a matter of experience and learning, I need to play around with the maps in RPG Maker MV and try out different tile combinations and ideas until I craft maps that I am happy with and that I believe allow the story to shine.
Some examples of map layouts that I believe are good include The Russian Blue’s maps for his RPG Maker MV project, Earth Alone, which you can check out in his developer diary here.
Aarseth, E 2005, ‘From Hunt the Wumpus to EverQuest: Introduction to Quest Theory,’ Entertainment Computing – ICEC, Vol: 3711, Pp. 496 – 506.
You’re correct when you say experience and learning will cure your limitations and inability. Where the maps I make may look well done, that all comes from a history of playing around with the program prior to the subject, and drawing on maps I’ve experienced in the games I’ve played. When I had a few people play test I actually received a very good tip which I think your game would also benefit from that may encourage the player to forgive a simple map design – that is, charm!
When people played my game they were going up to cupboards and containers trying to see if there was anything and talking to different people to see if they had a lot to say. The problem was that I hadn’t designed anything to happen yet when objects in the environment were activated yet, and a lot of the dialogue I had was very simple filler text. Because of this, over the last few weeks, once I get the quest logistics sorted I want to spend time with the maps and characters in order to ramp up the charm factor in order to make the world feel as rich as I’d like to imagine it is.
All the best with your project, I’ll be happy to test it if you bring it in to class in one of the following weeks.
It’s interesting to hear Aaerseths paper on Quest Theory and what it takes for this type of game to keep audiences enthralled. I totally agree that, since these games are so linear and for some people quite repetitive, the underlying story can do wonders to how it’s received. Another way of changing it up to keep the player interested is to add puzzles, Zelda games have always implemented them into their story and they felt natural so it added a layer of interest for the audience. However, with puzzles it can be difficult to make them feel natural and sometimes they can be quite laborious to the player – moving boulders in specific patterns in Pokemon for example (but at least these puzzles weren’t common throughout the game). I feel like your game would benefit more from storytelling rather than puzzle-making, possibly add more NPCs to talk to. Some games have piles of skeleton to show that the people before you had failed the quest, even having one or two scattered before your main boss could add a bit of creepiness to the game design, they could possibly talk (like in Zelda) about what happened to them.
You’ve obviously thought about this in great deal, especially due to the fact that you’ve described your story as “stilted”. Like you referenced in your post, Aaerseth’s suggestion that successful games find a balance between the landscape and the path the creator intends, is hugely relevant to your project.
If I could make a suggestion about the story; make it simple. Sometimes some of the most amazing concepts arise from the simplest premise. A problem faced by many RPG’s is that of world-building alongside character-building, and within the time frame we have been given that is an extensive task.
I suggest bringing it all back to the your main character. How does the world react to them? Do they have certain quirks that other characters can comment on? Could your character perhaps have internal thoughts that are only shared by your main character and the player? Essentially the most important part is finding out why the player should care for your main character, and the rest of the dialogue from NPC’s should fall into place after that.
If you’re interested, I came across a journal article about writing good characters a while back for a project. I think this might help guide you in overcoming the writing obstacles you’ve been having with your game: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/3/pages/level-10-dot-4-writing-good-characters
Other than that, I wish you the best of luck!
Jacob I believe you have really put in a lot of effort into your project and it really does show with the amount of work you have made. The game you have made looks really awesome and I bet would be heaps fun to play. I can even admit by the work of Espen Aaerseth’s paper you have really connected it to every aspect of your game to further improve it.
I agree from the paper the game needs a great landscape for the adventure to begin however a story is needed to captivate the player as well as give it more of a replay ability. I like that you know where you need to go from here to improve your game further. Again, well done.