Hi all! Over the past few years of work on 1001 Odysseys, we've worked through lots and lots of design ideas, and we wanted to share some of the fascinating choices we've made with you all. As we approach the Kickstarter campaign, more articles will appear below on topics relevant to our decisions about narrative, gameplay, and fun!
Topic 1: No Wrong Choices
Choice is the heart of our game. At every juncture, the crew of the Odyssey (that's you!) must decide what to do next. These decisions drive the narrative, and also your investment in the story. There are many games and books (and thanks to Bandersnatch, now even a movie!) that've tackled narrative choice before, and one bit we found in common for the majority of them was the concept of right/wrong choices.
These choices manifest in different ways. For example, in a Choose Your Own Adventure book the wrong choice will lead to your imminent demise -- a humorous page terminating with THE END. In Time Stories, a wrong choice starts stacking time against you, and with enough wrong choices you'll have to reboot to complete the mission. While playing Tales of the Arabian Nights, a wrong choice might give you a status effect, cost you a few turns, or just waste your effort. A right choice in any of these pushes you forward, and it's usually clear that you've made the correct choice.
In all of these situations, the right choice's main benefit is to ignore the wrong choice. Sure, you can go back and check to see all the ways you could've died/messed up, but once you win, there's not as much incentive to go back and see all the ways you could've lost. This concept inspired us to do something different. There's no winning or losing in 1001 Odysseys, but there're many different story endings you can reach in each book.
So, as we designed our narrative trees, we avoided creating paths that were simply incorrect, focusing instead on having choices that were different. The effect that this has had on playtesters is fascinating. They no longer stressed over which option would have lead to failure, instead focusing on what they wanted to do. When they looked back at the story, it was no longer through the lens of "what would've happened if we failed?" Instead, it's a question of "Oh wow, what else could've happened? Let's go try that!" Since the end of a chapter can lead to multiple different chapters (Ch1 can go to Ch2 or Ch3 in our demo), there's greater incentive to go back and try new things. And whether playing for the first time, or second or third, that feeling of exploration and wonder persists, which is a good thing.
Topic 2: Kid-Friendly vs Childish
For 1001 Odysseys, one of our core writing goals was that we wanted to create a vibrant, bright, and fun universe to explore. There's a lot of dark, gritty, and frankly grim sci-fi and fantasy out there, and while we and others certainly enjoy it, we wanted to go in a different direction. We specifically loved the idea of families playing our game with their younger children, and decided our stories should be "kid-friendly."
It's easy as authors to underestimate the capacity of kids and young adults to read stories with depth, and to make things "childish" instead of accessible to younger folks, something we didn't want to do! One of our favorite works to draw inspiration from is the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, which presents an utterly weird and bizarre universe. It doesn't sugar-coat things, but while it contains plenty of biting satire, it never descends into needless violence or overtly adult themes. We loved that approach, and enjoy any time comedy can succeed through its quirkyness rather than resorting to shock. 1001 Odysseys is all about fun and strange adventures, and we certainly find ways to include satirical bits where appropriate.
Responsible elders can rest assured that no Plumplim will spew forth a string of swears and crass words, although if you make one really mad, they might resort to calling you "unpleasantly unripe." At the same time, we embrace topics that have depth, even while we're having silly space adventures. We're here to poke fun at bureaucracies and governments and powerful individuals who have lost sight of their own humility, and any of the other absurd but slightly real situations you'll encounter. We want you to laugh countless times while playing our game, but we also want you to learn, and think back on how some of those quirky events reflect on our own (frankly bizarre -- nice work, 2019) world.
Topic 3: Painting Worlds
To set the stage for our stories, we've created a set of maps that bring the worlds of Insula to life. The map for Brumigum is the background image for Plumplim.com, which you've seen every time you've visited the site. Today, our artists Cari Corene and Amanda Coronado join us to show the process from start to finish of creating the beautiful map for another world: Terragast. Terragast is where the second Prologue Adventure is taking place!
Amanda: First rough is a small ballpoint ink drawing; this was one of several thumbnails in which we were trying to decide how the map should be laid out. A: Next, this rough was printed out, and a tighter pencil drawing was made on top of it. A: This was printed out AGAIN, and an even tighter pencil drawing was made on top of that. Feedback from the gaming team was incorporated. A: The drawing was then scanned, and then edits were made on top. Some of these edits were made with the lighting of the final painting in mind.
Cari: I edited this lineart before it was inked, mostly with lighting and color in mind. Where is the light hitting the mountain? I want to see facets of light and shadow. A: The drawing is then printed a third time, and the lineart is inked in black india ink. A: The lineart is then scanned, cleaned up, and color adjustments are made so the lineart will mesh with the painting. This is then printed directly onto watercolor paper in waterproof printer ink. Then the painting begins!
C: I lightened the clouds on this lineart before printing it on watercolor paper, because I knew the sky, clouds, and peaks of mountains would be the lightest parts, and I didn't want black lines on white fading colors. Fading the black lines also helps add deeper back perspective. C: Now the painting starts. The paper has the line art printed on it. I use 140 lb. Arches Cold Press paper. I soak the paper in a bathtub (I had an old roommate walk in on me doing this, and she thought I was punishing my drawing for not being good enough). Watercolor paper is made mostly of cotton, so I am making the paper expand by soaking it. I then staple the wet paper to a board to keep it stretched. It helps the painting not ripple, or at least ripple less. While the just stretched paper is still completely soaked, I do my first layer of paint. I have mixed my colors so they are instantly ready while the paper is still as dripping as possible. I want the paint to blend into a base environmental color layer. I am thinking about atmosphere, not detail, I paint this with only a 1" flat brush. C: The paper dries, and the first layer of paint fades a lot after it soaks into the paper. Watercolor is about glazing colors on top of each other. The real work begins now with layering paint. There are some areas of layer 1 that are only a haze of pink light. I now start layering rock and tree and water colors on top of that. C: Keep layering. And layering . . . I spent around two or three weeks painting this. Sometimes the time is spent picking the correct blend of colors to go on top of each other multiple times. C: At a point watercolor can become too much wet for the paper. It also can only get so dark sometimes. I like to use colored pencils to pull out details, add color, and even lighten areas if needed because colored pencil is opaque. C: Sometimes every color is used. Even for pieces that don't look like they'd involve that color. C: I scan the painting now. I use a small Epson scanner (I think Epson gives good colors), and I just square the edges of the painting and scan it bit by bit, sliding the edges of the painting along the edges of the scanner as a guide, and piece it together in Photoshop. C: Here are some close ups of edits. Sometimes people would like to call me out for not being a true watercolor painter. ^____^ But I have this powerful tool that is Photoshop. I would be an idiot not to work in mixed media. C: And here it is, the finished thing. :D Welcome to Terragast!
Topic 4: Passage of Time
"Sure, there's a princess in a castle somewhere holding back the forces of all that is evil in the world, but go ahead and spend five weeks scouring the lands for that one specific sword so you can show a little kid how cool it looks. She'll wait." - A slightly salty princess, probably.
The passage of time over the course of a story is something that we have been trained to expect in books. The story flows through changes in time, usually forwards, sometimes backwards through flashback, but always changing. Video games treat time differently, freezing time while players complete quests and then advancing time all at once when important cutscenes happen, weeks passing in a 20-second visual. In 1001 Odysseys, we strive to be closer to the book side of things, letting time move forward as players make progress in the story.
But in a game where players are choosing what they want to read next, how do we the writers make sure that time is always flowing in the right direction? We don't explicitly track time on the table, but we can read the state of the Mission Control Board, the Passport, and the Map to determine "when" players are in the story. Once players make enough progress (tracked with Momentum that they acquire by reading some bits of the story), the game pushes them forward to the next moment in time. Morning becomes noon, or an unusual situation becomes urgent. Players won't be able to discover every little story bit before morning turns to noon, so they make choices about what to do. If they earn progress with that choice, time moves forward.
Topic 5: Collaborative vs. Individual Writing
The writing in 1001 Odysseys is more important than in most tabletop games, because 1001 Odysseys is, well, a story game! You are playing through a Story and making choices within that Story. Therefore, it is essential that the choices you make and the paragraphs you read are compelling and entertaining. We want you to keep reading and to keep playing!
When we begin to write a Story for 1001 Odysseys, we usually start with a brainstorming session. This can start as a collaborative endeavor, usually through a conference call, but sometimes we sit back and think of our own ideas which we will then bring to a meeting later. Especially for a story-heavy game like 1001 Odysseys, we are always churning ideas in our heads and sifting through story possibilities.
When we feel we have a good set of ideas, whether it be characters, narrative choices, locations, or plot arcs, we present them to others on the team who can then give constructive feedback as needed. Naturally, we come up with dozens more ideas than actually make it into the game!
After presenting ideas and choosing the ones we feel are the strongest and the most interesting, we then go to drafting a Story outline. This can be as detailed or as broad as we need it to be, depending on where we are in the process. Once we have a Story outline that covers the entire narrative arc, beginning, middle, and end, we can begin to divide the Story into Chapters, arranged on a branching choice tree.
Finally, once the Story has been fully mapped, it is time to write paragraphs. This is the most exciting part of all, because it is the writing that you the player will get to see when you play the game. We go through several drafts, revising and editing each other's work, to make sure that the paragraphs are engaging, detailed, and enjoyable to read through.
Working as a writing team on 1001 Odysseys is especially helpful, because everyone has such good ideas! The unique voices of our writing team are indispensable, especially when it comes to writing unique characters and coming up with off-the-wall ideas for new Chapters. And with such a lot of writing to do (about 400 pages worth of content), it is crucial to have multiple people working on the project.