Hi-Tech Writer for Hire



Recent Work
Skills & Tools
Startup Specialist

About This Site
Last Update:
11/02/07 [log]

Site Map

Site problems? Go here.

 Story Development 





Control Freak - Working Title






The enclosed sample is long and requires a bit of explanation. A Bay Area game company had already begun development on an unusual project. They had a team mostly composed of artists and game designers that had a license for an interesting game environment. In this game world, the player controlled a flying creature whose goal was to open doors and de-activate hazards for a weaker character that the player also controlled. So, the game mechanic switched between control of the human and his or her familiar. The art team wanted a subterraean, post-apocalyptic feel to the environment, and everyone wanted a great story.

That was about all that they had. The team was split on a number of issues, and development had begun to stagnate. So, they went outside the company to find someone to unify the vision.

Because of their need for resolution, this sample was written in about three days and presented only a new direction for the story. Subsequent drafts presented the full story, but since most projects that call upon contractors begin with some fixed elements, this sample seemed more appropriate.



This doc is quite long. Use the links at the top of the document to jump to other chapters.

  Jump to...     



This document is divided into the following sections:

  • Character - Outlines the rationale behind the two player-controlled characters and their relationship.
  • Mood - Describes how the characters and the art, from the team and from other cultural sources, influence the Story Architecture.
  • Story Architecture - A paraphrasing of the dramatic shape of the story. This is the nuts and bolts of the story.
  • Comments on Architecture - A list of issues generated by the team and how they are addressed in the Story Architecture. Plus, a few additions.
  • Scenario Ideas - Three ideas for environmental overlays for the Story Architecture. Three very different settings.
  • Errata - Miscellaneous thoughts on the game, the story and the development process.

While you can read each section individually, the overall thought process is best understood if the doc is read start to finish.

Sorry for the outpouring, but when I gotta go, I gotta go. Busy folks should read the Bullet List.

Here we go...


I can't tell you why this character should be male; I can only tell you why it shouldn't be female. The game seems to draw inspiration from Tomb Raider. It was mentioned several times in the meeting. Given the spacious, soft-angle environments and the third-person point of view, comparisons between the two will be inevitable. So let's compare them.

Lara Croft, the character in Tomb Raider, is a great riot-grrl; she kicks ass. In this game, the main character does not kick ass. The main character is almost passive; the most interesting gameplay will come through the bat creature and its interactions with the main character. So, do you want the main character, a passive character, to be female, if that female character is going to draw comparisons to a much stronger female character?

"She's like Lara Croft, but weak."

I don't think so. It doesn't work for comparative reasons. It doesn't work for "the same old thing" reasons.

I think that the main character should be male, and the bat-familiar should be female in spirit. In fact, I would bring forward the feminine elements in the bat-creature. Fluttering wings, a certain grace, perhaps the shape of the face--all of these things should be amplified to give the creature an appealing femininity.

The activities of the bat creature have a feminine component to them as well. She is a healer; her touch can turn back this infestation. Mama's gonna make it all better.

Against the enemy, she should be effective in the opposite way. She can control the bigger, dumber brutes with ease. The cunning, sexless creatures become her greatest foes.

She is the character's lover and, by extension, also that of the player. Treat the two characters like lovers; the main character and this female bat are alone together wandering the universe. It strengthens the symbiosis and feeds into the haunting environment. Separate, they are weak and often overwhelmed by the world. Together, they are strong.

In some ways, you can think of the main character as the tinkerer in Blade Runner. He is weakened, compromised somehow and isolated from his fellow man. He is a putterer alone in his workshop. His only friend in the world is a bat, and a mechanical one at that. He has created his own society, and it, too, is compromised.

The cleverness of this physically weak individual carries him and his familiar through all sorts of hazards. I think that the development team's intuition to limit the physical attributes of the main character and to link his fate with this bat creature are correct. However, I have another comment about his attributes in the "Errata" section.

This is not to say that it should be a gothic-romance tale; we aren't going to Stonehenge. There should be plenty of opportunity for humor in the game and the relationship. Think of Wallace and Grommitt; I've thought of Grommitt as a female influence on him. And so much of the humor of those stories is non-verbal. It's the raise of Grommitt's eyebrow. It's the tilt of his head. An entire language of non-verbal communications could be developed here. And the bat creature can make sounds. It could be a lot of fun for the artists and sound people on the team to create these interesting characters and their dynamic.

In addition, there will be plenty of "dead air" places in the environment. These can be filled with little dialogs between the two characters. Think of R2D2 and C3PO wandering the desert at the beginning of Star Wars. We, the audience, hear a great deal of dialog which establishes their relationship. By the time they are captured by the Children with Red Eyeballs, we know that R2D2 is the resourceful plugger, and C3PO is, well, the bitch. But a funny bitch. In games, dead air = charact-air.

So that's my opinion: the main character shouldn't be female which doesn't leave us much choice. A male main character, then, and a female bat creature. And they are lovers wandering the universe. Which brings us to another point.


Looking over those movie sources (Brazil, Dark City, Metropolis), I see a pattern in the moods. To an artist, they represent a "noir" look or a retro sensibility thrown at the future. To a writer, they speak of an exploration of the self.

Consider the main characters in these movies. With the exception of perhaps City of Lost Children, all of the main characters are somehow alienated from their community. They meet people, but the connections are incomplete at best, hostile at worst. The main characters and their humanistic values are the aliens. They are the artists, the sensitive souls trapped in a hostile world.

Someone's laughing right now, but think about it: what does it mean to be an artist? It means to have a point of view on the world that is unique. The world, to you, looks different from how it looks to everyone else. And that viewpoint comes from pulling the things inside of you and externalizing them somehow. By looking in, the artist sees what's outside in a unique way.

And generally speaking, the insides of the soul are not populated with people; there's room for maybe one more In There, right? We see this mentality in many of the sets of these movies. The detail is regular and anonymous; any personality in it is applied on either a vast scale (gaping dark windows, a flying buttress without decoration) or through mechanical means (pulleys that pull nothing, a snarl of overhead cabling). Lines are distorted and bent. Everything looks familiar somehow, but nothing is recognized.

In this kind of art style, the worlds are inverted; what was inside the artist (distorted imagery, uniqueness of vision) has become externalized, and a sense of objectivity (that building looks strange, how come the street runs into a wall) becomes internalized. The world, in effect, gives the artist everything he sought, and in so doing, mocks him back.

By the way, this is a strength of the game concept. These worlds of the self dovetail nicely into the game mechanic. After all, a single-player game is an introverted exercise. (Side note: it also suggests why the game doesn't translate directly to multi-player. See "Errata" for more.).

But this doc is about the story. How does this introverted world affect the story?

Tone and Story

The environment explores the insides of the human spirit, of course, and the art should externalize this adventure. To borrow from the world of literature, it is the adventure into the Heart of Darkness. The constancy in Heart is the river; there is water, and the water flows into more water, organically, until we arrive at the jarring reality of the horror, the horror.

The changes, then, in the art of the game should have a flow to them. They acquire more and more pattern, as we proceed. What is originally alien and jarring becomes too horribly familiar at the end.

In Heart of Darkness, the main character begins in a world of external connections, a world jarred out of equilibrium by war, but a place that is nonetheless knowable in concrete terms. In the beginning, our man is a soldier who interacts with other soldiers, who takes orders from a superior. In the outside world, he has place, he has station. And then he heads up-river, into the heart, where the real menace lies.

And he is alone. There are others on his journey, but they are either foreigners who communicate incompletely with him or corrupted English-speakers. Or they are outright threats. He must negotiate these creature threats and the environmental threats armed only with his discipline, his courage and his cleverness--until he realizes that these adversaries are really himself.

So our character is fighting himself, and when he dies, it is a quiet, anonymous death. His victories are his own; his losses are shared with no one else.

This is the mood that I want to bring to the game, routed through some of the ideas that the team has generated. It is perhaps better expressed in the following outline of the architecture of the story/game.

Story Architecture

Opening Movie

In the Opening, WE SEE the CHARACTER and his BAT, two souls alienated from the rest of the world. He is a younger MAN on the fringe of the world, looking not back at it but out into the nothingness.

In their wandering, the CHARACTER and his pet BAT discover and penetrate this other world.

Chapter 1 : Discovery

The game opens, and WE HEAR the CHARACTER sucking for air. The RED health meter on-screen begins to flash near empty--he is asphyxiating. This world is poisoning him. He is the alien here.

Directly in front of him are two VESTS, one low on the wall and one high on the wall. In bold YELLOW letters across them is written AIR. The PLAYER can choose to grab the lower one, but if he uses the BAT to retrieve the upper one, he discovers a VEST with larger capacity. the PLAYER quickly learns the value of the BAT.

When the PLAYER puts on the VEST (or uses the BAT to do so), WE HEAR a sigh of relief. The health meter changes from red to YELLOW, the color of the lettering on the VEST. When he switches to the BAT, he notices that the mechanical creature has a health meter in a DIFFERENT COLOR. The BAT and the CHARACTER require different resources.

The rest of the first level should be mechanical puzzles and switch-pulling. Through these, the PLAYER learns the mechanics of the game.

Near the end of the level, he sees a horribly mutated creature, a mash of living animal tissue and technology. On its head (or back) is a small target of some kind. It is to this target that the BAT attaches. All of the MONSTERS have this attachment. The PLAYER must destroy this one, either with a weapon or with the BAT.

When the MONSTER is dead, WE HEAR a distinctive SOUND of a door opening somewhere nearby. It is the sound that we come associate with the clearing of a level. When the PLAYER hears this sound, he knows that he has taken care of all the business on this level and can now exit.

But wait: the PLAYER notices that he is beginning to run out of AIR. The yellow meter has fallen to near-empty. When the CAMERA pivots around in front of the CHARACTER, the PLAYER SEES that yellow lettering for AIR has turned BLACK. If it completely drains, the CHARACTER begins to gasp and gag. The PLAYER has a few seconds to find relief, or the CHARACTER collapses and dies. GAME OVER.

If the PLAYER keeps moving towards the door to the next level, he discovers a BIG NEEDLE sticking out of the wall. It is YELLOW, the color of his fast-disappearing health. He must literally pierce a RECEPTICLE in the abdomen of the VEST with this NEEDLE. WE HEAR "Ahhhh" as his health meter slowly fills. But he is vulnerable; while he is feeding, he can neither move nor fire a gun to defend himself.

The letters on his chest are once again bright YELLOW. His tank full, he proceeds to the next level.

Level 2

At the beginning of the next level, he finds another recharge NEEDLE. Like Quake, the game will allow the PLAYER to restore or at least improve his health at the beginning of each level. Otherwise, the PLAYER may find himself beginning levels with so little health that he can't reach a NEEDLE before he expires.

In Level 2, the PLAYER encounters his first ZOMBIE, a mutated human of some kind. His skin is a lifeless blue; he is a flaccid kind of Borg. The ZOMBIE is walking in a trance, performing simple grunt tasks; he doesn't respond to the PLAYER's presence at all. Near the ZOMBIE, high on the wall is a VEST. If the PLAYER uses the BAT to put the VEST on the ZOMBIE, the ZOMBIE comes back to life. His color turns the same as that of the CHARACTER. He might even say something like "Thanks." Right away, though, the ZOMBIE heads for a nearby NEEDLE.

After the ZOMBIE's rescue, WE HEAR the SOUND of the level-ending DOOR OPEN. If the PLAYER does not rescue the ZOMBIE, the door does not open. He cannot exit the level until he figures this out.

The rest of the chapter focuses on schooling the PLAYER in the simple mechanics of the game with an appropriate ramping of enemies.

Chapter 2 : The Factory

Now the PLAYER has entered an area of greater activity. SOUNDS of machinery cranking, the heavy humming of large processors of some kind--something is definitely going on.

The PLAYER finds more Borg-like ZOMBIES. Using the BAT, he must carry VESTS to these people to convert them. Of course, more MONSTERS attack and try to thwart his progress. Indeed, the SERGEANT MONSTER, a flying parasite, tries to capture the converted humans and turn them back into ZOMBIES. This creature re-appears often in the game.

To make the game easy at this point, VESTS are easily available. There should be crates that, when shot or opened, contain VESTS. There should be closets full of VESTS. At this point, acquiring VESTS is not a large part of the gameplay. The gameplay should focus on the converting of ZOMBIES and the killing of MONSTERS.

The PLAYER continues through this Chapter in the same pattern: converting ZOMBIES, killing MONSTERS. He begins to see some patterns in the architecture. Whoever is in charge here is manufacturing something. Lo and behold, he discovers what it is: the manufacture is these ZOMBIES. In Chapter 2, Level 2, the PLAYER finds the PROCESSING CHAMBER and must destroy it. Unfortunately, the humans who were in the process of being processed are neither ZOMBIES nor VEST-wearers. They are trapped and will die that gagging death.

Near the exit of Chapter 2, Level 3, the PLAYER discovers the start of the process, a receiving area for humans. These people are captured by automated probes which return to the factory with victims. But the process is dead, and there are no more VESTs. These people who arrive gasp and gag and die. The PLAYER can do nothing about it. In frustration, he destroys the probes.

During the last two levels, the PLAYER has noticed that he is burning AIR at a faster rate. Right by the exit to the next Chapter, he finds a VEST in a different color. He puts in on and finds that the YELLOW pipe on-screen is fatter and longer. This VEST has a significantly larger capacity, and everything seems back to normal.

Chapter 3 : Destroy the Supply Route

At the beginning of Chapter 3, the PLAYER finds more retrieval pods. They are busy, as more and more humans arrive at the receiving areas, only to die because there is no process to receive them any more. The PLAYER must destroy these pods. At the end of Chapter 3, Level 1, he has destroyed the last of the receiving pods.

That is not to say that there are no more ZOMBIES. The PLAYER continues to find and convert ZOMBIES, but it is getting more and more difficult to find VESTS. The VESTS are no longer in the immediate vicinity. Sometimes, the PLAYER must use the BAT to fly into ventilation ducts or down into canyons to retrieve VESTS. The BAT is becoming more and more valuable to finishing the game.

And the CHARACTER is becoming more of a liability. By now, the PLAYER has noticed that the CHARACTER is burning AIR at a faster and faster rate. He is still able to find NEEDLES, but he must find them more often. When he does feed, sensitive ears will notice the subtlest change in the SOUND--or maybe it's the perception of a change. In the beginning, the stab of the needle sounded like the filling of a car tire. Now, it seems to sound like the hiss of a snake. The bright and shiny YELLOW of each NEEDLE doesn't look so bright and shiny anymore. In the PLAYER's eyes, it is kind of a putrid sulfurous color. His salvation has become his need.

In the next two levels, the PLAYER discovers the horrible mechanisms by which the animal tissue (humanoid or animal-animals) are mashed together with a piece of technology to create these specialized MONSTERS that seem to be protecting and overseeing the place. WE FIND the room in which the TARGETS are placed on these creatures to control them. WE FIND the room in which limbs are hacked off and replaced with rollers, springs and saws. It's gory in a cartoon-like way. The PLAYER must destroy these pieces of machinery. He must halt the process again.

But his pathway is not without resistance. The MONSTERS have been programmed to defend "their mother." And in Chapter 3, Level 3, WE FIND that these MONSTERS and the process are controlled by OVERSEERS, large creatures that look distinctly ALIEN. Ah-ha, the PLAYER thinks, the enemy has been revealed. These guys are tough to kill; every encounter with one should be a battle of weapons and wits.

Worse, the PLAYER notices that he is burning AIR at an even faster rate. It is harder to find more AIR; the NEEDLES seem to be further and further apart. As if to mock him, he begins to see pieces of VESTS--shoulder straps, red materials, even translucent plates lettered "A-I-R." Everywhere, he sees AIR but can't seem to get enough of it. The world, the art of it, takes on the look of a ghetto. Walls are dark and anonymous, features blurred into facades. The only things that seem to stand out are the giant NEEDLES. It is the world of the junkie. The PLAYER is hooked on AIR.

Chapter 4 : The Horror! The Horror!

These are the grinder levels. The opposition comes in larger and larger waves. ZOMBIES must be converted, but the PLAYER is fighting more and more MONSTERS. And the OVERSEERS.

There is more than one kind of OVERSEER; they seem to be a specialized army of sorts, with divisions of responsibility, differences in attack. It is clear to the PLAYER that they are controlling the place.

But in Chapter 4, Level 2, the PLAYER finds that the OVERSEERS, too, are being manufactured. At the beginning of the level, WE FIND the end of the assembly line. As the PLAYER works backwards through the rooms, WE FIND the earlier and earlier stages of the assembly line, where arms and legs are attached, the brain is reprogrammed. By the time the PLAYER reaches the end of the level, WE FIND that the OVERSEERS are not living creatures. The OVERSEERS are robots.

Who, then, is running the process? And what is its purpose?

The PLAYER doesn't have much time to contemplate those questions, as the action is pretty heavy in here. The number of ZOMBIES is diminished, as the PLAYER must grind through MONSTERS and OVERSEERS. So there aren't too many VESTS or NEEDLES, making the fight more difficult for the desperate CHARACTER, junkied-out on AIR.

In the next level, though, AIR is suddenly all around. NEEDLES are conveniently located in each room, and VESTS are available in quantity. Entire rooms are filled with VESTS, until the PLAYER turns the corner to SEE (the horror, the horror) a supermarket of VESTS. Row after row of VESTS--in the refrigerators, in the meat locker, near the checkout stands. It is Retail Hell perverted; whoever these people are, they aim to sell the world its last product--addiction.

And the PLAYER realizes that he is part of the problem. Through the next rooms, where WE SEE pieces of the ad campaign (poster slug line: "Everyone needs a little AIR.") and promotional materials for AirCorp Corporation, the PLAYER can think about all of those ZOMBIES that he converted. Instead of ZOMBIE-hood, he gave them addiction to AIR. Instead of heroin, they're hooked on methadone. The VEST gave them back their minds, but in so doing, the PLAYER stole their souls. And only the PLAYER can save them. He has to put a stop to this.

In Chapter 4, Level 3, the VESTS are manufactured. The PLAYER must destroy these VESTS and the process that makes them. He has destroyed the methadone lab.

At the end of the level, in front of the exit door is a single VEST in BLACK. It has a very large capacity. At the gates of Hell, Satan has bought the CHARACTER's soul. There is no turning back now.

Chapter 5 : Final Showdown

The PLAYER has entered the bowels. It is claustrophobic in here. The ambient HUM of the machinery is quite loud.

And this new VEST burns AIR good and quick. The PLAYER should be good and sick of breathing AIR. He longs to breathe real air.

Yet he still doesn't understand what the heck is going on. Who's in charge here? And why are they doing this? What's the final goal? The PLAYER has arrived at the bottom; there is nothing here but him, the mechanical process, the MONSTERS that protect it, and the bane of his existence: AIR. He longs for a sense of perspective; some means of seeing what the hell he's done to himself and the world.

Overhead, WE SEE translucent piping. WE have seen it before, but the pipes are thicker here and seem to emit a hissing sounds, not unlike the sound when he pumps his guts full of AIR. Through the rooms of Level 1, this piping joins with other pipes into thicker pipes. The capillaries become veins. The PLAYER is headed for the heart.

When the pipe has grown so thick as to almost overwhelm the room, it suddenly disappears into the wall. Nearby, the PLAYER finds a door to a small room with a pad on the floor. He steps onto the pad and teleports into a small room, surprising the OVERSEER in it. When he defeats the OVERSEER, he notices that one wall of the room is dominated by a window which looks onto a city street. Through the glass, he can see humans, healthy humans, moving back and forth on the sidewalk. Cars come and go. It is a bright day. On the wall next to the window, WE SEE a screen where the CAMERA is CLOSE-UP on a SEWER GRATE down in the street. Below the screen, electronics seem to be recording changes in levels. All of this machinery, this ambient hum, the snake-like hiss, is being directed through this anonymous GRATE. The world is being poisoned. Whoever is doing this is coldly, cruelly creating their own market. What are they selling? Slaves. A slave population that must do what it is told or face extinction.

The only way out of the room is back through the teleport pad.

The remainder of the Chapter becomes a game of "Follow the Pipes." In Level 2, the PLAYER discovers the controls for the AIR generator. Through a series of puzzles, he figures out how to switch off the AIR NEEDLES inside and to switch on the AIR NEEDLES in the remaining escape pods. He opens doors to these pods and switches the NEEDLES on. The remaining ZOMBIES in VESTS move into the pods.

But in switching off the inside NEEDLES, the PLAYER realizes that he has only one more tank of gas. One more breathe of AIR.

In Chapter 5, Level 3, the PLAYER finally discovers the controls to the environmental poisoner. But it is protected by a DEFENSIVE SYSTEM. This system is integrated into the backgrounds and the environment itself. There is no Big Baddie at the end; the Big Baddie is part of the machine. In this manner, the solution places an emphasis on problem-solving instead of muscle-force. When the PLAYER destroys the DEFENSIVE SYSTEM, he knows that he'll never get an answer to who created this thing.

No time to get philosophical: the PLAYER must figure out how to shut down the machine, turn on the self-destruct timer and haul ass to the last remaining escape pod. When the PLAYER hops in, we CUT TO:

Victory Movie

The CHARACTER and the BAT fly as fast as they can, up and up and up. Behind them, the machine explodes. The PLAYER rips off his VEST and takes a deep breath of real air. THE_END.

Comments on Architecture

Team Themes

Here's how the above architecture addresses some of the team's themes, concerns and interests. Unfortunately, good story is not Plug and Play, so any issues that need addressing should be addressed now and in a careful manner; unraveling and rebuilding a story over and over is not easy work and is a good way to kill the energy of it. In fact, that process ad nauseum contributed to the death of a former project and wasted a year of my life.

So, let's think all of this stuff through now. Please review these Comments, and let me know if you have any opinions on them or anything else in the doc as soon as you can.

1. Danger of Technology

Alyssa (spelling?) mentioned that the team was interested in exploring the dangers of getting too close to technology. Technology is an external force; it's something separate from the individual. In this story of self-exploration, I thought that it would be more dramatic to bring the technology inside, to make it part of the character. Here, the technology is the AIR vests which, over time, become both the PLAYER's blessing and his curse. Technology becomes his drug. Worse, he gets others onto the needle. In the end, he must kick the habit for all of mankind.

In bringing the technology inside the character, I eliminated the notion of a Doctor Evil, a human antagonist who, corrupted by technology, is trying to do in all of mankind. This elimination of an external threat is more in keeping with the theme of addiction. For the real enemy of the addict is not the pusher; it's himself. Thematically, the story is more the swim up-river through the hell of addiction than it is a warning on the dangers of technology.

2. The Factory Idea

It does a pretty fair job of maintaining the environment of a factory. In fact, there are three factories. The first one, the process is manufacturing ZOMBIES. The second factory, which the PLAYER will probably mistake for the Big Factory, manufactures these horrible MONSTERS. In the third factory, however, we realize that the real manufacture is the enslavement of mankind. Or, in Greg Dyer's terms, lil' boxes of Evil, available at the checkout stand.

3. Touching and Healing

It was mentioned that the PLAYER should touch and heal every human on each level in order to proceed to the next. With the BAT, the PLAYER can grab VESTS to put on the slaves to make them "better." They are cured until it's discovered that in curing them, the PLAYER has damned them. But through the PLAYER's actions at the end of the game, the CHARACTER and the BAT rectify the damage.

4. Story, Game and Art

The structure is meant to integrate story and art into the game mechanic. The yellow health-juice is an integral part of the story; it also keeps the player alive. Only by ingesting more poison can the CHARACTER cure himself of it. As the PLAYER progresses through the story, the art should change, streamlining in some ways, to reflect that this world is being perceived through the eyes of an addict.

5. Set Phasers on Think

Except for Chapter 4, the game should place an emphasis on solving puzzles, as the team seemed inclined to do. To me, this is a good strategy; the engine doubtfully can compete with Quake and others in the "Destroy Everything" style of game, and this third-person perspective is sometimes awkward for that kind of game.

However, to make interesting puzzles, it's important to understand how the game mechanic is going to work. As soon as possible, the team should get the two controllable characters in the game, even if there's no art for them. See how they work together, and how the player can switch back and forth between them. Let that experimentation drive puzzle design for the levels. In my opinion.

6. Movies!

While no movies were outlined in the Architecture, it's assumed that there will be movies at the end of each Chapter to briefly summarize what the PLAYER has learned or, in failing to do so, should have learned. Voice-over will be the principle mechanism for conveying the information. Will these End-of-Chapter movies be created with that STOMP technology? Or, does the team plan to do full cut scenes?

7. Happy Ending

While much of the beginning of the game is dark and suggestive of drugs, the PLAYER kicks the habit and saves humanity. Happy days are here again.

...or so we think. Since there is no definite answer to Who is Doctor Evil, we keep the door open for sequels which could be in very different environments. For example, this story could take place at the bottom of an ocean, and the next one could be on a space colony somewhere.

SteveO's Additions

1. Ramping of opposition

I split the non-player characters into three categories: ZOMBIE humans, animal-mechanical MONSTERS and fully mechanized MONSTERS. As the PLAYER progresses through the game, the opposition becomes more and more mechanical until the final MONSTER is the DEFENSIVE SYSTEM that protects the PLAYER's addiction. You might say that the PLAYER gets hooked on this technology and must destroy it in order to save himself and mankind.

2. Sound Design

In these environmental games, sound design is hugely important. It's my opinion that sound gets processed differently from sight in the brain. We are much better at processing visuals in an objective sense. Sound gets into the head by a much more direct, less regulated path. It can make all the difference in the world. So, I'd suggest getting sound people to have a look at this story to see if they can come up with some contributions, too.

3. The Bat

At the beginning of this doc, I mentioned that the BAT and the CHARACTER ought to have a symbiotic relationship, a strong back-and-forth. Wallace & Grommitt and R2D2 & C3PO were mentioned as examples. However, in both cases, the development of that relationship relied on non-verbal communication. R2D2 seemed to speak an entire language of chirps and beeps, and Nick Park spent years developing Grommitt's language of gestures. If the team doesn't feel like it has the resources to go through that process, the BAT might be changed into a CROW that talks. Cheap and easy voice-over could take care of that business.

4. Bat Mechanics

Assuming that the team still wants to go with the bat idea, I admit that there wasn't a lot of discussion about the BAT in this story.

The health of the BAT is based on some different measurement. What makes her sick? What makes her better? I didn't cover it.

Also, at the very beginning, there wasn't good coverage of how the BAT mechanically controls the other characters. Perhaps a frog-like MONSTER could hop on the TARGET on the back of another MONSTER and move it around--as a means of showing the PLAYER how to control these MONSTERS. I don't know.

More time needs to be spent on thinking about the BAT--its abilities, its obstacles, etc.

5. Names

What is the name of the CHARACTER? I saw the name "Jacob" written on some stuff, and that seems to be an okay name. Opinions?

Scenario Ideas

The above stuff is essentially a single story. On top of this architecture, I was thinking of fitting one of the following environmental scenarios.

1. Space Ship

Sometime in the future, in the depths of the ocean. The CHARACTER and his pet BAT are underwater scavengers. By this time, much of the world's treasures lost at sea have been recovered, thanks to sophisticated robotic subs. But the ocean is a big place, and these two scavengers are puttering around in the less popular places where the solitude is more appealing than the prospect of great riches. They traffic in trinkets of junk, until they discover underneath a huge outcropping of rock where it is invisible to cursory sonar from the surface, a huge craft of some kind. A tumor on the ocean floor. It is covered in kelp, coral and barnacles. It has been here for a long time.

The beginning levels look like the control rooms for this alien ship. But where are the aliens? As the PLAYER plows through the levels of this ship, rescuing ZOMBIES and killing humanoid MONSTERS, the world becomes more anonymous and mechanical, more somber and devoid of flavor, until he realizes that it is a giant machine.

In the VICTORY MOVIE, the CHARACTER and the BAT launch in their shuttle up through the deep sea and blast into the air. As they sail across the skies, the CAMERA at a low angle just above the waves, catches a VEST rising from the depths. Just as WE SEE the letters "A-I-R", a wave washes over it and buries it forever.


  • This story was inspired by a recent article in National Geographic on some of the advances in submarine exploration and treasure retrieval. I forget the month, but it was in the last three.
  • In this story, the MONSTERS can be both sea animals and HUMANs. Here's an idea: the deeper that the PLAYER goes into the ship, the older the HUMANs and MONSTERs seem to be. That is, the first MONSTERs could be captured Russian sub sailors (or: Jimmy Hoffa attached to a steamroller). Then, WE SEE mutated Tripoli pirates. Then WE SEE strange extinct animals--a PLATYPUS rewired. In other words, this ship has been polluting the world, planning its demise for a long, long time.
  • In addition to the Jimmy Hoffa character, we could work in all sorts of parodies. Titanic, Jaws, etc.
  • This may be my preferred scenario.

2. Subway Trolls

The story opens underground. The CHARACTER is walking down the subway tracks with his mechanical BAT on his shoulder. By his uniform, WE SEE that he works for the subway. And like the people who live down here, he prefers the underground. The city above, perhaps New York, is too loud, congested and bright--you can't even get a good cup of tea. Down here, it's quiet, and he is left alone.

Someone staggers out of the dark clutching himself. "Help me!" he begs. Before the CHARACTER can react, this...this thing--a human torso organically welded to a railroad pushcar grabs the person, snarls at the CHARACTER and disappears into the dark. WE HEAR the wheek-wheek of the pushcar's wheels and the muted screams of the person, as they fade into the distance. GAME STARTS.

As the PLAYER progresses down through the environment, it changes from the underbelly of the city--subway tracks, homeless people, and sewage lines into something else. The environment loses the slap-dash sense of the layering of construction; it becomes more and more regular. It acquires a sense of unity. It becomes a creature of sorts.

At the bottom, though, we never see the full creature. It is a kind of living hell just below the epicenter of humanity. As in the Story Architecture, the PLAYER must free the ZOMBIES, destroy this poisoner and escape into the world again.


  • In this story, the MONSTERS may be more interesting than the others. Junkies, hookers, pimps, stockbrokers on rollerblades, the hot dog vendor from hell--these are the MONSTERS that the PLAYER must destroy. The characters could be fun.
  • In Chapter 5, the PLAYER should be able to take an elevator up to the small room where he sees a perspective on the whole city and the anonymous SEWER GRATE through which the poison is spewing.

3. The Colony

The CHARACTER and his BAT are surveyors in the jerkwaters of known space when they receive a distress signal from a military cruiser that is in orbit above a small outpost on a nearby planet. By law, they are required to investigate, and the CHARACTER isn't happy about it. A distress signal means people who will demand his time and intrude on his work.

When they arrive at the planet, the cruiser is indeed in orbit above the outpost. But there are no lifesigns aboard. As the CHARACTER noses his craft near the cruiser, a beam from the outpost blasts the cruiser into oblivion. His small craft is knocked ass over tea kettle, and he must crash-land it into the planet. Bruised and battered, he enters the seemingly empty outpost and begins his adventure.

The CHARACTER and the BAT go down a set of stairs and into this underground world carved directly out of the planet's surface. The place is plagued by fitful earthquakes; it is an unstable environment. He encounters ZOMBIEd colonists whom he must convert. The MONSTERS are the mutated soldiers from the cruiser. The aliens, whoever they are, are building a prison society, a trial before the big experiment: Planet Earth.


  • One variation of this story has the environment under the control of a paranoid military leader of the outpost. He has contrived in his mind the notion that "they" are all out to get him. So, he plots the destruction of Earth. The events on this planet are just as test of his "Final Solution" in which a spacecraft carries the poisonous by-products back to Earth.


The following are some miscellaneous thoughts on the game and story.


The CHARACTER should have a small gun of some kind. This gun should be able to drop the weakest enemies with a single shot but should be largely ineffective against the stronger enemies. In this manner, the BAT is still the more valuable weapon, and the game easily translates into a multi-player format without special-purpose development.

This is not to say that it should be a shoot-em-up. By limiting the power of the guns and the number of power-ups for the guns, the focus of the game can be turned away from it. For multi-player, you'll still be able to use many of your level designs which would require the bird to press switches high on the wall by allowing the player to press these switches by shooting them.

A Young Man's Blues

The main character, in my opinion, should be a young man. I just have a hard time seeing an older guy in this environment. Besides, the PLAYER is likely to be a younger feller.


In my game development experience, you can't buy vision, and you can't share it. Granted, pieces can be LOANED to the various heads of the project, but the game, ultimately, must be spearheaded by a single person to carry it through to shipping. On this project, who is that person? This is the person with whom I should most directly work with.


For the final format of the story, the resolution for which I'm shooting is not super-deep for each level. That is, I will only write the things that are required for each level in order to further the story. If I have some suggestions, they will be included separately. In other words, the format will be similar to a film treatment, broken out into segments on each game level.

Top of the Page

(c) 2007 Steven P. Olson. All rights reserved. Samples are for demonstration purposes only.