Although art, screenshots, and music are much more exciting to share when talking about my progress for Shadowdawn Genesis, I thought this week I’d share my thoughts on an often overlooked aspect of game design which I’ve been working on since New Year’s Day called “event planning”. This topic is little discussed in the independent game communities because, frankly, most non-RPGs developed by indies aren’t complex enough to concern themselves with it. With many prominent independent developers speaking out for less narrative and more gameplay focused ideas, and most indie RPGs made to be barebones story-telling devices with little in the ways of true side content, the role of Event Planner may feel unnecessary.
Of course, I am in the camp that feels such a dogmatic approach to game development sans narrative is a terrible restriction on the art, and thus I have a need for Event Planning. This role often encompasses things such as cutscenes at its bare-minimum, but it also involves flagging key points of the plot of a game. Each “plot checkpoint” no matter how minor affects the entire game to some degree, and it is important as the planner to identify each one correctly and have the world react as necessary. This is especially important for open-world games such as the Legend of Zelda series as certain plot elements actually open up new places to explore, whether through story-telling or obtaining a key item that allows the bypassing of an obstacle. As I stated earlier, most games are so straightforward that this is done almost automatically without any need to plan, but a game like Shadowdawn Genesis is a bit more complex as the story is about the player and how they want to experience the world and interact with the supporting characters.
So the first phase was simple enough. I had to break down the plot into specific subgoals, which is fundamentally what all game developers do for progression-based games to some capacity, especially if a story is involved. But now comes the tricky part. Each character has their own story arc that is attached to them alone, loosely tied to Arashi’s adventure through Foxfire and how it proceeds. They are entirely optional and may or may not be tied to adding them to the player’s party. These side stories have their own rewards (though I love a good story, I know many players do side content expecting some sort of gameplay boost), so the story should reflect that. The trick for this becomes locating “walls” that are overcome by reaching certain parts of the main plot checkpoints, so that a player can’t just race through a supporting character’s side story and get a game breaking tool or weapon before the plot even starts. Furthermore, there may be time-sensitive and context based substories that involve certain characters, where some plot point later in the story may make the substory irrelevant or anachronistic.
So now we have a chart, listing the main plot points, and showing the start/endpoints of each phase of each character that has development throughout the game. At this point we also have to take into consideration how the tertiary NPCs, the townspeople, react to news they’ve heard as the plot progresses, and how they react to certain people in the party as well as well as WHEN they are talked to in day/night contexts. It becomes quite complex very quickly locating when certain special events are triggered based on all these scenarios (and especially when they are no longer available) and this is where an Event Planner really becomes a necessity. Then on top of all this, the events that are triggered actually have to be interesting! Though some of that probably rests in the dialog writer’s and scripter’s hands – assuming they aren’t the same person as the planner.
Well, I’m not sure if there is anything useful in this posting for other indie developers, but it does serve to show just how deep this RPG is going to be. Most action/real-time RPGs don’t have this much depth when it comes to interactions, but there have been some notable exceptions in the past that have proven they are indeed a rare but treasured breed of game. I’m not afraid to shoot for the same goal, no matter how much effort it takes.