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Ether Development: Building Narrative around our Game Mechanics.

Pete and I have now been designing and building Ether for about 2 months now whilst also attempting to set up a game design studio and getting our names out there as independent game developers. Its been hard work and we don’t expect it to get any easier going forward yet the progress that we have made have given us absolute faith in our project and the work that we are doing. Creativity is high and being an independent studio has allowed us to really push our ideas into interesting areas of design. As you can see from the title of this post one of these areas is our narrative and game mechanic designs and how they work together within the game.

What we really want to achieve with Ether is a game where what you play really matters and ties in with the narrative, without detracting from the actual game play or breaking the game up into narrative bits and game bits. We wanted to integrate those into a seamless world, where the narrative is integrated into the game play.

Our approach to this was quite simple at first. Lets work out some really cool and solid game play elements, make sure it works with basic design, then take time out to really contemplate whether a strong and compelling narrative could be intertwined into the mechanics. We thought this would be the best possible way to create excellent game play with a good engrossing story…we were wrong.

We found that this resulted in a really nice game play mechanic that played very well, yet the narrative ended up constraining the game play, pulling it into boxes that we really didn’t want to be in. With this in mind we took the best parts of our initial designs and game play and went back to the drawing board. We didn’t have that excitement for that project that we so needed, so we started designing in a slightly different way.

We looked at our ideas as an opportunity to think of narrative elements as we were designing Ether. So when we thought of our awesomely cool game mechanics and a rough setting we thought, what could this be in the game? Why would it be relevant? What would it contribute too? This allowed us to come up with ideas that all linked together in a chain that actually meant something, they were all related to each other through our ideas like a narrative train of thought. We then would look at our environments and look at what we would need in them to compliment the mechanics and then ask the same questions to determine if they would work with each other or if they wouldn’t. We also thought about how the narrative would be brought to the player in game, it needed to be fluent and never detract from game play yet also keep the player engaged and intrigued.

This on going process pulled us from one idea to another till we started to form a coherent and deep world for Ether. It was then that I looked at all the elements and started to piece them together into a fully functioning narrative. The narrative now breaks up into two parts that are forever entwined in the game, the first part being about the character you are playing as, what they are doing, what they are going to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. The second part of the narrative is a story that overlays this one directly in game, that gives reason why you are doing this, what you are going to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. It gives you reason to play and hopefully will keep you playing through to the end.

I have always felt that games are more like books than films. In films you watch a story happen to someone else, they are on an adventure, the events are happening to them. In books, even if it is a character-based novel, you project yourself onto the character through imagination, the events happen to you. You are on an adventure; the companions are your friends. The same applies to videogames, you are in control and your actions will determine the story and this is why narrative when used (for we strongly believe that not all games need narratives) needs to be integrated into everything the player does, sees, feels and hears.

Some games manage this and some games don’t, what we want to achieve is a game that does this that is fun, intriguing, compelling and mesmerising right to the end. We now have a game demo that is designed with a strong game mechanic, a wonderfully interesting world and hopefully a really good story that you will enjoy.

Next time I will hopefully be able to talk to you a little bit more about where we are up to with Ether on a physical level, until then if anyone has any thoughts on our journey whilst developing this game or if anybody wants to find out more about Ether and what we aim for the project please feel free to contact us via the contact tab at the top of the page.