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 [John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design

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[John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design Empty
PostSubject: [John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design   [John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design EmptySun 15 Jan - 4:57

The following article guide/article was written by John Hessler, who was the Technical Art Director at Multiverse, Inc.

If you've got a story to tell, then I think this is a good article to check out.
This can also be found on the Wiki here: here

Conceiving the dream

Welcome to my mind: a strangely dark and twisted realm, but one that I hope has some light to shed on issues and artistic concerns when beginning to develop a game for the Multiverse platform. Multiverse, unlike any other platform before it, offers the greatest opportunity of interactive storytelling yet devised in the modern age. Its promise, a plethora of stories and play experiences that span the genres of today's storytelling landscape, offers to combine the talents of engineers, artists and creative types of many varied backgrounds into an experience, yet unrivaled, for today's entertainment audience. Like dime store novels of yesterday and paperbacks of today the Multiverse platform forms the foundation of a new mode of communication where people can shop for a story experience that fits their desires, and their budgets. In return, creative authors have a new and more effective communications tool with which they can share and market their passions.

The expansive pool of talent that the Multiverse platform will empower to feed the ever-growing audiences of the digital age will doubtless spawn many creative visions, each with their own stories to tell and their own unique skills with which to perform the task.

It is my hope to share foci with these emerging groups: to help inspire a structure that will lead to a successful interactive story experience, and to ensure the end-consumer's immersion and enjoyment of these new unfolding worlds. To quote a famous detective "The game is afoot."

As an artist working at Multiverse, I am continually amazed by the techno- mages in residence, and heir persistence, hard work, and consistent ability to pull new multicolored variations of rabbits out of their hats. Certainly sometimes they sound more like code warriors beating an enemy into submission, but it is with dire consequences that one doubts their magic and assumes them mere single-classed characters. Personally, while scurrying around like a panicked beetle trying to avoid the footfalls of giants, I've had a great deal of fun learning to develop assets for the Multiverse platform. I am a modeler, texture artist, and animator whose preferred area of operations includes a comfortable chair and a dual monitor set up. Don't get me wrong, I leave my comfortable habitat to go experience that large blue stretchy thing with the big shiny bright orb once in a while. But, in all fairness I really love what I do.

The story-driven experience

A good place to start any art project is to understand the story. Story and the elements of storytelling define and refine all the other aspects of creating interesting and coherent worlds that are fun and absorbing. The elements of story are intricately linked with the culmination of the visual-emotive experience of your customer, and as a prerequisite to building compelling worlds and stories this interaction must be in some degree understood by the designers.

The setting of your story determines and shapes the creation of the environment and inhabitants of your world. Theme and pacing have much to do with the feel of your world, or specific environment, to the player/character. Plot controls the history and destiny of your world its inhabitants and many times determines the specific direction of quest tree traversal. Dialog, done properly, gives taste and flair to your world making it more engrossing and helping it maintain the ‘suspension of disbelief’ in the player. In short, all these elements when translated properly into the realm of the story world act to cultivate and enmesh the player into the enactment of their own private Hero’s Journey. Many of the Npcs of the world act as the supporting cast of characters that make this journey of discovery and adventure happen. Mentors, Heralds and Jesters, and the other archetypes of story all have their roles to play and should be present in the world to fulfill the needs of character and story development. Many of the creatures along the way are gate guardians to be overcome in the quest for the elixir of personal fulfillment.

Any good director knows that success of a movie depends on his ability to manipulate the feelings and experiences of the audience to draw out the proper emotional response at just the right moment. The same is true of novels or any other form of good and effective story weaving. It is no different in games, whether it is a fast twitch FPS or an expansive MMORPG. It is the artists job to use his skills and knowledge of tone and color, composition and design, to immerse the player into the new world so he can experience the story fresh and without disruption. Anything the artist can do to bolster the suspension of disbelief and aid the player in a positive feedback of emotive response then the more successful the game will be.

Environmental Layout

Layout of the environment, or level design as it is denigrated too, is vital to the ongoing immersion of the player in the world. The best movies are created where the characters drive the plot and not the reverse, this is the same in good books and short stories. A story that is driven by plot and sweeps the characters along to their allotted predestination has always seemed a little flat and unconvincing. While at the same time a story that is driven by the characters actions and leads to a reciprocal of growth and experience, seems vibrant with the truth of life. This is where many games go wrong.

If a player feels he is being led from on objective to the next with out any real conscious effort then, boredom is the inevitable result. If he travels forever and nothing interesting happens then, boredom is the result. If he has to wade through surge after surge of mindless creatures and makes no real experienced progress then, boredom results. Overall, the balancing out of play areas is vital for the enjoyment of the player and thus his ability to stay and experience what you have to share with him. So don’t have just one straight valley full of mobs to fight through to get to the next objective point. Have three or four to chose from with different pathways to explore, some perhaps subterranean, containing side quests and objectives to give the player enjoyable diversion along the way of his major objective. Balance out the mobs in the area to be hard but not too hard, and always allow the player to feel they are indeed getting somewhere. Perhaps different pathways contain different creatures with differing abilities but all similarly difficult, but perhaps the weaknesses of some make that route better for certain types of players then others. Allow their microchoices to customize their personal journey. Remember that every major goal or destination is part of an overarching plot structure, while the smaller sub goals and destinations are part of a smaller plot weaving that individualizes the story and ads enjoyment.

The pacing of story is also intricately linked to the development of area layout. There should be an increasing difficulty as the character moves through the world of his story experience. Like in a novel or story as the action surges and flows lifting and releasing the emotions of the reader or viewer so to the design of the world should be designed in such a way as to build into a heightened effort and stress that effectively creates a crescendo of excitement at pivotal moments in the players interaction with the environment. Seen in many games many of the creatures of an area get harder and harder as the players get closer to their goal and if the players are good enough they eventually encounter the threshold guardians commonly known as bosses. Soon thereafter, there is a release of the built up pressure as the triumphant characters return to town (or find the next friendly area) in which they can relax and process the experience they have just been through.

As to the art of placement of NPCs it is a excellent idea to learn about their roles and functions in the Hero’s Journey so that you can make informed decisions based on their functioning for the story elements of your customers experience. In short it’s a bad idea to just lump them together in the town areas and think you’ve done good. An excellent book to learn about Campbell's Hero’s Journey would be ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler. This book should be in anyone’s library who wishes to be a teller of tales, and it forms a solid foundation to start exploring the world of story and myth.

Environment Design

Consisting of the landscape, the buildings, the plants and trees and even the critters, properly enacted environmental design is also vital for the continued emersion of the player into the story world. In the ongoing story that the player is taking part in when he is at this place: what should he or she be feeling? Should it be dread, or joy, wonderment or the creeps. Based on the story your choices of color, tonal variation, shape and composition become essential to manipulate the emotions of the player to glean the desired response. Warm colors, pastels and the soft clean colors of sky-blue and healthy green with bright but soft lighting and lots of soft and rounded shapes and open spaces will draw out pleasant feelings and help the player to relax and feel good in his journey. Harsh lighting and tonal variation with colors dark and muted, desaturated with earth-tones and grays, coloring a world of sharp edges an cramped composition, will draw upon the feelings of dread and suspicion. So be cheery or be dreary, but by all means use the environment to manipulate the emotions of the player because it heightens and enriches the experience and fun.

On a side note; there is one mistake that is often made in game art that completely destroys the suspension of disbelief and ultimately the willingness of the player/customer to remain in your world. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they will say things like ‘it just looked kinda fake.’ You don’t hear people saying things like that about WOW or Guild Wars, even though their art is highly stylized and obviously not ‘real’. A crucial ability that marks the art of these worlds from art that looks less real is the understanding that nothing is ever new, and a lot of stuff just breaks. Stuff ages, and gets worn, sun and weather have their affects, mechanical wear happens, things get stained and dirty and in general people are so completely used to seeing a world that is in a continual state of decay and decomposition that when it is not there it is subconsciously very disturbing and alien to our experience.

So, use the design tools in your repertoire to help the player experience the world emotively, and don’t forget that even a new building isn’t perfect, and most times the story starts in media res (so very little is new anyways). Grunge it up. Make it dirty: make it broken, and do everything in your ability to hide the fact it’s just a bunch of polygons.

Creature and Character Design

Dependency of Creature and Character design is more of a flanking sort of maneuver. While most often not directly a requirement of story elements beyond shape and color considerations for emotive enhancement character and creature design is highly motivated by the environments that they are designed for. Creature concepts for example are the most directly related to their environment. Their physical and mental aspects directly reflect their need to survive in their current environment. For example a fish in the middle of the desert with no water around may require some serious modification of its attributes to survive.

Similarly a creature with sloth-like claws on four of its appendages and an uncanny ability to hang from tall plant might not be a design that fits in with a plantless desert environment.

There are many players that will have a hard time maintaining their suspension of disbelief in an area where the creatures are egregiously out of their proper habitat.

On a side note: As part of the design process this placement of the unusual into a foreign environment often times helps in the development of a more interesting environment for your world. New ideas pop up when trying to solve conundrums of this sort. As an example I played with the sloth creature/desert idea and a deeper understanding of environment and possibly story and plot developed: To solve the idea of this sloth-like creature in this environment I concluded, if you had a desert region that during a short rainy season huge temporary plants grew from the desert turned marsh and during that rainy season the vile little zrill come through in massive numbers and consumed every living thing they could find on the ground then perhaps the sloth toes and claws might have a perfectly legitimate reason for being on your creature since they would give it a definite advantage in survival each year. So not only do you have sloth nails on your desert creature you now have another creature concept to develop. That evil teaming, ground dwelling zrill. So why do the zrill only come during the rainy season? And, why are they so hungry? Ah, well perhaps they are amphibious and their eggsacs having lain buried in the deep dried muds of the land, and hatch when the waters soak down to them during the rainy season. The zrill emerge in their tadpolean stage with a tail to consume and when that’s gone a veracious hunger to feed and reproduce before the rainy season is over. I see massive heads with mouths full of razor sharp teeth, running along in voracious hunting packs on their hind legs; stopping occasionally to rest on their stunted forelimbs. But perhaps the females have longer and stronger forelimbs and after mating she feasts on her mates and as the season comes to a close all the surviving pregnant females bury them selves into the deep muds and hibernate dying slowly as their bodies fuel the growth of the eggs in her eggsac. Hmmm.

Along with the step of thinking about your creature realistically for its environment you should also ground your designs with a touch of realism. Reality based design which incorporates details of realistic anatomy and functional form will lend the most believability to your creatures and make them all the more lovable or feared as the case may be.

Intelligent creatures and character races are often the most diversely spread of mobs in a world, they have figured out ways of surviving in hostile environments not by the use of their physical attributes but by applying their intelligence to find a solution. Consequently their physical bodies don’t show the aspects of their environment nearly as much as their clothes, tools, weapons, buildings and societies do. While designing intelligent species in an area more attention needs to be placed on these secondary extensions of the group’s environmental survivability.

No end to the matter

There is much more to be said on the conceptualizing process, and I hope these tidbits have helped make your gears click and grind, and possibly given you a cool idea or two.
If not, try asking yourself "What if...?"
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AWM Mars
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[John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design Empty
PostSubject: Re: [John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design   [John Hessler, Multiverse, Inc. 2006] Story and Concept Design EmptyThu 8 Mar - 20:57

Hi Tristan,

I have now developed a working workflow to get models and scene elements from DeleD into Multiverse, it was quite painless once I had setup the folders etc.

Can you forward the design concepts that you have created, so I can see what I can offer?
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