Thousands of years ago, our ancestors huddled around the fire while trying to make sense of the world around them. Whether in a cave or a wooden cabin, they participated in the one thing that gave meaning to their life, their stories. From the oral tradition to the written word to interactive video games, we journey with our heroes, learning a little bit about ourselves along the way.
Hello everyone, my name is Brian Freyermuth, the Lead Content Designer over here at Xaviant. Like the bards of old, the content team and I are here to take you on a road trip to another world, where you’ll become part of an epic journey through strange and wondrous lands. Come and see how we take a seed of an idea and make an interactive story filled with excitement, loss and hope. You’ll discover our writing philosophies and story planning techniques as we take you with us on the epic adventure of Lichdom: Redeemer.
Preparing For the Journey
What’s the first thing you do when you decide you’re taking a road trip across the country? You need to figure out where you’re heading, whether or not you want to take the scenic route, etc. The same goes for storytelling. When we began, we wanted to make sure we knew exactly what kind of story we were telling, and how to tell it.
Our number one goal is to make the story in layers. For those who want to stop off at every tourist area and every town along the way, we have something for you. For those who want to speed to the end of the story, background be damned, you can do that too.
An example of this is what we call Scene Echoes. These are items you can activate to watch the past unfold, which will deepen your understanding of the motivations behind the characters. Those of you who don’t care about them can simply pass them by.
That’s not to say we don’t have our cinematic moments. When crafting our story, we needed to come up with an ideal balance between what moments are crucial to the story, while making sure you stay immersed in game. Most of the story moments in Lichdom: Redeemer happen in game, without taking your control away. By making the depth of the story optional, and by keeping you in your character’s head, we want you to feel everything as your skills are forged until you become the world’s most powerful mage.
Mapping Out the Journey
Once we realized how we wanted to tell the story of the game, it was time to map it out. It’s hard to get where you’re going without a direction. Otherwise you could be doing circles around the Rockies while trying to get to the warm sunny beaches of California. Same goes for game writing. Just as a map would make the detour to the Grand Canyon easier, mapping out the story does too. If the route changes along the way, you recalculate and get back on track. Even when the story needs to change, my team is agile enough to figure out how to rearrange things so that we still get to our destination.
Crafting the Journey
So we have our bags packed and we have Google Maps lighting the way to our goal. How do we get there? Do we travel by train? Fly the not-so-friendly skies? Or put it all out there and travel cross country in the family Suburban.
The process for us is pretty simple. Before beginning a level, we brainstorm and ask ourselves what is the main story arc that takes us through the level? Once that’s mapped out, we then figure out the story of the level itself. This usually is the background of the level itself, and how it connects to the overall story.
Once this brainstorming session is complete, the initial dialog document is filled with notes about what goes where and ideas on how to sell the story in the level. This is the skeleton for all the dialog that comes next.
After we write and edit the dialog, we then jump into the game and begin implementing the story elements. We use a visual tool called Flow Graph in the Crytek engine to set up the cinematic scenes in each level. Above you can see a quick example of some of the logic that goes into creating one of those moments.
We place items in the world that trigger the story moment, and from there we connect the elements in the Flow Graph that help create what we need. Think of them as commands from a director in a movie. We tell the character when to speak, what to say, where to walk, whether or not to attack the player, etc. This is how we direct the scene.
From there it’s just a matter of making our way from the beginning of the game to the end, crafting each story moment and making sure it creates a complete experience.
Once we get to our destination and the credits roll, ultimately it will be the journey that you remember. These are the moments that make you laugh and cry, and the pieces of the story that remain with you for years to come. No matter how advanced our tools, the need for story will always be the same. The author takes us along for the ride, and in doing so, we might learn a little more about ourselves.