Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Game, TV, and Screenwriting Blog



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Friday, June 26, 2015

It seems that Uncle Jack is tweeting today.


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Friday, June 19, 2015


[Travelogue with some small-l liberal politics, so if you're just here for games and screenplays, this is maybe not the post for you.]
]]
The Angle, Gettysburg National Memorial



So we went here yesterday.

About 150 years ago, a fellow named Bobby Lee thought it would be a good idea to send 12,500 of his bravest troops against the Union soldiers and artillerists behind this stone wall. It was a position that General Longstreet, who was responsible for the assault, felt could not be taken by any 12,500 men. ("Not with ten thousand men could you do this.")

The boys had to march from that line of trees back in the distance about a kilometer away to reach the Union boys behind the stone wall right in front of you. A few of them made it to the wall, and even across the wall, and then they broke, and they had to stagger back to the line of trees. Not quite half of them did make it to the trees. Pickett’s Charge has been called the high water mark of the Confederacy. In some ways, it was the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

The place has an amazing power when you are there. You cannot spill that much blood without leaving it in the ground. It is one of the few places I have been that really felt sacred. But then it has been hallowed by the dead, who fought "...that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth."

Well, that was the North, anyway.

Gettysburg is a strange place, a Northern town populated by Southern tourists come to look at a field full of might-have-beens. Pickett's Charge was the doomed, impossible charge of July 3, 1863. Little Round Top was the all but impossible series of charges of July 2. At Little Round Top, a man told his two kids, who were carrying plastic swords and wearing little gray Rebel hats, that "If only we'd have taken this hill, the world would be a better place, and there wouldn't be so many liberals."

I don't think I could have had a fruitful discussion with him about, say, exactly when he figured the Confederate States would have freed its slaves and given them the vote. After all, the Civil War was about his rights. 

It's not hard to feel that Pickett's Charge and Little Round Top are (they are, for they have become eternal) a kind of microcosm of a certain culture of the South. They are all about glory and guts, in defiance of the distance, and the incline of the hill, and the range and number and accuracy of the Union guns, and the number of rounds of ammunition they were carrying. (Little Round Top also failed because of the guts and glory of the 20th Maine, but that's another story, and a great one.)

I never felt quite at home in Gettysburg, or on the road down from Gettysburg. I couldn't quite tell why, until we got to DC, and walked around, and I realized that for a day I had been walking entirely among white people, and I am not used to that. I was only hearing English, and I have lived my entire life in multi-lingual cities. In DC it was Friday night, and all the young people working for the Obama Administration were out partying on various government lawns, where various bands were playing rhythm and blues here and there. We were back among our people.


Meanwhile there is this shooting in Charleston, SC. Various folks have noted that the state flies the Confederate Battle Flag on the capitol lawn, claiming it is about "heritage" and not, of course, about keeping its black people down. Never mind that South Carolina's heritage is precisely about keeping its black people down, and South Carolina started the Civil War precisely in order to be able to keep its black people slaves. And the flag, after being used as a flag of secession, was used in the '30's as a flag of terrorism, and in the '60's as a flag of segregation (it was put on the state capitol in 1962). Various people on the left have managed to connect the dots -- flag of white terrorism, terrorist who shouted "you're raping our women and have to be stopped" as he assassinated a black state senator -- while most of the Republican candidates have pretended it's just some crazy person attacking "religion." Yep, this is all about the war on Christmas.

[[UPDATE: Looks like the Governor and Republican-controlled state legislature of South Carolina got it after all, and the flag will go in a museum where it belongs.]]

We construct our lives out of stories. We live for stories. We live in stories of our own making. It is fascinating, strange and powerful to me to meander down into this particularly historic bit of the country to see, on the one hand, a place that is frozen in four days in July, 1863, and on the other hand, the kids working in the administration of our half-Black half-White President. Some stories work. Some stories cause harm. Some stories mend lives. A story is a powerful thing, for good or evil.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

On our Kickstarter we've been getting a lot of questions about the sort of narrative we'll have -- the sort of narrative we can have in a procedurally generated world. We Happy Few is a roguelike, which means that each time you die -- and you will, a lot, at least till you get the hang of it -- we will generate an entirely new world for you. The Train Station will be over here instead of over there, the Fountain will be over there instead of over here; and there may be entirely different microscenarios in some of the houses.

Well, we are going to have a lot of traditional narrative in the game; we're just not putting it in the pre-alpha build that we're showing to people. We'll also have a lot of environmental narrative.

Traditional Narrative

I have already written complete stories and dialog scenes for at least three playable characters.


What a traditional narrative in a procedural world means for us is: there are scenes out there for you to discover. But you have to go out and discover them.

For example, let's take the guy in the middle. His opening scene is going to give you a hint that you might want to find a guy who's living in the Train Station, out in the Garden District. (That's what the Wellies call the bombed-out areas of town. So jolly, our Wellies. Nothing gets them down.)

But where is the Train Station? You'll have to find it, won't you? Fortunately it is quite tall (and rather beautiful):




You can spot it from afar. Also, if you are as clever as I think you are, it occurs to you that Train Stations are often attached to train tracks.

When you get to the Train Station, a scene awaits you. You'll meet a character, and learn about their past together with you, and the world's past. And maybe they will offer to meet you at another location. If you'd like the story to continue, off you go to find that location. This one will be a little less easy to find, but still not that hard — except that simply surviving in our game is hard.

And so on through a few more scenes that tell you a complete story. You can also, at any point, abandon the story and simply craft the things you need to get out. That will be harder, but you never have to complete the story to complete a playthrough.

Once you unlock another character, you can play as him or her. He or she will have their own story, and different strengths and weaknesses.

So our stories are your basic linear stories. The "procedural" difference is you have to go out and find them, without a search radius painted in yellow on the minimap, or footprints illuminated in red because you used your Witcher Senses. And any given scene will be in a different place each time you play.

Also, of course, our dialog is more nuanced. People in our game never say exactly what they're thinking, or what they mean. They don't even necessarily say what they want. We have messed-up people in our game, whose flaws get in their own way.

Environmental Narrative

But, as I said, we're saving all those yummy cut scenes for later. (And they are yummy. I've already recorded and edited scenes with Alex Wyndham (Rome), Charlotte Hope (Game of Thrones) and Allan Cooke, and they are some of the best actors I've ever had the pleasure to direct. I've also cast some amazing other actors we haven't announced yet.)

But in the mean time, there is quite a lot of environmental narrative.

There are Uncle Jack's broadcasts. You can't miss them. They're everywhere, except in the Garden District. We've recorded about two hours of Julian Casey's brilliant Uncle Jack, including some bedtime stories you will probably not want to tell your kids.

There are the "signs" you will see throughout. Graffiti in the Garden District. Propaganda posters from different epochs in the recent past. Useful items you can find or steal here and there that also tell you about the world and how it got that way.

There will be micro-stories, or scenarios, to discover in buildings throughout the various biomes we are creating. Some micro-stories will tell you about the overall history of Wellington Wells. Most will tell you about how the people who live in that house in the Village are dealing with life, or how life went wrong for the people that used to live in that house in the Garden District.

And, if all goes well with our Kickstarter, passive dialog. Lots and lots of passive encounters. We hope to get the Wellies talking among themselves. No promises, but I have written pages of conversations, including one which might be inspired by the Monty Python "Cheese Shop" sketch.

So we are planning a rich narrative, set in a procedurally generated world.

See? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

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Monday, June 08, 2015

A lawyer contacted me to help him promote his services. He helps writers register their works with the US Copyright Office.

Huh. I wasn't aware screenwriters need help registering their screenplays with the copyright office, I sez. Isn't it just a Form PA? And the instructions are on the form!

Well, replies Mr. Lawyer Man, sometimes it is a form TX, and sometimes it is a "work for hire."

If it's a work for hire, sez I, then why is the writer handling the copyright registration, being as the person commissioning the work for hire owns the copyright?

Didn't hear back.

Folks, so far as I know, all you need to register your screenplay with the US Copyright Office is a Form PA. The form is super simple.

[[UPDATE:  In fact, as faithful reader Eltan Loewenstein informs me, it's now online and only costs $40.]]
For what you need to know about copyright, you can check out pages 229 and following in Crafty Screenwriting. The prices have gone up a lot. The logic has not.

I don't see why you need a lawyer. Just register your script.

Frankly, I haven't registered a script in a long time. If someone were to steal my script, I'd call in my agent, and the 30 other people who read my script, to give evidence that it's my script. But if you're nervous, you can file your form PA.

You can also register your script online with the WGA. That costs $20, and lasts for 5 years. In five years, your script will probably have aged out, or you won't like it any more. However, registering a script with the WGA has important legal differences (outlined in my book) from registering it with the Copyright Offices. The Copyright Office is much better from a legal point of view.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

I've been playing a bit of Witcher 3 (I'm up to level 15 I think). Beautiful open world. Fun combat. I love discovering new potions although I pretty much never use more than three of them.

The writing is really good and funny, on a moment to moment level. There is quite a bit of wit to some of the stories. There is the the dungeon of the guy who's been making magic using smelly cheese. There is the notice from a guy complaining that his donkey started to death between two troughs of food. There is the interview with the girl who complains that she never got to see Dandelion's etchings, though he always promised to show them to her. There is the battle that ends with "can we never talk about this again?"

And there is the lovely story of the Bloody Baron, who's a really terrible person and yet very human at the same time. He's well-written, and you keep having to remind yourself how awful he is.

My problem gets back to the ancient divide between story and gameplay. When I'm playing a game, I want to make choices. So when stories get too long without a choice, I get frustrated.

The Witcher 3 stories generally boil down to: talk to someone to get a quest; go to the area the questgiver suggested; use Witcher senses to find the clues (marked in red). Then Gerald will tell you what the clues meant, but it doesn't even matter, because your next search area is pinpointed on the map. Go there, search in the yellow circle, find the red things, click on them, have Gerald tell you what they mean.

In other words: the stories are completely irrelevant to the gameplay.

Now, at one level, story is bound to be irrelevant to gameplay mechanics. Story is where I tell you who your character is, what he or she wants, why it's important he or she gets it, what he stands to lose and what he stands to gain. In general, the more I control that, the better a story I can tell you.

But I'd like it better if Witcher involved me a little more in the story.

I'd like it if I had to do at least a little figuring out what the clues meant, or where they pointed. Even if the game is meant for players who just wanna kill a few dudes and not strain their brains, at least make me choose between three possibilities, two of which are actually wrong, but easy enough to rule out if I'm paying attention.

I'd like it if it were at least possible to fail the conversations with witnesses -- if there were dialog options that don't lead to me finding out what it is I'm going to find in the dungeon. So if I fail the dialog, I'm going in blind. I can still fight my way out, but I'm going to feel stupid if I applied wraith oil and I'm fighting trolls.

If I could fail the dialog encounters, then I'd have to play closer attention to what people were saying. I'd be more immersed in Geralt's story. But more importantly, I wouldn't be bored and frustrated that the dialog was taking so long. The cutscenes seem quite long. I don't want to click through them, because they're supposed to be my reward for all that fighting. But boy, they do go on.

I hope our cut scenes in We Happy Few aren't too long. On our budget, we can give the players really brilliantly voice-acted cut-scenes. We can't afford a lot of dialog options. On the other hand, building a roguelike with permadeath, we aren't afraid of giving you options that, should you take them, you will not be able to get a happy ending for that particular story. And you'll have to listen to what people are saying to be sure you're not about to screw things up. And to get the next bit of story, you'll have to find it by its description -- no map markers or illuminated clues.

Man, what we could do even a slightly bigger budget!


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Saturday, June 06, 2015

The latest issue of The New Yorker has an article on ISIS and its poetry. It seems the ISIS members, when they're not blowing themselves up, or brutalizing people, spend a fair amount of time reading, reciting and writing very old forms of Islamic poetry.
The views expressed in jihadi poetry are, of course, more bloodthirsty than anything on “Sha‘ir al-Milyoon”: Shiites, Jews, Western powers, and rival factions are relentlessly vilified and threatened with destruction. Yet it is recognizably a subset of this popular art form. It is sentimental—even, at times, a little kitsch—and it is communal rather than solitary. Videos of groups of jihadis reciting poems or tossing back and forth the refrain of a song are as easy to find as videos of them blowing up enemy tanks. Poetry is understood as a social art rather than as a specialized profession, and practitioners take pleasure in showing off their technique.

They seem to like to think of themselves as medieval knights fighting the infidels:

Wake us to the song of swords,
and when the cavalcade sets off, say farewell.
The horses’ neighing fills the desert,
arousing our souls and spurring them onward.
The knights’ pride stirs at the sound,
while humiliation lashes our foes.
My immediate reaction was: good Lord, these guys playing in some twisted kind of LARP.

But, then, we all are. We think of movies and games and TV shows as entertainment. But the stories they hammer into us shape how we see the world. It matters that American movies are so often about the natural hero who trusts his gut over the smartypants scientists and corporate suits, who is brave without necessarily being smart or educated. It matters that Chinese movies so often show their heroes dying at the end.

The stories we tell ourselves are about what's important. They're not the only thing that shapes our behavior. The market shapes what we can making a living doing, or there would be no corporate suits after all. But stories are not just entertainment. Culture is not just a luxury good. It is the glue that keeps everything sticking together.
The culture of jihad is a culture of romance. It promises adventure and asserts that the codes of medieval heroism and chivalry are still relevant. Having renounced their nationalities, the militants must invent an identity of their own. They are eager to convince themselves that this identity is not really new but extremely old. The knights of jihad style themselves as the only true Muslims, and, while they may be tilting at windmills, the romance seems to be working. ISIS recruits do not imagine they are emigrating to a dusty borderland between two disintegrating states but to a caliphate with more than a millennium of history.
That is not to say that, you know, there is a direct connection between kids playing Grand Theft Auto and stealing (or downloading) cars. But the society that ignores the value of its culture, or doesn't tend its cultural garden at all, is taking a risk. The idea that entertainment and culture are not important is, itself, a story that we tell ourselves. Possibly a dangerous one. I'll leave you with a quote from Neil Gaiman in The New Statesman:
You know, I was in China in 2007, and it was the first ever state-sponsored, Party-approved science-fiction convention. They brought in some people from the west and I was one of them, and I was talking to a number of the older science-fiction writers in China, who told me about how science fiction was not just looked down on, but seen as suspicious and counter-revolutionary, because you could write a story set in a giant ant colony in the future, when people were becoming ants, but nobody was quite sure: was this really a commentary on the state? As such, it was very, very dodgy.

I took aside one of the Party organizers, and said, “OK. Why are you now in 2007 endorsing a science-fiction convention?” And his reply was that the Party had been concerned that while China historically has been a culture of magical and radical invention, right now, they weren’t inventing things. They were making things incredibly well but they weren’t inventing. And they’d gone to America and interviewed the people at Google and Apple and Microsoft, and talked to the inventors, and discovered that in each case, when young, they’d read science fiction. That was why the Chinese had decided that they were going to officially now approve of science fiction and fantasy.




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Thursday, June 04, 2015


Here's what I've been pouring my heart and inherent weirdness into for the past year and a half or so...!

Oh, and at the moment, we are live streaming the game on Twitch and on Hitbox.

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Dateline: Monday, June 1.

We are gearing up to drop our Kickstarter for We Happy Few on June 4.

Getting ready for the Kickstarter is a little odd for me, because while we are talking a great deal about our gameplay, we are not revealing anything about our narrative. Well, almost nothing. I can show you three of our five playable characters, as painted by our amazing art director Whitney Clayton:


Each of them has their own story, which interweaves with the stories of some of the other characters. You start as the tall guy — I'm not even going to to tell you his name! — and if you play through his story you get to unlock two more.

As I think you can guess, they are not your usual videogame über heroes, not even the guy in combat boots. They are all reluctant heroes. None of them signed up for this. Each has his or her own secret, and that pushes them to do something urgent and difficult.

I can say that much, at least.

Also: you can play the whole game and ignore their stories. It is not necessary to play the story to complete the game. It might be a bit easier if you do, but if you don't like stories in your video games, well, you can take your coffee black.

Also: as planned, we will pass the Bechdel Test.

We have some fantastic voice actors. We had to go to England for some of them. Alas, when I say "go to England," do not imagine me staying at 11 Cadogan Gardens. I summon their voices from a studio in Montreal's Old Port, and they're in a studio in London.

Don't forget to take your Joy this morning!
However, the fabulous Julian Casey, our Uncle Jack, is a Montrealer, so I get to work with him in person. He's terrific. I've directed him on another, unannounced project.

But the Kickstarter is not about the narrative. We are talking about the world, and the gameplay, and the procedural generation of the world map, and most of all we are talking about our social blending game mechanic. But we are going to hold back the narrative until it's all done. The idea is that we will refine the gameplay over the course of development, in full view of our public ("open development"), and then pull the drapery off the narrative when we officially release the game.

"Social blending?" you ask? Why yes. In We Happy Few, we're trying to create a city that has its own odd rules. The main one is: act happy all the time. Take your Joy pills, and everything will be right as rain. Doing things you'd do in Witcher 3 upsets people. Running or crouching makes people suspicious. Brandishing a weapon alarms people. Breaking into houses to steal food is a sure sign that you are a Downer (off your meds). The Wellies will cheerfully beat you senseless and make you take your Joy, and then game over. (We Happy Few is a roguelike with permadeath, so you have to go back to Day 1, with an entirely new map.)

However, if you don't break into houses to steal food, you will starve to death. Heh.

So you have to figure out how to "pass" as one of the decent, happy, drug-bemused citizens of Wellington Wells, while rarely actually taking your happy pills. (You can take your happy pills — the Wellies love you when you're high! — but if you keep it up you'll overdose.) We haven't finished designing the whole social engineering dynamic yet. So far we've focused on building passive social blending. But active social engineering could go from simply saying "Lovely day for it" to people on the street, to wearing the right clothes for certain areas, to something like framing someone for murder.

It won't involve a great deal of contingent dialog; on an indie budget, that way lies madness. We're going to have to be terribly clever and inventive so people feel they're actively shaping the responses of the people around them, without being able to chat them up. One reason we're going for a Kickstarter is so we can spend the time and resources to deliver the goods on the concept.

If you want to know more about the game, here's our Kickstarter page. Come and join the fun!

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A reader hired me to take a look at his query letter, which is something I do. A couple of paragraphs of the letter was about the story. The rest was listing screenplay competitions his script has been a finalist in, or a semi-finalist, or a quarter-finalist; and then listing positive comments that "coverage agencies" have given.

It's been a long time since I've been without representation, so maybe I am off base here. If you are a development executive, and you think coverage agencies and screenplay competitions are the cat's pajamas, please let me know. 'Cause I don't think they are.

Coverage agencies may provide a useful critique for writers just starting out. They can point out obvious flaws. But they are not professional readers in the industry sense. An industry reader gets paid by someone who wants to know which scripts he or she should buy. The reader provides a commercial judgement: this is or isn't something that I see our company developing.

Who is doing this coverage? This is a problem common to both industry readers and coverage agency readers. By the time anyone knows anything about critiquing scripts, they're not a script reader any more. At least, not a $50 one. Even my young friend Tommy Gushue charges a multiple of that for his excellent notes. You might get someone just out of film school. You might get someone who's in a film program at university.

Moreover, a coverage agency is hired by the writer. So they are going to tend to be really polite about the scripts they're hired to read. So I would never include a coverage agency's feedback in your query letter.

Meanwhile, a whole raft of screenwriting competitions have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain. As I've been saying in this blog since its inception, there is only one screenplay competition that really counts. It's called "getting your movie made." Entry fees are free. You just send queries to agents and producers, and if they like your ideas, they read your script, and if they like your script, they give you money.

There is, yes, the famous Blacklist, which is a poll of development executives on what they think is this year's best unproduced script. But that is not a competition you can enter. You have to already have an agent getting the right development execs reading your script. (There is also a website called The Blacklist, which has to do with scripts, but it is not the same thing at all, though I think it's the same people.)

All it takes to set up a screenwriting contest is a website. You make up a name, market a bit, and watch the money roll in. If you can get 1000 people to send in their scripts and pay a $50 entry fee, well, you have $50,000. I could probably winnow 1000 scripts down to 100 in a week. Hint: I'm skimming the first three pages. Takes about a minute or two, so I could, say, 25 in an hour with coffee breaks. If they don't sing, the script goes in the recycle bin.

The surviving 100 scripts might take another week to go through, because I've already trashed the really obviously bad ones. Maybe I read two or three an hour. Oh, who am I kidding. I read the first ten pages. Takes about six minutes. So I  can read ten an hour. Ten hours, all in.

Now I've got ten scripts to read. Takes maybe a week to read them carefully and think about them. (It's really the thinking about them that takes the time. I read a script in 30-40 minutes.)

Hey, now I've made $50,000! Oh, sure, I could hire a "jury" and pay them something, and get them to do the winnowing for me. And marketing costs time if nothing else.

Oh, I probably have a $5,000 prize, and some runner up prizes, so I've really only made about $40,000, but still, not bad for a couple weeks' work. Too bad I can only have a competition two or three times a year, four at most, before I lost all credibility.

In case you're wondering: the reason I've never done this, in spite of having a couple of successful screenwriting books and a blog, is because I'd hate myself.

The point I'm trying to make is: what makes a screenplay competition legit? The people at the Blue Cat Screenplay Competition or Reel Writers or whatever may be very nice people, and they may have a passion for good screenwriting. But what qualifies them? What keeps absolutely anyone from setting up a screenplay competition?

There are legit screenplay competitions. They are associated with legit organizations. The Nicholls is the big one. It is run by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The Writers Guild of Canada has the Jim Burt Prize for the best un-optioned script. But legit competitions are few and far between. Maybe the Austin Heart of Film Festival?

And here's the big problem:  I think most of these evaluate scripts in terms of the reader experience. Is it a good read, the way a novel is a good read? Is it a movie they enjoy imagining?

As opposed to an agent reading your script, whose sole question is: can I sell this? And a producer, who is thinking can I get this made?

So a successful competition screenplay may be a movie that, in the abstract, might be interesting. It would get you an A+ in your film writing class. But it is not necessarily the kind of screenplay that is going to get optioned, set up, packaged and made.

Successful competition screenplays, I suspect, tend to be well written. Successful spec scripts have a great hook. Great execution is a plus, but it is not a requirement. Snakes on a Plane was not a spectacularly well written script, or even a good movie, but it got made. So Snakes on a Plane was a great spec. I doubt it would have won any screenplay competitions.

So, yeah: if you want to pay for critiques to make your script better, by all means, do it, especially if you don't know any good readers. (There are very few good readers.) Hire Tommy Gushue, or Victoria Lucas, or even me if money is no object. I would not recommend spending money to get positive coverage from a coverage agency; I don't think it will help. Do not spend money so you can say that your script is a "quarter-finalist" in the Bridges of Madison County Screenplay Competition and a "semi-finalist" at the Overlook Hotel Screenplay Convention. I don't think the industry puts too much stock in those things.

Get your writing to agents and producers. And go and write. Once you're good, you'll option something, and then sell something, and then something will get made. That's the real prize. 

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Two people's, actually, both of them playable characters for We Happy Few.

If you're writing non-blockbuster movies, you learn to pay attention to how much a scene is going to cost to produce. A conversation between two people in a room is cheap. A conversation between two people outside, in the day, is also cheap. A three-hander is more expensive, a dinner party is a lot more expensive, because you're going to want to shoot coverage of everyone who's not talking, so your editor can cut to their reaction shots. A conversation at night is more expensive, because the lighting package costs more, and the director is going to insist on wetting down the street, because that just always looks cool.

In video games, you have entirely different production concerns. In We Happy Few, I'm recording voice actors and then editing the audio into scenes. Our art director painted characters, a character modeller built them, and the animators rigged them. Once the audio is ready, the animators can animate the scene.

In a 3D, third person cutscene, the camera is independent of the virtual actors. So you can animate the scene and then change where the camera is without re-animating it. However, We Happy Few is a first person game, so we have made the decision to present all the cut-scenes in first person, so you never see the character you're playing.

Cut scenes take a terribly long time to animate. However, they are not the only way to get across narrative.

At the other end, simplicity itself, are things like journal entries. If I give a character a journal that the player can consult, then adding journal entries is essentially a matter of my writing the journal entries and then the level designer slotting them in. No muss, no fuss, no bother.

However, players don't tend to like to read text in a game. So, for slightly more effort and more money, I can have the actor read the journal entry.

That gets into substantially more money. We're using professional British actors and recording them in London sound studios, while we sit in a Montreal sound studio and I direct them. However, it is nothing compared to a cut-scene. A journal entry does not typically demand the apparently-wild-but-actually-quite-precise swings of emotion that a dramatic scene has. So the actor can get it right in a take or two, just reading a block of text.

Then the player can trigger the audio, and then go around doing his thing (looting, fighting, exploring, whatever) while the audio plays.

I can also make collectibles. These might be an old toy a character treasures, or a photograph of his or her parents. These are not cheap because they have to be physically modeled in the game world. That can get into a lot of world. However, collectibles can be made at the last minute and dropped into the game. Animation requires a whole pipeline. One of the last things I did on Contrast was write up a whole slew of collectibles. We didn't have time to make them all, but some of the players paid very close attention to them, and pulled out the narrative goodness we tried to put into them.

One of the paradoxes of the progress we've made in game design is that, as stories are taken more seriously, and budgets go up, the limits to story telling also go up. To have a branching narrative in a text adventure is just a matter of the writer getting to work. Add a narrator reading it, and it's expensive. Have Elias Toufexis act it in a mo-cap suit, becoming a fully rendered Adam Jensen, and you can only afford one or two branches.

All this stuff takes money, and as usual, more money than we hoped to spend when we started concepting this thing back in January 2014. So we're doing a Kickstarter, starting tomorrow, to supplement our resources. Watch this blog for more musings about We Happy Few, tomorrow at noon!

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