Storytelling tricks that video games haven’t tried, Part 1: The imaginary friend

I’m hashing out ideas for a story-heavy video game, something like The Walking Dead, Façade, or one of the more interactive visual novels. I’m not going to spoil the plot too much; it’s basically grimdark magical girl stuff like Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Working title is The Sisterhood (a surprisingly underused title, especially compared to The Brotherhood). It’s going to be very low budget if it happens at all. But I hope to make up for it with dialogue and storytelling tricks I haven’t seen before in video games. (If you have seen them before, please tell me all about it.)

by clearkid on deviantart

by clearkid on deviantart

I don’t know if there’s a video game of Calvin & Hobbes in which you control Hobbes, but if there isn’t, they’re missing an opportunity to seriously mindfuck some players.

The Sisterhood has eight main characters. All of them are under player control at one point or another. One of them (working name Green) is dead. She died before the game even began.

But four of the other main characters were deeply attached to her. And nobody in this game is entirely sane – that’s what happens when you’ve been fighting deadly monsters since childhood. So people think and talk about Green, and she shows up to the player in conventional flashbacks. Then in flashback echoes and  flashback cuts. It eventually slips into mental models: “I know Green well enough to predict that she would say X, so I imagine her saying X”. The character may exchange a few words with that “inner Green” if they’re distracted. I hope I can be subtle enough that, at times, even the player doesn’t realize they’ve just answered a hallucination, so that they’ll share their character’s worry and embarrassment when other characters look at them funny.

As the characters become lonelier and less balanced, they have longer conversations with “inner Green”, who becomes less flashback and more seemingly-conscious entity. She starts making bargains, or seems to do physical things that were probably done unconsciously by someone else. While the game never goes as far as admitting that she’s a ghost or whatnot, she eventually becomes as much of a main character as the other seven.

And as a main character, she’s entitled to a share of player control. So there will be scenes in which e.g. the player wants to make one character do something, but they will have to convince that character by controlling their hallucination of Green and picking the right things for Green to say.

The player may also gain control of Green during a flashback, effectively creating a multiple choice past and letting the player pick their favourite. This is tricky to script, because it means that until the flashback happens, the game itself doesn’t know what the truth is and has to keep all options open – while still dropping meaningful and intriguing hints.

Other scene idea: two main characters are talking to each other. They each see and hear their own “mental Green”, who’s standing next to their interlocutor. Camera tricks may even let the player see both Greens, though they obviously cannot notice each other.

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