There is this tendency with computer games to force the player along a story path. I think that game story writers want to tell their stories in the same way that movies or novels do. The thing with a movie or novel, is that you have complete control over what the viewer or reader is experiencing. You decide how much information is given to them, when it’s given, and deep you want to take them.
Now while that is not a bad way of going about computer game story, it doesn’t really embrace the medium, or use what some may see as a disadvantage (not having control) as an advantage.
For Stasis, when I was first developing the story, I had quite a difficult time in trying to determine how much ‘world building detail’ to include. The thing with adventure games is that, by their nature you assume that everything provided in the game world is relevant to your quest. If a butcher mentions that he takes a smoke break at 12, you store that bit of info away and try to work it into a puzzle about stealing a piece of meat. But really, that could just be some sort of character building info for the butcher, and the player will spend hours waiting for 12 to come for that smoke break.
The problem for me is that I really enjoy adding in all of those extra details. For example, in the 5 minute demo you may have noticed that each of the dead inhabitant’s had a name….later on you can find the names of those inhabitants on a computer terminal and read reports about them. Now this info has nothing to do with progressing the story-it is there for ‘flavor’.
So the big challenge comes in differentiating that info. How do you stop the player from being distracted by ‘useless’ information? My solution is, you don’t. The trick is to look at those world building pieces as part of a jigsaw puzzle that the player is putting together. The thing with a jigsaw puzzle is that you could probably put together a few pieces, and make out what the final image will be-but honestly only after putting everything together will you get a complete image….a complete experience.
Now there are some people who are happy with just knowing what the picture is…and the trick is to cater for them as well.
In Stasis, I have 3 stories in the game.
1-The Major Arc. This story is the driving force behind the game. It’s what propels the player forward. Most of the puzzle solving will be done to further this story. The main story follows Marachecks search for his family.
2-The Minor Arc. This story runs parallel to the major arc, but is not essential to finishing the game. This story involves explanations of the environment….just what is happening inside The Groomlake…what caused it to be abandoned..
3-The Connecting Thread. This story is the thread that connects the other 2 stories together. Again, it is not essential to finishing the game.
The idea is that, very much like an RPG, you could finish the game by just following the critical path-but you are going to have a much more fulfilling experience by taking the time to smell the roses (or in the case of Stasis, the corpses).
I can understand why most commercial developers don’t do this. Assets are expensive. You don’t want to spend thousands on a new area, animation, or cutscene if there is a chance that the player will just bypass it. They have a ‘responsibility’ to deliver a 10 hour game experience to the people that pay for their games. As an indie, I’m not going to be charging $60 for a game, and i don’t have to make back my $30 000 000 development budget. I can afford to take risks in the story, and to have faith in the player.