For 3 years now I’ve been working on my first module, jumping from NWN to NWN2 and back, using CEP first and now Project Q.
But all the technical and content stuff aside I am stuck again with the philosophical aspects of an adventure: WHY will the PC play along with my ideas of dragging him or her into my adventure?
I still have this VERY complex beginning that mixes obligation, curiosity, personal relationships with complete freedom of movement and actions - but the further I get into setting the stage, scripting events and writing conversations, I realize that the player may be well an hour into the module until the first dungeon is due. And I am starting to seriously question my approach, also because creating all the necessary stuff just to set the stage is tedious work that I would rather spend creating beautiful landscapes and lively conversations.
Most well known mods DO have a complex setup so obviously this approach is appreciated, on the other hand PoE2 and D:OS2 still use the staple “shipwrecked” starting and the TES games work well with simply throwing quests at the PC around every corner so the player can simply go adventuring without the need tofollow the main story - and this seems to be appreciated too.
Working on my mod would be a lot easier and much more fun if I would switch to a “PC has to start in an unknown area with no way of turning back” or “the PC is expected to be a sucker for adventure, gold, reputation and leveling” approch. But then it just could end up as some tiny-scale MMO-like adventure with no meaning.
Any thoughts from both fellow developers or avid players of NWN mods are appreciated.
Could you give a spoilered summary of the more complicated beginning you were planning to establish, perhaps?
That might help people to respond, because I think this is more a problem of method than principle.
In other words, I don’t think there’s anything innately wrong with having a starting plot hook, backstory and established personal relationships, as opposed to very rapid’ dropped on a beach’ beginnings.
But you do need to keep things moving for the player, filling in the backstory via gameplay progress, obstacles, and intrigue. Story elements need to be seeded into the gameplay, not dropped on the player at the start.
Otherwise you end up with either 1) a series of linear expositional cutscenes to set the story up or 2) a tedious holding-pen ‘starting village’ that inevitably gets destroyed…both of which mean that the emotional stakes of the story are something the player is probably clicking frantically through, hoping to get them over and done with.
(MotB is a good example, for me, of a game that does a lot of introductory story work gracefully and quickly, without killing the pace. That first dungeon tells you a lot about your situation, local lore, and two of your companions at speed)
I think you can reasonably assume that a player who downloads and starts a module is already motivated to get into it’s adventure. They wouldn’t be standing at the starting location at all if they weren’t looking to be playing something. At that point, maybe it’s less about motivating them, and more about keeping that motivation going.
Storytelling-wise, railroading the player into a starting situation of some sort is just unavoidable and nobody expects a storyteller not to do it; the module’s gotta start somewhere. If you start them off on a premise like “You and your companions are treasure hunters, out for the riches in (Dungeon)”, you can bet that the people downloading the module will be okay with finding themselves in that exact situation - and everything else you add to that will be an extra cherry on top.
Just don’t announce “A slow-paced tale of mystery and political intrigue” and then have 90% of the game consist of hack 'n slash - or vice versa. That’ll disappoint the people who were attracted to the premise, and they’ll walk away dissatisfied.
So I’d say go with the setup that’s more fun for you. Stories can start off in many ways, all of which work. And, yeah. Seconding @Grog, very much. Forming emotional attachments to places and people within a story is a process. Don’t do that thing where the player gets family members for half an hour just so they can be killed off; it’s not enough time for the player to get attached to the characters.
I agree with everything @TheBarbarian wrote. Also keep in mind that here in the 21st century, the most popular way to start a story is in media res – that is, in the middle of the action. You give the backstory in the module description and start the module in the middle of the action or as close as possible. The player has already chosen your module so limit the choices if any they have to make at the very beginning. Get them into the dungeon, murder scene, mystery, etc. ASAP. To very loosely paraphrase Clive Barker, ‘hit the audience in the gut and then give them barely enough time to recover and then hit them in the head.’ The backstory et al. gets explained during the recovery phases. In older generations (esp. 19th & 18th century) there would be a very long lead which is very painful now for modern audiences. Which is why ‘in medias res’ is the most popular way to start a story (movie, TV show, graphic novel, etc.) in the 21st century.
Very, very few people want the backstory first in video games. They’re playing the game because they want to kick butt, be the hero, and solve the mystery. You hook them with the module description. Once the game starts, they’re already hooked. They only time they’re going to decide to not take the hook is when the game starts too slow and they get bored. Far too many authors are in love with their own mythos (myself included!) and want to present that first. Most players do not care about your mythos until after they have some skin in the game. Hence, in medias res. If the players care about your mythos by the end of the module, then you’ve done your job well.
NB: One exception is if you’re using an established setting like Middle Earth or Hyboria then the players may enjoy soaking up the environment and choosing which hook to take. But that’s only true with well established settings.
tl;dr – Start your module in the middle of the story.
I think this quote from the very recently deceased Anthony Bourdain sums it up nicely:
“If you think about who the audience is and what their expectations might be, I think that’s the road to badness and mediocrity,” he told the AP. “You go out there and show the best story you can as best you can. If it’s interesting to you, hopefully it’s interesting to others. If you don’t make television like that, it’s pandering.” – Anthony Bourdain
In other words, make a module that you personally enjoy building and playing and replaying (and replaying). You’re going to do a lot of testing.
Theser are all very helpful observations and advice, thanks folks!
I will try to find a way starting where the fun actually begins and make introductions later (maybe putting some letters, books or a diary into the PCs backpack so the players can read about the background when and IF they want to indulge).
The only thing I have to be careful when it comes to “doing what I enjoy” is…I LOVE witty dialogue and writing pagelong conversation trees is great fun for me…but the players probably want them a little more straightforward.
Not every player is going to enjoy every module. Tell them up front that your module has a lot of witty dialogue. ‘If you enjoy the Jeeves series by PG Wodehouse, then you just might enjoy this!’ ‘But if you prefer comic book dialogue, you probably won’t.’ Also, sometimes players might enjoy your module but just are not in the right mood at that time.
Just do right what you love, promote it honestly, and it will attract the right players. And don’t forget to test, re-test, test again, and yet again.
I totally agree with Grymlorde. Do what pleases to you. Don’t try to meet the so called general expectations, every player has different. Building should be fun, as soon as it becomes a chore you are screwed.
If you like writing long consistent lively conversations please do. Players will enjoy it. Don’t try to artificially shorten them.
My NWN2 mods have nothing to do with the Forgotten Realms, are story driven, involve lively characters and contain large conversations, they are far from a dungeon crawler in an open world. Nevertheless despite my so so English I can say I’ve got fans. No secret : I enjoyed building and playing my mods.
Different things motivate different people, but I think others here are correct in pointing out that someone playing the module is already motivated. As for myself, I like the approach some singleplayer games take of having a combined prequel/tutorial. Beyond that, I care about atmosphere and immersion and it sounds to me like you’d rather be achieving that though conversations and landscapes.
As far as writing conversations go, spamming the “1” button is the traditional way of progressing quickly and neutrally through a storyline conversation triggering all the required mainquest-related dialogue. You can always stick to that and put your more creative writing in the other slots, which will allow people to play as they usually do if they don’t want to spend time reading dialogue.
Thanks al lot, I completely forgot that a lot of people actually use the number buttons to click though conversations (I never do). I usually put the most natural answer in the first slot (“Let me think about it”, NOT “Yes, please!”) but I will try to put the story-progressing answers in the “1” slot if that doesn’t look too odd.
Happy to help. It’s the kind of thing you want to take into consideration before writing tons of dialogue. Hope I made it in time.
I only wrote one real conversation in my current module so far. In it I actually went one step further and had it so that pressing 1 continously would go through the entire conversation tree (saying yes to renting a room, asking him all possible questions and ending with asking to see his trade goods and opening up a shop.)
Not sure this approach is that viable (or maybe it is? ) if you have options to say things that antogonize NPCs, though.
As a player you also have to have a decent description about the module. I for one will not download it in the first place if there isn’t one. Some module makers have failed to tell enough about the mod make it worth looking at.
That too. I try to be clear upfront in my module description what it’s going to be about, eg:
You play a Shadow Thief of Amn in a talking heavy, non-combat module.
If someone reads that and thinks that sounds cool, then I’ve already motivated them. If someone reads that and then complains that they can’t be a paladin and there wasn’t fighting, then that’s their fault.
All good additional advice. I am already working on a complete overhaul of the introduction with the initial quest-giver handing the PC several readable items telling him to “look the details up if necessary”. That way I can easily provide the players with summarized informations about the history, geography, local situation and characters without forcing it upon them. It will still be a complex setting but I will try hard not to make it feel like one.
I also plan to present a dozen representative screens with the upload. I don’t think I ever played a module (of any game) that has no screenshots (migrated is a different thing probably but I think about the original vault and the Nexus now), to me that always felt like a lack of pride and enthusiasm from the developers side which dampened my expectations.
Everyone has already said a lot of wise things, but I want to chime in anyway:
Personally, as a player, I don’t really need an elaborate mix of story elements and characters and whatnot to motivate me. I am mostly motivated extra-diegetically, by the fact that I’ve decided to check out this or that adventure. Like everyone said above.
Building up on that, I think leaving some things open is a very good idea, especially in games such as NWN where (unless you implement hard restrictions on your module) players can make very different characters to run through your adventure.
My own two modules in progress have very specifically set circumstances: in one of them, the player is working for a bunch of druids to help them save a forest, and in another they’re a member of the Rogues’ Guild, doing assassination and thievery. Both regardless of whether the player makes a dwarven blackguard for the first case or a gnome rangeress for the other case, and I don’t supply each character with backgrounds and explanations. When players know that’s what the module is about and still make a paladin character, I expect they have a specific story in mind that will work much better than anything I can come up with.
So the job of the builder, in my mind, mostly consists of not getting in the way of the things the players may have thought of by themselves. Especially since we never really know how they’ll receive our content. We may think the player is motivated by the pleas of our wise, noble king, and all the while, the players think he’s really boring and annoying.
As a writer, one of the things I believe can hook a player is simple curiosity. You’ll likely have some sort of plot (or at least plot points) developed prior to creating the module. Following on in media res comments above, pick a plot point as opening scene or near to it, and don’t answer the question/problem/dilemma/choice upon which the plot point hinges.
For example, you could . . .
Then, with each ‘answer’ that does come, two or more new problems/questions/etc come with it. Or what you thought was the answer is not, actually. Bread crumbs, this is sometimes called. Of course, it can be overdone. Use it organically (in other words, the semblance of real life follows a similar pattern).
If you really want to catch peoples attention download a few screen shots here on the forum. As Claudius33 and Grog have done with their Modules Strike Back and Pilgrim just to name two. That way you can get people ready for the release of your module.