Funded! This project was successfully funded on January 6, 2013.

Update #15

Telling Meriwether's Story, Part I: More about Facets

4 comments

Today's update features Carlos Hernandez, the project's lead writer, talking about how we're weaving together gameplay and storytelling in Meriwether. It comes at a great time, too, since just a few minutes ago we got our 500th and final early-bird backer! Just a reminder: though our single early-birds are sold out now, folks can still buy two copies of the game for $28. So just get your best buddy to chip in half and you both can get the game for $14!

Backers and potential-backers, hello! This is Carlos, one of the game designers on Meriwether. My principal responsibilities are to write the dialogue and story arcs for the game, to create Wunderkammer entries, to supervise other writers, and to ensure continuity and quality in the narrative throughout. The team thought it’d be a good time for me to talk about some of the storytelling challenges inherent in Meriwether, and how we’ll be tackling those challenges. In Part I today, I want to give you a little more detail into the facet system and explain why we're so excited about it.

Turning Player Choice into a Story

Games depend on players making meaningful choices and seeing the consequences of those choices radiate throughout the game. But herein lies a problem for our game. By definition, history has already happened. So how can we allow players to influence the historical aspects of the game while still being true to it?

One answer we’ve come up with lies in the “facet” dialogue system in Lewis levels. For you gamers, it’s similar to games like KOTOR and Mass Effect in that you can choose distinct personality paths for your character. But our system is much more nuanced. Instead of choosing Light Side or Dark, Paragon or Renegade, you choose between four distinct facets of Lewis’s position as a leader of the Corps of Discovery: Soldier, Leader, Diplomat and Scientist.

Each of these facets is tied one of the common roles Lewis had to play, but each carries a philosophy with it as well. Sometimes a facet you choose will chart a course of action, but sometimes it will help to create the kind of Meriwether Lewis you want to play. In other words, you’ll customize your version of Lewis to fit the way you want to attack problems in the game.

Here’s a breakdown of the philosophical underpinnings behind each facet:

Soldier: Follow orders. Do your duty. The law is the law. Do anything for a fellow soldier. Defeat your enemies. Don’t be afraid to use force. Fight with courage.

Leader: You are in charge because you have special gifts, training and insight. You are valiant, far-seeing, and worthy of respect. It is up to leaders like you to temper the law with good judgment. You should inspire those you lead, but sometimes you must make unpopular decisions. You are personally responsible for the safety of every person under your command.

Diplomat: Peace should always be the first outcome to pursue. Everyone is entitled to decency and courtesy. Generosity will inspire generosity. Sometimes intangibles like goodwill and harmony are the best outcomes of a negotiation. Peace is a national priority, more important than personal feelings.

Scientist: Where can I get more information? How does this work? Is this logical? Do I have enough evidence to support my ideas? How? Why? To what extent?

You’re probably already imagining how these values will come into conflict with one another. Do I make nice with the British trapper who is obviously lying to me in order to try to get better prices on trade goods (diplomat vs. scientist)? Do I follow army regulations to the letter when disciplining my men, or show a little leniency (soldier vs. leader)? But choices won’t always be simple opposed pairings; sometimes you’ll have three or even all four facets to choose from for a single decision.

Each time you choose a facet, two things happen. First, the consequences of that choice immediately begin to play out. If you decide not to have Private Willard executed for falling asleep at his post (a real choice the historical Lewis faced, and a real choice in the game), expect some of the Corps to appreciate your mercy, but others to begin questioning your resolve as a leader. For you lovers of speculative fiction, this is where the game wanders into the realm of Alternate History and we get to explore all those “What If?” possibilities with which the Lewis and Clark Expedition tantalizes us. Second, Lewis gets better at using the facet you selected. The more you use a given facet, the more adept you’ll become with it. This is important because some dialogue options will only be available if you have a high enough skill in the necessary facet.

There’s a fifth facet to Lewis’s personality, one that I think really helps to make our character development unique among video games: “Melancholy.” You don’t gain skill in Melancholy as you do the other facets; in fact, you’ll probably want to use this facet as little as possible. But you will have to choose it sometimes. The Melancholy facet is meant to reflect the black moods, self-critical analyses, and temper that were all a part of Lewis’s character. Think of it as a thermometer that rises every time you engage in dialogue and don’t select it. Once Melancholy reaches its “boiling point,” you have to choose it in lieu of any other (more helpful) dialogue option. The trick for players will be figuring out how to diffuse Lewis’s Melancholy before it forces them to say something they wish they hadn’t to the wrong person.

What excites me so much about the Melancholy facet is that it uses gameplay to shed light on Lewis’s personality. In most RPGs, dialogue is used primarily either for info. dumps or quest assignments. When dialogue has a genuine gameplay aspect of its own, usually what players try to do is “say the right thing” to maximize their abilities or inventory in the game--"Oh, thank you for complimenting my outfit; now you may have the Sword of Pwnage +39!"--rather than thinking about “What would this character say in this situation”? In other words, one of the most essential aspects of the tabletop roleplay experience, acting in-character, is all but absent from the CRPG genre. Our facet system will not only encourage you to to develop a character that fits with your favorite way of tackling problems in a game, but, through the Melancholy facet, confront you with Lewis’s foibles and failings as a person. Taken together, we hope to present a nuanced portrait of a great American hero who also happened to be a flawed human being.

In my next update, I'll give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the major story arcs we're using to tell the tales of other members of the Corps of Discovery. Until then!

Comments

    1. Missing_small

      Creator zak on January 1, 2013

      Thanks for the book recommendation Joshua, and Happy New Year to the team :)

    2. Fb_profile_picture.small

      Creator Sortasoft LLC on December 31, 2012

      @Zak: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose (who wrote Band of Brothers) is a great introduction to Lewis and Clark. It's what got me hooked, and I highly recommend it.

    3. Missing_small

      Creator zak on December 31, 2012

      'Melancholy' is a really interesting char trait. Not just because it is so non-hollywood/non-big games industry for a lead char, but just what it says about real people and real 'heroes'. I'm guessing Meriwether must have been known for his black moods or some such, for this to be one of his main traits in the game? If so it must have been one of his stronger more negative personality aspects, and i can see that having a huge bearing on the decisions he made etc.

      So yes, aside from the general non-generic game type, this kind of thing has me very interested in the game and the underlying mechanics of play. Interesting for sure.

      I really need to go and read more on the chap.

    4. Missing_small

      Creator Julie McLeod on December 30, 2012

      Oh my God, I am sooooooo excited! You have no idea! Please let this project go through! I love that you picked these five facets of his character.

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