One of the Family

Presence Interactive, LLC

May 2017 – Present

An exploration into player identity in virtual reality narratives, One of the Family is an ongoing design project being developed by Presence Interactive, LLC. My role as narrative designer is to craft story and interaction mechanics. In this position, I have created design documentation, built branching story trees, written scripts, and prototyped game flows in Unity 3D.

Awards and Demonstrations

  • IUGS Finalist, GDC, March 2018
  • Demonstration, CHI, April 2018

Building the Interaction Mechanic

Wanting to explore 3rd-person VR narratives, we chose to have the player be outside the story completely, unseen to the characters like a ghost or Harry Potter in the pensieve. We took inspiration from the removed cinematic perspective of flat-screen interactive dramas like those made by Telltale Games or Quantic Dream. Instead of controlling a character, however, I was tasked with developing an interactive system for affecting the story without dialogue trees or quick-time events.

Gun Interaction - for slide 16.gif
Players unload the blue glowing chamber of a gun by clicking on it.

I created a way to change the story by manipulating the environment. The scene is in gray-scale like an old film, but all the interactive objects glow blue. With a simple point-and-click, each one can be toggled between two states of being (Ex. Locking a safe; Opening window blinds). Once a story-character uses that object, the object locks in however it was last set, and the story diverges accordingly. During testing, we played a great deal with pacing out the availability of these interactions, determining in the end that having every object interactive simultaneously from the start created the most exciting experience.

Designing the Branching Narrative

The story went through many revisions before ever beginning drafting the script itself. I used diagramming software to map out the various pathways the story could travel along based on the game state, much like a finite-state-machine. This design process was a conversation between my vision as the writer, the art team’s capabilities, and the scoping concerns of our lead programmer. Instead of play-testing all 32 versions of the story every time a change was made, I developed structural paradigms for the node-tree. Every column in the chart served a specific narrative function. Regardless of the path players take through the game, every player will hit all the necessary thematic content for a satisfying story arc because of this system.

node tree.png
The flow of the game goes left to right, branching whenever an interactive object locks in.

Writing the Script

Once the node tree was in place, writing the script became a challenge in creating believable dialogue that did not rely too heavily on specific past information. Every line needed to feel like it flowed naturally from the conversation before it even if I could not guarantee which path in the story the player was coming from. Additionally, because we could not guarantee the player’s attention in VR, I needed to find organic ways to repeat important information without dumping exposition. At this point, I began rehearsing with the actors and involving them in the process.

Click here for a writing sample from the game.

playtesting
Me play-testing a scene with the team

Directing Actors

In many respects, we were designing an immersive theater piece for virtual reality, so I borrowed many techniques from that world when working with the actors. We mapped out the space to scale, and I worked carefully to ensure that players always had a comfortable place to stand in the room with the characters.

rehearsal
Actors rehearsing blocking

We knew the characters wouldn’t be as expressive as the real actors, so we created strong, slightly exaggerated personalities for each- the way they moved and the way they spoke distinct in their own right. A fun challenge for me was balancing the necessities of the game with the dramatic action of the piece.

motion-capture
Filming motion capture

I took actors from table read, through rehearsals, to motion capture, down to final voice-over work in the studio.

sound-recording
Recording voice over audio

Looking Ahead

The team is currently working on a collaboration with the Westerdals School of Communication and Design in Oslo to continue developing our game designs further for a second playable prototype.

TO LEARN MORE, VISIT THE GAME WEBSITE HERE.

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