May 2017 – Present
|Conferences and Competitions|
|Intel University Games Showcase GDC – Finalist 2018|
One of the Family is a 3rd-person branching narrative VR game that puts players inside the world of a 1940’s film noir crime drama.
Designed and built as a exploration into player identity in virtual reality narratives, One of the Family was the culmination of work done under the project name “Presence” at Carnegie Mellon University. On the team, I had the role of narrative designer, crafting the story and game design from the ground up. This included building the interaction mechanic, designing the branching narrative, writing the script, and directing actors through motion capture and voice over.
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.
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 a diagramming software to map out the various pathways the story could travel along. 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.
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.
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.
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.
I took actors from table read, through rehearsals, to motion capture, down to final voice-over work in the studio.
The team is currently completing finishing touches on the game as we apply for festivals and conferences this upcoming year. We hope to release a publicly playable version some time during this summer.