Hello, I’m Ed. I started writing the narrative for miniLAW a couple of months ago. I’m also working on Lasso’s other upcoming title, Levantera. I thought I’d write a post about what our goals are for miniLAW’s narrative, how we’re accomplishing them, and what we’ve got in stock for the next couple of updates.
The right kind of storyline
Narrative design for games is all about making a story that complements and enhances the game that it’s a part of. For miniLAW, the challenge is to make a story that develops the world of New Babel, explores the crisis surrounding the bomb, and imparts some of the 2000AD-style flavour that informs so much of the rest of the game.
However, there are also several practical considerations. The story shouldn’t interrupt the flow of the action sequences, it must contain eventualities for each of the four factions that can be in control of the bomb, and it must be designed in such a way that it doesn’t become repetitive when you play the game again from the beginning. It shouldn’t impede the flow of the game in its current state, and it shouldn’t constitute just another hurdle for the player to jump over. It should fit alongside the game without demanding that players pay it any more attention than they think it’s worth.
Most importantly, the player is a detective. The Constable’s job is to track down the bomb by kicking in doors until he finds something that puts him on the right track. The story must reflect this. Paying attention to the narrative should give the player a sense that rational deductive thinking can yield the best results.
How it’s going to work
The system we’re currently working on works as follows: Piggybacking on the existing clue system, players will sometimes find phone numbers and revealing documents in the world. These numbers can be dialled into the modern telephone system in the player’s car, and the player will meet various lowlife characters from around New Babel. Most of these phone calls end in arrests (the Constable has authority enough that he can instruct miniLAW Dispatch to arrest pretty much anyone).
Each faction has their own set of storylines (although only the Animus Consortium is currently written) that can be accessed in this way. These storylines yield extra clues that the player can use to find the bomb, and they also tie into an overarching plot centred around the identity of the bomber.
These storylines play out entirely through the phone system, in order to ensure that the action sequences keep their pace and freedom to explore. To support this, we have the narrative expediency of the Arresting Officer Protocol - the idea that Constables of miniLAW always make first contact with perps before arrests take place, in the hope of extracting a speedy confession and keeping the investigation moving. For a New Babel criminal, their worst nightmare is waking up to discover a Constable on their telescreen, because it inevitably means there are a gang of baton-wielding cops waiting outside to make the arrest. The perp normally has a chance to reduce their eventual sentence if they cooperate immediately. However, few do so without some coercion.
Without wanting to give away too much about progression, there are points where the player might be able to make a leap of logic or take the investigation into their own hands by dialling various numbers stored in the New Babel Business Directory, but if you go in for a more passive playstyle you’ll also find the answers out in the world if you march around long enough. It’s impossible to ever lose at a narrative event. The worst outcomes will generally result in delays, which could be critical given that the bomb will explode in 24 hours. Sometimes you might get a punitive fine from miniLAW if they think you’ve gone seriously errant. The umbrella aim is to get as much information as possible, as quickly as possible.
What we’re working on now
Currently the focus is on writing the next bunch of plotlines (the next gang to get the treatment is Renegade Justice, radical communists turned violent criminals), as well as on developing and testing the set of tools we’re using to build these storylines. It’s a complex system with quite a lot of moving parts and so bugs and crashes are likely. Please, keep the reports coming in.
Additionally, we’re keen to hear thoughts about the narrative itself. Is there too much of it? Is it too rare, or too abundant? Is there an angle you’d like to see the writing address? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense? Nothing is concrete at this stage. Thanks in advance.
There’s lots more narrative to come. We’re not going to release any endgame narrative content until all four gangs are implemented, so for the time being the plot mostly revolves around catching senior gang members. The real ringleaders will come at a later date. The aim is to have this all finished by the end of the summer, but we currently have a writing staff of one (me), so it may take a little longer.