Not every story is on the printed page or Kindle screen. This past month, a few members of my team at Trendy Entertainment worked on revamping the existing story line in Dungeon Defenders II that lives in the game’s campaign. As a tower defense action role-playing game, this meant a blend between intro video, in-game clips, map mouse over tooltips, and loading screens with sequential narrative threads.
As an existing game that’s been live since 2015 with a mixed bag of one-off content, levels, maps, and boss battles, part of the challenge here came about as we examined metrics that told us that 60% of new players and returning players had not finished the old campaign, which was created before my time, nor had they gotten past level 20.
So, we took a look at all the content and wove an adventure story over the course of 18 levels and changed how the game plays with much more frenetic pacing, leveling players to 50, filling their bags with loot for their full hero deck, and streamlining the flow for the entire quest chain. It’s really made a big difference and we’re super excited to get it in the hands of our players next week.
As a veteran video game designer, this comes easy. As a writer, I had to work with existing media such as the old intro video, which established the inciting incident of the game and the backdrop of the world, along with key characters. From there it was a task of looking at all the levels, the locations they represented, and mapping out a journey for the core ensemble cast. In many ways, the “fellowship” needed to face immediate problems, bump into new mysteries, and ultimately defeat the nemesis of the entire franchise. The writing developed needed to tease what the player was about to play.
This technique happens in classic games such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and classic remakes such as Pillars of Eternity. The player arrives in a new location and needs to know why. They need accolades for their previous victory, but at the same time, teased about how everything is starting to fit together. In many ways, this is similar to the challenge of some of the series type programs we’ve seen over the last few years from The Tudors, to Vikings, to House of Cards, to True Detectives. Along the way, you have enough information to know what’s happening in the present, but only a vague idea of how it all fits together.
Now granted a paragraph of story line on loading screens is of no comparison to the incredible scripts of these multi-million dollar and award winning programs, but as a writer, you have to leverage the small spaces in between actual game play to create a story that starts with words and a few key images, but crystallizes in the player’s mind.
I think our team did a great job on this and that this was worthy of a blog entry!