Hello, everyone! Welcome to the first installation of a series of posts on narrative design for AdventureQuest. These will be sporadic discussion pieces, announcements, and perhaps even inquiries, primarily meant to make design decisions and standards known so as to get players and developers on the same page in the future, improving engagement through clear communication. On prior posts and conversations, I have mentioned given narrative devices as not being a current standard, which may rightly cause some to ask: What are the current standards? What assumptions can we make? These and other questions you have asked will be the focus of this series.
Before getting into the meat of today's discussion, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you — The players, this wonderfully chaotic audience that immediately welcomed me and my terrible puns with open arms, and everyone in the AdventureQuest team, whose companionship and support have made my first year as a videogame writer a very welcoming experience.
Beginning my journey with Harvest 2018, I had little clue of what 2019 might have in store. As we near the year's end, I know that I will look back on it as a time of great accomplishment... And of great loss. The response to the Season of Prophecy was flooring, with the Umazen Uprising and Burning Solstice turning into wonderful experiences through the hard work of the team and the enthusiasm of the players. On the back of that joy, the chilling loss of a friend and influence such as Falerin left us a legacy that I cannot possibly overstate the value of — What some might simply call the lore of an old flash game represents the narrative influence that shaped my way of thinking in my formative years, and is now a torch burning in my hands. A great work that I cannot but resolve to do justice. That is my promise to you, and to the memory of a friend whom I did not appreciate enough in life.
Without further ado, let's move on to the day's features:
As the foundational note, this is the ideal place to lay out the values and goals applying to my writing for AdventureQuest. Beyond accountability, this should help to set expectations and provide a framework for future discussions. The core values are as follows:
Consistency: This is an essential element of the trade, and my primary value as a writer. Managing player expectations is crucial to maintaining their immersion, as it's difficult to remain invested in the progress and outcome of a story if it fails to follow the rules it sets itself. The management of expectations, be it through meeting or subverting them, requires one to maintain a level of respect for the attention they represent. Without this regard, even the most tense situation will be robbed of gravity. Test a player's suspension of disbelief too often or too strongly and it will, itself, be suspended. Tonal and narrative consistency can be a particular challenge in a long-standing game where life circumstances have forced multiple storylines to end abruptly or even forced writers to work at cross-purposes due to writing during different periods with different needs to meet. Now, storylines don't need to merge nor be entirely separate in order to strengthen each other. However, building a cohesive direction going forward while honoring the work of my predecessors is a commitment that you can expect to see in every quest I write.
Synergy: Lore and its lore are greater than the sum of their parts - and there are parts ga-lore. They shine brightest when it shows that this is a world where all of the separate factions and regions have evolved and impacted each other over time. As players have pointed out when displaying enthusiasm for stories both present and gone by, we have a lot of potential to realize and a lot of unexplored ground to manifest it in. Going forward, there will be many opportunities to explore Lore's past and its ongoing changes. I am committed to building on the lore and exploring its untapped strength rather than only make additions to it, and I will respect the foundation laid by my forerunners in the process.
Balance: Specifically, the balance of levity and gravity. We have, and will continue to have, both serious quests as well as those dedicated to humor. After all, when concluding a story, dramatic tension is generally best resolved with dramatic resolution, and comedic tension is best relieved with comedic relief. However, different tones are neither monolithic nor mutually exclusive. I have been giving each a place in quests predominantly framed by the other, and your response to this has been very positive so far. Humor often helps us cope with hard situations, while sometimes difficulty can interrupt lighter times. Managing this line carefully to try and achieve the best of both worlds, I will endeavor to play to the strengths of our staple humor and epic stories while neglecting neither aspect.
The Chosen's Alignment
The Alignment Compass was a staple feature of a number of quests during the Devourer Saga, impacting dialogue choices and a number of rewards, as well as providing divergent dialogue in a number of quests following from that period. However, going forward, it became the steadily growing elephant in the room that is the protagonist's morality. Regardless of this feature, the vast majority of content portrays the Chosen as being good. Impressions and bonds, not to mention entire storylines, are dependent on this assumption. To truly do the Alignment Compass justice going forward would require retroactive work that unfortunately clashes with the aforementioned principles -- I could not and will not invalidate the work of those writers who came before me with wholesale retcons. However, for that very reason, I certainly cannot discard it either. What, then, will we do with it?
An important skill I learned from Falerin is the transformation of an obstacle into an asset. Here we have an opportunity to do that twice over. Over time, a key assumption has become essential to the trust and ongoing cooperation of many characters, even if we discount the opinions of given antagonists: That the Chosen is fundamentally a good hero. A further hindrance to resolution is that nearly any possible approach, even leaving the problem unsolved, curtails a necessary degree of role playing by either assuming or asserting the player's choice rather than follow the variable they have worked on.
To solve this twofold issue, we present a two-step solution:
Step One: Alignment
The Chosen will still be known as a good hero, but without a static commitment to traditional alignments such as being lawful or chaotic, nor being perpetually nice or mean. The hero's independence results in varied execution, and their motivations remain up to you -- Are you a destructive hero? Do you push the boundaries of what qualifies as good but still get the job done, or are you an utter paragon? The specifics are up to you. Perhaps you're a peculiar sort who is utterly committed to the preservation of the world as a simple matter of survival, but have other intentions.
Step Two: Background
A backstory is something that AdventureQuest has lacked the luxury of, as it would both invalidate the introduction and shrink the necessary 'blank' segment of the protagonist that players can fill in with their own preferences and aesthetic. Let's fix that. Together.
Going forward, as one of several planned features, we will apply a solution that validates the Alignment Compass rather than removing its importance. Your alignment will represent the Chosen's background: The Chosen's Background will reflect the kind of choices they made during the Devourer Saga and even before then; the actions they took before gradually becoming who they are today. Characters and rewards will reflect this, detailing the hero's journey without invalidating player choice - Achieving the best we can reach of both worlds.
That concludes today's Design Notes. Next time, we will cover other topics you have expressed interest in and asked questions about. Until then, Battle On!