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Humans Must Answer
Blog: Writing For A Genre That Doesn't Welcome Words
November 13, 2012 - DISHTY
Our latest blog post comes from the game writer and PR fellow here at Sumom Games (yes I'm writing about myself in the third person), Chris Priestman, who tackles the role of Game Writers and how he has been tailoring the narrative of Humans Must Answer.
You can read the full blog post over on Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/ChrisPriestman/20121112/181416/Writing_For_A_Genre_That_Doesnt_Welcome_Words.php
Concerning how we're experimenting with narrative in Humans Must Answer, as outlined in the blog, we're ensuring that the true flow a shmup should have is maintained at all times. The narrative is always present but it never interferes. In truth, you could almost completely ignore it, but if you want to find out more about the game's fiction and unlock the hidden knowledge and secrets within, there's plenty there to keep you working and puzzling over. The way the secret world of Fez unfolds is a big influence!
Here's a noteworthy extract from the blog:
"If Humans Must Answer wasn't a scrolling shooter then things may be a little easier. It's not though so ideas of free exploration have mostly been scrapped; though not entirely. Secret areas as a reward for those who pay attention to the story elements in the gameplay is one thing we've decided to include. Players create parts of the narrative by choosing which paths through the levels they'd like at times too. Another ingredient is having multiple endings, or at least, having two versions of the ending that invoke further answers and replays of the game to be sought. Clues about the game's events and story are hidden everywhere, even within the menus. So we've utilized as much of the game space as we can, but what about the core gameplay? Due to the constantly scrolling nature of many shmups and of Humans Must Answer to be specific, the space to tell a story is extremely tight. As previously mentioned, we don't want to pause the action to tell the story. So even if we do fit it in, then it's bound to be very cramped as it's most likely forced to sit alongside intensive action scenes so as to inform them.
In this I've had to accept that the story can be easily ignored, not out of spite but because the player's attention has to be on the enemies and the disposal of them quite often. Rather than fighting the gameplay for attention, I've had to accept integrating my narrative signifiers directly into the action, or in a purposely subtle way so as to intrigue rather than tell directly. This is partly why they remain simple and/or very obvious outside of the tutorial levels, in which I'm able to insert some small sentences. Mostly these signifiers boil down to parts of the background image, prominent symbols, hidden paths, graffiti, interruptions in broadcasts, small animations to convey behaviour and moments of downtime. The latter has been especially interesting to consider, especially in something as action-packed as a scrolling shmup. We hope that giving the player some time, even a few seconds, to reflect and look around should cause them to engage with the surrounding narrative at key moments. They should start questioning a few things and that is where the key lies for us, as with questions emerges the pursuit of answers (note the game's title)."