Mysterious Path will switch between several modes of play
Playing the Mysterious Path hypercomic will involve more than just navigating a path through the adventures branching plot lines. While making 'dramatic' choices is likely to be the primary focus of the Mysterious Path experience there will be several other play modes. Including modes enabling you to fight battles, converse with NPCs and a play a selection of skill based mini-games.
NB: I am still contemplating how (and if) I should include any game elements as they could be seen as an obstacle/distraction to the story. I am hoping game elements will enhance the core experience, by changing the pace and adding tension, where success or failure will lead to interesting consequences for the player. One gamebook enthusiast has identified a difference in purely narrative focused interactive fiction and ones that are fused with game elements - I think I'd like to blur this binary distinction a little.
My design challenge will be to get these disparate modes to gel seamlessly together. Ok, so what are these play modes...
1) Panel flow - The comic reading bit.
2) Fight flow - The fighting bit.
5) Mini games - Collection of assorted skill tests (strength, speed, memory)
4) Dialogue - Interactive conversations with other game characters.
5) Menus - Invoking and navigating menu items (inventory, spells, clues)
6) Game over - End mode... what happens next?
Players will switch play modes by: making a choice (or series of choices) or it will be determined by the success or failure of another interactive mode (a fight, conversation or skill check)
Example of mode switching below...
1. Panel flow
Should the comic be responsive and morph to fit on various device sizes (mobile, tablet, desktop)? Should I design for the small screen first? Or are times changing (tablet first!?)
How will the presentation change in portrait or landscape mode? Should I choose fixed view? If so, which screen orientation works best!?
How will the user flick between panels: scrolling, swiping or clicking through? Are pages a dead concept? If so how will I cluster sequences of related panels? Where do I put all those speech bubbles and captions? And, most importantly, what new experiences (afforded by a digital format) will enhance the reading experience?
I have performed a little research on the question of digital comic presentation but will follow up with a post on my proposed 'solution.
2. Fight flow
When a player engages in combat with another game character he enters the Fight Flow mode. This mode should feel more dramatic and tense than Panel Flow mode, visually it needs to represent a step up in gear.
I have still yet to decide on the exact combat mechanics for the game. Should combat be turn based or real-time? Should fights be based on strategic decisions or skill based tests? How will stats be displayed? What about special attacks or weapons? Should I minimise/remove luck as factor in determining the outcome of a battle? Shouldn't the player should feel as though they lost a fight due to a lack of skill or poor strategic decisions, rather than robbed by an unfortunate die roll?
I've even contemplated a simplistic scissor, paper, stone combat mechanic, which I don't think is as daft as it sounds (Other gamebookers kinda agree). Look out for other combat explorations in subsequent posts.
3. Mini gamesThe Mini Game mode will fulfill the role of the skill/luck tests in the original Fighting Fantasy books to create a win/lose outcome that does not involve combat.
Again, rather than use dice, I plan to present a mini game experience that is suitable for the in-game challenge (e.g a reaction test to avoid a surprise attack, or a memory challenge to cast a spell)
Will these real time events break the comic conceit of read at your own pace? I don't want to create a videogame, animation or multimedia experience. I want to remain true to the comics core principles. You effectively watch Tell Tales Game's Walking Dead. Choices are timed (which creates tension and panic) but non-interaction is an option too! You can sit back and watch the outcome. They use time consistently throughout the experience and have created a great, narrative focused game. In an earlier post I describe how motion comics 'play' the story to you and become an impoverished form of animation, no longer using the principles sequential art.
So the jury's out on how/if I should include real time components... although they have definitely been used effectively by other designer/developers. I'm not sure they have a place in Mysterious Path. I do plan on giving it a try though!
4. DialogueMeaningful relationships with non-player characters (NPC) were always clumsily handled in early gamebook, interactions with them were very limited and, as result, these stories failed to tap into the potential a supporting cast of characters could offer an interactive story. Enabling a mode were you can converse with NPCs (seek their advice, their support and approval) is a great way to foster emotional bonds and get the player to care more about the consequences of their actions.
With this mode, rather than following strict comic conventions, I will attempt to inject some of the personality from my other source of inspiration, 8bit RPGs and maybe adopt a chat style interaction model.
This format would be great on small screen, but would it scale to larger screens? Will it jar the comic format of panel flow? Will little avatar icons be able to help convey emotions? Again one to experiment with.
5. MenusAccessing and navigating menus will need to be simple and elegant, allowing player to access and manage their inventory, spells and other collected information without fuss.
A menu may be evoked at particular juncture in the game or at anytime on user command.
Aesthetic inspiration for the menu system will be drawn from old school 8bit RPGs, but may also employ some of the conventions of card/boardgames.
The larger design task here will be to develop a global navigation for starting/continuing multiple games, tracking different paths and scores and, maybe one day, for downloading expansion packs.
6. Game overNot really a mode of play... but end game does raise a lot of interesting questions.
What happens when a characters dies? Do they have a limited lives lives? Can they earn more lives? Would being resurrected too many times deny them the true ending? Can they easily retrace their steps and try another branch? Does the game have saved points? Could collecting interesting death scenes be an interesting mini achievement to encourage replay? Should players be allowed to die at all? Without fear of death will there be any risk/engagement? Could failure be about narrative resolution rather than death of the character?
Others have discussed death in interactive fiction. My current view is that bad luck should not be a factor in whether you can complete a Mysterious Path adventure, after all who didn't fudge dice rolls when playing Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Surely there must be a prevailing sense of danger to help keep the player challenged/focused. A delicate balance of exploring the dramatic possibilities and risk/reward gameplay is the ambition.