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bset

The Dual Story Model: Analysis and Potential Pitfalls

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So as we saw recently, Tim now has a generated concept he is working with, and I think it's fairly intriguing and has a lot of potential. Also however, I have recently replayed Day of the Tentacle (which explores a similar parallel story concept) and find myself mildly concerned about running into some issues that I would not like to see in a multi-story narrative. Now there are two routes which generate concerns. One in which the stories do not interact with each other until a given act (effectively creating a linear chapter-driven story) and one in which stories directly influence one another at any given time (like the cross-time puzzles in DotT).

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Pros of a dual story structure:

* We are free to broaden the narrative at convenient points so that the user can take time to chew over the events of the last act of that sub-story. That is to say, I can tell stories about Ren and Stimpy, and when Stimpy makes a revelation, I can switch to exposition in the Ren story while the events of the last act sink in.

* We get to be very clever with cross-referencing stories. We can litter elements that connect the stories if the user is clever enough to make the connection or even apply some meta humor by acknowledging the other narrative within a story or directly breaking the fourth wall on the subject.

* We leave the door open for user choice regarding allowing a user to determine which world they want to spend more time in. Why spend all your time with the goofy and lovable character, when you would rather spend your time working towards world domination with an insatiable madman (I'm looking at you purple and green tentacles).

* We also leave the door open for a purposely branching storyline. By presenting two narratives off the bat, we begin with a premise of choice that can be built on to produce many possible results based on alternate solutions to puzzles, choices made given either of the characters, or exclusive choice to pursue one narrative at a given time versus another.

Cons of such a dual narrative for a linear storyline (chapter-driven):

* If the user identifies with one narrative more than the other, every other chapter will feel like a trudge.

* We miss the opportunity for clever cross-story puzzles (though we trade this for a better unified narrative).

* We risk sizing chapters poorly creating long waits before returning to a narrative.

* We risk over-isolating narratives so that the game does not feel like a single integrated experience.

Cons of such a dual narrative for a non-linear storyline (cross-story interaction):

* We risk making bad cross-story puzzles:

** Puzzles that break the flow because each narrative is at a different point and requires "maintenance" on other storylines to solve a puzzle

** Puzzles that fail to be logical in nature because we must interact-cross narrative arbitrarily. DotT did this a few times in which there was a "treasure hunt" for items in one timeline that needed to be utilized in another for no obvious reason. Enforcing logic behind puzzles is difficult enough, but is even easier to slip up on when support multiple narratives.

* We risk breaking the flow of the non-linear interaction with linear plot devices. Again, DotT has a number of examples of this. You could only even play two of three characters until a particular linear event unlocked the third, which then provided all kinds of tools to be used in the other storylines.

* We risk over-inflating the narrative by failing to hold on characters long enough. Scoping puzzles or sections too short leaves the narrative feeling highly erratic and potentially difficult to remember.

* We face increased challenge in scoping the storyline experience as the user is heavily in control of when rising and falling action occurs. A large scoped puzzle may be completed before a smaller scoped one making the second puzzle seem insignificant. When solved in the reverse order, the first puzzle builds up to the larger one.

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I think those are all the concerns I have for now, but perhaps people can see what I mean. The dual storyline has definite benefits, but it also has increased challenges to consider when crafting the narrative and world. I wish good luck to the team at Double Fine and look forward to seeing them execute this idea well. I sincerely hope you're enthusiasm goes to 11.

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Very interesting and complete analysis bset!

* If the user identifies with one narrative more than the other, every other chapter will feel like a trudge.

This is the #1 reason I stop playing games with multiple narratives. I can't think of any single game that I enjoyed where the playable characters couldn't interact with each other directly and were living different stories from their perspective. It's like reading two autobiographies simultaneously, it's just weird and not fulfilling. Day of the Tentacle worked because the characters already knew each other, had a common goal right from the beginning and could share information and items.

I'm not against the idea however. If both stories quickly merge together and the interactions between the characters are varied and original, it could totally work. We'll see. I'm confident that Tim Schafer and his team will take the right decision on this regard.

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You make very good points, bset.

I love the idea of a dual-story structure, but yes, it could end really well or really badly.

The possibilities are wonderful, though, when you consider that it also raises the possibility of having two different art/music styles which may even become integrated with each other at times. It really raises a lot of creative possibilities. It also has the potential to really engage the player if they can identify and enjoy both characters at any given time.

I think really, to avoid puzzle bottlenecks, multiple solutions/paths for puzzles are a great way to go. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is one of those games that I think executed it incredibly well, and allowed the player to tailor their game experience around their personal preference. This game might be able to emulate that, to a degree.

But right now, Tim's idea is just a possible building block that may or may not lead to something greater. If he scraps the idea for something that he and his team thinks will work even better, I will not be upset.

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Like they said, great analysis.

Although I know I've seen this in a games before, I can't remember when I would have seen this (Unfortunately I have not played Maniac Mansion or Day of the Tentacle). However, I love this as a method of storytelling in general, so I'd love to see it all work out.

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Wait a mo, you're saying the game isn't going to be about chinchillas? aw man...

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Wait a mo, you're saying the game isn't going to be about chinchillas? aw man...

Now now, we heard it's going to be a coming of age story with a boy and a girl in a spaceship and castle setting respectively. We didn't say anything about it not involving chinchillas.

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I suppose In theory all concerns are valid. I can't think of a game that really suffered because of it though (the one that popped into my mind when hearing about this was 'Gemini Rue' and the dual story really worked well in it). The magic that can happen when the two stories finally converge after carefully building up to it, is the real pro of such a format for me and it can potentially overshadow all the cons.

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Some exemples of concurrent stories:

Dreamfall - we all know... :)

Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) - female inspector vs male suspect.

Still Life - female inspector and the diary of her grandfather.

Overclocked: A Story of Violence - story from the perspective of 6 persons.

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Great thread!

I think you can add yet another distinction:

Do the characters share all information?

In DOTT it is kind of assumed that the characters know what the others are up to (this is pretty reasonable as they can talk to each other via the teleporting toilets). Contrast this with for example Gray Matter, where Sam and David are keeping secrets from each other. This second format makes various kinds of dramatic irony possible that can add lots of depth to the story. But it also carries a risk: A player that knows more than the character does can be forced into making stupid decisions that makes sense for the character but not for the player.

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What if there was a 2 player online option to the game where you and a friend or stranger take on the roles of the two main characters, you wouldn't have to both be online at the same time to play it as each would have their individual path to follow except for some elements of the game where both players have to be online at the same time to work out puzzles or have the characters interact with each other.

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I'm very curious to see how the two plot lines will connect, as the concept could be taken in vastly different directions. One of the things that popped into my head when thinking about it was binary star systems. Perhaps the two characters could be on planets around two different suns which are in a long elliptical orbit around each other, keeping them at a great distance for millennia, perhaps, but eventually bringing them close enough for contact. I've heard some interesting theories about our own sun being in a binary system, and the effect the proximity of the two stars has on consciousness and the rise and fall of civilizations. Whether or not it's the case, I certainly find it interesting.

250px-Orbit5.gif

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I don't think theres any reason to doubt anything... It's Tim Schafer on the writing duty.

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I'm very curious to see how the two plot lines will connect, as the concept could be taken in vastly different directions. One of the things that popped into my head when thinking about it was binary star systems. Perhaps the two characters could be on planets around two different suns which are in a long elliptical orbit around each other, keeping them at a great distance for millennia, perhaps, but eventually bringing them close enough for contact. I've heard some interesting theories about our own sun being in a binary system, and the effect the proximity of the two stars has on consciousness and the rise and fall of civilizations. Whether or not it's the case, I certainly find it interesting.

250px-Orbit5.gif

Wow I like it! Though that would leave out any interaction between them, Up until the planets meet of cause. Are we thinking "Another Earth" here?

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My initial reaction was to flinch cynically, since the boy/girl thing sounds like it could easily fall into being saccharine, but thinking about it Schafer's games have typically involved adolescence (without being cloying), so while I don't like it as a theme I'm sure it will be good in the final product.

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Perhaps the two characters could be on planets around two different suns which are in a long elliptical orbit around each other...

etc

250px-Orbit5.gif

I really like this idea. It's a thread worth tugging upon. Even DFA turns out to be wildly different, you should still retain this idea and develop it...

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Well, in case Tim was thinking down that sort of path, I certainly make no claim over the idea, I just thought it seemed to fit nicely with the dual story concept. :)

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Well, in case Tim was thinking down that sort of path, I certainly make no claim over the idea, I just thought it seemed to fit nicely with the dual story concept. :)

Well in episode two of the doc, he does actually mention that they are in two different worlds. this could mean something like this.

BOY_________GIRL

Poor rich

World 1 World 2

Universe 1 Universe 2

Dimension 1 dimension 2

If he goes with this which i personally think is a great idea then you not only have one side of a story but a second. Depending on how its pulled off it can make the game and i have full confidence they can do it very well. As far as the liking one character over the other, that tends to happen in almost every game. Example, In batman arkham Asylum and Arkham City i preferred Joker over Bats the entire time JUST because he is a great character. I like bats but i would rather have played as joker over say catwoman or robin ETC.

There is always going to be that once character you like more than the other. So at least and hopefully the choice will be ours to make. That is the point of adventure right? Making choices based on your experiences and own tastes and talents? I still even with the cons think this is a good move for the game itself. JUST my own opinion.

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Those are all good points. And I like your replies too, guys. I hope it turns out to be a good, well-executed gameplay element, and a non-linear way of telling an awesome story- one that actually benefits from this idea.

But the first thing I thought when Tim mentioned that the two characters were a boy and a girl is the duality that comes with that age. I'm not talking about sexuality ( Not so adventure-y) or madness ( mmm Schizophrenia... could be interesting ). I'm talking about being trapped between two worlds: rationality vs irrationality, geometry vs doodles, adulthood vs childhood. Add some crazy, distant, unexplicable love to the picture and it's even more complicated.

And possibly, funny as hell. While being a serious issue. In a funny adventure game. With serious matters.

I hope you understand what I'm trying to say here. My english is not very good. Ciao.

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Interesting thoughts, I kind of see the duality you mention as the rational\intellectual vs emotional\creative, masculine principles vs feminine ones. And from my perspective the trajectory of growth and maturity is always towards bringing the two poles together, into balance and unity, which can be nicely symbolized by love bringing the male and female characters together.

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