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  Mechanic #130 - Comic Building Adventure
Posted: 07/22/11

Keep a comic book representation of your game choices after you win.




Fig 130.1 - What a comic looks like, in case you forgot.


This one centers on the basic aspect of recording your adventure as a comic book. The idea is that adventure and Japanese role playing games - two genres classified largely by their incorporation of narrative - are a lot of fun to play... the first time. Adventure games have the problem of knowing the answer to the puzzles, thus subsequent playthroughs are less about experiencing the adventure again as it is simply connecting the dots to win the game. JRPGs, on the other hand, have the problem that they rely on a lot of filler and grinding, thus lengthening what could be a ten hours experience into the triple digits.

The idea is that you might want to experience the narrative again without having to actually play the game again. Or, perhaps even more interestingly, to record your unique experience with the game to share with others. That is, two players could have two different experiences and simply trade comics to share them. There are other reasons why this could be beneficial. Everything from walkthroughs to bragging rights to sharing experiences in forums. Possibly, it could even be used as an extremely fancy save file - sort of [#012 - Image Save Files] taken to an embarrassingly excessive place.

  Choose Your Own Adventure



Fig 130.2 - Choose your own stupidity.


This idea is conceptually and technically very simple. It is simply a comic book that you read, panel to panel, that occasionally gives you choices to make which will affect what comes next. Each segment is non-interactive. Deciding to enter the haunted house will always give you the same set of twenty panels until you reach the next decision point. As such, all the panels could be created in advance, and what the player decides at each junction simply decides which panels are shown next. In that way, it is simply a more visual way of representing the static branching paths of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

Before I continue on to the next segment, I want to take a moment to discuss the hidden potential in the CYOA style of interactive narrative. Originally, these were the most basic of branching narratives. It looked like a tree. Everybody starts at the root, and each decision they make along the way locks them into an increasingly small set of endings. "Winning" a CYOA book is simply a matter of find the single path through the branches.

However, there is a lot of potential in the form that can make it something more complex than a simple tree. The ability to revisit nodes and keep track of variables can create a very expansive, detailed experience. The online game, Virtually Date Ariane (which can get a bit not suitable for work), keeps track of a few dozen variables that will affect the outcomes. For instance, it keeps track of how drunk Ariane is, which will affect how she responds to various suggestions. Similarly, it uses hub-style nodes that allow you to revisit areas and move around the game world. The game is not very intuitive, but there are many different adventures you can have - most of which involve you getting kicked out for making lewd suggestions.

I have a game book called Fabled Lands, which uses hundreds of small nodes and hubs to create a sandbox-like game adventure where you are free to move around and explore at will. In fact, you can even purchase other volumes of the series and travel between them, as each volume represents a new continent with new items and quests. You also keep tracks of skills and inventory, engage in combat, and even purchase land to live on.

My point with all this is that you can create a sweeping, massive in scale adventure with hundreds of unique choices, using variables and other factors to affect the outcome and experience of the game itself. Each player's experience can be vastly different, and thus the comic version of their adventure more unique.

Of course, employing hubs leads to a situation where you might have the player wandering around aimlessly for pages and pages. Or, if you have combat sequences, you could have many panels dedicated to such exciting actions as "drinking a heal potion" or "attacking and missing". A player may go grinding, killing dozens of enemies, spending large sections of the game simply walking between the inn and dungeon. You could cut those segments out, but how do you build a narrative where the player seems to teleport between locations and kills the final boss?




Fig 130.3 - Unrolling a comic book.


The secret is to think of a comic as a linear series of panels, where each panel belongs in a small hierarchy of scenes. Let's say that they work at three levels. At the top level is the scenario. It details what the current story narrative is, such as "rescue the princess" or "cure the poison in the town's drinking water". Each scenario is broken up into locations, such as the town, cave, evil castle, etc. Then, within each location, you have a scene. Dialogues, combat, or solving a particular puzzle.



Fig 130.4 - Breaking it down into scenarios, locations, and scenes.


Essentially, what is happen is that the original long linear lines of panels represents the player's exact experience in the game. What we want to do is rearrange some of these scenes, cut some of them, and combine others. We want to take the raw experience and apply some creative editing to it.


Scenarios are the easiest part, since they typically represent large portions of the timeline, come in the same order, and tend to have a specific beginning, middle, and end. In other words, we can edit each scenario individually without worrying about how it will affect any of the other scenarios. They are self contained and linear. The player will encounter them in the same order, for the most part.

However, if you have a non-linear game where the player can participate in multiple scenarios simultaneously, it becomes a little bit more muddied. How you handle that would largely depend on how you would handle non-linear stories, such as cutting between scenarios or rearranging them into a chronological order. But that's beyond the scope of this idea, so let's just assume they are linear and sequential.


Locations are where the first editing is done. Basically, each location block will have a number of scenes that take place in it, and these scenes will be different levels of importance. Simply put, you can combine same location blocks if the blocks in-between them have no critical scenes contained in them. For instance, going to town to heal and buy more supplies would have no critical scenes in it, nor would any scenes that take place in the locations between the town and the dungeon, as combat against non-boss enemies would be non-critical. As such, these locations and their scenes can be cut outright, and then the two dungeon scenes that bookend them can be combined into a single scene.

Non-critical scenes can be combined in various ways too. For instance, narratively, you won't actually care what items are bought at the store for combat purposes. This scene - and all like it - can be summed up in a single panel with the text, "And then I bought some supplies". The word bubble for that panel, showing the character talking with the shopkeeper could even contain the contents that were purchased ("I'd like some healing potions, a new sword, and a dancing monkey").

Similarly, combat is a non-critical scene that will happen frequently. The way we can summarize combat is to combine it together into a montage, showing parts of each combat sequence from various enemies. Narratively speaking, the combat montage would happen near the beginning of a new location, but if there were various critical scenes that happened between the combat scenes, you might need multiple montages.

Finally, each location will require an establishing shot, to show the reader that the action has moved, not just in location, but also in time. Going from a summary of a trip to the store and moving directly into a combat montage would be confusing. Inserting a scene in-between that shows the entrance to the forest would help distance those two actions in time and space.


Critical scenes are going to largely be puzzle solving moments or epic boss fights. In general, these will follow along the typical puzzle tree-style graph. For the most part, you must find the key before you can use the key. However, narratively, it might not work that way. Finding a key without having a door to unlock is narratively quite distinct from finding a key to a locked door you previously couldn't open.

As such, I propose that there be slightly different scenes depending on the order in which critical events happen. When you find a key, you could get a scene which says, "I found a mysterious key. I don't know what it unlocks yet, but it's sure to come in handy" if you haven't found the door, and a scene which says, "This key looks about the right size to unlock that door I previously couldn't open. Oh happy day!" if you have.

  Further Possibilities

Ultimately, this isn't so much a game idea as it is a way to record and represent a game after it has been played. One could let the player do the editing himself. He can take the long strip of panels and combine scenes and create montages using some sort of editing tool. However, I think this would be less enjoyable. Few players would bother doing it themselves, though they would likely do better than the computer, and the end result would be few comic adventures being shared with others.

Still, I think the idea has possibilities, as you can simply post your comic series in a forum or something and share you adventures in a particular game. It would advertise the game, create a community around it, and give players the ability to talk about their experiences in a more expressive way.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.