11. Finding a voice - Put on your sittin’ britches an’ let’s chaw the rag
It’s been pretty quiet on the dev front this week. Everyone is hard at work with existing tasks, so I’ll take a turn on the soap box here and tell you a little about the process of writing characters into a game. Now, contrary to what you might expect, getting to actually write any amount of speech or dialogue is pretty rare for a game designer. A lot of games just don’t have a lot to work on in this regard, and the ones that do often have a dedicated writer hired onboard. So this sort of a thing is a treat in general, and doubly so in the case of Cave Digger: I’ve been virtually stuck underground for weeks, working on the level design of the game. It’s nice to get out for a bit.
In addition to all of the other cool features, Cave Digger 2 will introduce us to Clayton: a rough mining man, who is integrally tied to the story of the Valley. He acts as a sort of a guide for the player, and is a driving force in the mysteries you’ll be able to uncover during your adventures. I’ve spent the last few days looking for his metaphorical voice – the actual one we’ve already found, a local chap with a deep resonating bass. But how does a weird west dieselpunk prospector speak, what words would he use? That proved to be an interesting puzzle to solve.
As we’ve mentioned before, the backbone of our narrative style melds spaghetti western with lovecraftian cosmic mysteries. It’s the old west, but pretty dang weird. There’s a wide variety of narrative sources we use as reference, from films to comics to books and art. But none of this really clicked when I started to look for Clayton’s voice. I needed to dig deeper.
From an experiential standpoint, we knew what we wanted Clayton to do. He guides and encourages the player, explains some of the strange things you find in the Valley, and he’s present with the player most of the time. This means he needs to be witty and poignant, and pleasant enough to listen to. I’m sure all gamers can name at least one guide-character who irritated them deeply by butting in with squeaky commentary constantly, or who’s humour is just built on putting down the player unnecessarily (looking at you, Mage’s Tale). These specifications give us a rough impression of what we want the character to say, but there’s still the how to deal with.
So, I went on the internet. Did you know that cowboy poetry is a genre of poetry, and a contemporary one at that? Or that the sayings of old west heroes and villains are surprisingly well documented? Or that Texans seem to have a knack to twist most anything into a convoluted folksy proverb?
When your own creativity is stuck in a rut, you can rely on someone else’s brain for a while! Using reference materials is one of the most important skills of a writer, and doubly so for a game designer. If one dog won’t hunt, you better find another one right quick: pigs get fat, while hogs get slaughtered.
I think I’ve got Clayton’s swagger and voice down now, so I can move on to the next thing: trap design! I’ve discovered a great source for inspiration for that: a book written by a soldier of fortune, covering the makes and models of various types of booby traps used in guerilla warfare. Them mines goin’ to be rigged to blow, so ya better be more careful’n a long tailed cat in a room full’a rockin’ chairs.
Random development quote: “Ei meikästä mihinkään “sun reppu on täynnä dorka” replaan kannata alkaa yrittääkkään rakentaa mitään eksistentiaalista syvyyttä.