Last week I put out a couple of tweets, saying that we were going to take advantage of our next game, Total Dark, being self-funded to be pretty open about development, and asked what kinds of information people would like to get. We got an amazing response with loads of questions coming in via Twitter and email and I wanted to try and answer a bunch of them as a lead-up to us announcing the game properly, which is still a little way off.
I’m going to be as candid as I can in these responses, so there’s a big caveat on this – don’t even think of holding us to any of it! We’re early in development so things change all the time... Also bear in mind I condensed the many questions into a smaller number, so I could get through them all...
There were also a few questions about Rapture – and we'll start with those.
Let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@chineseroom) if you have more questions and we'll do our best to answer them in the coming days/weeks.
How did you create and balance the areas in Rapture?
The short answer is that it took a long time and many, many iterations. The starting principle was that we knew we had three types of scene: Passives, which trigger just by running into them; Tilts, where you had to actively fire the scene, and these were scenes that were generally more central to the story, so more critical to discover; and Recs, which meant they were anchored to a telecoms or recording device you’d have to find and switch on (these ended up being the Kate radios you find around the world).
At simplest, we started with areas, and a balanced distribution of events around the area. These were built out of the earliest possible maps for the entire game, which showed the basic locations of each story arc so we could get a sense of the overall geography of Yaughton and think about the changes to the global emotional arc of the game. You can see from these (both generated before we’d signed the game to Sony, interestingly) how we were already thinking about how to border the game world, and some of the key locations that made it through to the final build.
Once we had the arc area broadly figured out, we distributed event markers into the space, making sure that we had an even spacing to fill it and keep it balanced. This was initially done without assigning any content to these, including the type of event it was, and this was done pre-fixing the buildings and character-based context (i.e. who works here, who lives here) for the places in the area. So here’s a very early map of Woods (Wendy’s arc), based on the global area it had to cover and the player’s journey through that:
As you can see, it’s starting to break down into discrete areas, each with a number of events within them. The next step was to evenly break these down into event types, so you’d have a relatively balanced experience – so you didn’t have a whole load of Recs with no Passives first and then four Tilts right on top of each other.
This was still prior to any actual lockdown of the space in terms of what the buildings and stuff actually were. This is an early greybox of Estate (Stephen’s arc):
At this point, we’re dropping in greybox boundaries and buildings alongside working on the events to make sure we’re getting a decent flow around the space. Drawing the player’s eye down roads and using gradients, architecture and vegetation to help them steer and understand where they are is really important, and we tried to make sure this functioned before we added in any signage which would help with that – the space had to instinctively work as somewhere you could naturally navigate around (as well as feeling like a real space – if this flow was too artificial, too gamey, then you’d lose the emotional investment in Yaughton as a ‘real’ space). You can see this happening in the following image, which is an early player flow map of the Camp (Lizzie’s arc):
For this one, Andrew, our designer, has removed the events and just focused on balancing a natural movement around with a realistic suggested placement of actual objects and places.
The next phase was really where the iterations started. We had to integrate these two things, so now finding justifications for the events. Was it appropriate to have a phone or a radio in this location? Did it make sense for the characters to be in this place, and is the placement of the scene narratively justified?
In real terms, this meant we were constantly shuffling and juggling scene and building and landmark locations to keep the flow right, keep all scenes making narrative sense, and keeping the balance between types of scenes correct. On top of this, we then also had to make sure the areas were emotionally balanced, so you didn’t have a whole load of high intensity scenes bunched over in one side of an arc area and a whole load of slow and quiet scenes on the other – although the game is non-linear so you can’t fix the scene-to-scene flow, you could at least try and gently shape the likely experience and at least keep it feeling more consistent.
Then finally the last factor was keeping the story rolling along. There were global plot beats that were more likely to fall in an order – you really discover the reality of the airstrikes in Frank’s arc, although it’s foreshadowed in Jeremy’s, and you’re not going to get a real insight into why Stephen behaves the way he does until near the end, and if you follow Kate’s radios from area to area, her relationship to the Pattern unfolds alongside the main thrust of the plot.
But there’s no real magic bullet to that. Just months and months of work, adjusting and tweaking and moving and managing the consequences of even small changes to scenes and areas that might be three hours and a game world away. Sometimes this involved changes to characters – Sam Jacobs was originally a PE teacher at the local school, but became the Manager of Forley’s because we cut the school and he needed a job in the valley (there are clues in the warehouse about this). We had a few floating scenes – like Charlie and Meg’s goodbye at the van on the way to Stephen’s arc, that we could move around the map a little to give us some flexibility, and so on. But mainly it was just time, and iterations and things like this: