Starcrossed narrative design
StarCrossed is an action arcade game featuring both an Endless Arcade Mode and a Story Mode. Story Mode features visual novel style cutscenes, which change depending on which two characters are selected for gameplay. The narrative is told entirely through dialogues between characters.
For this project, I am both the narrative designer and dialogue writer. On this page I'll discuss my process and the overall structure of the narrative.
Dialogue samples and storyboard of opening cinematic:
Our goal for the StarCrossed Story Mode was to create a compelling linear experience which would then be modified to reflect the selected characters. It was important for our characters to express their personalities and play off of each other, and I also wanted players to explore each pairing's relationship in its own playthrough. We also took scope into consideration, since for most scenes I would be writing 10 variations and playtesting would be needed for each.
The core plot points remain the same, but additional dialogue is slotted in if certain characters are selected. For example, if The Weapon is selected when fighting The Scientist (who created them) then an additional scene is added to address their relationship and provide closure for that plot point. These bonus dialogues give players a look into the character's backstory and provide context for side characters and their relationship to the main cast.
This narrative structure also includes writing unique interstitial dialogues for each possible pairing (so each scene of this type has 10 variations). As the pairs journey together, their bond grows stronger. They discuss conflict, emotions, and personal motivations. Though the overall plot doesn't change, the majority of the dialogue changes on each playthrough depending on the characters selected.
Simplified visual representation of narrative design:
Overall, the structure of the narrative is quite linear.
In this graphic, light purple represents interstitial dialogues, which feature the two characters currently in play and are unique to that pairing.
The other colors represent scenes that are considered core plot points. Each major scene is relevant to a character and additional an additional supplementary scene is slotted in if that character is active.
Detailed wireframe of narrative design flow:
StarCrossed does not contain any branching narrative dependent on player choices. We developed our own system for handling the writing within Unity, which includes pulling content from a Google Drive Spreadsheet which contains a matrix of scenes and character combinations.
A custom script parses the spreadsheet and converts all dialogue into C# code that can be directly referenced in the game code. Special tags written directly into the spreadsheet are parsed at runtime and control which character is actively speaking and which character portrait to show (to display emotions). The tags can also control formatting, line breaks, font size, and font color.
Updating the narrative content can be done at anytime by running the custom script to pull from the spreadsheet and pasting the output into a file for Unity to parse, making iteration fast.
Example of the dialogue spreadsheet and exported file, which is then moved to Unity: