Hey all, Trent Kusters here, creative director at Divisive Media. I’ve spent over a year looking into the types of situations, crimes, scenarios, people, policies and behaviours that split us right down the middle as a society. During the course of Vigilante’s development it’s something we here at Divisive have discussed non-stop.
The result of all that is the plethora of ‘Story Arcs’ you see in the game. The non-player characters (NPCs) that appear on the in-game map. The little blue ‘i’ icons leading to moral quandaries that not only ask you “innocent or guilty?” but also… what punishment fits the crime?
Myself, writer Shane Collier and screenwriter Steve Coates, co-creator of John Doe (the film our game’s universe is set within), wrote over 2000 steps (in-game clues) spanning over 500 story arcs players can solve, and we’re still adding to that today. So we have a fair idea of what makes a good Story Arc for Vigilante: Speak for the Dead.
The Story Arc generator is truly awesome, so if you’re looking to create some stories for our players to investigate here are some tips to give them a better chance of being selected:
Write in ‘second-person perspective’
All of Vigilante’s story arcs are written in second-person perspective, meaning that they talk to the player, putting them in the scene by addressing them as ‘you’.
i.e., “After trailing them for some time, you see NPC remove something from their trunk.
Write in ‘present tense’
Story arcs are written in present tense to give an impression of clues unfolding as the player reads the steps of an arc. Write as if the investigation is happening right now.
i.e., “You watch from the shadows as NPC oversees the unloading of this large ship.”
First and foremost, Story Arcs are about people
During development (and in the codebase) we actually called these ‘NPC arcs’ (NPC = non-player character). When you write a ‘Story Arc’ it will be attached to an NPC in-game. The ‘story arc’ is the story revealed to the player as they investigate that character. Memorable story arcs typically feature interesting characters.
Don’t describe your NPC
When populating players’ maps with NPCs, we randomly generate their names and faces (and if you select ‘Doesn’t Matter’ for your ‘NPC gender’ we’ll randomly select the sex too). Considering this, don’t allude to your NPC’s age, build, features, ethnicity or appearance in any way – because it will likely be wrong.
Not everyone is a criminal
If Vigilante is going to ask players whether a citizen is innocent or guilty, we need to have stories about innocent citizens. It’s tempting to write a story about a Columbian drug baron, but some of the best experiences in Vigilante are when players trail a citizen only to have the citizen’s innocence illustrated later in the arc.
Bad guys don’t always think they’re bad guys
One of the best things about the Sopranos is that it humanised what society would typically deem a ‘monster.’ If you’re trailing a bad guy (or girl), guess what? They’re not always going to do ‘bad guy stuff’. Make your stories more real and give your characters more depth by showing their human (or even mundane) side.
Wrap it up
No one likes a story without an ending. Our players even more-so. It’s optional to do this, but you should use the last ‘step’ in your arc as an ‘out-of-reach’ step to conclude your story arc. ‘Out-of-reach’ steps mean players can’t target that citizen during that step, so it gives you a great chance to have your citizen leave town, get away, go into hiding, wind up dead, or perhaps the police got to them first.
Keep them guessing
Any writer can give it away early, but the truly rewarding stories to investigate are the ones where you’re giving the player plenty of clues, but they’re still guessing right up until the very last step.
But you can give it away sometimes…
We do purposefully give some citizens away really early in an arc, because a) in real life some people are obviously innocent or guilty, but also b) it gives players a break from having to follow each arc for as long as possible.
Don’t pull the rug out from under your players
We designed the story arcs in a way that gives players a sense of urgency. They have to guess when to act and when not to. If you loudly scream ‘GUILTY’ in your story arc, and then include a twist where the citizen is actually innocent, guess what? The player will never see it, because they will have acted as soon as you gave them enough evidence to go on. Bad thing is, they’ll risk getting taken out by Speak for the Dead and will have no idea why. That’s bad.
Write stories that will divide the player base
Right or wrong, everyone has their own idea of what is deserving of justice. Our whole game is based on this. Is it okay to give clean needles to junkies? What about graffiti, is that a crime? Euthanasia? Abortion? Vigilantism? Find issues that players will disagree on. The conflict in Vigilante is driven by this very thing.
Make it fun to share
Our players quite enjoy boasting about their vigilante efforts, but sharing copy also acts as a reward for our players as it can offer the players intel on whether their actions were justified (in the game systems – SFTD and the Police) or a comical take on things.
We want topical issues in our game, not the events (or people) that created them
It’s great to take inspiration from the real world in order to gain an idea of what society typically finds are divisive topics, but leave it at inspiration. Vigilante is not a George Zimmerman or Rodney King simulation. It’s not about having a chance to bring justice to actual politicians or public figures. You can ask the same question, just change it up enough to make it unique. Use common sense.
Keep it classy
Vigilante is, by concept, a hyper violent game. This violence however is offset and subverted to a degree by the game’s tone, visual treatment and the writing’s dry, darkly satirical voice. No one wants to read horrendous, gruesome vitriol. Be sure to sprinkle all your writing with a little sense of humour.
And that’s about it… with these points in mind, you should be set to write some of the best story arcs we’ve seen and will provide our player base with the fuel they need to continue their new life of vigilantism.
Now go forth and create!