Friday, September 14, 2012

Building a Storyboard

At this point, having published a few cartridges, I've got a routine. Long before I ever start using the builder, I'll create a "storyboard." In my case, that's simply a term for a text file with all the names, descriptions, interactions, and responses. The builder, of course, will ask you for these things, so why not have 'em ready to go? If nothing else, creating a storyboard in Microsoft Word allows to you check spelling and grammar.

I'll start by jotting down the headings of the major categories. There's the obvious ones: characters, items, zones, timers, variables, and the like. Then there's a few not-so-obvious ones: gameplay, intro, tasks, zone coords, for example. If nothing else, having all the text in one place prevents questions like, "Let's see, what should the character say? Where did I leave my notes?!" I can build the storyboard, one step at a time, creating the bulk of a cartridge.

Here's a look at (part of) my storyboard for "Trail of the Ripper."

The late 19th century brought a great deal of innovation and change to Victorian England. There's one item, however, that the British could have done without: the world's first serial killer.
London, 1891. For almost three years now, a madman has been terrorizing the Whitechapel district. He's murdered ten women, frightened the entire city, and publicly taunted the authorities. You've got a new lead, but finding Jack the Ripper won't be easy.
This cartridge will lead you to a geocache of the same name (GC1H63Z).

A dark alley is nearby.
1. Cachers arrive at alley. The "Ripper", a victim, and a letter to the police are here. Ripper disappears after first action by cacher (whether they "view" the Ripper character or not). Sergeant Godley is here. Examining the body reveals that the killer had almost "surgical knowledge." Examining the letter reveals taunting by the "Ripper". Cachers should take the letter with them.
2. Cachers arrive at Police Headquarters. Inspector Abberline, who has just been assigned the case, is here. Godley is skeptical the "Ripper" will ever be found. The handcuffs and truncheon (nightstick) are here. Examining handcuffs reveals little, but cacher should take them. Examining truncheon reveals nothing and should be left behind (only one item can be in player's inventory at any given time).
3. Cachers arrive at pub. If cachers wait in this zone for three minutes, they will overhear a conversation about a suspect; if cachers leave too early, they won't hear it. Abberline and Godley are here. Early on, Godley is sent to analyze letter. He returns only if players use "Summon Godley" command at end of game.
4. Cachers arrive at a hotel room. Mary Kelly, a prostitute is here, frightened by the killings. Cacher can hide in corner of room, using Mary as "bait" for the killer. Cacher must wait three minutes before killer arrives. Eventually, Jack arrives and attacks Mary. Cacher steps out from hiding spot. Cacher can either swing handcuffs to bonk Jack on the head or take a photograph. In the confusion surrounding the fight, Jack escapes, but evidence (handcuffs and a silver policeman's whistle) may be left behind.
5. Cachers return to police headquarters. Abberline is here. Godley can be summoned, and presents analysis of letter. Whistle can be analyzed, revealing the Ripper touched it, leaving a fingerprint. Analysis of blood on handcuffs is inconclusive (blood is transferred to a test tube, but cacher drops tube on floor, contaminating sample). A combination of fingerprint on whistle and analysis of letter leads to a suspect, but of course... no arrest. Jack the Ripper is still on the loose. Game ends.

1. Jack the Ripper: With almost surgical precision, the serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper" has murdered several women, all in Whitechapel. Some suspect he either attended medical school or works in the nearby meat-packing industry. Thrilled with all the attention, he once claimed "I gave birth to the twentieth century."
2. Inspector Abberline: Frederick Abberline possesses an analytical mind and a firm belief in the supernatural. After using controlled substances, a series of hazy "visions" allow him to see into the future. He is the lead investigator in the case.
3. Mary Kelly: Down on her luck and reduced to working in the "oldest profession", the young Mary Kelly seems a likely target of the Ripper. Her fate is dependent on your actions.
4. Sergeant Godley: A big, burly man, Sergeant Peter Godley thought he had seen it all. The Ripper case, however, has forced him to reconsider how police work should be done.
Having filled in the various categories doesn't mean I won't change things. I often do. Quite often, an item will seem meaningless or character dialogue seems a bit verbose. When that happens, I'll often change things right in the builder. I'd like to say I'll cut-and-paste the changes back into the storyboard, but that's not always the case.

At some point, I'll probably formalize the storyboard for others to use. For now, I rely heavily on such files during the creative process. Also, it's much easier to cut-and-paste text into the builder, as opposed to staring at the input screens wondering what a character should say or how a zone description might flow.

Parting thought: Storyboards offer numerous advantages to the cartridge author. In my case, they're invaluable.

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