Recently, Brace Yourself Games’s cyber-industrial city-builder, Industries of Titan, launched into Early Access. I was the writer for the early access content, and for a large amount of narrative content which hasn’t been released yet!
This is actually the first time I’ve been the writer/main storyteller on a game, rather than the editor or a member of a larger writing team. I joined the project after a certain amount of world-building had already been done, and spent a lot of time adapting some pre-existing story elements, like the setting and the “microsun” which lights the planet, to a new vision for the world and its characters.
Thoughts about working on a strategy game
This was also the first time I’d been the writer on a game with a fixed camera. Most of the other games I’ve worked on have been very flexible with the player’s perspective! Where the Water Tastes Like Wine’s 2D illustrations, for example, showed the world from all sorts of human perspectives, and Pathologic 2 placed the player in a fully-realized 3D world. In a top-down city-builder, however–even one which takes you inside the buildings, like Titan–there are many things about human life that you can’t easily show.
For example, you cannot see the faces of civilians or the full bodies of your advisors. You cannot see the places where your advisors work, and you can’t get a sense of what their days are like, because they’re not represented by agents on the map. The interiors of ancient ruins are not displayed, either, nor are private moments between characters, or first-person perspectives of labor or exploration. Figuring out how to tell a story with these limitations was pretty interesting. I feel like I’ve learned a lot!
As usual, the most effective way to make the world feel real to the player was to make sure that the characters who live in it are dynamic, exciting people to be around, and that their perspectives invite the player to explore different nooks and crannies in the world. I’ve always strongly believed that the actual plots of video games are rarely as important as the characters who inhabit them. If you think back to many of the games you’ve played, you may be able to recall a few where you’ve forgotten the plot entirely, but still remember the characters with a lot of detail. I feel this way about almost every Bioware game I’ve played, for example. Exciting characters in games stick with you, like friends from summer camp, or old coworkers: they can occupy some of the space in your memory that a real friend might. Meanwhile, the plots of the 80-hour games tend to slip away from your memory. The characters leave the bigger–and longer-lasting–impact.
At any rate, I’m grateful that the previous projects I’ve worked on prepared me to write in so many different voices and tones. So far, I’ve done three separate games where I’ve been responsible for writing the voices of ten or more characters at once. Every time I finish a game with a cast this broad and diverse, I feel like I’ve done some serious weight training.
Please play the game
Please check out Industries of Titan! Its team are incredible people and the game itself is fantastic. The first time I checked out the Early Access release build, I stayed up until 4 AM playing it. It’s fantastic stuff.
Though life circumstances have taken me off the project, there are still a lot of things I’ve written which have not appeared in the current release of the game. I’ll be awaiting further updates as eagerly as the rest of you!