Part 1: Being Anne - The Story Experience
In Forgotton Anne, our wish is to tell the story of Anne as close to our main character as we can come. Once we gain control of Anne, whatever happens to her should be similarly experienced by us. Each step that Anne takes is fueled by our will performed into control, yet we are bound inside the realm and body in which Anne lives - we experience her story as it unravels around both of us.
In order to reach this sensation, the game design starts with a simple question: "What is it like to be Anne?" As we had the plot of the story locked down, producing the game became a synchronous movement of creating the spaces to properly situate the story within a 2D-platforming environment, and thereafter, situate the gameplay. It was important for us to keep the focus on the sensation of the story, so instead of quickly letting video game tropes and mechanics dictate how the game was to be played, we had to turn the decision upside down: What tropes and concepts fit into the experience of being Anne?
In the early months of production, we decided that being Anne was not a skill test for the savvy player. In fact, our aim is for as many players as possible to be able to partake in Anne’s journey. As time went by, we found that even the typical idea of a video game death in this context was strange to us. For this story - which is truly Anne’s story - to reach it’s conclusion, it has to be impossible for Anne to die along the way, so we decided on a high degree of naturalism to the project. This direction also meant that we couldn’t use abstract level design (e.g. floating platforms in the air for the sole singular purpose of being present for Anne’s jumping because, you know, video games). Rather, in order to sell the experience, the world in which Anne lives also needs a high level of naturalism - we have to find the story in the geography; or rather, in every part of the game’s story experience.
While we felt that rotoscope based games like Another World or Flashback bring a high level of felt presence in the world; ultimately, they feel too limited when controlling and spacing out the agency of their characters. On the other end of the spectrum, pixel-pushing-perfection games like Super Meat Boy or Mario feel wonderfully fast and responsive to control, but on such an abstract level that the mode of controlling doesn’t connect to the essence of the character being controlled. Therefore, we strive to end somewhere in the middle of this spectrum when controlling Anne.
From left to right: Super Meat Boy © Team Meat, Super Mario Bros © Nintendo, Heart of Darkness © Amazing Studio, Inside © Playdead, Abe’s Oddysee © Oddworld Inhabitants, Another World / Out of this World © Delphine Software International, Flashback © Delphine Software International, Prince of Persia © Silver Games
Anne’s mechanical wings, which are able to give her a boosted jump, have seen various versions in the design process. They started out as more of a typical video game double jump, but through iteration in search of selling the naturalistic experience of having such a backpack, we decided that holding down a button to prepare the next jump would feel closer to this experience. In this way, it also becomes more of a tool which you unholster whenever you’re about to use it.
Another tool in Anne’s belt is her Arca, the trusty Glove of the Enforcer she customarily wears. It grants her the ability to take the life energy of a forgotling and use it to power things in the world. Does this mean that Anne can go on a killing spree, distilling all the forgotlings she feels like? No. Once again, in order to sell the naturalistic experience, Anne can only distill a forgotling whenever she is in danger, feels a true threat, or in order to uphold the law.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of creating gameplay choices that render obvious the right or wrong thing to do. In such cases, it is not hard for the player to interpret what the game wants you to do. In order to make the situations feel real and harder to interpret, we try to ask something of Anne’s situation and position in the game.
Whose story do you trust? Do you help inconsiderate and rude people? Do you stand by your allegiance, even when it means breaking a community?
The considerations presented here in this blog post are but a few that we on the design team have been through during the production. Next time, I’ll go into detail about how the practical production process has been.