In hindsight, creating a digital branching narrative written in a second-person perspective was a leap from a sheer cliff.
Most of you know what first-person and third-person perspectives are in literature, and those who spend some time writing know which variations of those are the “easiest” to write. But I wonder, who among you have tried to write fiction in the fuckery that is second-person?
NRD Games‘ project, Raid On The Silver City (RSC) allows you to make decisions from the moment you load into the game, in the form of character selection. You can play as an erratic and murderous thief-girl, a wise and patient maj (wizard), and when we release the expansion, a desperate peasant, or a bloodthirsty raider. Each of those characters exists in the world of RSC. They have histories and ambitions. You, as the reader, have merely stepped into their slippers or boots. You are not you in this shattered world.
What significance is this to narrative perspectives? It means the narration can never tell you what you think or feel, because you, as the reader, may not think the same thing or feel the same way as the played character does. How would you like to walk in on a sickly man killing puppies and be told that you feel indifferent or even happy about it? (Sorry, but it’s a transparent example.)
The narration cannot force the thoughts or emotions of the played character upon you, and therefore cannot go inside the played character’s head. The narration must evoke thought and emotion (generate empathy) by presenting you with situations and describing the reactions of the played character. But more than that, the narrator has an invisible tie to the played character, catering similar values and beliefs to them, just like it would in a third-person limited narrative. This allows the narrator to evoke thought and emotion in a subtle way. Sometimes the narrator even offers suggestions or comments upon the actions of the player; however, I am on the fence with how direct these should be.
It’s up to you how you respond, and your decisions tailor the played character, potentially turning them from a chaotic criminal into a caring mother of four. They may also influence the world of RSC, for better or worse.
Rod’s the artist, guys, but I made up this MS Paint diagram to help me understand this awkward interaction between the narrator, the played character, and you, the reader.
Using this diagram as a guideline, I cut out the rot from what I had written so far, and soon realised that I had another tool at my disposal — the decision text itself.
In a branching narrative (choose your own adventure), the reader is presented with a body of narration. It could be a mere sentence or even ten paragraphs, but at the end of that text, a decision must be made. Without going into the mechanics too much, there are some lone decisions (literally only one choice), but for the most part, there are from two to infinity decisions. It depends on how much time the writer has.
What I have done is used that decision text to introduce the first-person perspective. That way, the reader can choose to “align” themselves with a thought or emotion of the played character.
Toes snarled within your sodden boots, you edge down the ice-glazed corridor. Passing through a screen of silver moonlight, you come to a stone chamber, snow toppling in from a low window to smother the floor.
But a corner visible beneath the blanket of snow, you can see what looks to be a trapdoor. To your right, there is an open passage, ancient, wooden door prone and deteriorating. A soft, inviting orange light flickers somewhere down the way.
A shrill scream reaches up through the trapdoor: “Mother!”
A guttural roar drowns it out, quaking loose a scattering of rock from high above. Hopeless sobbing and a dragging of chain follow it.
You step back, near slipping with the action, draw your sword.
I have not the time for heroics. I must continue down the hall.
A girl suffers some beast down there. What sort of man am I to ignore it?
Now, there is almost no context in that, I wrote it up just then, but the point is there is narrated text in second-person and decision text in first-person.
I thought it was a pretty interesting, potentially unique, way of approaching storytelling. It’s all about being consistent now, sticking to this form of narration throughout all of RSC.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Perhaps I have failed to explain it properly, although I do feel someone with writing experience would understand what I’ve tried to say.
We should have our cover image and typeface ready to go real soon. Once that’s there, we may set up our website straight away. That will become the best place to keep up with all things NRD and RSC, and will essentially mark the start of marketing.
But don’t piss yourself, we are nowhere near a final product. The more I write the more I want to write, and I just can’t seem to control this story. Every decision leads to at least two more. It is exponential growth at a minimum. If I can keep to a full-time schedule, I believe I have the capacity to finish the writing by the end of March this year. Just throwing estimates around, but that could mean RSC is fully ready for release mid this year. Those estimates are incredibly hopeful and optimistic, but we shall strive for them nonetheless.
Feel free to comment and share your insight or excitement.
Nick Petrou and Rod Fernandes