Devlog #35 - Narrative Structure & Dynamic Personality

Hello!
It's time for another devlog, this time about Brassica's narrative structure and the way you can influence the protagonist's, Saffron's, personality (and all the consequences this has).
PECTIN had to take a break from this devlog due to scheduling complications, but he'll be back with more character design insights next time!

Before we begin though, we just wanted to quickly announce that we'll be at the A MAZE. festival in Berlin in just over a month! This will be our first time attending such an event without also exhibiting one of our games so we're excited that this time around we'll get to see more of the event itself and meet lots of new people. So if you're there as well, feel free to say hi to us!

But on to the main part of this devlog:

Narrative Structure

As I explained in the last devlog, visually Brassica's presentation is very much inspired by puppet theaters. Just as the UI and the text box size had an influence on the writing itself, the overall presentation did, too.
To further reinforce this idea that the player is like the audience of a play, we decided to make the narrator their own character this time.
In the narrative, they're technically the one pulling the strings and telling the story but for most of Act 1 this isn't very apparent yet.
From the beginning it's clear that the narrator is separate from Saffron, but the first time they actually address the player directly is at the very end after the curtain has already fallen again.


Since the narrator doesn't appear in the story itself, we had thought about other ways to include them in the narrative since it wouldn't make much sense to make them a character but not give them any significance outside of telling the story.
In the context of a theater performance it made the most sense to us to let the narrator (or performer) and the player (or audience) interact with each other. Especially in children's theater it's fairly common that the actors will ask the audience to do something or ask them a question to keep them engaged in the play. In the format of a visual novel this seemed like a great parallel for the choices so we decided to treat them similarly.

Aside from improvisational theater, the audience usually doesn't have much say in the actual course of a play though, so this was another issue we had to address. The most interesting idea to us was to create a rift between the story the narrator wanted to tell and the story the audience wants to see.
Initially we had planned to treat this more like a conflict and almost made the narrator the antagonist.
Because the player would basically force the narrator to change their story, they would in turn expect the player to take it in a direction that is coherent and makes sense.
With this idea, in-game choices would have been a lot more stressful and we would have had to include various forms of a fail-state at all branching points so even if it might have been interesting in theory, we quickly realized that for the kind of lighthearted story we wanted to tell with Brassica, it didn't really fit and actually took away from the experience.


So instead we decided to keep the basic conflict but make the narrator and player collaborate in telling a story both of them are happy with. This immediately made everything more positive and while there's definitely less conflict now, we have planned a few things to still make the most of the theater concept...

Since Act 1 serves to introduce the actual story of the "play" so to speak, the parallel narrative about the narrator is mainly in the background. In the beginning of Act 2 you can already see a few more instances where they directly turn to the audience (or vice versa) but our main focus will still be with the story of the princes. In the coming Acts however, there will definitely be more of these moments to make sure the theater concept isn't just a visual gimmick. But I'll go more into detail on that once you could actually see it all in-game!

Dynamic Personality

Something else we had planned fairly early on, was the fact that Saffron is our first protagonist whose personality the player can directly influence. Because he still takes part in conversations this is only to an extent, but on top of his base personality, there are three distinct nuances of Saffron that you can go for:

Internally we call them "lawful", "daring", and "soft" and pretty much every choice in the game (that isn't just between the narrator and the player) is recorded to keep track of whichever of these is the most prominent in any given playthrough.


So at various points in the script, we check Saffron's current personality and depending on the result, the story can change. This varies between minor wording differences, whole unique sections of dialogue or narration, or actually different events although the latter is also the rarest case.

In practice, moments in the script where this becomes relevant can look like this (slight spoiler alert for Act 2):

if checkSafAlignment("daring"):
    saf "Actually, I think I disagree.{w=0.3} You're not just anybody else to me."
elif checkSafAlignment("soft"):
    saf "A-actually, I don't treat everybody like this..."
else:
    saf "Well, everyone deserves respect, regardless how strange they may be."

Essentially Saffron always says the same thing here but when he's daring, it is kind of one of those "This isn't good, it's great" kind of sentences, while his soft version mostly sounds nervous and the lawful one rather rational.

An example for greater variations due to different personalities would be this (also Act 2 spoilers):

menu:
    saf "W-well uh...{fast}"

    "I suppose it might be interest~":
        [...]

    "I uh, was just checking on you":
        [...]

    "*faint*":
        $setSafAlignment(2)
        if checkSafAlignment("soft"):
            "On the spot Prince Saffron fainted, overwhelmed by the other prince's question."
            [...]
        else:
            "Prince Saffron tried his hardest to faint in order to escape the predicament of answering the question."
            "But unfortunately he only managed to feel a little dizzy."

This second example also shows that even though the choices themselves already have an effect on Saffron's personality, the actual results could still vary depending on previous choices. So in this case, going for the "soft" answer might only work out as expected if Saffron is already soft.

Of course either of these variations have to fit into the general flow of the dialogue and narration and eventually have to return to the main branch, but even so they should make the overall experience more interesting and hopefully also add some surprises to the same events on different playthroughs!

Aside from script variations, Saffron's personality also influences the romance aspect of the game as both Hans and Ode have different preferences and might take more of a liking to a certain version of Saffron.
We don't intend it to be very difficult to romance either of them (after all this is a Marry Tale!) so this takes the form of a bonus and Saffron's personality isn't the main deciding factor for which route you will get.

So yeah, those are about all important things to say on the matter!
We are still in the process of finishing up Act 2, which was a little delayed this week due to administrative work we had to take care of at the studio but we will let you know when we have the release date for it!

We'll be back with another devlog in two weeks, so as always, thank you so much for reading and for your interest in our games <3

eZombo

Writer/Programmer/UI guy at Boys Laugh +

devlog, brassica