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The Way We Tell the Story in Witchfire

Oh, so there is a story?

Oh, so there is a story?

Normally, we’d have a development update here, or we’d take a peek behind the curtain, and then we’d finish up with a Question of the Week. But this time, we’re combining the two, as these words from one of the previous entries…

To get one thing out of the way: Witchfire is not a story-based game. There’s lore to discover and decipher, but no cut-scenes to follow.

…have worried some people:

Let me address this in more detail, then.

There is a story in Witchfire. It’s just that it’s not a traditional cinematics-filled journey like Uncharted or Bioshock, where you spend a relatively short time in an area, unlock a cinematic and move on to the next area. This is a format that works well in games, but it would not work for us for two reasons.

First, we’re way too small to attempt anything like that. Cinematics (aka cut-scenes) are often considered a reward, and so they need to feel like one. That’s not something we can realistically achieve.

Second, and more importantly, the structure of the game requires a different solution. I mean, in theory we could do the traditional story-telling, just using some clever, relatively cheap stuff like what Remedy did with Max Payne in 2001:

It’s just that for Witchfire, we feel something else will work better. That something is the distributed narrative: “a narrative partitioned across a network of interconnected authors, access points, and/or discrete threads. It is not driven by the specificity of details; rather, details emerge through a co-construction of the ultimate story by the various participants or elements.”

I guess this is a fancy way to say we want to do it like they did it in Bloodborne and Dark Souls. The player collects the bits of information written, spoken or existing as a visual clue, and ultimately discovers the truth. Also, this technique allows us for a bigger investment in the world rather than just the story surrounding the hero.

This is from a small fake parody account, but it actually sums up the idea perfectly:

The extra benefit of such an approach is that some players can easily ignore the world and the story and just “shoot some shit”. That’s fine. But for those who care, there will be lots of dots to connect.

As a side note, originally instead of using the term distributed narrative, I wanted to write that we’re using a combination of diegetic and embedded story-telling. In my presentation at Digital Dragons 2014, I offered Soulsbornes as a great example of the diegetic story-telling (at 27:41)…

…but after some thinking, I’m no longer so sure. I mean, where do these item descriptions come from, after all? Like, we find a skull, and we see it’s called “Madman’s Knowledge” and that we can “use it to gain Insight”. How do we know that? Who tells us this stuff?

The embedded story-telling is legit, though. We use it everywhere, even though it makes the development that much harder. Everything needs to make sense, be it an element of the scenery or an enemy. Like this guy here (3D model by Marcin Klicki):

It was not designed just so it looks cool. We went that way with Painkiller, where we started serious but ended up in later levels with evil clowns and zombie pirates. In Witchfire, we’re much more disciplined and everything matters. The rich ornamented armor counterpointed by the rotten corpse inside, the symbol on the helmet, or the glow in the eyes (as seen in the teaser video). Even the way he’s animated. It’s all a part of the bigger story, and he’s just one element of the puzzle.

So, once again, to avoid any confusion: there is a story to experience and there is a world to discover in Witchfire, and we’re investing a lot in both. It’s just that we don’t plan on having any cut-scenes. That’s it!

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