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About the Story
Denise is an author struggling to finish a story by a deadline. Help her complete her story by making choices and avoiding writer's block. Part of a thesis project on interactive storytelling.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2016
This is RenPy, and the story is presented as a CYOA with branches into various plotlines. However, it differs from a standard CYOA flowchart in that one is expected to explore non-winning branches in order to obtain objects and information for the winning thread; in this respect, the CYOA format that RenPy is made for is subverted into a more traditional adventure game map. Instead of exploring rooms, we are exploring plot nodes … in a sense, we are exploring time rather than space. I thought it was a very ingenious use of the medium, and an interesting look at the creative process of writing a story.
That said, Reina’s story is a little simplistic. It’s supposed to be for children, of course, and it does come off that way. There’s a part of me that wants to dismiss it as a little juvenile, but that really is the point of the story, after all, so … should I say that it did succeed in what it was trying to do? I don’t know. I suppose I would have preferred a more mature approach to motivation and characterisation, but there’s not a lot of room to delve into that sort of thing within the constraints of the chosen genre. Perhaps the prose could have done with a little bit more character–a little more attitude from Denise within the context of Reina’s story, as opposed to merely in the form of commentary.
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In Rough Draft we take the role of Denise, an author of children's fiction who is plagued by the combination of an approaching deadline and writer's block. She decides to just start typing whatever comes into her head. Our job, as players, is to make choices about where to take the story. Almost all of these choices lead to dead ends in the writing process, but some of them give Denise an idea that she can then use in another branch of the story. Thus we need to visit the unsuccessful stories in order to be able to construct the successful one.
The story that we are writing is not very inspired, but it does the job. The game gives us a visual representation of all the story lines, which is very helpful indeed. Care has clearly gone into the presentation of the game.
Some things about the game are puzzling. For instance, it's not just ideas from one story branch that pop in another, but so do items -- we can use items that we haven't actually obtained yet. I suppose that we are to understand that Denise will later restore continuity. More importantly, it seems to me that the process presented to us by the game has little to do with the process of writing a story. Denise has only a starting situation, and nothing else -- shouldn't she think about at least some structure, or an ending, or something like that, before just writing? But I suppose just writing is a possible technique. But even then, surely the problem you run into and the solution you need is never going to be 'I don't know how to continue this story here in the forest, let's start again from the beginning but now they go to the mountains'. That's just not the kind of change that could be relevant to getting a plot sorted out.
(I played this game as part of an IFDB Spelunking expedition where I try to play through ten random games.)
In Rough Draft, you’re helping Denise, a writer suffering from writer’s block, decide the course of her story, a fairly generic fantasy-type story. At some points, though, the narrator decides that the story can go no further; you, as invisible editor, can go back and get her to rewrite at a certain decision-making point. It takes the concept of the meta-writing game and really runs with it.
What makes this game unusual is being able to visualise the story structure. I liked how information from one rejected branch unlocked decisions in other branches – a reflection, perhaps, of how brainstorming sparks off ideas, even if the original ideas never do make it into the final product.
Story branches are quickly pruned off, which means that players must do a bit of lawn-mowering (this is not necessarily meant as a harsh critique, goodness knows I’m guilty of that myself) to find the ‘right’ story branch that allows progress. It would have been great to be able to complete the story using a variety of ways – that, after all, is the power of the imagination.
It’s a pity that the meta-story (the fantasy story the player helps to write) is relatively bland. The fantasy story seems to follow stock tropes and template-like encounters; dialogue sometimes feels stilted. Nonetheless, it is evident that the author has spent much effort on this – the screens which show the story in progress are in reality separate images, as is the story map – and its implementation of this idea, which has so often been talked about, is laudable.
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