Saturday, December 31, 2011

Developing Themes in Games

I don't know how people come up with their stories but I can tell you how I come up with mine. I don't start with scenes or characters or settings or genres. I start with a tone and a theme, because those two things provide the guiding light as I try and uncover everything else.

When applied responsibly, a theme can give a work of fiction its center of gravity, and can make the experience feel meaningful and open to interpretation in a pleasing or thought-provoking way. When applied irresponsibly, a theme can make a work of fiction feel condescending or didactic, like you got tricked into taking a call from a telemarketer.

A theme ought to be omnipresent but subtle. If the audience can identify the theme easily then it's too over-the-top. If there's unanimous consensus about the theme then it's also over-the-top. A theme is like the body language of the work. It should give a strong impression to those paying close attention while operating on a subconscious level in most cases.

A theme is not a moral. It's an open question, not a conclusion. It needs to be an open question because an entire work of fiction needs to be created in its service. In thinking about new stories, I like to think of themes in a journalistic way. My responsibility as the writer is to fully explore a given theme, to provide the audience with a wide breadth of relevant information which can be used to draw various conclusions.

The tone of the work may inform the theme, or vice versa. The combination of the two create the identity of the work, a subject I'll explore in more detail in my upcoming GDC 2012 talk about creating atmosphere in games. (EDIT: The slides for this talk are available here.)

The story I wanted to write for Bastion was intended to explore the theme of overcoming regret. The tone I wanted for it was bittersweet but not sentimental, cautiously optimistic and ultimately hopeful but still melancholy at times, something that felt real rather than sappy but still could be suitable for almost all ages. The characters, events, places, and various little details all came about in support of these ideas. The theme ended up serving as my map. The tone served as the directions from the starting point on that map to the end point. I knew the starting point and end point early on. Plotting the course is what took the longest amount of time, mainly because I didn't write any in-game content before we had playable levels that needed to be written.

I don't like spelling out the theme like this but the game's been out long enough, and besides, it's a broad enough theme to where spelling it out doesn't really matter. The theme in and of itself is too broad to be susceptible to judgment. I think that's the mark of a theme worth exploring.

You'll notice that the theme I chose is simply "overcoming regret", just two words, as opposed to something like "in life we all need to learn how to let go." One is a theme, the other is asinine. Because I'm not Aesop, I will never, so long as I'm blessed with the opportunity to continue to create games, ever inflict my morals on you. I have my kids for that. Besides, if the theme I chose could be reduced to a fortune cookie sentiment then it isn't strong enough to bear the weight of a story worth telling.

The theme of a game's story ought to be the theme of the entire work, or vice versa, however it all comes together. If a game's story has a theme that's not supported by the play experience itself, the game threatens to feel disjointed and leave a sour taste with the player. In Bastion's case, the game was always going to be about building the world around you, an aesthetic idea and a design idea that naturally extended to a theme. The idea of building gave rise to the idea of rebuilding, which gave rise to the idea of overcoming regret and this post-disaster story about a few survivors (and other creatures) dealing with what happened in their own way.

All of the different game systems ideally should support the theme. With this in mind, in Bastion we tried to solve for some problems that can induce a sense of regret in other role-playing games, such as when you get the sinking feeling that you chose poorly when developing your character. In many RPGs, you're asked to make half-blind choices about character class or perks and stats. Halfway through the game you find yourself wishing that you chose differently. This can create incentive to replay the game but it can come from a negative place. In Bastion, we offer the player complete freedom to customize their character all the way through. Our difficulty system, via the Shrine, works in a similar way. We don't make you choose the game's difficulty before you've had a chance to play it and get a feel for it.

There are other smaller examples. When you run out of health and get defeated, you have the opportunity to "carry on", get back up at least one time and keep fighting. It's just a system of extra lives, superficially no different from the convention used by countless old games, but in Bastion I think it takes on a different connotation for some players as they see the protagonist character struggling through one situation after another.

Then, when we present players with the game's climactic, expressive choices, those are the only moments where there's no turning back. I think this is self-evident in the choices themselves, and thankfully we got a lot of good feedback from players saying they gave pause in those situations for quite a while, deciding what to do. I'd like to think that almost everybody who reaches those moments in the game ultimately makes a firm decision, not the wishy-washy I-don't-know kind but the kind that feels satisfying and cathartic even if not exactly good.

So, why would I want to write a story about an unpleasant subject like regret anyway, especially for a game that seems to have the trappings of a hack-and-slash action RPG romp? One reason is because I don't want to waste people's time with meaningless game experiences. Another reason is that this theme is important to me for a bunch of reasons I could only articulate through the story itself. I think regret is a universal feeling experienced by almost everyone from a young age. The depths of that regret vary from one individual to the next in a profound way, but on some level there is a shared experience, even among those who've suffered no real losses, who've had it pretty good overall. Me, I'm the sort of person who's spent (or wasted, depending on how you look at it) a lot of time re-playing various scenes from my life in my head, wondering about alternative outcomes. This is typical but I think I have an acute case of it. Setting aside whether it's healthy or not, I accept that it's a part of me, and it's the reason Bastion's story is what it is.

Thanks for reading, and may things turn out all right for all of us in the new year.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Unveiling the Possibility Space

Revealing the scope of a game should be, I think, a seductive act by the game for the player. Not that I know anything about seduction, but I think I've seen it done properly in movies at least, and read a thing or two about it. Seduction means leaving a lot to the imagination while drip-feeding reality in tantalizing doses. There is a sexuality there usually but it doesn't need to be there. A car can be seductive. So can a game. Even an E-rated game, get your mind out of the gutter.

The game I've been working on is now out there, most of the reviews are in, the first-week sales have happened, all that. I can talk about it freely, though if you haven't played it yet, please don't read on unless you're OK with having aspects of it spoiled. Thankfully the game got a generally good response from players, and I'd like to talk here about one of the major reasons why I think it worked for those people. Sure, we worked to craft the discrete elements of the game to a good level of quality, everything from the tuning of the game systems to the art and music and writing and so forth. But I think the essential structure of Bastion is very important to its potential to have an impact on the player.

We said during development that we wanted for the game to present to the player an ever-growing series of gameplay-expanding choices. Part of this involved keeping the player in the dark about the extents of the scope of those choices, culminating in a series of climactic narrative choices designed to feed back on the entirety of the player's experience up to that point. We had to not only continue introducing new elements of play from beginning to end, we also had to do it at slightly irregular intervals such that the structure itself resisted becoming predictable in a negative way. The desired effect is for the player to feel a sense of wonder and intrigue. When you fully understand something, you cannot wonder about it or feel intrigued by it any longer.

Concluding the game with a pair of purely expressive choices, whose gameplay impact was implicit but not overt, was to me the ultimate way of subverting – in a hopefully interesting way – all the gameplay choices that had come before. Up until that point, you'd been deciding what to build, which Spirits to drink, which weapons to use, which upgrades to buy, whether to invoke any of the Shrine idols, and so on. Hopefully, then, the last thing you'd come to expect at the end of the game – especially in a game that appeared to be driving toward one specific outcome – is to have to make an expressive choice about what to do with the world you've been playing in. It's a world you've either grown attached to or haven't grown attached to, and the choices at stake are meant to encompass that entire range of experience.

Bastion is built on this idea of the gameworld slowly unraveling. Every aspect of it. The world unravels almost literally. The story unravels. The game systems come online one by one. There's no telling how many game systems there are in total when you begin play, and in fact, we deliberately mislead you several times about the extent of the game's scope. We make you think you're almost done with the story after several hours, then we introduce another system around upgrading. And when you're almost done with that, we introduce the endgame act. Only when you're about to reach the endgame do we explicitly tell you that, yes, you're about to go into the final area. But even there, the final area is substantially larger than previous areas and has several new kinds of gameplay beats in store. To top it off, once you've finished the game, then we unlock a whole second play-through with more new content. We structured the game this way to keep the experience feeling fresh within the constraints of our scope.

While I think this type of slow-and-steady-burn worked for us, I'm not about to suggest it's beyond reproach. A game needs to prove to its player as quickly as possible why it's worth playing. One way to go about this is to reveal great depth straightaway, such as by rapidly exposing complex game systems. A classic example of this is the character creation screen in a role-playing game. In Icewind Dale, an excellent old computer RPG, I spent probably a good two hours just making my party of characters before ever beginning play. The character creation system was just so rich with possibility. These days I think it's more fashionable to keep stuff hidden and not scare away the player with too much information up front. That's fine, but finding the right pace at which to reveal new elements of play becomes all the more important in those cases. I'm not sure that proper pacing can be taught, because it's resistant by its own nature to being reduced to a formula.

So then, if you're a game, keeping some of your best ideas hidden away for your later stages is arguably a risky proposition. In fact, by doing so you are implicitly accepting that some probably rather large percentage of your players will never see that content. In Bastion's case, we invested heavily in the ending, by scheduling a bunch of time for a bunch of unscheduled stuff, because we wanted to do everything possible to make sure players who finished the game felt rewarded for their time and effort. From a clinical production perspective maybe this was a bad decision. One could argue that we should have disproportionately focused on only the early levels in this fashion, because more players would see them. The reason this mindset is wrong, to me, is because it ignores who the game's audience really is.

Say you're an author writing a novel. The idea that you'd short-change the ending because not many readers would get that far is deplorable. You need to have faith that your readers will get there, ought to be focused on providing every reason for them to get there. Then you save the best for last for these people, because you owe them. They're the ones you're writing for. As for the ones who don't make it, sure it's probably your fault they gave up, but you can't just go in assuming they won't stay interested because that would make you a hack.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Power Fantasies and Their Problems

For a short time in college I considered enlisting in the military but you have to understand my mind was in a very dark place then. I got over it, though I still find shooters and military-themed games fascinating. What boggles my mind, though, is how wrong most of them are about why I want to play them. It's as if they think I think being a soldier is this thrilling and glorious experience. At least Modern Warfare got it right when it killed me in a nuclear blast.

This isn't one of those complaints about there being too many shooters, though. Instead I bring up shooters to make an observation about games that are power fantasies, and some of the problems inherent to that style of play.

For the most part, a power fantasy is what it sounds like. It's the idea that if only you were a better more capable person. Games allow us to play as characters with abilities far superior to our own. God of War, Halo, Ninja Gaiden, Gears of War, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Devil May Cry, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, and The Witcher are all examples of power fantasies in games. Such games naturally fall into the action adventure, shooter, and role-playing genres, because power fantasies tend to revolve around dominating one's opponents, and these genres revolve around combat.

Identifying a Power-Fantasy Game: Themes vs. Systems
I think power-fantasy games are characterized at least as much by their thematic and fictional content as by their gameplay systems and player interactions. For example, take the old laserdisc arcade game Space Ace, which is by all means a power fantasy about being a sci-fi action hero. The gameplay itself consists of reflexive button presses and memorization. Just dial in the proper button sequence, and you get to watch a cool cartoon unfold. Games like this are where quick-time events came from. The same format could just as soon be used for a game based on Schindler's List. So then you'd have two games with identical gameplay, but only one would be seen as a power fantasy. Not sure what people would make of the other.

Spy Party designer Chris Hecker offers a succinct argument against power fantasies on his blog that got me thinking about this themes-vs.-systems distinction. In Bastion, the game I've been working on, I wanted to avoid creating the tone of a power fantasy. For example, the protagonist character is someone the player is intended to feel for rather than envy. On the other hand, aspects of Bastion's game systems can be likened to those found in power-fantasy games -- it's a combat-oriented game in the action role-playing genre. Does that mean it's a power fantasy in spite of my intentions? Of course not. The narrative and thematic substance of a game sooner defines its character as being a power-fantasy or not, rather than the genre or the gameplay systems.

To illustrate my point, take ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. These games revolve around conventional gameplay challenges, including relatively straightforward platforming and combat systems. You run, jump, and kill things in those games in a manner that's comparable to games like God of War or Assassin's Creed. However, I don't think many would consider ICO or Shadow of the Colossus to be power fantasies. The emotional content of those games gives the experience of overcoming their challenges a nuanced and contemplative feel.

Problems With Power Fantasies
I don't want to make power-fantasy games for a variety of reasons that have little to do with how common they are. Rather, it's because I think power-fantasy games have three inherent, thorny problems I would like to avoid:

Problem 1: Risk of creating emotional disconnect or sense of inadequacy in the player
In the typical power-fantasy game, the player's skills will initially not be aligned with those of his character. You're controlling a character who is far superior to you.

This can make the crucial first experience with the game feel dissonant or off-putting. In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which I think is a stunning and well crafted game overall, if you don't know how to sneak around as well as Nathan Drake knows how to sneak around, then there's a good chance you'll get flustered in one of the opening sequences. There's no explaining why Nathan Drake is suddenly incompetent in what should be a routine mission -- immersion is broken and you're reminded that you're just a poor schlub playing Uncharted 2 and failing at it. In The Witcher 2, my favorite game so far this year, the outstanding exposition and beautiful world can likewise come grinding to a halt as soon as the actual gameplay starts and you realize just how lethal the world of the game really is, and how lousy of a swordsman you are in spite of how proficient your character is supposed to be. You lose empathy for your character because you never experience having to go through what he went through in order to be good at his job.

Some games get around this type of problem through smart use of exposition or flashbacks. I thought the first hour of Assassin's Creed 2 wasn't as exciting as the rest of the game but at least it let you work your way up to earning the ninja-like skills of the protagonist. Most of the time, though, if a game is inviting you to be the badass then it's going to have an awkward learning curve, either nakedly easy or too hard.

Problem 2: Design limitations of an inherently powerful protagonist
If you're playing a game in which your character is very powerful and versatile, then not only is the game going to be harder to learn than it probably needs to be, with tons of front-loaded tutorial, it also won't leave much room for growth. Or it'll be some kind of nongame where you give minimal input, like Space Ace. Ironically, all this undermines the basic appeal of a power fantasy, which is to have a growing sense of superiority.

In Grand Theft Auto IV or almost any of the games derived from that series' template, you start with the power to wreak all kinds of havoc inside that sandbox world. You might work your way up to faster cars and deadlier guns than what you have access to right from the start, but in spite of the open-world scope, the sense of character progression is naturally limited. This is especially true of games set in the real world. In games like God of War, you start off extremely powerful but there's still a sense of progression as you move from superhuman to godlike powers. But in a military shooter, where you're a man with a gun, you don't expect to gain new abilities, and in 99 out of 100 such games, you don't. Realism.

Role-playing games have a traditional solution to these problems, by making the player start off as a nobody and gradually letting him grow his powers while his notoriety in the gameworld grows through the fiction. Even still, RPGs are notorious for their complexity, often front-loading far more game systems than the player ought to be concerned with at first. And most RPGs still are power fantasies from a fictional point of view.

If you're not making a power-fantasy game then you have far more latitude when defining your protagonist character. The player doesn't always want to be the badass, does he?

Problem 3: Limited emotional range
When a game is a power fantasy then it occupies a narrow and limiting emotional range. Power-fantasy games can be about justice, revenge... and, that's about it.

Look at the long list of games I've cited above and try and point to ones that aren't about justice or revenge.

Justice and revenge are age-old themes, deeply ingrained in human nature. The emotional range associated with these, I'd say, tends toward the aggressive and the negative. Some of the best works of fiction in the history of fiction have concerned justice or revenge. But these themes aren't everything.

Of course there's a whole slew of other themes and corresponding emotions that games can explore. It's an oversimplification but ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are games about love more so than they are about justice or revenge. By successfully applying an alternate thematic spin on conventional action adventure tropes, these games stood out as unique and provided unique and memorable experiences.

. . .

Power-fantasy games have a lot of things going for them. That's why so many of them are made. Games that attempt to solve the problems I've listed here have plenty of their own problems, including, I suppose, having a potentially more-limited appeal than power-fantasy games do. Even still, when thinking about the kinds of games I want to make, I'd much rather take my chances with exploring relatively untapped thematic territory than trying to attack head-on some hundreds of different games I hold in very high regard. I've tried that before and didn't like it as much.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

One Thing at a Time

Hey, I'm back. My writing work for Bastion is complete and the game is nearly finished. How well it finally turned out will be for the public to decide, though what I can say is that it's very much the game I wanted it to be. Everyone on the team is feeling good about where we ended up. Now that I have a bit of hindsight on the process, I'd like to comment on three principles that helped me construct the narrative. There won't be any story spoilers here, but approach with caution anyway if you're looking to play the game with no preconceptions.

It was important to me that Bastion have a rich and interesting story for the sake of players who (like me) care about story, while at the same time making concessions for players who don't care about story. This was not a matter of trying to make everyone happy. It was a matter of trying to create a good story for a game, by approaching it from the perspective of "no one cares about your stupid story," which I feel should be the baseline assumption if you're not a famous author or working with a famous property. People really cared about what the story was going to be in The Matrix Reloaded, but they had no expectations for the story in the original Matrix film. The original Matrix needed to work hard to get people to care, which is part of the reason why it's so much better than its sequels. In games, people are liable to care even less about story since there's a lot more to a game than its story.

This "assume no one cares" approach was manifest in several principles that I tried to stick to, which I'll explain in more detail below. They are:
  1. Structure the story around a clear, consistent goal.
  2. Avoid attempts to engage the player about things not happening onscreen in that moment.
  3. Suggest the emotional range of the story early on.
Let me explain each of these a bit.

Goal-driven story: An interesting story often is a complex or nuanced story. I wanted to strike a good balance with Bastion's story and layer the complexity so that it's there for people who care to see it, while the surface story remains simple and clear. Players have a lot they need to keep track of – not just story but also the game's systems and mechanics, which are in constant demand of attention. I didn't want the story to feel indulgent or like a comprehension test. I'm sure you've played games where you lose track of what's happening in the story and never get on board again. One such game happens to be my favorite game so far this year, called Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for the PSP. It's a beautiful and complicated game, with a huge cast of characters and an elaborate plot, but as engaged in it as I am, I have trouble keeping all of the factions and political maneuverings straight. I'm approaching the end of the game now and couldn't summarize the details of the story to save my life. I still enjoy it a lot for its tone and world but I wish key parts of it were presented more clearly.

One of the ways in which Bastion's story is kept simple is that the cast of characters is not enormous, and the player goal is specific and persistent. I used to work on real-time strategy games, where each mission tended to have unique objectives, sometimes multiple objectives. I also used to play a lot of massively multiplayer games, whose quests tended to have their own fictional conceits. I found in both cases that many players of these games tended to tune out the story reasons for these missions or quests and just wanted the game to "bottom-line" what needed to be done. This wasn't because they were lazy, and wasn't even necessarily because the stories of these games were bad. It just got difficult to keep a complicated story straight while also having to parse new gameplay objectives.

Maintaining a constant "object of desire" for the player to pursue doesn't have to over-simplify the story of a game. Instead I think it can create a strong framework on which to layer a rich narrative. One of my favorite examples is the original Metal Gear Solid, which has the best story of all the games in that series. The plot, on the surface, is simple: Solid Snake, a secret agent, must infiltrate a military complex in order to rescue the head of a weapons research firm and discover whether the terrorists occupying the complex have nuclear capability.

That's it. It sounds like a totally straightforward premise for a spy thriller. But if you've played Metal Gear Solid, then you know the story takes an almost ridiculous number of unexpected turns. What helps drive you forward as you face off against cyborg ninjas, one-handed pistol-wielding sadists, and minigun-wielding tank-driving shamans? The goal remains the same. No matter what insane situation you're in, you're still after the same thing, and the game's briefer characters do a good job of reminding you of this.

God of War is another one of my favorite examples. You're trying to kill the God of War. The story has much more to it than that, but you don't have the moment in God of War where you wonder, "Wait, what am I even supposed to be doing?" Unless you're stuck on a puzzle, but that's a subject for another day.

Immediacy in storytelling: One of the reasons exposition has such a bad reputation is that it's often used to describe things that are disconnected from the matter at hand. You end up feeling like you're waiting for the story to get out of the way. Yes, Star Wars has license to open with a text crawl explaining what's happening in the world. This type of technique is best avoided in most cases, yet games do the equivalent of it all the time. Characters have long conversations about characters who aren't there. Cutscenes tell you why you should care instead of letting the gameplay make you care. You're given mission briefings about how important certain things are and how you must not let this or that happen. It's all just talk. None of this has an impact on you, and you see right through it, especially when you're playing a massively multiplayer game and you know it's just window dressing for another bit of quest loot.

To avoid this problem, story in games should concern things that matter to the player, rather than matter to the story. In Halo, you crash-land on the Halo and need to find a way out before you're hunted down and killed. Though there's a backstory around trying to defeat the Covenant and save the Earth, none of that matters to you in the original Halo, and besides, these are things that no human being can relate to. In Halo, you're just trying to get out of a bad situation. BioShock is set up in much the same way. Out of this World and LIMBO are set up in much the same way. Being stranded in strange worlds not only makes you feel empathy for the protagonists of these games, it compels you to press forward and find a way out.

In the case of Bastion, the story deliberately raises some key questions about the state of the world right from the beginning: Why is it shattered, why is the land reconstituting as you walk around, why are you being attacked by things called Squirts and Gasfellas, why is a narrator telling the story as you move through the game, and so on. Thanks to the game's narration technique, these questions come up right in the moment the issues begin to affect the player, rather than before they're of any concern or too long after. I don't tell you that there are strange creatures who want to hurt you before you face them. I don't tell you about the state of the land before you see how it looks for yourself. By not explaining away these things before the fact, I stand the best chance of piquing your curiosity and using exposition as it's meant to be used, rather than bombarding you with detail that's important to me as a writer but maybe not so important to you as a player.

Revealing the emotional range of the story: This is an idea derived from Robert McKee's story seminar, in which he points out that it's a good practice for the author to show the emotional palette of his story early on. This may sound like terrible advice on the surface. What if you have some amazing plot twist all planned out, why would you want to give that away?? But this advice has no bearing on something like that. All it's saying is to avoid jarring emotional manipulation of the audience, not even for the audience's sake but for your own story's sake. To paraphrase McKee, if, for example, you have some sort of serious drama and then try to deliver some comic relief in the final act, what's likely to happen? The audience won't laugh – the story hasn't trained them to expect to laugh, and any attempts at humor will likely feel awkward and out of place. On the other hand, if there were humor in the story early on, later attempts at comic relief would be more likely to succeed.

In other words, if the story gives evidence to the breadth of its emotional content early on, the audience will have an easier job of following along as the story unfolds. This does not need to come at a cost to the story's richness or complexity. One of my favorite movies, Fight Club, I think can't be accused of simplicity yet does a masterful job of defining its emotional palette quickly. The self-depracting humor and raw darkness of that story are all present from the start. The story moves into shocking and unexpected territory, but when you look back on it you realize that the groundwork was there. Maybe Fight Club isn't the best example of this since that third act really is crazy. Perfectly good examples are movies like Iron Man and the original Pirates of the Caribbean, each of which I think did a great job of creating a specific tone and sticking to it. Maintaining tone does not mean being monotonous if you have a rich tone.

In Bastion, it was very important to me to establish the emotional palette of the story quickly, especially considering the story is delivered in large part through the use of voiceover narration. I needed to define the narrator's character in addition to defining the gameworld itself, and I do this using a range of emotional content that should ultimately feel consistent to the narrator and therefore to the game. If I did my job properly then you should get the impression that the narrator's telling of this story is important at least to him. You should quickly gain a sense for the depth of the character and, hopefully, find him intriguing enough to want to keep listening as well as keep playing. Each thing the narrator says near the beginning of the game is in service of informing you both about the state of the world and, indirectly, about what kind of man he is. And by virtue of that, you get a feel for the game as a whole, from its tone to its story themes. The narrator's character grows from there, and my responsibility from that point becomes fully delivering on this first impression.

. . .

In conclusion, I kept in mind these three foundational techniques so that I stood the best chance of making Bastion's story something hopefully-worthwhile, without confusing players who just want to know what's going on and why they should care. I wanted to waste none of the player's time in coming to grips with what was interesting about the story. If I could do this well, I figured maybe the story would convert some of the players in the don't-care category into players who do.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Not Dead Yet

I've been working on Bastion all this year. I'm only taking a break now because I'm building a bunch more audio, but at this point we think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our path is set and we've been in execution mode these past months. For me personally it's involved a good deal of level design work and a lot of writing. It's been the most rewarding work I've done since I got started working in the game industry.

That said I don't want to say too much more about what I've been up to with the game since it's close to being finished and I don't want to give anything else away at this point. If people find the result of the work to be interesting then I'd love to talk more about the goals and process behind it after it's had a little time to settle.

One thing's for sure -- the response the game's been getting based on the 20-minute prologue has been everything I could have hoped for and more. The game is a summation of many key elements and the integral contributions of each individual on the team, though given the narrative focus of this blog and my own focus on that work, it's been great seeing the positive reactions to how we approach story, exposition, and writing in games.