It is said writing is a solitary business. A writer will get in an isolated place with pen and paper or a notebook and write away. Some lock themselves up while others just space out by putting on headphones with some loud music.
That’s not exactly how it works in video games...
Hi, there! I'm João Beraldo, Allied Game's Lead Writer. Since 90% of the world's population is physically unable to say my name, you may call me JM, Beraldo or 'that writer guy'.
My first assignment as part of the team was something pretty simple (hah): creating a whole new world. We had a design concept for the first game plus a few concept arts to use as reference. But is that enough?
Every game needs to answer a few questions as soon as possible: Who is the player? Where is the player? What does he/she want? What can he/she do?
After hours of reading and chatting, to get up to date with the minds behind the game (and suggest a few ideas of my own!), I came up with ten rough ideas. Each idea had a few lines presenting the world, who is the player character and what he or she wants. It worked something like this:
“Each of Gloriana's free city-states require the power of a Sun Stone to power their machines. One day one of the Sun Stones shatters and no one knows why. Suddenly, one of the city-states simply stops and all its riches are up for grabs. But, what or who caused the Stone's destruction and could it happen with other cities?
You are a mercenary commander hired to capture a new Sun Stone for the city and, of possible, find out what have happened.”
Ideas were all over the place: in one, the game was about British Empire dimensional travelers, while in others, they were pieces in Gods’ board game. Here the player was a rebel, there he was a survivor with a dark secret.
The objective was not to choose the perfect of the ten ideas, but to see what direction was best. And, so, all members of the team pitched their comments and suggestions.
Now THAT was enough to narrow down the basic premise. We were not going to be using the real Earth nor would it be sci-fantasy or straight science fiction. This was about fantasy and magic, but in a way that magic sounded dangerous. The player would portrait an actual character, someone with a story and a past, not a nameless stranger.
We gave birth to Hendrika, a floating island-continent divided by war and fear of magic. Recently an uneasy peace treaty had been brokered, but how long would it last?
The next step was writing the basics about this world: a long wiki article that included the first draft of the history of Hendrika and a note on every one of its nations, plus noteworthy locations and description about important elements, such as magic and technology.
We needed everything to feel connected, even when it wouldn’t be so easily perceived by players. You couldn’t have cities and characters with names that didn’t makes sense together! A character named Gianpaolo Matsushita wouldn’t do, especially if he was the vizier of a german-looking castle called Huitzilopochtli!
Based on the initial art, it made sense to go for a northern european theme. Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish and a little German here and there were the basic premise for names. Out of it came the Kingdom of Hendrika, the magical ändras, the Duchy of Virtanen and characters like Major General Vibeke Meier and Garrison Captain Armas Vilhelmi.
This was a live document, receiving constant feedback from the team, with many locations coming out of the minds of other team members.
By the time the document was considered done, it had around 15,000 words, or some 30 pages. It was, of course, just the first piece of lore and far from an actual world.
So, we had the idea of a world, but we didn’t have a story for the game. My next job was writing a number of plot proposals and presenting them to the team.
Each proposal was based on a different region of Hendrika. It didn’t make sense to explore the whole world in a single game, neither would it be possible with the resources we had available. An epic journey across all of Hendrika might mean a thin story in which every region had too little screen time. It would risk making the world feel like an afterthought.
Neither of the three main proposals were as good as they needed to be. As each was presented, the team offered feedback on what they liked or didn’t like. I’d go back and forth, rewriting elements, adding or removing others. By the time we had a decision, the first plot I’ve written, also the first to be discarded, had been fleshed out in such a way that it soon became the team’s favorite. It was the story of a young strategist who ended up exiled to a border city for stepping on the wrong toes. It was also a story about revenge and obsession, and coming to terms with change.
Let's add to that that it was focused on one of the coolest of Hendrika’s nations: the Republic of Three Towers.
We had a plot, now we needed details! It was back to the world description in order to flesh out anything that might come up during this game. The Republic’s original entry grew from 1,000 to 5,000 words. It got art references and subplot ideas. Hendrika’s history tripled in size. A codex was written, including articles on units history, characters, special items and society. By the time of this posting, the document was over 70,000 words long. That document would be revisited almost daily as new content was created.
Hendrika was born and breathing. Its nations and characters were just waiting for the time to tell their stories.
It was time to go back to that plot and flesh it out...
You can read this Dev blog an more on the ShadowHeroes.com website.