“…morning glory,” as Liam Gallagher once sang about twenty years ago on the Oasis album of the same name. I don’t really have the answer, and if we’re being truthful, I don’t think either Liam or his brother Noel, when he was writing the song, had any idea either. I think, however, I’m safe in saying they weren’t thinking about plots for computer games at that point. More likely they were too busy singing about the “sunshhhhieeennnnee” to be thinking about anything else (yes, I had to get a written Mancunian accent in there somewhere. I promise this won’t ever happen again).
I, on the other hand, have been pondering this subject (storylines, that is). Maxwell has been a new experience for me on that front. Before, on projects such as Downfall, there was never any rhyme nor reason to what was going on – you just loaded it up, picked up the joystick and away you went, with no justification other than having a good time. That suited me fine, as I’ve always been one to focus on the actual gameplay more than anything else, and that’s still the case. But when your game has strong elements of communicating with other characters, taking items and solving puzzles, it’s best it’s all put into some sort of feasible context, otherwise it will be sorely lacking in any real direction or atmosphere.
Some sketches of a map. On graph paper. Yesterday. Well, today, actually.
Even in the demo version, the plot was tacked on after the map was produced and even after a handful of objects and sprites were drawn. Despite that, it suited the game quite well – but for a bigger game that method won’t get us very far. So, before a single line of new code can be written, or a platform block can be pasted onto a map, the scene has to be set. And not even just that; how is Maxwell going to develop as a character? How about the people (mice? Other assorted creatures?) he interacts with? Does he have family and friends? Why am I asking myself these questions out loud when I’m sitting on my own? Why aren’t I down the pub instead?
All perfectly valid questions. After much deliberation, and re-reading some old ideas and conversations we had as a team, I settled on this ludicrous premise: On a seemingly normal day in Maxwell’s home town (Great Yarmouse? Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out), there have been reports of odd happenings. Apparently, objects at random locations have started appearing where they shouldn’t be, and sometimes even upside down, in what appears to be a defiance of the laws of physics. Sitting in his local pub with a newspaper, he spots a small piece on an eccentric scientist conducting a radical experiment of some kind which involves gravity, the space-time continuum and all that happy stuff. Presumably, things are getting a little out of hand, and when he discovers his own friends have seen their homes inexplicably altered (by this scientist’s work, so not really inexplicable at all, then), he decides to go on an utterly farcical adventure to track him down and find out what the hell is going on – after all, it’s more productive (and undoubtedly less damaging on the liver) than getting horribly drunk before teatime. Much hilarity ensues.
Plenty of trees to be cut down and replaced with lots of lovely roads and buildings, thus harming the environment even more. Possibly. This bit isn’t finished yet, by the way.
No, it’s not going to spawn a series of best-selling novels or a hit Hollywood film, but it’s potentially amusing enough for a game on a 30-year-old computer, which is the main aim. I made a decision very early on to split it into four levels (or chapters, in Maxwell’s case), each one advancing the plot with a dramatic and unexpected turn of events, culminating in a showdown at our mad scientist mate’s base. Each chapter will be relatively small so we can manage the development easier, but the aim is to pack each one out with plenty of tasks, amusing conversations and opportunities to explore so it doesn’t become too linear or dull. The first stage is taking shape very nicely and several puzzles have been coded in already (albeit with mostly placeholder graphics at this stage), so hopefully in the coming weeks I can share a bit more without giving too much away.
Now, I’d like to see Liam or Noel write something like that…