I Need a Wonkers

Okay, I’ll admit it—I mostly used this title because it’s funny.

I’m trying to figure out how to link the end of the Hightower scene to Vitacorp. This is where actual storytelling takes place, because no combat should be happening here, and this is where Dragonfall really succeeded. Dragonfall made use of a “guide”—a character whose purpose was to move the story forward by telling the player where to go and what to do. The character is Paul Amsel. Paul is the one who says, “Go out and get the DVD player, talk to Maalit to get the DVDs fixed, go talk to Altug to get info on Green Winters.”

In SR:New Orleans, this is supposed to be an “investigative” phase, similar to the Dragonfall sequence where the player character is tracking down Green Winters. But just plopping the player down in what may be a two-loading screen hub would be super overwhelming at first. So I need someone or something to be able to tell the character at least what their options are, if not where to go, and I need a way to plant ideas in the player’s head.

In Dreamfall: the Longest Journey, the player character (assuming the personality of Zoë Castillo) spends a lot of the early chapters in their home, coming and going, and it’s unoccupied save for themselves and a…little AI-pet-helper-thing called a Watilla, Zoë’s being named Wonkers.

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Characters like Wonkers serve a unique purpose: they’re there to tell the player what the player character knows.

Alternatively, they serve as the “bouncing board” for the player character’s ideas, rather than the player’s. Because the player character has existed in this space since before coming into the player’s control, they have a relationship to the environment and its people.

Say you want to guide the player to one of three locations. The “helper” NPC says something to the effect of, “Where are you going to go?” The player themselves doesn’t know this world, but the player character using a limited dialogue selection has three options. Just picking options out of a hat, let’s say “Warehouse” “Dockyard” and “Bar” are the options. Player clicks “I could go to the warehouse…” and the helper NPC says, “Oh, that’s a good idea…[here’s some exposition as to why].” You’re giving the player information about the world that the character already knows while simultaneously setting them up to advance the plot by eliminating non-options in a way that feels organic without thrusting the player into an open world.

While the Mission Computer (specifically, the Shadowland BBS) can give the player a peek into the world and its occupants, it’s difficult to design functionality of the Mission Computer that gives the player a sense of choice and independence until you get into the modular design of the mid-game (if you’re doing what I’m doing and stealing HBS’s plot layout). Having another character—in this case, a subservient one—to let the player feel in control while actually guiding them down the path towards the next run will actually give me an opportunity to fill out not just the world, but illustrate the player character’s place in it.

Originally, I was going to give only select “classes” a helper NPC, and mostly for flavor.

When I was drafting up ideas for the variable prop garage, the idea of giving summoners a helper spirit and riggers a helper bot to round out their “uniqueness” was really appealing to me. While I would have loved to give every class a unique NPC, that just isn’t a realistic goal to set. What I might do now is a bit of a compromise—give everyone a helper drone like a Watilla, but maybe give players with appropriate Drone Control some additional options at some point.

I think I can have some fun with this character. I’ve already played around a bit with story variable names (even though I later learned I didn’t need to, using the Speaker option), but by setting a story variable that looks something like $+(story.botName), I can actually let the player name their bot from a limited list, similarly to the Bolthole name options in Shadowrun: Hong Kong. That’ll be the first thing that happens, I think.

So, into the editor I go!

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