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[devlog] In Dreams - a Twine game about relationships and hospital stays

A topic by Natron77 created Sep 10, 2017 Views: 425 Replies: 12
Viewing posts 1 to 11
Submitted (3 edits)

Concept

This is a solo project inspired by a health scare and hospital stay that my then-fiance and I experienced many years ago.

In Dreams is the story of a woman who suffered a head injury resulting in a long stay in the hospital to recover. While there,  her relationship with her girlfriend will be tested to the extreme. Also, due to the drugs and brain damage, she sleeps for the majority of each day, and her interactions with the real world are limited.

The player will decide her course of action in fantastical dream situations, which then shape her waking conversations. Choosing to be selfish in the dream may be exactly what you need to recover from your injuries, but what effect will it have on your relationship?

Characters

The player character: (Name still undecided) You suffered a head injury and you're now in the hospital, sleeping away the majority of each day as your brain recovers. You have vivid dreams every night, which affect your mood when you awake and how you speak to your girlfriend.

The girlfriend: (Name still undecided) While your relationship with her is only a year or so old, she is surprisingly devoted. She put the rest of her life on hold to stay in the hospital and be there every time you wake up. But this is stressful for her, and she can't keep it up forever. She hopes you'll recover soon.

Gameplay

Each night, you dream. Over the course of that dream, you make several choices which affect path of the dream, and affect your Stats (Drive, Care, and Stress). The next day, your Stats affect your conversations with your girlfriend, along with your Health and Relationship values.

Your goal is to improve your Health enough to recover fully and leave the hospital, but you should also try to keep your relationship intact, lest you leave the hospital with nothing but an empty home waiting for you.

Submitted (4 edits)

Development Update 1 (days 1-10):

Inspiration struck before the jam formally started, so I got a bit of a head start which was mostly spent learning the Twine tool and its quirks (Harlowe 2, specifically).

Since then, I've gone through several iterations of the Twine layout. The first was a giant snarl of interconnected scenes (with each ending of every night's branching story connecting  via an arrow to the next day), that I knew wasn't going to be manageable. I found a way to collapse every day into a single "passage" that actually acts as a server of sorts, picking which conversations to display based on the number of elapsed nights. Now each Night/Day can be off by itself without making a tangle of arrows.

Here's the current layout:


I also spent some time working on the game's HUD, which shows the player's current stats at all times, and highlights any recent changes. My first version was using some very rookie and inefficient programming and added a several second delay to rendering new scenes. I got some help on the Twinery Questions site and made it much faster.

Here's an example of the HUD in action (showing a recent increase in the Drive stat):

Story Progress:

I've fully written the first night,  during which you dream of being a knight in shining armor. Your village is attacked by a dragon, and how you choose to react can lead to numerous outcomes, ranging from you terrified and fleeing on horseback to you having celebratory drinks with a lovely lady. Each path changes your stats too, but those numbers will need to be adjusted later for balance.

I've also written 4 endings, in rough-draft quality. There's an ending for each combination of Recover or Not, and Breakup or Not.

Remaining story work:

I need to create the remaining ~15 nights, fill in the comparatively simple ~15 days, and write in some flavorful outcomes for the Stress events (where you can lose a random stat if you are too stressed out).

I also need to pick character names. So far, candidates include Debra or Tulah for the player and Mira for the girlfriend. I'd rather not have both women's names end so similarly, so I need to keep searching for something I like. I'm open to suggestions as well!

Balance Progress:

I want the game to require conscious effort to reach the good endings, so I need to balance all the stats you can gain.

To assist in that, I made an Excel document that models the game's formulas over time. I can plug in the player's stat changes and see the resulting timeline to Recovery/Death/Breakup instantly. In addition to informing me on how many stats I should give out per night, it alerted me to some issues with the Health/Relationship formulas I had been using, so I adjusted them.

Here's an example, with some stat changes populated for days 1-6:

I plan to continue to use this tool as I write each Night's content, to make sure that an interesting range of outcomes can occur on each playthrough of In Dreams.

Submitted

Hey, neat! I'm also writing about time spent in a facility, and memories in my case, instead of dreams, but likewise of their effect on relationships in the present. I'm really interested in reading how you approach yours - I can already see yours is more neatly drafted out than mine so far! Your stat system also looks neat. I think mine will likely be quite a lot more linear.

Layout - I've also found that even with a simple flow, Twine arrows get messy quickly. You've probably found this already, but I both appreciate and find v. annoying how in Harlowe 2, (goto:) macros don't draw an arrow. Great if I want a link not to throw a massive frickin line across my whole story, but a pain if I actually want them visually linked. (I've resorted to hiding [[thingy|whatsit]] links behind (if:false) macros in order to trick Twine into drawing the lines...)

Submitted

Thanks for the comment, Leethe. (I saw your project this morning and I was intrigued. I plan to check out your demo tonight.)

As you said, my project is certainly not very linear, but it will likely play out more linearly than it first looks. Each night is a tree of branching paths, but you always advance to the same next day (I picture it like an orchard of trees that you visit in order, and you can pick one piece of fruit from each. If that makes any sense). Your stats will have an impact on the day (like whether you snap at your girlfriend and hurt the relationship), but it won't change the contents entirely.

Goto macros are indeed great at avoiding clutter, but I hadn't thought of using if:false to draw fake arrows. That may prove useful later!

If you're looking for name suggestions that don't end with "a" - how about an "e" sound? Riley or Jennie or Mallory or something else could be cute. c:

Submitted

Thanks for the suggestions. I particularly like Mallory.

Submitted

This looks like an interesting premise to make an interactive story from. I've seen (and written) cases of this kind of story (a hospital stay with potentially deteriorating relationships), but I've never seen a version where the outcome is up to the player.

From the sound of things, am I right in assuming all of the choices are made in the dreams, and the daily events are based on stats? That sounds like another interesting divergence from the usual, since normally waking moments are where choices are and dreams are not interactive. I'd worry a bit about those kinds of expectations if I were writing the story, but hopefully you'll manage to make it feel natural enough to accept as part of the premise of the game.

I understand the desire to make sure getting a good ending isn't so easy that it can be done by accident, but I hope it doesn't end up too hard to get good results. There are enough stats that this looks like it could easily end up with requests for a walkthrough. Good luck balancing the stats, too; I've always had trouble with making the numbers in a game do what I want them to. Hopefully your spreadsheet helps with that.

At any rate, I hope your project goes well!

Submitted

As you deduced, all choices are in the dreams, and the days (which are comparatively shorter) play out based on stats alone, without player decisions. For example: You'll wake up to a health status update, to let you know if you're recovering or worsening, then your girlfriend will talk to you and your character will talk back. Depending on your Stress, you may lash out in a way that hurts a random stat. After the conversation, your relationship Stat will move based on your Care.

I definitely want the good ending to be doable without a guide, but it may take a couple playthroughs to learn which stats are needed most at which times, and what kind of actions will give those stats. I want to be consistent enough that the player can learn that self-preservation decisions (like running away) tend to give Drive (aka will to live) but reduce Care (aka compassion), for example.

Thanks for the comment!

Submitted

Development Update 2 (days 11-20):

Sadly, there's been basically zero progress on the project these last 10 days. Life's been busy and inspiration hasn't struck. But, I'm going to post here just the same on a 10-day cadence, to guilt myself into making progress next time!

Submitted (2 edits)

Development Update 3 (days 21-33):

Once again the rest of my life demanded my attention so I didn't make as much progress as I'd like. But I did make some progress.

Story Progress:

I've picked names for the characters, though I'm not 100% set on either of them. I can always find-replace them later if something better comes to mind.
The player character is now Rebecca (only her girlfriend gets away with calling her Becca, and no one calls her Becky).
The girlfriend is now Jennie (short for Jennifer, but she prefers Jennie).

I've put in some rough-draft versions of the 9 possible stress events. For now, they are quite simple, like "You're so stressed out that you can't handle conversation right now. You ask Jennie to leave."

All the parts of your waking life are similarly intentionally brief and distant in order to highlight how your waking life has become disconnected while your dreams are full of vivid detail. Each day consists of:

  1. A brief health update, describing how you feel, and how long you slept.
  2. A bit of conversation with Jennie.
  3. A chance at a stress moment which reduces one of your stats. (10% chance per Stress point)
  4. Another bit of conversation before you fall back asleep.

Engine Progress

I had a breakthrough with the Twine tool, allowing me to drastically simplify the story layout. I replaced all 15 Day passages with a single list of text variables which are called dynamically by the Day master-passage. In addition to saving space and preventing tedious edits to 15 passages, this allows me to see all the Jennie conversations at once, which should make it easier to align their tone and content.

Nights are still their own passages, since they'll branch off into even more passages. Each one is a mini visual novel of sorts.

Balance Progress

To make balancing simpler, I've decided to cap each dream at a net total of -1 to +1 stats. This means you could lose 1 Care on the first decision, then gain 2 Drive on the next, for a total change of +1. (Stress will be inverted for this rule, since it's the only stat where more is worse)
In tandem with that decision, I've also decided to keep dreams other than the first massive one down to 2 or 3 branches. This will keep the scope of the game to something I can finish in the remaining time.

Remaining Work (in approximate order)

  • Brainstorm 15 more dreams, some shorter and some longer
  • Implement said dreams' structure, and write in rough-draft text
  • Write the brief daytime conversations
  • Add dream stat changes (adhering to the new "Total 1" rule)
  • Test the nightly stat change formulas, and balance the dream stat changes to tune game difficulty.
  • Recolor the UI, which is currently white text on black. Possibly make it change based on the dream.
  • Polish the rough draft writing

It's a fair amount of work, but nothing I can't handle by the 31st if I buckle down and set a couple full days aside. See you on my next update, hopefully around the 10th.

Submitted

Development Update 4 (days 34-42):

I didn't make much progress since the last update, but I did set aside a couple days this next week to work on this. In order to account for the dwindling remaining time, I've reduced the scope of the game a bit: I've decided to cap the game at 10 days and 11 nights. After the 11th night, your health will rapidly deteriorate and the game will end.

Progress:

I've brainstormed 22 interesting dreams, some based on dreams I've had and some that feel fitting for Rebecca's life. Some are pleasant dreams, some are nightmares, and some could go either way based on your decisions. The nightmares will typically come later in the game.

You’re wandering in a stranger’s sunlit house, but everything is surreal.
You’re a bird flying through the air over a green field, but there’s no trees to land on.
You’re golfing with a celebrity, but you’re not sure who they are. President? Actor? Pop Star?
You’re making love to Jennie.
You’re in a beauty salon, waiting for someone.
You’re on a date with Jennie, but she keeps trying to leave early and you try to persuade her to stay.
A stranger is pleasuring herself on a small moon in outer space. You float closer.
You’re Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
You’re an action hero, shooting at aliens from a helicopter.
You’re a lioness, stalking her prey and feeling powerful.
You’re napping on a warm hillside, with butterflies flying overhead.
You're stuck in an impossibly large mall where you don’t know anyone.
You’re at work, waiting over a dozen tables by yourself and frantically trying to keep up.
You wake up to find that many years have passed and everyone you know is long dead.
You’re falling from a great height, but it’s warm and comfortable.
You’re lost in a deep, dark forest.
You’re an adventurer climbing Everest when things go wrong.
You’re at work, but the Diner is now a Hooter’s and the men keep grabbing at you.
You’re wandering the hospital, then realize you’re a ghost and you died.
Jennie breaks up with you for some insignificant nonsense reason.
You’re on stage in front of a crowd, but you don’t know what you're supposed to do. Sing? Speak? Dance?
You show up to work after recovering, only to find that you’ve been fired.

Remaining Work (in approximate order)
  • Pick 10 dreams to use
  • Implement those dreams' structure, and write in rough-draft text
  • Write the brief daytime conversations
  • Add dream stat changes
  • Test the nightly stat change formulas, and balance the dream stat changes to tune game difficulty.
  • Recolor the UI, which is currently white text on black. Possibly make it change based on the dream.
  • Polish the rough draft writing
Submitted (2 edits)

Development Update 5 (the final hours):

I'm still working on this! Life continued to get in the way (mostly in good ways, like Halloween parties and time with my wife, but sometimes unpaid overtime at work), but I have made some progress.

I'll keep this short since I have to scramble to get In Dreams into a share-able state in the next 4 hours. I've been filling in more dreams and daytime conversations, and as of this post, the game is complete through day/night number 5. The endings and all the triggered events are also done, leaving just 5 more days and 6 more nights. The days are easy (barely a paragraph each), but the nights are 3-7 pages each.

Can I write all that in 4 hours? Maybe, and either way, I'll be submitting what I have so people can check out my little game.

Wish me luck!

Submitted

Development Update 6 (the end):

Well, that's it! I've submitted the current version: https://natron77.itch.io/in-dreams

I wasn't able to finish all the days/nights, but I did get 7 dreams and 6 days fleshed out, and all the endings are possible. I plan to continue to work on the game over the next couple weeks.