I’m using this blog to hold a few of these ideas that keep bouncing around my head and bumping into Resonance. Please read the disclaimer.
Able Morgan is missing twenty very important years of his life, the years during which he transformed from an idealistic young law school grad into an immoral, dishonest defense attorney, the years during which he was accused of murder, the years during which he was arrested and thrown in jail. Now, with the help of a psychiatrist, Able must dive into his own memories to uncover the events of the last twenty years. It may be the only thing that saves him from a life of imprisonment.
Full pitch below!
Four years ago, when I first discovered AGS and decided to turn my game making aspirations into amateur reality, I started writing what would be my first game. And, like most wide eyed kids who set out to make their first game, I let my first design spiral out of control into a ridiculously ambitious and out-of-my-reach game design. I wound up smartly setting it aside in favor of doable projects. But the idea (and my notes) have stayed with me all this time.
Last March, when I decided that I was going to go commercial with my next game, I initially set to work on this idea, which I had tentatively dubbed “Sketchy Memories.” I know, cheesy title. Just a working title, I assure you.
I began writing and making formal design documents, but soon decided, again, that this idea was just too ambitious for me to make a go at it for my maiden commercial voyage. So I set it aside yet again for the other idea that was sitting in the back of my mind, which would eventually grow into Resonance.
In the interest of freeing up the corner of my brain where this game resides to make more room for Resonance, I’m going to pour it out into this post.
The story begins with a clichÃ©. This is intentional. When I hear someone say “No one should ever make a game about X because it’s sooo clichÃ©” I take that as a challenge. So I’ve started with a familiar story and taken it to places new and exciting. So, don’t hold the common beginning against me too much!
27 year old up-and-coming criminal defense lawyer Able Morgan kisses his girlfriend goodbye and heads off to work. He’s scheduled to take a deposition from the main suspect in the murder of the mayor’s daughter. But before he steps out the door, the world freezes, turns inside out upside down and backwards and he finds himself handcuffed to a chair in a room with a chair and a wall-mirror. He recognizes the room instantly as an interrogation room.
A woman enters and begins asking questions, but Morgan, ever the lawyer, has plenty of questions of his own. The woman refuses to answer any of Morgan’s questions until he states his name and age. Finally, Morgan relents.
“My name is Able Morgan! I’m twenty-seven, and I like long walks on the beach! Now would you kindly tell me what the fuck is going on?”
“Mr. Morgan, it’s 2028, you are forty seven years old and on trial for murder. Now I suggest you start being more cooperative.”
A stunned Morgan looks in the wall-mirror, and the young ambitious man that was there a minute ago is gone, replaced by the much older, chubbier, worry-worn face of a man in an orange prison jumpsuit.
The woman, Joy Fredrickson explains that in the last twenty years laws have been passed “thanks to defense attorneys like you,” stating that if a defendant would like to keep the insanity plea option on the table, he must be examined by a psychiatrist before meeting with a lawyer. The examination must be completed within seven days. This is day one.
With the help of this Ms. Fredrickson, his appointed psychiatrist, Able will attempt to recover his memories of the past twenty years, including the events leading up to the murder of which he is accused. Using a memory regression technique she calls “image transmission,” she places Able into a hypnotic state. Giving him a pen and paper, he begins to draw his memories as his mind recovers them. Through this method, Able is able to relive his memories and create a record of them via drawings. Able is allowed no contact with the outside world and given no information about the crime he is accused of in order to verify the veracity of his memories.
Together with Ms. Fredrickson, Able must, over the course of seven days, unwind his memories of the last twenty years, including two seemingly connected cases; his first major case surrounding the murder of the mayor’s daughter twenty years ago, and his last, the death of the lawyer who prosecuted that first major case — two cases separated by twenty years. At the conclusion of that last case, someone was killed, and Able is the only suspect. What is the connection between these cases? Why did he lose his memory of everything in between? And who committed the crime in question?
Along the way, Able must witness his own downward spiral from a wide-eyed idealistic rookie attorney to a power-hungry, dishonest, immoral lawyer who will do anything to win, and watch as the relationships with the people he cares about go along for the ride.
At the beginning of the game, Ms. Fredrickson helps Able to create a mind map during hypnosis to find the important memories which must be recovered to unlock the memories they’re after. This creates nine “anchors memories” An anchor is a recovered memory which Able can jump into to begin uncovering more memories. Each anchor is represented by a small icon on it’s own piece of paper.
For example, one paper would have a small icon of his girlfriend’s face on it. Jumping into this memory will continue from his last memory: kissing his girlfriend goodbye.
Another paper will have a small icon of a watch reading 11:00. Jumping into this memory, Able will find himself staring at his watch, standing outside the county prison one hour before he supposedly commits murder.
While playing from each of these nine anchor memories, he will slowly fill in the mind map page with more memories. The memories will each be represented iconically on the respective page of the mind map. So the mind map page that started with his girlfriend’s face will eventually have an icon representing the taxi he rode to work in, the cell where he met the murder suspect he would be defending, a key word that the cryptic suspect spoke to him that he intends to find the meaning of, and a phone icon representing the urgent call he received from his boss at the end of the memory.
These nine mind map pages become important in three ways:
1) They provide a visible representation of the player’s progress through the game. When each page is filled with iconic representations of the memories they stand for, his memory will be fully recovered and the game is complete.
2) The pages allow the player to decide in which order to uncover the story. Before being hypnotized, Ms. Fredrickson will ask Able to choose which anchor he’d like to jump in to. The player may choose to work on memories chronologically (if and when the player determines the order of the pages) or jump around as he discovers new clues related to other memories.
Some of these new icons on the page would also become anchor memories, allowing the player to restart the memory from that point, rather than having to start each page from the beginning each time. In this way, they function like a checkpoint and help to avoid needless backtracking.
3) Each icon on the page effectively becomes an inventory item for use in conversations. Similar to the LTM/STM system in Resonance, when talking to a character, Able can use the mind map pages as an inventory, clicking on one of the icons to initiate conversation about the event that icon represents. So, if you want to talk to someone about your girlfriend, you’d start a conversation, open the mind map, and choose the icon of her face from the first mind map page as the topic. This could obviously figure into puzzles, requiring the player to have recovered a certain memory to use in conversation in another memory before proceeding.
The mind map pages wouldn’t just be a mess of icons, though. They would arrange themselves on the mind map pages into an attractive collage. The form they would take would represent the path that the player took through the memory, sweeping across the page.
Aside from the ability to jump between memories and experience the story out of chronological order, the game would largely play like a standard adventure with dialog and inventory puzzles. However, the twist with the memories would add some interesting new spins to this traditional gameplay.
Occasionally, while playing through a memory, you’ll come across a place where you won’t have what you need to progress any further. The player will then have to exit the memory and continue to work through another memory. This other memory might have the information that you need to continue on the previous memory, at which point, you can go back to the first memory and proceed past the previous road block.
For example, in one memory, you find yourself breaking into an apartment for unknown reasons. During his search of the apartment, Able comes across a safe hidden in a wall. But the player does not know the combination, and neither does Able, because the memory containing that combination has not been unlocked yet. Exiting the memory and starting an earlier memory, you’ll find Able interrogating a man that he will be defending in court. The man asks Able if he can be trusted, and then asks him to go into his safe and remove something incriminating. He then whispers the numbers 56-17-21 into your ear. These numbers are added as an icon on the mind map. The player can go back to the memory of breaking in to the apartment, and refer to his mind map to remind himself of the combination.
Sometimes, there may be more than one way to get the information. In a later memory, the police have discovered the hidden safe in the defendant’s apartment and are demanding the combination so they can execute their search warrant. As the man’s lawyer, you advise him to give them the combination. The defendant smiles at you knowingly and gives the combo to the police insisting that he has nothing to hide. (Since he knows that you’ve already removed the offending item!) After he tells the combo to the police, you can go back to the previous memory and open the safe yourself.
Keeping the memories interconnected like this allows me to ensure that some big revelations in the memories are reached in a certain order (preserving the narrative) while allowing the player freedom to explore the game in his own way.
In addition, some segments of the game take place in the present (future?) in the jail cell where Able is being held while he undergoes Ms. Fredrick’s psychiatric evaluation. Since Able is being held in the same jail where he frequently visited clients as a lawyer, Able has learned certain things about the prison and it’s security system. After uncovering some memories about, for example, hearing the story of how an inmate managed to pick the lock on the interrogation room door, he might be able to do it himself.
Since Able’s recovered memories are transmitted onto paper, the player acts out the memories inside the pencil sketch. This allows for a visually-striking contrast between the real world inside the prison — hand drawn or 3D characters in full color — and the memories on the page — moving hand-drawn sketches or 3D with specialized sketch-filters in grayscale. Hence “Sketchy Memories”… heheh… get it? Bah… Get a better title, I know…
The sketchy nature of the memory scenes, which make up the majority of the game, will allow for fast development while maintaining a high level of style.
In addition, certain adventure genre clichÃ©s could be toyed with. For example, instead of the genre’s usual protagonist who talks to himself and describes the objects around him out loud for no reason, Able could be talking to Ms. Fredrickson. So, when the player right-clicks on an object to examine it, you would hear the disembodied voice of Ms. Fredrickson saying “Tell me what you see.” To which Able would reply, “I see a table. There are newspapers scattered around it, and a few envelopes sitting on one edge.” This makes the main character seem less like a rambling schizophrenic!
I still like this game idea, and maybe one day I’ll get around to it. I decided that it would be a bit too ambitious for my first commercial outlet, but maybe for my second. At least now that the pitch is down in digital form, I can stop unconsciously brainstorming puzzles for it in the shower. More time for Resonance brainstorming!
If you like this idea, let’s talk!
One of the things I’d like to do with these pitches (and yes there will likely be a few more over the coming months) is to get a chance to do some small collaboration with some talented artists. The concept image for this pitch was drawn by Auriond, who is working on her own freeware game, The Marionette, a very promising looking first-person adventure. Check out the demo. Thanks Auriond!