A steaming tray of fresh content turned up a few days ago. This update boasts some sparkly new narrative structures that we’ve not used before. Alexis has described the whole Echo Bazaar project as an expedition into the narrative jungle for specimens. So, here for your edification and delight are a fresh batch of twelve-eyed beasts straining at their cage doors. Today we have the Midnight Buffet, the Carousel and the Grandfather Clock! If you’ve not come across our narrative structures before, you might want to have a look here.
The Midnight Buffet is a variant on the Midnight Staircase. That probably helps nobody, so let’s recap. The Midnight Staircase is a structure where a single storylet with a large number of branches gives various options for raising a progress quality. So, if you’re training for a fight, all the ‘do some exercise’ and ‘spar with a partner’ work is increasing the same ‘getting ready for a fight’ quality. Once the progress quality is high enough, options start appearing to use the progress up to various ends. The fight training progress might be used to duel an easy mark or a fearsome opponent. Some of the options require more preparation than others. This is where the ‘staircase’ comes in. A player is heading up the stairs, but chooses which floor to get off on.
So, that’s the staircase, which has been seen in the wild for a while now. The Midnight Buffet is slightly different in that there are a number of progress qualities, instead of one. Rather than just ‘preparing for a burglary’, there might be ‘casing the target’, ‘preparing tools’ and ‘hiring villains’ as separate qualities. The easy option (‘burgle a half-blind widow’s savings’) might only require one of these progress qualities at a set level, but a more ambitious storylet (‘raid a bank’) might need three or four of them at that level. So, the player’s choice is, rather than how far up the staircase to go, how many plates to load up on before they sit down to eat.
The Carousel is a bit simpler. There’s a timing quality like ‘the passing of the Society Calendar’. Every storylet in a chunk of content increases the timing quality, which represents time passing. This rises and rises as the player goes through the content. As the timing quality rises, some content is locked off and other stuff opens up. This leads up to the final set of storylets for the content chunk. Any of the final storylets resets the timing counter to zero. This resets the Carousel, and allows the player to see the early content of the Carousel again. To let players see most or all of the content, they get to go around the Carousel a few times before going to other content. We used the Carousel to represent time passing in a term at the university, but I can see it being used in other places where there’s a repeating calendar and different things can happen at the beginning and the end. The Carousel was an interesting one to write. It’s a very concentrated form, with a lot of storylets for its ‘size’. It also makes significant use of implied storytelling. I’ll be fascinated to see how it is received.
The Grandfather Clock is a fairly straightforward structure. There’s a significant narrative in a simple chain – one storylet, then the next. But, to move along the chain, the player must build up a progress quality. This is done with a multi-branch storylet like in a Mignight Staircase or Buffet. Whenever the progress quality gets high enough, it is reset to zero and the player moves along the big chain one step. This is called a Grandfather Clock because the progress quality is like the minute hand of a clock, and the main chain is like the hour hand. The progress quality whizzes about at speed, but the big narrative moves more sedately. As it happens, we complicated the form immediately. The first Grandfather Clock in the game actually has two independent hour hands. That’s how we roll.