Oni2:Slaves of War/Story
Not a plot, but notes on storytelling and ideas for a story.
- 1 Possible themes/events
- 2 Plot development
- 3 Character exposition
- 4 Bungie connections
- 5 Technology
- 6 Developing powers
- 7 Imago transformations
- 8 Ludonarrative
- 9 Psychology
- 10 Environments
- 11 Wilderness
- 12 Daomen
- 13 Daodan
- 14 Enemies
- 15 Language
- 16 Name candidates
- 17 Characterization
- 18 Storytelling in games
- Mai maintaining a territory in a decaying city, as a Daodan warlord who protects the locals from marauders
- Capture of Mai using nanotech or phase tech
- Mai __ her Imago stage
- Ascends past/around
- Resists reaching (is it irreversible?)
- Mai leaves Earth __…
- To train her Daodan
- To convince Daomen to help us
- To survive
- …by traveling through __
- The phase veil
- Outer space
- Mai rejects the promise of great power and becomes a normal person
- Dissolution of the WCG
- Exploration of the Wilderness
- Attack of the Screaming Cells
- Discovery of other Imagoes (perhaps in Wilderness)
- Betrayal of Mai or her group, possibly leading to lucky turnout by accident
- Rejecting given identity (Oni), discovering one’s true self (Oni 2), and then finding where one belongs (Oni 3)
- Mai feels the world is on her shoulders and is over-extending herself
- Mai is being flattered or worshipped by a group she must turn against
- Alliance with Mukade
- Self-sacrifice of Mukade
- Muro’s escape and downfall
- Introduction of Daomen
- Deception by Daomen
- Mai is sent around the world to fight Daodan hosts
- Nanotech vs. Daodan
- Introduction (nano seemingly winning)
- Climax (even match, world at war)
- Conclusion (Daodan leaves Earth)
- Conclusion (Daodan beats nano)
- Enemy saves Mai because she is needed for his plans, but he dies in the process, spiteful that he saved her but not himself
- Mai’s final team combines their abilities to aid her, perhaps building a chain like Cloud’s friends at the end of FFVII: Advent Children
Make sure to provide twists and turns in the story. Perhaps use one of the alternate paths in the polylectiloquy or Oni 2 Storyline thread as a red herring before revealing the truth. At some point I can order the alternatives from least to most interesting and consider how that would work in the story. For example, the Daodan could be something to resist at first, seeming as dangerous as Mukade makes it out to be in Oni. Then it might turn out that, depending on how/why a host gives in to it, the outcome varies. The Daomen could seem benevolent and in need of help at first, then turn sinister and cunning, or desperate and selfish.
The story should not feel “safe” or “inevitable”. There should be cliffhangers and near-death and near-failure moments, the sort that down the road will allow fans to play “what if” games — “What if Mai didn’t spare this person?”, “What if so-and-so died there?”, etc.
Leave dangling threads. This can be a way of leaving room for multiple future story paths, or simply adding a bit of mystery for thoughtful players to chew on. One opportunity is the strange case of Bertram Navarre (see Unit 731 for inspiration). One can also create a sense of foreboding by dropping a phrase that has an ill portent but not explaining it for a while, as the characters ponder what it means.
A certain pretense of agency can be enjoyable, even in a linear story. E.g., “Assemble a team from around the world to accomplish your mission”. Even if the player doesn’t get to choose where to go first, the phrasing suggests that the player is the one in the driver’s seat.
It might be rewarding to start off with Mai taking orders as in Oni, then breaking out after a certain point and making important decisions on her own.
Players who care about plot and character backstory love it when writers plan ahead. They eat it up when those little enigmatic nuggets that you drop in a corner of game 1 suddenly become meaningful in game 2 or 3. Far from a simple parlor trick for the gamer’s amusement, this practice wins you respect from the gamer, as evidence that you are adept at your storytelling craft. Regular TV viewers are starved for stories that are planned ahead, as TV (at least in America) is absolutely awful at pre-planning stories and then following through on those plans across multiple seasons.
It’s a smart idea to do two things: (1) plan ahead for sequels, and (2) make sure that each story is “detachable” or “collapsible”.
Oni provides a fairly good template for a detachable story: the game ends with the defeat of the villain and the foiling of his plan, but there is another big problem on the horizon that needs to be dealt with, and mysteries still remain about the Daodan. A minor conclusion has been provided, but the major conclusion (what to do about the pollution, what about the oppressive one-world government, where will Mai go and what will she become...) is still out there. Arguably the solution to the pollution is simply to give everyone a Chrysalis, but Mutant Muro showed us that this is a problematic concept, thus allowing for a sequel that addresses those problems. Similarly, Oni 2 or later games can end on a note which is arguably a conclusion or arguably a cliffhanger. For instance, if Oni 2 has the Chrysalis being distributed worldwide, then perhaps by the end of the game, the resulting chaos causes the WCG to break up. If the game ends on that note, then there is a similar sense of conclusion as found in Oni, namely that there is potential for a brighter future, but there is also looming chaos. This allows for us to hang back and see how successful Oni 2 is before deciding on making a sequel.
A collapsible story would be one that allows us to decide during the development process, even a ways into it, whether there will be a sequel and adjust it accordingly. For instance, if we decided to make an Oni 2 and 3 and allow for an Oni 4, we could follow this path: release Oni 2, begin working on Oni 3, writing a story that could extend to an Oni 4. If, during development of Oni 3, we find that sales of Oni 2 are not what we hoped — or if we are simply tired of the work and want to move on to something else — then we can use our fallback plan which allows Oni 3 to provide the major conclusion to the saga of Mai and the Daodan. It’s less likely that this will be useful when making Oni 2 and planning for Oni 3, as we will have no way to know yet how well Oni 2 is going to sell, however if we think that we might only be “mentally committed” to making Oni 2, then we should also allow the story to be collapsed such that Oni 2 provides the major conclusion. In theory (and assuming a few redundant assets are created) we can have almost up to the last minute in making Oni 2 to decide whether to drop in the major conclusion that ends the series, or the minor conclusion that leads to Oni 3. This is analogous to alternate endings shot for films.
It is probably worth making potential plot-flow diagrams for the following scenarios: Oni 2 only, Oni 2 -> Oni 3, and Oni 2 -> Oni 3 -> Oni 4. Mai’s story can easily run up to Oni 3 or maybe even Oni 4. After that, additional Oni games would need another protagonist and probably have to be set in a later time period, therefore it’s not necessary to come up with potential plots for those stories, as a new threat or issue will have to be introduced for those games along with a new protagonist.
One possibility is to have Mai become the progenitor of a line of Daodan users (similar to Naruto’s Sage of Six Paths), who discovers more and more about her Chrysalis and teaches it to others. By Oni 4, she could be out of the picture, simply a mythical figure in the lore of Daodan users. Perhaps she finds a way to prevent her Chrysalis from maturing in the usual (Imago) way, and “cultivates” it to eventually sprout into something grand when she dies.
Also, if we are planning on making a long series of games, each one should have its own theme which is addressed and resolved (like Oni’s issue of identity). The series as a whole will also need an overarching theme (such as “a return to nature“ or “preparation for parenthood”).
Who is Mai as a person? Bungie doesn’t give us much to go on in Oni, although that’s partly justified because Konoko is an identity constructed by the TCTF. She didn’t know anything except life at the TCTF, and whether through osmosis, or a fondness for justice, she might have wanted nothing more than to be a cop when she grew up.
She eventually is violently separated from that identity when her closest friend Shinatama is detonated in an attempt to kill her. I wrote HERE that the game’s story can be broken into three acts, and Act 1, which has “Konoko” as the main character, ends with that event.
Act 2 is about a “Konoko/Mai” who knows her real name but is adrift, uncertain what her past or future is. Her actions in going to Regional State are easy to predict, as Griffin says, because she is no longer much of a person with an identity; she needs information about herself in order to make decisions and function as a human being with free will. Temporarily lacking an identity, she encounters Mukade and rejects his offer of an identity based on violence (ironically, rejecting this using violence herself).
Act 3 begins when Mai learns about her Chrysalis from Dr. Kerr, and she is able to act for the first time with knowledge of her true capabilities, by using the Chrysalis to survive her swim in the acid vat. At this point a character who is essentially a blank slate with only a name begins to create a new identity for herself; one of her first acts in making this identity is deciding Griffin’s fate in the next chapter. Although this decision is in the hands of the player, there is arguably only one correct choice, meaning that the canonical ending is where she spares Griffin and does not fight Mutant Muro.
So then, at the end of Oni, who is Mai? We know that she’s headstrong, and can be violent; we also know that she absorbs information quickly in the field, and occasionally even quips while under pressure; but that’s about it. It’s up to us to decide in Oni 2 how much personality to infuse her with, and in what direction she develops. The truth is that, as of Oni’s ending, she still hasn’t had time to develop as a self-actuated person. In a way, she might still be naive.
This early window into Konoko’s character, from before Hardy’s rewrite, is somewhat embarrassing, as it paints her as a generic “kick-ass chick”. These days the stereotype of a “strong independent woman” who is really just fan service has become something of a joke. Thankfully Bungie had staff preventing them from going too far in that direction.
One unanswered question from Oni: Where did Konoko get her name? No one at TCTF seems to be Japanese, but her father is.... If her name is supposed to mean “this child”, perhaps it was written by Hasegawa in a coded note to Kerr about taking care of Mai.
When we consider her upbringing, it’s unlikely that Mai could ever turn out to be a “normal” person. She doesn’t remember her parents. She grew up in a police station from age three (“orphaned at the age of 3”, manual), was implanted without her knowledge at seven (“Griffin made me a monster when I was 7 years old”, dialogue 14_54_21) and then probably was trained from an early age to be a cop so Griffin could keep an eye on her (“Her upbringing has been overseen by a legion of scientists and TCTF personnel, and she has been trained in the most advanced combat and counter-terrorism techniques”, manual).
Although we can imagine that Kerr was allowed to take her outside the HQ on weekends for the first few years, this probably would have ceased when she was made into a Daodan host. So Mai won’t be familiar with the little pleasantries of life: making a snowman in the winter, then coming inside for a cup of hot chocolate; playing “house” with dolls or playing with bugs like a tomboy; going over friends’ houses or people-watching at the mall. She didn’t even get the socialization with peers that comes with formal schooling. Her available entertainment would have been pretty limited if she lived in the TCTF HQ, so we can imagine her becoming something of a jock, spending spare time at the firing range just for fun (“expert marksman”, manual) or sparring with the droids in a training program to kill time (“master of hand to hand combat”, manual).
At first, life without the TCTF must be frightening and lonely. No drills and exercises to practice, no orders to follow. No partners or allies around at all times. No active neural link in her head imparting situational info. If she is on the run, she doesn’t even have a bed to sleep in; she is ironically both more free and more restrained. Would Mai still retain her martial personality, or would she learn to relax a little, perhaps trying to acquaint herself with the normalcies of life? What is her favorite food? How kind is she? What does her laugh sound like? Does she become more feminine or is that not even a possibility for someone on her path in life? How does she feel about the Daodan inside her? In Oni, she was afraid of it; has she found some peace now?
Additionally, Konoko’s values came from the TCTF rather than her parents. What kind of moral framework can Mai possibly have after leaving the TCTF? It’s essential to show character development in response to her experiences in Oni 2, just as she changes in response to Oni’s events. Additionally, strong characters ought to have strong opinions (see “Strong women” section below). What if Mai is gung-ho about the Chrysalis, and then she learns that her Dad didn’t create it, but only found it? This could throw her into doubt about whether we really know what it’s for or how to use it. Her initial worshipful attitude towards the Daodan, and then possible rejection of it, could also represent something about parental attachment and neglect.
|“||Instead [Choice of Romance] gives us elements of what I’ve sometimes seen called the Heroine’s Journey. The Heroine begins from a position of minimal privilege, but has some powerful goal or passion. She may then take on a mentor or helper to assist her in her attempt to escape her traditional role and do what she wants in life. Along the way, she rejects or loses a “typical” romance with a man who wants to protect her but who would stifle her. She undergoes further trials in the attempt to establish herself; if she does marry/become romantically attached, it’s much later in the story, after she’s distinguished herself as an individual and met someone who is willing to regard her as an equal. Alternatively, sometimes she ends up alone but self-realized to some degree. (Examples: Eowyn. Harriet Vane. The Julia Stiles character from Ten Things I Hate About You [which is not really The Taming of the Shrew at its thematic heart]. Arya in “Game of Thrones,” at least so far.)||„|
Changes brought on by the Chrysalis
Mai should be a more advanced symbiote than her competitors. That means that she and Muro are on the cutting edge of what happens to a Daodan host, and reap the benefits (or discover the dangers) before anyone else. Their abilities are developed further than their enemies.
Mai could be developing a Daodan power of “super-intuition”, based on her grasping Muro’s plans in Chapter 2, and being able to follow Mukade in Rooftops (and maybe the objective texts show more of her intuition, although the help text for the Mutant Muro fight could be in her own head; develop this later). This could lead to the ability to predict enemy moves in both combat and battle tactics.
This intuitive power could also be used to allow Mai to avoid certain “Idiot Ball” clichés. For instance, she rescues someone whose mind seems to have been tampered with, and they say they’re okay, but after a little while, Mai decides not to bring them back to the others because she just feels that something isn’t quite right; she goes against the grain and makes the difficult choice to halt the rescue, rather than following the standard “good guy does something well-meaning but dumb” routine.
Is Mai’s life perhaps relatable to the average woman? Well, she does have a life form growing inside of her... and it is changing the way her body acts.... She also is concerned about its development.... When it is finished developing, her own life will be changed forever by it....
Is Mai continuing along the “super predator” path that Hardy envisioned? If so, does she start to feel a higher predatory instinct? Does she occasionally have the urge to attack other people even when they’re friendly?
Insert something here about likeable villains and villains-turned-good guys.
Various possible dynamics if Mukade is good or bad or dad. Can two Daodan hosts even get along? The first time, they were at each other’s throats. This could be a central theme of Oni 2: overcoming their drive to compete with or dominate each other.
Although Griffin arrives to help Konoko in her final fight, we shouldn’t take this as a sign that they will be fast friends from that day on. The fact is, Griffin ordered the detonation of Shinatama, the only person Konoko was really close to (see next section). He then prolonged Shinatama’s suffering by making her into a machine to kill Konoko (whether Shinatama had the self-awareness of a real person is somewhat moot; the point is that Konoko thinks of her as a real person). It’s a miracle if Konoko doesn’t put a bullet in Griffin’s head for that; a friendship is way too much to ask for. We should expect them to go their separate ways after Oni. It’s also quite possible that Griffin continues to see Mai as a threat.
|“||Shinatama/Konoko Relationship Analysis
Analysis of the remains of the Shinatama SLD gave us a new perspective on the bond between the android and the agent she was patterned after. We have long suspected that SLDs might share some form of bond with their pattern donors: after analyzing Shinatama's engrammatic readouts we can now be sure. State analysis suggests that Shinatama thought of Konoko as family, a sister. Subconsciously Konoko might have realized this emotional connection and, as an orphan, fixated on this emotional bond.
One wonders if Mai and Shinatama played around together as “twin sisters” when Shinatama was newly a part of Mai's life. Mai would likely have been the instigator of various trouble, perhaps roping Shinatama into playing a prank on Griffin. Over time, Mai would have aged and Shinatama remained the same, and Shinatama would have been more like a little sister to Mai. Protective instincts could come into play at that point. It's not hard to understand why Konoko is willing to throw everything else away in order to go save her. What's lacking in Oni is a depiction of their closeness, such as a flashback level or a more personal conversation over their neural link.
“I guess I knew I had a father at some point but I don't remember him. Now I want to know everything about the man I tried really hard not to think about...” Bungie had about 20 years pass (orphaned at 3, and the old Unit Viewer says she’s 23 now) before she started thinking about Dad; we can understand why her memories would be foggy after all that time, without any need to resort to brainwashing or the Daodan to explain her amnesia. Simply being separated from her parents was probably enough trauma to make her want to forget her family.
If we introduce Hasegawa, and maybe Jamie posthumously in the form of flashbacks or old home videos, it would be good to incorporate in some way the feeling of a child towards each parent. Dad is a protective, assuring, steady presence. Mom is a doting, warm, touching presence. The mom faces the child, and stoops down to meet them eye to eye. The dad looks down from above, or stands with his back to them guarding or leading the way ahead. Perhaps we can find a way to work these parental feelings into the levels where they might appear in some way.
The key relationship in Oni is Konoko/Shinatama. What will it be in Oni 2?
Also, remember the Bechdel test!
This is overlapping with the "Empathy and sympathy" section, but in order to make people care about characters, those characters have to show some strong emotion, preferably after a certain amount of suspense or tension has been introduced. For instance, if Mai is going to have to cope with past trauma and learn to feel connected to others again, there could be another character who is even more damaged, to serve as a model. They act like they don’t care about anyone, but kindness shown to them catches them off-guard. Eventually they have an emotional sort of meltdown and show their true feelings.
Don’t forget to work in some Bungie references: a precursor to the Marathon Marine/Halo Spartan (or descendant of the 117 men under "Gaius Licinius Marc--"?), the future settling of Mars (Marathon connection), the three AIs of Marathon (Shinatama’s Ghost = Leela, Deadly Brain = Tycho?, Damocles = Durandal?) or Rampancy. And the number seven is absolutely required.
We can’t ignore that there should be a lot more obviously advanced tech by the time of Oni than we see in the first game. We can show more of Oni's technological world in Oni 2. Perhaps the WCG dives into cutting-edge tech as a way to fight the Daodan, or deal with the BioCrisis without the Daodan and the ACCs. When this tech goes up against the Daodan, it will seem like an even match-up at first, but eventually the Daodan will win because it is more sophisticated and evolves faster.
When will strong AI make any real advancement? Isn’t the Singularity predicted by Oni 2’s time? Might some large nation with the resources, like China, have a neural network that is being trained by surfing the Internet? This could serve as a nod to Oni’s erstwhile “constrained neural net” as well as to Ghost in the Shell’s Puppet Master.
As for future weaponry, see Heavy weapons for ideas.
- List of emerging technologies (technology is always further along than we think it is)
- Utility fog (this ties into Paradox's nanotech ideas)
- The Plastisphere is coming
- Envisioning Tech
Mai might be gaining sharper senses. This could be demonstrated in a room where she has to fight in the dark, by showing the footsteps of the enemies as puddles of light, and maybe silhouetting them a little as they attack to show the sounds they are making.
Muro’s transformation cutscene in Oni really dropped the ball. We can do much better than that. For one thing, if transformations are irreversible, we need to make a big deal of them. A dedicated cutscene with selected music. Mai’s transformation could take place when she is finally hit by something too strong to survive as-is, and her Chrysalis takes over. Inspired by this moment from the ED of the unrelated animé “Touma Kishinden Oni”, let’s say that she’s hit by a napalm bomb, and in the middle of the firestorm, she transforms while in agony, wreathed by flames like a phoenix. That’s how you do a badass transformation.
Some games make the gameplay a large part of the narrative. Look at: System Shock, Thief, Deus Ex, Half-Life, Portal, The Witcher and To The Moon.
If we are going to explore Mai’s mind, Evangelion-style, look at the Buddhist concept of bardo.
Mai may also be tormented by visions of what she might become, at least as projected fears from her subconscious, based on myths like the Hannya, and ancestral species like colugos and tree shrews which the Daodan can sense DNA from inside of her.
"Why do people fight?" (Touma Kishinden Oni ED). Animé often asks this question. One possible answer is, “Because they hurt. They receive pain and wish to pass this pain onto others in order to lessen its burden. When life ceases to have pain, it will cease to injure.” It’s good for bad guys to have some kind of philosophy to explain their actions.
Remember that not all environments should be new and clean, or recently dirtied. Sometimes the most powerful environments are ones that have a lot of history. Perhaps an area is declining that once was beautiful or powerful; perhaps its eventual demise is fated (this fate can also be established in Oni 2 and then depicted in a later sequel), like the supposed example of the dodo tree. The sense of something irreplaceable being lost can be very poignant.
The Wilderness should be a frightening place, perhaps even for Daodan symbiotes. Maybe there are some advanced Imagoes making their homes out there, in trees, or huts with chicken legs. Various locales and moods and colors. Maybe more alien life lives there than just plants.
Might Daodan symbiotes’ powers involve or be based on the genes of Wilderness life? This would mean that the Chrysalis is “downloading” data from the Wilderness to meet each new need (see Neo-Biology's Strange life forms section for inspiration). Perhaps some scientist is puzzling over the energy that is being sent through a phase portal from the Wilderness to a symbiote, wondering why there are complex patterns to it, when he recognizes the similarity to DNA information.
What would have happened during the Bio-Crisis to the indigenous peoples still living in certain places in South America and Africa? One would expect that, without ACCs, they were wiped out, but what if they’ve adapted to the Wilderness somehow?
At the outset of the game, perhaps Mai herself is ensconced in the Wilderness as a feared tribal warlord, and the player controls another character who is on an expedition to find her, Heart of Darkness-style, in order to convince Mai to help the world again. This would probably make more sense as an opening to an Oni 3.
(Note that "Daomen" is a silly placeholder name and will not be used in the final story.)
Who might have made the Daodan (see below for speculation on a natural Daodan)? Is the Wilderness indicative of their biosphere? What might they look like? Could they be evolved from another path of life — say, saurian, avian, or cetacean? Even if such an alien is bigger than us, it could still be a child; our normal assumptions are unfounded when dealing with alien life. We don’t know how they reason, or if they comprehend emotions like ours.
Are the Daomen living in Earth’s own future? Perhaps a Daoman mentally takes Mai to the future of the Earth (or their own world) if the Daodan is allowed to continue to have its way with life, speeding up its evolutionary arms race: we see a world that was beautiful but is dying and still. Mai sadly realizes that the Daodan is a threat, not a hope.
Or perhaps Mai thinks they're from the future, only to be laughed at by the Daomen for thinking that something could come from a future that doesn’t exist yet. They might be a dead evolutionary offshoot from Earth’s past. That being said, either direction implies that the present can interact with the future (even if we’re the “future”), which is scientifically problematic. Some important things to research before deciding on a time period: Which organisms would exist in both our time and theirs? Which would be totally alien? Which pre-modern atmosphere would they have existed in? What was the climate of the continental arrangement (land or sea)?
The main obstacle to a theoretical pre-human civilization is not the absence of archaeological evidence (Pangea was in existence at the P-Tr period discussed below, and later continental upheaval would probably deeply bury everything) but rather the fact that, if you go back far enough that archaeological evidence would be unlikely, we see only fossils of simpler life forms that showed no evidence of large brains. However, ocean life is often boneless, leaving fewer fossils, so there's more potential for surprises. Also, we know almost nothing about what’s buried on the ocean floor. Finally, it seems that no ocean floor is older than 170 Ma anyway due to plate tectonics.
See the Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction event, AKA the Great Dying, for a possibility. The P-Tr event happened about 252 Mya, before the dinosaurs. Life was simpler, but there were large organisms on land and in the sea; insects, “sea scorpions”, and herbivores were all giant at the time (mammals and giant reptiles came in the following Mesozoic era). Further interesting points about the P-Tr event: the mysterious absence of coal in that layer, the staggering increase in atmospheric CO2 (and methane?), a great increase in acidity both on land (acid rain) and in sea that would dissolve fossils, the “reset” in body size, the beginning of the breakup of Pangea, the eruption of the Siberian Traps, and the unexplained marine extinction pattern that favored some life forms.
Whatever form the Daomen take, it could turn out to be very anticlimactic to reveal them in entirety and then have them become regular actors later in the story, as if they are merely alien-looking human characters. Some sci-fi stories make this mistake. This would retroactively ruin the mystery or sense of danger from earlier in the story before their reveal (and images and footage from the later story where they interact normally with humans would become spoilers for newcomers by forestalling any suspense about what they look like and their ultimate disposition as allies/enemies). The best option might be to end the story with them trying to enter our “dimension” through a phase portal and being shut out. Maybe the only part of a Daoman that we see clearly is an enormous alien hand reaching through the veil, and perhaps causing chaos on this side before being shut out. Perhaps also a silhouette of a head with glowing eyes (how many?) on the other side.
It may turn out that the Daomen are aquatic, which would go along with the character of the P-Tr extinction event (see consumption of coal and massive spike in methanogens… for energy?). Perhaps when a portal is opened between our worlds at the game’s end, the area first fills with water. This would raise a gameplay question of how the player is supposed to fight them, but perhaps the fight is not directly with the Daomen but with whatever is powering or guarding the portal.
The Daomen (or Daoman, if there's a sole survivor) may have to use an assistant in our world, someone “possessed” by the Chrysalis or something similar, in order to accomplish his will. Perhaps a child, because they are easier to control and to alter with the Daodan. I’m picturing a dark-haired girl, impetuous and foul-tempered. She should be young enough that she can be revealed as Muro’s daughter by some Fury.
A final twist that I've been considering is that it turns out that the Daomen are already here, on Earth, in the present. The phase veil is a mere spatial translocation, and the Daomen were an oceanic race that lived millions of years ago and died out. The survivors (or lone survivor), perhaps having been placed in stasis when their civilization failed, are now working to make Earth more habitable for their ecosystem, and are using humans like Muro's daughter to spread the Wilderness. It's necessary to maintain the ruse that they are from another time so that the WCG doesn't go searching for them in the oceans before they're ready to make their move. Mai, who has generally been making intuitive leaps throughout the game, is caught flat-footed and only figures this out when it's too late, as they begin to traverse the phase veil from the bottom of the ocean to land....
One purpose of the Daodan could be to free its creators from evolutionary forces, allowing them to ascend to a higher consciousness than the animals. Or it could just be a cure-all. It could be an accidental mutation. During the P-Tr event mentioned above, “there is evidence of increased ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth causing the mutation of plant spores” according to Wikipedia. Also, a gamma ray burst would cause accelerated mutations. Of course there is no need to propose a special reason for mutations since they happen constantly. Also, what if the radiation came from technology developed by the Daomen?
If the Daodan was created deliberately, perhaps new life is moving into the Earth, and the Daodan is their xenoforming technology; or maybe the Daodan is how they will prevent humans from being wiped out by their alien biosphere like the American Indians were by the Europeans (and possibly the Neanderthals by humans).
Will animals get smarter from the Daodan and start using tools?
In real life, when people have their needs taken care of, they seem to often become kinder and “higher-minded” (Cf. Maslow). If the Chrysalis removes most of the need for sustenance and survival instincts, shouldn’t it make the host a more enlightened being? So why do Mai and Mukade become “super predators”?
One interesting path to take is to sort of glorify the Daodan Chrysalis as the “alpha and omega” of technological advancement. Whatever enemies are introduced with improved technology — whether cyborgs, advanced SLDs, nanobots, Iron Demons with anti-symbiote measures, partial symbiotes assisted with technology, or competing symbiotes based on other organisms — the Daodan always comes out ahead in the end, perhaps even to a degree that becomes frightening. Cf. Pain vs. the Nine-Tails in Naruto: “I didn’t know it would be this powerful” (and that’s coming from a godlike being!). The only challenge there is to maintain suspense in a story where the Daodan always eventually wins. Ultimately this is not difficult to do since it's the fate of the people in the story that will matter to the player; some of these characters would not be symbiotes, and the ones that are can have various other types of suspense associated with them, e.g., "We know Mai will survive this, but in what form?"
Is the Imago stage really the final stage? Maybe it’s the pupa stage between caterpillar and butterfly. The shield could be the protection while the organism develops. Maybe it’s a transformation gone awry, and it shortly leads to the organism’s death.
Is the Daodan part of the biome inside humans? Is it a highly-evolved biome from the future? Its purpose in this case would simply be to protect its host. If the Daodan has control of the biome, not just human cells, then it could use these cells to fight nanotechnology.
My intention for the end of the story is to have the Daodan forcibly removed from Earth. It’s natural, though, that scientists would want to keep vials of it for study. Perhaps even that is banned, and the vials are ordered destroyed. However, one vial slips out of its box and lands in the ocean (are they flying over the sea?). It settles at the bottom of the ocean, where a curious octopus approaches it and begins to unscrew it….
Logically some of Mai’s enemies should be Daodan-powered. This is an opportunity to send Mai to different locales to fight super-powered baddies. Perhaps reference local legends, i.e. Gajasurasamhara, Kankalamurti, Nayenezgani (who fought the anaye, alien gods — perhaps the symbiotes are modern anaye!) and Cuchullainn as inspiration for these foes.
“Oni” has meanings outside of Japanese. It means “they” in Russian and related languages. it means “sorrow” and “ships”, among other possibilities in Hebrew, and “yiddeoni” is a communicating spirit or wizard (literally “knowing one”) in Hebrew.
Axis Mundi — for an enemy base?
How does a character’s belief system influence their actions? Remember to include symbolic actions or habits to show their personality. Different people will have different levels of deference and confidence, as shown by gestures, ownership of surroundings, posture, eye contact and physical contact, and speed of movement. Quirks can also add personality, such as eating at odd times (“I have to keep my blood sugar up!”). Sometimes an unusual possession can help add personality to a character.
What makes someone be loyal to a bad organization?
- Their identity is caught up in it; they defend the org. because they don’t know what they’d be without it; maybe they’ve been born into it.
- They’re cynical and just doing it for money or nice equipment.
- The org. formerly had good goal and they’re hoping it gets back to that.
- They're focused on one good aspect of the org. or how it aligns with their personal agenda, blinding their self to its bad aspects.
- Deceit by leaders — it would be good to have one enemy who stands out from the others, who is sincere but misled, who suddenly takes a stand against his former allies at a crucial point in the story.
Empathy and sympathy
These words are often conflated, to the point that sympathy is sometimes now defined in the dictionary (it being a descriptive book, not a prescriptive one) as having the same meaning as empathy. However, the words originally differed thus:
Empathy is the ability to understand what others are going through.
Sympathy is going a step further and using that ability. You choose to feel what others feel.
In order to write a successful story, the author needs to make sure the audience can empathize with the characters, but they also need to go a step further and give the audience a reason to sympathize with them. That’s how you engage the audience and make them care about the fate of the characters.
Empathy - make situations relateable
Sympathy - make characters likeable
- One way to do this is to show characters having sympathy for each other! When we see people understanding one another, caring about each other, and forming bonds, it makes us care more for both parties. After all, humans are imitative social animals.
- An example of a scene that pulls heartstrings is someone putting their life on the line for someone else, especially if it requires them using all their available strength, say pulling someone up from a cliff edge, or holding/lifting something heavy off them. The question is whether we can just settle for showing this kind of thing in a cutscene, or whether we want the game itself to have moments that center around saving/helping people.
- Also keep in mind that people don’t spontaneously reveal their more tender emotions or vulnerable moments to others, but if one character is trying to help another character, or convince them of something, it’s a good storytelling opportunity to reveal something about the character who’s speaking.
- One possibility is to have an ally step into a boss fight to defend Mai if she is low on health, though a practical difficulty is that there is little opportunity to do this if they are fighting at close range and the player still has total mobility, as they will probably be too close for an ally to help with supporting fire. We could either have Mai temporarily restrained by an attack (a bit trite), or if we wanted to explore the possibility of reducing Mai’s physical abilities when health goes down, then Mai might be unable to move while she heals, giving an opportunity for an ally to step in, which is all the more affecting if he/she cannot last very long against the enemy.
- A second way to do this is to make a character admirable. They can’t just be weepy, bleeding hearts; they should have skills and strong points that the audience can look up to them for. Examples?
- The underdog effect can be very powerful. Watching a “disadvantaged” character do something awesome — someone who looks weak, or who we know is weak, driven to do something impressive, or becoming stronger after training. Or finding out that the character who looked weak (“She’s just a girl, what can she do?”) is actually super-strong.
- Revisiting a likeable character that we didn’t think we’d see again can be a welcome event.
- Filling in a character’s past is the standard method in animé/manga for making a character sympathetic — even for an enemy that only lasts one episode! Fill in examples here.
- If we have highly interactive AI, then lots of comments during battle about their condition, the situation, and esp. concern for the player character will lend them empathetic qualities.
- Giving Mai (the player) a choice of who to take on their team will encourage the player to care about those AI-driven characters much more than if they’ve been “saddled” with them as a mandatory part of the mission. Much more so if you can choose to take no one at all.
Another important consideration is whether we want the villains to be sympathizable. Darth Vader becomes a more interesting villain once we learn about his tragic fall to the Dark Side. Animé occasionally delves into the past of villains and uses flashbacks to tell us more about them; some villains may be evil from the get-go, but some have fallen like Vader: Naruto's Kimimaro, Gaara, and Sasuke are examples. It’s impossible to give a villain a meaningful personality without some backstory, which presents a challenge for a video game; perhaps playing “flashback” levels as character can put the player in their shoes? The question would just be how to introduce such a level; why is the game suddenly changing our playable character? The answer might be a hand-off from Mai, in the form of her reading a story of their past. The player is seeing through Mai's eyes as she imagines what it would be like to be that character.
How do the characters change? We need to give Mai something more than herself to focus on so she can evolve as a person. Someone to love, someone (or a group) to protect....
You can build trust in a formerly-enigmatic character by having them reveal secrets to another character. This can even be used as a tactic to fool the audience with a twist.
Characters can change in a negative way, too. For instance, giving in to violent urges or leaving behind someone they used to care about. This could be used for a surprising reveal at the end of the story if we only got hints as to the changes they were undergoing throughout the game.
Also make sure to write backstories for everyone, especially Mai. We need to be clear on what happened to her as a child, what life was like at TCTF, what exact events transpired during Oni, etc. even if they're not shown to the player.
Good female characters
Mai has been through a lot. In order to survive the events of Oni, she had to be resilient mentally, quick on the uptake, and of course strong physically. Here are some other characters to use as references for Mai's character as we try to develop on what we saw in Oni.
- Yuna (Final Fantasy X)
To look at:
- New Lara Croft
- Leliana (Dragon Age: Origins)
- Persona 4
- Elena & Chloe (Uncharted)
- Nariko & Kai (Heavenly Sword)
- April Ryan (The Longest Journey)
- Heather Mason (Silent Hill)
- Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2)
- Jade (Beyond Good & Evil)
- Liara T’Soni (Mass Effect)
- Madison Paige (Heavy Rain)
- Cate Archer (No One Lives Forever)
- Kate Walker (Syberia)
- Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark)
- Faith Connors (Mirror’s Edge)
- Jill Valentine (Resident Evil)
- Eclair & Lumiere (Kiddy Grade)
- Birdy (Birdy the Mighty)
- A-Ko (Project A-Ko)
- Alita (GUNNM)
- Robin Sena (Witch Hunter Robin)
- Re-l Mayer (Ergo Proxy)
- Ryuko Matoi (Kill la Kill)
To look at:
- You’re Under Arrest!
Storytelling in games
Here's a closing thought, not in my own words. Gamasutra ran this article reporting on a DICE presentation by veteran developer David Jaffe: DICE 2012: Putting story before gameplay 'a waste of time' says Jaffe. The article set off a firestorm of comments, but this one represents my own view:
|“||If Michael Bay were to say that putting story and acting before filling every possible moment with big exploding robots and groaning metal sound effects, is a 'waste of time', you would have to admit that from his own perspective of the progress of his career, he is probably correct. But that doesn't mean that anyone should listen to Michael Bay or that his artistic choices should be elevated, because what Michael Bay is trying to accomplish with his time (fame and fortune) is not the same as what an actual artist tries to accomplish (shedding light on important truths).
Anti-story attitudes are rampant in modern times, in both the movie and the game industries. The difference is, the movie industry doesn't try to pretend that their rich but ignorant rubes are auteur heroes. They know the difference between the goals of art & commerce. There are auteurs and there are journeymen. The auteurs are elevated and the journeymen who make the biggest budget fare are merely respected but not venerated. This arrangement makes sense.
Gaming culture, however, is not yet that sophisticated; practitioners still try to pretend as if the sausages feeding the masses are the highest form of game art. Therefore, since stories suck in games right now, the importance of story must be shat upon by these disciples of the dollar, in order to maintain the fiction that the modern AAA game industry is anything but a sausage factory: to preserve the belief that they are doing Something Important.Well, they aren't. And fortunately, nobody worth mentioning is really buying it.