Legacy - telling stories across mediums - updated
BBC Scotland has launched a unique multi-platform drama for radio and online.
Set above and below the streets of London, Legacy combines a two-part Radio 7 drama and an online adventure game to tell the story of Jules and Harry, two 20-something siblings coming to terms with their family's shocking past. Brendan Crowther, the game's producer, describes the project...
The game is audio led. It uses sound to describe where you are and what you should be doing. Graphics are minimal with most of the information coming through dialogue and sound effects. Playing the game is about exploration and escape. You find yourself trapped in a dark underground bunker and have to use the objects around you to help you escape. The decision to make an audio-led game followed an earlier online pilot developed by DESQ.
The stories of the game and radio drama intertwine, developing the backstory of the Legacy universe. I'll talk about the ins and outs of producing parallel stories in another post; for now I want to look at the influences behind the game.
I grew up on PC adventure games like Monkey Island and - my own personal favourite - Day of the Tentacle. I loved these games for their stories, their puzzles and frequently their humour - something sadly lacking from a lot of modern titles, most of which are terribly serious.
A lot of videogames from this era were more interactive fiction than anything else. With text and maybe the occasional hopelessly abstracted graphic (that blue pixel is you, those green pixels are a multi-limbed death-dealing mutant from beyond the grave) adventure games like Zork nevertheless managed to make worlds come alive in my head in a way that only books can rival.
As the computing power behind videogames increased they became prettier and prettier. Photo-realistic graphics and advanced animation mean that modern big budget videogame titles boast visuals that wouldn't look out of place in a feature film. The reliance on such high fidelity visuals has established certain types of gameplay as the norm. Games often rely on players being able to decode complex visual cues at speed and react accordingly: duck that punch; jump that ledge; hit that target; etc.
With Legacy the team and I wanted to build something that harked back to that era where games were less about your reaction speeds and more about your brain power. We wanted a game built around solving puzzles and discovering stories - to give players a world they wanted to find out about and guide their progress by challenging them to work out the problems facing them.
I loved the intricacy of the puzzles in the early games and the process of figuring out the solution. The reward was that great Eureka moment where it all came together and the next chapter of the experience opened up. There were no forums or messageboards back when videogaming got started so it was up to your own brainpower and maybe sharing hints with your mates.
Building the puzzles for Legacy and then planning for all the different ways a player might approach them was one of the most time-consuming aspects of making the game. It took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the radio production team, the game designers and the writers to get it right. Having two storylines that ran parallel also provided interesting continuity challenges.
Often scripts for both the game and the radio drama would have to be amended and plotlines rethought to accommodate what either one needed at a given point. We constantly found ourselves having to consider what the knock on effect for the radio drama would be of a new puzzle in the game. Similarly when the radio play needed to cut away to characters that appear in the game we needed to make sure they were in the right place at the right time.
Legacy was a collaborative effort with external writers, a BBC radio producer and a game designer from DESQ, all involved from start to finish in every aspect of its production. Creating a compelling story that was consistent across different platforms was both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Over the coming weeks I'll be posting more about the experiences I had working on Legacy and what I think the project might mean for the BBC as a storytelling organisation.
UPDATED - Radio Scotland programme details.