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No Good Deed - Narrative Design in Spec Ops: The Line
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No Good Deed - Narrative Design in Spec Ops: The Line

August 28, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

By turning the story into a mystery centered on Konrad's fate, we gave ourselves the necessary space to explore the themes outlined in the vision documents. This change made the environment central to both the plot and to character development, a key element of Heart of Darkness. The squad is no longer in Dubai on a kill mission; they volunteered for a rescue mission.

From the beginning, Konrad and his men are legitimately viewed as good guys, heroes, as is our squad. Now we had somewhere to go. We would be able to toy with player expectations, especially with the expectation/convention that in a military shooter, we are the good guy and anyone in our way needs killing.

We were less interested in telling a straightforward story than in creating a player experience with strong narrative elements. We created a linear game scenario that allowed for a variety of player experiences without narrative branching, and built it around a single question, "What happened to John Konrad?" Every mission answers part of or provides some insight into this question. All narrative elements from the storm, to the squad, to individual characterizations are built around this question.


We had two over-arching goals with regards to characterization:

1. The characters needed to feel and act like real people, especially in reaction to what they experience; and

2. They had to be changed permanently by what occurs in the game.

The Squad's character arcs would be reflected not only in cutscenes but in gameplay as well. As they moved through the game, experiencing the horrors of post-storm Dubai, the Squad would come to look, act, and move differently. The experience would affect them, and hopefully, in doing so, affect the player.

For each squad member, the team created three complete sets of combat barks, three different skins, as well as multiple animation sets. For Walker a variety of execution moves were also generated. Set swaps occur at predetermined times, and reflect each character's progression along his individual arc. These changes do not occur simultaneously. For instance, Adams is injured in a rocket attack that occurs at the end of Chapter 6 - The Pit. Both his skin and animation set change. He is scarred and bloody, moving with greater difficulty. Neither Lugo nor Walker undergo a change here.

Walker's set swaps begin in earnest after the White Phosphorus incident when he discovers he is responsible for the deaths of several dozen innocents, something from which he never recovers. Walker will eventually become delusional and experience hallucinations that call his sanity into question. His reliability as a POV character will be cast in doubt.

By the time Walker and Adams reach the Ship Graveyard at the base of the Tower, the two are all but unrecognizable. Their communication is anger-ridden, ragged, and laced with profanity; they bear the physical scars of their encounters; and they move much differently than they did at the beginning of the game. Walker no longer calmly dispatches the wounded in a kind of mercy kill. Instead, he now violently and savagely ends them. The near-zombie who lumbers into the Tower is no longer the professional Delta Operator who led his squad into Dubai a few short days earlier. Hopefully, the player feels the weight of his arc as well.

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