Creating a good sense of flow to a long story is essential. With so many different adventures in store for the Dread Pirates, I don’t want “The Pirate’s Fate” to start feeling like a TV sitcom or like ‘Star Trek’, with different episodes covering different events and little overall connection. Instead, I’m aiming for more of a ‘Black Sails’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ feel to it: a single story with multiple adventures.
This is, in part, because I want the story to feel like an exciting adventure, with every scene contributing something special to the ongoing story. In order to tie the story together over these adventures, there has to be some uniting narrative element. The following is a synopsis my brainstorming efforts on this issue, as well as many hours of discussion with Volkenfox.
One way to create flow would be to have a main villain in the story, and then to make their presence felt on a constant basis. However, I leaned against doing this because I felt like it would interfere with way I want to develop moral choices by creating a very singular goal: defeat the villain. I would prefer a more open-ended story, one in which different goals are available to the player, rather than limiting their options by forcing them to constantly go up against a bad guy.
Another way would be to focus on some aspect of the world itself, such as its dangerousness, or the ways in which the world conflicts with piracy. However, there are several problems with this approach as well. First, by focusing on the dangerousness of the world, or the ways in which it negatively reacts to pirates, the struggle of the crew becomes merely a matter of survival, which once again is a limiting factor when considering the ways I’d like to offer the player choices for their goals. Second, the nature of the different mini-adventures in the game is so varied that any attempt to force them all to fit a mold would feel ham-fisted, and possibly repetitive.
What about making the treasure hunt the uniting theme? While it will play a very important role, I’m reluctant make that the largest focus. This is, in part, because it is difficult to create a good sense of tension around such a goal. Since gaining the treasure is the main goal of the crew, the question “will the crew find the treasure” seems like a foregone conclusion - thus, little tension. What’s more, if I simply acknowledge that each time the crew finds a piece of the treasure they are closer to this goal, I haven’t really created any sense of drama or excitement.
As of right now, I feel like the best way to create flow is to focus on the story of Mila's personal journey. I don’t want “The Pirate’s Fate” to feel like a story about the Dread Pirates, while the player just happens to be able to control Mila. I want the story to be about Mila’s journey, both how it changes and how it changes her in return. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but especially in a visual novel, it is important to be aware of how much your protagonist is merely being “talked at” and how much they are actively engaging with the world.
Keeping the focus on Mila’s journey will allow the player to steer it towards many different outcomes, preserving the open-ended possibilities for the journey that I’d wanted. And it will also preserve an element of suspense and excitement, since it won’t be clear from the start how things will go.