Introducing the audience to a setting

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Enigma
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Introducing the audience to a setting

#1 Post by Enigma » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:13 pm

I'm having trouble introducing the setting for my game Freedom from Silence. I'm having a lot of trouble making an opening that introduces enough of the setting to make sense while also somehow drawing players in. The nature of story means that I have two openings (one for each protagonist) which does make it a little easier, but I'm still having problems creating an interesting opening that explains enough of the setting that players don't feel lost.

The current opening I have for one of the main characters, her name is Iii, has her dropping into the middle of a conflict with some monsters. I think that's enough for the first few minutes, what I'm having problems with is establishing the setting afterward. Specifically I think the auidence should know that the monsters are called Otherkind and that they nearly drove humankind to extinction not too long ago. I believe they should also know a bit about the power structure of the American Empire (the main setting of this story) and other things.

The other opening for the other character has similar problems though in her case it's a bit easier since her background involves a mystery cult so it makes sense for the other characters to ask her about it.

While I'm at it how much do you as a player need to know? I think it's important to at least bring up concepts a bit before they become important so they don't come out of nowhere, but I think I just might like more details than most people.

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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#2 Post by SundownKid » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:53 pm

Well you have a few choices besides having it be in dialogue.

1) Narrator description - Open the game with some kind of short narration to set the scene. Like "the year is XXXX. 30 years ago, the Otherkind struck, nearly driving humanity to extinction. One person is on a mission to do XXXX, when..."

2) Internal monologue - Have the character talk to themselves in a way that describes it. Like "crap, these are the Otherkind... they nearly drove humanity to extinction! I don't stand a chance against it!" Or "I'm on a trip to the Empire, a nation ruled by so and so".

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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#3 Post by Kailoto » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:21 pm

You can convey exposition in a variety of ways, with varying levels of sophistication and success. The most obvious is to have a narrated prologue, which is fine for most stories but lacks the deft for more subtle interplay. If the protagonist is unfamiliar with the setting, then they can have it explained to them by another character; the opposite also works if you have a character that has to be introduced to the setting. And of course, you can use exposition during tense scenes for dramatic effect; David Fincher loves to do this with film.

As a player, I don't want any unnecessary information cluttering the experience. It may be a personal preference, but if it's something that won't contribute anything worthwhile to the story, I'd rather not be subjected to it. That way only the important exposition gets through, and you know as a player that those key facts will somehow show up later in the story and give you something to look forward to. Checkov's Gun is an example of this in action; I can usually spot one when it occurs, but instead of the surprise being ruined, I'm instead looking forward to seeing how said tool will factor in to the story later on down the line.

So in short, utilize characters that need the setting explained to them, consider withholding important information until key moments for dramatic effect, and don't tell me things I don't need to know. And try not to frontload all of your exposition; it's okay for the player to learn something new at the very end of the game! Just don't do it arbitrarily - make sure everything has a reason for being said when it's being said.
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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#4 Post by Enigma » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:42 pm

Kailoto wrote:You can convey exposition in a variety of ways, with varying levels of sophistication and success. The most obvious is to have a narrated prologue, which is fine for most stories but lacks the deft for more subtle interplay. If the protagonist is unfamiliar with the setting, then they can have it explained to them by another character; the opposite also works if you have a character that has to be introduced to the setting. And of course, you can use exposition during tense scenes for dramatic effect; David Fincher loves to do this with film.

As a player, I don't want any unnecessary information cluttering the experience. It may be a personal preference, but if it's something that won't contribute anything worthwhile to the story, I'd rather not be subjected to it. That way only the important exposition gets through, and you know as a player that those key facts will somehow show up later in the story and give you something to look forward to. Checkov's Gun is an example of this in action; I can usually spot one when it occurs, but instead of the surprise being ruined, I'm instead looking forward to seeing how said tool will factor in to the story later on down the line.

So in short, utilize characters that need the setting explained to them, consider withholding important information until key moments for dramatic effect, and don't tell me things I don't need to know. And try not to frontload all of your exposition; it's okay for the player to learn something new at the very end of the game! Just don't do it arbitrarily - make sure everything has a reason for being said when it's being said.
I think I'd have problems finding characters who need to be introduced to the setting in general since a lot of the stuff I'm having problems introducing is common knowlege in the setting. I do try to use it where appropriate though, like I mentioned the stuff with the mystery cult.

Both you and SundownKid mentioned a narrator, and while I kind of want to avoid one for the reasons you mentioned and the fact it kinda slows the openieng down. If I did use one I'd probably want to make the narrator into something more permenant. I feel its kinda strange to have one for only one scene. I did kinda like the way the narrator in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle spoke for Baoh (who couldn't speak) and I do have a character of my own that can't speak due to her own magic (like Black Bolt) .

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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#5 Post by trooper6 » Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:17 am

You might want to check out the TV show Killjoys. They have only aired 4 episodes so far. The universe is pretty complicated and I enjoy the way they introduce elements a bit at a time in a way that lets me as a smart and patient watcher enjoy the show without getting a huge awkward info dump.
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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#6 Post by RotGtIE » Fri Jul 17, 2015 12:39 am

What you're looking for is a hook, and a hook has two primary elements. The first is the straight piece of metal that shoots forward to extend its length, and the second is the curved pointy bit which serves to grapple and pull in the target once it has been reached.

Similarly, your plot hook needs two elements. The first is familiarity, and the second is intrigue. Familiarity is the straight, lengthy portion of your hook which juts out and reaches the audience with something they know well enough that they don't need it extensively explained to them - they can just grab it and chow down like it's a happy meal. Intrigue is the hook, which has the job of teasing and tempting the audience in with just enough information to leave them asking questions. An audience will be bored and resistant to any information you present to them if you do not first ensure that you have stoked their curiosity enough to make them want to know what you're telling them. You need that hook to drag them into your plot, or they'll call it quits when they feel like you're infodumping on them.

The simplicity of the hook is demonstrated in the They Fight Crime plot generator. Although it is purposefully silly, it shows how an audience can be exposed to just enough familiar information to make them feel comfortable with the subject matter at hand (in this case, a hero/heroine duo in the leading role with the simple objective of fighting crime), while being presented with a strange cocktail of unexplained details which causes the audience to do a double take and start asking questions.

Juxtapose familiarity (to reach your audience) with intrigue (to pull them in) and you will have yourself a functional hook. From there, you need to keep running a balancing act - or perhaps more like a pendulum swing - between satisfaction and anticipation. After your hook, you may want to alternate between imposing states of mind like tension and relief, or hope and despair, in your audience. Be aware that, as every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, your audience will subconsciously expect a resolution equal to every anxiety you put them through. Fail them too many times in maintaining this balance, and you'll lose them even if you snagged them at first with your hook. A good hook builds a lot of trust in your audience, but trust is something you can lose. Keep working to make sure you aren't laying it on too thick for too long with any part of your story, and you'll please your readers just fine.

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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#7 Post by SundownKid » Fri Jul 17, 2015 4:35 am

Enigma wrote: Both you and SundownKid mentioned a narrator, and while I kind of want to avoid one for the reasons you mentioned and the fact it kinda slows the openieng down. If I did use one I'd probably want to make the narrator into something more permenant. I feel its kinda strange to have one for only one scene. I did kinda like the way the narrator in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle spoke for Baoh (who couldn't speak) and I do have a character of my own that can't speak due to her own magic (like Black Bolt) .
I don't think it's altogether that strange. I've seen plenty of games that used a narrator once and then never again. Including Mass Effect, which is commonly held up as an example of well written games. The concept is quite common.

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Re: Introducing the audience to a setting

#8 Post by Ammeh » Fri Jul 17, 2015 11:40 pm

I've been working through this exact issue for my project. The method I found worked for me was to work on the exposition as if it were part of the plot and outline it. Keep track of the things you want to establish in each scene in addition to what you actually want to happen. If you also identify the things that you want the reader to be familiar with at any given scene, you can see where you need to add or tweak things to make that happen.

For example--"Okay, so in order for Big Negotiation Scene to happen, the PC's friend needs to be arrested. In order to understand Big Negotiation Scene, the reader needs to know that this is a plutocracy and that there was a plague two years ago. It would also be nice if they realized that the culture considers it boorish to request things directly, since they won't pick up on the subtext in this exchange otherwise. I was already planning to establish that this is a plutocracy in the scene where the PC's friend is arrested, and the PC can talk about the plague at the start, but I don't have anything that covers the cultural perception on asking for things directly. Maybe I can add a short conversation where the PC's friend is gossiping about someone's rude behavior right before things hit the fan in the arrest scene."

As for how to actually figure out good ways to establish a particular piece of info, I've found that there've been three general categories of setting-y things that I want to establish:

1.) Relevant history - e.g. the plague in my example. Of the three, this is the most natural to reveal with internal monologue--it doesn't come off as very forced for a character to be musing about past events if they're relevant to the current situation. You can also convey it more directly and in larger quantities than exposition about the society--a short history dump can be engaging in its own right if it's presented like a story.

2.) Details about the society - e.g. the plutocratic society in my example. Unlike a history exposition, internal monologues along the lines of "so here's how our government works..." are hard to make engaging and generally feel forced. Societal details are better revealed incidentally in small chunks--like a conversation about how a prominent family is going to lose their political sway if their business doesn't stop hemorrhaging money. (Obviously you'd want the family and/or business to be relevant again later with that example--the more things you can establish at once, the better, and you don't want to flood the reader with irrelevant setting details or they'll have more trouble remembering the relevant ones.)

3.) Cultural attitudes - in my example, the rudeness of direct requests. I think this is the hardest, because the only natural way to explicitly discuss cultural attitudes is for characters to contrast different cultures within the setting (which could be done in a variety of ways--offhand "you know in ___ they think that ___" comments from a well-traveled character (which can still reveal things about this culture by implied contrast), the PC having a conversation with someone from a different background who's curious about something, a character making insensitive remarks, etc.) That's obviously not the only way to reveal culture, but any piece you don't talk about directly you risk the reader not picking up on (or thinking it's specific to the character rather than the culture.) You can also illustrate pieces of the culture by deliberately trying to invoke values dissonance in the reader (because the characters' reaction to something is not what they'd expect), but that should be done sparingly for obvious reasons. (It also might not even work as expected, since it's hard to plan for feelings of cultural dissonance when your readers will be from a variety of cultures themselves.) Figure out which pieces of the culture you think are most important for the reader to know, and reserve the heavier-handed tools for those.

And of course, you can always include a codex for those tasty-but-not-necessary bits of setting flavor that you can't work into the story to your satisfaction.

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