NEO Scavenger is a dystopian survival sim/rogue-like, developed and published by Blue Bottle Games.
The story follows the journey of an amnesiac man named Philip Kindred who is awoken from cryostasis to a world mutated into an unrecognizable future. In his quest to find answers, Philip must travel across Michigan and face threats both technological and supernatural, as well as stave off the unceasing punishment of the elements.
I worked with Blue Bottle Games on a freelance basis from April 2014 to June 2014.
As of May 2017, the game maintains a 9/10 (very positive) review score on Steam and a 4.4/5 on GOG.
I was tasked by the lead designer, Daniel Fedor, to first tackle some minor worldbuilding and plot-doctoring before moving on to the crux of the work: specifications for two branching story encounters.
To begin, Daniel (ever so patiently) walked me through the intricate world he had created. After addressing the few remaining plotholes, I began the first of the two encounter specs: the Saginaw Mental Institution, home of the cult of the Blue Frog. I worked from a doc containing a high-level overview of the encounter's role in the overall game and some background info on the aforementioned faction. When Daniel and I agreed that the cult could use a bit more development, I conceived of and wrote additional pages describing their sadistic rituals and history. These were instrumental to coloring the NPCs and setting.
When it came time to write the prose, the institution's role in Philip Kindred's backstory - coupled with the fact that it's a sanitarium run by a crazed cult - made clear that madness had a part to play. This is what led me to feature surreal experiences in the encounter, threatening Philip's sense of reality in his pursuit of his past.
After reviewing with Daniel an outline of how I envisioned the encounter, and drawing up a branch map on a large sheet of paper to keep track of all the paths, I began my first foray into writing stories in spreadsheets.
Surprisingly, I didn't mind it.
All in all, I wrote 15,215 words across 178 interconnected nodes leading to 6 exit points spread between 3.5 paths.
I also penned the Camp Grayling encounter, which bookends the game's main plotline and a number of its mysteries.
It was important to determine which of the game's many mysteries could be answered, to what degree, and which should be left ambiguous. Giving too much away dispels the allure of a plot's mysteries and the atmosphere that invites players to see monsters in the mist. Give too little, however, and there could be blood. After finding the line, I proceeded to plan and write Grayling in the same way I approached Saginaw. Structurally, Grayling turned out quite different. Whereas Saginaw's 3-4 paths mutually excluded each other, Grayling's structure mimicked the base's geographical layout, allow retreading.
Aside from tuning difficulty and 'breadcrumbing' the answers tucked away in this final chapter, mood and atmosphere were critical to get right. My goal: instill a persistent sense of eeriness. Even though Philip's journey reaches a pivotal point and constitutes a conclusion, his future and the fate of the world still teeter on the edge of oblivion. What hope could he have?
Only time will tell.
For this, I wrote 15,660 words across 163 interconnected nodes leading through 5 stages down to 1 exit point.
There were subsequent back-and-forths throughout my writing process. These ranged from asking for more lore or other already completed encounter specs, to getting feedback for each draft of the specs I wrote. It was a true pleasure working with Daniel, as he never seemed to tire of humoring me and exchanging ideas.
Having worked originally in spreadsheet files, I realized that although it might have been easier to import from and proofread through, the format does little in the way of approximating the text's context in the game. In order to make these encounter specifications more shareable, I adapted them into Twine HTML files, playable at these links.
Playing through these isn't as fun as playing the actual game, but it does give a clearer picture of how the spec works.
Note: these Twine encounters reflect the text as I submitted them in mid-2014, so they may differ from how these encounters read and play out in the current version of the game.