The main issue I faced with the development of the narrative of The Way Home was in creating a varied yet linear narrative arc. I needed Hope to experience character development in a way that was still stimulating to the player, as well as giving opportunity for experience of the mechanic.
Since my key themes taken from The Murdered Cousin (sketchbook 1 pages 24, 26, 28) revolved around grief and gaining independence, there was a lot of flexibility in terms of how I approached that. While the text my idea derived from was an unquestionable thriller, I knew that wasn’t something I wanted to explore in my game – I wanted the experience to be a pleasant and non-threatening one. Keeping the outline idea of the narrative very loose (a young girl experiencing the loss of a loved one) gave me a lot of room to focus on the development of the mechanics in a way that was appropriate and notable. The more I honed in on this, the more a narrative started to appear. All the while I was developing Hope as a character, wanting her to be a strong personality but with obvious vulnerabilities I needed her to overcome throughout the narrative. Once I had landed on the idea that the grief mechanic was triggered through interaction with environmental objects, I started to realise that this would help in crafting a narrative.
I developed the background narrative of my game early on in Hope’s development, but this also helped drive the story of the game. Having a distant father gave obvious room for reconciliation, which I wanted to be at the end of the game in order for Hope and Dad to both do some growing as characters and provide a satisfying close to the plot. However, once I tried to put together triggers that weren’t repetitive I found myself a little lacking on content. I made several brainstorms (sketchbook 1 pages 72-73) in which I used my own experiences and asked others for triggering situations and places/things that would help Hope gain composure. I handpicked my favourite of these, but still found it challenging to piece that together in a linear story that provided Hope with character development and the player with a stimulating narrative. The character Teddy provided a way point for the middle of the story in which Hope could act as a mentor, but the rest was still made of fluff and didn’t satisfy me.
It was a friend who suggested I make a basic map of the town (sketchbook 1 page 74) in which I could pinpoint events that were environment-specific. Creating the actual world first certainly helped in seeing where certain triggers would be the most appropriate, and let me visualise whether the puzzles and events were too repetitive. I outlined all these events on colour-coded post-it notes in order to easily distinguish problems, triggers, solutions and composure points.
The point where Hope meets Teddy in the narrative gave me almost too much freedom. The trigger/composure cycle didn’t work quite as specifically and cleanly with another character involved, and I wanted Hope to show some growth as a character which would imply that she was somehow gaining control over her abilities. I actually found that the triggers and composure points switched from environmental to dialogue-based. I liked the idea that she had learned some independence and capability, and now with Teddy was having to learn to let someone in again.
I knew that I wanted the field of Japanese Anemones to be the climax of the game in which Hope confronts her grief without turning invisible. What I hadn’t anticipated was that in the whole narrative I had mapped out, Hope never once mentions her mother’s death. As this is something I knew from the beginning, it hadn’t occurred to me to force-feed the player with a backstory that seemed quite obvious, which I stand by. However I did take the opportunity to take the first time Hope mentions her trauma out loud to also be the first time her grief doesn’t change her. Whilst I don’t think this will be a shocking moment for the player, I hope it will be poignant, all that Hope has learned being tied together in an emotional climax.
Now that I had my main narrative mapped out (sketchbook 1 pages 70, 71, 75-79) I also wanted to highlight how universal the experience of grief is. Whilst Hope, Dad and Teddy all experience grief in somewhat different ways, I wanted something to drive this message home in a thoughtful way. I added the final scene of Hope seeing someone else turn invisible as both a slight cliffhanger and a very visual confirmation of the sentiment “you are not alone”.