One of The Regret of Vitrerran's selling points is that it has a character-driven story. This "Key feature" is something I've thrown around a handful of times now, though I've never actually explained what it means. That is something that needs to be fixed.
I've always looked at novels under two guides: plot driven or character driven. All novels fall somewhere between the two to be sure—for characters without a plot or a plot without characters make for bad storytelling—but the main approach seems to either be one of plot or one of characters.
A plot-driven piece of work is one where the story is thought out ahead of time. Perhaps the author crafted an extensive outline and his characters followed his preplanned plan with efficiency. Perhaps the author crafted an outline and deviated more than he thought, yet still his characters hit the major headings in their proper fashion. Character arcs and character development are forethought things.
The Golden Compass reads like a very plot-driven affair. The speed with which Lyra makes her way through the book can only be described as rapid, and everything seems to happen and fit together too perfectly for forethought to have not been involved.
A character-driven piece of work is one that's driven by the characters. The author starts out with a small idea, a set of people he wants to work with, and then he throws it all together in a blender. Once he has enough to start working, he simply starts working and damn the consequences! Some things will be preplanned, specific sequences or settings perhaps, but everything else will be spontaneous.
Cujo was a character-driven story by Stephen King's own admittance, and really, almost all of his novels are. That's just how he writes.
But in video games, the writing process is much more difficult. Characters and plots can be constructed, but the world and how everything interacts must be physically built. This requires a lot of preplanning and a very fixed scope, lest the game not get done or go over budget. Set pieces have to be built alongside or even before the writing process begins because of how much time they take to construct; this leaves out room for spontaneity, at least on a grand scale.
The Regret of Vitrerran is still plagued by the confines of video game construction. Any place I want my characters to go must be physically built, and all places are stuck within the confines of our editor and abilities. If I want Kvalt to try and ford a river only to be swept down it, far from his destination, then my brother has to program that and create the art assets for it. Either he can or he cannot.
That being said, we are trying a different storytelling approach, and it's one I'm excited to work with because it's as akin to a character-driven novel as I believe possible.
I'm writing the story first, and we are making the game around it.
Before I began constructing Svarog, I wrote Kvalt and Tylek's progression through the place. I thought of this single-leveled adventure much like I would have thought of a short story. Where the characters went was up to them; the things they fixated on or avoided were up to them. Only once their progression through Svarog had finished did I start building the level.
That, surprisingly, worked, and I'm both happy with the dialogue and the level itself. However, how Kvalt and Tylek traverse Svarog isn't how everyone else will. By the simple nature of video games, people want variety, but more than that, Vitrerran's people are all different.
When I started Herak and Aros's journey through Svarog, I realized that they wouldn't take the main entrance in. Given their people's relationship with the Drax, and given their own emotions about what was going on, they thought it best to climb the unpopulated side of the mountain. A sneaky route was better suited.
I wrote this, and then I built another part of Svarog I hadn't ever anticipated making. The level I created is one I'm quite happy with though, and one that I feel is important. This area really shows the harshness of the Drax's home: black weeds fill the land, craters make for hard traversing, dried lava flow poisons the soil, and the coastline is brackish and devoid of life. In total, I spent maybe three hours making the place.
And the odds are, you'll only see this area through these characters. That could change in the future, but that isn't up to me. If other characters want to go that route, then they will.
Castle Alboiss has also seen plenty of sizable increases because my characters are all interested in different things and wish to see different parts of it. Marcus and James start their journey there, so I designed the basic level off of their experiences, but Herahk and Aros wished to see the grand cathedral outside the keep, and Pakasoph really wanted to visit the castle's library. Those now need to be built.
Certain people or events will all be somewhat universal, though how the characters deal with them won't be the same. Friends of one person might be foes of another, and whatever spectacle happens will have to be made specifically and for specific characters.
This is, for the most part, to insure variety. We are offering four campaigns, and so all four must be different. As of now, they are. Certain characters find paths only they can find, and at the end of those paths are rewards only they can get. But, my want to write and my love of reading also command I treat this project like I would any other story, and this is the closest way I can do that.
My characters are all stuck within the confines of the game and the game's mechanics. One way or another, they will visit every place on Vitrerran in an attempt to close the monster-spewing portals. However, how they reach the destination of each place is entirely up to them, and I'll gladly build every diversion and inefficient path they want to take.
I do hope this approach works out for the better. So far, I'm quite happy with what I have, but every time I sit down to write, The Regret of Vitrerran seems to get bigger. I have a lot of levels to build.