I'm really keen to make The Wayward Isles as flexible as possible in terms of how players approach its story and I'd like this story to be as open as the environment, capable of being tackled in any order and leading to a range of different endings. But the big question is how to keep this feasible, especially given the small size of our team? Here are some of the ways we're currently managing this:
- Bottlenecks. The plot is broken into three major 'acts'. During each act there is complete freedom to approach NPCs in any order and achieve that act's goals in a variety of ways. This inevitably leads to a good deal of branching and most players will have very different experiences, but these branches are pulled back together at the end of each act for a key event, thereby ensuring the branching doesn't get too out of hand. Certain choices still have consequences which carry over between acts, however.
- Scyld. As mentioned before, Scyld himself is not a blank slate onto which the player can project their own personality. He is a very strong character with clear motivations, a colourful way of talking and a detailed backstory. This means there are certain things he just won't do or say and the player's role is more to guide his interactions rather than control them completely. In this way, the number of possible interactions is naturally curtailed. An example of this is the system of ritual feuding used both as a story and a gameplay device - Scyld will not be able to simply attack anyone he likes but will rather follow the old code of the Isles, needing first a clear grievance and then issuing a challenge to fight.
- Limited NPCs. Although The Wayward Isles is technically an open-world game, we're well aware of our limits as a small team and are going for quality over quantity throughout. Rather than have hundreds of NPCs with one or two lines of speech each, the island is home to only a small handful of family groups whose relationships with Scyld and with one another can be tracked more closely and in greater detail. My background in IF means I'm used to juggling very complex branching stories and I want to bring this to bear on the dialogue, making it as reactive and rich in personality as possible.