Mentorship: Dev’s Story

July 13, 2020 by
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Congratulations to Dev Presbury, who has completed her mentorship programme with us! Here Dev discusses the piece she developed as part of the programme, Best Forgotten.

There was a time not so long ago when my life seemed to revolve around schedules. As an executive assistant, I spent a great deal of time managing other people’s calendars. Each morning I’d open Outlook and stare at my boss’s schedule, desperately hoping I hadn’t made any mistakes. At first it was overwhelming. I’m the kind of person who easily loses track of the day of the week, let alone month. But, after I got the hang of it, I began to find this act of planning out days, months, and even years in advance soothing. I found comfort in the illusion that I had some control, however limited, over the future. It was during this time that I really began thinking about how to extend this feeling, this desire to control time, to an old concept I’d been kicking around since grad school—Best Forgotten.

The premise of Best Forgotten was simple: when her best friend is murdered and she’s targeted next, Alana must search the memories of her estranged friends in order to determine which one is the killer. Alana has only one week to find the murderer before her own life ends.

In this game, players must manage their limited time in order to find a killer. However, it is impossible to uncover the killer’s identity in a single playthrough. Instead, players will rely on a meta aspect of Alana’s power; they will be able to revisit unlocked memories from previous playthroughs to put together clues. To prevent her impending death, Alana must first uncover the past.

When I pitched Best Forgotten to Ian and Giles, I had taken this original concept, this premise about estranged friends, deadly secrets, and hidden powers, and applied the idea of time as a limiting factor and structure to it. I then worked with Giles and Chris to refine the story and systems and build a demo using Twine.

The game follows a day-night cycle that lasts for one week. During the day, Alana must pick one of her old friends (the suspects) to spend time with in order to earn their trust and hear their side of the story. At night, Alana can enter Memoria, the realm of memory. There, she can step into her friends’ minds and view events from their pasts leading up to her friend’s murder. Memories unlock when people divulge information, share secrets, or grow closer to Alana. The more time Alana spends with a person, the more of their memories she unlocks. The closer Alana gets to a friend, the closer she’ll get to the truth—or at least what they think of as the truth.

Another theme I wanted to explore in Best Forgotten was the idea that memories are highly subjective. I wanted to build a sort of Rashomon-like experience where players question how exactly things came to be and how reliable the narrators are.

We quickly realized that we would need to scale the project down—there were simply too many variables to keep track of, even with the limited day-night cycle. For that reason, I focused on building a single day that would convey the mechanics I’d come up with. In this demo, players must choose which character they’ll spend time with and, subsequently, whose memories they’ll get to view.

After writing a document extensively detailing the story itself, I got started on creating the single day demo in Twine. Once that was in good shape, several playtesters took a crack at the build. I received a ton of feedback that really helped me refine the exposition while also strengthening the sense of player agency—that is, the perception that a player’s decisions matter and affect the story. After a few more rounds of revisions, Best Forgotten was ready to go.

Ian, Giles, and Chris helped me take this concept from pitch to playable. I’m incredibly thankful for their guidance and for all of the feedback I received from testers throughout the mentorship process. I’ve learned so much and grown as both a writer and narrative designer.

Increasingly, time has felt more and more meaningless—particularly in these strange days. Like Alana, I’ve come to accept that there will always be things completely out of my control. Uncertainty is, quite simply, part of life.

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