Bound(WT) Project Overview
The game explores themes such as plant perception and communication, the ethics of life support, and the relationship between humans and nature. The story involves the player collecting Natural Energy from a forest to fuel a young girl’s unique life support system. It slowly evolves into a tale of existential horror that forces the player to make a difficult moral decision regarding the fate of the young girl, and consequently the entire forest. It’s a first-person game that eschews skill-based game mechanics in favor of those that wholly support the story and emotional arc.
The goals I’ve set myself to execute this are the following:
• To explore themes never explored before in games
• To create a feeling of companionship
• To successfully carry players through an authored emotional arc
• To establish a visual style unique to me
• To implement a difficult, meaningful moral choice
Considering how this project is an exercise in design, art, and writing, I feel these are appropriate goals to create an effective narrative experience. I hope to push narrative games further than I’ve seen before in terms of the breadth of themes that can be explored, but more importantly in the moral choice the game presents, which can only be effective if the narrative is a wholly immersive experience. Since the game will not be very long, it does not have the luxury of time to pose a high-stakes moral question. Instead, I must rely on tight, rich artistic design to achieve a sense of flow.
Plant Intelligence, Communication, and Perception
This is the foundation of the story of the game. It’s been important to me to be well-read on the subject that way I could abstract the reality of the subject into a coherent and impactful narrative. There’s a lot that I’ve learned about the subject that has shaped my story and will continue to shape design decisions as the project develops. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel and How They Communicate9, by Peter Wohlleben was a book that I found especially illuminating.
Firstly, trees, and other plants, communicate with each other in several ways. They release species-specific scent compounds if they find themselves being preyed on by insects. Some plants crackle at specific frequencies, which other plants can sense and react to accordingly. Trees also emit sound when dehydrated, possibly warning nearby plants. Most significantly, however, trees and other plants have a huge network of mycorrhizal fungi growing off their root systems and connecting them to other plants’ roots and fungal networks. One teaspoon of forest soil contains many miles of this incredibly thin webbed fungus. Some scientists even call this network the “Wood Wide Web” in respect to the vast interconnection that exists in forests. This is their most significant communication tool, and allows for the sharing of nutrients and compounds between plants, even if they are of different species.
Trees often have “friends” — meaning they avoid invading their friend’s real estate, but might grow out farther towards non-friends. These friends often die together. There’s also a kind of paternalism that develops in tree communities. Often, the largest, oldest tree in a community distributes a lot of nutrients to surroundings trees, fostering their growth. They practice a form of “parenting” by blocking sun from their saplings, causing them to grow very dense but not very high, until the parent dies and they now have the solar real estate to grow more quickly.
Trees are very attuned to the sun, as it is their primary source of energy. Some seasonal trees only sprout once the day has reached 13 hours long. That being said, trees tend to react extremely slowly to a lot of environmental stimuli. Their electrical signals travel a third of an inch per minute, and it often takes years to adapt to a change in their environment. Trees tend to be able to live about five times longer than humans.
All this information in some way informs the design of the game, especially from a narrative point of view.
Modes of Interaction
Interactive Fiction — This is Twine-based interactive fiction, where the player is in direct conversation with a character during the prologue. In later interactive fiction segments, the format will be experimented with. Hyperlinks will become more scattered rather than direct worded responses, and language will become garbled, half-English. The endgame interactive text operates identically to the prologue.
First Person Control — The player will be using a standard first person controller, navigating the world using the standard first person control scheme (W-A-S-D and Mouse). There will be few, if any, difficulties navigating. During these segments, however, the player will often need to lend a helping hand to their robot companion by picking it up and getting its gears turning again. Later in the game, the player will be able to read documents and letters to uncover narrative about characters not present in the space.
Echolocation — The player will press a button to create a sharp sound when playing the echolocation sections. This sound will cause a ring of light to emanate from the player, illuminating the surroundings progressively. This is a similar mechanic to the echolocation featured in The Devil’s Tuning Fork. The player will have an option for automated echolocation or manual echolocation if they don’t want to repeatedly press the button.
Narrative-focused puzzle — The player will be solving puzzles surrounding locked doors by using their knowledge of the story they’ve uncovered within the space. As of right now, this takes the form of roughly copying a previous break-in that was written about in-game, and using knowledge of character relationships to gain access to a space.
Choice — The player will be handed this choice organically. They will be allowed to act in either way they choose through first-person interaction with the environment. The endings will unfold accordingly.
Endings — The endings will involve an interactive text sequence that operates identically to the Prologue, as well as some more first person gaming portions.