Better Storytelling

Conflict is what drives a story. A story is normally defined as a person or group of people overcoming a problem, and the climax of the story is them confronting that problem or finally overcoming it. With Stonehearth, it’s been stated that it’s supposed to be warm and cute, which in my opinion, limits the intensity of the conflicts that can challenge them. This, in turn, limits how well good a story may or may not be.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

  • Take a Rated G (for us 'Mericans) movie. Most of the time, everyone’s all happy, loves each other, and the only real conflict is the main character trying to become something they’re pretty much already, whether it be the best at a sport or friends with someone popular. No one really insults each other, and quite honestly, the story isn’t that fulfilling because what they had to overcome isn’t that hard. These movies though are normally considered warm and/or cute.

  • Now take Star Wars; plenty of conflicts and thus full of memorable moments. Luke getting his hand cut off, Anikan getting…everything cut off…and burned, the Death Star being destroyed…again, the list goes on.

Even though the first Star Wars movie took place 40 years ago, everyone knows about it, even people that haven’t watched it. Now how many G rated movies can people honestly say they remember or were as good?

Stonehearth can keep its warmth and cuteness through its art style, but I feel the restraints on Stonehearth need to be lifted a little bit when it comes to events, even extending to the possibility of PvP raids. If Ogo (or another player) came through and burned my village to the ground (as shown above), it would not only add to replayability because I’d have to rebuild my village, but it’d also build a story in the sense that it’d be a conflict I’d have to overcome. Maybe I decide to take revenge on whoever did it and thus decide to build my army up. Or maybe I decide to turtle and build my defenses up so it doesn’t happen again. Regardless, it’d be something I’d remember and would give me more reason to play than we currently have (no offense).

This is only one example of such conflict, as more can be made with disease, weather, you name it. But the base point is that the conflicts shouldn’t be warm and fuzzy just because the game is.

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Rofl. Ok, 20 character limit, sigh. I found this part of your post very amusing. I also read your answer to my post in the other thread and was going to reply with “great minds think alike [somefittingsmiley]” which I don’t have to do anymore because the 20 character limit encouraged me to write more than I initially wanted.

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Ok, now it’s my turn to be “that guy” – although before I dive into why I disagree with your assessment, I’d like to point out that I don’t totally disagree with it. There is a definite trend in modern storytelling to separate stories into a category system, where each category has a distinct tone as well as a fairly consistent expectation for “content level” – it goes beyond genre, into what I’d call “modes” of storytelling. Common/familiar ones would be the kids’ movie, the gothic mode, or the epic mode.

However, these modern modes are only the tip of the iceberg when you’re exploring the realms of storytelling! And that’s what I spend a lot of time doing – I’ve been a student of literature and I’m building to a career in literature/storytelling, hoping to work as an editor or publisher one day (the dream is to run a boutique publishing house so I can seek out unexpected stories to share). I’ve dived head-first into storytelling, and though nobody can really go beyond scratching the surface, I can tell you this much with confidence: there are no set rules. You’re trying to argue that Stonehearth’s current storylines are, by their very light-hearted and cutesy nature, less effective than deeper/darker/more “mature” storylines; and this is my first point of disagreement.

The tone of a story’s content does not limit its emotional impact. There are a ton of classic kids’ movies which prove that – Disney has the monopoly (although most of their childrens’ films do have a deeper/edgier sub-theme, they have a wide range of G-rated films which still resonate just as strongly as their PG films); but think also of the Land Before Time series or the Care Bears. Those films are dripping with warmth and mirth, and have darker themes to speak of; but they resonate really strongly on both emotional and plot levels. The reason they do this is that they frame their narratives clearly; and make strong, overt emotional connections so that the audience can relate to the characters. Though the conflicts might be “low stakes”, they’re instantly recognisable to children and adults alike, and they still feel important.

That’s what the dev team are going for – the stories in Stonehearth won’t all be world-shattering, but each and every one is supposed to be important to its cast and to the player. It doesn’t require massive stakes for the player to share in Peyton Brightwell’s jubilation when she completes her first fine craft as a level 4 carpenter, or to empathise with Tibber Burlyhands’ frustration with eating berries for ten meals in a row because the first crop of turnips has been delayed.

On the other hand, there will be stories with higher stakes coming. But those higher stakes on their own don’t necessarily make things interesting. After all, the team have literally put the world of Hearth on the line when they experimented with titans; those things easily have the power to wipe out your favourite town… surely there’s a conflict which will hold the players attention, right? Well, as it turned out, even the most epic of battles can quickly become boring if it’s too one-dimensional; and the titans fell flat for that reason. With no serious depth to the fight, no particular reason to care which of the many hearthlings in the town might fall when fighting one off, no sense of a deep and involved story but rather a simple “big bad guy is coming, throw everything at it and hope for the best”… all of those add up to a fight which struggles to generate an engaging story experience. Sure, the first couple of times it’s a massive deal, and your first victory against a titan is obviously going to be amazing; but the thrill will quickly wear off.

So, that’s why high stakes =/= deep investment from the audience. Instead, it comes down to the connection with the characters, and the sense that there’s something/someone worth getting behind.

And to make one last counter-argument: I don’t need my whole village burned to the ground in order to fuel a deep-seated thirst for revenge; if a goblin steals something I’ve worked really hard to craft and then taunts me about that theft I’m damned well going to send my entire army to get my prize back! Actually, if my whole village burns to the ground I’m probably not going to bother rebuilding it; I’d rather start a new game and a new story just to see how it unfolds differently. What’s memorable to me is when the game unexpectedly throws me a curveball, or when random events link up to create a cohesive storyline (for example, if a goblin steals my strongest weapon and then the goblin chieftan equips it and uses it to attack me, so I send my archer to snipe the chieftan and get the weapon back, but the archer is intercepted by wolves so I have to support them and rally my defenders… THAT would be an awesome story, even though I can probably just make another of the weapon much more easily.) Or if the entlings attack my trapper and kill their pet squirrel, that’s another deep-seated motivator for revenge right there – it’s the story of a feud which started with a single revenge attack, but now I’m watching my trapper suffer and I’m determined not to let the same thing happen ever again, so the ents will rue the day they set foot outside their forest…

Those stories are driven by the way that the hearthlings convey their emotions, making me value them as individuals. If a random nameless trapper loses their nameless pet squirrel… meh. But when the trapper and the squirrel are both characters I care about, it becomes a tragedy worth getting involved in.

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I will agree with you in partial. You’re correct that the size of the stakes doesn’t change the investment the audience makes in the situation. Luke losing his hand wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was a memorable scene because Vader came out as his father (Sorry, it’s a spoiler about the scene that I don’t want to ruin for anyone). At the same time, no one really cares when Peyton Brightwell becomes level 4 or Tibber Burlyhands’ frustration. They normally just click that notification away as fast as it popped up.

And as for the Land Before Time. It had elements that Stonehearth would probably consider too dark (i.e. the death of his mom, the whole nature of the “sharp tooths”). Care Bears and Smurfs had their dark elements too, but without looking them up, how many can remember their challenges specifically? That’s not to say that the darker they are the better, but there’s more emotion behind real challenges.

Using one of your stories, you’ve actually already made this point in a way. In the story of the goblins stealing your weapon and you going to get it back, yes that makes for a decent story, but the number of people that would do that is going to be low if they’re able to just make another. In fact, they’d probably just make another, then use that to go and destroy the goblins, thus decreasing the challenge altogether. So in that case, how does it make a good story?

As for your trapper, I’m going to have to wait and see how Stonehearth connects us to the Hearthlings. As it currently stands, the squirrel would die, he’d get sad…and the end. Short of wanting to keep a stat high (happiness), there’s no real reason to care. Now if this triggered a quest to revenge the squirrel by sending your army after the Ents, thus opening for a Dungeons and Dragon’s like quest, I’d agree. Or even if the town held a memorial for the squirrel, creating a small statue and such, would still make it more than it currently is. But then does focusing on a death become too cold for Stonehearth?

As for your statement on Titan attacks, I completely agree that repetition get’s old fast. But that’s where I said other disasters could arise too. In your statement about Ogo burning down your town and just restarting, what if that was random though? What if this play through he nuked your town, so you start over. Next play through, a disease hits your town, and your Herbalist is working over time, but can’t fully keep up, so you have to send your men out to find a cure. Next play through, the Herald comes to you realizing you have a nice size town and begins making product demands of you for the kingdom. Another playthrough, a large group of refugees from Ogo come to your town, overwhelming your food supply. The list of events can go on, each creating their own story each being good or bad. And without knowing which will hit and when as we could have multiple hits per playthrough, it can make for a continuing story, each with their own quest lines.

That being said, if all the events in Stonehearth stay as light hearted as your carpenter hit level 4, how will the game move beyond a city builder to a story teller?

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A few weeks back, I asked the forum for a bunch of memorable stories from SH and other simulation games, and definitely one of the concrete things I got back was that all the stories had protagonists, and all the stories had conflict. So clearly it’s a goal of ours to individualize the hearthlings (or you won’t remember their names or care, and the traits are going in that direction), give you a sense that they have an internal state (that’s what the mood system and the thoughts are doing) and then give you some conflict that they can struggle against. Right now, one of the limitations of the game is that all the conflicts are existential, because that’s the easiest one, and therefore the oldest one in video games: the monsters will come wipe our your town! We want to continue to experiment with this: what if conflicts can come from the entire spectrum of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? What would other conflicts in SH that are not just “the enemies came and killed everyone” look like?

The threat of extinction from the goblins is there now and will always be there; that’s what goblins are for (when they’re not for being hilariously self-centered and lacking in self-awareness) But what else? Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. :slight_smile:

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@sdee what are your thoughts on cut-scenes?

It is hard to tell a story with just dialogue boxes.

Like, what if we need to show a group of pirates invading the island, marching to its center, digging an ancient monument and activating it unleashing monsters into your village?
With the current mechanics, all we can do is show a bulletin about being invaded and focus the camera there, but then the player will simple return it to his town to finish whatever he was doing, and may miss all the events happening after.

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Dwarf Fortress begs to differ… but i see your point. Minor cutscenes would be cool if possible. :smiley:

Well, your cultist trait that is so mysteriously hidden could lead to some sort of story telling. I’m not sure if you have it set what they worship, but getting enough cultists as a part of your town should trigger something…

My idea is, if you’re paying attention, cultists will always eat near each other.
Late at night, they may all gather around the subject of their infatuation (bunny statues, an ancient oak…). Eventually maybe going so far as one preaching to the others. (Requires group conversations, but would be cool to see).

Relationships tell a story. Friends tend to hang together, while frenemies tend to sit apart. Mood is affected by proximity and hit harder when those existential events happen that claim the life of a well connected hearthling…or they’ll share in his/her victory?

Another, harder to balance option is to take traits a wee bit farther. A avid vegetarian may sneak out at night and release squirrels from cages and get into an argument with the trapper (or even funnier if they ARE the trapper) when they get caught. A paranoid hearthling may have conversations with himself outside of town… a kleptomaniac (yes i’m plugging this idea again) will steal shinies from your village and be happier because of it.

Hopefully that helps. Thanks again for conversing with us @sdee!

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Yeah, but D.F. is about emergent story within the player made community. I’m talking about pre-script events, with a begin and an end, like in a movie, with characters that do not belong to the player.
I think this is impossible to do now, not in a good way at least.

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Yeah I was mostly just yanking your chain. I’m all for cut-scenes that pull you into an event to let you know something important is going on. Preferably in a way that doesn’t break whatever you’re currently working on…

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This makes me think of a game I used to play called Stronghold. What they did is they showed the point of interest in the background with a character and speech bubble on a side. just an idea that would (possibly) lower the coding time.
-Revenge

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Excluding the city burning to the ground, I had a couple others.

  • Say a plague hits your town, and people are getting sick (can be cute sickness if need be). Your Herbalists are doing their best to keep up, but they need you to send a group off to get the cure. This then entails a Dungeons & Dragons like quest to get the Dragon’s Drool and return it to the village. If they fail, then it takes even longer for the Hearthlings to eventually recover, thus killing productivity for a while.

  • Off in a distant land, Ogo has destroyed a neighboring village, and they have now shown up at your door asking for help. If the player agrees, they set their own small camp up on the map, to which eventually they start stealing from you the same way the goblins do. Being they’re Hearthlings and not Goblins, you have the choices of letting them keep take your supplies, Confront them about it and find a peaceful solution that involves you giving up hard to come by items you can’t reproduce, posibly even a chunk of the map. Forcing them to leave, or forcings them to join your town.

A couple small ones:

  • After getting enough cultists together, and doing what @Solus said, they eventually begin demanding a church be built for them, and thus new blueprints unlock.

  • Say you chose to be a trade town, and eventually grow big enough that the Herald (can’t remember Raaya’s equivalent) takes notice, and begins asking for a steady supply of products rather than a finite numbers. Upon holding this supply for an unspoken amount of time, new venders, or new NPC Shops that the player can place in their town become available.

I’m sure I can come up with more later, but currently, I’m running on 22 hours of no sleep, so I’m heading off.

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I think they would be pretty cool, but because of all the emergent gameplay, they’d be more like icing on the cake rather than the heart of the cake (as they are in say, Mass Effect). We’d also need to build a ton of tech to get them to work with the relevant randomly generated hearthlings.

If there were going to be narrative interactions in the game that featured our hearthlings, I’d first explore jrpg-style dialogs, and work up in extravagance/bling from there.

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You may have seen this already, but here’s an image of Dwarf Fortress encapsulated into a single scrolling story. Watch it unfold as you scroll down the image, it’s very impressive.

It’s a bit dark for Stonehearth, but the idea is the same. The story that has unfolded in this image is a fantastic example of what I think of when someone mentions Dwarf Fortress. If we can get a similar feel for Stonehearth (Not the mood, but being able to tell the story of SH in an image like this), then i’d say we’re on the right track.

You will have to click on the image or open in a new tab to see the whole thing.

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Wow, that was amazing. LOLed multiple times, plus I love cutaways. :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: Thanks for sharing!

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as long as its not repetitive and long winded. it needs to be short and to the point. cut-scenes can be the most annoying thing in the world

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Personally, I’d like to see how the cutscenes are implemented before I pass judgment on them. If I’m in the middle of designing something or taking care of an attack that doesn’t have to do with whatever’s going on, and all of sudden the screen goes black and starts playing a cutscene, then it’s going to get annoying fast.

Now if an introductory window pops up first that I can minimize till I’m ready, respecting not letting it linger there forever (like ignoring the goblins), and once I accept said window, then I go to a cutscene, I’d love that. An example of this kind of window could be from say Civilizations.

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The thread somewhat slid into “Random Global Events” direction. While I remind it’s only one direction of doing a “better storytelling”, there are some ideas:

  1. Random events can be positive, negative and situational.

A good example here is Endless Legend. There are times of famine when your food stockpiles drop. There are times of strange “money boosts” when your territory gives more money. There’s Winter which makes most things much harder (however, if you are prepared better than your enemy, you can actually use it to your advantage instead of “turtling up” in your cities).
Another example is a typical “natural disaster” from SimSity or Cities: Skylines.

Seasons and natural phenomena are very good examples of that - some are expected, some are random, some, while expected, can bring randomized changes. Water floods. Sudden boosts of land fertility. Rabbit stampedes.
(The more I think of the rabbit stampedes, the more I want them in my city. It’s basically a corrida. With rabbits.)

  1. Random events can be big and small.

While a tornado is a “big” event, a trader visiting your town is a small one. Both, however, can be interesting - especially if traders have “memory” of previous interactions with you.

Some of my previous ideas:


Do want.

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@sdee: I hadn’t heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Make’s sense though and could definitely be a base for the towns progression. Once you have secured the basic needs of food and security for the town there can be more focus on improving the quality of life and the evaluation in the daily updates can look at the quality of life as a more and more important criteria for leveling up.
This also means that the difficulty of attacks don’t have to escalate as quickly. I admit I haven’t played the game in a long time now, but I have the impression that there is more or less a daily attack and that the difficulty is always escalating (with minor variations). This means that you will be stuck at Moslow’s second level, always working to improve security. If instead wildlife and small goblin camps provide a basic threat level that you need to overcome before bothering with quality of life, then the more difficult attacks can be more rare (the more difficult they are the rarer), temporarily bringing you back to Moslow’s second level. In the time between those difficult attacks you can focus on quality of life and social challenges.

So what do you actually do when the town is safe. Well, I have previously suggested hobbies and cultural activities and I will do it again. Think of them as a second job that they will do on their spare time. When the basic needs of the town are satisfied you can allow them more time for their hobbies and even let some of them work full time on it. This will increase your “quality of life”/“cultural score”. It also opens up for new objectives. Providing them with what they need to achieve their full potential (Maslow’s top level). If you have actors then you might start with crafting masks and costumes for them and eventually build a theater where more and more important people will visit. Your town would then get a more unique niche, depending on what the hearthlings are interested in.

About the better storytelling I would say in general, the more you get to know the individual hearthlings the more you will care about the small challenges in their everyday life. However, that doesn’t mean it’s enough to say "Here is this hearthlings unique combinations of traits. Now care!"
Traits that only affects the every day life has the problem that you mostly notice the consequences of the bad ones, because it needs special treatment, and that won’t make the player appreciate a hearthling and worry about them. You need to take every opportunity to highlight the unique, positive things a hearthling does so the player knows why they should care about this particular one.
One way to highlight it (though I’m a bit hesitant to suggest it) could be to show the trait icon in a thought bubble when the hearthling does something based on that trait. As long as it doesn’t show up too often, so that it clutters the screen, it could work.
Dwarf fortress is great at generating stories, but (as far as I know) not as good at presenting them. It is up to the player to go through the logs, connect the dots och fill in the blanks to grasp what has happened and see the story of particular dwarf. And all that work, while interesting, is not game play. DF gets away with it because the whole game is demanding on the player. Stonehearth aims to be more accessible and therefore needs more clear stories.
I think you should connect the scripted quests and stories as mush as possible to the players individual hearthlings. If there’s a story about finding a cursed item in the forest then it should center on the hearthling that found it, not just give a general debuff to the town. If a visitor arrives then someone might know him from before.
Let hearthlings with particular traits offer new solutions to quests. When the gobins demand tribute a charming hearthling might haggle or if you have a good herbalist who is a trickster she might suggest poisoning the food that you give them.
You could also give hearthlings personal goals. The blacksmith wants to get good enough to forge a legendary sword that he saw in a dream. The trapper wants to meet the queen fox of the forest. One might want to win the affection or friendship of another. It might not be things that the player can help out with (more than allowing them time and resources when they ask for it), but it gives the player something to look forward to for that particular hearthling.

There. I think that was all the major point I thought of. It’s an interesting subject. :slight_smile:
Cheers! :beers:

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Maslow suggested that while “basic” needs are prioritized over everything else, all of them need to be fulfilled eventually.
What sdee meant was, currently “conflicts” threaten only the lowest, “basic” levels - safety of hearthlings and their vital stats (mostly safety). The rest (“advanced needs”) are now simply a “linear progress” with no breakthroughs or setbacks.

That’s actually a very good idea! Aligns with my own vision perfectly.
Are you hesitant of the trait icon in the thought bubble because it “doesn’t say much”?

PS. If there ever would be “random evens” like the ones you’ve described, they are probably better be procedurally generated - for greater replayability. Otherwise we need a big list of them, or we’re gonna feel deja vu pretty soon. Also it will prevent the players from “stalking” a particular random event, instead it being kind of a surprise every time.

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I was looking at that exact image when I wrote my post. :smile: I get it (well at least I think I do). Just hadn’t heard of it being a specified theory. And like I said (sort of), I think hobbies and cultural stuff are a good foundation for thinks to focus on when you get past the basic needs.

I’m hesitant about the trait icon because I don’t know how often it would show up. If it would be there all the time while a hearthling is working because it has a “fast worker” trait, or even worse, if it would flicker on and off, then it would be disturbing. It could probably be solved in a nice way, but it might be hard to find a good, general solution.
If the player wants to know why the trait icon showed up they could mouse over or check that hearthling’s log or thoughts, so I don’t see that as a big problem.

If I’m not totally mistaking there already are random events in the game. Just not a lot, yet. I’m a big fan of procedural content, so I’m mostly for it, but it depends on to what extent you’re suggesting. If it’s just procedural variation to events, like “the blacksmith wants to forge a legendary X” or “the trapper wants to meet the <title> <animal> of the <location>”, then sure. But if it’s more complex stuff then it’s probably easier for the team to just make a big list with lots of branches and rely on the community to extend it with mods.

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