“Writer’s Block” (Game Concept)

One of my enduring plot bunnies is an idea for a platformer called Writer’s Block, inspired by games like Paper Mario and Knytt. Writer’s Block is based on resolving each level’s individual storyline by talking to NPCs, solving puzzles, fighting enemies, and exploring the area. There are seven worlds in all, each with a unique theme.

Backstory

A giant lava monster chases a man escaping via mine cart.
The boss of World 3, Colossus (May 2012)

There was once a Writer whose stories would magically transform into living, breathing worlds. Writer developed these worlds for years, until one day he disappeared. When he returned, he found that in his absence, the stories had fallen into terrible disarray. Fearing direct intervention would only ruin them further, Writer instead bestowed a small fraction of his writing powers on six characters, one for each story, whom he called Scribes. The Scribes were tasked with fixing the stories using their writing powers as discretely as possible, but none of them succeeded; some went missing, some couldn’t manage the chaos, and some used the writing powers for personal gain. Whatever the reason, they all failed, and the stories continued to fall into chaos.

The Writer, desperate to save his stories, created Block, a small, white, eraser creature who, armed with punctuation marks can travel between and alter the story worlds. As the Block, it’s the player’s job to save the six stories. Worlds you have already beaten can be returned to at any time for eXtRa SeCrEtS.

You’re given the Hedera (❧), which can be planted anywhere and grow a little phone to talk with the Writer and receive hints.

World 1, Zephyr

Lilacs grow in a bright green field as a thunderstorm approaches. There is a zeppelin flying into the storm clouds.

The first story is a children’s book set in a windy flower field beneath dozens of floating islands. Everyone here owns a kite and travels by hot air balloon, personal airplane or hang glider. A giant dirigible sails high above the clouds, carrying a metropolis, Zeppelin City, on its back.

The world of Zephyr is plagued by Skywaymen, ruthless sky pirates in fighter jets. The Block meets Zephyr’s resident scribe, a successful Zeppelin City businessman named Typhoon. Rather than using his scribe powers to defeat the pirates, Typhoon reveals he is helping them stay in power by manipulating the weather — after all, in a world controlled by weather, a man who controls the weather controls the world. After learning Typhoon is in league with the Skywaymen, the player is sent flying off the airship to the meadows thousands of feet below. The Block survives the fall and receives two new Punctuation from the Writer:

  • the Exclamation Point (!) which works like a sword
  • the Brackets ([ ]) which serve both as a shield and as ladder rungs you can use to climb

Typhoon plans to steer Zeppelin City into the oncoming thunder clouds and usurp the ship’s captain, Pilot, under cover of the storm. The Block must travel back to Zeppelin City, weather aerial attacks, and invade the Skywaymen’s flagship in order to stop him.

World 2, Calliope

Fireworks explode from a circus tent at sunset. A bloody knife rests in the foreground.

This unfinished mystery novel takes place at the Calliope Carnival, a colorful attraction complete with theme park, performing stage, cinema, and circus train. The carnival is busy preparing for its 25th anniversary party, the Silver Jubilee, when one of its biggest performers, Stuntman, is tragically murdered. While the Ringmaster manages to keep his death from the public, it’s not long before the other acts meet their untimely demise: the engineer is thrown from the top of his roller coaster, the lion tamer is fed to his lion, and the clown is killed because he’s a clown. The Writer, who never wrote an end to the story, tasks you with identifying the killer.

This is the only level with cycling day and night. Different characters are out at different times of day and you can only access certain areas of the carnival depending on what time it is. To aid in the investigation, the Block receives two new items:

  • the Question Mark (?) a magic staff that makes objects transparent, dazes enemies, or can be used to interrogate NPCs. Using the Question Mark depletes your Ink Well. If the Ink Well is totally empty you will have to wait before using magic again.
  • the Underscore (_) which allows you to hide underground in one spot, to avoid enemies or listen to secret NPC conversations

The murderer turns out to be Jester, who wants to ruin the Jubilee by killing the other circus performers. He and his clown-faced goons plan to drive the circus train straight into the Big Top during the Jubilee. The Block manages to stop the train just as it hits the edge of the tent, and fights Jester atop the high wires. Circus animals escape the train and run around the stage in confusion. The audience, thinking this is all part of the Jubilee’s grand finale, is amazed and delighted as Jester is finally defeated.

World 3, Inferno

A Soot flees an oncoming lava wave in a mine cart full of gold.

Inferno is a Jules Verne-flavored sci-fi adventure novel taking place in an enormous underground lava-filled cave system. The tiny people living here are the good-natured Soots, who spend their entire lives digging for gold. Most of Inferno is based around platforming, as opposed to the last two which were more story-heavy.

  • the Carat (^) which you can use to either attack enemies or to drill through certain sections of rock
  • the Interrobang (‽), a chargeable magic sword combining the Exclamation Point and the Question Mark. One charged attack from the Interrobang uses the entire Ink Well, and can be used to inflict massive damage or destroy large obstacles.

The Soots live in rickety buildings made of wood, smoke, and sheet metal, which are threatened by a giant evil lava monster named Colossus.

World 4, Grotto

The moon rises over an ocean lit with stars. The edge of an island can be seen on the left.

Grotto, an ocean-centric fantasy novel, serves as the basis for the completely unprecented in the history of video gaming water level. Long ago, explorers and scientists from the local island set out in the first-ever submarine, but it crashed underwater and they were never seen again. The locals were so terrified of repeating the disaster they vowed never to build submarines again. In the years since, evil pirates began to frequently plunder the island, bringing their stolen treasures to the Pirate’s Cove at the far side of the bay, where they build cannons for their ships. The island Navy took up arms against them, and the two factions have been at war for control of the bay ever since.

The Block arrives to stop the fighting, but soon discovers a secret beneath the waves of Grotto’s bay: the crew of the test submarine had crashed into an underwater cavern, where they built a utopian society. This advanced city survives in the titular Grotto, unhindered by the Pirate-Navy war raging above. In order to unite the three factions, the Writer grants two new power-ups:

  • the Quotes (”“) which allow you to copy the appearance of an NPC
  • the Degree (°) which heats up or freezes an object such as microwavable snacks. This is useful for manipulating machines, gunpowder, traps and waterfalls in Grotto and subsequent levels, but it drains the Ink Well rather quickly.

Grotto is always a nighttime level and the sailors use stars to navigate. The final boss is a giant Leviathan awoken by the cannon fire, which the Block battles underwater. As an eraser, the Block can swim indefinitely. Erasers do not have lungs.

World 5, Thingamajig

A tilted, flying grandfather clock is shown, along with a close-up revealing some factory-like mechanisms inside.

Thingamajig is a steampunk world based on a grandfather clock manual. The world comprises one giant, floating antique clock which has started to fall apart. When the clock strikes 5, its mechanisms will fail completely and kill the people living inside it. The world’s Scribe, Time, kills himself to stop the clock’s inner workings, allowing the Block to fix it and save his people. However, the clock’s inhabitants believe the Block murdered Time, and are furious that their factories and machines have stopped working.

The Block navigates down the enormous clock to the factory area at its base, in order to repair the machinery there, passing through the prosperous Upper Town and the Lower District slums on the way. Most of the puzzles are time- and machine-based. In order to get past obstacles in the clock’s inner workings, the Block receives:

  • the Subscript (S), which shrinks objects
  • the Superscript (S), which expands objects

The boss is the Gadgeteer, who hails from the factory slums and seeks revenge against the Upper Town nobles. The Block destroys him and his robot from the inside out in a timed battle at the base of the clock.

World 6, Phantasmagoria

Lightning strikes a graveyard at night. A full moon is in the background and two cheery, cartoon ghosts are rising from the tombstones.

The Writer was never very good at horror, and although this world is supposed ruled by fear and evil undead creatures, the Block discovers its supernatural inhabitants are actually quite nice and just want to party long into the night. The Block has to save these ghosts and monsters before they’re destroyed by the fearful zealots of the neighboring town. For this task, the Block uses:

  • the Dash (-) which serves as an additional speed boost
  • the Obelisk (†), a powerful throwing knife which can critically strike enemies for x3 damage

This world is as of yet fairly undeveloped. It was originally intended as extra post-game content/DLC, and maybe it will stay that way, but when more fleshed out it could serve as World 6, since the original World 6’s plot was too similar to that of Grotto. The level boss is also undetermined. Maybe it’s YOUR OWN FEARS and you have to fight a shadowy version of the Block that uses the Inverse Exclamation Point and Irony Marks. Or maybe it’s just an evil ghost or a townsperson. We’ll see.

World 7, Love

The Block stands atop a grassy hill, looking at a passage of tall, narrow mountains shrouded in mist.

The final level is devoid of any enemies or friendly NPCs. At the beginning of the level there is no background music, just the sound of wind, but as you progress a sad orchestral piece increases in volume until it reaches its peak. The entire level is only platforming, and the player’s goal is to reach that large, spiky gray mountain in the distance. As the Block approaches his destination, Writer explains that he left his stories to their own devices to spend time with his lover, who later died. The distant mountain, the Sepulcher, is her tomb, and the world a short poem based on her memory.

He thanks the Block for helping fix his stories and giving him inspiration, leaving the Block with one last task: to help him get over his loss. The Sepulcher holds a personified version of the Writer’s pain: Catharsis. Catharsis looks like a warped, giant, shadow man. Catharsis has four forms based on the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression. Denial is a very dark, defensive form, and its weakness is small crack in its armor. Anger is red, flaming, and very violent, a counter-attack once the armor has been worn down. Bargaining is yellow and hurls objects at the Block. It can absorb your health and limit the use of your weapons against it. Depression is blue and attacks slowly, with high defense. As the battle goes on, Depression lightens in color, becoming brighter and more transparent until finally he reaches Acceptance. Writer helps the player during the Catharsis fight, periodically attacking the boss with pencils and the like. Once Acceptance is reached, Writer erases Catharsis once and for all.

So that’s about it, for now. Questions? Comments? Ideas? Please post them in the comments section below! I’d love to hear any and all feedback.

One thought on ““Writer’s Block” (Game Concept)

  1. Overall very good! You want to be careful about introducing punctuation that’s only useful in the level you’re in. Designing obstacles (that make sense, of course) in subsequent worlds that utilize those powers will make them feel relevant to the player. How will the punctuation be used? Will there be item slots that you can mix and match punctuation or will the sword always be equipped with other powers serving as secondary items? Story is creative and wraps up nicely. Again, great job. You should look into game design, I think you’d be good at it.

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