The theme of Manna for our Malices was something like ‘the world is weirder than you can imagine, and you can see it if you look’. For Book of the Damned, I’m thinking that it should be something like ‘in an age dominated by time-binding technologies, media consumption influences not just how we identify but what we are capable of seeing, thinking, and imagining’. This is kind of a pragmatic decision.
In Manna for our Malices, the main character was initially kind of bland. She had a distinctive speaking style but not much of a personality. But, when the character artist came up with an explanation for her speaking style, her character fell into place: her speaking style came from her media diet — specifically, she was immersed in the otaku media of the 70s, and this provided a sort of cultural barrier with her peers. Suddenly, she became the most fun character to write! Her relationships had new dimensions!
Manna for our Malices was quite a tight time loop. A lot of content gets repeated, though it gets re-contextualized over time. So, although you can play it without finishing for quite a while, it’s actually pretty constrained. Book of the Damned is not a time loop story, and so it has to be pretty big & sprawling in comparison: a longer linear timeline, and more branches. I decided to go the route of major branches based on relationships, & so there will be about 7 potential love interests.
How do you make 7 compelling characters, with the constraint that they’re all female Japanese high school students? You give them all a ‘thing’, but you diverge from Ozuma’s ‘database’ & make it a ‘thing’ that, while recognizable, has many hidden facets. And, a realistic ‘thing’ that is a useful proxy for personality and worldview is media diet. You’ve got giallo girl, late 19th century detective fiction girl, 60s british spy-fi girl, classic ghost stories girl, kung fu flick girl, wikipedia factoid collector girl…
This sort of solves the problem of how you make a mystery story with a single mystery and multiple branches, too: every genre is a lens through which you look at reality, and it shows different things; you need to synthesize multiple viewpoints (i.e., finish all the individual routes & start a harem route) to get enough information to put all the clues together.
It’s a different take on the style found in Manna for our Malices: rather than accumulating more and more information about possible actions in a given place and time by repeating history in a depth-oriented way, we see a the same time period from a variety of perspectives that are not (generally speaking) based on the perspective of the protagonist, and so we expand the adjacent possible in a breadth-oriented way.
In other words: ludonarrative consonance can be engineered based on the structure of an interactive narrative with respect to time. Since I’m approaching these games from the perspective of experimenting with the relationships between narrative, player agency, meta-narrative, and style, this kind of framing really excites & motivates me.