This is the current story overview for my game team's poetic experience, Magnolia (formerly For Magnolia).
Concept art from our talented art team
You may view more information about the game, Irradiance Games, and blog posts that I have written for the team here:
Team Facebook page
Main goal: Introduce the player to the story.
Establish the relationship between the characters.
Set the tone for the game. By the end of the intro, the player should understand that the game is going to be a sad but beautiful poetic experience.
Storybook Page 1: The Adventure Begins
Father’s voice reads a tale about a smart, brave, and beautiful princess who encounters a terrible foe (maybe dragon or maybe not defined at all – just mist and mystery) and must move past it.
Page shows Maggie in exaggerated princess garb, steeling herself to face the mysterious evil. A long, dark, and treacherous path lies before them.
Father makes some joke to lessen the tension, which makes Maggie giggle and takes them out of the storybook page and back to reality. This helps to establish their relationship. The dialogue should make it clear that they are father and daughter.
Title slowly appears on a screen with a black background. If possible, it would be nice to mirror the effect of the growing trees – the title could grow on screen like the trees grow, and the fairy lights and the Reality version of Monkey (inanimate stuffed animal) could join the title after a second or two to complete the vignette.
Main goal: calibrate the headset.
Introduce the player to Maggie.
Introduce the player to forest version of Monkey.
I imagine Monkey being a silent companion, like Turnip-head in Howl’s Moving Castle. Traditional monkey noises are too goofy for this game, I think.
Introduce the player to the forest.
Show basics of all possible actions.
Maggie awakens in her bed, but her bed is in the middle of a forest. She can’t get out of bed until she calibrates the headset.
She steps from her bed and trees grow around her so she can only go one way. She finds her way into a clearing with a magnolia tree in the middle of it (foreshadowing for epilogue).
Once she reaches the clearing, she sees Monkey in the distance. Once she is with Monkey, she tests out using the headset. Also communicate to the player that they can use the mouse/keyboard.
Monkey bounds over to her and she giggles because she recognizes him (we’ll learn that in her bedroom later). Monkey shows her the different actions that she needs to know how to do in order to progress, so all she has to do at first is mimic him.
Main goal: introduce the player to gameplay and get them used to using the headset.
Establish puzzles as the norm for progression.
Introduce the player to the bedroom setting.
Introduce the player to the fairies.
Hint that we are going to be moving through the 5 stages of grief.
Make the player feel the sensations related to denial.
Color & climate: natural but muted forest shades. Light greens and grays. Mist to establish the atmosphere.
Father VO about how princesses can sometimes lose their way (foreshadowing of Lost Woods puzzle), but they may find help when they least expect it.
In order to find her way through the Lost Woods puzzle, Maggie follows the fairies. They guide her in some fashion that isn’t immediately obvious but isn’t that difficult to figure out, since this is the first level.
Color: most cheerful of all of the rooms. Yellow, pink – typical colors seen in a stereotypical girl’s room.
Items: This is the first time we see Magnolia’s bedroom. A few of her drawings and photos of her favorite things are on the walls. She MUST have a drawing of her family on the wall (mom, dad, forest version of Monkey, and Maggie) – draw special attention to this. The player can’t leave the room without investigating that drawing. Look at Amy Brown fairy drawings for inspiration for fairies on her walls (decals, maybe?). The room is now strewn with lights that resemble the fairies (just orbs, don’t have to be detailed, but there should be some hint that they are linked).
Furniture: bed, dresser, nightstand with lamp, empty chair next to her bed.
Stretch goal: window through which hot air balloons and forest outside are visible. Not going to develop this until we decide that we have time, but we could theoretically use the view outside the window to show story and character development.
We see Monkey on her bed, and a few Get Well cards are on her dresser. Happy, inviting balloons hang high in the air and are tied to the dresser, and there are some blooming, beautiful flowers in vases on the dresser.
Maggie explores her room and can click/activate various items in the room to learn more about them (pop up image with more info). It will activate VO from her father and text (SCOPE: just text) describing the object and/or a life event related to the object. She MUST investigate the drawing of her family in order to move on.
If she tries to leave the room without activating the drawing of her family + 1 or 2 more items, she can’t leave.
All VO hints at her illness but everyone says that it’s going to be OK.
The drawings of her family change with every room. This room contains the default starting image in which everyone looks happy and healthy.
After she has explored X number of items and the drawing of family, she is given the ability to leave the room, which transitions to the Storybook Page.
Storybook Page 2: Fairy Friends
We now see fairy companions in front of Maggie, providing light in the darkness. Monkey is now next to her, holding her hand as they move forward on the path.
Father VO about the courage it takes to pick a path and move forward. He can say something about how the first step is the hardest, but it’s easier to start if you bring friends along.
Main goal: communicate the anger and frustration that accompany the realization that the terminal illness is real and can’t be ignored.
Colors & climate: reds, burgundies, browns, darker greens. Violent dark red thunderstorm.
Maggie spends the level chasing an angry fairy around and can’t move on until she captures it.
There should be a moment in which Maggie placates the fairy and calms its rage.
Colors: Bright princess colors are starting to fade slightly.
Items: The balloons have started to droop. There are more Get Well cards. There are now a few medical items in the room, hinting at the fact that she’s starting to need slightly more intensive care. The fairy lights in her room are all red instead of the default yellow/white.
The faint sounds of a frantic, muffled conversation between her mom and dad can be heard in the background. Again, we don’t want them to be screaming at each other, but we want to communicate that something is wrong. The chair is knocked over and on the ground next to the bed.
The drawings of her family change with every room. Maybe Maggie draws a picture of her family with the colors from the forest and conveys her parents’ anger through body language (not “angry eyes” or anything that makes her parents look bad, since they’re based on real people who didn’t really react in a violent or traditionally angry way).
Storybook Page 3: A Princess is a Good Friend
Father VO: A true princess helps a friend in need. Show an image of Princess Maggie calming the angry fairy.
Main goal: communicate the desperation of a parent to save their child.
Colors: burnt browns, oranges, and yellows. Some darker greens and purples. Emphasis on complementary colors. The leaves on the trees clearly signify that it’s autumn.
Maggie must complete a series of jumping puzzles with different elevations. Once Maggie reaches certain goal areas, she is cut off from places she has previously been (Bear’s “Opening and Closing” puzzles).
The fairies try to help her, but she eventually gets cut off from at least one of them – this should feel painful and like a significant loss.
Colors: colors are very faded but still present.
Items: fewer Get Well cards, flowers are starting to close/die, balloons have drooped to the floor. There are now a few pill bottles on the nightstand.
Drawing of family: Maggie is in the middle and parents are on either side of her, holding her close. The parents are looking upward with pleading eyes. Maybe something more subtle/may be too religious.
Storybook Page 4: Sometimes Fairies Must Go Elsewhere
Father VO: Sometimes when you move forward, there’s no way to move back. Life cannot be what it was before. Sometimes friends must leave you along the way.
Show image of sad fairy trapped on other side of wall and Magnolia leaning against the other side of the wall, eyes closed and looking sad. The other fairies try to console her, and Monkey tugs at her to press on.
Main goal: communicate the hopelessness and despair that accompany depression; Maggie and her family hit rock bottom.
Colors & climate: dark blues, browns, and oranges. Ghostly and haunting fog and mist. Rainy night with a chilling moon. Dust-like light particles are sprinkled throughout the level, showing in a subtle way that there is light to be found in darkness.
The level moves ever downward in a spiral. The fog becomes thicker as she moves lower.
Maggie rescues fireflies throughout the level and must collect a certain amount before she can exit through the door at the bottom. She must navigate passive perils (e.g. pits) to reach the bottom. By the time the player gets to this point in the game, they should be able to master more difficult challenges.
Monkey is hard to see unless she gets really close to him, but he becomes easier to see as she collects more fireflies.
When the player collects X number of fireflies, she holds the jar close to the dark exit, revealing a cluster of dark, thorny vines. The vines that cover the door recoil from the light, revealing a worn wooden door. Magnolia and Monkey walk through it.
Items: All balloons, flowers, and Get Well cards have been removed. The room is pristine and sterile. The only additions besides the furniture are an IV drip next to the bed and a lot of different pill bottles on the nightstand. The chair is now very close to the bed and facing the bed and even leaning into it. There is barely any sign that a little girl lives here.
After the player explores the room and interacts with the family drawing, they can move on to the next level.
The family drawing: black and white for the first time ever. Her mom and dad look unhappy, it’s raining, and the forest version of Monkey has his arms around mom, dad, and Maggie. Maggie is smiling and pointing towards the magnolia tree in the distance with shimmering fairies gathered around it.
Storybook Page 5: There is a Light
Father VO: Even in a dark world, there is light to be found.
Use the family drawing.
Main goal: Communicate that she is moving on to something better and that everyone in the situation has accepted the inevitable outcome.
Wrap up the story in a way that feels complete and satisfying.
Make the player feel sad but hopeful.
Colors: warm, bright colors of summertime. Warm and pastel shades of green, darker grays to show contrast. Feels tranquil, calming, ethereal.
Contrast with previous level: Maggie moves upward on spiral.
A the top, third-person Maggie walks into a strong sunbeam that shines through the forest. She has a tearful goodbye with Monkey, then she disappears into the light.
Storybook Page 6: And They Lived...
This is only a drawing she made of her family in which Monkey, mom, and dad watch Maggie walk towards the magnolia tree. No VO.
We want to show progression but we can’t draw Maggie as an angel or pretend like everything is fine/the same as when the game started.
Main goal: hint that she is dead but that she’s in a better place without too many religious overtones.
First-person scripted event: the camera takes the player through the forest, past a running forest version of Monkey and flying fairies (they never catch up to the camera), until the player finally sees the same single magnolia tree in a clearing as seen at the start of the game.
The camera slowly zooms in on the tree.
We see reality version of Monkey leaning against the tree and an engraving on the ground. The player has to perform one of the headset actions to clear the brush away from the engraving, revealing the name Magnolia.
Possibly include a simple epitaph: Beloved daughter and forever angel, something like that? We can probably get around the no religion thing here because father’s call their daughters “angel” all of the time.
The camera slowly zooms out from the tree and stops as soon as the full tree is in view. Everything around the tree slowly fades to black. The tree is bathed in pure, white light with floating particles.
The camera follows the light upward until all that can be seen is a very dark sky with dim stars. The fairies pass by the camera, and the stars light up brightly.
Eventually, the camera zooms out enough to show Magnolia’s name spelled out in stars.
Copyright Alexandra Lucas 2015