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Guest Episode! Q & A with Cam (our writer)

Ezra Szanton
Ezra Szanton
Hello! Y'all wrote in some great questions! One particularly insightful one came from Demetri, and it was for our writer Cam. Cam has written an illuminating answer I think is pretty insightful into their writing process. The question and answer are pretty long so I’ll let them get to it, enjoy!
What’s your philosophy on writing a character the player can empathize with?
Playing Out of CTRL, it was very clear to me that the player character has a secret past that the audience is left unaware of. Only by paying close attention to Clarity’s dialogue and Echo’s self-directed fear do we get an idea of what Echo’s background is and why this particular haunted computer might be talking to her the way it is. It’s a very interesting way of exploring a story, and it’s very unconventional. Together with an excellent script and a hunt-and-copy mechanic for composing responses it results in a very entertaining and original game.
The thing that sticks out to me is that in the context of a very small and linear set of dialogue written for a jam, it naturally targets a narrow range of emotions. Only a player that plays the conversation straight and attempts to go along with the story is able to properly step into Echo’s shoes; it’s very easy to dismiss the narrative or start messing around and lose the better part of that natural storytelling. Do you have any plans to partially tailor the story to these types of players though a more complex dialogue tree, or is Out of CTRL meant to be a more linear experience in the vein of Simulacra/Pipe Dreams?
Making a character you can empathize with is very difficult. For our Demo, when I was writing Clarity and Echo, I was on a very big time crunch, and I’m very happy that people were able to empathize with them!!! I wrote all the dialogue in a google spreadsheet, and next to each Clarity line, I wrote what a player *might* respond with. I knew there would be outliers, and people who would try to break the game, but in my mind, if people wanted to break the game, then that’s their version of fun. Not everyone want to play very narrative focused games! (And to be fair, seeing what wild things you can say with the copy/paste mechanic is fun in its own right!!) Using the fake player responses I made, I tried to make Clarity’s next line react to that in a way that makes sense, whether the player responded positively OR negatively. Adding Echo’s voice lines came a bit after. I would give her things to say in places that I felt made sense, like the tutorial in the beginning, her confusion to Clarity knowing to much, anger at Clarity blaming her for something where she felt to be the victim, and fear of the whole situation.
When deciding *how* to write those lines, I tried to think of how I would react in the situation, and how I’ve seen similar situations play out in media. I decided Echo would be someone who’s victimhood is reliant on how other view the “dark, tragic backstory.” Echo never picked up the phone, and claims she didn’t know what would happen when she didn’t. Do you believe her? Echo claims she is also a victim in this unknown tragedy, which very well may be true. Tragedy isn’t black and white. But Clarity is haunted here, why? Why does she want Echo to admit what she’s done? Is she really a victim to Clarity, or someone that could have easily avoided this? I wrote really ambiguously, but using that as a guide, I tried to make Clarity’s direct questions and Echo’s emotions feel real. And Katherine’s voice acting REALLY sells this. I think without them, Echo talking may have been less effective.
Overall for our full game, Sam and I are trying to make it interactive, while still following a semi-linear story line. I think we will end up hitting a bit of a wider range of emotions than the demo! And hoping to have more than only interactive choice to keep the player engaged!!! If you decide to replay the game, and respond differently, you will get new/different dialogue, BUT you might still get the same ending. There will be multiple endings, but we’re not sure how many, there should be yet. I think we were leaning towards a smaller number of endings. What do you guys think?
Thanks to everybody who wrote in, we’ll be getting to your questions next! I just figured this question and answer were long and interesting enough to warrant their own email. In the meantime, if you’ve got any more feel free to write in (replying to this email will do the trick). We’ve also got some exciting news to announce next time, so stay tuned!
Stay haunted,
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Ezra Szanton
Ezra Szanton

Out Of CTRL is a creepypasta-inspired interactive fiction game about talking to a corrupted chatbot

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