Before we get started, there’s one last detail I need to cover. I’m going to be re-using names from the previous games. I’m only doing this for the ease of reading. I’m not actually suggesting that every single character in my story would be a repurposed character from the earlier games.
The problem we have is that this series is fairly light on details. We don’t have faces, voices, costumes, musical cues, and character designs to make all of these people memorable. I’m going to be dumping a lot of names on you, and it’s going to be easy to get confused.
I’m hoping that by borrowing existing names, you’ll be able to attach these new characters to equivalents in other games. When I mention a guy named Sam Carter in my story, I’m hoping you’ll remember the retired military hardass with a heart of gold that mentors JC Denton in the original game.
If we were actually going to make this into a game, then we would need to give everyone unique names.Maybe we could keep a couple of recurring names, like how the name “Cid” always shows up in Final Fantasy.
Anyway, let’s hit New Game and play…
Deus Ex: Pandora’s Gun
In his video, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is FINE, And Here’s Why, Hbomberguy gives the game a hard time for a long intro. There’s a pre-rendered cinematic, and then a passive walk-and-talk, then an elevator ride, then a conversation with your boss, then another elevator ride, then the brief tutorial, then a long intro movie where the main character becomes augmented, then a time-cut to months later, then a brief bit where you run around the office and talk to people, then you meet your pilot, then you ride a helicopter and converse with your boss, and THEN you’re dropped off at the first mission and begin the game proper. I just checked someone’s playthrough online, and it looks like it takes about 12 minutes to get to the first gameplay, and 25 minutes to get to the first gameplay that isn’t a hand-holding tutorial.
Looking back, it’s shocking that the game got away with such a protracted introduction. I’m certainly not going to count on getting away with that a second time. There’s no way to even dream of matching the original in terms of depth and scope with modern production values, but I think we can do better than 12 minutes! The original game’s intro was about two minutes, so I’m going to give myself about that much space to work with.
We’re in an opulent, dark, and poorly-lit room. Various figures are gathered around the table. They’re backlit with a pale orange light, so we can’t see anyone’s faces just yet. The player won’t know their names, and the subtitles will just identify them as Man #1, Man #2, and so on. But for the purposes of this bit of the script I’m going to give their names and descriptions up front.
South African industrialist Samkelo Mensah: I’ve just received news that the American President has chosen not to invade the peninsula.
Russian intelligence leader Leonid Sidorov: (Hollywood Russian accent.) This is outrage. We have military projects that have stalled. There can be no spoils if there is no war.
Brazilian Environmentalist / Politician Camila Ferreira: His term is almost up. The next president will be more cooperative.
American media mogul Ted Walters: Actually, it’s really looking like Ellis is going to win a second term.
Sidorov: (Slams down his drink.) Nyet! We cannot wait another six years!
Ted Walters: (Mumbling.) It’s only four in America, Len.
Sidorov: (Overlapping, ignoring him.) Something must be done!
Camila Ferreira: Morgan Everett said that-
Chinese apparatchik Maggie Chow: (Interrupting.) Morgan Everett is out. We’ve waited long enough. A plan is already in place. Ellis will be gone by the end of the week.
We get a title card telling us we’re at the White House. The year is 2044.That’s only 22 years from now, which might be a little too close to today. Eh. I’d probably wait to see where the artists wanted to go with the style before firmly setting the date.
We begin with Troy Denton. I’d suggest making the protagonist player-selectable gender like Commander Shepard because that’s more fun. Everyone in the story can just call the player character “Agent” or “Denton”. But in this write-up I’m going to assume male for ease of naming and pronoun-ing. The old games had protagonists named JC and Adam as a kind of New Testament / Old Testament motif. We could continue the sloppy Biblical references by naming our hero Moses or Mary or something. But I don’t think the Bible stuff ever really worked or said anything interesting.Actually, the biblical references in the first game worked to make the bad guys come off as pretentious idiots. But then Human Revolution just added more without really doing anything with it, taking the idea into a dead end. The series has kind of built a brand around half-assed references to Greek myths, so let’s stick to that and drop the Biblical stuff.
It’s election season, so it must be autumn. Most of the missions will take place at night because that’s cooler and more cyberpunky,And your distant environments / skybox can be simpler. but the sun is up for the tutorial missions. It’s morning when the game starts.
Troy is a secret service agent in a near-future world. He’s been in the Secret Service for three years, and he’s spent all of that time guarding the president’s children. He’s just been promoted and today is his first day of protecting the president directly.
Sam Carter is the White House head of security. He meets with Troy, checks his augs, congratulates the young agent on the early promotion, and assures the kid that he’s going to do just fine. This guy is clearly a mentor / father figure to our hero. Carter reminds Troy that the election season is in full swing and everyone is a bit on edge.
They end with this exchange:
Troy: “Uncle President”
Carter: (Shakes his head.) I know the people like him, but that’s just childish.
Troy: If you can believe it, even his kids call him that when he’s not around.
Carter: You’re kidding.
Troy: I’m not.
Carter: Well make sure you don’t say it in front of him.
Carter: You nervous?
Troy: (Player-selectable response that suggests nervousness, confidence, or flippancy.)
Carter: (Chucks him on the shoulder.) Okay kid. Good luck in there.
Troy enters the oval office where President Ellis is having a meeting with his Chief of Staff. The room is… well, you’ve probably seen the oval office before. Round. Couches. Big logo in the middle of the floor. Nice desk. Flags around.
Chief of Staff: …I’m just saying that it makes you look weak, and a campaign is a bad time to look weak.
President Ellis: I understand that, Bob. But I’m not going to start a war so I can look tough.
CoS: Well maybe we could just send a few-
President Ellis: (Seeing Denton come in, and perhaps eager for an excuse to to change the subject.) Ah. Agent Denton. I was told you’d be joining my detail. Ronald and Eleanor talk about you a lot. I can’t promise that guarding me will be as exciting as guarding my kids, but we’ll try to keep you on your toes.
Troy: (Nervous.) Thank you uncl- uh… Mister President.
CoS: (Disgusted.) If you can’t follow the basics of presidential decorum then maybe you should stick to guarding children.
President Ellis: (Waving his hand dismissively at the Chief.) It’s fine, Bob. It’s fine. (To Denton, lowkey aside.) It’s certainly not the worst thing people call me these days.
Denton takes his place by the door and the president returns to his meeting.
In the next few lines of dialog, we learn that he was a dark horse third-party candidate. He was elected in a crazy upset and now his first term has been aces. Employment, the economy, crime… Everything is headed in the right direction.”Oh man. This guy looks like a saint. That means he’s either about to be martyred, or turn out to be evil.” – You, in the comments. Because you think you know where this is going.
We’re going to get through this entire stealth-friendly game without ever forcing the player into a trap or using a cutscene to eject them from stealth. I think the player will forgive me for this moment.
Once the above exposition has been chucked in the player’s direction, an alarm goes off. Agent Carter runs in. It seems a white house tour group has left the intended path and is heading this direction. We have to assume they’re hostile.
Carter opens up a secret panel on one wall and drags the shocked and bewildered president into the newly-revealed passage. As they exit, Carter orders Troy to cover their escape. It turns out the tour group was made entirely of enemy agents / soldiers / terrorists / whoever and the group is headed this way. So Troy is going to fight a bunch of mooks dressed as civilians.They should probably be wearing masks or something to make them look threatening, in the style of Watch Dogs: Legion. Carter orders Troy to kill the attackers, but the player is also given the tools to knock them out if they prefer.That’s a weird thing for a secret service agent to do, but we have to respect the audience’s expectations here.
Troy discovers a few dead secret service agents, so we can tell these attackers mean business. We push through a couple of rooms of light combat to get the really basic tutorials out of the way. For gameplay purposes, the mooks have all sportingly decided to wear the same orange T-shirt, or some variation of that color of orange.
So we stop the invaders. Then Alex Jocobson calls us on the radio. She’s our tech specialist for the game, and she’s going to walk us through the rest of the tutorial level.
Apparently the remaining invaders are routed. They’ve escaped into the sooper-secret labyrinth of steam tunnels beneath the White House, which of course are a real thing that exists in this world. She sends you down to deal with them.
Now we get the full gameplay tutorial. We can murder our way through the mooks, guns blazing. Or we can stealth our way through and knock them all out. Or we can crawl through some environmental hazards to reach the generator room and cut the power. This will trap the invaders in the tunnels,I guess the doors need electricity to work. in the dark, so that the army can collect them later.
I realize that the original game began with a huge open level with countless available routes, so it probably seems a little disappointing to start with something so straightforward. But game space is expensive, and I’d rather spend that money later once the player has some cool weapons and augmentations unlocked. Also, in story terms you’re supposed to be facing off against a small group of radicals. If we made this a big sprawling multi-path affair, then we’d need an implausibly enormous army of invaders to fill up that gamespace. I really don’t want our hero to rack up a triple digit body count before we even get the story off the ground. So instead of starting with something vast, we start with something short and sweet. So let’s get these tutorials out of the way, and then we can open things up.
This section ends with Troy confronting the leader Leo Gold, who is sitting on a bomb the size of a volkswagon. If Troy were to attack, then Leo would set off the bomb, which would level this wing of the White House.
The bomb was supposed to be a failsafe: If the direct assault failed, they were supposed to set off the bomb. But now that the moment of truth has come, Gold doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to push the button. He’s not quite willing to become a martyr and he’s looking for an alternative. There’s an exit door nearby, and he very clearly wants to make a break for it.
The player is given a choice:
1) Stall for time by talking. You can get him talking and he’ll straight up tell you his name. Troy accuses him of belonging to a rival political party. Gold laughs. He considers himself above all your trifling political squabbles. He’s here to put the world back on track. He admits that offing the president isn’t nice, but it will avert something worse. As proof of him being not-evil, he points out that they staged this attack today, when they knew the president’s family would be traveling. Gold doesn’t want to put the kids in danger. He claims the election was riggedIt’s not what you think. We’ll come back to this later. and the current president shouldn’t even be in power. The conversation ends. The player must then choose one of the next 2 options.
2) Back off and let him leave while you disable the bomb.
3) Attempt to attack him. You draw your weapon, but Troy is unable to pull the trigger. He grunts and strains and the room goes dark like he’s passing out. The first-person view dips down and we can see the pistol fall from Troy’s hand. When he looks up again, Gold is gone.
We cut to the post-attack debriefing. Troy gets berated if he didn’t get any information. If Troy tried to attack Gold, then he’ll claim his augments stopped him from pulling the trigger. Carter doesn’t believe this for a second.
Carter tells him, “It’s impossible for your implants to do something like that, kid. The hardware in your body represents millions of dollars of defense spending. It’s state of the art military technology, not a cheap cell phone. It can’t ‘glitch out’. If you didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, just say so. It’ll look bad on your record, but lying will only make things worse.”
Sidequest / Interlude
Here we need some sort of interlude / time cut. We need to give the player something to do to create a time break between the attack and the next scene. Maybe the player needs to do a little investigation to figure out how the attackers got weapons on the premises, or maybe there’s a hacked / haywire security system that needs to be brought under control.
This is one of those bits of the game that I’d wait until later to design. Or better yet, leave it to the gameplay designers and level designers to come up with this. It’s possible for a writer to impose too much control on the game. I don’t know what sorts of awesome ideas the other people might bring to the table. I don’t want to script a “run around and talk to everyone” sequence if the gameplay designer has a really slick mechanical challenge we could be using instead.
Also, it’s good to leave this bit until late in development because it’s sort of optional. If we start missing deadlines and we’re in danger of blowing past the ship date, sections like this one can be dropped. The time cut will feel a little jarring and it’ll make the story feel rushed, but leaving this out won’t leave behind giant continuity gaps and hanging plot threads. If you build the game in order, then running out of time means you need to butcher the ending. In my design, I’ve earmarked a couple of low-priority missions to act as our developmental crumple zones.
I realize that in a real project, the scheduling and setting of priorities would be handled by the project manager and not by the writer. But this is the sort of thing that would keep me up at night if I worked on a real AAA project. I’d worry that I poured all this time into creating this coherent world, building up these themes, setting up all of these payoffs, and then in the end we didn’t get to close the deal on any of that stuff because we ran out of time.
So I’m going to leave this bit open. If there are any tutorials we haven’t covered yet, they can go here. If the gameplay designer has some cool new mechanics for this game, we can build this section around that. For now let’s just assume that the player walks to a nearby location, does this secondary thing, and then returns to Troy’s office in the afternoon for the next bit…
Our tech / hack buddy Alex is here and she fills us in on what happened after Leo Gold escaped. She uses the PARASIGHT deep learning surveillance networkCongratulations. You just won techno-thriller Buzzword Bingo. to track mobile phone signatures. Only one unidentified phone signal departed the White House grounds immediately following the incident. She’s tracked that phone to Miami.
We also give the player the option to discuss their augmentation malfunction with Alex. Carter dismissed it as Troy not having the guts to pull the trigger on Leo Gold, but Alex thinks it’s a weird and unlucky glitch. Maybe being so close to the generators caused some sort of malfunction? Alex sort of shrugs and promises to let you know if she figures anything out.
Leo is holding still for the moment. He seems to be laying low along the coast. We’re hoping he’ll lead us back to his boss. We don’t want to send in the army, just in case that leads to him getting Jack Ruby’d.
Hey Troy! Since you’re the only one who’s seen his face, you’re being taken off of the presidential detail and being reassigned to field work. Get down to Miami and very quietly see who Gold was working for before the conspirators begin cleaning up their mess.
Also, you’re now cleared for new augmentations. Protocol forbids agents on the presidential detail from using new experimental tech, but since you’re no longer on guard duty you’re free to start messing with the exotic gadgets that have been rolling out over the last couple of years. Here’s an upgrade module / nanite canister / sim card / floppy disk / magic pill / whatever to unlock your first upgrade. We’ll get you more later, but keep your eyes open. The bad guys might have some of this stuff too.
I’m trying to keep this focused on the writing, so I’m not going to design the gameplay systems and augmentation upgrades. (Feel free to do that in the comments if you like.) However, let me just put in a vote for bringing back the mutually exclusive upgrade choices of the original. Like, maybe your legs can jump high / kick open wooden doors, OR they can move fast & silent, but not both. Maybe your arms can shock guys unconscious OR they can project a bullet-stopping shield, but not both. And so on. Gives the game some replay value, so the player has a reason to come back and try the road not taken.
Also, I REALLY hope we don’t have auto-regen health. See Hbomb’s video for why free health regen breaks the careful balance between combat, stealth, and hacking.
Denton catches a ride on an agency heli-drone: These helicopters are usually unmanned. They patrol the city and are designed to deal with “airspace threats”. They have a small compartment in the back that can transport one or two people as needed. Alex explains that we usually just use them for putting snipers on rooftops, but they’re also a good tool if you need to quietly deploy a single agent somewhere. It doesn’t seem to have any windows.
Troy: This thing has a cockpit doesn’t it? Why can’t I sit up there?
Alex: Would you hand me a gun if I didn’t know how to use one?
Troy: Of course not.
Alex: Do you know how to fly one of these?
Troy: (Realizing he just lost.) Fine. I’ll get in the back. It’s just really tight back here.
Alex: (Playful.) You’ll be fine. You’ve got more room than business class. You don’t even have luggage.
To be continued…
 Maybe we could keep a couple of recurring names, like how the name “Cid” always shows up in Final Fantasy.
 That’s only 22 years from now, which might be a little too close to today. Eh. I’d probably wait to see where the artists wanted to go with the style before firmly setting the date.
 Actually, the biblical references in the first game worked to make the bad guys come off as pretentious idiots. But then Human Revolution just added more without really doing anything with it, taking the idea into a dead end.
 And your distant environments / skybox can be simpler.
 ”Oh man. This guy looks like a saint. That means he’s either about to be martyred, or turn out to be evil.” – You, in the comments. Because you think you know where this is going.
 They should probably be wearing masks or something to make them look threatening, in the style of Watch Dogs: Legion.
 That’s a weird thing for a secret service agent to do, but we have to respect the audience’s expectations here.
 I guess the doors need electricity to work.
 It’s not what you think. We’ll come back to this later.
 Congratulations. You just won techno-thriller Buzzword Bingo.
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