Prompted by a bit of fantasy-novel induced research about fiction writing, I went and tied up some loose threads in the SJ plotline. There shouldn’t be so many loose odds and ends anymore. Some things had to be a little better explained, some characters’s storylines had to get a sense of closure and some conflict was added for heightened tension. Inasmuch as a videogame plot allows for that, at least. It’s a three-act structure with between nine and twelve noninteractive scenes each, plus a bunch of interactive ones that don’t take control away from the player.
I thought this might be too much – that it would perhaps drown the interactive part of the game in heavy storytelling – but I looked at some other story-driven games and found that they tend to have up to five hours of noninteractive content. That’s ridiculous. SJ shouldn’t nearly reach that amount of cutscenes. A lot of the ones it does have aren’t very long. I currently estimate something like 55 minutes of cutscene per act, but that includes a few pretty long ones such as the introduction, the key story sequence in the middle of the game, three miniboss/boss fights, and a long ending sequence. The rest are one- to four-minute scenes. The game will allow you to skip cutscenes.
Gameplay is roughly estimated to be minimum 5-6 hours if you know what you’re doing and only barge through the main storyline without ever taking any quests, not bothering to build up Scout’s skill tree or to revisit any of the semi-sandboxy game environments. If you really relish in it, it should be three or four times that, if not more. And since first-time players usually take some more time (and the game isn’t meant for a habitual shooter audience), these estimates might be on the low side.
So I think I’m fine. Which is a nice surprise.
It was originally structured “early game” – “mid game” – “end game” but I noticed that the early game was too long. When I tried to apply the classic three-act structure, it fit immediately in a very natural way, as if it had always been there, which was a happy coincidence. I’ll take that as a sign that I did something right.
Each scene has already been matched to a certain spot in the game’s progression. A lot of them take place in faction camps that are situated a bit out of the way of the gameplay. Others are tied to major events or to things like picking up a key or accomplishing goals in the main questline, so a good number of them should come as rewards for the player. The placement of triggers in the levels has largely been finished, apart from one level that is concepted but needs to be blocked in yet. It’s pretty tight but there is a lot of room left to gameplay and simply scavenging around or taking quests. Roughly one scene per major new area, which means as long as you don’t proceed down the main line, or spend time scavenging or questing in already-known areas, you won’t see any cutscenes until you choose to continue the main quest.