Setting Driven Story

Behind the Themes: Setting Driven Story

Posted:April 21, 2024
Central Neighborhood


As I near the finish line on background art and transition into drawing character sprites, I thought I'd finally put the 'behind the scenes' category to use and talk about the themes present in HERO. I'll be avoiding specific spoilers, but these posts will give clues into what drives the development of the story.

Welcome to the first issue of Behind the Scenes Themes.

Central Neighborhood

Of the core themes that have been present in HERO since its inception, the most central one is one that doesn't pertain to the content of the narrative itself, but to how the story is presented. But first, a brief bit of background. In the first few years of early development (2011-2013) I was working on my masters of arts in experiential graphic design. EGD is a subset of design that focuses on graphic design in the built environment, combining graphic design with architecture.

In 2013 I was putting together my thesis, which was about storytelling in the built environment. My thesis explored how to use the built environment (i.e. architecture) to tell a story. I used Alice in Wonderland as an existing story so I could focus on the thesis without also having to create a story too, but at the same time I wanted to create a story of my own. HERO is that story.

I see storytelling as having three main pillars. There's the plot; there's the characters; and there's the setting. We see stories considered plot-driven. We see stories considered character-driven. But we rarely see stories considered setting-driven. It's not as though they don't exist, but they're much less common. As an architect, I saw this as an opportunity to try and make a setting-driven story. I wanted to tell a story where the narrative is driven by the setting, continuing my thesis work.

Shopping District Bus Stop

The world around us is a huge factor in how we live. Your room, your home, your neighborhood, your city, your country; the physical portion of it is major. How much of a person's personality and relationships are impacted by the material world itself? A person's relationship with the world, the setting, can be as important as their relationships with other people.

This was one of the reasons I spent so much of the early development time in creating the setting. I designed the city of Takeizumi down to a minute degree in order to create a living, breathing world that drives much of the narrative. There are entire parts of the city that will never be seen in the final game, but still impact the story.

For an example of how this affects the story framework, I know exactly how long it takes for each character to get to school, whether they walk from the on campus dormitories, or from nearby houses, or from further away. I see where characters encounter each other, where they are likely to cross paths. I know how long it takes to travel between any two locations, which informs how long conversations that happen along the way should be.

Inside the narrative itself, the way the city of Takeizumi is laid out, how it has grown, what changes have occurred, are all commented on by characters and inform their decision making. What they do during free time stems from what amenities are easily accessible. The city supports just about every service, so residents don't have to travel far for anything that isn't highly specialized.

Shopping District

HERO has a bunch of other themes that I will illustrate in future posts. I hope that at least some of them come across as intended in the final game. Look for more posts in the weeks to come.