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Story: Scenes

The most important 'unit' of your game's story is the scene. Of course, a collection of well done scenes doesn't make a well done story, but after you have the idea of what your story is going to be (see second article), actually making the game involves actually making the scenes, one by one. To begin with, here is a scene from the beginning of Square's 1998 game Xenogears. It helps if you've played the game, but it's not necessary. The background is that it is the very beginning of the game, Fei (the main character) was sent by the villagers to go up to the mountain to visit Doc Citan to get his photography equipment to film the wedding that will take place the next day.

I'll be going through it, noting important parts. A scene has several parts, but the three most important parts that virtually every scene has are character development, imaginary world development, and plot progression.

[Fei walks in the backyard and sees a shed with a giant crab like robot on it.] 

Fei:Where are you hiding, doc? 

[Suddenly, Fei hears noice from atop the crab] 

Fei:Wh, What's going on? 

Citan:Ohh, this is no good! Why do they use such inferior parts? This is why their 
intervention strat... 

Note how the portrayal of Citan begins. This is the first scene with Citan in it, and so the writers wanted to make sure that the first impression of him is well done. Here, you see him working on top of a strange mechanical crab, showing that he likes to play around with macines. And then you see him saying something about intervention strategies, showing he's not ignorant of politics either. It isn't inconcievable that you could have found him eating breakfast with his family, talking about the weather, but for the first time you see him, seeing him working on a giant crab and muttering about politics makes more sense and is more impressive.

At the same time, the imaginary world is developed, by showing how Citan's house looks, and showing a huge mechanical crab. This increases the understanding that the player is in a world where giant machines exist.

[Fei looks up and sees Citan working on the machine.] 

Fei:Doc! So that's where you were! 

Citan:Oh, Fei! Good to see you. 

Fei:Are you alright, doc? What are you doing all the way up there? 

Citan:I thought I would try to restore this Land Crab. Oh, and that explosion was nothing 
to worry about! It happens all the time. Ha, ha, ha...! Could you wait a while? I'm just 
about ready to call it a day. Oh yes. There is something interesting in the storeroom. Why 
not check it out? 

The "It happens all the time. Ha, ha, ha...!" part is important in character development, as it shows his recognition of his own faults, and a good-naturedness nonetheless.
Fei:Okay, doc, I will. But please hurry up. It will get dark before you know it. 
Shows that Fei is on friendly terms with Citan and that Citan sometimes overworks to darkness in his enthusiasm.
[Fei walks in to the storeroom. He looks at a large box in front of him.] 

Fei:So this is what doc was talking about. Let me see... what's so interesting about it... 

[Fei finds a lever next to the box. He pulls it and noises start emulating (sic, eminating) out of the box.] 


[The sides of the box fall down and a beautiful angel statue is revealed. Music starts coming 
out of it.] 

Fei:Wh, What is this...? This music...? I've heard it before somewhere...? 

Plot clue. Fei has heard something before, but doesn't remember when. This is quite common for main characters of videogames, because it works so well.
[Citan walks in.] 

Citan:What do you think? Not bad, huh? 

Reveals that Citan repaired that music device, and that he is proud of things he accomplishes.

Citan:Hello again Fei. Sorry to have kept you waiting. Music is a mysterious thing... Sometimes, it makes people remember things that they do not expect. Many thoughts, feelings, memories... things almost forgotten... Regardless of whether the listener desires to remember them or not... 

Fei:Doc, what is this...? 

Citan:It was excavated from some old ruins, and is still under repair. Obviously it is an 
audio device of some type. Long ago people would listen to this melody, just as we are doing now... At times they would have been cheered up... while at times they would have been made 
to cry. 


This part shows that Citan can be poetic in speech, and knows the wa of music. More generally, shows that he is an abstract thinker, and not concrete-bound or shallow. Also reveals more about the imaginary world, that it is adventurous and mysterious, since things such as this are excavated from ruins.
Citan:By the way, what brings you here today? 

Fei:Oh yeah, that's right! Alice asked me to borrow some camera equipment from you. 

Citan:Oh, yes. Her wedding is tomorrow, right...? Understood. Well, we had better get ready 
then. Oh, and dinner should be ready soon. Would you like to join us? 

Fei:Would I ever! I was hoping you would ask. 

Citan:I still have some cleaning up to do out here. Would you mind giving Midori some company in the house? 

Fei:Okay. Take your time, doc. I'll go ahead and eat when dinner is ready! 

Citan:Ha, ha, ha. Go right ahead. But I will not be responsible if you get a stomachache from my wife Yui's cooking.

This part progresses the plot, as Fei tells Citan why he is here. Also shows joking humility in Citan's description of his wife's cooking. There is a very bad mistake here. It should be spotted easily by writers. It is "my wife Yui". This is stupid. Fei knows who Yui is, and knows that she is his wife, since he's known Citan for years. The writers should have come up with some better way to let the player know that Yui is his wife. At least he didn't say 'my daughter Midori'.
[Fei walks towards the door then stops.] 

Fei:Doc... I feel strange when I listen to this music... I feel something warm inside… 

Citan:That just may be because you have someone living inside you... And he too must have liked this music a long time before he became a part of you... 


This part is mysterious, and the players wonder what it means. They keep it in mind for later. Important to know: don't make something mysterious that you don't clear up later on. Here, this part works, because later it is revealed that indeed part of Fei knows this music, and the music is again used later. But don't write things like this and then forget about them. It'll feel like an untied shoelace (exception: mysterious things that create atmosphere that the player doesn't need or expect to find out more about later).
[Fei leaves.] 

Citan:Is Timothy and Alice's wedding really tomorrow... It might actually be better to live 
an ordinary life, in this condition... As a son of man... Well, anyway, I suppose I had better adjust the gyro at least... Huh? 

[Suddenly the music stops and the music box shatters into a million pieces.] 

Citan:This cannot be... Is... is this... an omen...? Now what is going to happen...? 

Another mysterious part. Particularly 'puzzling' is "an ordinary life", "in this condition", and "son of man", all of which indicate that Fei is not an ordinary villager. Of course, most players would know this anyway, since virtually no main character in any epic RPG is an ordinary person. Most have some secret in their past that they only find out about later.

The explosion is a very important part, overlooked by most players. It is the first indication that dangerous things happen around Fei without him (or the player) knowing that he did it. This is repeated over and over throughout the game. Even more importantly, it is shown that Citan has some idea of what is happening. Not enough information is given for the player to fully realize the full story: that Citan is the guardian angel of Fei, who at times is taken over by his dangerous personality Id, which destroys things without Fei's surface personality recognizing it. But the player keeps these mysterious words in mind for later.

(As an aside, Fei Fong Wong is based on a semi-legendary Chinese character also named Fei Fong Wong (Chinese order is Wong Fei Fong) who killed people with his bare hands but never remembered doing so afterward. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde is a more recent similar story.)

In summary, this scene (like most scenes in Xenogears) does a lot relative to how much text is used. It introduces Citan, reveals a lot about his character, and reveals some mysteries about Fei's past and Citan's identity. It reveals Fei's character in that he says '...' a lot, remembers things that he can't recall, and is a bit inarticulate. It even shows the first large machine (the Land Crab) in the game, which is later used by Citan to save Fei from the T-Rex by dropping Fei his gear. It would have been silly if that Land Crab was never seen in the game again, but luckily the writers knew what they were doing. It's a good example of a strongly written scene

Now for an example of a weakly written scene, from (you'll never guess) Final Fantasy 7.

(Cloud and Aerith are sitting on the roof of Aerith's old church.) 

         "Ha, ha..... They're looking for me again." 

"Ha, ha"? What in the world? Baffling.
         "You mean it's not the first time they've been after you?" 


This part is alright.
         "They're the Turks." 


         "The Turks are an organization in Shinra. They scout for possible 
candidates for SOLDIER." 

         "This violently? I thought they were kidnapping someone." 

         "They're also involved in a lot of dirty stuff on the side." 
         "Spying, murder... you know." 

         "They look like it."

Dry, boring writing. Also quite confusing. Who are they kidnapping? Why did she say "Hmmm......"?
         "But, why're they after you? There must be a reason, right?" 

         "No, not really. I think they believe I have what it takes to be 

         "Maybe you do. You want to join?" 

         "I don't know... But I don't want to get caught by THOSE people!" 

         "Then, let's go!"

Quite foggy. No, no reason, but they have a reason! Do you want to join? I don't know. But I don't like them. Then let's go!! It's 4th grade writing.
(Aerith follows Cloud. They jump across many rooftops and pieces of 
debris, heading away from the church. Cloud gets far ahead of her.) 

         "Wait... Wait, I said!" 

(She catches up, carefully, femininely judging each gap.) 

         "Puff... wheeze..." 
         "Slow.... down.... Don't leave me...." 

         "I thought you were cut out to be in SOLDIER?" 

         "Oh! You're terrible!" 

(Cloud laughs.)

Not terrible writing, but vapid. Almost Sailor Moon-esque.
         "Hey.... Cloud. Were you ever in SOLDIER?" 

         "...I used to be. How did you guess?" 

         "...Your eyes. They have a strange glow..." 

         "That's the sign of those who have been infused with Mako..." 
         "A mark of SOLDIER." 
         "But, how did you know about that?" 

         "........Oh, nothing." 


         "Right, nothing!" 
         "Come on, let's go! Bodyguard!" 

Ick. You can count the '....' and the '........' and the '....' But are they needed? Wouldn't it work just as well, and be easier to read, if it were written:

         "Hey, Cloud. Were you ever in SOLDIER?" 

         "...I used to be. How did you guess?" 

         "Your eyes. They have a strange glow." 

         "That's the sign of those who have been infused with Mako. A mark of SOLDIER. But, how did you know about that?" 

         "...Oh, nothing."


         "Right, nothing!" 
         "Come on. Let's go, bodyguard!" 

With only two ellipses, simply by looking at both of those next to eachother, you can see that the rewritten version is much more readable. Although perhaps 'nothing' would work better as 'nevermind'. Also note that "Come on, let's go. Bodyguard!" is now "Come on. Let's go, bodyguard!". Much less silly this way.

Of course, Xenogears overuses the ellipsis as well, but at least it is consistent in its length. You don't see .. and .... and ........ and ............ everywhere.

But this scene isn't only weak because it's hard to read. It's also weak because nothing happens in it. The plot is developed in that they see the Turks and start fleeing from them, and the imaginary world is developed in that the player learns something about the Turks (that they seek for SOLDIER, and that they are shady) and something about SOLDIER (that they have green glowing eyes), but character isn't developed at all. We learn nothing new about Cloud or Aerith, except that Aerith is being pursued by the Turks, and that's more a plot point than a character point.

Of course, not all Final Fantasy 7 scenes are this bad, and not all Xenogears scenes are that good, but the point I wish to show is that a scene can be looked at as revealing plot points, imaginary world points, and character points, and trying to do that with maximum readability and efficiency, and with maximum atmospheric mood. It's not possible to show the moods of each of these scenes here, because the graphics, actions on the screen, and music are not available, but the Xenogears scene has a stronger feeling of mood than the Final Fantasy 7 scene due to how the music is placed, where it starts and stops, the pacing of the textboxes and the on-screen events, and so forth.

Now for a third scene. From Final Fantasy 6.

SOLDIER A: Hey, have you heard?
SOLDIER B: Oh, you mean...
SOLDIER A: Shhh! Quiet down.
If Kefka catches us, we're toast.
SOLDIER A: If he drives General Leo out of our battalion,
he'll probably become the next general!
SOLDIER B: Don't make me laugh!
If someone like him becomes a general, I'll go home!
SOLDIER A: Shhhhh!
What if he hears you?
You'll be jailed!
SOLDIER B: Alright, alright!

SOLDIER B: Uh, oh...
Here he comes...
Back to the waiting zone!

KEFKA: Hey, you!
You keeping a sharp lookout?
SOLDIER A: Yes, Sir.
You're Kefka, correct?
How are you, Sir?
KEFKA: Please!
Save your petty small talk!
Just do your job!

SOLDIER B: Phew...!
Someone's gotta put that guy away!
SOLDIER B: I'd like to tell him to his face he's no General Leo!

Character: Shows Kefka's disdain for the common soldiers, shows that he is liked by the soldiers a lot less than General Leo. Plot: Soldiers are attacking something. Kefka is out-ranked by General Leo. Imaginary World: No progression in imaginary world.
SOLDIER: General Leo.
The citizens of Doma seem to be playing a waiting game...
LEO: So, that's their strategy.

SOLDIER: General.
We're ready to take the castle. Just give the order...
LEO: Patience!
If we attack now, we'll have to sacrifice too many lives.

SOLDIER: But, General!
I'm ready to lay my life down at any time for the Empire!

LEO: You're from Maranda, right?
SOLDIER: Y...yes Sir. Why?

LEO: And your family lives there? Fall in battle, and I'll have to
deliver the bad news...
What shall I say to them?
You have a life to go back to someday. Don't throw it all away for
nothing. Emperor Gestahl wouldn't want that.

SOLDIER: Yes, Sir!

Character: Shows Leo's humanitarianism, and that he likes his soldiers, and his soldiers like him. Plot: Doma is what they are attacking, and that they are waiting. Imaginary World: Gives information that Miranda is a city in the Empire's dominion.
SOLDIER: General Leo!

What are you doing?

SOLDIER: A carrier pigeon from Emperor Gestahl.

LEO: What...?

LEO: The Emperor summons me.
I must return immediately.

SOLDIER: I understand, Sir.

LEO: Right.
I'll leave Doma in your hands.
SOLDIER: Yes, Sir.
LEO: Okay...
Just don't jump the gun.

Character: More humanitarianism shown by Leo. Plot: Leo is leaving. He worries about them acting before the time is right (foreshadowing). Imaginary World: Gestahl sends messages by carrier pigeons.
KEFKA: Now that Leo's gone, I'll turn this water into a flowing river
of poison!

LEO: The Emperor has ordered  me to return home. I don't want any
trouble here!
KEFKA: You loser!
I'll take care of this situation in no time!

LEO: Don't be pompous!
And DON'T forget that they are PEOPLE, just like you and me.
KEFKA: We need not spare those lands that gave rise to the Returners!

[Leo leaves]

KEFKA: You just go and be a good little boy...!

KEFKA: Is the poison ready?
SOLDIER: But, General Leo said...
KEFKA: He's no longer here!
I'm in charge now. Pour it!
SOLDIER: Some of our people are prisoners inside the castle!
If we poison the river...
KEFKA: Do it!
Take 'em all out!

Character: Inhumanitarianism shown by Kefka. Also ruthlessness to get his goals accomplished at any cost. Also that Kefka isn't very afraid of speaking against Leo to his face, but that Leo isn't afraid of Kefka either. But the soldiers are afraid of Kefka, and follow his orders even though doing so kills some of their friends. Plot: Leo leaves, and then Kefka poisons Doma. Imaginary World: Kefka and Leo know about the Returners, and that may be why they are attacking Doma.

Overall, a pretty strong scene, even though information on the Imaginary World aspect is limited (it isn't that important right now anyway). But the character development is most important in this scene. If Leo wasn't there, or if Leo was like Kefka, or if there were no soldiers captured in Doma, the poisoning of Doma wouldn't be as dramatic. Also, these scenes leave open the possibility that Leo and Kefka might have a confrontation later on (and they do, in Thamasa, where Kefka kills Leo).

But the point is that you can do this for any scene, and any part of any scene: note character changes, plot changes, and imaginary world changes, and thus easily get at the heart of what a scene is about. As you write a scene, look for these things. If you know the point of the scene, you'll better see the scene's wa, and better be able to write or revise it for maximum quality.

Here is an example from an Ohrrpgce game, the infamous Magnus, by Ryan Simonetta. (text ripped by Harlock Hero and *descritptions* provided by Harlock Hero)

*game begins next to house with a man wandering around outside*

*ryan talks to the man*

I am Ouio the Wizard of Light I wish to aid you in your adventure
ryan:Thanks a lot.

Problems begin right here. The name ryan isn't capitalized. And there is no punctuation in front of Ouio's bit. Also no 'Ouio:'.

More than that, it's just weak. Someone joins your adventure for no reason. You don't even know what your adventure is. You don't know anything about Ryan except that he's on an adventure. You don't know why Ouio wants to join this adventure either. You don't know what a Wizard of Light is.

*they enter the house*

Hercil:I am Hercil. The Ruler I plan on taking the world with my army and no one can stop me. HAHA
Ryan: oh yah you'll see Hercol
Hercil:I am Hercil not Hercol arrr guards.

Repulsive grammar. Obviously Hercil is some type of villain, but nothing is known about him except that he wants to take over the world with his army and no one can stop him and he likes to laugh. Also he doesn't like his name to be mispronounced. And he says arrr for some reason.
*Ryan and Quio (yes, Quio, not Ouio as previously stated) enter battle with green field background*

You killed my Boys. my little bosses will take care you. well i make a quick eascape. HAha. trust me this is not the last you'll me. I'm now going. haha

*Hercil vanishes and Ryan and Quio enter battle with green field background*

Thus the scene ends. At the end of the scene, three characters (Ryan, Quio/Ouio, and Hercil) are introduced, but you don't really know much more than their names. The 'plot' progresses, but it is predictable and in outline form... and about as undramatic as I've seen. And the imaginary world isn't explained at all. There are too many loose shoelaces. What type of world are they in? What is a Wizard of Light? What is the name of the town they are in? Mysteries all. After this scene, no one cares about the characters, no one cares about the plot, and no one cares about the world.

Now for a better scene from an Ohrrpgce game. Harlock's and Rinku's Game Which Includes the Game 'Bill's Never Go West'.

*Vladamir enters a side room wherein stands a man in a blue shirt, and an SNES gaming machine*

Vladamir: "Who are you?"

Bill: "It is not yet time for you to know. Observe first my creation, then speak, then judge. In that order."

Here we see that the first line of Bill is full of mastery: Bill is he who 'knows what he doing'.
*Vladamir plays bill's never go west, a game wherein a stick figure wanders an empty field, until the player pushes "west" at which point the player dies and Bill's game ends*
Bill: "My name is Bill. That game is my life's work. When I was only a lad, I spent years in study under the guise of Amashiro Yamikusa, learning to draw and thusly becoming able to craft such masterful graphics."

Bill: "When I was but a teenager, I went forth to far Tibetan mountains where I meditated for 4 years under the guidance of Roshi Rin Taro, focusing on my grand theme."

Bill: "Now at last, the time has come. You are the first to play it. Did you find the deeper meaning? The result of all my time and efforts?"

Well written, and obviously a test of the player's heroism. Plot is developed (asking the question), Character is developed (Bill's invented past), and Imaginary World is developed (player learns more about the world in which the game exists). If the player lies and says he saw the deeper meaning, then...
* Option 1: Yes!

*the room shudders violently* 

Bill: "Fool! Leave here! Immediately!!!"

Vladamir: "What? I- I-"

Bill: "My game was horrible, you insolent whelp! Be honest next time!"

Vladamir: "But Ra'fehl is out there! Don't make me go!!"

Bill: "OUT!!"

*Bill pushes Vladamir from the room, where he finds Azukari's dead body in the hallway.*

Vladamir: "GAH! It seems Ra'fehl has killed Azukari. This is a regrettable eventuality indeed."

The demon Ra'fehl, Harlock tells me, comes from 'rofl'. The scene perhaps would be better if the music changed at the moment the room starts to shake, but other than that I can see no way to improve it, except that Vlad seems a little cold about Azukari, calling it a regrettable eventuality, whereas he did not previously show any coldness in the game. It's not exactly a 'flaw' in the writing, but it may have been better without the coldness, since it doesn't play a part in the plot.
* Option 2: No... 

*the room shudders violently* 

Bill: "It's Ra'fehl!"

Vladamir: "Damn!"

Bill: "Go! Now! I'll hold him off and you escape through the window!"

Vladamir: "But Azukari is still here! And Paz-"

Bill: "Silence, you fool! You've obviously got some degree of wisdom inside you since you were honest enough not to lie to me about my game."

Bill: "I made that horrid thing in under 4 minutes. Now go! Trust your own wits, and you'll find a way to complete your quest!"

*Vladamir runs out the room, and Bill is slain by Ra'fehl*

Note how little Bill is actually in the game, and how well developed of a character he is. He has perhaps a mere 10 textboxes, and yet is so well portrayed that you'll likely remember him 10 years from now with clarity.
Vladamir: "Gah..."

*a teal knight approaches*

Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "You! Who are you?"

Vladamir: "My name is --"

Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "Nevermind! Quickly, you must listen to me!"

Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "We alone are not strong enough to defeat Pazuzu. We must venture west to the Grand Labyrinth, and there seek out the Dogmatic Tome."

Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "Will you help me?" 

Option 1: Sure. 
Option 2: Nonsense. 

Character of the knight is introduced, and portrayed as impatient and authoritarian. What would have been better than "Will you help me?" is "Let's get a move on!", emphasizing his wa. This isn't a deadly error, but it weakens the scene.

And so the scene ends on a decision, as per the game's grand theme.

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Story: Non-Scenes

Here I cover the adding of elements that are not in scenes but are still part of the story. This includes townspeople whom you talk to while wandering around the town. Here is a part from Thamasa from Final Fantasy 6. The background is that the people of that city don't want others to know that they know magic. So the player explores the city, and sees these pretty clear indications that the citizens are hiding that from them.

Oh, wow!!!

MAYOR: Welcome, welcome!
Magic...? What is this "magic"?

Use rods as items during battle for some amazing results!
Only problem is they break after being used once!

Have you talked to old man STRAGO? Do so, and the inn keeper may be
more reasonable.

For some reason the inn keeper doesn't like strangers!

You're strangers...
1500 GP if you wanna stay.
     (Well, okay.)
     (No way!)

Espers? What in blazes are they? If they're animals, talk to the old
guy that lives on the edge of town.

No admittance!

Old man STRAGO looks like he's on his last legs, but he used to be a
powerful warrior.

Have you met little RELM? She loves to paint pictures! Wonder if
she'd do my portrait?

Actually, RELM isn't STRAGO's real grandchild.
I heard she's his friend's daughter.

Listen, I have to tell you... 
Naaah...never mind.

Get outta the way!

I've never seen you before.

Mama...it hurts...
Oh all right. Cure...
[sees the player]
...medicine...where is my cure medicine?!
[mother leaves]
[runs after the mother]
Please use cure on me!

Note that what the townspeople are doing makes the town more fun to explore (perhaps moreso than any other town in the game). This is contrasted to most towns, where the people just give you directions or speak about what is going on in the world.

The significance of this is that story doesn't only need to be told in a linear gameplay-less fashion. In this non-scene, plot is progressed (That the people can use magic but are hiding this fact from strangers), character is revealed (Strago and Relm), and imaginary world is expanded (the wa of Thamasa is developed), and it's not linear. A good rule is that if a part of a story absolutely has to be linear, make it linear, but if it works just as well being non-linear, make it such.

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Story: Plotscripting Scenes: Direction

Scene writing is more than just text, you need to act as a movie director, deciding where the camera goes, who walks where, who looks at who, what else is in the room, and many many more decisions. This takes a different set of skills than story writing itself takes. Some movies have great screenplays with bad direction, and others have the opposite. You want to be adept at both.

The best way to become adept at direction of a scene is to see good examples from other games. Final Fantasy 4 (and to a lesser extent, Final Fantasy 5 and 6) have been a great aid to me in learning how to direct scenes (since the Ohrrpgce is tile based, you won't learn as much from non-tile based games about scene direction as you would from tile-based ones). I recommend choosing your favorite game story and playing scenes over and over, paying attention to how they work (beyond the text, although you'll want to pay attention to that too).

Particulary interesting examples come from scenes with little to no text, just a lot of moving around. Think of the airship repair sequences, the dancing parts, and the wedding ending scene in Final Fantasy 4, and the mime-like scenes of Super Mario RPG. Little to no text, yet story gets progressed.

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Story: Plotscripting Scenes: Alt + Enter

After you have the textboxes in, you still need to plotscript the scene (make the players move around, look at eachother, and act). This can be fairly taxing for long scenes, especially due to the number of bugs that can creep in. A way to avoid bugs and a way to get these scenes written fast is to know the layout of the room the scene takes place in by going into game.exe, opening up the map (setting it on NPC mode so that you know where everyone begins), and then switching between the Ohrrpgce and the plotscript text file using Alt+Enter. This way you have right in front of you how many steps you need to make them move and in which directions (and the id numbers of each NPC), what textboxes they need to say (you can easily go to the textbox area from within Custom.exe), and so on. You also should have the plotscripting dictionary file open, so that you can refer to it for the exact syntax of the functions you need to call. Plotscriping a scene now becomes a mere matter of numbers.

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