Raising The Stakes (SPOILERS) An Opening Scene

Dear Insane Children, 

During our most recent Live Stream on YouTube (LINK) I talked about ?the need to create meaningful stakes for Alice in this new adventure. The problem being that Alice can “die” repeatedly in Wonderland and it means nothing for Real-World Alice. Compare that to stories like “The Matrix” where, “if you’re killed in The Matrix, you die here.” Yeah, the characters are running around inside a simulation but the stakes are real because real death can happen in the real world. 

In order for us to tell a meaningful story in Asylum, we also need to establish real stakes. 

SPOILERS AHEAD – Stop reading here if you don’t like SPOILERS. 

Also, if we’d kept the original idea as I outlined it during the last Live Stream, I’d also put a Trigger Warning here but I think this revised version does away with the need for that. And before we go any further – BIG THANKS to our Insane Children for al the great feedback during that Stream. Your comments really got me thinking about what was important about what I was trying to do with this scene… and made it (I think) much better. 

All of this is contained in a response to Omri’s posting of the Chaos Infected Chess Pieces (main image above). Of these he said: 

OK i know chess pieces are our “friends” in this realm correct? but i think this location makes sense to place them in the “enemies”? they are not NPCs really…

i thought about something, i thought that the queen of hearts would find it absolutely horrifying that the chess pieces are mixed. she wants ORDER. one of the big elements of order in chess is that the colors are separated, and equal. in chess it’s the same shapes, different colors- but what happens when everything gets mixed and confused? she would find it as abomination but i think we as players can find beauty and interest in them and they fit the realm.

To which I replied (spoilers!): 

@Omri I like these. And I know the situation with enemies might not be as clear as we’d like. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. It’s complicated by the fact that the Queen of Hearts wants to avoid Alice’s “death” because that would mean the end of Wonderland (as they know it). So she’s kept Alice in Denial and tried to protect her… to ensure Alice does not wake up. That means that the Queen of Hearts would order her minions NOT to kill Alice… but they might be allowed to capture her, put her to sleep, and return her to Denial. 

?Now, as a gameplay mechanic it’s not a great idea to force the player back to the start of the game every time they die (are captured, etc). So we need to come up with a mechanic which allows Alice to do the Normal Game Death things people have come to expect – with the addition of some sort of nod to “If you are captured by the Queen of Hearts’ soldiers too many times you’ll be sent back to Denial – or something akin to Denial.” 

Add to this the fact that we have Chaos (an enemy that takes over whatever it touches) consuming Wonderland and turning every creature it touches into a Tentacle Enemy. That means that Card Guards (minions of The Queen of Hearts) will attack Alice (with intent to kill) if they are touched/transformed by Chaos. 

What does it mean if Alice is overcome by Chaos? She dies. Both the Wonderland (Child Alice) and Real World (Adult Alice) will simultaneously die. And this is why it was important that we set the stakes for death (using the story opening I outlined during the last Live Stream) at the start of the adventure. 

We’ve all “died” a million times in games. By being blown up, missing a platform jump, being shot, drowning, etc. And this “death” presumably means THE END of the character… and that-would-be-that except, it’s a game and we can restart from the last save-game-check-point-whatever. 

So I’d like to simplify all of this… And re-present the Opening Scene Concept:

Let’s assume there are lots of Wonderland characters running around and they are mostly (99%) non-enemy NPCs. 

But Wonderland is being overrun by The Chaos – its tendrils spreading like Smoke (that word is important, you’ll see why in a moment) and infecting those non-enemy NPCs… turning them into Chaos Tentacle Enemies. 

Death by Chaos Tentacle Enemy is DEATH. And requires a restart, reload, etc. (Some sort of system for “lives” and how many times you can “die” before a hard restart needs to be inserted here – later). 

We’ll NOT have any sort of “going to sleep and being returned to Denial” because it only confuses and clutters things. 

Here’s why SMOKE is important in connection with Death and The Chaos… 

The opening scene of the game goes something like: 

Alice Liddell, age 24, walks through the winter morning streets of London. She’s defeated Bumby and freed herself and the children of The Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth from his clutches. The morning is cold but bright and all seems well with the world… despite the distinct note of sadness in the accompanying music. 

On her morning stroll, we see Alice greet her neighbors, feed a cat, watch parents play with their children (pain and sadness in her eyes), and give an apple to an old lady. She pays the butcher and the baker. Lastly, she pulls a battered White Rabbit Doll from her bag and hands it to a street urchin before stepping into her tiny one-room home. 

She stokes the fire and throws a few more lumps of coal into the flames. At her desk, she signs a letter, and places it in an envelope upon a small stack of similar notes. She takes one last look at a picture of her family framed on her desk. Then turns back to the fire and stops the flue (blocks the chimney pipe). The room begins to slowly fill with smoke. 

?As Alice passes out, we fade gently into Wonderland… 

(game starts here)

That’s the second attempt at this opening scene and does a better job of setting up a connection between the Real World problem (death by smoke inhalation), the Wonderland Problem (Chaos/smoke destroying everything), and the overall theme: depression and loneliness leading to (attempted) suicide leading to a re-connection with one’s inner child and renewed ability to love oneself. 

Lots of themes we can explore in relation to what’s established here. But I feel this more neatly solves a number of problems I’d been grappling with … at the same time, it answers some questions related to enemies, Chaos, death, etc. 

Obviously this is still Work In Progress. I’ll post it to Patreon and we can get feedback from the Insane Children.

There you have it… 

While Young Alice is adventuring around Wonderland trying to save the day, Adult Alice is slowly succumbing to smoke inhalation. 

To answer a couple of questions that were asked during the stream (and which would be answered in-game via the narrative): 

Why would Alice decide to end her life? Well, we’ve seen her defeat her enemies and save the children of Houndsditch but when all is said and done she’s still a homeless orphan without a family. She doesn’t walk away from the end of AMR into a happy ending. And without a “mission” to give her purpose – without a mystery to solve – her life dissolves into day after day without meaning. Death seems the only out. 

How does Young Alice (in Alice’s psyche) “know” about the smoke and the stakes? We’ll wrap this in Wonderland surrealism and story – much as we did with turning Bumby’s efforts to wipe Alice’s memories into an internal representation AKA The Infernal Train. To start, it’s just “The Chaos” but later in the story, we’ll learn of Adult Alice, her depression, and the fact she needs rescuing. And since Adult Alice is passed out waiting to be rescued – we can interact with some ghostly form of her as needed (Chaos Alice). 

I’m sure there were some other questions… but I think they were mostly related to the “why” of the method of death I’d presented in the original pitch. I hope this variation answers or removes most of those. 

Hat tip to “SilentDream1989” in the YouTube comments for suggesting “fire/smoke” as an alternate (and more thematically appropriate) method for Alice to use to end her life. 

So… have a think on what’s presented here. Maybe let it sit for a while. Then share your feedback and ideas in the comments below. 

From Burning Hot Shanghai, 


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