Fusebox Devblog 1 - Planning and Design

Hi! Ed here, Lead Narrative Designer. For this inaugural dev blog, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the process we used to plan our upcoming Love Island game. But before that, here's a sneak peek of one of our characters:

This is Mason. He's an underwear model. In the finished game, you might get to smooch him.

If we're talking about interactive narrative design, that means there's one thing we're going to be talking about a lot: Flowcharts. Narrative designers love flowcharts. The first flowchart in Love Island Life was this one, made in Twine:

On every project I work on, I always try to make time to do some prototyping in Twine, a surprisingly versatile program for making interactive fiction. I spent a few hours mocking up a rough version of what I thought an episode of Love Island would feel like as IF, without worrying too much about plot and character - just letting my instincts guide me (this scene actually made it into the finished script - it's about dumping your useless boyfriend!). Twine is great for this kind of thing. In other projects, I’ve used it to sculpt branching dialogue, plan the player’s journey through an open world, and even model complex gameplay mechanics. Twine is a wonderful prototyping tool (even for non-narrative games) because its expressive, open-ended toolset lets you quickly iterate and experiment with ideas without having to get too invested in any one of them.

Once I was happy with that, I switched to draw.io to make a more detailed flowchart (I love a good flowchart - did I mention?). One of the most important considerations when planning interactive narrative is to establish important decision points early on, and to build everything around them. For Love Island, this boils down to one central question - who am I going to couple up with? 

With this in mind, I used the flowchart to visualise the different ways in which the story could branch, and to anticipate the different trajectories that players could take through the narrative. There are several things I tried to nail down at this stage, ensuring that:

  • Every episode has an interesting choice and there are no dead ends.
  • The main dramatic confrontations are well spaced out.
  • Every character makes a meaningful contribution to the overall plot.
  • The most important relationships feel like they grow and develop across the course of the series.

One of the features of the Love Island format is that we always knew we needed around 10 characters overall, and making sure every one of these felt meaningful was a complex task. Seeing everything laid out visually was a huge help with this. The flowchart morphed into this monstrosity:

Once I knew how everything was going to fit together, I switched focus and started doing some more top-down planning, thinking through each individual character, and making a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire series. Once all that was done, we had everything we needed to just sit down and write it, which is a whole different blog post.

In the meantime, keep it sparky! Does that work as a sign-off? Probably not. I’ll think of a better one next time.