Amplitude Postmortem (2): A Certain Magical Vortex
Read the workflow article here.
My character route is Theo, the silent-cool-know-more guy.
Xero’s notes for him gave general direction in his possible endings and a backstory to reveal. Interesting. He looks good, even if the jacket’s hideous.
But he doesn’t have much going on in terms of personality.
He also gives me so much problem in deciding how he would interact with the rest of the cast. If you don’t know already, this guy is a walking spoiler, so proceed with caution. Theo’s path is distinct in which it doesn’t relate much to the protagonists’ world, but relates a lot with the Freak-Quency and Amplitude worldbuilding itself. Setting up the relationship is difficult since unlike the other romance options, neither the Soul nor the Vessel has anything to do with Theo before.
So, yeah. If you’re a Freak-Quency player, you know Theo’s former personality. But it’s so long ago already and he was just a boy back then. Theo might as well be a new character and there’s no way to compress his development from him-before and him-present within the scope of the game. Remember, this story is Katy’s. To push Theo’s story all at once would be overwhelming and detracting from the main story. He’s an old fan favorite and he deserves his own spotlight. (Um, DLC for character side stories, anyone?)
I’d like to give more nuances into his character, but the chances to interact with him were so few and far between and overlapped with his role in the main story, so he got relegated into some sort of a secret character type in the context of a love interest. This had another repercussions. So, yeah, anyone who’d attempted his route know how troublesome it is. You see, it began as a joke. Secret character, right? I grew up playing RPGs, and was known to be quite strict as a person, so when given this character to handle, we joked whether we could make this an optional boss kinda thing, one that would demand more effort and maybe, true to the classic RPG sidequest, a ‘Guide Dang It’ (yeah, yeah, sue me now).
The end result was a bit more than we could chew. So the good news is Theo’s path, in my original script, checked all five status traits, but Xero toned it down to two out of five to make it more manageable. The bad news is, in order not to tamper with the main story, she set time limits for some of the events. Quite a strict schedule, at that. This amped up Theo’s path from a lowkey Guide Dang It to a true Guide Dang It. While I had since passed the route more than a dozen times (sometime really a dozen in a single day) and could recite the requirements in my sleep, it was so bad when it was first available for beta testing. I failed so many times that I had to WRITE MYSELF A GUIDE. And I was the one writing the route. With free access to the game’s script. Imagine that. The other beta tester assigned for this route ended up messaging me directly for a step-by-step.
I had a lot on my plate. With so much work to get done, players would naturally expect highly from the route. Would I be able to write a route decent enough to not betray the hope? It would be a disappointment if the whole thing turned up to be a forgettable route not worth the effort. Sure, I could troll the players as much as I want, but not delivering means they may not return next time. Even if we meant for his route to be played last, having his route at all demanded us to pay attention.
Every character has five stages of events, but Theo’s got so long with all the side scenes and optional dialogues that Xero decided to cut the fourth part. It was an understandable decision, yet not one without regret, because that part was the “switch” part, bridging the budding friendship in part three to the climax leading to the ending in part five. The relationship had been very slow burning so far, and the fourth part had me in agony because I had to show that something had changed between them–from reluctant acquaintance towards lifelong friends and maybe something more. I wrote and rewrote this part a lot. Some of it ended up incorporated into the third and final part to at least lessen the gap.
On the other hand, I was surprised to see that 90% of my scripts stayed intact. Some other routes were almost completely redone, or only the general idea ended up used.
Detailed commentary for each chapter follows, which naturally warrants another SPOILER WARNING:
Part 1 – Encounter: Virtually nothing changed here aside of the bravery check. My original script gave possibility to fail the ‘jump the fence’ option, but at the final version Katy’s default bravery will always be sufficient to bypass this check. I deliberated back and forth where this encounter should occur. As the town’s crowded enough, I think Xero’s choice to tuck it into training is a good one. As an added bonus, completing Theo’s route will always give you the best Soul ending.
Part 2 – Suspicion and Truth: It’s an awkward stage in which you have to dig out the past and pave way to ‘getting to know each other stage’. I envisioned Theo to be difficult to approach, and you had to prove you know something in order to get him to notice you. Xero rewrote some parts the conversation with Miss Exposition I shamelessly named after her to fit the Freak-Quency canon proper.
Part 3 – Get To Know Each Other AKA This Is Supposed To Be A Dating Sim But We Barely Talk This Far: this section consists of the confrontation plus three extra scenes. This is also where I decide to portray Theo as a pop culture fan, as it’s something fleeting he can enjoy without being much invested into the human interactions. I wished to infuse his speech with more callbacks to “old” media, but having him interact meaningfully with Katy was difficult enough. I wish I could write more scenes involving Emily, since she is a big drive in Theo’s life.
Part 4 – The Attack AKA The Deleted Scene – As mentioned earlier, this chapter was intended to be the tipping point, with Theo realizing that he more or less cared for Katy’s wellbeing as a friend and would not wish to see another soul died on him. Katy could die in this scene if her battle stat wasn’t high enough. My note for this part is available here for your perusal.
Part 5 – The Finale – I don’t like stories where the characters seem to fall in love easily and quickly, so given the differences that must be solved between Katy and Theo, plus the May-December romance foregone conclusion, I wished I could do something different, and proposed to delay cementing the relationship until about fifteen years post-game, mentioning their constant communication. Xero gave me the choice between Theo taking over Malkav Industries, or retire entirely from the worldly affairs. I chose the latter. However, due to my mistake in not submitting CG request, Xero had one made already, in a vastly different direction. My original ending was somber. Xero felt like she wanted a humorous one. It ended up not quite here nor there.
As you can see, writing romance is not my forte. Theo’s route got bogged down a lot by my penchant to drama, major reliance to narratives (the NVL-mode) and the necessity to provide exposition ended up with the game’s worst offender of an info-dump, something I as an editor tried to cut from the rest of the script. My personal favorite is Grace’s route, which I think offers the best dialogue (kudos to riesling, who’s embarking on another visual novel scripting project).
Do I succeed? I will let the players decide, but personally I think I could do better. Many of the dialogues fail at portraying both Katy and Theo. Overall, Theo is complex and I’m afraid I don’t do his character justice as it is now. There are still so much avenues to explore, scenes to dig deeper. I wish I could have another chance to flesh him out properly. This might drive me to write fanfictions in the future…although at this case I wonder how much of a fanfiction that will be? It has to be noted though, that even if Theo was mine to play with during the development, the character and canon interpretations belong to Xero. She’s the one with Word of God.
I’m sorry if his part feels rushed, but I’ll be happy if you can enjoy his route!
Next is a wrap-up at the entire thing and some sneak peek to the upcoming project.