'Who Gets Bruiser?', an interactive story following the break-up of a couple.

Released for free on Itch.io in October 2022. Playable in browser and downloable for Windows

---> play here <---

On ‘Who Gets Bruiser?’, I worked closely with screenwriter, Alfie Flewitt on the concept and throughout the project. Early in concepting, we decided to make a branching narrative story about the break-up of a couple.

From a game design perspective, I was hugely inspired by a free game I played when I was a teenager, Facade, in which the player arrives at a dinner party hosted by a couple, and can completely change the course of the evening and the couple’s lives based on what they say and what items they interact with. I’d also recently played Twelve Minutes which I would describe as a conversational puzzle game with a time loop mechanic. I like the idea that a player explores dialogue by playing the game multiple times.

From a visual perspective, we were certainly inspired by Wes Anderson’s cutouts which feature in some of his movies.

Full size cut-out set of the Belafonte in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ 

Player choice
We initially designed the game in Twine, so that the game could be simply tested in a web browser. As a result of iterative script writing and testing we arrived at a final version of the script. The player can influence what happens based on their dialogue responses. The game follows our main character Hans as he navigates conversations with his partner, Paul, starting with the first question, “Who Gets Bruiser?” (their dog).

Rooms in the house in ‘Who Gets Bruiser’. What rooms the player visits is related to their dialogue choices.

We designed the game to have multiple endings based on Hans’ responses to Paul; the player will learn new information about the couple as they are transported around different rooms of the house. How will your dialogue choices affect Hans and Paul’s relationship? Do you want them to stay together or do you think they’re better going their separate ways?

Hans opens up to Paul

We attempted to explore the characteristic divide that so many couples face of emotional versus analytical thinking. Contrary to many role playing games we wanted each ending to feel satisfying and justified in its own way, rather than the classic “good” or “bad” endings. Ultimately we still wanted the player to make the final deicsion on whether Hans should leave or stay.

Dialogue flow diagram for ‘Who Gets Bruiser?’. At a certain point in each each room, a scale check is done based on how emotional or analytical Hans’ response have been. This dictates which room the player will go to next, and the ending of the game.

Dialogue system and animation management
To integrate the voice dialogue, text dialogue, dialogue options and to control animation I sought the use of an external third party tool and eventually settled upon the use of Dialogue System for Unity, which has been used in games such as Disco Elysium. It took some time to get used to the tool but eventually it became a hugely efficient part of my toolset, especially when adding all the dialogue recordings into the game.

During the course of development, Alfie wrote 621 lines of dialogue, which are all fully voice acted. Due to the branching nature of the narrative, the player will likely only experience ~30% of this on a single playthrough.

I created a system for automatically blending between different animation states based on the current emotion of the player. Unfortunately, the animation loops sometimes, which is distracting and something I was unable to fix during the short timeline of the project.

Animator nodes for conversational states (don’t read anything into the pentagram)

I’m really proud of what we achieved with ‘Who Gets Bruiser?’ in such a short timespan. In terms of improving the game further, I think that the dialogue splits too aggressively early on, and it is not clear how or why dialogue will push the player down a certain branch. If I spent more time on the game I would like to improve the robustness of the animation system and improve the first section, so the split to a different dialogue route happens more gently.