Tell the Truth, Even When You’re Lying
An Interview on Narrative Design by the God of All Vampires
Our resident Narrative Designer Dan Tabayoyon (affectionately known as “The God of All Vampires” on the Blood Vessels Discord) spoke to Kongregate.com recently about writing for the Blood Vessels project and shared his thoughts on what makes the heart of the vampire-inspired NFT game tick. You can read parts 1 & 2 of his missive here and here.
We managed to hunt down the “GoAV” and ask him about his process, crafting the popular interactive “Seeing Red” adventure paths, and what the future of Blood Vessels narrative looks like.
In your intro to the article, you quote Mike Carey — a comic book creator known for the Sandman spin-off series Lucifer. How much does other pop culture media influence your work on Blood Vessels?
I used to work at a brick-and-mortar comic book store in my 20s and, as you can imagine, I read a lot of comic books. I read a lot of superhero stuff growing up, but that job really opened the door to the medium of comics and what was possible there. It definitely helped develop a sense of what works and what doesn’t.
There’s a lot of meta-narrative elements in comics because it engages the reader in such a unique way. The reader fills in the blanks between panels; “in the gutters” as they say. And that’s a form of story engagement that’s not found in practically any other art form, I think.
I assume the quote is meant to be ironic, given the character of Lucifer and the subject matter of your article…
Yeah, I’d say so (laughs).
You talked about how research is what makes “good” narrative design. That truthfulness — even in a work of fiction — is what builds audience engagement. Can you elaborate on that?
For me, audiences are really smart. Nothing makes me grumpier than when I — as an audience member — are made to feel like a piece of art or media doesn’t at least try and respect that intelligence. I’m not the smartest guy, but I know when something seems off in a movie or tv show or book.
In my example, I talked about landmarks and street names in cities where they don’t belong. Whenever I see that, I can’t help but point it out. It doesn’t matter what’s happening on screen or what important dialogue is being said… when I see it I’m completely taken out of the experience.
That said, I think there’s some level of forgiveness and suspension of disbelief that we all kind of go along with for the sake of entertainment. I think most people are familiar that a lot of filming is done in Canada, for example — buildings and forests in places that are supposed to be some U.S. metropolis, usually aren’t.
Nor are there vampires in 1890s Chicago for that matter.
How does this inform your approach to narrative design?
I think I try and make sure all my bases are covered. More than anything else.
You do research.
Yeah, I do a lot of research. Even when I’m making things up, I sort of fact-check everything. I think for every hour I spend writing narrative, I probably spend at least 3 hours Googling or reading or finding old newspaper articles.
I’m no historian, but I could probably tell you a lot of useless information about Chicago now. Enough to be a tour guide on one of their riverboat tours, for sure. (laughs)
Can you give me an example?
Early on in Blood Vessels development, there was a scene where we wanted to have a fight that took place on Navy Pier. Everyone knows it. It’s a cultural and architectural landmark, right? Perfect place for a fight.
So, we wrote the scene and started to put it together and something tickled the back of my brain that made me wonder. I ended up making a trip to the Chicago museum and learned that Navy Pier used to be called Municipal Pier. It wasn’t opened until 1916. Our story takes place in the late 1800s, so it didn’t even exist then.
That seems like an important detail.
If you look at the early “Seeing Red” narratives on [the Blood Vessels] Discord, you can definitely tell I did a lot of geographical research about the Great Chicago Fire, itself.
For the story of Daisy Bennett, I had to figure out which part of the city would be affected by the fire, how it spread, and when certain spots were hit. I had to find out what landmarks survived. I saw pictographs of the bridges that collapsed and the ruins the fire left behind. I read a lot of first-hand accounts.
I also learned a lot about the looting that occurred following the aftermath of that disaster, and the people who organized to form anti-looting gangs to protect their neighborhoods. Store owners hired men to go out and catch people who were looting and there’s all kinds of posters that show what they did to the people they caught. It’s actually pretty awful stuff.
Is this what you mean by “telling the truth”, even when working in fiction?
When digging into this for Seeing Red, I really wanted to honor the city and those people who survived the fire. Even 150 years after the fact. To do anything less felt… well, it felt like I was lying.
It made sense for her to have the encounters Daisy did, based on what happened in Chicago in early October 1871. While there’s an element of fiction to the encounters, they could have happened.
Daisy survives the fire because she comes to accept her power. I think that’s a pretty cool metaphor. And vampire myths have been nothing if not deeply steeped in those kinds of metaphors.
I think that level of detail is what makes the world of Blood Vessels so unique and interesting. The events that act as the set dressing for [the Blood Vessels] world are real.
These events had an incredible impact on the post-industrialist landscape of America, from workers rights to the rise of organized corruption; from architecture and invention to world politics. From the post-Civil War era to the start of World War I just a couple decades later… this time period has a ton to places to explore.
Let’s talk about Blood Vessels some more. You’ve already touched on the setting. What is it about the game itself that you think players should know, in terms of narrative design elements and playability?
I think if we’ve done our jobs, the world of Blood Vessels should be rich enough and complex enough that there’s plenty to sink their teeth into (pardon the pun).
I think that the unique design of the interactive elements of Blood Vessels means that players can take control of that narrative and really steer it into new and interesting avenues. Who knows where they’ll go!?
I think the goal for me is for players to feel like the world is lived in, realistic, and palatable. That way ultimately it’ll be their choices and decisions that dictate what drive the stories we tell in the future.
It’s an exciting time for us! I can’t wait to see what our audience thinks of next.
Blood Vessels minting begins October 26th, 2022. Visit bloodvessels.io and join the Blood Vessels Discord at https://discord.gg/bloodvessels