"I'm Lauren, I'm a game developer, I'm in my late twenties, and I'm not sure if I want kids."
So began Ustwo senior artist Lauren Cason, who kicked off the second day of Ludicious 2018 on maternal narratives.
She went on to talk about how society, and even Google, has started to question when she's going to have children or start thinking about dating and marriage.
This has led her to think about traditional narratives surrounding mothers in games, which typically includes caring mothers which send the hero on their way, and "dead moms".
"I don't want to be any of these moms," noted Cason, adding that she wished there more options for narratives for mothers, or even games where you can play as the mother.
On the flipside, "we are in the time of the dad", including AAA console titles such as God of War, The Last of Us, and even indie dating simulator Dream Daddy.
Cason believes that media leading up to today often either characterises mothers as "evil", particularly with stepmothers, or "good", but end up dying a tragic death for the plot.
This may be due to a lot of male writers who chose to write about their own experiences with fatherhood, and whether intentionally or not, ignoring mothers in the process.
Telling a new story
Ustwo, however, has turned to mother-focused narratives with its last game, Monument Valley 2. Cason notes that it has been quite successful so far, saying that "we comfortably surpassed the first game by most metrics."
The game wasn't initially designed to focus on the mother-daughter relationship, and instead used a large number of characters telling a lot of different stories.
When playtesting the game, the studio found that testers particularly loved one story which focused on a mother and her daughter, so the team focused in on that idea.
Not all ideas from the prototypes were thrown out, however. The "independent puzzles", where players control both characters, were originally used in a prototype for "star-crossed lovers", according to Cason.
The team also wanted to make sure they told the narrative of the mother specifically – Ro, the lead protagonist, is named, while the child remains nameless, for example.
Tech tells stories
The narrative was also told through the level design and technology. Ustwo implemented numerous puzzles where the two characters are split off from each other, but the player understands that the child will always follow Ro, allowing for interesting puzzle solutions along with emotional impact.
Later levels remove Ro almost entirely from the equation, as she watches over from a separate platform while the player takes control of the child.
The AI also created new emotional moments by accident. In one scene, where the two characters are narratively separated, the child AI immediately attempted to run towards Ro as it was programmed to.
While technically a mistake, the team became emotionally attached to the run, with Caron saying that "it broke all our hearts", so it was kept in the final game.
The team also used a very limited number of assets for the game, while telling powerful stories. One such asset is the "hug" animation, which is the same each time, but is used in several different contexts to tell different stories each time.