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  1. #1

    Found documents: books, letters, diaries

    These have been a trusty storytelling tool for many years, but it doesn't mean it was always used well. Sometimes they provide insight into the world, its characters, the story. Sometimes they just bury the player in endless lore dumps. I think they serve the game well when they stay strictly optional, an addition to the story, not a primary vehicle of storytelling.
    My favorite piece of found lore is this log from Fallout 3 -- it has nothing to do with the story itself, but contextualizes these empty buildings where we kill monsters, reminding the player that once they were full of people -- and telling firsthand how these people felt when the bombs fell. Fallout 3 might not be the best game in the series, but this log, in my opinion, is a masterpiece in how it manages to humanize the shooty-shooty gameplay.
    The worst piece I can remember happened in Blackwell Legacy -- a point&click adventure where, after several puzzles and dialogues you get an envelope with staggering 25 pages of letters, all absolutely necessary for understanding the story. To his credit, in the commentary the game's creator himself says "what was I thinking". This is how you don't tell a story.
    What are your thoughts on the subject, and most/least favorite found documents?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Naliamegod's Avatar
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    Jul 2017
    Beijing, China
    I will never forget reading "Itchy, tasty" as a kid when playing Resident Evil. Short but it is both memorable, creepy, and actually gives out a ton of information in a way that doesn't make it sound like "Hey, here is a hint of the final boss!"

  3. #3
    Senior Member Pathfinder's Avatar
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    Jul 2017
    Stolen Lands
    - Books are nice (if given rights by Paizo) touch. As an history and stuff what is "nice to know" for those who care. But are not essential for game = back lore from world or so.
    - Diaries might be nice source for (shorter then books!) telling lore and backstory for certain "boss" monster / encounter / happening what players actually encounter in the game. Not "must to know" (after all quite many care only for XP and items, not how and why let's say human choose to live deep down in cavern without any easy to see food source considering how 2 level up are filled with traps and mosters)
    - Letters MIGHT have some actual information, they should be short (well, relative atleast, if books can easily be long like bible letter can be maybe a4 or so.. long but not hours or days to read in real life...). For actual information I mean "hidden" stuff like "castle nearby, when I was little kid and feed pigs there it was SO much faster to go between rocks, jump that little jump and go..." <= hidden way to enter place X or even something like "By anyone having this document is granted to rule in Stolen Lands by Grand Duchy of Omnom nom..." (letter of marque for privateers, I assume bit like our would be baron/later king will have)

    Not to mention (I actually did this a LOT in Neverwinter Nights PW where I was first a player, then GM then headGM) little "blast from the past" may it be easy thing like how to skin animal with using his/her own weight and stone knife or how to use animal own brain to make leather soft and make it last longer, what is good wood to make longbow, how to make it and stuff like that. It might be interesting for players (some would love it, some would skip it but anyway)

    I would personally love to read lore for "manual of Main Gauche" (left hand parrying dagger) and I believe there are quite plenty of free (not copyrighter) material from medieval times for different ways to use different weapons/arnour sets, how to maintain them and so on. True, "game" would not benefit from it. Player who only want XP and items would not care from them. But many, MANY players would really love them. True they would find them from internet.. ..but still. Nice touch.

    Edit: now when we are in the subject I am currently trying to make something litle I call for "I first start thinking this little "adventure" or story to use as "Summon Chris Avellone in this board"" <= story to Summon Chris Avellone in this board". And in that I do have mentioned one of the swords I have: here is review. If you fellows happen to include nice manual how vikings actually used they swords it might be fun to read :)
    Last edited by Pathfinder; 08-02-2017 at 09:57 AM.
    "Road to the man's heart go through the chest"

  4. #4
    Community Manager Berserkerkitten's Avatar
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    Jun 2017
    Nottingham, UK
    I know it's childish, but I had a giggle at the Lusty Argonian Maid back in TES III: Morrowind. I couldn't believe they'd even put such a thing in there! Of course the joke got old after its third or so iteration, because it's like telling the same joke over and over again, but I thought it was funny the first time around.

    My least favourite type of found 'document' is the audio log. They can be alright in some games, but by my experience you often get interrupted by random NPCs chatting you up, monsters attacking out of nowhere or other stuff you do in-game before you ever get a chance to finish listening to the log. And there are too many videogame diaries ending in, "They're coming!", usually folowed by a description of how the pages turn bloody. It's amazing how many videogame characters get the opportunity to scribble down the last moments of their lives.
    Ye cannae touch this! - Clan McHammer

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Naliamegod View Post
    I will never forget reading "Itchy, tasty" as a kid when playing Resident Evil.
    Oh, yes! Diaries of people slowly dying, descending into madness or becoming corrupted are a very special genre, and a staple of horror games. Just remembered Lisa Garland's diary in Silent Hill 1 -- that was brief, but delivered an emotional punch right to the guts.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Stratagemini's Avatar
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    Jul 2017
    Quote Originally Posted by Thainen View Post
    Oh, yes! Diaries of people slowly dying, descending into madness or becoming corrupted are a very special genre, and a staple of horror games. Just remembered Lisa Garland's diary in Silent Hill 1 -- that was brief, but delivered an emotional punch right to the guts.
    Also Diaries of People being kidnapped and driven mad by that which lies beneath them! Derros mostly. In Golarion, it's probably Derros.

    Batman's Patient Logs were fun too because they both felt like a game to collect them all, and they had a common theme, and they shed light on the specific events the Protagonist was enmeshed in.

    I also liked the Cinnabar lab Documents and the way they explained both lore and a secret boss (MewTwo and Mew).

    The Companion Cube Room in Portal was really neat too.

    I liked Rael'Zorah's final logs for Tali (and the way that Tali reacts to them if she's in your party) and the Ramblings of the crew on the Derelict Reaper "A dead God can still Dream!' The best example of a sort of found document in the ME games was actually the Alliance News network Twitter Feed. It starts at 8:05 AM on March 5th 2012, and ends at 7:45pm the same day but Emily Wong's live news report literally brought tears to my eyes when I read it the first time.

    Diablo III's Fully voiced codex is really cool too. I like the arbitrary skepticism of the Narrator (when it's not Deckard Cain at least) and the fact that you only find the documents after killing the monster in question makes the whole bit feel reminiscent of that line from the Princess Bride: "Rodents of unusual Size? I Don't think they exist." They also remind me of the old Volo's Guide to All Things Magical" Bits you found in Neverwinter Nights 2. I'd absolutely love for the Codex/Bestiary to have small articles from a monster guide with that sort of narrator (even if they weren't voiced).

    Tomb Raider (2013) did the found document bit really well and I loved examining them and getting Lara's take on various Artifacts and letters and the way they really painted a picture of the Island. I looked at each and every one of those documents/artifacts. Between that and the room in Portal, it really brought home the idea that found documents don't always need to be Books.

    Skyrim did it particularly well in Frostflow Abyss. The Lusty Argonian maid was fun, but to be honest? 90% of the books in Skyrim went unread for me because they didn't seem unique or interesting. They all seemed the same. You got Multiple copies of the same book and because of limited book models they even looked the same even when they different books! It was super hard to keep track of what you had read and what you hadn't.

    Another example of the Trope done badly was Pillars of Eternity. All the books looked the same graphically (similar icons), they were hard to look through, they got thrown in haphazardly to the stash, and there was no way to sort between what I had read or what I hadn't, and what was plot relevant or what wasn't. Looking for the specific "tattered note" I needed for any given quest was an exercise in futility that made me want to shoot my brains out. I absolutely loathed the books in Pillars of Eternity and wanted to become a book-burning luddite.

    So, basically, that's what I want out of my documents: I want Documents to be unique both visually and in what they say. I want the documents to tell a story that's related to my character in the game, even if the story is that the document's author is a bumbling idiot that is lucky to still be alive and my Character probably wants to wring their fool neck for being so actively unhelpful (thanks Diablo and Neverwinter Nights!). I want them to be interesting and well written. I want them to be sortable (both by plot relevance and by what I've already read). And finally, I don't actually want all of them to be documents. I want some to be bestiary entries, or Journal entries which update in my quest log, and some to be rooms or statues or artifacts.

    I hope that's helpful.
    Last edited by Stratagemini; 08-02-2017 at 03:10 PM.

  7. #7
    Member Ulfgeir's Avatar
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    Jul 2017
    Borås, Sweden
    Would love books and letters etc that makes the world feel alive, and that not everything is centered around the main character.
    I have not lost my mind, it is backed up somewhere on disc...

  8. #8
    Senior Member Wraith's Avatar
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    Jul 2017
    San Diego
    I love found documents, they enrich the story, add personality and can give clues to harder to find quests. I also play pathfinder because of the lore and story. I hope we see this in game.
    [I]Vivat Grendel![/I]

  9. #9
    Senior Member praguepride's Avatar
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    Jul 2017
    Chicago, IL
    In my opinion there are four categories of "found books and letters" and while they all serve a purpose, it needs to be done right. My favorite whipping post, Pillars of Eternity, is a good example of WHAT NOT TO DO.

    Book after book after book that I just...don' about to read. As Strategemini said, they all looked alike and it was hard to sort through them because you couldn't control your inventory. At least in BG2 I could have a bag of holding for my unread and a bag for my read. In Skyrim/Oblivion I would have bookshelves with my "to-read" and others with my "read" sections on them.

    Anyway, ON TO THE POST!!

    1) Plot/Quest Specific: Can we PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE use the journal system for these. You read the note, and a message pops up saying "recorded in your quest log" and then it DISAPPEARS!!! PoE did this horribly because every note is labeled "Bloody note" or "Scrawled note" or "Crumpled note" and one of those is important for deciphering a clue to a quest while the others are shopping lists. GOOD LUCK FIGURING OUT WHICH IS WHICH. I hate hate hate having to sort through item after item that was clearly quest specific. In PoE it even dumps the notes in your special "quest item only" section but if you have a lot of active quests they get lumped together and you're spent pawing through your scrap collection trying to figure out whether it was the crumpled note or the crumbled note that had the riddle you had to solve.

    Instead of buggering up our inventory just copy it over to the quest log and MAKE IT DISAPPEAR so I don't have to worry about it anymore. I don't need a reminder in my inventory that sells for 1cp and just clogs up the game. When you read one of those important quest notes a message in the log can say "copied to the journal" and then poof, it never needs to be looked at again!

    2) 'Audio logs' as we'll call them. Journal entries and diaries. Specific people writing about specific events in a specific way. I agree with BK that an awful lot of people seem to pen their very last words. Not how I would spend my last few seconds scribbling out ARRRGGGH with my own entrails. Besides the overly used "they're coming" "they're here" tropes these are generally done well. PoE, BG, Skyrim etc. all had nice logs. Fallout does this really well as well but the voice acting helps convey the sense of urgency and emotions and the "audio recorder" allows for those ARRRGH last moments a little better. I like these, and I think it's great as a way for the game designers to provide a sense of mood setting and background. You fight an evil bandit lord and murder him to bits only to find out from his diary that he has like a family of 20 back home that he's trying to raise money for and buy out of slavery. Stuff like that can make environments, dungeons, and especially characters memorable. I'd love to be able to pick an NPC's locks and find their secret diary. Anyway as said, these are generally done very well and don't need much more commentary.

    3) History & Geography. These are the kinds of books you use to share stories about the wider world. It was really cool in Skyrim reading about the events from Oblivion and in Oblivion reading about what happened in Morrowind. This is an EXCELLENT way to foreshadow other adventure paths as well as to share the Golarion universe to a new audience. Baldur's Gate did this very well as well but...and I say this with as much intensity as I can manage: YOU DON'T HAVE TO WRITE EVERY ONE LIKE A TEXT BOOK!!! Looking at you PoE. I highly recommend reading classical historical novels. Books like The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire had real character to them. Historians shape the world we live in. Why is Catherine the Great misinterpreted as death by horse? Why is Caligula so mad? Why Cleopatra considered the most beautiful woman of the ancient world? Because historians with agenda said so. I would love to see "historical and lore" books written with some real personality. It is very immersion breaking when it is akin to just reading a splat book about an area. Nothing is obscure, nothing is biased, there is no question that what is written is the word of god. I would love to see two competing viewpoints like from Skyrim/Oblivion/Morrowind. There was the Official Biography of the Wolf Queen but also a scandalous series that supposedly went into what really happened. It would be amazing if in one series of books was a "famous" explorer detailing all sorts of the realms and then another series of books calling the first idiotic and going through lengthy corrections. A Gilderoy Lockhart like character on one side and actual explorers and researchers on the other.

    I understand the hesitation behind it because if players only read some books and not others you might mislead them but first I say: Who would only read a couple of random books and take that as WORD OF GOD? I mean..well some people because everyone is so used to it but I wouldn't worry about it too much. I mean honestly, you're worried that some people might misinterpret your imaginary realm based on someone else's imaginary realm? I think the internet can handle someone thinking that ONLY the most beautiful of Nymphs live in the Irrisen or that the Eye of Abdago stretches to the very edge of the world. Not every "historical" book needs to be 100% factual and unbiased because that's not how the world works. I think a good approach would be to take a couple of minutes and think about who the writer is and what is their motivation behind writing? Are they trying to become famous? Spread propaganda? Push a specific narrative? Or maybe they're just bad at what they do or prone to flights of fancy?

    D&D did this quite well with the Volo's Guides books where you had an editor of sorts, the Gandalf expy Elminster writing corrections in the margins to keep the reader from getting led too far astray but the Volo guides were great because they had personality! I still remember the joy of collecting the entire set of the Wolf Queen books so I could finally figure out the real history of this fascinating character.

    One thing that Owlcat games has the opportunity for is to really dive deep into the history of the River Kingdoms. I had a brief chat with one of the writers of the Guide to the River Kingdoms books and from what I can tell there isn't a lot of untold stuff in that area. What is published is what there is so there is a MOUNTAIN of opportunity to go into the history of the river kingdoms in a way that has never been done before.

    4) Silly/Fun/Short Stories - Books that have no purpose other then the writers felt like writing them. Baldur's Gate and Elder Scrolls did these well because of the sheer variety. Cook books and poems and the like. Masters of Orion 3 had secret encyclopedia entries that did silly jokes like:
    Give a man a fish... but it finishes customizes for each race. Give an Ikthul (think Flood) a fish and it will convert the fish into a hive-minded army and destroy the fisheries!

    It doesn't have to be great but just fun little things are fine as long as they don't go crazy. Too many of PoE's books had no purpose. All the loooong and boring treaties on worshiping this god or that...ugh. Have some fun!

    Also I would be VERY disappointed if the Prodigal Sons books weren't turned into like a 12 or 18 book set (with an achievement for finding and reading them all!)
    I know! Start swinging! Eventually you'll lop off the head of someone important and then the good fights will REALLY start!
    -- Lilarcor

  10. #10
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    Jul 2017
    In Dragon Age Origins, i remember being in the Deep Roads, in Kal'Hirol, and this little book in the corner add SO MUCH to the atmosphere itself.
    It was describing the preparation for the last stand to the Dwarves who where left behind or choose to fight to allow the others to escape. It was so long ago, and yet everything, their own sacrifice has been forgotten except for that little book.

    It was a desperate moment for them, and when you walk that halls, there was only silence.
    It was an amazing job. Sadness and Oblivion bend together.

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