Yes you’re on the right track. Eliza is “player” driven and of course the joke of Eliza is that she gives you nothing. That was an exercise in twisting sentence structure. (I had that assignment in school - write Eliza in “lisp”.) There absolutely needs to be some compelling (the minute you say “absolutely” counter examples start churning, but I’m going with it for now) issue(s) afoot. Most of the ideas I’ve had have the human arriving very late - at crisis time. There is something about to happen, someone in trouble, something that just happened. They vary some in initial intensity, but very early on something needs to sweep the character along, and the human with them. This could occur with a character and NPC in partnership or in conflict.
At the moment I don’t have a good mechanism to handle multiple NPC’s in a “group chat”. But I could certainly manage serial encounters with different NPC’s. I have thought a bit about “separate games” running on different transports (in this case email addresses) that talk to the same player. This is nowhere fleshed out. So for now it is one NPC or serial NPCs. For initial games I think it would be better to stick to one NPC.
Alabaster was neat as a conversational game, but it was somewhat passive. The plot and topics leaked out in conversation which was excellent, but I found that I was primarily driven by “topics” command and of course what the game said for me. instead one might receive a text message from someone who apparently just had a single car accident. As the conversation unfolds you learn… They’re on a deserted road and no one has come by for a while. Their phone is messed up (cracked screen and such) and you’re the only person they’ve been able to reach. Their head hurts, which probably explains their amnesia. And as you work them through searching the car for clues, either you suggest (or the NPC steers the conversation if you don’t) to look in the trunk, where you guessed it they find a bloody shovel and blanket (or the more obvious body). The idea is to introduce a mystery to be solved, locking out standard forms of gaining assistance, and hopefully grabbing the player’s attention. In this scenario the NPC isn’t a puppet, but might be puppet-ish with amnesia and a concussion. As time goes on though that would probably change.
So writing this (even this quick intro) would mean handling the specifics of the safety/car/amnesia stuff, but also a lot of basic intro stuff (who are you, why call me, etc.) that would mean that the above intro and all the other stuff that goes along with waking up in a car accident might likely be quite a bit of conversation.
I think the idea of “dual driving” will be interesting to work with. By that I mean I want the story to drive events, compelling the player as much as the NPC, but in the end there will be a number of story points that need to be dealt with and if the human doesn’t take things there, then the NPC might be able to (think the movie The Game). So if the human suggests leaving the car and going for help before the trunk has been searched, the NPC must hint or just plain get explicit. In some situations, maybe not and there is just a missed clue, but for some major story points I’d expect to have to cover that with the NPC.
One of my son’s was commenting on a book he just read for school. He said it was very disappointing because the main character (NPC) made almost no decisions that effected the outcome. So the NPC probably should be active (or at least appear to be).
By ARG-ish, I mean two things:
-The player remains the player (not assuming another character in-game) so there is not transition in and out of the game. It’s always on.
-There could be real-world research etc. that could add to the realism. An example is finding some transit schedule, or using clues about real actual weather (I would reach out to a weather site and grab the live info for some place on the planet) to help locate the NPC.