Feature Article

Destruction AllStars' Narrative Hook Was Always Part Of The Plan

Destruction AllStars features quite a diverse cast of characters with their own reasons to take part in the chaotic competition.

Destruction AllStars Season 1 has begun, adding a battle pass, photo mode, playable character Alba, and 3v3v3v3 competitive mode Blitz to developer Lucid Games' multiplayer demolition derby game. I'm most excited to jump back into the game for Alba, partially to try out her laser beam kit but mostly to see how she adds to the overall story of Destruction AllStars as a veteran of the sport.

In fact, it's Destruction AllStars' diverse assortment of characters that first drew me into the game. I enjoy its gameplay too--anyone down for some Carnado later?--but I keep coming back to the game for its characters. Destruction AllStars is such a wonderful celebration of representation, featuring characters of different races, cultures, genders, sexualities, and body types, plus folks with disabilities--I remember being pleasantly surprised when I realized the always silent Shyft, was, in fact, mute and communicating to the other characters while waiting in the lobby with American Sign Language.

Ahead of Season 1, I sat down for an email interview with game director Colin Berry, art director Chris Davie, lead writer Giles Armstrong, and writer Khaya Ahmed to talk about the storytelling in Destruction AllStars and why the team decided to go so hard on crafting wonderfully unique and diverse characters for a game where you're crashing cars most of the time. Destruction AllStars is an experience that certainly benefits from having a diverse assortment of characters and plenty of dialogue (I love this cast of characters so much y'all) but it's one that didn't necessarily need those things in order to be fun. I was happy to hear that the narrative aspects of Destruction AllStars have always been a part of the game; the team established the importance of storytelling right from the get-go.

Faces Behind The Wheel

"We decided early on that the characters and vehicles had to exist together and have equal importance--even if the gameplay was skewed more towards vehicle action," Berry told me. "The characters allow the momentum of the game to be maintained. We didn't want to have nameless, faceless drivers running around. We wanted characters with personalities that people could latch onto, love or hate. We know not every character will appeal to every player, but that is fine. As the concept grew, so did the role of the characters too. The character hero abilities were not there day one in the concept, but they came as we explored ways of having our characters have more value, and it's an area we are still keen on expanding."

"We had the broad strokes of the game world and the characters pretty fleshed out, as well as general intentions for where we wanted to take it, then we started searching for writers to help us build out from there as well as improve on what we had," Davie added. "We really needed more depth--who are these characters really? What do they think of each other? All the big and small questions."

Davie explained that Lucid Games approached the formation of the art team and writing team the same way: by seeking out diverse voices to better represent the world the studio wanted to create. Lucid reached out to creators around the world for inspiration and research that would inform the characters' designs and backstories, as well as the abilities they possess. The lore of Destruction AllStars was an important part of establishing what the game ought to be.

"[The lore] is really important, it helps make the world feel rich and interesting, also to inspire and spark new ideas in the game," Davie wrote. "The more we know about the world, the more cohesive it feels as we build it out with new features, or content, or cinematics, etc."

Armstrong added that the team looked to well-received depictions of established characters in other mediums as well. Sensitivity readers were brought in to ensure the team maintained the right track--their lived experience was "vital in shaping the characters," and course-correcting when Lucid Games' research and writing "hadn't quite hit the mark."

Giles:
Giles: "I'm hoping we can see [Shyft] use ASL more in the future, though it isn't really viable during gameplay, as he needs to keep his hands on his steering wheel."

"In fact, we've since gotten some of our sensitivity readers on board as writers now, and with future content, we're making a much more concentrated effort to bring in writers with relevant lived experiences, to help make our characters as authentic as we can within the heightened fictional world of Destruction AllStars," Armstrong wrote.

You can see this in Destruction AllStars' writing team: For example, writer Khaya Ahmed is well-known for her consultant work with Marvel Comics on Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel. And Scottish writer Kim MacAskill is behind Season 1's new (very Scottish) playable character, Alba.

"A lot of the characters are also based off of people in our circle, or those whom we admire; I’ve put in a lot of my own dad into Sgt. Rescue (my dad is a retired Air Force pilot who makes his own fair share of dad jokes!)," Ahmed wrote. "Twinkle Riot is an amalgamation of two of my friends who love K-Pop and cosplaying. All in all, though, yes, a lot of research was put into each and every character to make them as authentic as possible! Personally, I remember reaching out to a bunch of people and getting a feel for their mannerisms, their quirks, and then have those resonate in our characters to make them feel as regionally authentic as possible."

Changing Lanes

When I asked the team, Davie wrote that Angelo was one of the earliest characters designed for Destruction AllStars--other characters that were created early on were Boxtop, Lupita, and Xander. "They didn't really change a lot actually, it was more about fully realizing them," Davie wrote.

Characters weren't changed all that much once they reached their final stages of completion. Though once voice actors were brought in, there were a few tweaks here and there with how the characters spoke or acted.

"We had a little improv from the actors, and some great suggestions for line tweaks from our voice director Kirsty Gilmore and senior producer Amy Scott, but yeah, we wrote full gameplay scripts for each of the characters, which--with 16 playable characters at launch, each with scripts close to 800 lines, not to mention a very chatty Commentator, whose script now has more than 4,000 lines--was quite the undertaking," Armstrong wrote. "Even cooking up a watertight template, which I worked on for a long old time with Amy and lead designer Karl Jones, was a big job in and of itself."

Destruction AllStars launched with 16 playable characters, each designed to support different playstyles.
Destruction AllStars launched with 16 playable characters, each designed to support different playstyles.

"But that didn't mean that the actors didn't have room to play, and I believe this is where our diverse VA list came in handy for who truly represented the region the character was from," Ahmed added. "During many of our sessions, I remember, they'd often offer feedback for the regional dialect and local lines and would offer pretty good alternatives to make it even more authentic-sounding. This was especially great with characters like Hana, Lupita, and Bluefang, and made me enjoy those sessions even more because I got to hear their natural accents at work."

When I asked for examples of how characters had changed following the writing team "finishing" them, the team spoke at length about Angelo and Hana. Originally a character from Spain, Angelo was ultimately voiced by Argentinian Federico Louhau, and so the character's vocabulary and background was adjusted to fit the new nationality. Meanwhile, Hana was originally written to be a serious character--Armstrong compared her initial personality to being "Terminator-like." But then the writing team saw that her animations were designed to be charming and goofy, and so her backstory was rewritten to reflect a more charismatic and humorous character, and actor Acushla Tara Kupe was brought in to give the character's vocals a joyous energy and Kiwi wit.

Crafting A Narrative Hook

Ultimately, our conversation came back around to Destruction AllStars' story. Destruction AllStars doesn't have a traditional single-player campaign; instead, the story is delivered in pieces with individual storylines releasing one at a time every few weeks.

"The key thing is keeping the main thrust of the chapter relatively self-contained--what the player-character wants, what's at stake if they fail, what they learn from achieving or failing to complete their goal--mainly because we can't guarantee a player has seen every cinematic and sometimes the release order changes at the last minute," Armstrong wrote.

"For our first year, the primary storytelling aim is introducing the world of Destruction AllStars: introducing the characters, their interpersonal relationships and rivalries, and what's important to them," he continued. "The secondary aim is introducing a small amount of serialized narrative--small pieces of a larger ongoing narrative, where we set things up in the present that will get paid off a little further down the line, and sometimes directly call back to earlier story events, kind of like a much more contained, bite-sized connected universe."

Destruction AllStars Season 1 introduces Alba, a fierce competitor from Scotland that uses a badass-looking battle suit.
Destruction AllStars Season 1 introduces Alba, a fierce competitor from Scotland that uses a badass-looking battle suit.

To me, that sounds an awful lot like how comic books or manga traditionally deliver stories, and the team confirmed that those types of literature did inform how Destruction AllStars' story is told. "Shyft is very much what I consider a shonen hero, the kind of 'coming of age' character whose primary goal is to become the very best at what they do," Armstrong wrote. "These kinds of archetypes are really useful in establishing character personalities within such bite-sized storytelling, but where they really get interesting is in how we subvert them, playing with your expectations to take characters in surprising directions."

Davie also pointed to Saturday morning cartoons, music videos, and popular fashion and toy trends as design inspirations, while Armstrong named the Street Fighter series and wrestling as additional inspirations for the writing. "You can clearly see 'faces' and 'heels' within Destruction AllStars, although if you ask me, it's about time we balanced the scales a bit and brought in a real villain," Armstrong teased.

Beyond fleshing out the characters' backstories, the single-player missions also serve the purpose of providing Destruction AllStars with offline content, so folks can play the game without an Internet connection. "We knew early on that even though we were primarily multiplayer-focused, we wanted to have something for players to enjoy offline," Berry wrote. "We'd been playing around with modes and things that were fun, and some were not immediately suited to online play, but we felt they were cool, so the idea grew to give each character their own challenge series, a way for players to unlock content for that character, and to explore some modes they wouldn't see online.

"Once we had a structure in mind, it made sense to bookend these chapters with short story clips, again fleshing out the world and the characters. People can dip into them as we deliver them, I imagine people will gravitate towards certain characters and have favorites and when that character's series is released, it's a chance to unlock some unique cosmetics, learn a little more about the character, and experience some bitesize gameplay whilst doing it."

If you're thinking about jumping into Destruction AllStars yourself, now is a pretty good time to do so. Exclusively available for PS5, the demolition derby game has a post-launch roadmap that teases three seasons of new content for 2021, beginning with Season 1, which will continue through to June.

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jordanramee

Jordan Ramée

Jordan Ramée is an associate editor on GameSpot's news team. He's been writing about video games for five years, cultivating a skill set that allows him to transform his unhealthy obsession of Mass Effect, Titanfall, indie games, and Assassin's Creed into what he would argue is compelling content (we won't tell him if you don't). Do not let him know that you're playing Hollow Knight--he will take that as a sign that you wish to talk about the lore for the next five hours.

Destruction AllStars

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