Extra Credits: How To Start Your Game Narrative

This week, we explain why settling on a story before you've started your game may be a bad idea.

Show Notes:

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Recent Comments:

  • That doesn't exactly go in the direction i was meaning. I meant a story with rises and falls and characters and people, but everything that happens in the story is something that could just as easily just happen in the gameplay. Using the gameplay to tell a story IN the game, not use the game itself to tell a story, am I just speaking gibberish? I think I am.
    I hope this doesn't come across as a 'back in my day' rant, but here goes:

    As the video points out, older games are frequently the best ones to study when trying to figure out why certain things work the way they do - their mechanics lay bare because the systems of the era simply didn't have the muscle to bury them under detailed graphics, flashy effects, and orchestral scores.

    A similar example is found in Ernest Hemmingway's infamous 'six-word novel': "For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

    Symbolism is an exceptionally powerful narrative tool, though it has two major drawbacks:[list:3voucf7z][*:3voucf7z]It relies heavily on societal context, making it highly subjective[/*:m:3voucf7z][*:3voucf7z]Even when all the other stars align, it's still very difficult to do well[/*:m:3voucf7z][/list:u:3voucf7z]

    [fimg=600,400:3voucf7z]http://www.moonsongs.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/icesculpture.jpg[/fimg:3voucf7z]
    The image above is exceptionally powerful to many viewers, commemorating the loss and anguish of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center. Few Americans who experienced that day can look upon such an image with dry eyes.

    Yet it's power is lost on most people who are from other countries or under the age of fifteen. With little more relevance than a footnote in a history textbook, they generally lack the frame of reference to 'fill in the blanks' of the symbolism. (This is by no means meant in a derogatory fashion.)

    This leads to one place where modern games can (and often do) really shine - their environments. Older games are still valid as a source of reference, but the amount of visual detail newer games are capable of wield a power the old developers could hardly dream of.

    Consider finding a singed ragdoll on a smoldering battlefield. Or the atomic shadows of children burned into the crumbling remains of a school. Or a haggard old man (who should probably be on his deathbed) vigilantly standing guard on his front porch with a makeshift weapon. Or a perfect circle of desolation surrounded by thick forest. Or a seemingly normal town where the NPCs go inside and close the doors as the player approaches.

    What do these convey about the game world and the story the player is engaged with?

    Though these are technically examples of environments, the game's mechanics control when and how the player encounters them. Such examples are commonly referred to as "tentpoles" or "set pieces" - in video games, where you want the player to have a sense of agency, the trick lies in leading them from one to the next.

  • here's a thought, has anyone tried to tell a whole story using mechanics? and i don't mean as an immersion system or as a metaphor, but using the gameplay mechanic to tell a linear story
    James won a bet on that subject with Missile Command.

    [youtube:3eqfia1v]JQJA5YjvHDU[/youtube:3eqfia1v]

    That doesn't exactly go in the direction i was meaning. I meant a story with rises and falls and characters and people, but everything that happens in the story is something that could just as easily just happen in the gameplay. Using the gameplay to tell a story IN the game, not use the game itself to tell a story, am I just speaking gibberish? I think I am.

    Basically, I figure this is really abstract and hard to tell, but so many stories use dialogue and cut-scenes to tell stories (or in Bioshock's case, recorded dialogue). I want a story that tells a full narrative, but uses the mechanics of the game to tell it from start to finish. Which isn't something I very well see often.

    The aforementioned Papers, Please.

    But one must talk about Monopoly here. Its a board game, completely mechanical, but it tells the story of the rise and fall of slumlords and real estate developers, to the point that players can ally or go against one another.

  • hmm, again, while symbolism and subtext is great for telling a story without using narration or cut-scenes, I'm trying for something a little more "literal" I'm sorry, you guys are giving great examples with all of this, but (I never played Papers Please yet so not including this) none of those examples tell a specific story, it's all up to the player to imagine what happened. I mean something akin to a JRPG narrative, but with the story being told in the moment with the mechanics instead of cut-scenes and text-blocks. Like, everything that happens in something that could happen during a fight or sometime when the event isn't happening. I guess that's a bit confusing,but what I mean is, say an event happens where the main villain shows up to kill a character. instead of using a cut-scene to have him kill her, have a fight ensue, but have his stats be high enough that he can kill her and then run-away from the fight, without the game needing to use cut-scenes.

    I guess this is a bit confusing, but what i'm asking for is just a change in perspective where you still tell a full story, in the game, but you use everything the player has, instead of stopping the player to do something they never could.

  • Hey all! First off, love your show, long-time watcher and recently getting caught up on the backlog. I was wondering on your opinion regarding something specific related to this video. I've always wanted to be a game designer, though I've found I lack aptitude with coding and visual artistic ability, which is and has been a disheartening deterrent.

    What I can do, if I might brag a teeny bit, is come up with a great story and engaging concepts, original and real characters; in a word, world-building. I've written a fantasy novel (trying to get it published and working on a sequel), and I've often thought how it could translate into a game that's not just another crappy knockoff cash-in game like so many other licensed games. I have my established plotline with the characters and their story arcs, though there's so much more to the world that could be explored apart from the main conflict. Would it be a good strategy to have 2 separate game modes, the first being the main story and the second more customizable, sand-box style, following a minor character or a custom-made character? For the first mode I would be working the exact opposite way, trying to build mechanics around my established story, so I'm worried it won't be as interesting as anything else I could do (I'm fully aware that reading a book and playing a video game are entirely different experiences). I don't remember, have you dedicated any episodes to adaptations that were successful and why? If not, it would be a very fascinating video. I think I remember something about a topic on why adaptations usually fail, so I'll do some research through the archives. Still, would it be prudent to include the story mode at all? For the moment I'm sticking to writing and generating table-top RPGs, so I would love the chance to branch off into other aspects and finding my own place in the market. Thanks for your indulgence and I would love a response, because James is awesome and I highly praise and respect what you all are trying to do for the "gamer" culture, and for culture in general as well. Keep up the excellent work!

  • here's a thought, has anyone tried to tell a whole story using mechanics? and i don't mean as an immersion system or as a metaphor, but using the gameplay mechanic to tell a linear story
    James won a bet on that subject with Missile Command.

    [youtube:26rlogr6]JQJA5YjvHDU[/youtube:26rlogr6]

    That doesn't exactly go in the direction i was meaning. I meant a story with rises and falls and characters and people, but everything that happens in the story is something that could just as easily just happen in the gameplay. Using the gameplay to tell a story IN the game, not use the game itself to tell a story, am I just speaking gibberish? I think I am.

    Basically, I figure this is really abstract and hard to tell, but so many stories use dialogue and cut-scenes to tell stories (or in Bioshock's case, recorded dialogue). I want a story that tells a full narrative, but uses the mechanics of the game to tell it from start to finish. Which isn't something I very well see often.

    Off the top of my head? The Marriage, Passage, the board game Forbidden Dessert and to a lesser extent it's predecessor Forbidden Island, I seem to recall there's a roguelike that does something like that about alcoholism, made for a 7drl?, I suppose the book system in Tales of the Arabian Nights would be too much like cutscenes, same with the CYOA and Fighting Fantasy books to count, Dwarf Fortress from the way people speak of it, The Sims is, these days, pretty much entirely about this, I think one of the MGS games has most of it's cutscenes scripted in such a way that a Sufficiently Skilled player could pull off all the combat seen in them, Civ might count, I hear good things about the Battlestar Galactica board game, arguably the board game Twilight Struggle does this for "The Cold War. Which part? All of it."...

    ...But since I'm not entirely sure what you mean, I don't know if any of those count.

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