INNOVATIVE WRITING STYLES FOR RPGS

In order to keep the creative flow going, I'm going to outline various RPGs which utilize deriative writing styles.

Bad Guy Notice
Please do not distribute, post, or profit from this material. This material is only allowed to be posted on my website, the forums with which I associate with, and on any webmaster/forum member's website/blog space whom has asked permission before posting or blogging it. Sale of this and any of my material, whether online or physically, is strictly prohibited.

Entertainment Notice
This material, and any material that I post, is strictly for entertainment and knowledge/learning purposes. It is not designed as a be-all, end-all tutorial. It is not designed to fix and/or alleviate your game or book of any negative criticism or hype, all of which should be expected when creating either a game or book. This material should solely be used as a guideline in addition to your current writing and creation styles. Use at your own risk--I cannot guarantee or take responsibility for the use of this material.

Writing Style Notice
I am a very technical and theoretical writer. To me, it is just as important to know the background and theories of various subjects, supported by various examples...as opposed to, for example, listing items and offering vague descriptions and suggestions for what I think you should do with your game. Knowledge is power, and doing is learning.

Onwards.

My intention with this article is to attempt to introduce different screenplay and storytelling styles for the sake of originality, self-improvement and interest factor. Again, please note that I will not be focusing much on the character side of things in this article, but instead purely on the storyline side. Any characters that are mentioned are purely consequential and necessary for example purposes.

Speaking of examples, this article may be lacking in a wide variety of examples from commercial video games. The reason is mostly because these ideas would be fairly difficult to utilize in a video game, and are much easier in a piece of fiction---however, creative minds who can use some of the examples listed here will certainly gain the attention and support of gamers who are tired of the same threaded storylines.

Introduction
There are many RPGs out today, all of which follow different storytelling method. Interesting, innovative games that tend to stand out apart from the crowd story-telling wise are extremely rare. The reason that most of these games will want to follow a basic linear storytelling style encompasses two main reasons:
  • a) To avoid utter failure and disrespect from gamers and consumers;
  • b) To preserve interest in the main characters, and to promote familiarity within the gaming community.


What this means, is that commercial developers would rather remain in the confines of comfortable developing while generating profits, as opposed to taking a chance and risking failure and huge losses. Also, by deriving from a generic linear storyline, developers realize that they would risk trading overall character development for the sake of a better, or originally-conveyed story. A perfect example of this would be SaGa Frontier 2, which feature various different characters while conveying one whole plot. You can advance with the game however you please, and the story will make sense regardless of which way you opt to continue.

Linear vs. Non Linear
The Real Brickroad from http://www.rpgmaker.net wrote a huge piece about Linear vs. Non Linear RPGs, describing in full detail what they mean respectively and the pros and cons of each. I will now formally thank him for saving my fingers a bunch of grief. If you don't know what's the difference between a linear, and a non-linear storyline, I suggest you read his article titled: When Linearity Attacks! The reason that I bring this up in my article is because, with few exceptions, the specific writing tactics that I will outline are designed for linear storyline---not so much non-linear, although it is possible. However, for simplification purposes, any writing style that I introduce will be introduced in a linear style.

Let's get down to some theory.

Innovative Writing Styles for RPGs: Chronology
As far as RPGs go, although the elements that are in the RPG can vary drastically from project to project (animation, graphics, sounds, storyline, elements, etc), the way the storyline is conveyed is traditionally chronologically, starting from a point where the character realizes a conflict/crisis, and ending at the point where the conflict is resolved, usually with the added benefit of saving the world in the process. And if you can think of one commercial RPG that isn't designed in this manner, you would be better off than me, because I'm hard pressed to think of more than a scant few.

In Lufia I: The Fortress of Doom, you start out as Maxim, Selan, Guy and Arty, who will make an appearance in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. The significance of this is, while the individual games follow a chronological storytelling method, the entire story is told in reverse, with the hero of legend Maxim appearing in the second game, and his descendant appearing in the first. It's a very interesting way to portray the storyline, and the second game does a fantastic job of portraying the legendary heroes and closing every loose end, up until the final scenes.

In Final Fantasy X, Tidus begins in his dream world of Zanarkand, which no longer exists in the world, playing Blitzball and being his usual cool self. He then somehow gets tossed into present-day Spira, which is somehow technologically de-vanced, yet sometime in the future (or perhaps just not Dream World). Again, the storyline is portrayed chronologically (which is almost impossible to avoid) but with the twist of time/space travel.

Same thing with Chrono Trigger. The storyline is portrayed chronologically--but only to the player. Crono is warping across various instances of time and space attempting to restore the natural order of things, and it makes for interesting dialogue and ultimately, innovative style. It's ultimately a shame that I cannot think of any other instances where storyline derives from the usual dual-chronological setting (both the character and the player see a chronological story unfolding).

Innovative Writing Styles for RPGs: Point of View
Another common RPG storytelling element that I see is the character Point of View element. While this one is much more difficult to innovate on, it's not impossible to come up with solutions to make your game follow something else other than the character. For example, Final Fantasy XII's storyline is partly told by an unknown third person, who is explaining the details of the background storyline and Ivalice, as the story unfolds. And while, again, I'd be hard pressed to remember them, I'm sure there are a few games whose storylines are dependant on a third person depicting the tale.

The innovation of having a bystander storyteller is that they can relay events that happened in true chronological order. For instance, if while our hero is fighting a giant rat, an explosion occurs in the southwest sector of the labyrinth he's currently located at, we can change scenes to reflect that our bystander is conveying this information to us. Otherwise, realistically, our hero (and us) would not know about the explosion unless they heard it, or somehow found out about it.

Enough theory! Next are some innovative writing ideas and storyline deviations that this community can have fun with.

Finish-Start-Finish
Not so different from the Lufia I/Lufia II bit, this could consist of a band of heroes who come across some unusually powerful wizard. The group is completely annihilated/world is destroyed, and the storyline rolls back to a previous point in the story to explain how this calamity could have come to pass. Perhaps a twist is that our hero dreamt about this calamity happening (which would make it forward chronological) or perhaps our hero was somehow saved and reverted back in time to correct the disaster. Again, this is only an example, and creativity is especially necessary when telling a storyline in reverse. Even Lufia I didn't have it this bad, because perhaps Natsume just threw in Maxim to explain why his descendant had the swordfighting ability that he did, and then looked back and said heeeey....we can make a second game out of that guy..etc.

Bystander Storytelling
I semi-explained this in the Point of View section above, but basically this involved a third person who may or may not have some affiliation with the main character. Of course, since the third person isn't really part of the game, multiple events can be streamed in one for a better storytelling experience. For example, the omniscient bystander may happen to know the exact date of births of the hero(s) and villain(s) of the story. They would also know exactly when specific events happened, and what caused the events to happen (whereas following a character, the character would only know what happened, and would be hard-pressed to find out why).

Even though a certain amount of mystery is possibly lost in the Bystander Storytelling point of view, a possible twist could be events that would unfold in the present tense involving the bystander...or maybe the bystander is a surprise person that was throughout the whole game, and the audience didn't know about it..etc.

Event-oriented Storytelling
Event-oriented storytelling (EOS) involves the story revolving around an event. Instead of a character encountering multiple events, we can think of it as an event which multiple characters encounter. The closest movie I can think of that utilizes this style of storytelling is Vantage Point, a relatively new movie that was recently released. In this movie, the storyline is revolved around one event that is seen through the eyes of many different characters in the film. In fact, the movie was ultimately labelled redundant, because it involved the same event, over and over again, through the point-of-view of various different characters.

Here's another way to visualize this: When the towers fell in 2001, exactly where were you when it happened? What were you doing? What were you thinking about at the time? Were you watching TV when it happened? If not, how did you ultimately find out about it? Now, multiply and quantify that throughout the rest of the world (most of whom will be able to answer the questions I just presented) and you have an EO scenario, where the characters are revolving around the event.

While I have my doubts about how interesting one event would be in an entire RPG game, we can borrow this element from Vantage Point for specific events in our storyline. For example, if you've ever played through Earthbound for the SNES, at the end of the game the group is fighting Giygas for the sake of the planet, and you are supposed to make Paula pray during a certain amount of times to ultimately win the battle. Every time Paula prays, we get a new scene that shows a friend/group of friends from every corner of the world offering their strength in prayers.

In Jack's case, our Super CIA-Operative infused with Type-1 enhancers in my last article (5 Common Writing Pitfalls), perhaps he comes across a character in the story who he believes will help him recover his wife and children. So while he is explaining exactly what happened to this new character, the screen fades out and the character is thinking about the role he played in that event, or during that time frame. This is a rather weakish example, but I'm sure you guys get the point.

Object-oriented Storytelling
Object-oriented storytelling (OOS) is very similar to EOS in that the story doesn't follow the character. However, in OOS, the story is following a specific object, as opposed to an event.

I can't think of an RPG whose whole storyline is OOS-based. However, in Lufia I and II, parts of the storyline are based on the Dual Blade, which the main character must secure at some point during that storyline. You get a few lines of background dialogue here and there, and parts of the story follow the Dual Blade. Again, the whole storyline isn't based on the Dual Blade, but only a certain percentage of it. Once you find out, and acquire, the Dual Blade, it's mentioned a few more times by very angry villains, and the storyline is close to the end.

Again, there would be striking similarities comparing EOS and OOS side by side, but the greatest difference is that the creativity required for an object-oriented RPG is substantially higher than either event-oriented, or traditional storyline. The reasons lie, first of all, in character development. For example, let's assume that we decide to make a game that's based on a cursed sword. So we start with the creation of this cursed sword, which may be a blacksmith who is possessed with making the most powerful blade in the world. His greed, and lust for blood attracts the attention of a demon who infuses powers into the blacksmith, and upon creating the cursed sword, the sword consumes his soul and moves on to another owner.

Obviously, since the storyline is following a sword, we can assume that any character that comes in contact with this powerful sword will have incredible fighting prowess; but their days numbered. Therefore, one of the creative aspects is to figure out how to present the gameplay in an interesting, and perhaps innovative, but definitely fun way. If the player becomes discouraged because every time he levels up a new character, the character ends up dying, s/he is not going to like your game. Or you.

Perhaps a twist would be that our blacksmith creates an artifact along with the sword that nullifies its curse, and the aim of the game is to find the artifact within certain restrictions before it completely consumes you. Or perhaps the sword finds its way to a character who is insistant on surviving with this powerful blade, and it creates a string of conflicts, including hero vs. his arrogance, hero vs. sword, etc.

Another creative roadblock to an OOS-based game is the ending. I honestly can't think of an ending to the above example without using the demon as a final stopping point (destroy the demon to break the curse) or somehow throwing more characters into the mix. However, an OOS game would probably be refreshing, and interesting for the creator.

In conclusion...
So overall, there are several different creation styles, and point-of-views to any one event. While I'm not suggesting that you confine a single game to a single style presented in this article, it wouldn't hurt at all to spice up your game by borrowing a few of these ideas (or creating your own!) for specific points in the storyline. It would certainly add flavor to your game, and set you apart from the crowd in terms of creativity.