A DELUGE OF LETTERS

How you can fill up a game description without resorting to lists!

  • Liberty
  • 01/23/2016 07:43 AM
  • 3423 views
Hi there, Liberty here. Big time fan. Love your work. Can I get an autograph? Thanks! ^.^



Now that that's out of the way, let's talk game pages... again. Oh, don't look at me like that. It won't take long, promise!

A trend that I've noticed during my time as Game Submission Staffer is that sometimes it can be hard for people to think what to write about their games. I understand that sometimes people find it hard to say anything about their game, but quite a lot of times we get one sentence on plot (if lucky) and then a ramble about:
= how they got in to game making
= why they made the game and how
= LOOK AT ALL MY SYSTEMS AND HERE ARE ALL THE CREDITS FOR THEM!!!
= sdjlfahsdgha;sdhgahghasd;lalsjdrajsdghasgbhaohgaw;oehtfiahrgkhasd;lfjla;dsjflasdjglasdthere that's 500 characters right?
= page stretching letters


When it doubt, hold Q for quailing queue queeper!


It's a sad state of affairs when people want others to play their game but can't find anything to say about the game to get people interested. If you can't find something to say about it, why should people bother to play it, after all? There's really no incentive.

Of course, there are some games where you can't really say much about them because of the type of game they are and we give them a bit more leniency, but we still ask that they try to give a small plot description. Even Mario, Sonic and Q*bert have something that can be said of a plot, after all. Things like tech demos or minigames like Tetris is understandable, and will be given a bye, but a lot of the time I've noticed horror games, RPGs and the like, usually with gameplay of up to an hour or more, have this issue.

3-5 sentences is the minimum we ask for when it comes to a plot description (and it is part of the rules that something be said of the plot itself) which is pretty short if you think about that 100+ hour sprawling RPG epic that you just wrote two lines about. A paragraph is enough to give potential players an idea about what they're about to experience. You don't have to spoil the game story, but give them something to look forward to, to draw them in!

Hence the reason for this article - to give tips about plumping up those descriptions a little and giving you the ins and outs of making a decent game synopsis. What is a synopsis? The dictionary definition of ‘synopsis’ is ‘a brief description of the contents of something’. In this case, you want to inform the player of the important details without spoiling much about what happens in the game. A lot of the time this means focussing on the start of the journey and the overall goal.


How to Start
It all starts with asking yourself questions and then turning the answers into sentences. This is the easiest way to make a decent description. The easiest method is to ask yourself a lot of Who, What, Where, Why, How and When questions.

Who are the main characters? What is their goal? Why are they invested in this story? Where is this all taking place? When? How will they reach their goals?

For example:
Linda is the daughter of a buccaneer who was lost at sea. She wants to find her father. She loves her father very much. There is an island that moves which is where she believes her father has vanished to. Two months prior. She will take control of her father's crew and search the island.


Character-based
A lot of the time people start with a general introduction to the character and their motives, before introducing the quest. You can use this part to give a feel of who the character is and what their life was like before the adventure begins. It focuses on the character foremost and why the story applies to them. This is usually a good idea when the game focuses on the character and plot itself, above most other aspects.

To use our example from before:
Linda never liked the ocean. The sound, the smells, the way it took her father away from she and her mother, months at a time. Growing up in a little sea-side village meant she learned to live with it, but she never liked it. Then came the day her father didn't return. The day she decided to set sail on her own journey across that damnable blue to search for an island that might not exist, where tales said he'd last been seen. The day she decided she didn't dislike the ocean anymore.
She hated it.


Granted, it's not a strong example, but it gives a glimpse of the character, what the journey is, why she embarks and where the story is going. It's got a bit more punch than straight out listing the questions, and gives a decent enough hook with a deeper look at the character and her feelings about what is going on.


Setting-based
Another way to introduce a story is to focus on the setting instead of the character. This way you divorce the player from the personal aspect and take on a more third-person approach. This is best used in games where the setting is a big part of the story or when the characters are not represented much in the story or are stand-ins for the player themselves.

Using our example from before:
There exists in the vast emptiness of the ocean an island where dreams are made real, lives restored, illnesses destroyed and fortunes found. Not all is - however, for there are rumours, too. Whispered tales of horrors that lurk in the fog-shrouded hills of that isle. Murmurs of men driven mad by the wickedness in their own hearts, of terrifying beasts that devour all that come near.

An isle of mystery, of mayhem and of miracles. Those who dare to enter may find more than they desire, and less than they dreamed.



History
In a lot of high-fantasy game descriptions you'll get a run-down of politics/lands/races/religions and the like. This can be effective as a draw-in to the land itself, especially if your game is focussed more around war, politics, religion and the like. Just be wary about making it too dense and too divorced from the main plot. It's great to hear about the 1000 year prophecy, but not so great when that's all you share with the player, with no hint of how it plays a part in the game.

A good example:
The Breaker approaches
And with Him the Child of the Lamb
The one who brings forth eternal light
And Blessings apon the Lands
Beware! Beware!
Shall the Childe fall, Death ascends
Shall the Childe rule, Light for all
Fear the Breaker
The Bond untouched
Save the Childe and bring the Breaker to Ruin
Else the End and Death shall come


The countries of Bernhold, Armstar and Felona have been at war for over 1000 years after the slaying of the last child. When a new prophecy is made, they cease their warring ways in order to prepare for the coming of the Child of the Lamb.

100 years have passed since the prophecy was made, and now there are whispers of a child who has been born - a child of the lamb. The countries have gathered together to protect the child and find the Breaker - the one who will kill the Child and bring death down on them all.


A bad example:
The country of Bernhold is in dire conflict with the Kingdom to the south of them, Armstar, when the child of prophecy is killed on their watch. Worried about the consequences of the child's death, Adalar, Lord Ruler of Bernhold, sends an emissary to Armstar, laying the blame on Felonan refugees who were trying to escape from the iron-fisted rule of the Dictatorship to the east, Felona. This sparks a thousand year war between the three countries. Treaties are made and broken, lives are born and taken and soon a prophecy comes to light which blames the one called the Breaker for the death of the Child.

Can they find the Breaker before he kills the Child of the Lamb? Is the Child of the Lamb truly a saviour of the people? What is the hidden truth behind the Prophecy?



Hookline
Something many people do, which was illustrated with the last example, was to allude to a mystery or the possibility of failure. An easy way to do this is to ask leading questions of the reader. Note that these aren't questions you, the developer, answer in the description. They are questions that lead the player to think of the possibilities that await them if they decide to play your game. They hint towards things not being completely cut and dried - that there's a chance for failure or a hint of horror and mystery and things untold.

These questions aim to make the reader think about what you've told them of the story so far and allow them to imagine their own ideas of what might happen next - it gets them to linger over your description a bit longer. It hooks them in. And that is what you want - a hook for players to bite.

There are ways to do this without questions, but generally it's the easiest way to make them consider what your game could offer, and what it means for the story itself.

Will the characters complete the quest?
Is there more than they bargained for?
What horrors await our heroes and the player?
What struggles must they endure in order to complete their quest?
Can they survive the trials that await them?

Hook your player and the battle is half won!

Here's a few examples, using both the previous ideas:
Can Linda avoid falling prey to the evils in her own heart? Will she manage to find the island? Does her father live or has time ran out?

Consider what these questions have achieved - what effect they have on possible players.
The first question alludes to there being evil in Linda's heart. There's a possibility hinted at that it's a strong evil, that she might fail in her quest, that she might have a darkness inside herself.
The second gives the illusion that perhaps the player will have to search for the island in some way, and that they might not be able to find it.
The third gives them the idea that maybe the game is time-based, that there's a way to not find her father and that she might already be too late. That perhaps the player will get to experience more than one ending.

The game may hold all, some or none of these, but you've suddenly made the player a lot more interested in the game. They've been given a challenge, a mystery, a hope. It's drawn them in a bit more.

Can they find the Breaker before he kills the Child of the Lamb? Is the Child of the Lamb truly a saviour of the people? What is the hidden truth behind the Prophecy? Who is the Breaker and will he really bring ruin to the realms?

These questions bring up a lot of interesting points that possible players might want to know more about.
The first gives them the idea that maybe it's a race against time - that there is an option of failure in being able to save the child. It also gives the idea that they'll be searching for the Breaker, trying to find him - possibly detective work or visiting the lands in search of them.
The second question makes them second-guess whether the Childe of the Lamb is a good force or not, and if it is drawn into question, then so, too, is the prophecy itself, which draws into question the whole validity of what has been told - which can be effective to letting the player consider that all is not exactly what it seems (especially if you want to give the hint that there's more than meets the eye about the prophecy and Child).
The third brings the prophecy into question, whether it's real or not, why it was made and by whom - that there is a hidden secret about it has been revealed. It's just a matter of what that secret is. It focuses the player on whether the prophecy can be trusted or not, which is useful if you want to give the illusion of not everything being what it seems.
The last question brings focus to the Breaker - who are they, what are their motives, why are they doing this and how will they strike. Do they know they are the Breaker? Do they have their own reason for trying to kill the Child, or are they just some unlucky person who got a prophecy dumped in their lap?

As you can see, asking questions can lead the player to think more about the game, but also give them a hint that not everything is what it might seem. How you phrase your question, what questions you ask, can lead their minds thinking in a lot of other directions. You can use this not only to hook the player but to misdirect them from the truth or lead them towards it, too.


Presentation

Some people like to add extra bits to their descriptions:
- Graphics (screenshots of the game or logos)
- Character Bios
- Feature Lists
- Credits
- Videos

Some pieces have no reason to be on the description area - credits, bios, videos and screenshots all have their own areas on a game page once it has been accepted to the site (Pages, Pages, Media section, Image section, respectively). This leaves logos and features, which are understandable and can be used well enough without cluttering up the description page.

I know that some people do like to add character bios and think they fit well on the description page - and light ones are all well and dandy, but a description cannot be made up of bios and feature lists alone.


Technical Requirements
The last thing I'll mention are the technical requirements that we ask for. It doesn't really fit here, but it's worth talking about as a lot of people forget about them. Generally we ask that your description be at least 500 letters long, and that it is well written, with good grammar, spelling and punctuation.

There are times we will let some aspects through - for the sake of art or if someone PMs me beforehand to say that they're doing it like x for a specific reason. This doesn't include the word limit, just the way it is presented.

Here's a quick list of do/do nots:
- Please do write with good English skills.
- Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation.
- Read your description out loud to make sure it flows well. If you stumble over parts it might need to be rechecked.
- Make use of this thread if you need help with spelling/grammar/punctuation/flow/description in general. The people there are great and very helpful.
- If you are not a native English speaker/writer, and your game is not in English, you still need to give an English description (usually along with your non-English one). It also has to be held to the standards of the rest of the site - that it use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. Again, this thread is helpful for that.
- Please, for all that is good and holy, do not
write your description like this because we do
have word wrap and the only time you should be writing like
this is if you have a poem or something of the sort. Writing
in this way messes with how you read since people are used to
reading until the end of the page and it aborts a sentence to see all that white
space after it, making the reading less fluid and much more disruptive. You don't want that.


Hopefully, this article helped you get the gears rolling a little and will aid in making that insurmountable 500 letter limit seem a bit more achievable. Maybe. Good luck and here's hoping to see more games not having to be denied due to letter mashing!

Posts

Pages: 1
kory_toombs
I finally changed my avatar, but that doesn't mean I have a meaningful user title.
12533

I like highlighting some of the aspects in my games below the plot / character description. (ie. This game is side view battle, or you can jump in this game.) I think describing the game play is a good way to fill up space.

Edit:

I want to play Lol. It looks like an interesting game :)
Oh, that's all good and fine, but very often that's all people add to their description. I could cite examples but that'd be calling people out and I didn't want to do that too much.
Now to edit my game's description all over again and realize that I mess it up even more.
Dragnfly
Beta testers!? No, this game needs a goddamn exorcist!
1730
I just read through this and it made me a bit confused about something. I haven't submitted a game yet but I did check the link, the rules, and a forum post just to get an idea of what I'd need to prepare.

The stuff you're talking about here obviously has to do with the Summary tab on the game page but does it also reflect the Description section when we submit a game? Like, are the Description field on the Submit Game section and the Summary tab on the gamepage one in the same?

When my time comes I want to give you folks all the info you'll need to accept the submission but I don't want to give you a full game Summary tab worth of content if you don't want/need that much. Reading through hundreds of those must be hell. But I also figured that I'd need to give whoever is approving the game some info that I wouldn't want to give people reading the summary page, like details on potentially damning content that would be vaguely explained on the summary page.
Summary and Description are the same thing. It is, however, called Description when you go to submit a game so I kept that term.

As long as you have a well-written description of the game, including at least a paragraph about the game plot, it should be a-okay.
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10114
Great article overall and it serves a much-needed purpose. Ironically, in the History section I liked the "bad" example and disliked the "good" example. Felt more detailed and concise a description to me. Nevertheless, this article is well-written and makes good points.
(Honestly, either would make it past a check, I just meant to use it as an example of how not to make your work dense and unrelated to the main story - by rattling on and on about the history behind the game instead of, you know, what's in the actual game. We've had a few games that had more than two or three paragraphs of 'historical' content and it's like, okay that's nice but please tell us this information in the game instead of requiring people to read a book before they start? ^.^;

I didn't quite hit the nail that I was aiming for with that example.)
Dragnfly
Beta testers!? No, this game needs a goddamn exorcist!
1730
author=Liberty
Summary and Description are the same thing. It is, however, called Description when you go to submit a game so I kept that term.

As long as you have a well-written description of the game, including at least a paragraph about the game plot, it should be a-okay.


Thanks. That makes a lot more sense then. Disaster avoided:) If you folks ever make any changes to the form it'd be a good idea to at least specify that it will be what other people see. I was treating prepping a game for submission like when a corporate game gets submitted to a Publisher and a Rating Board.
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