WRITING FOR GAMES

Being an exegesis on the importance and impact of plot and characters on electronic entertainment media, and the common pitfalls that writers in this medium make, and wherein Shadowtext tries to pretend like he's Scott McCloud, only for Video Games instea

Stories in Games

It has been treated as a given by so many fans of the genre that in RPGs (and related genres), story is the most important factor. While I think this is a dangerous viewpoint to espouse, this article is not meant to extol the virtues of gameplay over story, but to look at the story itself and try to identify some of the dangers and possibilities available to the aspiring game writer.

It should go without saying, but most of this stuff is my own personal opinion, and it's not like I'm laying down physical law here. However, as an avid fan of storytelling across many media and a person who has been in the indie RPG scene for some time, I do have a decent wealth of experience that you might be able to make use of. I have seen many new faces come around and try to pimp their game based on its story alone, only to find out that no one thinks their story sounds particularly interesting. I'm going to try to identify some of the biggest flaws I see in stories (and not just stories by newbies), and they're not the ones that the majority tend to latch onto.

As a warning ahead of time, I might make references to certain tropes in this article. I'll try to include links to the TV Tropes article on that trope when I realize I'm doing it, and I'll include a link to the site itself at the end when I get to the "Useful links" section. But be careful with that site--not only is it even more dangerous than Wikipedia when it comes to getting "lost," but it could very well ruin your ability to appreciate television, novels, comics, and video games on the same level as before.

Parte Uno: On the Need to Not Be So Bloody Stuck on Yourself
I mean, I know it's just joke after joke, but I like that. At least it dosen't get all preachy and up its own ass with messages, you know?
-Random Trucker, South Park

Okay, the first thing you need to do before writing your game is to get past the idea that your story is great, perfect, universal and wonderful. First off, statistically it's probably not. But secondly, it's doing you no good to think that. Let me explain.

One of the major things about writing is that it's a process. No one just gets "inspired" and then writes, from start to finish, a perfect story. You need to stop seeing your story as sacred and start seeing it as a craft. It may be very polished when you're done, but right now it's a mess. You need to be able to take any scene you've written and scrap it. Even if that scene was the whole reason you wrote the thing in the first place. Nothing is sacred. Delete anything that needs it. Throw out any scene that doesn't fit. Throw out any joke that doesn't work. Throw out any development that hurts the narrative. Leave none living, not even the women or children!

Look at every scene you've written and ask yourself whether or not that scene is helpful to the story. Does it advance the characters' development? Does it lighten up an overly morose scene? Does it foreshadow a future event? Does it help the audience understand something about what's going on better? Does it advance the narrative? If not, you need to consider cutting it.

If you were writing a novel or a script, you'd be done with that step, but the next thing you have to ask is a much more difficult question. "How does this affect the game?" Remember, you've got players not readers. If a scene is too long with no chance to interact, players are going to get bored. Does a plot development makes the players have to do something they don't want to do? Does it remove an important aspect of the gameplay? Does it make something the players just spent hours doing nothing more than wasted time? You need to consider cutting that scene!

And this is why you need to get over yourself. It doesn't matter how well written the scene in question is, it doesn't matter how funny you think the joke is. If it takes away from future scenes, or the gameplay of the game, it's a bad scene. You need to have economy and elegance when writing.

Oh, and on the subject of getting over yourself--don't get too preachy with messages. There's nothing worse than an anvilicious moral message. You need to be careful even in the well-delivered ones. In the indie scene, your audience is mostly the same age group as you and about equally as educated. If you try to preach the virtues of nihilism or something, they're not only going to be familiar with it, they're going to be familiar with what's wrong with it, too.

And there's a not-insignificant chance that they might know it better than you. So be careful about preaching messages.

Parte Dos: On the Building of Worlds and Why It's Stupid
Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader's ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn't there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn't possible, & if it was the results wouldn't be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder's victim, & makes us
very afraid.
-M. Jon Harrison

For our purposes, let's replace "science fiction" with "speculative fiction." This quote applies equally to anything that takes place in a world different from our own. Now let's look at its meaning, because I'm sure I just pissed a lot of you off.

You're a nerd. Go on, admit it, things'll go a lot more smoothly for you. We're all nerds here, it's cool. No one's going to judge you here. Well I mean, actually, a lot of people are, but I won't.

Okay, now the thing about nerds is that we are way into details. There is a significant population of nerds that actually keeps track of the technical specs of various giant mecha, or the abilities of different superheroes. Or whether Richie Rich is richer than Scrooge McDuck (by the way, the answer is no. Scrooge is WAY richer).

The thing is....that comes from a part of our brains that is just different from the average human. We delight in trivia and suchlike because of an overly analytical bent and (generally speaking) a skewed social perspective.

But stories are about people. All of them. Even the ones that aren't. Watership Down is not about rabbits any more than The Rats of NIMH is about rodents or Blade Runner is about replicants. That's all just window dressing. Ultimately, they're all about people, and how people treat other people, or how people overcome problems, or even what it means to be people.

As such, the world is only of marginal importance to the people in a story. Oh, don't get me wrong--you want to have an interesting setting that fits the story you're telling, and you certainly don't want to be inconsistent in how it's presented.

The danger of world-building is when you start obsessing over the minutiae of a world that doesn't exist. Writing is not about depicting truth, nor is it about giving reality to something fictional. It is about entertaining and communicating with people. Realism isn't as important a goal as it's made out to be.

Now, with video games you actually do need to do a bit more world building than with novels and film and the like. Players are going to get to explore your world. They're going to get to run into the wild beasts of the fields and shop in the business districts of the town and there are going to be side quests that tie into the culture of your world. If you like world-building, you've stumbled onto a perfect place to engage in a bit of it.

But you have to remain vigilant. World-building for the sake of world-building is still deadly dull for the audience. Libraries where you can read all about completely unimportant backstory, or the imports and exports of the city you're in, are uninteresting, a poor presentation method, and ultimately just tacky. Even pros give into this one, but that doesn't mean you have to. Long scenes set in the governmental parliament are unbearable (unless of course you're playing a parliament member....then it could be some sort of Phoenix Wright level of wonderful). Remember the Star Wars prequels? Politics are completely unimportant to the player....except as they effect the characters the player cares about. A new tax on tea is pure tedium, but the fact that the parliament didn't give the characters a chance to represent their stance on it....well that could lead to the characters dumping a bunch of tea in a harbor while dressed in silly costumes and probably drunk off their asses. That's interesting!

Speaking of stories being about people...

Parte Tres: On the Importance of Characters
Characters are everything. Especially in RPGs. Your player will not be given the opportunity to actually roleplay much in a computer game....even if you're writing a wRPG full of non-linearity and dialog trees, there's not going to be much roleplaying going on. In lieu of actual roleplaying, players are given a hand in character development....as a gameplay choice. Not so much the way they develop as people.

As such, it's up to you to make the characters develop. Try to make most of that development come from something the player did. Make it something they can be proud of.

Speaking of character development, let's keep it gradual, huh? Avoid situations where the two romantic leads simply get into an argument, then kiss each other, and it's all roses and flowers from there on in. Emotions take time to grow and people take time to change, and even when they do admit how they feel to someone else, they're still giant bundles of ego and neuroses.

Remember what I said before about nerds having a tendency to be socially awkward? Yeah, that's going to be an issue here. You need to understand people if you're going to write about them. And like I said, all stories are about people, so if you're going to write at all, you need to understand people. And no, a clinical understanding won't suffice. Even if you're an anti-social twat who is going to tell a story about how people suck and the world is horrible, you need to make your people believable, and that means you're going to have to make people behave the way real people would.

Watch people. Talk to people. And when you're talking to them, actually listen. Even if they're talking about stuff you don't care about. Boy bands? Rap? Reality Television? *shudder* Shoe shopping? It's all a part of the human experience, and when you really listen to people rather than silently judging them based on their taste in entertainment or recreation, you might learn something about why they enjoy these things....and that gives you insight into who they are and what people are really like. And try to make eye contact and take notice of body language. There's more going on in a person's mind than you see on the surface. Caring about people is a big help for this sort of thing really, which makes the antisocial story difficult to pull off....we can't all be Jhonen Vasquez.

Parte Cuatro: On Humor and Your Promiscuous, Overweight Mother
Humor is difficult. For one thing, it's not (as a lot of people try to claim) universal. There are honestly people who don't think Monty Python and Invader Zim are funny. There are people who honestly believe that Carlos Mencia is. And it's not because they're stupid!

...or so I keep telling myself...

...no, no, it's not a question of stupidity, it's a question of experiences and expectations and all sorts of other things that basically all add up to meaning "Not everyone is going to think you're funny." But here are some thoughts on humor in general that might help out.

First off, avoid what Jane Espenson refers to as "clams." These are the jokes that have become actual cliches (as opposed to the things that people call cliches in the community, which I'll deal with later), and have become stock phrases. They're the sort of jokes that have laughtracks behind them on TV, because no one in the audience would actually laugh having already heard the joke a hundred times before and that's just counting that day.

And that's tougher than it sounds. We use clams a lot in everyday speech, just like we use cliches a lot. Start to listen to what you say, and definitely proofread your work looking for that stuff. Now, what to replace it with?

Thing is, even minor changes can make a clam work. That's the magic of human psychology. Because so much of humor is based on having expectations prove to be false, setting up a clam and then using it wrongly becomes humorous automatically. Using any cliche wrongly works in a similar way. Surprise people and there's a good chance you'll get 'em laughing.

Obviously the humorous surprise is different from the suspenseful surprise. "I'm your father!" "Really?" "Yes! I mean....well....probably. Maybe. I mean there's like a 45% chance I am. It could also be this guy named Daryl. Or Larry. Or Bill. Or the any of the Doobie Brothers..." is different from "You killed my father!" "No, I am your father!" There's a knack to it and it's not always easy to tell which surprises will be funny and which will be thrilling or whatever....but as Henny Youngman said. The secret of comedy is timing.

That joke doesn't work as well in text. Remember that, too. You're limited by your medium. Text-based story delivery means you can't rely as much on timing and tone as you can in verbal delivery. But with video games, you do get to make use of body language, which books can't. And if you can find a cast of voice actors, you can do the tone and timing thing too. Just remember that even pros have problems with voice actors, and they have a budget and professional actors at their disposal.

Now as for humor that isn't based on jokes....that's a lot harder. Interesting ideolects in dialogue can be a big help. For examples of that, watch anything by Joss Whedon, or read Scary Go Round. A lot of post modernists use ideolects, though. Aaron Sorkin, Jhonen Vasquez, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino all have distinctive dialogue styles. The problem is that developing your own ideolects that don't rely on the tricks of the ones you're watching isn't easy either. Ultimately, that sort of playfulness probably has to be a part of your personality. And it probably helps to talk that way all the time, and not just when you're trying to write. Listen to any of those people speak, or read things they write for blog posts, and you'll notice that same style is in them constantly.

I've already gone into this for too long, and really humor deserves its own article. Basically you just need to remember that nothing's going to be universal, and you don't need to feel bad about filling a niche. It works for xkcd.

Parte Cinco: On So-Called Cliches and Why People Who Use the Term Rarely Know What it Means
Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
-Pablo Picasso

There's nothing new under the sun. Not only is it true, but it's an actual cliche, as opposed to the term that gets thrown around on message boards by amateur game critics.

You're going to use a lot of ideas that people have used before. This is a given, and it's not really something that can be fought or that should be. Ideas can't be copyrighted or patented, despite what the RIAA and MPAA are pushing for. And Art doesn't come from original thought, it comes from a reaction to old thoughts.

Don't feel bad that your story uses a lot of familiar tropes and fits neatly into a genre (and genres are nothing more than a set of tropes that are universal to a category of stories). Feel bad if it uses those familiar tropes in the same way that they're used all the time. Feel bad if the characters that are acting out those tropes are falling into the traps of predictability, or if they're losing their ability to make the audience care about them.

So your character is a spikey-haired swordsman for hire who has gotten caught up in a quest to save the world. That's pretty generic, and you're going to hear that complaint lodged against you a lot. And to be fair, you've just hit about five or six different tropes that are very familiar to the gaming public.

But fear not! That character can be salvaged. Justify your tropes! Add depth to your character. Explain why he's a mercenary, why he's saving the world, why he has spikey hair....and make it all just different enough so that we can actually think of him as a different character than Cloud Strife. Because you don't want to have Cloud Strife in your game. We've already seen Cloud Strife, and to be honest he wasn't that great a character to begin with--quieten down, FF7 fanboys, I'm just saying that Cloud didn't succeed in evoking as much sympathy as he was clearly meant to because of his antisocial "loner" mentality. It wasn't as bad as Squall, but he wasn't Terra or Cecil, either. But that gives you a chance to make your character different! If you want to play up the sympathy angle, make him more vulnerable and neurotic. Give him a deep desire to be amongst people, and have the loner angle just a result of his social anxieties and fears of rejection. Or maybe his fear of loss. Flaws make a character better.

Which brings up one of the biggest things to fear when writing fiction: the Mary Sue. You probably know the term. Mary Sue is a perfect incarnation of goodness and light, and probably an example of the author inserting himself (or the person he wants to be) into the story. Avoid this. I mean don't get me wrong--the heroes of a lot of stories are going to be right on the edge of being Mary Sues, in terms of how much personal power they have. It's okay for a character to be over the top great so long as you include some flaws in there. And don't do the classic Mary Sue "virtues cleverly disguised as flaws" thing. Being too pretty and making people hate you isn't a flaw, at least not in the Mary Sue, although it's a decent flaw in the people who are hating on Mary Sue. No, you need failings. Places where the character is vulnerable, and not in the sense that villains are going to make her so mad she loses it and kills all of them (but leaves her friends perfectly safe).

So listen to Picasso. Take what you need, but don't just copy it whole cloth. Make it your own. Make it distinct. It's okay that it came from somewhere else....so did everything else. Even Romeo and Juliet was just a retread of Tristan and Isolde, or Pyramus and Thisbe.

Parte Seis: Fantastic Language and Why Tolkien was a Hack
If you're doing a fantasy or science fiction game, you're going to have to deal with words that people don't know. That means you're going to have to make up a lot of names--for places, people, monsters, and special techniques among other things.

Keep it light, keep it memorable, and keep it pronounceable is my advice to you here. Yes, it's brilliant that you've come up with a culture with its own language and everything, but if that means all of their names begin with "E," it's going to be really annoying. Try to avoid having any two names that look very much alike, at least among major characters. It will take the audience a while to figure out which one's Eowyn and which one's Eomer, and by the time they do the characters might have slipped back into "unimportant side character" status. Where possible, try to get the names of all the major characters to start with different letters. If that's not possible, at least make them distinct. Think about it both in terms of how the words sound and how they look.

Also, avoid too much use of overly foreign sounding words. A little bit of exoticism won't go awry, but familiarity makes it easier for an audience to associate with things. The more foreign something sounds, the harder they're going to find it to deal with things.

On the subject of foreign exoticism or whatever, let's take a look at the Japanese influence on amateur games, because it's an important one.

jRPGs, which are probably the more popular of the two RPG sub-genres (especially as far as amateur RPGs go) have had a huge influence on all games in the genre, and rightly so. And because of the similarities and common ancestry, anime has influenced both professional and amateur j-and-j-influenced-RPGs (assume from now on that I mean both Japanaese RPGs and RPGs whose most significant influence is from Japanese RPGs). What this means is that there's a lot of tendency to include Japanese names and Japanese cultural tropes in these games....even amongst those of us from the West who don't really have that as part of our culture.

Parte Siete: Non-acceptance air effect of Japanese and European compromise.
I'm not going to say "don't do it." I'm not even going to say "avoid it," but be mindful when you do it. You're going to alienate a lot of people this way. There's a significant portion of the game playing population that has developed a knee-jerk reaction to the influx of Japanese culture into Western culture, as well as quite a few who simply find it tacky to appopriate that culture without any real understanding of what it's like to be part of that culture. And then there's the fairly vocal (but I imagine not as large in number as their loud voices make it seem) group of Something Awful-and-certain-parts-of-4chan-and-a-certain-amateur-gaming-community-that-shall-remain-nameless denizens who seem to dislike the things for no reason other than because it gives them an opportunity to belittle others. It's important to consider these people, too, when you're writing your game.

It'd be silly to say to avoid influence from those games or the anime/manga that inspired them. That influence is going to be there no matter what you try to do, especially if you're a hopeless otaku(and don't feel bad, I count myself in your number!). But I'd suggest trying to keep it subtle and unobtrusive. It's not always easy.

Mostly, you need to keep your use of Japanese to a minimum. Don't use honorifics, or at least not actual Japanese honorifics (I'd say making up your own honorifics could be a pretty neat idea, though, as long as they don't sound stupid). Exceptions can be made if you're in a certain area of the game that actually is based on Japan (meaning the rest of the setting isn't), and obviously historical fiction has a different set of rules here. Don't use gratuitious Japanese, especially things that non-otaku wouldn't recognize. Bushido, ninja, samurai, and mecha are probably okay. Sailor fukus, yamato nadeshiko and miko probably aren't.

Keep in mind that accuracy probably isn't going to make much of a difference. The people who dislike the infusion of the gratuitous Japanese cultural tropes into things aren't going to care that you really are a shintoist and that your depiction of miko is spot-on, or that you're using your honorifics correctly. They're going to consider it tacky regardless.

It's a dicey situation, and the few tips I gave just now are to try to appeal to non-otaku. If you're fine with being stuck in the niche of "jRPGs by western Otaku, for western Otaku," then more power to you. And if you can ignore it when the western nationalists start calling you a "japfag" because of it, even better. Just remember that even if they try to pretend like they've got some sort of leg up on you because their games don't have Japanese cultural tropes, they're still in amateur game making communities. I mean these are obviously super-nerds we're talking about here--who cares how cool they think you are? These are the people invented Leet!

...but they are an audience, nonetheless. You may not want to alienate them out of hand. And for the gods' sake, a warning: if you are going to make it "very Japanese," please be sure you know what you're talking about. Even otaku hate Japanese stuff when it's used wrongly.

Parte Ocho: On the Death of the Author, Weltanschauung and Post-Modernism
As my artist's statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.
-Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson

Okay, you know the statement you're trying to make? The whole point of the art you've made, the thing that drove you to make it?

It doesn't matter. It is utterly unimportant. If the audience fails to understand the thing you're trying to say here, it's not them failing, it's you. And any message they do see? That's the real message of your work.

Ray Bradbury has actually made the claim that Farenheit 451 isn't about censorship. Nice try, Mr. Bradbury! Fear the future all you want, but Farenheit 451 hasn't been about the dangers of technology since the first person read it and interpreted it as censorship.

Once you make something and put it out there, you orphan it. It is no longer your work, it belongs to the world. As such, your original intentions aren't really going to matter people. Don't get pissed with people if they don't see it. If you want to get pissed with yourself....well that's at least a more accurate target, but you probably shouldn't be too upset to begin with.

This is all a very existentialist/post-modern view on things, and if you find it resonating with you, you might look into both of those philosophies a bit. Essentially it all boils down to embracing the chaos, letting things exist as they are and encouraging the audience to be as much a part of the work of art as the artist is. Especially in a game, this is an important thing to keep in mind: interactivity is key in games, and why should that relate only to the gameplay?

However, if you embrace post-modernism, you need to be careful. Don't let it just be weird and random. That shows no real craftsmanship. Embrace the chaos, yes, but don't let it run willy-nilly. Guide it and shape it. Absurdism does not mean "randomness," a thing that a lot of post-modern writers need to learn. High energy does not have to mean incomprehensible, either.

Parte Ultimo: On the Unique Nature of the Electronic Entertainment Medium
Games CAN'T have the kind of storylines that movies and books have, or they wouldn't be playable. You are correct to skip the tedious, badly written "scenes" that are usually a pathetic job of trying to paste story on top of a game. What makes a game work is the opposite of what makes a story work. In a story, you are seeking to find out what really happened - why people do what they do, what the results of their choices are. You identify with the character(s) but you do not control them. Instead, the author has the ultimate authority. When a movie is made from a book and the script changes key events, the readers are usually furious. Why? Since the original events weren't real, why not change them? The answer is simple: Even in fiction, what the author put down on paper is "the truth" and anyone who fiddles with it is "lying" or "wrecking it."

In a game, the opposite illusion must be created. Even though most games absolutely force you to follow preset paths, the gamewrights try to give you the illusion that you are making free choices (even though you are actually, in almost all games, still being channeled through certain puzzles with fixed solutions).

There is no question about character motivation. The lead character is you, and your motivation is to beat the enemy and win.

-Orson Scott Card

There is a lot to consider when writing for games. And all that I've covered right now is just taking things that are already a major part of writing for other media. It is important to remember that video games are not novels, films, comic books or plays. Video games have their own advantages and disadvantages that other media do not, and it would be folly to treat them as just an extension of these media.

Interactivity is entirely unique to games. Go ahead, try to claim "Choose Your Own Adventure Books" or those silly movies where you can press a button to skip to different scenes. You know they're not the same sort of interactivity. Games (and I include even board games and PnP RPGs here as different media for games. Maybe even sports. Calvinball could certainly be an art!) are an art form that is only just being born, even though they've been around for ages. No one has given them artistic attention until recently.

Because of this, games still aren't sure what they are. We spend a lot of time applying the same principles to games that are applied to the non-interactive media, and this time takes away from games' abilities to individuate.

I can't tell you how to make use of interactivity with writing. It's still a very new field. PnP RPGs might be a good source for inspiration, but on the other hand the writing in those isn't always all that great either....and it still owes a lot to literary narrative, besides.

As a writer in this field which still hasn't undergone the Artistic Rennaissance that it's due, you have an opportunity to be a real pioneer!

Before I get too Scott McCloud on you, let me warn you--you probably won't. Be a pioneer, I mean. Keep your dreams high, but keep yourself grounded, too. You've got endless possibilities, sure, but only some of those possibilities are worth exploring. It's your job to figure out which ones those are.

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, and you can go any direction you choose.
-Theodor Geisel

Annotated Bibliography / Links Cited

Jane Espenson's Blog
http://janeespenson.com
Jane Espenson was a writer and producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and runs this blog to help aspiring television writers in preparing spec scripts to get hired on as writers. Though the advice is especially aimed at television writing, much of it equally applies to other media. If you want to be a good writer of entertainment, especially comedy, read the entire archive, memorize it, and assimilate it. It is your bible now.

Scary Go Round
http://scarygoround.com
Scary Go Round might be the best written webcomic I've ever read, and the dialogue is the main feature I'm pimping here. Learn John Allison. Know him. Love him. Forgive him for his unfortunate nationality (British).

TVTropes.org
http://tvtropes.org
TVTropes.org is like Wikipedia, only without any rules about notability or fancruft, and with a focus on tropes. Despite the name, it covers all media, from literature to usenet, from video games to wrestling.

Wikipedia Entry on Post Modernism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-modernism
I explained Post Modernism above....kinda. Post Modernism is extremely difficult to explain, but Wikipedia gives it the ol' college try.

Posts

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Some of these blocks at the top are supposed to be quotes, but that particular BBCode quote didn't quite work out. So I'll cite them here.

Parte Uno's quote: "I mean, I know it's just joke after joke, but I like that. At least it dosen't get all preachy and up its own ass with messages, you know?" -Random Trucker, South Park

Parte Dos's quote: "Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader's ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn't there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn't possible, & if it was the results wouldn't be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder's victim, & makes us very afraid." -M Jon Harriosn

Parte Cinco's quote: "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." -Pablo Picasso

Parte Ultimo's quote: "Games CAN'T have the kind of storylines that movies and books have, or they wouldn't be playable. You are correct to skip the tedious, badly written "scenes" that are usually a pathetic job of trying to paste story on top of a game. What makes a game work is the opposite of what makes a story work. In a story, you are seeking to find out what really happened - why people do what they do, what the results of their choices are. You identify with the character(s) but you do not control them. Instead, the author has the ultimate authority. When a movie is made from a book and the script changes key events, the readers are usually furious. Why? Since the original events weren't real, why not change them? The answer is simple: Even in fiction, what the author put down on paper is "the truth" and anyone who fiddles with it is "lying" or "wrecking it."

In a game, the opposite illusion must be created. Even though most games absolutely force you to follow preset paths, the gamewrights try to give you the illusion that you are making free choices (even though you are actually, in almost all games, still being channeled through certain puzzles with fixed solutions).

There is no question about character motivation. The lead character is you, and your motivation is to beat the enemy and win." -Orson Scott Card

"You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, and you can go any direction you choose." -Theodor Geisel
kentona
only 90s kids will like this admin
20442
White & Nerdy is my theme song. And I DON'T believe that some people don't find Monty Python or Invader Zim funny. I just can't accept that. Also, I wish I spoke spanish.

My philosophy with story writing for games is "Wing it and see what happens." My plots are quest-centered and the story is built around moving from quest-to-related-quest. A theme is just superimposed overtop of that.

That's the totally game-centric way of approaching indie-rpg-making, but it works for me.

Your picture has reminded me--I forgot to mention that Parte Ocho's quote is "As my artist's statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance." -Bill Waterson.

Yeah, kentona, that's a perfectly reasonable way to approach things if you're going to focus on gameplay. Not everyone does, though, and this guide is more designed to help people who choose to focus on story.

That said, be sure that the player isn't challenged to question why he's doing what he's doing. It's all well and good to be doing something because that's what the gameplay calls for, but unless you're embracing a comedic, fourth-wall-breaking style, you probably can't get away with telling the player "We have to do this because that's what the next quest is."
Eh. I appreciate the article and I see some of your points, but I disagree with a lot of them. I've always been kinda iffy to some of your ideas and approaches to games. I don't know, I'm in the middle. But it's a good article though, so I give it a thumbs up.
I remember reading this about a year ago and I can easily say this article helped me understand the general concepts of story telling (game story telling too). Anyone giving this article the tl:dr treatment will be a hugely regretted.

As strange as it sounds, I'll even go far as to say that Shadowtext is one of the most underrated users in our community and therefore deserves a lot more credit.
That's the first time I've seen quotes of Calvin and Hobbes or Orson Scott Card (both of which rule) on this site.
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