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    So fist
  Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:05 am
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Is this you?

Does your game start with a brief history told in cut scenes ending with your main character awaking in hometown 1 to a best friend or love interest or mother rousing him from his sleep so he can go to some cave or castle or school or festival for a first adventure with a generic friend whose sole eistence is comic relief?

Is your hero of unknown origins/a chosen one living with a foster parent elder whose village ends up being destroyed or banishing him in a ham handed attempt to justify the hero's departure.

Is your main character some spikey haired precocious adolescent who lives a care free life until his call forces his departure? Or is he a gothic brooding figure who lives alone, and who's parents are dead or unknown?

Does the main thrust of your quest require the main character to collect orbs, crystals, espers, insert sacred sounding crap here to open the door to some powerful weapon, netherworld, sacred gods, or climactic truth?

Does your world have a massive controlling kingdom, religion, government, or super corporation whose sole existence is to hoard power for power's sake and decieve the people from the truth about their existence as chattel?

In short, is your plot actually a rearrangement of plot and character cliches from games you liked? We've all been here, and, while I won't say that cliches/stereotypes are necessarily completely bad writing practice, there are things you need to be wary of.

Stereotypes aren't a substitute for character depth or development.

Movies, video games, TV, really all genres dealing in fiction love to use stereotypes. The pro's employ them all the time, but they do so for very specific purposes. First, stereotypes are a good way to bridge the issue of information cost when it comes to introducing characters. Referencing commonly used character types allows viewers to fill in a lot of information and develop familiarity with the character in a very short amount of time. This is due to the time constraints on the genres the writer works in as well as the competitive nature of the market. TV is filled with uptight controlling goody two shoes paired with free wheeling disorganized rebels with a goofy dufus on the periphery that serves as comic relief. We know these structures when we see them and we fill in all the unsaid details about the character into the empty vessel of the stereotype. In this fashion stereotypes are instantly recognizable and allow the writer to focus on creating interesting humor and drama rather than being bogged down in exposition.

Yet, in shows that survive their first few seasons and movies that become critically acclaimed characters eventually step out or even subvert their introductory stereotypes to reveal depth and realistic psychology and relationship development. One way to look at stereotypes in a character's personality is as a shallow public persona. This is how the character wants people to think of them for whatever functional purpose. The challenge of the writer is then to figure out the psychology, the desires, and flaws that creates such a public persona. Careful focus on the background of the public persona would be where the writer eventually discovers the subtle flaws and foibles that makes the character eventually evolve into something more immersive and unique.

Ask yourself, did you write your game or just rearrange and mix together your favorite game plots and characters?

After you finish writing you really need to ask yourself if you have any stamp on what you created, or if you merely composed a long string of references to your favorite games. Our ideas for what makes a good story is often based on stories we liked so such imitation is natural, but there comes a point where you need to develop your own voice and tell your own stories. The major problem with filling your game up with renamed clones of Cloud and Vaan and rehashing plotlines from xenogears and some interchangeable ff game is that you are walking your audience through a story they've already heard before. What's worse is it was probably told better the first time they heard it. Think of like if your child's favorite story was little red riding hood, but now he wants to hear something new because it's gotten old. So you invent a story about a girl who has to cross a mountain to deliver medicine to her father but an evil boar has kidnapped daddy and is hiding in his bed pretending to be her father. Do you think your child would find that to be an entertaining change of pace?

Are you employing a game cliche/convention for any purpose other than, "Well they did it!"

Does your game open with a ten minute series of cutscenes detailing political intrigue and the history of the world? Is all this information neccessary right at the beginning? Is your only justification for doing so because well they did it in xenogears or FF? Back in the day most writing was done by programmers who wrote on the side, but were not pro screenwriters. They could get away with these sins of tedium because the audience trusts and knows that the product will lead to something that is immersive and playable because of the franchise's track record. As an indie you have no such advantage. Think of your games as like a pilot to a TV series. You need your first ten minutes to grab your audience to engage in the remaining twenty and want to tune into the next episode. You need to quickly demonstrate that your product is a game and not a pretentious history lesson, and develop creative ways for them to want to immerse themselves. Some ways of doing that is including a hook that demonstrates that your product is not merely a rehash of stuff they've already done and seen.

Feel free to use this thread to discuss cliches and stereotypes in video games.


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    Perihelion
  Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:51 am
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Good thread--I particularly liked the discussion on the proper use of cliches--but I get the feeling that the people who need it most won't read it. Perhaps this should be stickied somewhere?

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    candle
  Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:40 pm
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This was an excellent read, But i fear like Peri that no one who actually needs it will read this. There are just some people who just don't care what others think and will always believe their shit is gold.

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    Petros
  Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:11 pm
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This is a good one here and y'know what, when I started my project years ago I had loads of cliches, but now I think I've developed it enough so that only one of those is there and it's a minor one. But this is good work mate, a lot of people get "classic story" with "cliche story" confused and it becomes a never ending cycle of everything is a cliche just because it might have been done once before. You seem to know the difference and that's good. Good job. I hope Peri and Candle are wrong though and more people pay better attention to this.

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    Amy
  Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:07 pm
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Gameplay is either good and fun or absolutely boring and whether or not it is cliched or has been done before generally has no part in that. If it is bad, it is normally bad for reasons other than "it's cliche" (though it may well be cliche).


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    So fist
  Wed Mar 23, 2011 1:53 am
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Amy Pond wrote:
Gameplay is either good and fun or absolutely boring and whether or not it is cliched or has been done before generally has no part in that. If it is bad, it is normally bad for reasons other than "it's cliche" (though it may well be cliche).


Wyatt I'd say the trap is that when you are rehashing other people's stories that everyone already knows and your gameplay is a rehash of similiar gameplay only as poorly constructed or balanced as the story is poorly written, you will have a game no one will spend more than ten minutes with. Having at least either of these halves right will keep the player at least marginally engaged enough to continue and maybe even complete a play through. If a story or character somewhat fascinates me I will clunk through some buggy game play with some lulls, and likewise if the gameplay system is solid and fun to use I'll laugh at the cast of mary sues and trundle on just the same.

Speaking of which I prolly should address one of the most common writing problems amongst most young writers that is related to cliches and lazy writing. Mary Sue. The Mary Sue is the overidealized character that is arguably the projection of the author's juvenile fantasies. Mary Sue's are either flawless or they have flaws that aren't flaws because their flaws are easily overcome by exceptionalness: I.E. the hero is blind but can see into the future so he just sees the future world that is one or two seconds ahead of him (you hear that Frank Herbert!). Mary Sues are cursed with innate specialness and their specialness is often derived by birthright. They are long lost sons of wrongly assassinated kings or somehow otherwise chosen ones by vague but loving gods of light, and thusly are burdened with the weight of the world that they gleefully carry with false modesty whilst all that is good swoons and covets even the smells of their noxious ass emissions. To our dismay they are often forced to be center stage of all the action of the story by the writers that love them deeply and secretly wished the world can see the writer as the writer's world sees the Mary Sue.

Yet it is not that the character is a projection of idealized fantasy that makes the Mary Sue unforgivable, it is the way in which the author, who is so in love with this character, has the world itself be suborbinate to it and rearranges itself for the character to be heralded as a gift from the maker. The characters surrounding Mary Sue exist solely as objects for Mary Sue to love, kill, laugh at, or recieve praise from. The story itself is an empty celebration of how wonderful Mary Sue and her five sisters are as they give the writer a legendary handjob worth making a status update about. To put it bluntly Mary Sue stories have no suspense, no surprises, and no depth. We readers know that Mary Sue is never in danger. Even when killed Mary Sue will rise like Jesus from some rescue from without. Even when things look their gloomiest Mary Sue will through her virtuous machinations engineer a plan that all of the other characters will be dumbfounded by it's simple brilliance. Mary Sues exist in the professional realm and they are often the characters we find the least interesting. Think Wesley Crusher, a sensitive prig goodytooshoes teenager, who saves the enterprise several times, but for reasons that are incomprehensible has trouble getting into starfleet. Which introduces the other problem with Mary Sues, they often provide logical pitfalls and flat characters around them. As the stature of the Mary Sue in a work is raised the characters that surround Mary diminish and become dumber and more helpless.


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    Astromech
  Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:59 pm
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That is some good insight on Mary Sues.

One thing I have found helpful in making characters with real flaws (in other words: not Mary Sues), is avoiding using "but" or "yet" in their description. Old Kentucky Shark's example "...the hero is blind but can see into the future..." shows how these words lead to your character being a Sue. They make it too easy to turn a flaw into a strength, even if not intended!

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    Petros
  Wed Mar 23, 2011 9:58 pm
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Both great helps in writing a character so he/she is not a Mary Sue there guys nice work. The worst kinds of clichéd characters, specifically Mary Sues here, are when they are so obviously taking various good elements for their favorite characters and throwing them into one giant pit of overly awesome and the character just becomes the God of their fictional world.

At the end of the day, as I said in my earlier post, it's a common mistake to confused classic with cliche, I mean, look at Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet. If anyone calls them clichés I'll probably be forced to rip their lungs out. Their not, they're classics. That being said, a classic can become a cliché when it's not treated with respect.

Romeo & Juliet - two lovers from different backgrounds, fall in love but cannot be together, however their union ends in tragedy when in their attempts to be together, they both end up dead.

Hamlet - an uncle kills his brother the King sending the prince into an obsessed rage of revenge plotting to bring down his treacherous uncle under the orders of a vengeful ghost of his father.

These are Classic stories. I've deliberately avoided mentioning the names of characters, locations or anything that could specifically link them to Shakespeare's masterpieces. On their own, these stories are classic, but when their not treated with respect and this "classic story" is not given anything interesting or new or any depth. It becomes a cliche. Let's take everyone's hated book/film - Twilight as an example.

Okay, we can only wish Bella and Edward would get horribly maimed and die. But two people from different backgrounds fall in love but can't be together.... why are they together... who cares they're from different backgrounds!! It's edgy! Okay... why are they in love.... who cares! They just are! Robert Pattinson is well hot, check out his abs!

This is crap. Plain and simple.

Compare this with an example of a similar nature - Buffy & Angel, a similar "classic" story but given depth to it so it does not become a cliche. Why are they together, they slowly grew attracted to each other, bonded over their mutual "occupations" as it were, understood each other's difficult lives and helped each other with it. The characters and their relationship are given depth which is why...

SPOILERS
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Whether you're a fan of Buffy is neither here nor there. That's just an example from my point of view. The point is these characters and the "classic" story they're given are treated with respect and given depth. In a lesser example such as Twilight... they're not...

And THAT is when a classic story becomes a cliche story

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    Amy
  Wed Mar 23, 2011 10:23 pm
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Indeed, in fact looking at tvtropes such things would be tropes not cliches.

I consider the site a valuable insight on what is cliche and what works well. Unfortunately it is rather easy to get hooked on.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HomePage

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.


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    Petros
  Thu Mar 24, 2011 3:28 am
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Yeah, tell me about it. I desperately try to avoid going on that site because I'm already pretty wiki-addicted, when I go onto TV Tropes, being a film professional and wiki-addict, it's like giving a heroine addict a bucket of smack!

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    mouse_std
  Thu Mar 24, 2011 1:01 pm
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this is some good insight thx :biggrin: dont know who mary sue is but thats not my problem :blank:


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    candle
  Thu Mar 24, 2011 1:08 pm
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Petros wrote:
Okay, we can only wish Bella and Edward would get horribly maimed and die. But two people from different backgrounds fall in love but can't be together.... why are they together... who cares they're from different backgrounds!! It's edgy! Okay... why are they in love.... who cares! They just are! Robert Pattinson is well hot, check out his abs!

This is crap. Plain and simple.


on the other hand, Disney's The Lion King is a good example of treating a classic (in this case Hamlet) well.

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    SPN
  Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:10 pm
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Anyone critiquing plots and storylines in games definitely has to keep a level head, on the other hand. I've seen too many times to count (on this site and many others) where someone presents a game they're making, and it's actually very good, but uses a few plot elements that have, no doubt, been used before. Most of the comments you read are along the lines of, "It's good, but sounds pretty cliché" or they just mention the word "cliché" with no negative, criticizing tone at all, like they're so hard-wired to spot used plot devices that they don't even think twice about calling one out, whether it's justified or not.

I mean, sure there have been a few too many "legendary hero in bloom who is forced or 'driven' somehow to collect x amount of such-and-such ethereal artifact to do or prevent some ancient something or other...oh, and there's dudes who don't want you to do that, so they'll be all of the bosses...aaaaaand DONE!" out there, but I feel that the saturation of games using clichés improperly are kind of ruining it for a lot of people, to the point of it having so much negative connotation around it, we can't help but cringe seeing them, even when used properly. So when a good game rolls around that uses used plot devices, people jump all over it and put it down just because they've seen so many failures use the same elements.

A great example of this, to me anyway, would be the Golden Sun games. They had beautiful graphics, simple-but-fun gameplay, excellent dialogue and storytelling, fleshed out characters, and the whole bit. But, you were still after 4 gem thingies to use in 4 towers to prevent some kind of catastrophe or whatever. It had one of the most cliché plot elements ever, and many people didn't like that, but the game was completely spectacular in almost every regard, and the reviews prove that. It had overused elements in it, but it used them so effectively, that criticizing the game because of it just seemed ridiculous.

Don't use a cliché just because it's a cliché. Use a cliché with purpose.


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    Perihelion
  Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:11 pm
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Any idea or cliche or trope can be good in the hands of a good writer, but the problem with the amateur game-making community is that there are very few good writers. If you use a trope like that, you need to use it knowingly and deliberately, not because it's the first thing you thought of. Cliche plots like collect the eight orbs of power or whatever can help facilitate gameplay, which may be a reason to use them, but a lot of times, amateur plots can be improved by removing the most cliche elements.

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    Crystalgate
  Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:18 am
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One story I can think of which I liked despite being brim full of tropes is Lunar. However, I found the story charming, not interesting. A quick scan of my memory also tells me that the same goes for other plots that I like who are full of tropes, they aren't interesting, but still likable. I wonder if it's the same for other people.


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    Amy
  Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:26 am
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Definately. The storyline to obscure films such as... I can't think of any examples right now, but obscure films, may well be interesting, but that doesn't make it the best movie; similarly as said films such as the Lion King might not have the most interesting storyline but they are still good films and likable.


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    Perihelion
  Fri Mar 25, 2011 1:08 am
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Yeah, but at the same time, I feel like mentioning all of these works with cliche plots that were still good is kind of going in the wrong direction for beginning writers. Again, a good writer can make anything good, but writing a heavily archetypal story in a new fashion is really hard. Plus, everyone thinks they're a much better writer than they really are. We really should be strongly encouraging people in the community to deviate more, especially considering how formulaic 99% of RM games are.

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    Taylor
  Fri Mar 25, 2011 8:29 am
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@SPN: I think the thing that captures me about Golden Sun is the characters. Or maybe they're formulaic too and I just don't realise it. The polished gameplay helps me to look past it.

Granted, I shouldn't. I should be looking for and respecting games that are balanced in story, characters and gameplay. Games that don't rely on overused, underdeveloped elements to get things rolling and get the game out the door.

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    Eventing_Guy
  Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:10 pm
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Read it all..................

"Ask yourself, did you write your game or just rearrange and mix together your favorite game plots and characters?"

*"Guardian angel" is now a dead project... * :cry:

EDIT: Well, my game was dying anyway... 'Script issues'


Last edited by Eventing_Guy on Mon Mar 28, 2011 2:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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    So fist
  Mon Mar 28, 2011 1:17 am
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@Eventing_Guy

The point isn't, "Hey your writing sucks go kill yourself." The point is for you to ask yourself how can I take these cookie cutter stereotypes and add dimension to them that makes them my character instead of squaresoft's. Remember stereotypical roles can be seen as a public persona so you should look at your characters and ask yourself what do they not want people to know about them. What hides behind your comic relief's constant string of jokes? What is the strong alpha male overcompensating for. Stereotypes give public roles for characters, if you go backwards from there you can create the psychology and desires that creates their need to be seen as they present themselves publicly, and through that process they become unique.


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