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    coyotecraft
  Tue Oct 22, 2013 10:51 am
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I've been wanting to open a discussion about storytelling in games. I've picked up a fews tips and insights about writing and video games used as a medium that I think could be helpful and worth repeating. Chime in with any thing you want to add or debate.

Conflict is the core of storytelling. The root of a ho-hum story is probably a lack of conflict. Conflict can take many forms. You might remember from English class: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Himself ect... but don't confuse conflict with "The Conflict". Fighting a hoard of evil might be "the conflict". Every scene -every conversation- should have a bit of conflict to make it interesting. A character going to school is not that interesting. Running to school because they're late, that's better. Late for school, and can't afford another late homework assignment is even better. See? Conflict. Make everything personal. Take a simple greeting with a store clerk. "Welcome". Boring. "Buy something or get out. Don't waste my time", that's conflict. It's not always mean or angry. "You looking to buy? Or just looking...at me *wink*". Awkward is still conflict, even if it doesn't go anywhere because the clerk is just an unimportant NPC.

Character creation. I've seen advice that if you create a personality, traits, quirks, the character will write it's self into the story. If you ask me, that's role-playing. I think it's poor advice and that the story and the characters should be tailored for one another- for effective conflict. The world is in danger and only YOU can save it; isn't that strong when YOU really means ANYONE and it's not personal. An elf with heterochromatic eyes armed with a bow made of sacred wood might as well be Bob from down the street.

Unless you have Sequences. Sequences might not be a universal term. The Sequences I'm talking about are scenes where a character reflects on events that just happened and you see how things have changed because of it. Sequences are important to make the character part of the story, their story, but it's usually missing in amateur games. Plus it can ruin the pacing without it. Someone you thought was dead is actually alive! If you don't show a sequence to let the revelation sink in then you'll lose it's dramatic effect. I hated in the teen titan comics how superboy was killed, the team struggled to cope for the next few issues, then superboy just shows up again later. How it happened is explained in the Superboy comic, but the team couldn't know and they just didn't react to the news, wonder girl was angry and only because she was team leader now and Superboy coming back was a distraction. You're old boyfriend came back from the dead, and that's a distraction? Well I certainly didn't see that coming. Which leads me to my next point.

Expect the audience to expect. Writing can be an adventure when you're making it up as you go but remember the story is ultimately going to be for the audience and you need to think about how they'll experience the story. The audience can be ahead of a character or the character can be ahead of the audience. It depends on how much information you give. The character picks something off the ground, but the audience doesn't have the information to know what that is. Suspense? Well, it might not have been revealed in the story yet but the audience can work things out. You typically have an idea of what a movie is about when you go see it, right? So if the character picked up an artifact that can control time and you already knew the movie was about time travel using an artifact, then you're just waiting for the story to catch up with what you already know. Hopefully you're not halfway through the movie at this point because that would be a pretty bad movie. The audience expecting what happens isn't a bad thing though. That means they're following the story, even when it's laughably predictable that they know what someone is going to say before they say it. Just be careful not to present any misleading information. If there's a dragon on the cover the audience will be disappointed when they get to the end and there is no dragon. They'll throw their hands in the air in frustration because they waited and expected to see one. A bad experience.

Game Overs are kind of a relic from arcade games. You don't need to insert more coins anymore. Its just bad design to mock the player with "you lose" and force them to go through the title and load screen to try again. A retry screen is the more modern approach but in terms of storytelling why not show the consequences of dying? Bad endings. It might be worth considering how the story would pan out if the characters die midway. If the evil master mind was counting on the Heroes to defeat the monster guardian; does that mean if you died his plans would be foiled?

Barks, as I've heard them called are bits of dialog that are triggered when you meet certain specifications. They're called barks because it appears as if characters start talking at random times unprompted. You're exploring a canyon and another character feels the need to explain how the canyon was formed, the legend behind it, or just comment on the scenery. You could also call them sequences and in fact they are a perfect way to have the characters ponder about what happens next. Or lead the player, "Over here" "Look" "Listen"
As amateur game creators, you might not have access to voice actors. Listening isn't as disruptive as stopping and button mashing through text boxes. But there are still places were plugging-in bark like dialog wouldn't be so bad. Like at the end of battles, after finding treasure or buying stuff at the store, entering another area. The Inbetween times when the player just finished something and hadn't yet started something else. If it's truly supplemental then add a skip option or keep a text log so that players can read later if they're interested.


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    Xilef
  Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:17 pm
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Something I want to add is story telling with games is very different than story telling in books or films. In a game, if you start with a great story and begin writing a game into it then you might as-well make it a film or a book because it's going to be filled with cut-scenes.

Game story writing is best when done with peaks in actions with lulls between, your favourite games most likely would have an action graph that looks something like a sine-wave with the highs being action and the lows being a cut-scene.

A very brief lull at the beginning is usually acceptable (FF7's opening, Half-Life 2's game introduction, FF6's credits), if this lull is too long then it needs to be broken up with some petty action to remind the player that they are involved in this (FF9 has introduction, player control with Zidane + an easy battle, more introduction).

So the opening peak would be the introduction to the problem, the lull afterwards would be a relaxation in the aftermath of the introduction, then the climb to the next peak. If peaks are too close, then it's action after action, if they're too far apart then it's cut-scene after cut-scene (Or a lot of in-game running about).



My personal solution to "Barks" is actually to have the additional content just stream along at the side, if you're walking past something of interest, split the party off so they run towards the point of interest and leave you to continue forward, if you stick around then their dialogue can continue still giving you the choice of just walking off, if you stay long enough to a point where you get involved then have one of the other party members call your name so the player is notified that they are now involved in this side-conversation, move the player closer then give them the option of joining in on the conversation or not "What do you think of X?" is a good escape method.
If you walk off screen, continue the game as if the conversation successfully took place, the player didn't want to waste time and you didn't successfully grab their attention, so let it be.

I don't like the "Over here", "Look", "Listen" methodology as it still feels like a game-design relic and reminds the player that they're still in a game where you jump through hoops to unlock the next part.
If the barking character is already in conversation with another character (Or even themselves) about the point of interest then the player should hopefully feel that they are missing out on this so they go over to eaves-drop, which feels fun in itself.


Game Overs and lives need to be carefully thought about, the RPG Maker default game over can make anyone turn off the game, if it were to dump you in stead to the point before the battle/dungeon/out-side the last town you left on the world map then you have stream-lined the game for the player so they have at least some incentive to continue, they could then save at that point and turn off the game (If they saved it before they turn off then they still care) or reflect on the failure and re-approach it.


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    coyotecraft
  Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:06 pm
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Consequences make actions meaningful. An adult story has consequences. Imagine a war, lots of explosions and gun fights, but nobody dies and everyone dodged every bullet; that's a childish story. Obviously, in a game if you die you just hit the retry button. But in storytelling, consequences create the raise in action. If each step in the story is disconnected, the results of each step has no bearing on what came before or what happens next, then the action is flat-line. You want to build up the story to the climax, so mission 1 results in mission 2 ect...everything leads up to the final mission. You went on a quest to find and deliver parts for -you don't know what-, but eventually you get to pull off the sheet to reveal the mystery machine that's either going to resolve everything or have further consequences that lead the story somewhere else.


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    Amy
  Fri Nov 22, 2013 8:45 pm
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Quote:
The world is in danger and only YOU can save it; isn't that strong when YOU really means ANYONE and it's not personal.

Particularly interesting statement. Absolutely, if the world is in distress and can only be saved by one person... why is it The Player? Why is a farmboy doing a job that would be done better by a soldier with more experience? Because prophecy said so?


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    Jason
  Sat Nov 23, 2013 2:04 am
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Awesome Bro

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    coyotecraft
  Sat Nov 23, 2013 7:56 am
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Locations. It's much easier to suspend the audience's disbelief when you're using unfamiliar worlds. That's probably why very few rpg's use modern settings. Floating continents, spirit realms, and tree's the size of mountains are easily accepted. Fighting with swords and axes in a time when everyone uses guns? Not so much. (and yet urban fantasy series like buffy, supernatural, and charmed make it work somehow.)

I personally think, if you have monsters and magic you should have fantastical locations also. A plain natural forest that you have to cross is pretty boring. It creates conflict in the form of an obstacle and some danger from the wildlife. But you could do the exact same thing with an unnatural forest that grew overnight and engulfed the town while you slept at the Inn. So now you have a mystery on top of all that. I suppose it depends on the game and how much time you should invest in an area.


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    Amy
  Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:25 pm
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I think it also doesn't help that you can't really create a realistic world in the unrealistic graphics and unnatural camera angle of RPG Maker and a lot of other games. When we try and be too realistic, with modern resource packs and such, we end up with things looking too bad - it's like how Toy Story is acceptable to watch but when we get to Spirits Within it becomes a little more jarring, as it's too realistic but not-quite-realistic. There's something about humans that we dislike anything that's too realistic but isn't.

Fantasy helps. Hell, games are fantasy, so may as well be high fantasy.

I dunno it just seems a bit weird playing a realistically lain out game that's put every detail into the world, but then has things like unrealistic time scales, fantasy creatures, and magic. It's a complete clash.


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