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Dev Update #23: Writing In Games

By January 11, 2017Dev Updates

On this team, we have a project director with a past in film and a writer in … writing.  For books, though.  Maybe a bias is showing, but both of these mediums are entirely valid mediums in which to tell a story.  That said, they’re a form of non-interactive storytelling, in which the story happens at a set pace with or without the involvement of its audience.  Video games, on the other hand, tell their story through interaction and require a different sort of approach.  Though we’ve had our degrees of practice with other mediums, learning to work in this new style of storytelling has flexed our minds in a very fun way.

The first thing we’ve had to really understand was the relationship between story and user input.  Where a movie will go with or without the involvement of the viewer, a video game typically has certain fail states throughout that will flat out end the player’s experience until they’re able to overcome a certain challenge.  There are many games that I’ve simply never seen the end of because of a certain boss or situation that I couldn’t figure out!  I still lack closure in the first Broken Sword adventure game.

It adds another level of complexity once you realize that the movie example only takes into account a two-dimensional story experience.  If two people can watch the same movie and take two completely different things from it, the same is doubly true in a video game.  The story in a video game isn’t just a series of set pieces and written scripts.  It’s, again, an interaction between the player and the game itself.  One of my favorite examples of this comes from my elementary school’s playground.  We weren’t exactly supposed to, but most of my grade would bring our GameBoys to school to play Pokemon together.  Now, this occurred before the widespread use of online forums, so we had to learn to play this game together.  Because of this, we all ended up doing things at roughly the same pace, though a few of us lagged behind a little.  A kid named Logan had a particularly hard time with the game.  When we first reached the Elite Four (the final bosses), our different approaches to the game all showed the most clearly.  I was under-leveled so my mistakes would ruin attempts fast, but I was good at type advantages.  Travis had all of the starting pokemon at high levels so he could muscle through a lot, but the rest of his team had trouble getting past the first Elite because of their levels and weaknesses.  Then you had Jordan who had a strategy guide, so he knew how to get all the best Pokemon.  Cheater.

Anyway, the point is that we all fought the exact same bosses, but had entirely different experiences because of how we each chose to play the game.  This is a major part of game design, but also a major consideration when telling a story in a video game.  Because of the medium’s nature, creating a compelling story isn’t just an act of writing cutscenes to connect different gameplay sections.  I want the things you do in a game to tell you more about the story itself.  If you follow us, you may have noticed me refer to a Play-Story a few times.  To me, this means constructing a relationship between progression and encounters/challenges that work as scenes while asking certain questions.  “What am I capable of currently?  What is needed of me to overcome this challenge?  What does that say about my situation, both in the moment and overall?”  It’s important for me to recognize that, as much as I love writing, my writing isn’t here as a reward for you beating the boss.  It’s here to serve, justify, and hopefully heighten the actions that you, the player, take.

That’s all for this week’s Dev Update, but be sure to come back next week for more on the development of Gears of Eden!  Be sure to follow us on Twitter or Facebook for the latest news on the game, or maybe even sign up for the newsletter and get entered for the chance to a FREE key to our upcoming Alpha Build.  On a final note, I’d like to apologize for the disruption of our usual schedule here.  I’ve been away from home for the better part of a month, but I’ll be returning home this Sunday … just in time for the return of our weekly Fan Feedback poll!

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