We are frequently awe struck by amazing graphics, stellar gameplay or excellent audio. But that rarely--if ever--truly amazes us is the story. That's not to say that there has never been any good stories in games, but in all my time of playing, I have yet to come across anything that rocked my world. Coming from a guy who usually prefers to watch dumb action movies with little to no plot, that's saying a lot.
But, I am also a writer, and I know how hard it is to put together a well crafted story for a passive form of entertainment like a book, let alone an interactive form of media where you can never predict someone's reaction to the content you've created. And I think that is something we often overlook when we say that stories in games aren't of the same caliber as movies.
The intent of this series of blog posts, therefore, is to create some insight into the creation of a (good) story, and to find out if the whole interactive element really does add additional challenge to this process.
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Every story starts with an idea. Often this idea is so vague that it doesn't even have the detail to fill a single page in a book. So you need to build upon that idea, and flesh it out until you have something cohesive and detailed. But you can't just let your mind run wild, and throw in every little thing you come up with into your story. Well... you can if you want to create something like this:
Now, there are various ways in which to go about shaping this vague idea into something substantial. Some writers won't even begin penning their first chapter until they've created an complete outline. Others (like me), begin writing, and try to fill in the details as they go. And then there's the ones who build an entire world before they even start to think about anything resembling a proper plot.
But what if you are a writer on a hundred man team for a triple A title? You sure as hell can't just lock yourself up in a room, and emerge when you have finally finished your masterpiece. We are talking millions of dollars here, and an adherence to a strict deadline. Sure, you can have a movie-like script ready to go before starting production, but a movie is something that people sit down and watch. It is not interactive, and you don't need to worry about striking the right balance between telling your story and not taking away control too much. I mean, if a player is going to spend more time watching cut scenes than they do actually playing the game, you might as well make a movie instead. (Kojima, I'm looking at you).
Which brings us to the next question. How much of your budget and time are you going to spend on the story? There might have been an increasing desire for substantial plots in games, but thus far, the act of playing the game still wins out over experiencing the story. And truth be told, with the rise of casual games, I fear that the story will be relegated to the backseat again.
Think about it. When you picked up Super Mario Galaxy II or the last Call of Duty, did you do so with the intent to experience the story? No, you bought it because you wanted to collect you some starz (yea, z instead of s, I went there) and shoot some people in the face. Having a deep, profound plot in the vein of Citizen Kane will only get in the way of you blowing shit up. So why should a developer pour an ungodly amount of resources into creating a story when, in truth, this is often the part of a game people overlook the most?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes part one of.... THROUGH A WRITER'S EYES! (Just imagine someone with a deep voice shouting that, with some amazing echo and reverb effects added).