Monday, September 28, 2009

Game Storylines (from a technical view)

When people look at games, what they usually talk about are the graphics and the gameplay. This is especially true for games that are not released yet. Game companies always show off the gameplay of their creation, alongside with the graphics.

I don't blame them. It's very easy to showcase, talk and discuss about how beautiful the games' graphics are or how unique a certain gameplay mechanic is, but it's incredible difficult to talk about the storyline of the game without referencing to some of its contents. That's why game reviews on games that are based on storylines are so difficult: because it's hard to make people believe that a game is good for its story by not giving any form of spoilers.

Before I continue, take note that whenever I meant "good storyline", I meant the way the story is constructed, not the contents. If you want to know about writing a great story in a content point of view, this is the wrong post. This is a technical post on how storyline can help a game.

Okay let's take a game series like LucasArt's famed Monkey Island. There are many Monkey Island fans out there but the gameplay is actually linear and boring when you think about it. The graphics are merely average too. But people love it because of the story. That is how powerful a storyline is to a game. In many ways, storyline is the SOUL of the game much like how graphics is the FLESH of the game.

One key statement I would like to make is this: "Let the story drive the game progression structure, not the other way around." It is an impossible statement, because without game progression, the whole game will seem like a mess and all the new players will hate it. But it is best to try to make it look that way, give the players the illusion that there isn't a structure at all, and that there is only the story.

Players, especially gamers (which are the majority), will look out for your game progression structure whenever they are bored. This is dangerous and hazardous to your games. Knowing your game progression structure means that it is very easy to predict the later parts of your game, not just the story. If he predicts it right, there's no point in playing your game anymore, because the element of the unknown is gone.

We all know having a progression structure to a game is inevitable, so the best way is to hide it with a good storyline, so that all the players will think about the storyline instead of figuring our your structure. It's very annoying to play a game which goes "Hero! You must go defeat a evil man but his room is locked by 4 keys! To get the first key you must go to the Temple of Fire!". Immediately you can tell that the other 3 'keys' mentioned are the other elements, most probably ice, earth and wind or something along that line. Before the player starts the first dungeon, he will already start to feel jaded.

A game storyline must be captivating enough to induce the player with the emotion of yearning to find out more about what happens next. Its contents can be cheap, dumb or lame, but it should at least induce the player with the emotion of being interested in progressing the game. This emotion should last until the end of the game, without dropping its momentum (too much) at any point.

Having good storyline will redirect the attention (wow it sounds like sales now) of the player away from the ugly sides of your game. Yes, storylines are THAT powerful. Final Fantasy doesn't have good game mechanics, but everyone plays because there is a need to find out what happened. Love or hate your game, they bought and played from the start to the end; that's the point I'm trying to drive at for those who haven't figured it out (It's hard to explain from the start, so I apologize for the late introduction).

I know I'm getting a little long-winded here so I'll just come to a close here. The bottom line is to hide your gameplay under the guise of a story. Storyline is so powerful, if games like Bejeweled actually have a nice storyline, I'll probably grind through hours of it just to see it. Of course, not every game needs a storyline to succeed, but it's extremely useful to have them.


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