How do you deliver narrative to a player in a content-rich, nonlinear game?
This is neither a purely mechanical question (“non-player characters scattered through the open world will offer quests, highlighted by giant floating question marks over their heads”) nor a purely story-driven one (“the player is a one-man army, so he’s always getting orders and advice from military commanders”). It’s a question that needs consideration from the very beginning, and ties into everything from the most basic game mechanics to your choice of intellectual property.
Let’s talk about one particular way of thinking about this problem. Let’s talk about story engines. Continue reading
I’ve totally neglected my game writing posts, of late–I’ve got a number of articles half-composed, with titles like “Writing for Failure” and “Complex Stories and Atomic Narrative Theory.” Unfortunately, paying work has taken precedence over more complex pieces, so let’s do something simple: Back to writing fundamentals!
Games–especially open-world action-adventure games and role-playing games–tend to have extremely large casts. This is partly due to length (you can cram a lot of characters into a 40-hour game), but mostly due to mechanics: If every quest requires a unique quest-giver, or if every town needs to be populated with a dozen or more conversable NPCs, or if every item seller needs dialogue attached, you’re going to end up with vastly more characters than the narrative really warrants. When it comes to speaking roles, a game like Dragon Age: Inquisition makes the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy look intimate and focused by comparison.
Let’s forget mitigating this fundamental issue for now (and there are ways to design games to reduce this problem) and focus instead on how to handle all those characters. We’re not just dealing with a cast of thousands, but a cast of a thousand walk-ons–characters who appear for one scene, serve one purpose, and then may never be seen again. Continue reading
It’s been a busy few months–I’ve been juggling multiple projects across multiple media and haven’t had the opportunity to blog much. I’ll be at the Game Developer’s Conference next week and hope to see some of y’all there. In the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty examination of an important subject: designing stories for nonlinear game segments. In other words, side quests.