Tag Archives: Video Games

Gameplay, Challenge, and Narrative Integration in Adventure Games

This post isn’t about adventure games. It only reads that way.

For four decades, the adventure game genre has been practically synonymous with “story-driven” video games. In the early 1980s, Infocom was trading in thought-provoking, experimental text-only narratives while pioneering role-playing game series like Ultima and Wizardry were still fumbling with the basics. (We won’t even talk about contemporary narrative in other genres.) By the 1990s, non-adventure games had become more competitive in the storytelling sphere, but companies like Sierra and LucasArts were still where gamers went when they wanted “pure” interactive narrative that eschewed complex combat mechanics or action sequences.

Times have chaGabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathersnged. The adventure game genre is still around, but is no longer a dominant industry force. Now even first-person shooters and other action games are marketed with a strong emphasis on story.

What hasn’t changed is the way story and gameplay are separated in most games. We continue to see games structured as a sequence of story moments broken up by gameplay challenges (or vice-versa), whether those challenges are comprised of elaborate combat systems, exploration and discovery, or object interaction puzzles. Sometimes the line between story and gameplay is perfectly blurred or the transition made seamless; more often, it’s stark. Continue reading

The Family Thing: Why Killing My Wife / Husband / Child / Dog Doesn’t Motivate Me

We’ve seen it over and over again: Our wife dies in our arms, or our brother is brutally gunned down, or our mother is eaten by monsters. This tragedy provides the impetus for our journey into adventure–an adventure that could last years or, more likely, 20-80 hours (depending on our completionist tendencies). It’s a tragedy that will remain burned in our minds for every one of those hours until we finally confront those responsible.

Or, more likely, not. Continue reading

Character Differentiation in a Cast of Thousands

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

Six Metrics for Better Game Narrative

Understanding your audience will make your writing better.

That’s not a statement that should need much explanation, but in brief: Storytelling is communication. It’s about reaching out to strangers and presenting ideas to them in a compelling, resonant fashion. You wouldn’t write a television show for 10-year-old American children the same way you would write for Japanese senior citizens. You likely wouldn’t refuse to revise your Broadway-style musical if most of the audience wandered out midway through your dry run.

Game metrics are nothing more or less than a way of increasing your understanding of your audience. They’re not a magical means of producing an engaging story–no one’s suggesting that if players respond positively to orcs and plot twists, every game should feature an orc Player Character and a major plot twist every 15 minutes–but they are a powerful means of understanding how players experience narrative.

Continue reading

Star Wars Roundup

I try to keep these blog posts focused more on content than self-promotion, but I figure I’m allowed the occasional lapse on my own site…

I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Star Wars projects recently. Or maybe I should say “a lot of Star Wars projects I’ve written for have been announced recently”–some of these have been in the pipeline longer than others. For those interested, let’s run down the list!

As previously mentioned, my novel Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company is scheduled to come out in November. It’s connected to the upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront video game, but it’s an original story and not a novelization. I’m told an excerpt may appear at the back of the upcoming novel Star Wars: Dark Disciple, though I haven’t seen it myself.

Star Wars: Uprising is a new free-to-play mobile action RPG from Kabam scheduled to be released sometime this fall. I helped develop the overall story with the project lead, Daniel Erickson (who I previously worked with on Star Wars: The Old Republic) and wrote the game’s script. Uprising takes place shortly after Return of the Jedi, but the trailer sets up the premise best:

Speaking of Star Wars: The Old Republic, its next expansion–entitled Knights of the Fallen Empire–arrives October 27th, bringing massive story changes to the setting. The first nine chapters of episodic story content will be released all at once, but I’m the writer for chapter ten, “Anarchy in Paradise” and one later chapter that will appear in 2016. While the larger storyline is in the capable hands of the BioWare Austin writing team, I’m grateful to BioWare for inviting me to play in a small section of the SWTOR sandbox once again.

For anyone interested in hearing me talk about my past Star Wars work and the art of writing in the franchise, I was interviewed for the ForceCast podcast a few weeks back by Justin Bolger. I very much enjoyed the experience and thought some interesting lines of discussion came up.

And that’s it! That’s all the Star Wars projects I’m involved with this fall and winter. All the secrets have been revealed.

(All those secrets, anyway.)