A train pulls into the station, and our hero flips from on top of it, after defeating two guards, we discover he is a former member of a group known as SOLDIER and now a mercenary working for a group planning to take down the evil corporation Shinra for the damage it is doing to the planet.
So why am I telling you the opening to Final Fantasy VII? Have I just gone so mad that I’ll resort to nearly anything to have something to put up on the blog? Will you tune in next time to see a 300 page synopsis of Persona 3, or do I actually have a point coming?
What this is, is a hook, and every game needs one.
What is a Hook?
The hook is the part of the opening of your story that gets the players interested. Bored players don’t keep playing.
And I know what you are thinking: “Give it some time, it gets better!” And hey, that very well may be true. You might have the greatest story ever penned, but each and ever one of us has a million different options for entertainment in front of us. If your game doesn’t interest me in the first 20 minutes or so, I doubt I will play it much longer.
Its not a lack of patience, its a lack of time. I have a job, and a family, and if statistics hanging around the internet are correct, I’m not alone. Why would I spend more than 20 minutes playing something I don’t find interesting when I only have about an hour or two of spare time a day, and about 30 games I bought on Steam Sale that I haven’t even touched yet?
Now, hopefully, I don’t get any of the “but if people just had patience” lines, so let’s look at some ways to craft hooks.
Go Easy on the Exposition
Look. I know that you have spent the last decade of your life carefully crafting the world I am exploring, so how about you have some respect for your world and try not to explain the whole thing with ten minutes of word vomit at the beginning.
Only give the player the information he needs to do what he is doing at the moment in the world. You will have PLENTY of time throughout the game to flesh things out through the natural interactions of the characters.
Please, PLEASE, just don’t start your game with a ton of scrolling text. A few lines is OK, but I don’t actually need to know every nuance of the ongoing war to get started.
In Medias Res
In medias res, latin for “in the midst of things”, is a writing term that means just that: starting in the middle of things.
Try starting your story in the middle of the first big dungeon. You have plenty of time to scoot back and tell more about what happened before, starting with a bang means people jump into the excitement as soon as possible.
Get People Asking Questions
Another thing you want to do to create a good hook is get people asking questions. This one really goes back to the first point. Give just enough information for the player to be curious. Why does this character hate that character? Why is this group trying to do this? Where did he learn to do that?
Make sure to lead your players into asking questions. You can even have a character start to explain something but be interrupted, or just trail off. Mystery makes people come back for more.
Give us a character we can empathize with in a bad situation
The thing about a hook is that we have to make the character CARE. And what better to make a person care than a person, albeit a fictional one. Put a likeable character in a bad situation that the player has to fix, and watch the player jump like a marionette.
A small child with a disease, and only you can travel to get the herbs to save him. A friend of the main character is in trouble with the law and you have to find out what really happened.
There are a million other ways to hook in a player. But what you really need to be asking yourself is one thing: Why should the player care? It can be a character, a mystery, because the game started with a blast of awesome, but it has to be something. And it has to be given to the player right at the beginning.
What do you do in the beginning of your game to make your players care? Join us in the comments section below.