3 Great Story Writing Tips For Novice Game Designers

in Tips and Tricks

Tips: Writing and implementing a game plot

By: Lunarea

Sitting down and coming up with a really great story sounds simple in theory. After all, it really just takes some imagination and writing experience. There are some fantastic writing tutorials out there, as well as writing prompts that can really get you in the mood to be creative.

Yet, when it comes time to implement the story into the game, a lot of developers find themselves frustrated or stumped. How do you take a story and turn it into something that a player will not only enjoy, but want to keep playing for?

1. Plan out your plot

Story_Mountain

The concept of a story mountain is a good way to figure out the basic story structure.

 

One of the first (and likely most important) steps is to sit down and plan out the basics of your story – have a defined beginning, middle and end. I know, it sounds kind of boring, especially if you’re the type to feel at your most creative when you make up the story as you go along. Knowing exactly what your story is means that you can use a bundle of literary devices that can really push your story into the memorable category. It also means you have an excellent idea of how many maps and resources you’ll need – something that helps your development efficiency.

Still concerned that planning ahead will put a damper on your creativity? Start thinking about side quests and side stories. You can be completely random, creative and unfocused in side quests. It’s a great place to experiment and explore other parts of your game’s universe, without having to worry about how it fits into the main story narrative.

2. Figure out the pacing

Unlike novels and short stories, the story flow of a game plot is dependent on the gameplay itself. Dungeons, battles and exploration create natural pauses in storytelling, which is something that the developer needs to take into account.

On one hand, you don’t want the player to have to go through 3 hours-worth of play before they can continue on with the story. These large pauses can leave the player distracted or feeling like the plot is an afterthought in the game.

xs1shion

Though I personally love Xenosaga, a lot of players were annoyed at having to sit through several 20+ minute long cutscenes.

 

On the other hand, you are making a game and the player needs to be able to do more than just sit through a string of cutscenes. Showing scene after scene builds up great momentum, but it only works if the player is interested and paying attention.

Finding the balance between story (cutscenes) and play (dungeons, exploration) is challenging, even more so because different players will have different preferences. Some will want to just get through the story and will rush through the area, while others will explore every nook and cranny before moving on.

So, how do you figure out the perfect balance? Hearing feedback from your players will be tremendously helpful, as will playing games other developers have made.

3. Be adaptable

As you develop your game, you’ll come across challenges. You might not be able to use the character feature you really wanted, and suddenly it has no place in the narrative. Or maybe you have to scrap an entire area because you can’t find the right tileset. Then there’s the story-telling challenges… Maybe that long background story the character talks about would make a better playable flashback. Or maybe the revelations at the final boss lair are a little too “out of the blue”.

This is when you take out your pencil and make some changes to the planning you did at the beginning. It might sound intimidating, but making changes to the story can help you stay motivated and on course with finishing your game.

Likewise, don’t be afraid of making changes to your gameplay or your game format. A really elaborate story might be more manageable as a serial – where you release the game in chapters or acts. And writing the dialogue for a cutscene might just inspire you to re-map the entire area.

Do you have any tips on writing? Sound off below.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • William Johnson

    Funny you bring up Xenosaga. While looking for inspiration on battle systems, I started playing this series again 🙂 I don’t mind watching the cutscenes. It’s like watching little anime episodes in between playing lol

    • Nick Palmer

      Xenosaga was a bit much for me on the cutscene side. I remember one cutscene right before a big boss fight and it made me want to scream when I lost the boss fight and had to go through it all again.

  • I like the notion of a “story mountain”. One of the things I’m currently working on with “Paranormality: Otherworld” is that it doesn’t actually follow a logical path – straight beginning, middle and end – but one that jumbles them up a bit. What I started doing (it’s mostly in my head at the moment) is charting a timeline, with various sub-timelines as appropriate. Also included are the obstacles/pitfalls and ways to overcome them and the climaxes and anti-climaxes. All mapped out simply, then fleshed out later, while having the straight line for beginning, middle and end running right through.

  • Sprintingkiwi

    Great!
    Thanks for your advices 😉

  • Peter Whitehead

    i find that creating the world and its history and the people helps write the story before you have even begun no need to rush a story it should never feel rushed or an afterthought