Tips: Writing and implementing a game plot
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
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.
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.