Creating an Effective Opening

in Tutorials

So you’ve started your game, but you don’t seem to be getting as much buzz as you like. A few people have played your opening demo but no one seems to care that much.

What we have here, is an opening failure. Now, tons of people will tell you that the opening of a story is one of the most important aspects for acquiring and keeping fans.

And they are right. But with a free indie game, they are even MORE right. Let’s be honest, when we buy a PS3 game (or whatever your system of choice is) for 60 bucks you have much more incentive to keep playing even if you felt the opening wasn’t very good. I may not like the opening, but I’m sure going to play until I get something good just to not have wasted that money.

With an RPG Maker game, even one that you charge a small amount for, you don’t have that luxury. People don’t have anything invested in your game, so you have to GIVE them something to be invested in.

So how do we do that?

You want the Player asking questions.

Humans, myself included, being human and all, are inherently curious, especially when there is no real danger involved. And since your game isn’t likely to injure the player, we can use this to our advantage.

Let’s look at the game Xenogears, a Squaresoft game made for the original Playstation. The opening is gripping, and the reason it is gripping is that after watching it you are REALLY curious about what is going on. The game opens with a cutscene about a spaceship crash on a planet, and then skips to the main character mysteriously understanding how to pilot a mecha in defense of his burning hometown.

Xenogears is property of SquareEnix

You get introduced to a lot of concepts, but none of them are fully explained. The player wants to keep playing just to see what is going on.

Don’t try to tell your players everything. In fact, you can get away with telling players very little. You actually only need to give the player very select pieces of information necessary to carry out what the character is doing, while sprinkling in tidbits about the surrounding world.

And that leads to the second point:

You want the Player DOING something.

Unlike the opening of a book or movie, video games are games. This means interactivity. Get your player into interactivity as SOON as possible.

If I’m sitting down to play a game, I want to play a game. Now, I choose RPGs because I like story, and most RPG fans love story, too, but if that was all they wanted they would probably be reading a book.

Getting your player to game play as soon as possible means they are getting what the medium promises. For an example of this, let’s look at Final Fantasy VII. The first thing we do after a very short cutscene is an immediate combat.

Final Fantasy VII is property of SquareEnix

You haven’t even gotten to name the main character yet. Jumping into the action gets people’s adrenaline going, and lets them know what they are in for.

As an aside, whatever you think of Final Fantasy VII, one thing it did VERY right was its opening, in almost every way possible. I could have probably written the entire article on that game opening alone. You could do a lot worse than studying FFVII’s opening to model your own.

And one last point to make:

Don’t overburden the Player with complexity all at once.

There are two types of complexity that I’m talking about. Story Complexity and Game Complexity. We already covered a bit of not revealing too much at once on the story end, but this is just one more reason not to do this.

Imagine you are playing the opening of a game, and the opening cutscene gives you 20 character names, 5 faction names, and descriptions of 8 different events. What is the likelihood you will remember any of this?

Complexity isn’t bad, you just have to add it a little at a time so that it isn’t complex in appearance.

Gameplay complexity is very similar. You want to introduce pieces slowly. If you have a complex character customization system, don’t try to dump it on the characters all at once.

By revealing a bit over time, the player has time to internalize one feature before he has to learn the next.

Hopefully this tutorial has can help you grasp the players you want with an excellent well designed opening. Have any questions or suggestions? Make them in the comments section below!

13 comments… add one

  • Julien Brightside August 25, 2012, 1:49 pm

    A good tutorial. I agree with it.

  • Kulimar August 25, 2012, 3:16 pm

    Yeah, I agree too. We are actually revamping the introduction to our game Profit Motive (http://profitmotivegame.com/) to be playable and to introduce some gameplay and mechanics instead of just being a series of scenes you watch. Hopefully this helps improve the pacing of the experience.

    There is one thing we are planning to do though that I’m wondering if it will help or hurt. Currently, people who get far enough into the game REALLY like the combat system because a lot of depth and strategy becomes available to them around the mid-point. Early on, however, some people feel it is too simple.

    Aside from trying to add more of the mechanic depth early, another thing we are looking to do to is allow the player to see more of the advanced depth and strategy in the playable intro mentioned above, but guide them through the battles with HUD highlighting and other tricks to to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed or don’t get confused or lost about what to do.

    The idea is that they will see what they will eventually be building back up to and will have a chance to experiment with some higher level attacks and abilities in gimmicked fights early on. Chaos Rings II started off with a similar set up that I think worked pretty well.

    Any thoughts on this approach?

    -Sag

    • James August 25, 2012, 3:24 pm

      Wish you the best of luck i got to rethink my game too now =O

    • Nick Palmer August 25, 2012, 4:32 pm

      I’ve actually seen this idea before, and its a pretty good one as long as the player doesn’t feel like they are getting things taken away from them. It gives players a bit of a goal of “I’m going to build back up to X” to strive for throughout the game.

      (Also, as an aside, I’m really interested in Profit Motive, though I haven’t gotten to play it yet, myself. It looks pretty cool and unique though.)

      • Kulimar August 25, 2012, 4:49 pm

        Yeah. Hopefully with the revised intro changes we plan to make losing all their abilities will make perfect sense and feel appropriate. We’ll know soon enough :)

        (Thanks for the comments. I hope you get a chance to check it out. We’d love to hear your early thoughts on it as we think your insights could help us improve it quite a bit as we continue to work on it:)

        -Sage

    • Avnas August 25, 2012, 7:09 pm

      Ooh! I loved Profit motive, I played the demo. I didn’t realise you guys were still working on it. I’ll keep an eye out!

  • James August 25, 2012, 3:22 pm

    I thought it would be longer but this is better then how the company was when rpg maker 95 was release i am glad they are helping us. =)

  • marty August 25, 2012, 3:33 pm

    Yeah Very nice tutorial. I remember the old games very well. But you think about time it is good to make better games. Not the remakes.

  • adani_jmc August 25, 2012, 7:53 pm

    Ah thanks, i get a hard time to design my opening :D

    note:
    even if Xenogear made by “Squaresoft” in the past, i think you have to write “Square Enix” instead, because they did it too :D

    • Nick Palmer August 25, 2012, 8:00 pm

      It was made by Squaresoft, and is property of SquareEnix. Basically it can’t be a property of Squaresoft cause Squaresoft doesn’t exist anymore :P.

      Which is why I called it a Squaresoft game in the text, but listed it in the screenshot caption as being property of SquareEnix

      • adani_jmc August 26, 2012, 1:34 am

        Hahaha ok, by the way, thanks again for your tips.

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