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Storytelling Storytelling In the early days of video games, storytelling was usually only done in the context of adventure games. Modern video games of all genres can have some story elements.

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Storytelling

  • In the early days of video games, storytelling was usually only done in the context of adventure games.

  • Modern video games of all genres can have some story elements.

    • It might be a key part of the game, or it might just be to provide a setting and motivation for the game.

    • Either way, it is important to understand how good stories are told.

  • There are three key parts to any story:

    • Plot, setting, and characters.


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Plot:The Three Act Structure

  • The basic structure of a good plot is really quite simple.

    • A story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    • Each must be done properly for the story to be effective.

Act 3

The End

Act 1

The Beginning

Act 2

The Middle


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Plot:The Beginning

  • A story begins the moment the player has a problem; that is when the game should begin.

  • Many writers, however, start the story before the beginning.

    • They go over history, extensive background of the character, and so on. The action begins too late.

  • Most good stories begin with the character already involved or engaged.

    • You grab the player’s attention first, and fill in back story as you go along.

    • Start with simple threats and obstacles that establish mood and setting, and begin to form and advance the story as these are overcome.


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Plot:The Beginning

Screen shot from the Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. It has a classic

introduction that involves the player right from the start.


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Plot:The Middle

  • Once initial obstacles are dealt with, it is now time to provide more of the big picture.

    • Give more background and motivations, and set the player’s actions in a larger context.

  • Provide additional obstacles to the player throughout the story.

    • Each time one is overcome, a new and harder one must be faced to reach the long-term goal.

    • The best obstacles also require the hero of the game, and the player in turn, to deal with some kind of inner conflicts and challenges. To overcome these, growth of some form is required.


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Plot:The Middle

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3


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Plot:The End

  • The story ends when the player achieves the long-term objective of the game.

    • The last part of a game should bring together the themes and issues introduced throughout the game.

  • In the last part of the game, the player must overcome the ultimate villain, the source of the obstacles throughout the game.

    • In the end, there must be something or someone that does not want the player to succeed.

    • To face off with this ultimate villain at the end of the story, and emerge victorious is very satisfying.


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Plot:The End

Screen shot from Mario 64. This is one of the final scenes witha show down against the main villain.


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Plot:Summary

  • Keep in mind the three act structure of the plot of a story.

  • Remember this old writer’s maxim:

    • In the first act, you get your hero up a tree.

    • In the second act, you throw rocks atyour hero.

    • In the third act, you get the hero back down.


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Setting

  • Setting is something usually done well in most modern video games.

    • Graphics and sound technologies have advanced to the point where good settings can be easily created.

  • Setting, however, is not just a physical location.

    • It is the whole world created to tell your story.

    • In creating this world, you should invent only one “what if?” and everything else should flow from this.

    • After this, everything should be as real as possible without any contradictions.

  • Choose a setting that will visually entertain.

    • By keeping the setting vivid and consistent, you will more easily be able to immerse the player.


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Setting

Screen shot from Unreal Tournament 2003. Visuals like these

really help establish the setting of the game.


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Character Development

  • Characters can be the most fascinating part of a story.

  • There are two basic philosophies here:

    • Avoid creating a strong central character; only provide a bare outline, and allow the player to fill in the rest with themselves.

    • Create a character with a well defined personality, attitude, and background.

  • Success can be had either way.


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Character Development

Doom’s generic space marine

Duke Nukem


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Character Development: Creating a Character

  • Creating a memorable character is hard, but the rewards can be great.

    • Both artistically and commercially.

  • Try to create a character that can be easily identified with by the player.

    • Try to find problems that we all have as individuals and allow the player to fantasize that they can actually be solved through the hero created.


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Character Development:Non Player Characters

  • Non player characters fill an important role in many video games.

    • They can reveal emotions and reactions that the hero cannot show.

    • They help establish mood and tone in very effective ways that are difficult to do otherwise.

  • Example:

    • Your hero should face down the ultimate villain without any fear.

    • By having non player characters cowering in the background at the same time, this emotion can still be instilled in the game player.


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Character Development:Non Player Characters

Screen shot from Golden Axe. The villagers scream and flee

at the villains’ assault. One is being attacked to the rightbehind the dragon.


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Character Development:Non Player Characters

Screen shot from The Thing. Computer controlled team mates

experience and display fear … earning and keep their trustis an important aspect of the game.


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Character Development:Character Growth

  • Character growth in video games is often difficult to accomplish.

    • We can have characters “grow” by improving their vital statistics, by making them stronger, and by granting them new abilities.

    • This is not the same kind of “growth” found in traditional storytelling.

  • The difficulty comes from the fact that the character is controlled by the player.

    • Ultimately, growth is determined by the experiences had by the player in playing the game.


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The Effects of Interactivity

  • Because of interactivity with the player, the storyteller of a game does not have sole control over the flow of the story.

    • This is a tight balancing act: the nonlinear freedom given to a player, and the linearity needed to have a well-constructed story.

  • Again, the best way to overcome this is through a series of linearly connected open areas.

    • Give the player freedom to meet challenges as they see fit, which can result to a variety of game experiences.

    • These experiences are strung together in a linear fashion so that the storyteller still retains a good measure of control over the story.


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The Effects of Interactivity

Screen shot from Halo. The player traverses several open areas

strung together in a linear fashion. Very well done.


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Storytelling Techniques

  • In a video game, there are really two ways that storytelling can take place.

    • Through the actions of the characters.

    • Through dialog.

  • If something is to be part of the story, it must show up in one of those two forms.


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Storytelling Techniques:Cut Scenes

  • Cut scenes are essentially out-of-game miniature movies.

    • If you do not deliver professional-quality work, the game will suffer for it.

  • Each cut scene should have specific goals.

    • Develop characters.

    • Introduce a new environment.

    • Advance the plot.

    • Establish mission goals.

  • For best results, it is a good idea to collaborate with professionals to do this.


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Storytelling Techniques:Cut Scenes

Screen shots from the original Wing Commander (left) and Wing Commander IV (right). Both are from cut scenes. The original game

used cut scenes between game sequences, while the fourth entry in the series

used them as a main storytelling element.


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Storytelling Techniques:Scripted Events

  • Scripted events are brief sequences within levels that are usually triggered by some player activity.

    • They can be pieces of dialog or small bits of action.

    • They can provide back story, build character, or direct the player towards new goals.

  • Be careful, however, that your scripted events do not break the player’s immersion!


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Storytelling Techniques:Scripted Events

Screen shot from Oni. This is of a scripted event where theheroine Konoko triggers a guard to come through a previously

locked door in another part of the level. Removing the guard,

passage would then be free.


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Storytelling Techniques:Dialog

  • Good dialog sounds nothing like regular speech.

    • We stumble, pause, and repeat ourselves. Dialog must crisp, to the point, and without a word wasted.

  • Every line of dialog should advance the story and develop character.

  • A few tips on dialog:

    • Never have a character say something in dialog that the player already knows.

    • Keep dialog realistic, and consistent with the mood, setting, and characters in the dialog.

    • There should be a purpose behind the dialog; dialog without a point can be annoying and frustrating.

    • When writing dialog, less is more. Keep it short.


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Storytelling Techniques:Dialog

Screen shot of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Dialog is a critical

point in advancing the story, even if it is done in text form.


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Storytelling Techniques:Dialog

Screen shot from Phantom Crash. The gameplay itself is quite good, but theseemingly endless and pointless dialog between the action can be extremelyannoying and frustrating to the player.


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Storytelling Techniques:Puzzles and Obstacles

  • As mentioned earlier, each puzzle or obstacle faced by the player in the game should some how advance the story.

    • If they do not, the player will wonder what the point was in overcoming it.

  • Again the puzzle or obstacle should be consistent with the story and the player’s role in how it unfolds.

    • It must be reasonable for each puzzle or obstacle to exist and for the player to have to overcome it in order to complete their long-term objectives.


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Storytelling Techniques:Puzzles and Obstacles

Screen shot from Zork I. By finding a way into the house, we advance

the story and the player is allowed to proceed further.


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