Why storytelling in games matters. I’m 35 yr game industry vet, author of orig. fiction for X-Wing
I’m Rusel DeMaria. I’m a writer, game designer, and narrative lead for Starfighter Inc. Come join me and I’ll tell you why narrative is so important in games and why our approach is like nothing you’ve ever seen in a team-based combat game. I’ll tell you how we’re going to get you involved in our world. We’ll surprise you. We’ll let you in on the secrets of The System. Ask me anything.
CURRENT PROJECT: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/impellerstudios/starfighter-inc-0/comments
We fully plan on creating secondary goals and splinter off side stories. In our stretch goals, we have the ability even to spin off single-player bonus missions, but that's pretty far away right now. As for cut-scene types of action, that's again something that requires more funding, it's not currently in the play, but we do plan on including at least one graphic novel and lots of fiction related the game as it goes forward through our website. Some players who do really well, might find themselves as part of those stories. Character development is trickier in a game like ours, but through our ancillary fiction, we hope to fully flesh out the fiction.
Here's a super-nerdy one: the world of Starfighter Inc (off of the Earth's surface in particular) is controlled by corporations. What do they use as currency, and what is it backed by? Is there a 'two tier' system, with day-to-day currency being fractured into regional utility and large transactions in some common intermediary (clearinghouse style)?
Fiat currency might not work to well for inter-corporation trading (being essentially Company Scrip). Backing by precious metals is less effective when heavy metal asteroid finds could 'crash the market' by eliminating rarity (why the "trillion dollar asteroid" headlines make little sense in practice). Backing based on useful commodities (e.g. purified water, useful buffer/propellant gasses, light metals) has volatility issues and transport issues, on top of all the normal issues of backing with commodities being very close to a barter economy. If hydrocarbons for plastics and composites are still valuable that might work as an interesting replacement for precious metals (you can either mine them on the Earth and truck them out of the gravity well, or synthesise them elsewhere at an energy expense) but still have the issue of them being a functional commodity rather than valuable in and of themselves.
redmercuryvendor: That has been debated by the team, but there isn’t a set answer yet, due to many of the issues you’ve discussed. Between all the worlds of the solar system, few materials are all that rare, or could not potentially be mined extensively if a great enough demand existed. In the inner solar system, you can find fissionables and abundant metals; in the asteroid belt, you can find more abundant heavy metals; in the outer solar system, you have almost ubiquitous ices and hydrocarbons. Improved manufacturing technology only makes this more difficult because it allows creation of substances that could possibly be rare otherwise - in a world where bulk diamond is usable as a structural material (and current technology is only closing the gap between the industrial stones and the jewels), how useful would it be as a precious gem?
One of the main options our team most agrees with is using a form of digital currency, like bit-coin. That data can be beamed out facilitates use for an interplanetary economy, and though there is still lightspeed lag to deal with during distant transactions, it’s much easier than transporting the material between locations. Also, it probably comes as close as anything artificial gets to being limited by its design; this might actually pose a problem in a rapidly expanding economy (as the narrative suggests) when it must be divided into smaller and smaller units. This doesn’t mean it isn’t without major issues that have held us back from adopting it - for one, it’s still potentially hackable (if with enormous difficulty), and makes you dependent to some extent on whoever owns the network of servers keeping track of it. Granted, given that our story presumes corporations control everything, having stuff in the hands of one or two banks might not be undesirable.
Have you heard the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?
RobtertAPeterson: We have heard of Darth Plagueis the Wise. I'm not sure if there's more to your question, but in our narrative, we won't be using magical abilities like the Force or the Dark Side precisely, but we will be working with human nature and the deviousness of game designers and writer that we are. Expect some strange and twisted character, and unexpected transformations as our story unfolds, although keep in mind that players won't see these characters and transformations except in how they affect the way the battles take shape and who is involved in them. However, we plan on creating lots of fun fictional accounts of our story to give deeper understanding of what is going on in our behind-the-scenes world. For me, that's going to be the most fun.
Are you the Willie Wonka of Star Wars gaming?
I was a temporary Wonka when I was commissioned to write a novella of each of the first two Star Wars games and continued those fictions in the strategy guides. I invented the characters Keyan Farlander and Maarek Stele. I guess that's the extent of my wonkishness with Stat Wars though. :0
"Come with me and we'll see a world of true imagination..."
You have no idea what my imagination already sees.
Hi ! I really enjoyed the differences between mission briefings and what really happened in flight, and the hard decisions to make. Will we have something like this in StarFighter Inc. ? Will there be something like mission plan maps updates happening in flight, like some sort of emergency change of plan (I'd really love to see something like this) ?
Hi Gehroll. Yes, there will be mission briefings in the form of the contracts you sign as a mercenary. These will give you the basic mission parameters and the amount the mission pays. There may be changes in the mission primary or secondary missions during the battle. You'll be in communication through your DSS, which is your support system during flight. Currently, your after-mission summary will basically consist of how much money (credits) you gained and possible charges for repairs. And we want the hangar experience between missions to be very immersive and dynamic.
Hi Rusel! Excited to hear more about Starfighter Inc. How exactly will you be telling the story to the player in an open world combat game? Will it be linear or will it play out different for each player? Cutscenes? Or lots of terminal reading??
Lollsmalls: I answered some of your question in the previous reply. As for the story being linear, my goal, and this also will depend on stretch goals at this time, is to have several simultaneous areas of conflict at once. These areas of conflict would involve different organizations fighting over different issues. So it will be a multi-threaded narrative, and sometimes the different threats might converge. I think of this as I would if I were writing a novel or series for TV. But not in episodes. It is a 24/7/365 game, and stories will evolve at different rates. Given our gameplay format, we aren't going to have exploration or an open world setting. At its core, this is a combat game, and as a mercenary, your first concern is survival, followed by credits earned, which in turn allow you to purchase new ships, upgrade existing ones, and many more options for how to use your credits. As for terminal reading, there will be some, but some of it is optional and for added entertainment value and further immersion in the storylines and events in the game. The primary reason to read the terminal will be to seek out good contracts for your next battle.
This AMA is supposed to be closed, but since it seems to be running still, feel free to post questions. I'll answer them when I can.
How do you plan to allow the players personal experience to affect the narrative when dealing with a online multiplayer game?
MrGraddo: The whole concept of narrative in a multiplayer game like SFI is one that we've approached in a variety of ways. First, of course, is the fact that for some major events the outcome of the story is determined by which side in the conflict wins (in a statistical sense over many battles). But there's a lot more. First, we have a very rich world in the background of the game, full of corporations, anti-corporate organizations, criminals, fanatics, and shadowing figures with influence in high places. It's a rich story evolving on its own, and it evolves through the game and through the players' actions. But it also has the ability to engage players directly through loyalties to one side or another, or becoming part of larger campaigns. The idea for the narrative is that it will evolve, that it will become more and more clear over time, and that it will contain many surprises. So there's a story, and as a mercenary you are not one of the movers and shakers, but you are someone with the autonomy to choose your sides and to become engaged and identifies with the emotions of winning and losing on top of the obvious perks of loot, reputation, and the ability to upgrade your ships, weapons, and systems. Reputation also functions as a way to gain extra perks from organizations that you fight for, so there is added incentive to choose a side, although you might like one side better than another for personal reasons. Like some of them are a-holes.
The Ultima: The Avatar Adventures was an incredible novelization / playthrough, and still stands as one of the best game guide ever. It made me and my brother completely invested in the story, and looked forward to having our own adventures in Britannia. It was a great crafted story!
Is there any plans to do more of that type of guide / walkthrough? Any more plans to work with Caroline?
Avaclon: I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed The Avatar Adventures. It was really a fun project, and Caroline was truly a hoot. She credits me with helping her launch her writing career since, and she's doing lots of new things. We haven't had any projects to work on together since then.
As for guides and walkthroughs, I'm not sure that we will need that for SFI, but if we do, I'll be the one to do it. But for fiction, I plan on writing a lot of background fiction that follows our ongoing story. I'm pretty prolific and a fast writer, so I think I can keep up with our storyline as the game progresses, and I also have Zach and possibly David Wessman who could offer some fiction, too. It's going to be fun and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as you enjoyed the Ultima book.
So question: If you inspect and blow up everything in mission two of xwing, it says you're a failure. But if you inspect and return, mission three is to blow up a subset of everything, but blowing up everything is acceptable too. Is this because the brass is that mad at xwing pilots making decisions even if they're correct?
goodnewsjimdotcom: Every mission has different objectives. I'm not sure if your question is a serious one, but that's the short answer. Of course our game has no X-Wings. We have Shrikes, Pegasus, Hyperion, and some new ships coming however. Much, much better than X-Wings.
The objective of mission two was: Inspect the cargo.
The objective of mission three was: Destroy the cargo.
But if on mission two, if you inspect then destroy the cargo, you failed. Why not just go to mission four?
Good question. Continuity issue. Sometimes games cheat and defy logic, but that doesn't mean it's right to do so. If I were in the position of designing that, I would have a mission 2a in which you dealt with the failure of the first mission, or require you to succeed in mission 2 to advance the story, or have mission 3 be different because of your earlier failure. In a single-player game, this is easy enough to manage. In a multiplayer game it gets more iffy since each mission will be played many times by different teams. Keeping absolute continuity will depend on how closely tied to the narrative the mission is. Some missions may not be closely tied to a narrative thread that has sequentially related missions. Others will be, and we will work on a framework for continuity so that the story advances. This is definitely true of our Nexus Events, which are critical moments in the story the outcome of which can have tangible effects on the direction of our game.
As a gamer, I'm getting pretty sick of every genre having some form of RPG/stat based leveling system, be it character side or equipment.
Are you planning on attenuating this and putting the focus on player skill instead of who has the best gear and perks?
Cephlopodia: We're strictly avoiding the RPG-like player stats approach. The upgrade path is through your ships, weapons, and systems, plus cosmetic customizations, and through your skill. We think of this as a skill-based game, and you earn every upgrade. There's no magic. No plus 1 to your player flying skills. Nothing like that. That would be a different game altogether. Hope that answers your question.
Thank you for all who participated in this AMA. We're going to close down now since the questions seem to have stopped. Please back our Kickstarter. For more information about Starfighter Inc. and this project, please check out these links. Come visit us and ask more questions.
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P.S. I'm about to publish a new version of my game history book, High Score Expanded on Amazon. If you're interested in game history, please check it out. It's currently available for Kindle, but the print edition should be up within a few weeks. Thanks,
I'm trying to break into game development by designing my own games in Unity, but writing comes extremely easy to me. I'd love to write for video games, I just don't really know where to start; video game writing seems to be the one area where there are no college courses or youtube tutorial series to latch onto.
Any advice for an aspiring games writer?
Clockw0rk: I can't say there's any easy way to break into writing for video games, but the truth is, if you're a good writer already and you know games well, you don't need a college course, you need to start writing about games or writing your own games. You can certainly apply to be writer for game companies. Do some searches. Companies like BioWare often hire new writers, but their writing test is tough. Writers are not the most respected members of the game development community, and often people think anyone can write so why pay someone? You have to prove to them that you will make their game better through your writing ability. You can also start writing reviews and other material about games in a blog of your own, perhaps also showing your personal thoughts about narrative in games and how it could be better than it is. Basically, there's no single path, but many possibilities, which is true for any aspiring writer.
In how many things should I serve the emperor?
All you can afford. The emperor will be pleased.
Why was everyone opposed to continuing the X-Wing Franchise, and well sims in general?
I can't really answer the second part of your question. I'm not sure that people are opposed to sims, but the tastes of the gaming public do change from time to time, and perhaps sims are not currently en vogue. As for the X-Wing franchise, that's up to Disney now, since they own the property, and over the years LucasArts went away from the X-Wing and TIE Fighter types of games to focus more on the Jedi adventures. I have no inside knowledge, but I would guess it was because they thought they had a bigger demographic for those games and they tied closer to the movies.
Thanks for the reply, just wish I had a good use for all those old jetfighter sim sticks I keep seeing at Saint Vincent.
Yeah, I have a few in storage, but you will be able to use them in Starfighter Inc. Help us succeed and you'll have some fun flight combat once again.
In your view, are there any games that effectively strike a good balance between something like Legend of Zelda (where the player mostly tells their own story) and the Last of Us (where the player mostly follows along with the story the game has to tell). As a game designer, I often find myself caught up in a struggle trying to preserve a more self-informed experience against the structure that narrative designers often want to impose (with good reason).
Have you played House of the Dying Sun? I'd be very interested to know what you thought of it. I adored X-wing. Thanks for the AMA, I'll be sure to follow up on Starfighter Inc.
I haven't played House of the Dying Sun, but I've heard of it. It's on the list of games I hope to get a chance to check out. I've been super busy with this game along with two book projects, which means that my game playing has been sort of limited for the past few years.
Striking the balance as a game designer between a directive narrative versus increased player agency is often a challenge, in part because providing agency requires us to allow more complex options than putting someone on a relatively fixed path. I love designing games where there is more than one way to approach it. One of my personal ways of looking at it is what I call the spider web model or the snowflake model. It involves multiple strands of free choice in how to approach the events and territory of the game. These experiential strands ultimately lead to the center, where a certain event takes you to the next phase of the game. This is often a boss encounter or other significant moment in the game. But unlike many games that more or less provide a linear path to the such moments, my goal would be to let the player have many ways to get there, each with its own character and specific rewards and challenges. Of course there are games like that already; it's not a unique concept. And for completionist players, they can explore every square inch of the game before moving on. The end result is that the story narrative moves forwards as you as a writer/designer intend it to, but the player has many ways to get to the nodal points or dramatically significant moments. That's just one approach, of course. There are also games where the player creates his or her own narrative. Open world games like Grand Theft Auto or the Elder Scrolls series. To some degree, the Mass Effect games accomplish just enough freedom of choice while presenting a coherent narrative to give that agency as well. It all comes down to players making meaningful choices, to paraphrase Sid Meier.
I'm so glad I came across this AMA but I hope I'm not too late. I really liked some of your answers, the "snowflake" model you described particularly will help with the style of game I'd like.
I have an idea for a video game that I've been simmering on the back burner for a coupe of years. I'm very passionate about this idea and after some time realized its an ode to my childhood. Because of this I'm taking it very personally and don't want to screw it up, and have more or less been sabotaging myself from even starting development. I'd like to ask a couple of questions...
1. Any motivational tips to get moving on this?
I have a strong software engineering background and just enough artistic sense to at least get a proof of concept going.
2a. I'm struggling translating the story to a game, any tips?
I'm having a hard time deciding what I want the overall game-play (game style?) to be like. Often times I struggle to think of anything that fits the emotions I want to convey, other times I have too many things that I want to do. Also I need to fit within the realistic technical limits, I know it wont look like a AAA title but the story is an adventure and I need to cover a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively.
2b. How do you balance story telling and game play?
I was disappointed a few years back when AAA titles started dropping single player campaigns all-together. Recently I'm excited to see story-based games making a huge comeback, including in the indie scene, but I watch my wife play some popular titles that seem too close to "playing a movie" for me. I respect these games but personally don't buy them or spend time playing them. The story I want to tell is more or less a linear narrative, any tips for "conveying a story through a game" vs "telling a story via a game"?
3. What, media or otherwise, outside of video games inspires you?
That's a multi-part and very interesting question. I like your passion for your project and hope you find a way to get it produced. There are definitely barriers to creating a design around an idea as strong as yours. You need to know what genre would best fit the story you want to tell, what kind of game play would allow players to enjoy the experience while the story is being revealed, how you want to expose the narrative (obviously through dialogue and text or subtly, mostly through action and events). You're fortunate to have a strong technical background so that you can experiment with different approaches. My writing mentor, Theodore Sturgeon used to say, "Ask the next question". It's great advice. Keep exploring the space and asking the questions. If there is a game that comes close to what you want to do, draw inspiration from how they did it. If there is no existing game that does it, you might have to try some original thinking, but I suspect there are already some examples to inspire you.
I've written here already about the nature of story in games and the different approaches to telling it. It's hard for me to suggest anything to you, not knowing what you're trying to do, but it sounds as if you are trying to tell a story that not only covers ground, but evokes emotions, and there are ways to do that. The best ways to evoke emotions in games, I think, are through action and often through difficult decisions and ambiguity. Think of games that surprised you and even evoked emotions or that presented you with hard choices.
And of course, there is the nature of player agency. If you're telling a story with an outcome you already know. Do you leave enough room for your players to make decisions of their own? Can you allow the outcome to be different from what you originally intended? Can you make a game that's really fun to play and not too directive so that people get to explore the space you're presenting and have their own experience. I have to go right now, but I hope that is helpful. One last thing from Sturgeon. He used to say about writing that often the first dozen or so pages you write in a novel are just getting you started and throw them out when you find your actual starting point. In your situation, I would start designing - something. Start making a game once you have some idea of genre and game play, then see where that takes you. Don't be afraid to scrap it and take a different approach if the first one doesn't work for you.
Good luck with it. Hopefully I've given you something to think about.
I have a very, very simple question, to which I'd like you to answer as honestly as possible.
Why do you like your job?
"As honestly as possible." That kind of makes me laugh. I can't imagine why I would not he honest in answering that question. So...
I love being both a writer and a game designer primarily because it is a license to be curious. It is permission to keep learning and being interested in just about everything. Two of the people I learned from, both directly and indirectly, were Will Wright and Sid Meier. They were to people of boundless curiosity, especially Will. As a writer, I was mentored by Theodore Sturgeon, whose motto was "Ask the next question." For me, this is the main reason I love what I do. I have written fiction, history, and earth science. For David Perry on Game Design, a book for which I was the principal researcher and writer, I looked into a staggering number of subjects as part of the development of this 1000 page tome.
The other reason I love what I do is that, despite the uncertainty of the next paycheck, I am not beholden to anyone else. I make my own time and schedule, and I pick my projects. I also have the time to practice and teach tai chi and travel without having to ask permission. It's not always easy, and this kind of freedom can come with a cost. Without self-discipline it's easy to fail. But because I love the work I do, I never really get tired of it or want to sit around doing nothing. I get up and figure out every day what to work on. And still have time for other activities.
"As honestly as possible." That kind of makes me laugh. I can't imagine why I would not he honest in answering that question.
I said that because some people would brush off this kind of question with a short, vague answer. Others wouldn't be bothered to find words for it. But you answered in the best way possible, and I'd like to thank you for it.
I didn't mean to be offensive, it's just that it would never occur to me not to be honest. :)
Have you any thoughts about real-time cutscenes vs pre-rendered cutscenes in games? What do you prefer?
I prefer Real-time if you're going to use cutscenes. The less you take the player out of the game world, the better. The less you interrupt the player's agency in the game, the better. But judicial use of cutscenes can also be good for information and entertainment value and character development.
I dont think the story is that inportant. In the Nes era, I didn't even know half of the stories of most games.
I think the most important part of a videogame is the music. It sets the mood, it submerges the player into the game and it will bring back fond memories when hearing it again.
Think about the big classic games and you will probably remember the music, but not the storie so much
Ocarina of Time
Super Mario bros
Final Fantasy series
Or even more modern games
The witcher. (the crones theme is what really brought me into that world)
What are your thoughts on music in video games?
I was a musician for many years (mostly flamenco and classical guitar, along with some folk and rock) and so I have a great affinity and respect for music. I don't necessarily think that music is the most important aspect of games, but it can set a mood and make the game more enjoyable, even flow better. I remember when LucasArts first came up with a way of changing the background music from one theme to another when you entered battle. It was a breakthrough at the time and is still used by some games today. Where music is really artfully effective is in movies and TV. In those media, it is often used very skillfully to change mood, to make things seem brighter or darker, bigger or smaller, to establish tension and release. I have a close friend who composes for movies and TV and we've talked about that a lot. He also did music for several games, but the range of expression was far more limited.
As for story, there are so many ways to think of story in games. There is straight narrative, telling a coherent story through dialogue, cut scenes, and action of course. Its importance really varies with the genre. Arcade games and the early Mario games, for instance, didn't need a very complex story. Save the princess is the old joke. That's all it was. Same for Jordan Mechner's Karateka and Prince of Persia. Save the princess. There is also implied narrative, which you see in games that don't do much to spell out the story, but you come to recognize it as you play. And of course one of my favorite non-story games was DOOM. Just get in there and clear the station. Period. I still think story is an important medium for many types of games and am glad that some companies really put some effort into entertaining us in using the tools of narrative.
As a game industry creative veteran, what advice do you have for those working on getting their creative works to be high quality, attention-grabbing pieces?
MagicPen15: I posted a long answer to your question, and it seems to have disappeared. So here's the short answer. A. The concept of high quality is subjective. So the best way to make something high quality is to do the work on it and then get other people to give you feedback, listen to the feedback non-defensively, and incorporate it if it makes sense. Getting high quality work for most mortals is an iterative process. As far as attention grabbing, we live in a time of self-promotion. It's hard to find someone else to help promote your work unless you promote it first. If it's really good, you might be able to build a following
If you're talking about game designs, I'll offer a piece of advice I got from Will Wright one time. He said, "Ideas by themselves are worthless. Only execution matters." So if you have a game design you really believe in, find a way to at least get a teaser or a vertical slice of it completed, even if that means organizing a team around it. One thing you'll encounter, though, is that existing teams are rarely looking for concepts from outside their own group. Even if yours is killer, it might be hard to get anyone else excited. However! If you can excite the people you need in order to produce your project, that's a very good sign. I have a bunch of history with this personally. that I can share if you're interested, although it's not always pretty.
How did you begin writing for games?
I began around 1981. I had been playing video games all through the '70s (my first one was Spacewar! at Stanford University in 1967). I had wanted an Apple II for quite some time, and the IBM PC was new as well. I got my Apple II and devoured every game I could get my hands on. I started working with the first PC clone company, Leading Edge. I first sold their computers, then I became a software analyst for them. For a year and a half they paid me to do comparative research on various types of business software. Along the way, I bought a book called, if I remember correctly, "The Book of IBM Software" or something. They also had one for the Apple II. The "book" was a series of software reviews, and at the end of the book they had a phone number for people interested in writing for them. I called them and they said that the way it worked is you called them and they would tell you what the had that needed a review. If you wanted to do it, they sent it to you and that was your payment. At the time it never occurred to me that I could get paid to write about software and get free products, so I said yes. The first product I was given was a funeral director's package written in dBase. I had a ball writing a review of that one, and after that I wrote about 50 reviews over the next year... until my wife came in and showed me a newspaper article that said you could get paid for what I was doing. I contacted magazines that did reviews and pretty soon I was busy writing for a lot of magazines, but not all of it was games at first. I wrote for PC Week and Byte Magazine, for instance, but also for A+. I wrote about two reviews for A+ every month for $100 a pop. Anyway, that's how I got started. I kept at it and by 1989 I was able to transition into writing exclusively in the game field. In 1990 I became senior editor of PC Games and a contributing editor for GamePro. That same year I started Prima Publishing's strategy guide division, which I led as creative director for six years. I was the seventh employee of the company. By the time I left, there were 150 people, all working on the division I had started for them.
You got pretty close with the first Kickstarter. Do you think Kickstarter has become much harder now, since it seems getting the same amount is tough?
I do think Kickstarter has gotten harder for a number of reasons. Getting the word out is also a challenge. We're committed to completing this game, though, whatever happens.
What part of the game are you most excited about, story-wise? What have you had the most fun creating?
Working with Zach has been a delight. We brainstorm and come up with all kinds of interesting organizations and characters, delving into their identities. At this early point, it's the development of the background world that's most fun, but when we go live, it will be continuing to evolve that world while we work with the mission designers to create narrative backgrounds for the missions. That's going to be a lot of fun, not only helping create them, but playing them, too. Back to the first part of your question, what am I most excited about? It's the opportunity to create this rich world and present it to the players in the unique context of mission contracts and battles. It's a challenge, and I've always loved a challenge. I've always believed that if it's difficult, it's worth doing because nobody else thinks it can be done or has the vision to do so. That's how I feel about the chance to innovate in narrative design for this kind of game.
When it comes to story telling in games who is the best of the best in your opinion?
bamboooozer: I haven't played every game ever made, and the answer to that question depends on how you define story telling. Off the top of my head... There are games that are very narrative driven, and BioWare is one of the best. Telltale Games is also quite interesting, although I haven't played their most recent games. But then I look at a game like the original NES version of Legend of Zelda. Simple story. But the game play was superb and told it's own story. One of my favorite games of all time because of the tight design that let you use the same map twice, and have a whole new experience. What are some of your favorites?
The Last of Us :')
Hi Rusel What is your opinion the best storyline when it comes to blockbuster games (2010-)?
I can't answer that question adequately because I've not been keeping up with all the games out there. It would be unfair of me to just point out ones that I have played. I've been so busy with this game and working on two other books that took a lot of time, High Score Expanded and an upcoming book based on Microsoft for which I interviewed 89 people. I just didn't have time to devote to a lot of the games that have come out. But I will say that I really enjoyed the Mass Effect series. I made time for those. And I've played a few action RPGs, like Path of Exile, Pillars of Eternity, and Grim Dawn, but not for the stories. Just because that kind of game is relaxing and not all that challenging when I'm in the middle of other big projects.
Sir, thank you for doing this. I have alwayd been fascinated by how the story line of a lot of games are essentially non-linear. In the sense that the story can change based on a player's choice. Do you write it in a linear form at first and just go back to that time line when something needs to change? Like for instance player had chosen option f-1 does that sink back up with game stage b-1 on the story line? Maybe I'm not asking this right.
Chrisandfriends: As you can guess I love narrative, too, and the challenge of creating a narrative system for a multiplayer team-based game was too much to pass up. We are creating behind the scenes a sort of Game of Thrones cast of organizations and characters, each with its own backstory and particular personality traits. Over time, we'll be introducing them through the missions we create. The player doesn't directly affect the outcome except in certain specific battles that we call Nexus Events. After many replays of this battle by our players, we determine the winner statistically and the story then changes based on the outcome. This can be a major change to both sides. In one scenario we've developed, the CEO of one of the most powerful megacorporations discovers that some long-lost proof of a terrible crime he committed has shown up in a crashed ship on an obscure asteroid that his company is currently beginning to mine. He needs to get this proof and squash it. But there's another organization, a shadowy one that has a direct connection to the events of his past, and they want to get hold of it. If they succeed, he could be ousted from his company or worse. If he gets it, he may enact revenge upon the other group. (Of course, if he loses, this probably won't be the last we hear of the CEO.)
Thank you so much for your response. One more if you don't mind. So, are you just taking standard writing and narrative techniques and manipulating them to work for games or have you kinda created your own weird systems?
I would say that it's a combination. I've been working a lot with our technical wizard, Zach, who is also a fine writer, and together we have been creating a whole game in itself. I think of it as a real-time strategy game taking place behind-the-scenes and directly affecting the game play in terms of the missions that are offered. Along with that is, of course, the creativity and deviousness of being both a writer and a game designer. I was fortunate enough to study writing for a while with the great Theodore Sturgeon, and I think his influence lives on inside my head.
does storytelling matter if you cant understand what they are saying? (Im playing Dragon Quest X online currently).
I guess it depends on how much the storytelling depends on dialogue and how well you can interpret the events based on actions. I've played Japanese games without understanding a word, but I still get the gist of the story, if not the details. Probably that is because the stories usually tended to be pretty simplistic to begin with. So it matters in that the events are stories. The quests are stories. The winning and losing is part of the ongoing story.
Hi Rusel, I was wondering what game story wise has had the biggest impact. I personally loved 'Heavy Rain' the drama/action adventure thriller and Last of Us. We're both atmospheric because you got to know the characters in their everyday lives as the tension cranked up. What game has had the biggest impact on you, and where is the industry going with regards to story telling?
That's really a hard question to answer. Sum of US. Hard Rain. Very story oriented. Telltale Games has focused on stories a lot. I have enjoyed the BioWare games for stories, and the Witcher series. I especially loved the first Witcher because it made me laugh with its cynical dialogue. I have enjoyed many games in which the story was minimal and bordering on nonexistent, but when there's a good story that can surprise me or intrigue me with mystery or clever misdirection, I appreciate it a lot. I've been playing video games literally for nearly 50 years now, and as I get older, it gets harder for me to remember all my favorites, especially those with great narrative. As for the direction of the industry, I pin my hopes on indie developers who are free to innovate and aren't bound buy large boards of directors and stockholders who hold developers to a standard of success that often translates into endless sequels and little innovation.
What part of game design do you specialize in? And how would one get themselves into the field of game design?
I would say that I have been a game designer in two main areas. One is in conceptual, high-concept design work. Writing detailed game design documents, either original or as a contract for someone else. I've also been a design consultant at times for companies like Maxis, Oddworld, Sega, David Perry, and Acclaim. As a consultant I might be doing game design, but often I'm doing analysis and suggestions for when there are issues that haven't been resolved or also to some degree in planning stages.
Getting into the game design field is not all that easy, and the best advice I can offer is to learn to make your own games using whatever tools you can manage. If you aren't technical but have a concept you really want to create, find people with the technical and/or art skills to help you make at least a working prototype or vertical slice (which is a segment of completed game that demonstrates the game play and style of the game fully enough so that someone seeing it would understand what the game is about and how it will look, feel, and play). You can also try to get a job in a Q&A department of a game company, which can be a stepping stone toward design and you learn a lot. There are some more obscure ways to get him, such as being a popular moderator on MMOs where the devs get to know you, but that's not easy to do and no guarantee that you'll be taken seriously as a designer. You can also go to school for game design. These days there are lots of good schools, and graduates from these schools will be looked at more seriously than a guy off the street.
I got into game design because I started playing video games in 1967 and played them consistently from Pong onward. I was a writer early on and got to know a lot of people in the industry over the years. Times were different then. When I left Prima Publishing, where I was creative director for the strategy guide division (and writing strat guides was also a way I learned a lot about game design and got to talk to lots of devs), I started doing independent design work with mixed results. I'm not known best as a designer in the industry - more a writer - but I have been a lead designer on my own projects and have been paid as a designer and consultant over the years.
I remember in "Tie Fighter" some optional goals that helped develop some sort of "Sith special agent story" happening in game. Will we have this kind of stuff ? In a more general way, will there be briefing sessions separated from flight sessions ? Will there be some roleplaying elements (like interactive dialogs), and dramatic background with developed characters (I thought that people like Paladin, Maniac, Angel was what made the Wing Commander series really shine to me) ?
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