这两者间的相似性似乎只有以上这些。这两个领域内的作品制作有很大的不同之处。电影的制作时间显然要短于游戏。先根据电影中的场景需求制定出具体的时间计划和安排。雇 佣团队成员后，制作便可以开始。于是，成员每天拍摄电影中的场景，直到完成整个剧本。当所有场景拍摄完成后，团队的工作就结束了。这个过程有时可以在1个月的时间内完成 。
游戏有较长的制作周期。新的游戏玩法机制会带来编程挑战。玩家可以在游戏环境中停下或四处走动，围着对象旋转360度。在制作过程中，可能产生意料之外的漏洞，更不用提开 发者可能因玩家在关卡导航中使用意料之外的方法，或因游戏玩法元素的不断重复而产生挫败感。最后，游戏的持续时间往往比电影更长，而且需要大量的创意内容，“较短”的 游戏往往也都能向玩家提供6到8小时的游戏体验。
演员于早上5点到达并开始化妆，而多达200号的制作人员在7点到达现场。首个拍摄场景位于闹市区的办公建筑，需要使用复杂的高架镜头。随后，所有工作人员需要迅速打包装备 ，在下午2点时赶到第2个拍摄点。第2个拍摄点会在下午6点关闭，而且剧组需要在太阳落山前完成4个镜头的拍摄，其中有个镜头需要动用50名群众演员。顺便提下，如果主角无法 按时到场，这意味着你需要重新安排整个镜头拍摄顺序，并且希望上帝能够保佑你在当天完成应尽的拍摄工作，无需使用更多的时间和预算。
人们都希望能够在游戏制作中避免这种情况的出现。想想看，有时候时间会成为妨碍“创意”游戏开发的因素。主要的问题在于迭代过程，你无法估算其时间，不是吗？在概念阶 段，你的开发团队对游戏想法充满热情，所以能够快速地完成任务。但是，当你们已经对工作感到疲惫，游戏进入测试阶段，情况又会如何呢？你或许已经想到了。后期你们可能 需要加班加点地润色游戏，因此而出现睡眠不足的情况。睡眠不足才是妨碍创造性的真正障碍。因而，你需要一名熟练的副导演。
电影制作有制作人也有副导演，双方各司其职。游戏团队也需要专注于管理时间的成员。资深管理者会将注意力集中在时间估算上，根据将来可能面对的风险和元素构建计划。游 戏团队的职员总人数总是会很紧张，因而项目管理者往往被视为不必要的成员。但是，如果你希望在45天内拍摄出好电影，而且时间方面不出现偏差，那么就需要雇佣优秀的副导 演。
想象下，如果游戏行业有类似于电影行业的概念审查服务。设计师和概念艺术师会合作并制作提案，随后将其发送给制作公司，后者会让职业游戏读者评估概念、角色、艺术风格 、环境模型和故事的市场生存能力。市场中将充满只专注于概念的创意职业者，而只有最棒的游戏想法能够生存下来。这样，不仅能使行业多样化且出现更多精妙的游戏，而且游 戏制作一开始就有了完整和成熟的概念。
拥有概念后，你就需要细心地考虑它是否能够在市场中有良好的表现。你的终端用户是否会认为这款游戏很有趣？他们是否会受美术设计吸引而想去了解更多游戏中的内容？他们 是否会将游戏推荐给自己的好友？如果你用一句话向他人描述你的想法，你是否有自信将其解释清楚，还是会因为胆怯而无法解释清楚？如果你对自己出售想法有足够的自信，之 后才能在概念中投入精力以及更多的资源和时间，并进入下个制作阶段。不要在概念创作方面过于匆忙，它是你成功的基础。
当电影剧组成员听到“淘金时间”这个词时，不是战栗就是开怀大笑。这个术语指当工作日的工作时间达到16个小时后，剧组成员的日薪资飞涨。尽管每个剧组成员都是各自签订 合同，但许多合同都有涉及到工作时间超出时的特别条款。当工作时间超出10、12或14个小时时，每小时薪资便会迅速上涨。如果工作时间超过16个小时，那么剧组成员领取的是 工作时间介于16和20小时的薪水，不管超出的时间是1分钟还是4小时。
剧组可能会因工作时间超出而疲惫不堪，但是知道他们能够获得更高的薪水，有时反而会激发更高的创作热情和氛围。当然，制作人和导演并没有像其他剧组成员那样热情高涨， 因为他们的制作成本在飞速增加。在每天的拍摄中，制作人需要为时间超出负责，他们尽全力来避免发生这种情况。如果剧组的工作时间过长，受惩罚的是制作人，这就会激励他 们尽全力来有效管理剧组的工作时间。
但是，有件事情是明确的。在电影行业中，剧组成员额外付出的经历能够得到公开的补偿。如果电影的拍摄时间超出预期，需要承担责任的是制作人和管理层，团队成员并不会因 意料之外的事件发生而受到惩罚。这是否会激发制作人不惜一切代价来避免剧组长时间工作？或许能够取得这方面的效果。剧组是否喜欢这种做法，并因此而更加努力地工作？这 也是有可能的。敏锐的制作人会考虑到工作时间超出的情况，并针对此制定相应的计划。当发生这种情况时，他们就能够获得超时成本，即便在困难时刻也能够保持剧组愉快地工 作。
优秀的电影制作人知道，整部电影的制作时间中有一半用于后期制作。音频、音效、节奏和片头都会影响到观众对产品的反应。电影行业中的后期制作还包括画外音工作、颜色修 正、特效以及胶片或数字形式的制作，确保最终在屏幕上呈现出完美的图像。后期制作阶段的长短各不相同，有些电影很快便可以完成，而有些电影花费一年甚至更长的时间来润 色。
但是，我见过的多数游戏开发时间计划并没有在项目末期划出正式的“后期制作”阶段。音频、动画、光照、标题和特效往往被直接穿插在常规制作过程中。虽然有些元素能够很 容易地融入早期的制作过程中，但有些元素需要等到内容最终确定后方能执行。结果，音频和其他团队成员就会陷入上述困难时刻。游戏开发者或许可以考虑在项目制作末期划出 额外的后期制作时间，确保整个团队能够意识到这些关键元素。
在游戏制作过程中，团队往往会使用游戏设计文件，但是通常情况下，内容创作过程严密性不足。各部门主管可能会遵从设计文件来工作，但是也会根据自己的想法更改内容和故 事创作方向。游戏设计师可能会拥有游戏设计文件，但是因为产品中通常包含数量众多的游戏玩法，所以很难保持文件的更新。游戏设计的变更和进展很快，设计文件很快就会变 得过时。设计师不断地重复设计游戏，每小时每分钟都能够取得进展。对于大型游戏来说，可能有10或20个设计师同时修改关卡。
那么，我是否提倡的是游戏团队向所有团队成员分发设计文件打印件呢？正是如此。尽管将文件打印出来似乎是过时的做法，而且浪费纸张，但是如果只通过邮件，很容易会被人 忽视，团队成员有时根本不会阅读数字化的设计文件更新内容，尤其在更新每天都有而且还有大量漏洞等待修正的时候。分发实体“游戏开发手册”或许是个值得尝试的有趣方法 。
在电影行业中，或许也存在演员大腕、有钱的制作人或令人尊敬的优秀摄影师使用他们的力量来控制拍摄过程。但是，电影导演的职责是如此清晰，所有电影剧组成员的行为永远 都不会对其产生影响。或许剧组中会有权威或闻名于世的成员，但整个剧组都会听从导演的命令。这减少了剧组政治现象，让制作得以流畅地进展下去。电影剧组都清楚，单个人 把控全局比由200个人来决定创意愿景要容易得多。所以，游戏制作团队或许也应当意识到这一点。
我曾经阅读过Roger Corman所著书籍《How I made a hundred movies in hollywood and never lost a dime》，对其中的内容依然印象深刻。书名清楚地指出，他可以从每款制 作的电影中盈利，无论预算多么低或者质量多么差。在这篇博文中，我将分析如何将他这些最佳的技术应用于独立游戏开发，这样开发者也就可以从每款游戏中盈利！
Corman的电影通常都会被人们打上B电影、题材电影和开拓性的标签。他知晓如何创造和开拓合适的电影题材，比如《自行车》、《护士》、《笼中的妇人》、《埃德加·爱伦·坡 》等。有些人可能会认为这是种消极做法，但他自己显然不这么想。这些次题材通常都被认为具有开拓性，因为它们会引起人们的注意。当你在决定是要创造另一个科幻游戏还是 遵循Edmund Mcmillen和Adult Swim的游戏设计之路时，以上做法值得考虑。消极的深刻印象依然是种深刻印象！
Corman总是能够盈利的重要原因之一是，他知道如何使得产品预算与预期的ROI（游戏邦注：即投资回报）相符。他并非总是尝试制作能够盈利5亿美元的电影，然后在制作中投入2 亿美元，再花1亿美元来做广告。他知道电影只能获得X美元的收入，所以他会花比X少得多的资金来制作和营销，从而实现盈利。调查你的“竞争对手”的真实收入（游戏邦注：不 要一开始就以《愤怒的小鸟》之类的游戏为竞争对手），然后树立花较少的资金制成游戏的标。个人推荐可以通过Game Jam活动来学习如何在时间和金钱有限的情况下制得产品 ！这里，我还推荐从其他低预算媒介中寻找降低成本的方法，但是请记住，时间本身也是金钱！
Corman用来推广电影的某种更具创新性的技巧便是使用影院来作为广告平台以赋予其电影合法性，不幸的是这种方法无法简单地复制到游戏行业中。他可以在这部分上控制成本的 做法是，只为自己的电影制作两份海报（游戏邦注：海报的制作费用昂贵，所以他只制作两份，一份用于展示，另一份备用），然后在各影院中巡回展示他的电影，每个影院的时 间只有1到2周。这个想法的重点在于，在这个电影直接转变成DVD方式的时代里，影院播放电影便存在合法性问题，某种决定电影是否值得观看的状况。他还意识到，多数人在影片 发布的前两周内前往观看电影，所以在影院中花更长的时间来做推广并非利用海报来盈利的绝妙方法。
那么，这种方法如何能被独立游戏开发者所使用呢？不要将金钱花在广告上，应该将时间花在于持续时间较短但获得极大关注度的区域推广游戏，比如Game Jams、节日、比赛、展 会、平台特别推荐（游戏邦注：比如iOS推荐的每周游戏以及Steam免费促销等）、捆绑销售、慈善动员和竞标赛（游戏邦注：比如DOTA2等）和Kongregate成就比赛等。巡回数周时 间，在可能的情况下尽量展示游戏。
以下将提供某些如何让这种方式在经济上产生作用的注意点。你的游戏只有在新鲜且获得关注之时才能获得大量收入，随后盈利便会迅速下滑，然后趋于稳定（游戏邦注：捆绑销 售可以挽救这个局面，下文将具体阐述）。为什么这种情况算好呢？此时你应当为游戏制定计划，不是专注于尝试将游戏以服务的方式进行出售，而是开始着手制作下款游戏。《 愤怒的小鸟》是Rovio的第52款游戏，他们不断努力直到开发出轰动市场的作品，没有将全部的精力和资金都投入到某款游戏中。你应当专注于迅速、低成本且可盈利地制作游戏， 随着你通过每款游戏学到新的东西，游戏质量自然会逐渐提升，你的公司和名声会随着每款游戏的发布而逐渐成长。Robert Rodriguez的首个电影巨作《El Mariachi》事实上只是 为他制作更大的电影提供资金。他也能够在自己制作的每款电影上获利！
Corman较不为人知的盈利技巧是低价购买外国影片，然后将其重新编辑便配上新的对话，制作某种混合型电影或者新电影。这种方法的前期投入相对较低，而且所需的工作量和员 工也较少，从而产生巨额盈利。如果做法正确的话，可以转化成盈利项目的小型独立游戏和实验多达上千个。我不建议将流行游戏克隆到其他游戏平台上并从中获得盈利的做法， 但是可以寻找那些被低估或者尚未完成的游戏，要么将其完全买断，要么与开发者合作，使得游戏成为受大众喜欢的作品。如果你想要些灵感的话，可以看看Ludum Dare游戏比赛 的入围作品，它们都是开源且未被完成或润色的游戏想法，这些想法已经获得些许反馈、曝光度和游戏时间，但是也仅此而已。如果你想要得到更具实验性的想法，不妨看看 Experimental Gameplay Project上的开放性想法和概念，将它们进一步发展。一旦你的识别能力达到某种程度，你或许可以成为发行人或者某些能够为游戏的发布提供帮助的人。
首先要澄清的是，我所说的业余人才是指那些目前没有职业依靠自己的才能来赚取金钱的有才华的人。Corman闻名的原因之一是能够帮助优秀的学徒进军好莱坞。或许你曾经听说 过Jack Nicholson、Martin Scorsese和Ron Howard等人，他们都曾从师于Corman并做出自己的巨作。他在识别人才方面独具慧眼，让这些人能够有机会真正将自己的作品展示在观 众面前，而这是他们自己的努力无法轻易实现的。这些导演中，有些刚开始是替Corman编辑电影预告片，直到后者给予他们导演电影的机会。Jack Nicholson刚开始一直都是编剧 ，直到Corman某天决定让其在某部电影中展现才华。
在这里，我给独立游戏开发者们的建议是，寻找那些渴望获得展现自己实力的有才华的人。预先告知他们项目的盈利会很少，但他们依然会辛勤工作。其中的价值在于，你会完成 并发布游戏，而且会有各种各样的人群玩游戏。许多独立项目从未实现这种目标，但是你的遭遇将有所不同，因为你掌握了这篇博文中所提供的技巧，专注于赚取盈利以制作下款 绝妙游戏。刚刚毕业的游戏学校毕业生是可以寻找到此类人才的宝库！
灵感来源：The Corman Film School；Game Career Guide论坛
Corman之所以能够保证电影获利的部分原因在于，他不仅让降低电影的最初预算，而且还与其他公司合作来预售自己的电影。通常情况下他会将自己的电影预售给经销商以获取盈 利，因而只要他能保证电影预算不超支，就无需担心电影的盈利可能性。有些时候，他会利用电影脚本与感兴趣的工作室或电影资助人合作，预先让后者来为尽可能多的制作成本 买单。这种做法与书籍撰写者类似，他们也会让发行商来承担成本。在你的知名度相对较低且你的盈利能力未得到验证时，实现上述目标可能很难。那么为何不选择将产品预售给 顾客而不是中间商呢？知道有人愿意付费购买你的产品是再好不过的事情。这种模型的两种形式已经取得了显著的成效，那就是Kickstarter和出售预定版本。
Kickstarter和预售1.0筹款系统的概念相似，你提供可玩内容（游戏邦注：如原型和测试版）或以媒体（游戏邦注：如预告片和设计文件）的形式提供游戏概况，然后让人们花些 许金钱资助游戏以换取正式版本游戏以及某些额外的利益。Kickstarter的不同之处在于，它通常还未是个可玩的游戏，不同的付费等级对应不同的奖励，如果筹款目标没有达到就 不会失去金钱。原型销售的不同之处在于，提供不断更新的可玩游戏、可以对项目开发产生影响的能力，无论筹款目标的达成情况如何，金钱交易是实时进行的。每种方法都有好 处和弊端，所以你应当根据游戏目前的进展状况（游戏邦注：你能够给顾客提供哪些东西，你是否认为自己能够达成筹款目标）选择合适的方法。你可以在项目早期（游戏邦注： 游戏还未能可玩的阶段）尝试使用Kickstarter，如果无法实现筹款目标，就应当专注于构建原型，然后尽快将其出售。应当注意的是，这些做法与病毒性有所联系，所以应当利用 所掌握的所有营销技巧！以下是某些较为成功的范例。
灵感来源：《Zombies, run》；Kickstarter页面；《Minecraft》的销售；《Frozen Synapse》预订页面；RTS游戏《Achron》
Corman经常会挑战自己如何快速地制成电影，这既出于盈利原因，也是种个人发展想法。他还将这种心态传达给自己的编剧Charles Griffith，有时会在晚上给后者打电话，概述 剧本想法并让其在第二天早晨提交首个剧本草稿！他的最快创作记录是2天！这样做降低了成本，保持了内容的创造性并且能够不断让他学习和制作出新东西。重点在于，他从不发 布自认为很烂的电影，他只是保持对制作的较低期望而已。再次，我还要推荐Game Jams，因为这能够让你学习如何实现上述目标。在48个小时内构想并完成游戏，这的确会给人极 大的满足感。要成功实现这个目标，你需要学习如何专注于你的游戏并将其精制润色。你必须削去大量游戏特征，但是剩下来的应当变得更好。一旦你掌握了如何迅速工作的技巧 ，就会更加容易地根据上述第4个建议快速地改造game jam中的游戏想法。
许多独立开发者和游戏工作室（游戏邦注：如3D Realms）将成长和经济上的成功视为在游戏中花更长时间的机会，但是制作时间的长短并不总是等同于游戏的润色程度或盈利，所 以不要落入这个陷阱，逐渐缩短每款游戏的制作时间。
灵感来源：在两天内快速制成游戏；Global Game Jam；Game Jams
Corman之所以能够在两天的时间内迅速制成影片，最大的原因之一是结合优秀的前期预制作和重新使用场景和道具。当制作次题材影片时，这种方法特别有效，比如他之前制作的 多部《埃德加·爱伦·坡》电影。以重新使用资产的方法来设计游戏应该要比电影制作要简单，因为游戏的基础通常都是大量的成分以及这些成分互动的规则。重新使用资产、角 色和场景可以带来两个令人惊异的好处：节省成本和时间；构建世界和IP。在构建粉丝群体和营销时，构建世界和IP可以体现出极大的价值。那么，为何不使用相同的世界或角色 来以不同的方法制作多款游戏呢？马里奥、索尼克和古惑狼之类的游戏看起来似乎与游戏初作并没有直接的联系，但是我敢担保其中某些确实有重新使用的资产。当然，行业中也 有明显使用初代游戏来制作系列游戏的做法，但是与AAA级游戏相比这似乎并不适合此题材开拓性游戏，因而最好是使用你已经获得的资产来开拓新的游戏机制。
许多人可能都看过或者至少听说过Corman的经典作品《Death Race 2000》，但是你可曾知晓电影里的汽车音效来源于其F1竞速电影（游戏邦注：而这个音效是在他去观看比赛时录 制下来的）？Troma的Lloyd Kaufman曾经在他的电影中加入汽车碰撞场景，考虑到这个特技的制作成本昂贵，他寻找方法将这个场景插入到自己的其他电影中，以减少制作成本！ 如果你在某些东西上花钱，那么不要在制作一款游戏之后就将其抛弃！
Corman为B电影的原创含义辩护，他解释为何称不上冒犯，它只是代表着双功能展示中的第二个功能，就像是音乐中的B面那样。B面歌曲和电影的混乱在于，它们通常会显得更加危 险，但是有时是更加有趣的发布，尽管营销并不是那么简单，但仍然有潜在的盈利性。将B面与更具有营销型的产品绑定使得公司可以缓和低盈利的风险。提供捆绑销售不仅能够增 加顾客的价值感，还有可能使得B面同样获得成功帮助带动销售。
Steam在提供和推广各种类别的独立游戏捆绑方面做得很不错，不仅有助于个体游戏的推广，还能够因所提供的价值而增加销售量。如果没有通过这种方式，部分独立游戏玩家可能 根本就不会接触到游戏。这还产生了某种绝妙的方法，使用那些较老的流行游戏来促进销售量。你会看到，Steam的捆绑销售中，发行商会提供某些已经过时的游戏，这些游戏本身 可能已经不再独立出售，但是玩家或许对这些游戏有些怀念，他们想要玩这些之前在流行时玩过的游戏。另一个绝佳的例证是Humble Indie Bundle，刚好今天提供了特别的Frozen Synapse Bundle。
你无需等待其他人对游戏进行捆绑，你可以创造出自己的游戏集或特别推广包（游戏邦注：尤其是如果开发者遵循第8个建议开发出一系列单IP游戏）。在这个方向上更进一步，使 用捆绑销售来为下款游戏筹集资金或Kickstarter（游戏邦注：正如建议6中所说的那样）。如果J.K. Rowling发表如下声明：“我需要足够的资金来编写《哈利波特》系列小说的 最后两部，有个特别推广活动，如果你以这个特别折扣价购买前5部小说的合集，那么你将会免费获得最后两部小说！”，想象下该系列小说的销售量会取得怎样的进步。
灵感来源：Valve Orange Box；MacHeist
Corman理解以下观点：如果你不出售电影的话就无法获得盈利，如果你无法获得盈利的话就无法制作出更多的电影！所有之前的建议中都含有能够让你在预算内快速完成游戏并获 得盈利的想法，希望这些目标能够尽快实现。他会在预制作计划中投入大量的精力，利用受到的约束条件来工作，这两种工作方式都促进了电影制作的完成。他专注于使用每部电 影的盈利来资助下部电影的制作，这能够确保他在对其他电影想法感到兴奋时依然有充足的理由完成手头正在制作的影片。
如果你是个独立开发者，这或许意味着你需要通过制作游戏来维持生计，那么如果你不出售自己的作品，就无法实现这个目标。正如Joker在《The Dark Knight》中所说的那样： “如果你在某些方面尤为擅长，那么就应该在这方面获得报酬。”这便是业余人士和职业人士之间的差别，职业人士首先要求得到金钱，然后再实现自己的承诺。如果完成某款游 戏已不可能，或者游戏完全无法带来乐趣，或者从设计的角度来看是完全无法挽救的，那么你就必须将你投入的资产和时间运用到某些能够出售的内容中。你可以重新使用代码、 艺术、音效甚至某些设计，但是可能不能完全使用这些东西。将这种重生视为新的挑战，使用抛弃原有游戏后剩余的预算和时间来开发出新游戏，这样你仍然可以获得盈利。你可 以做到这一点，不要放弃！
灵感来源：Derek Yu——《完成游戏》；Chris Hecker——《请完成你的游戏》
我强烈推荐你自己阅读这本书籍，因为这对成为优秀的导演和制作人不无裨益。如果你觉得低预算电影制作技术很有趣并希望学到更多内容以将其运用到游戏制作中，我还推荐 Robert Rodriguez所著《Rebel without and crew》和所有Lloyd Kaufman撰写的有关电影制作的书籍。
在大部分的好莱坞影中，首先，观众会看到电影的主角和他所在的场景。然后，发生了一件改变当前局面的事件，观众开始对主角有所了解。在这里，主角面临第一个挑战，他要 靠这个挑战让观众认识自己。在电影的中间部分，观众得知主角必须做出什么关键决定、他的最终目标是什么——这是他无法脱身的处境。再然后，主角经历了一次战斗，这场战 斗会以致命一击结束，如果主角能克服这最后一个挑战，那么观众就会看到他的人生以及别人的人生因此而改变——他们得到奖励。如果电影有续集，那么观众就会隐隐看到另一 个挑战的暗示。当然，这种结构还有其他变体，比如主角不是一个人，而是一群人，敌人可能不是人类，而是一种自然力量或主角必须克服的某种恐惧。
令人惊讶的是，我们很容易就能想出另一种剧情结构，但是几乎没有剧本在跳出这种相当严密的结构之后还能获是成功，至少好莱坞电影是这样的；这是一种必胜的结构，电影制 作人都知道。那么，这对作为游戏设计师的我们有何启发？很多：这个结构告诉你如何将游戏关卡变成包含玩家在内的剧情——你的玩家喜欢并记得怎么玩的小电影，这种玩法剧 情会与绝大多数玩家产生共鸣，不过这取决于他们对这个小电影的理解和认同程度。
我知道，在这样一个大环境之下——设计师们仍然认为故事是多余的，是罪恶的，声称给予玩法剧情结构似乎是浪费时间，但请相信我，当我将好莱坞式配方运用到各种游戏关卡 设计时，你会发现它不仅让关卡更具连贯性，而且确实是头脑风暴时的绝好创意来源。在文章的另一个部分我将解释在《军团要塞2》（游戏邦注：以下简称《TF2》）中的一些最 成功的关卡如何运用这种结构，并据此为《TF2》设计一个新关卡。
尽管许多设计师将这个阶段忽略不计，错误地认为电子游戏玩家希望直接跳到操作部分，但是，在关卡中加入一定长度的介绍有助于玩家确定自己的方向、了解角色、控制动作， 以及在战斗以前做出稳妥的决定。这是一个微妙的点，但如果你把玩家直接丢进战斗而不让玩家自己决定，玩家是不会感谢你的。现在，你可能会说，从玩家开始游戏的那一刻起 ，他们就已经做出迎接挑战的决定了，但不要忘了，允许玩家做选择始终是游戏的本质，玩家能做的有意义选择越多，关卡的效果就越好。
要点1和要点2是显而易见的，但我得解释一下要点3。以《辐射：新维加斯》为例。根据经验，我们推测游戏的关卡平均长度大约是1-2小时。这意味着玩家必须能够在游戏开始的 前6-12分钟内获得必要的资源。同样的，在《魔兽》中，玩家必须能够在他们呆在安全区的6-12分钟内获得有价值的技能。至于平台游戏，关卡可能只持续几分钟，所以第一个技 能或挑战应该在10秒内能使用。
当然，也有些游戏并不遵循这条原则，比如《BIT.TRIP Runner》就是一个典型。它有所失败是因为开始新关卡时非常容易让玩家感到压力和无助，需要几秒钟和几次成功跳跃才能 缓解那种消极情绪。并且，这款游戏不给玩家机会理解玩法元素及其作用，所以玩家第一次进入关卡时基本上坚持不到3秒钟就挂了。糟糕的《BIT.TRIP》！
创造转折点的方法很多，但共同点就是包含一个作用于玩家的事件，迫使玩家接受第一个挑战或呆在安全区。在《TF2》中，当大门第一次开启，玩家可以决定呆在基地的安全区或 等所有“无敌”状态都用完了以及第一次混战结束就出去。另一种方法是给玩家最好的武器或交通工具，让他们看到未来的自己是多么强大，根本没有失败的风险。当然，这种做 法有一定的危险，一旦玩家的美好幻想被一把生锈的小刀——游戏给的防身武器割裂，他们不免感到受挫。《Oblivion》就有一个漂亮的转折点，角色的身份从犯人变成保护国王 的战士，让玩家感到荣耀。
在这个阶段，战士就开始战斗，间谍就开始暗算。注意，这时我们还没有让玩家开始为终极目标奋斗。如果终极目标是占领某个控制点，那么转折点是不会让玩家成功的。主角（ 在《TF2》中是一支突击小队）这时候应该还没有机会获胜。比如，让一类职业难以逃脱最初的基地，或者单纯地让所有人开始真正的任务以前都要经历一番挣扎—-他们仍然要杀 死敌人，但他们就是达不到控制点—-目前还达不到。
经过第一场战斗，或新生活的开端，主角开始走上目标的奋斗之旅。在《TF2》中，这意味着突击小队开始推车，或向控制点前进。我们有选择地削弱敌人（《TF2》中的守卫）的 实力，即让守卫离开防御位置很长时间才回来，或延迟他们的刷出时间，或取消一些有利的防御位置，所以玩家在这个过程就不那么困难了。在MMO中，玩家在这个阶段会得到一个 强大的技能，使他们更快地完成任务的第一部分。在平台游戏中，此时玩家会得知主角的目标就是拯救公主，或第一次遇见到这个性感女郞。
主角在这个阶段过得比较轻松。游戏场所有利于主角，可以也应该有利于主角，甚至在玩家对抗玩家的游戏中也一样。在《TF2》中，突击小队在关卡的这个部分占据了大多数有利 位置。这可能是打开了第一个控制点的通道（后门），或开辟了一条导弹车能通过的、易于防守的道路。这个阶段应该占据游戏总长度或游戏持续时间的25%，这时的主角形象应该 是很高大的。
在这个阶段，主角必须明确目标（比如，最后一个控制点或《TF2》中的推车地图的最后个路径点）。他必须能够很快达到冲突的焦点（在《战地》中，在最后一个控制点以前必须 有各种速度快的交通工具），并且最后一战的战场必须非常集中。不要把最后一战安排在宽广开阔的区域或战壕。要让双方直接对抗。不要忘了给敌人大量优势，使他能够重创主 角。如果你的游戏机制允许时间限制，那就在这个阶段的末期用上吧。在这个关卡里，这是设计师可以尽情“虐”玩家的唯一环节；只要玩家最终能够战胜敌人，他们就不会有太 多抱怨（好吧，他们还是会报怨的，不过他们会体会到设计的“用心良苦”的。）
对于策略游戏：在主角独自战胜挫折以后，现在又团结到一切可以团结的力量了；而敌人的势力也已经遍布全球了。最后一战发生在一个沙漏关卡，一波又一波的敌人在集中区域 里不断侵蚀玩家一方的防御力量。随着高潮逼近，敌群的规模越来越大，玩家一方也随之加快杀敌速度。玩家在战斗的某一瞬间会觉得妥善管理自己的单位非常困难。如果玩家再 不摧毁敌人的核工厂，时间一到，核武器就要生产出来了。敌人越来越多，甚至出现了以前从来没见过的敌人类型。
对于平台游戏：玩家边跑，平台边下落……所以玩家必须快速向前跑，但敌人又很强悍……有时候玩家甚至会觉得与其冲上去杀掉敌人，不如小心地躲开敌人的子弹。只有一条行 得通的路，并且玩家也没空思考是否还有其他路。这个阶段没有谜题，只有激烈的战斗和向前冲。也许游戏世界就在你身后迅速崩塌，也许你会听到主角的“梦中情人”正在尖叫 ，因为她就要被大BOSS残害了。
对于多人射击游戏：这是夺取最后一个控制点或占领敌人基地的战役。允许玩家就近刷出或很快抵达。允许玩家使用所有极品武器，但给敌人有利的地理位置（比如，让敌人的位 置更高，或迫使玩家先通过一个沙漏关卡——你当然不能只安排一条路，但你可以安排一条看起比较简单的路和几条非常危险的路）。当然，你必须允许玩家在这里暂时保存（如 果游戏机制或重刷机制允许的话），让敌人进入各种防御塔，等等。
士兵：擅于攻击上方的目标，特别是那些难以触及的目标。在中距离进攻（即位于开放领域并面对着敌人的退出点）时，他们总能发挥出最强大的攻击力。但是在近距离范围或远 距离范围（游戏邦注：即在一个没有任何障碍的开放领域与敌人进行一对一较量时）时，他们的攻击力就会变得较弱。当医师隐藏在士兵周围时将对敌人造成致命的伤害。（环境= 面对敌人的退出点的开放领域，或者是在高地）
我们的叙述将被用于单一的《TF2》关卡vs.包含相关关卡的地图（就像在最初的“淘金热”地图那样能让玩家循环通过）。每个转折点都将标记一个“检查点”。每个检查点将在 旅程初始时告诉他们新阶段的开始，因为我们的叙述转折点是等间隔的，所以很容易将其均衡地用于检查点中。除此之外，阶段一（背景）和阶段六（结果）将分别发生在友好的 一方（攻击者）和敌对一方（防御者）基础上，并且游戏规则也明确定义了这一点，所以我们只要遵循一些简单的实践便可，而无需花太多时间为它们设计关卡。以下我将分别描 述各个叙述阶段。
这时候攻击者还未开始战斗。他们能够选择类别，加载弹药，并了解场地等等，就好像英雄的日常生活。唯一需要记住的规则便是为攻击者提供多个出口，帮助不同类别的攻击者 进行快速分组。就像在我们的例子中，攻击者便拥有3个出口。主要出口（B）便很宽广，不存在防御物——对于驾驭重型车辆的攻击者来说这也是最近的出口。而出口（A）设有突 出物能够掩护攻击者顺利离开。出口（C）是一个受保护的出口，远离可能出现在出口（A）后面的哨兵。而（D）出口将引导着攻击者前往瞭望塔，让他们能够透过窗户观察狙击手 的位置。但是当（D）出口的大门敞开时，敌方士兵将很容易进入其中。
当玩家进入一个新形势时，我们想要创造敌人与环境的互动。这一阶段将为之后的几幕场景确定基调。为了让攻击者能在这一领域中探索，我们需要创造一些隐蔽处让敌人能够躲 藏——但是我们不能让敌人完全控制整片领域。所以我们最终决定让敌人从（E）点前进到（H）点，因为这是最佳开火和伏击位置。这些点是专门用于引诱敌人，并且这里已经埋 伏了哨兵，但是攻击者也很容易征服这些敌人——因为它们刚好是面向于攻击者的射击线上。就像我们所看到的，攻击者可以从（A）点看到所有敌人的设置点。
阶段3以“只能进不能退”的（A）点结束，我们希望能够让英雄（攻击者）感受到他们已经离开基地并将进入一个全新背景，他们需要在此做出艰难的决策。在战争电影中，英雄 将会与敌人同归于尽。而在好莱坞电影模式中，没有回头路便意味着必须做出两个完全不同的决定（游戏邦注：如射击罪犯或拨打911，迎面扑向敌人或逃走，对爱人撒谎或保持忠 诚）。为了创造这种差别，我将发生地点从一栋建筑转向阶段2中发生战斗的建筑，再转向另一个环境，让玩家可以选择是穿越隧道（B）而攻击敌人还是通过斜坡（A）而冲向狙击 兵。每个玩家都必须在此做出选择，并且他们的选择都具有很大区别，如作为待在广泛领域的英雄vs.待在黑暗隧道中的阴谋者。
最能代表最后出击的便是桥，因此我便在这一阶段设置了一座桥。我同样也喜欢多层次的战斗战术，让两边的玩家能够通向水里，桥上，更高的建筑以及阳台。在这一幕，敌人非 常接近于自己的基地，并且我唯一能够带给攻击者宽慰的便是桥上的防御物（B）与（C），实际上他们已经穿越隧道，并得到桥后面的高塔掩护。而水能够缓解那些被喷火兵烧杀 的角色的伤痛，我们同样也需要设置斜坡让攻击者能够离开桥而获得第二次机会。
The Top 10 Things The Game Industry Can Learn from Film Production
Over the years I have mused on the differences and similarities between producing games and films. Both have large, creative crews working towards successful delivery of a visually entertaining product.
When I worked on movie sets, I drove around the city to a different location each day. Once there, I was greeted by a troupe of 200 creative people on the movie set all trying to achieve one vision.
When I worked on games, I was again greeted by 200 creative people all trying to achieve one vision, but instead of using a physical set to stage their dramatic scenes requiring me to cross town, the environments and sets were all contained at the office on their computer screens.
Despite their different work environments, both mediums aim to entertain, creating tension and excitement, making people laugh, cry, or tremble in fear at the edge of their seats.
From there, the similarities seem to end. Producing works in these two fields is drastically different. Films have significantly shorter production periods than games. A detailed schedule is created based on the scenes required in a screenplay. The cast and crew are hired, production begins, and each day they film specific scenes until the entire script is complete. When all scenes have been filmed, the crew is done. This can all be done in as short as a month.
Games have long production periods. New gameplay mechanics present engineering challenges. Players have the ability to stop and walk around in environments, rotating 360 degrees around objects. Unexpected bugs may arise late in production, not to mention the possibility that players will navigate levels in unexpected ways or become frustrated with gameplay elements requires ongoing iteration as testing happens. And finally, games are generally much longer than films, and require a hefty amount of creative content, with “short” games providing a six to eight hour game experience.
Despite these differences, I believe there are techniques from the film industry that can be applied to game production. Film production teams deliver fast because they have to, with location, crew, and cast restrictions tied to a very precise clock. As the market tightens and consumers expect more features from games, we need to find ways to make games faster and cheaper. One place to look is to the well-oiled machine of film production.
Lesson #1: Never Shoot a Movie without an Assistant Director
The cast arrives at 5am for make-up, while the production crew of 200 people gets there at 7. First up is a scene in a downtown office building, which includes a complicated crane shot. A second unit is shooting up the street to fill in the gaps so the whole crew can pack up and be at a second location by 2pm. The second location closes by 6pm — no ifs, ands, or buts — and they have to get four shots before the sun goes down, one including 50 extras in the scene. Oh, and by the way, your key actor is late, meaning you have to rearrange your entire shot list and pray to God you get everything complete without having to add another day to the schedule — and budget.
Holy jigsaw puzzle of time management! If you thought your teams were hard to manage, imagine the pressure on the shoulders of a film’s Assistant Director. “ADs,” as they are known on set, are unionized through the Director’s Guild of America.
They are highly skilled in judging all the various elements that will go into a shot and determining how much time it will take. On a film set where money is literally being spent as each minute on the clock ticks by, they keep things running smoothly towards completing each shot on the list.
I’ve worked on small films without an AD, and the inevitable result is that you find yourself still trying to “get that last shot” at 2am in an apartment in the Bronx, eventually falling asleep with your face plastered onto a piece of pizza. It’s not pretty.
People tend to avoid the clock in games. Thinking about time estimates hampers the “cool” and “creative” game dev lifestyle. It’s all about iteration, and you can’t put a time estimate on that, can you? That’s all well and fun during concept phase when your devs are passionate, but when you’re exhausted and pushing to Beta… Yup — you got it. You’re stuck with another brutal, middle of the night sleeping pizza face incident. Sleep deprivation — that is the real obstacle to creativity. What you need is a skilled AD.
What? “I don’t need that! My producer does that.” Well, yes and no. Some producers are amazing at time management, and others not so much. Producers often also have other elements on their mind: big picture concept, correspondence with marketing, milestone reports, a whole lot of other things that draw their attention away from the nitty-gritty, day to day of making sure elements are “in the can.”
Movie sets have both a producer and AD, each managing different responsibilities. What game teams need is a dedicated resource to manage time. A qualified, experienced resource that can eyeball time estimates and build a schedule based on the risks and elements in front of them. Headcount is always tight on game teams, and project managers dedicated to scheduling could be seen as unnecessary overhead. But if you want to shoot a movie in 45 days with no overages and
to have a beautiful film in the can, in the movie business, you hire a good AD.
Lesson #2: Films have a Lengthy Script Development Process
If you went to a film studio and asked them to fully fund a movie production crew to explore concepts for a new movie, you would get laughed out of the room. Yet that is exactly what happens in many game studios.
Often there is no other choice. In studios with only one or two small game teams, concepts for games are created as a group effort by the development team. Although outside writers are sometimes brought in to help form the story, the seed of the concept usually comes from a passionate team with a great idea.
In contrast, the concept for a film generally has a lengthy development process before the production ever has anyone on payroll. The concept, characters, setting, and story are all laid out in advance in a 110 to 120 page screenplay. Screenplays are put through a rigorous vetting process known in Hollywood as script development.
Here’s how script development works. A screenwriter toils away at their keyboard and creates a screenplay, which can take anywhere from two months to seven years. When finished, the screenwriter wipes the sweat from their brow and sends the script to their agent, who in turn sends the script out for professional script coverage.
Hollywood has a legion of professional readers that evaluate scripts for a living. These readers create a four-page report that summarizes the genre, time period, characters, plot, and location. They also rate the script on a pass/fail scale on various different creative elements. They often provide an overall feedback section with their professional opinion of whether a script will fly or bomb at the box office.
This aids executives in evaluating the viability of a concept in the marketplace. Once the agent feels the script is ready to shop around town, they send it to various executives and script development departments that would be a good match.
Let’s stop here for a moment. I’d like to note that already, films have a huge leg up on games at this point. You start with thousands of amazing creative ideas that screenwriters have probably put a few years of thought into. Only the best survive and get sent to production houses, not to mention that agents are specifically sending creative ideas to houses they think would be a good fit.
So what happens next? The production house buys the movie and it gets made, right? Not quite yet…
If a production house likes a script, they buy it, but this is no guarantee that it will get made. Often scripts go into “development” to improve the script even further. When a director or actor is attached, they may also have revisions. Again, only the best survive. Some production houses have drawers and drawers of purchased screenplays on deck to be made “someday”. Some are never made.
Finally, if the timing, screenplay, and attachments are right, the screenplay will be greenlit for production. Only then is a full crew hired so creative talent can bring the concept to life. Execution is everything. Even good scripts can turn into bad movies with the wrong cast or crew.
But the rate of failure has been greatly reduced by the forethought that went into creating the backbone of the movie during the script development process. Executives have had their say about income margins, marketing has discussed the viability of the concept, and now the movie can finally be cast, shot, edited, and released.
What Lessons Can Game Developers Learn from This?
Imagine a world where games had concept coverage services similar to films. Designers and concept artists could pair together and create proposals to send to production houses, which would in turn get professional game readers to evaluate the market viability of the concept, characters, artwork style, environment mockups, and story. The market would be flooded with creative professionals focusing only on concepts, and only the best game ideas would survive. Not only would this create more diverse and fascinating games, but they would have complete and cohesive concepts from the start, before any production budget is spent.
Perhaps I’m dreaming. A game concepting process similar to that of movies doesn’t seem likely given the way the industry currently operates. Game teams pride themselves on their creative abilities, and part of the reason they get so passionate about their work is often because the concepts are their own. When game teams are passionate, that is when great games are made, an equation any good producer knows not to meddle with.
Despite this, there are lessons to be learned from film’s extensive script development process. It reminds us that pre-production is by far and away the most important phase of a project. Evaluate and test your concepts at every single phase. Take initiative and create your own concept package before committing and spending time and resources. Your concept package could include key gameplay elements, a back-of-the-box one paragraph write up, a killer name, and artwork concepts for the characters and environment.
Hand it to someone you trust, and get their honest feedback. If you have a budget, put your package through playtesting and usability, with a sample build of gameplay if you have one. There are also market research firms you can hire to test your game concept in the marketplace. All these steps can be done by game companies large and small.
Lesson #3: Story Equals Concept
I hear a lot of talk at game conferences about the ongoing battle of story versus gameplay. In one camp, story is irrelevant because games are about good gameplay. In the opposing view, story is what the modern gamer craves and requires in a new landscape of high-quality console entertainment.
In my humble opinion, this entire argument is flawed. People are missing is that 90 percent of story is concept. Let me say that again. NINETY percent of story IS concept. By “concept” I mean the main character, core conflict, main gameplay elements, main enemies, setting and time period, and environments that make up the premise for your game. Every game has concept, regardless of how much “story” is there. Have you played a hit game lately without an
environment? How about one without a one-line description or “hook” that made you want to buy it?
As every good Hollywood screenwriter knows, always, always, always think of the big picture when creating your concept. This is the number one key to making it successfully through the brutal trials and tribulations of script development. If you can’t pitch your screenplay in one line to the head executive of insert-your-favorite studio in the elevator, you’re dead in the water.
Once you have your concept, you need to carefully consider if it will do well in the marketplace. Will my end consumer think this game is fun? Will they be intrigued by the artwork or premise and want to learn more? Will they tell all their friends about it? If you pitch your one-line idea to 10 random people, do you feel confident as you explain it, or do you find yourself “shying away” from the concept or “explaining it away”? Once you feel confident you can sell the idea, only then is it time to commit to the concept, invest more resources and time, and move on to the next step in the process. Don’t rush concept creation; it is the foundation of your house.
Lesson #4: Goldentime (film) versus Crunch (games)
When a film crew member hears the words “Golden Time” they will either shudder or smile. The term refers to the large salary jump crew members earn when hitting the 16th hour of work on a given day. While each crew member has their own contract, many have a clause specifying terms for what happens when working overtime. They may get bumped after 10, 12 or 14 hours of work to increasingly higher hourly rates. At 16 hours, many crew contracts hit paydirt,
receiving an entire day’s salary for hours 16 through 20, regardless if they work 1 minute or 4 hours.
Crews may be exhausted, but knowing they are getting paid bank perks up the set and sometimes even creates a creative and festive atmosphere. Of course, the producer and director aren’t feeling festive, as their production costs skyrocket with each passing hour. At the end of the day, the producers are responsible for overages, and they do everything in their power to avoid them. If a crew goes over, it is the producer that is punished, incentivizing them to do everything they can to effectively manage the work hours of their crew.
In games, compensation isn’t quite so cut and dry. If bugs crop up or features aren’t turning out as planned, team members can find themselves working “crunch”, the industry’s pet name for unpaid overtime.
Some teams work small, planned spells of crunch as a way to reach the end of a sprint or boost the quality of their products. Other teams find themselves working unplanned crunch, scrambling to fix bugs or drive up game quality.
Game developers are usually salary and not unionized, so these late hours are compensated only by the hope of a big hit game and profit sharing or a bonus at the end of the year.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide which system is better or worse. Crunch is loved by some, hated by others. Film golden time has a similar split. Crunch can drive up quality, or demoralize a team. Golden time can help you get that last shot, but exhaustion may set in for the rest of the week. These are hot- button topics that most professionals in both industries have their own thoughts about.
One thing is clear, however. In the film industry, crew members are mandatorily and openly compensated for their extra effort. If a film goes into overages, it falls squarely on the shoulders of the producer and management, instead of punishing team members for unexpected events. Does this incentivize producers to avoid long hours at all costs? You bet. Does the crew appreciate this and work harder for it? Probably. A savvy producer can assume there will be a
certain amount of overages and plan for them. When the time comes, they can reach into that overage budget, maintaining a happy crew even in a difficult crunch period.
Lesson #5: Post-Production is Half the Film
Have you ever watched an action movie on mute? Try popping in Transformers or Spider-Man and turning off the sound. Scenes that usually make your heart pound become emotionally flat. Disinterest sets in as your mind wanders to checking your email or planning your lunch. To create engaging, gripping sequences, sound is an absolute must.
Good film producers know that post-production is literally half the film. Audio, sound effects, pace of editing, and title sequences can make or break how an audience reacts to your product. Post-production in the film world also includes voiceover work, color correction, special effects, and working with film stocks or digital delivery formats to ensure a crisp image on the final screen. Post-production period lengths vary, with some films getting things edited quickly while others can take up to a year or more to perfect.
Game producers also give extra attention and focus to sound and other techniques that fit into the post-production schedule in Hollywood. In a medium requiring moment-to-moment tension and excitement, game developers are keenly aware of the value that post techniques have on their audience.
However, most game schedules that I have seen don’t seem to have an official “post-production” period set out at the end of the project. Audio, cinematics, lighting, titles, and special effects are often expected to come online throughout regular production. While many elements can easily come online early, some need to wait for final content before implementation. What results is a crunch period right before major milestones for audio and other team members. Game developers may want to consider laying out extra time at the end of their projects to ensure these key elements can be fully realized.
Lesson #6: Everyone Gets a Script and Script Page Changes Every Single Day
When a film crew member walks on set in the morning, one of the first things they receive are neatly printed script changes. They take these pink, yellow, blue or other colored pages and place them in their binder with the rest of their script pages. The new pages contain added lines, cut scenes, or location changes. Every crew member has a script fully printed out, and they add these new pages into their script. They always know exactly what is being shot for
the day and what needs to be done.
In game production, teams often use game design documents, but in general the process of creating content often less top-down and more organic. Leads of various departments may be working off hit lists, and also creating content and story as they go along. The game designer probably has a game design document, but with sheer volume of gameplay usually contained in a product, this is difficult to keep up to date. Things move fast in game design and GDDs get out of date quickly. Designers iterate on the game constantly, making improvements by the hour and minute. On larger games, you may have 10 or 20 designers all making changes on their levels simultaneously.
Am I advocating that game teams adopt printed script bibles for all team members? Maybe. While printing out pages seems archaic and a waste of paper, it’s funny how easy it is to dismiss emails or avoid reading digital GDD updates, especially when changes are rolling in every day and you have a bug list a mile long. Having a physical “game bible” may be an interesting experiment to try.
Or, perhaps the game itself is the script bible. The best way to stay up to date on what changes are rolling in from the team is to actually play the game. Try running through one level each morning with your team to see what changes are in, as well as to discuss upcoming tasks that will be coming online in the next few weeks.
The key take-away here is determining whether your team members are always up to date. Being in the loop will make for a more cohesive vision, with team members that stay on track and contribute to that vision.
Lesson #7: Great and Plentiful Food Motivates
It’s amazing how much food can motivate employees, especially good food. Not only does it make employees feel like they are being taken care of, reducing their stress and increasing goodwill, but it also draws people together for conversation. When employees eat together, they begin sharing information, sparking new ideas, or remembering to take action on particular tasks.
Film crews have this one all figured out. Movie sets are fully catered, often with an on-site food truck cooking meals to order. All meals and snacks are free to crew members, with catering showing as a regular line item in any standard production budget.
With crews working around the clock, often at remote locations, having food on set is a must. Lunchtime is at the same time for all crew members, and after lunch is served, crew members promptly go back to work.
Understandably, game production doesn’t work in the same way. Developers are not on set. They are in the same office every day, and can bring food from home or go out to lunch at nearby eateries. In general, food for developers is looked at as a luxury or special occasion, and not as a mandatory part of what is provided to employees.
Game producers often provide food during crunch periods or at the end of a milestone. Some companies have food cafeterias set up as a way to offer convenience and community. This may be as close as the game industry will get to the luxurious meals provided to the creative talent on film crews. I’d like to challenge that, and say that if you want to generate happy creatives in your own game production office, food is a key tool in your toolbox.
When you start thinking of your developers as a team of creative resources instead of as a legion of office workers, this starts to make more sense. Creativity flows more naturally when stress is reduced. Having food on-site means one less thing to worry about during the day, gives developers a clear lunchtime to take a break, encourages community and makes them feel taken care of.
There is one caveat with food, however, that can actually end up making your teams less productive in the long run. Providing unhealthy snacks, soda, coffee, pizza, and heavy foods is not going to help your cause. In the long run these drag energy down, providing quick fixes but later resulting in an energy slump. Some of these foods can even lead to weight gain and health problems if consumed long-term.
Try to focus on providing high-protein foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, and stay away from sugar or caffeine-loaded products.
Lesson #8: Have One Clear Creative Director
Film directors have absolute power on set. The film director assembles a crew of creative leads that greatly influences the film’s final product including a cinematographer, production designer, and casting director. But if there is a question on set, the director always has final say. They are the primary vision holder, harnessing the creativity of many into a final, cohesive product.
Game designers play a similar role with their teams, but there are things that can interfere with their ability to fully be in control. Game crews often pride themselves on their team approach, and the culture tends to lean towards a more collaborative mentality when it comes to the game vision. Another obstacle to having one clear director is that game designers often find themselves playing dual roles and writing the dialogue, designing levels, and doing other tasks that interfere with their ability to walk the floor and provide creative leadership.
If the game designer isn’t leading the creative vision, who is? Some companies have engineering, art, or other department leads in positions that wield more power than others. Upper management could be holding the reins, or a marketing division could be making demands.
A publisher may have an acting producer with an invested interest in the final product, and actively push their design ideas onto the team. Many companies take a team creative control approach, sometimes creating great products with an open-door culture, but other times allowing for unclear roles and negative feelings when creative ideas aren’t used. Each company has unique politics, history, and teams that form the power structure for creative control.
In the filmmaking world, there may be an actor with clout, a producer with money, or a revered cinematographer that use their power to control things on set. Yet the role of director is so clearly laid out and respected that the film crew’s daily production pipeline is not usually affected. There may be squabbling at the top, but the crew takes their orders from the director. This reduces team member politics and streamlines the production pipeline. Film crews have figured out that it is much easier to coordinate a creative vision made by 200 people if there is one person to answer to. In time, game production teams may figure this out as well.
Everyone has heard the horror stories of prima donna film directors demanding full control on their movies, and I’m not suggesting that game designers swing to this extreme side of the pendulum of control-crazy leadership.
That said, I think everyone on game teams can learn something from the clear hierarchy laid out consistently on film sets time and again. Establish roles on the team and make sure your team is aware of these roles. Producers and directors should walk the floor twice a day and be open to answering any questions that team members have, keeping an eye out for creative elements that may be off track. Free up your day for office hours and remove yourself from tasks that
can be done by others.
And that brings us to…
Lesson #9: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
Stop micromanaging and hand some of your work to others! What would happen on a film set if the director spent all their time making script page changes on their computer and photocopying them for the crew? They wouldn’t have had time to rehearse their actors, answer questions about the creative direction for set construction, or approve camera angles from the cinematographer. The director on a film does just that — directs — ensuring everyone is on the same
Game producers should encourage their leads to delegate as much as possible. Create clear role definitions and stick to those. Check in often about where people are spending most of their time, and troubleshoot ways to get tasks off their plate that prevent them from higher priorities. Above all, always keep deadlines and priorities in mind. If your milestone requires X, Y, and Z, let other items go.
Lesson #10: You Can’t Fix the Story in the Cutting Room
In film production, there is a time when the movie reaches a point of no return. Unless your budget has deep pockets to allow for massive reshoots, what you shoot is what you get. If the original screenplay and concept were flawed, there is no great way to fix them.
If you watch films closely, you can see editing tricks employed to try and fix story issues. A constant soundtrack over scenes may try to mask emotional flatness. Quick editing and bold, large titles may try to add intrigue to scenes that would be otherwise tedious to watch. Scenes can be constructed from outtakes, and lines added in voiceover.
Things can definitely be doctored during editing, but there is only so much an editor can do to fix a broken movie.
Games are unique because developers can change content through the entire length of production. Scenes aren’t locked in stone, animations can be changed, and environments can be reworked. Missions can even be reordered. On one hand, this means that game content can be improved through the very end of a production schedule. On the other hand, this could give a game team a free pass to procrastinate story decisions that should come early in production, or to make changes mid-stream that throw the project off schedule.
Abandoning ideas that aren’t working is key to success. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is what you want to avoid. Stick to your original vision, and you’ll turn out the product you first set out to make. If you do this and stay on track, you will get it out the door quickly and have time to spare to make another new, improved project that you know will be “so much better than this one”.
Avoid letting your team’s perfectionist side take over, and focus on shipping the game that is in front of you, putting everything you have into making it as good as it can be. This can be difficult for game developers, who trend toward perfectionist tendencies. Feature creep has a way of lengthening schedules, which in some cases could be likened to a film editor trying to mask a scene that isn’t working wth loud music.
Sometimes new game features really can make the difference in shipping an excellent game, and mid-story changes are what end up making a product shine. The trick is to find a happy trade-off between running with what you’ve got versus allowing directional changes that may hike up quality.
How do we utilize these ideas to make higher quality games faster, cheaper? Let’s review!
Develop solid game concepts before production crews are brought in
Vet concepts in a similar way to the film script development process
Hire a skilled time management specialist
Keep crews productive by planning and paying for overtime and providing meals
Ensure team members are consistently in the loop for game changes and vision
Define team roles and have one clear creative director
Delegate tasks off leadership to allow them to focus on moving the rest of the team forward
Balance improvements and high quality with sticking to the original product vision
Make sure post-production time is planned in your budget
Use post-production to its fullest capacity, acknowledging that it is half the game
Now, what about the list of fascinating tidbits that film producers could learn from game devs? We’ll save that for another article.
10 Things Corman Taught Me About Indie Game Development
It’s been a while since I read Roger Corman’s book “How I made a hundred movies in hollywood and never lost a dime.” but I remember its lessons vividly. His book title is pretty literal as he made profit on every film he made, no matter how low budget or schlocky. In this post I’d like to share how some of his best techniques can be applied to indie game production so you too can never lose a dime!
1) Exploit genres
Corman’s films were often labeled as B-movies, Genre films and Exploitation. He was a master of creating and exploiting niche film genres such as Bikes, Nurses, Women in cages, Edgar Allen Poe, etc. Some would see this as a negative, but his bottom line sure didn’t. These subgenre’s were generally considered exploitation because they exploited shock value for attention, something worth considering when deciding between creating yet another fantasy game or going the Edmund Mcmillen and Adult Swim games routes. Negative press is still press!
Exploiting a newly popular subgenre or niche gives you the benefit of being a big fish in a small pond rather than trying to get normal mainstream attention in the already crowded world of games journalism. Wacky, weird or shocking will get people talking and playing! Unfortunately this “technique” also leads to tons of me-too games whenever a genre shows mainstream success, ie. Zombies, Bird games, etc. Come up with your own or pick something underutilized!
Some inspiration: Wikipedia page of exploitation genre’s in film; Exploitation classics
2) Aim for low profit, and even lower budget
A good part of the reason Corman always made profit is he knew how to scale his production budget to match his expected ROI (return on investment). He didn’ t try and make 500 million a movie while spending 200 million just to make it and another 100 million on advertising, he knew he’d only make X, so he spend much less than X and boom, profit! Find out how much your “competition” realistically makes (hint, don’t consider Angry Birds your competition) and then aim to spend much, much less than that. I recommend doing some Game Jams to really learn how to scale your production down in terms of time and money! The other lessons here offer some great tricks on ways to keep costs down but look for many more and never stop stealing hacks and techniques from other low budget mediums like film but remember, time is money too!
Some inspiration: The frugal auteur
3) Market yourself as legit, cheaply
One of the more innovative tricks Corman used to promote his films that unfortunately can’t easily be repeated now was using theatres as an advertising platform to legitimize his films. The way he did this cheaply was to only make two prints of his film (prints were really expensive so he made 1 for show and 1 in case the first got damaged), then tour around showing his film in theatres for only a week or two at each theatre. What’s important about this idea is that in this day and age of direct to dvd movies there is a legitimacy associated with actually being shown in theatres, a certain status as a film possibly worth seeing. He also realized that people mostly see films during the first 2 weeks of release and wasting his time promoting it at a theatre for longer than that wasn’t a good way to make profit from his print.
How does this apply to you, the indie game developer? Rather than spend your money on advertising, spend your time promoting your game in short run, high attention areas like Game Jams, Festivals, Competitions, Conferences, Platform specific featurings (iOS featured games of the week, Steam free weekends/promotional sales etc), Bundle sales, Charity drives, Tournaments (DOTA2 anyone?), Kongregate achievement competitions, and more. Tour around for a
couple weeks and get facetime and game press whenever possible.
Here’s the key to understanding how to make this work financially. You will only make profit for a short time when your game is new and attention is on it, the profits will drop off quickly and be barely a trickle after that (bundles can help later, see below). Why is this good? Plan for it and instead of focusing on trying to sell your games as a service (which is a good alternative biz model but not within the scope of this post) just start working on the next game. Angry Birds was the 52nd game for Rovio, they waited till they had a HUGE hit before putting their eggs in one basket. Focus on making games quickly, low budget and profitable and your quality will naturally improve as you learn new things with each game and your company/name fame (or infamy if you follow lesson 1) will grow with each release. Robert Rodriguez’s first big hit film El Mariachi was actually made to just be part of a 3 part direct to video b-movie series just to help him fund doing bigger and bigger films. He makes profit on every film he makes too!
Some inspiration: Indie student game competitions; PAX (Penny Arcade Expo); Indiecade; Humble indie bundle
4) Exploit undervalued content
One of Corman’s lesser known money making tricks was to buy foreign films cheap then re-edit them and dub new dialog to make a sort of remix or new film. This lead to great profits with relatively low upfront cost and much less work and crew required. There are thousands of small indie games and experiments that could be transformed into a profit if done well. This could be done poorly (Ninja Fishing vs Radical Fishing and Minecraft vs Fortresscraft) or smartly (Muffin Knight vs Super Crate Box). I don’t want to suggest blatently cloning another popular game for another platform and shamelessly raking in profits (Gameloft) but rather finding underappreciated or unfinished games and either buying them outright or working with the developer to make them into a quick buck for everyone involved. Want a great head start on this? Check out Ludum Dare game jam competition entries, they are open source, unfinished/unpolished
game ideas that have already gotten some feedback, exposure and playtime without an expectation of anything more. Heck I’ve even put together a list of which games use which kind of programming language/engine/tool to make it easier for you to find one you can easily take the ball and run with. If you want to go a bit more experimental than check out the Experimental Gameplay Project for some radical ideas and people open to taking their concepts further. Once
you reach a certain level of recognition you can even potentially act as a publisher or someone who can help port games (the way Halfbrick has been doing for indie’s lately).
5) Employ hungry amateur talent
First to be clear, when I say amateur talent I mean it in the sense of talented people not currently using that talent at a paid professional level. One of the things Corman is famous for is helping apprentice great talent into hollywood. Perhaps you’ve heard of Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, or Robert De Niro? All of them got their big breaks working through and learning from Corman. He was great at recognizing hungry talent and giving them a chance to work on something that would actually be seen by an audience, something they couldn’t easily do on their own. Many of those directors started off editing trailers for Corman till he gave them a chance to direct one of his films. Jack Nicholson started off as a screenwriter till Corman decided to throw him in one of his movies.
What I’m suggesting for Indie game developers is that you find talented people out there who are hungry for a chance to be involved and show off their stuff. Be upfront with them about how little profit and pay there will be and that you will work them HARD but what will make it worth there while is that you WILL finish and release the game and that it will be PLAYED by a good variety of people. Many indie projects never accomplish those things but you will be different because you’re armed with the tricks of this post and a focus on making profit to make the next great thing. Recently graduated game school graduates are a great source of talent looking to build a portfolio!
Some inspiration: “The Corman Film School”; Game Career Guide forums
6) Pre-sell your product
Part of the reason Corman was able to guarentee that he was able to make profit was not just keeping his initial budget low, it was also partnering up with other companies and pre-selling his films. Often he would pre-sell his film to a distributor for a profit and then as long as he kept the film on budget he didn’t even have to worry about the films profit possibilities during film or release. Other times he would get a script or at least treatment written and then partner up with an interested studio or film financer to cover as much of the production cost as possible up front. This works similar to how book authors will get advances from publishers to cover the cost of sitting at a typewriter for ages. This can be a difficult thing to do when you’re relatively unknown and your ability to make profit is untested so rather than focus on selling to middlemen, why not pre-sell your product to customers? There’s nothing better than knowing the demand for your product is there in the form of cold hard cash. This model is already gaining significant ground in two forms: Kickstarter and selling alphas/betas/preorders.
Kickstarter and Pre-v1.0 fundraising systems both work off a similar concept, you provide a pitch in the form of media (mockups, trailer, design docs, etc) and/or playable content (prototype, demo, alpha/beta version, etc) and then get people to pony up to help fund the game in exchange for a copy of the game and some additional bonuses. Kickstarter differs in that its usually not a playable game yet, there are different payment levels with different kinds of bonuses, and money isn’t withdrawn unless the funding goal is hit. Prototype/Alpha/Beta sales differ in providing a constantly updating playable game, an ability to help influence the development of the project, and money transactions (and something to play!) are instant regardless of any funding goals. There are tradeoffs and benefits to each method so pick the one most appropriate to where your game is at now, what you can provide customers, and whether you think you can reach a funding goal. You can always try Kickstarter while at the early stages (non-playable) and if it fails to reach a funding goal focus on building your prototype and then sell as soon as you can. Keep in mind these depend on virality so take advantage of any marketing tricks you can! See below for some successful examples.
Some inspiration: Zombies, run!; Kickstarter page; Minecraft sales; Frozen Synapse pre-order page; Achron RTS
7) Work fast
Corman often challenged himself to see how fast he could make films both for profit reasons and just as a personal development idea. He pushed the same mentality on his pet screenwriter, Charles Griffith, sometimes calling him in the evening, outlining a script idea and asking to get a first draft script by morning, and getting it! His quickest production was a whole 2 days, 2 days! This kept costs down, keep things creatively exciting and kept him learning and making new things. The important thing is that he didn’t release films he thought were garbage, he just kept his production expectations low and scaled accordingly. This again is where I’ll recommend Game Jams as the ultimate boot camp in learning how to do this. There’s nothing as exhilirating and satisfying as conceiving and finishing a game in 48 hours. In order to successfully pull it off though you need to learn how to focus your game and polish a pearl not a bowling ball. You will have to cut out lots of features but what’s left will be that much better for it. Once you’ve got the hang of doing this it will be that much easier to follow the suggestions of lesson #4 and play off game jam games for quick turnaround.
Many indie’s and game studios see growth and financial success as an opportunity to spend longer on their games (ie 3D Realms) but length doesn’t always equate to polish or profit so don’t fall into this trap, make each game quicker than the last (see the next lesson for how).
Some inspiration: Little shop of horrors shot in 2 days; Global Game Jam; Game Jams
8 ） Reuse assets
One of the biggest reasons Corman was able to film movies in sometimes as short as two days was good pre-production combined with reusing sets and props. This works especially well when working within a subgenre such as when he did multiple Edgar Allen Poe films. There was even one of his films where he realized he had a spare day or two before one of his Poe sets was going to be dismantled and had a script written that night to take advantage of that small window to produce one more film. Games are designed in a way that reusing assets should be even easier than in films as they are often based around lots of components and the rules for how those components interact. Reusing your assets, characters and settings can have two amazing benefits: cost/time savings, world/ip building. There’s tremendous value in building up a world/ip when it comes to building a fan base and marketing so why not make multiple games that take different approaches to the same world or characters? Heck look at all the things they’ve done with Mario, Sonic and Crash Bandicoot that have nothing to do with their debut games but I’m sure some of them reused assets (probably sound more than art but I digress). There’s also of course the obvious move of making sequels but that may not work as well for subgenre exploitation games as it does for AAA tentpole games, so better to explore new mechanics with the assets you’ve got.Many of you reading this have probably seen or at least heard of the Corman classic Death Race 2000, but did you know that the car sounds were reused from his F1 racing film (which itself used real race footage he recorded cheaply by going to the races)? Lloyd Kaufman of Troma once put a car crash scene in one of his films and considered it kind of an expensive stunt so he mitigated the cost by finding some way to include that scene in as many of his other films as possible! If you spend money on something, don’t throw it away after 1 game! I’d also recommend studying what has worked/not worked for Telltale with their episodic games as a great learning opportunity for asset reuse (sadly they probably don’t reuse as much as they could).
Some inspiration: Troma recycling; Cheapass Games reuses board game components
9) Exploit Bundles
Corman defends the original meaning of the term B-movie by explaining why it wasn’t originally an insult, it simply meant the second feature of a double feature showing (like drive-ins still do), similar to the term B-side in music. The upside of B-side songs and movies is they are usually the riskier but sometimes more interesting releases, the ones not as easily marketed but still potentially profitable. Having a B-side bundled with a more marketable product allows a company to mitigate the risk of lower profits by providing a bundle with not only an increased value perception for the customer but also the possibility that the B-side could also be successful and help drive sales further.
Steam has been great at providing and promoting bundles for indie games of various categories to not only help promote the individual games but also to increase sales due to the value provided. There are quite a few Indie games gamers might not have otherwise played had they not be part of a bundle and profits that might never have been gained. This also provides a great way to get a short boost of income using your old, unpopular games to boost the bundle value. You see this with Steam’s bundles from publishers providing back catalogue games that probably wouldn’t sell on their own anymore but that gamers might have some nostalgia for or want to play because they missed it when it was popular. Another great example is the Humble Indie Bundle which coincidentally is today offering a special Frozen Synapse Bundle (two things I’ve mentioned earlier as great examples).
You don’t have to wait for someone else to create a bundle, create your own “greatest hits” catalogs or special promotional bundles (especially if you create a great series of single ip games by following lesson #8). Go one step further and use the bundle sale as a fundraiser or kickstarter for your next game (as in lesson #6). Imagine the sales that could have happened if J.K. Rowling had put up a page saying “I need funding for the final two Harry Potter books as they are a two-parter, as a special promotion if you buy the first 5 Harry Potter books as a bundle at this special discount price you will get the next two books free!”.
Some inspiration: Valve Orange Box; MacHeist
10) Always finish or recycle
Corman understood you can’t make a profit on your films if you don’t sell them, and if you can’t make profit you can’t make more! All of the previous lessons include ideas that will commit you to a promise of finishing your game, fast, within budget and make profit, hopefully as early as possible. He put a lot of focus on good pre-production planning and working with constraints instead of against them, both of which go a long way towards making that finish possible. His focus on using the profit from each movie to fund the next one made sure that if he was excited about other film ideas he still had a great reason to finish the current one first.If you’re an Indie developer that probably means you want to make a living making games and you can’t do that without selling what you do. As the Joker in The Dark Knight said, “if you’re good at something you should get paid for it”. That’s the difference between an amateur and a professional, a
professional asks for money and comes through with their promises. If finishing a game really becomes impossible or the game is just absolutely not working and looks unsaveable from a design perspective then you absolutely must recycle the assets and time you’ve spent into something that WILL sell. Chances are you can reuse code, art and sound and maybe even some design, but probably not all of it (maybe in a future game though). Treat this rebirth as a bonus
challenge to develop the new game using the remaining time you had budgeted for the game you are scrapping so that you absolutely still hit budget and make profit. You can do it so don’t wuss out!
Some inspiration: Derek Yu – Finishing a game; Chris Hecker – Please finish your game
I highly recommend reading the book yourself as it’s a great read about a great Director/Producer. If you find low budget film making technqiues and hacks interesting and want to learn more to apply to your game production I also recommend Robert Rodriguez’s “Rebel without and crew” and any of Lloyd Kaufman ’s (of Troma fame) books on filmmaking (he even has a dvd version now).
Cheeky plug: If you liked this post check out the most recent episode of the Game Developers Radio show I co-host, “Exploring Design”, on the topic of gimmicks in games.
Hope this helps at least provoke some thought for the indie’s out there struggling to make a living!
篇目2，The Hollywood Screenplay Approach to Designing Game Levels: Part I
by Babak Kaveh
Almost all Hollywood movies released in the past forty years are based on screenplays that use a singular structure. This article will introduce the Hollywood screenplay formula, and examine waysto apply that same structure to gameplay design. We won’t be using the screenplay structure for a game story, rather, we will attempt to create a narrative using only game mechanics, and more specifically, applying the formula to the design of levels and play sessions in different game genres.
Most Hollywood movies start out by introducing the viewers to the hero and his current situation. Then an event happens that upsets the current state of affairs, and the antagonist is introduced.
There is an initial challenge that the hero overcomes, thus proving himself to the audience. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, we get to the point where the hero must make a momentous decision and the viewer gets to understand the final goal he must achieve in the movie – this is the point of no return. From there on the hero has an uphill battle, which culminates in one last big push, and if the hero is able to overcome that last challenge, you get to see how it has affected their life and the life of others – they reap the rewards, and if there is to be a sequel, we also get a glimpse of another challenge on the horizon. Of course there are small variations on this theme, e.g. we can have multiple heroes, and the antagonist might not be a human, but a force of nature, or an angst the hero must overcome. Michael Hauge’s has an excellent summary of the separate stages of this formula.
It is surprisingly easy to come up with alternate narrative structures, and yet very few screenplays outside this rather strict structure have succeeded, at least in Hollywood; it is a winning formula, and movie producers know it. That said, what can we game designers learn here? A whole lot: the formula will teach you how to make each game level a narrative that the player is a part of – a mini movie that your audience will enjoy and remember playing, and this gameplay narrative will resonate with a majority of your audience, based on what they have come to understand and accept in movies.
I am aware that in an environment where some designers still think narrative is unnecessary and evil, claiming that giving your gameplay a narrative structure will sound like a waste of time, but bear with me as I apply the Hollywood formula to the design of a variety of game levels, and you will see not only will it make the level more consistent, it is actually a great brainstorming tool.
In the next installment (to follow shortly) I will also try to explain how some of the most successful Payload levels (pl_badwater and pl_goldrush) follow this formula very closely, and walk you through a new TF2 Payload level design from beginning to end.
An Overview of the Hollywood Screenplay Structure
Following is a summary of Michael Hauge’s description of the Hollywood screenplay structure and example screenshots from the recent movie “Battleship”.
Our hero is an impulsive, undisciplined womanizer
Stage 1 – The setup
This is the beginning of a narrativve where you are introduced to the hero(s), and possibly his companion(s) everyday life. This is where you try to make them likable and interesting to the audience. The setup normally takes up the first 10% of the duration of the movie.
After his run-in with the police, our hero’s brother forces him to join the marines in the hopes that he will get his life togetherTurning point 1 – The opportunity (@ 10%)
This is where the hero is presented with a new opportunity/threat that they cannot refuse/escape (internally or because of external forces). The opportunity makes the hero leave behind the status quo and start on a journey , although ogically at this point the hero could presumably go back to the status quo, but we know that won’t happen.
Our hero is an officer in the Navy, and in a relationship – still undisciplined but in a whole new world/way
Stage 2 – The New Situation
After having responded to the opportunity or initial threat, now the hero gets acclimatized to the new life he will be leading. This is where hero’s hear about their nemesis for the first time or get to learn how to use guns for the first time. This is the initial discovery phase for the hero which leads to him coming up with a plan to reach the goal set forth by the opportunity but in the background we want to show the audience that conflict is building around the her. This stage takes up another 15% of the total movie duration.
“Getting the girl” loses in importance when aliens crash-land on the Earth!
Turning point 2 – The change of plans (@ 25%)
This is where something happens that causes the hero to change his plans. It takes the hero from the new world that the opportunity defined, to a whole new level, where he will define the final visible goal that he will achieve in the movie. The guy might have found the right girl and now he wants to get her, or maybe the ex mercenary decides to protect the people he was sent to kill. The visible goal is what the “audience is rooting for your hero to achieve by the end of the film.”
Hhuman ships are in a stand-off with the alien spaceships
Stage 3 – Progress
Now the hero is in the thick of things and starts to make progress towards the visible goal. It is where the hero goes from having been caught off-guard by the change of plans, to where they align all their powers and allies to reach their goal. Conflict is still building at this stage but it is nothing the hero cannot overcome. This takes up another 25% of the total movie duration.
Our hero’s brother is killed by aliens and his ship is destroyed. There is no going back now, they must be defeated (which is the visible goal of the movie)
Turning point 3 – The Point of No Return (@ 50%)
Here an event happens, or the situation evolves in a way that will limit the hero in going back from his plans. This is the event or moment that defines the hero’s path all the way to the end of the movie. Bridges are burned and there is no going back and the audience knows it.
Close encounters of the third kind, and hand to hand combat with aliens, but our hero is doing fending off every offensive
Stage 4 – Complications
During this stage conflict builds to a point where the hero simply cannot risk loosing. It becomes all or nothing. The hero fight hard, but then just before the hero seems to score a major success the major setback happens. This stage which will also take up about 25% of the total movie duration.
The tides have turned – Alien “wheel-whizzer-thingies” shred the hero’s ship into slivers
Turning point 4 – The major setback (@ 75%)
This is the disastrous event that causes the hero to seemingly lose any chance of achieving the visible goal. He is captured, or important allies or companions leave him or die, or maybe there is a major betrayal. Things start to look real dark at this point.
The survivors regroup on the Mighty Mo and get her ready for a final grand battle
Stage 5 – The final push
Now the hero has to gather all of his energy and resources one last time to overcome the challenge. He is real close to the finishing line – the pace is furious at this point and it’s all or nothing. This stage should take up another 15-24% of the total movie duration.
She fights valiantly despite her age, and the alien mothership is destroyed and their communication scheme neutralized
Turning point 5 – The climax (@90~99%)
This is where the hero faces the final challenge, determines his own fate and the visible goal of the story gets resolved. It is where the hero fights and kills the end-boss or solves the final riddle of a crime or dies trying. It is also what the audience will probably be remembering about the movie later on.
Hero gets medal – hero gets girl – hero gets admiral’s recognition and respect – The End.
Stage 6 – The aftermath
This is where the audience winds down and gets to see the result of the events in the climax. The hero gets married or buried or gets to live happily thereafter! This stages takes up a minimal amount of time of the total movie duration, typically just a few minutes.
Applying the Structure to Game Level Design
Let us plot hero challenge (or audience tension) vs. time based on the timing of the stages and events from the Hollywood formula described above:
This is very similar to the punctuated sawtooth plot of challenge over time many game developers have proposed over the years:
Challenge vs Time in RPG games taken from an article by Thomas DuPont
Now it’s time to discuss how we can lay out our level to conform to the successful formula we explained.
Stage 1 – The setup
Although many designers leave this stage out, falsely assuming that video game players want to jump straight into the action, adding some sort of introduction into a level gives players to find their bearings and get to know their avatar, the controls and movement, as well as a sense of security before making their own conscious decision to enter the fray. This is a subtle point, but players will not appreciate it when you throw them into the arena without allowing them to make the choice. Now, you may argue that the moment the player started the game, they already made the decision to face up to the challenge, but don’t forget that allowing players choice is what games are all about, and the more meaningful choices you allow the player to make, the better your level will work.
It is very easy to add a Setup to your level. Platformers and shoot ‘em ups do this by adding a section in the beginning of the level where enemies don’t exist. TF2 does it by allowing players 60 seconds to charge up their Ubers and pick their classes before the gates open, and Fallout: New Vegas has an entire starter area where there are absolutely no enemies and where you get introduced to the backstory. WoW, similarly provides safe starter areas for each race. There are three important points in setting up the “the Setup” area:
1. It has to be safe
2. It has to teach the player about the game environment and the avatar’s back-story
3. The player needs to be able to exit the area within 10% of the duration of a play session or the level play-time, whichever is smallerPoint 1 and 2 are straightforward, but I will explain point 3. Take a game like Fallout: New Vegas. Let us make an educated guess that the average playing session for the game/level will be around 1-2 hours. This means that the player needs to be able to get all the startup resources he needs to enter the badlands within 6-12 minutes of starting the game. Assuming the same for WoW, the player would need to be able to get a valuable kill within 6-12 minutes of starting in their safe zone. For a platformer where a level might last only a couple of minutes, the first kill or challenge should be available within 10 seconds.
There are games out there that don’t follow this rule of course, and they lose something because of that – BIT.TRIP Runner being a notable one where starting a new level it is very easy to feel pressured and helpless and it takes a few seconds and successful jumps just for that negative feeling to dissipate. BIT.TRIP Runner also never gives you a chance to understand the elements in the gameplay and what each do before you run into them and die and there are barely 3 seconds to check out the level before your first jump. Bad BIT.TRIP!
Turning point 1 – The opportunity (@ 10%)
This is where the player meets his first challenge. It is not the challenge that will send him on his quest to save the universe – that will come later – rather, it should take the player out from his safe environment, into a new area or situation where they need to start acting, and actively exploring new options. That’s where most games go wrong. In their hurry to provide meaning to their story, and gameplay challenge to the player, they send the hero off on a secret mission to save the world from a soviet nuke.
Bypassing the first turning point and going straight to the point of no return will take valuable time away from the designers which can be spent on exposing the inner life of the hero and his allies (NPCs) and give them a second and third dimension. It also removes the player from the plot in that it doesn’t give them enough reason to care for the universe or NPCs or other online players that they are supposed to save.
There are a number of ways to create a turning point and they all involve an event that is forced on the player, allowing them to accept the initial challenge, or stay in their safe zone. In TF2 e.g. when the gates first open, the player can decide to stay in the safety of the base, or move out after all the ubercharges are spent and the initial frenzy is over. Another way to give the player the best weapon or vehicle in the game, and teleport them into their future self where they will get a taste of being cool without any risk of loosing, although this method does risk creating frustration in players once they
are ripped out of the fantasy and given a rusty knife to fend for themselves. Oblivion had a nice turning point where the player went from being a prisoner to having the honor of protecting the king.
Stage 2 – The New Situation
This is the stage where a fighter starts fighting – a spy, backstabbing. Note that at this point we are NOT sending the player on his final goal. E.g. if the final goal is to capture a certain control point, the turning point will not allow them to do that yet. There should be no chance of the heroes (in TF2 this is the attacking team) wining the game at this stage. This can be done by making the initial base breakout hard for faster/sneakier classes e.g, or simply making everyone have to fight their way through to a point where they can start their actual mission – They still get to kill enemies, but they
cannot rush to the control point – not yet!Turning point 2 – The change of plans (@ 25%)
After the initial combat, or introduction to the new life the hero will be leading, we start them on a path towards their goal. In TF2 this means the attacking team gets to start pushing the payload e.g. or move forward towards the control points. We facilitate this by selectively weakening the position of the enemy (defenders in TF2) by making them walk for a long time before getting to their defensive position, or by delaying their respawn a bit longer, or by taking away some of the beneficial potential fighting positions. In an MMO, e.g. this would be the stage where the hero receives a great ability that allows him to do the first part of the story quest at a fast pace. In a platformer, this might be the point where you introduce the hero to his goal of saving a princess, and giving him a first glimpse of said sexy lady!
Stage 3 – Progress
At this point it should be easy going for the heroes. The playing field is tilted in their favor. This can be done, and should be done even in games where humans play against humans. In TF2 this is the part of the level where the attacking team gets most of the advantageous positions . This might mean opening an access route (backdoor) to the first control point, or creating an easily defensible path that the payload cart can be pushed through. Make this stage last for 25% of the game time or play session duration, and let the heroes of the game feel awesome for the time eing.
Turning point 3 – The Point of No Return (@ 50%)
Contrary to sports, in Hollywood, half-time is not a time of respite and rest – It is the point where something happens that destroys any chance of the hero ever going back to his original life or even new situation. It is the point where he decides that he must push forward.
In the context of level design this can mean many things:
· For a platformer: It will now be impossible to traverse levels without the newly gained awesome double-jump or jetpack. It is also impossible to kill many enemies without your thunder-stomp! And if you slow down or fail, the princess will be killed, slowly – make sure your player knows that!
· For an MMO/RPG, this is where the world changes in response to the hero’s actions. E.g. A particular dragon might have risen who needs to be defeated before he reaches the birthplace of the hero.
· For a Multiplayer shooter like TF2/BF3 this is the point where the attacking team gains control of a forward spawning/landing position that is so good that the original starting base is made obsolete, or maybe even locked out.
Stage 4 – Complications
In stage 3, the hero got all the benefits. Now the tide will start to turn and the hero and his enemies will be balanced out. This means that both teams have an equal distance to go to reach the battle hotspot e.g. or the hero simply hits the limits of his awesome power because enemy NPCs are rising in level.
We can also artificially introduce extra challenges by adding extra conflict points around the map or within the story – maybe the hero has to sacrifice an ally to get through, or there might be traps that will leave the hero with very little HP before he manages to come out the other end. Betrayals are also a commonly used story element here, and so are time limits. This is the part of the TF2 level where enemy spies run amok, and this naturally brings about the next turning point as they sap forward attacker teleports and defensive positions.
Turning point 4 – The major setback (@ 75%)
The major setback is the darkest hour of the hero’s existence and unlike most other stages that can be achieved by tweaking gameplay/level elements requires a certain degree of engineering to make it work. After all the complications in the previous stage, we want the hero to be in a very weak position at least for a short while. Here are some ways to do this:
In an RPG: Endgame boss appears, and as the player is fighting him casts tons of debuffs on him that will last for quiet a while after the boss himself has left the arena.
In a platformer: reduce the number of health/ammo powerups. Now the hero needs to start counting bullets and health points.
In a strategy game: the player is flanked on three sides by the enemy, or even better, after his allies left him or dies in the previous stage, he is now stuck with a tiny defensive force and has to fight his way out through a painful gauntlet. We want the hero to be standing alone against the horde at the end of this stage.
In multiplayer shooters: give the defenders a great ambush chance, or a great sniper nest. Those two particular obstacles are a serious blow to the attacker (hero) morale and can definitely elicit the feeling of going through a major setback. However, make sure that those particular ambush/sniper nests are also possible to overcome. Do not place them in spots where enemies can easily get to them over and over, or you will have inadvertently created the climax before
the players actually reach their goal.
In order for a climax to work best, we want all elements (closing in on the goal, final push, lots of conflict, balanced fight) to come together at the same time.
Stage 5 – The final push
In stage 3, the hero had all the benefits. In stage 4 the two sides were balanced out. Now it is time to give the antagonist(s) (in TF2, the defenders) the teeth. Provide the enemy with great sniper position, and good cover. In TF2 the fact that the conflict points are now closer to the defender base provides a natural benefit to the defenders. In all other games, this is the time where the player constantly has to switch weapons because they run out of ammo, and has to use up a lot of potions or they simply won’t function. The final push is an intense and uphill battle (literally making this an uphill battle is a great way to use the symbology in game where having higher ground gives the enemy benefits, e.g. in most shooters or strategy games).
During this stage, the hero needs to be able to see the goal (the last control point, or the last waypoint on a TF2 payload map e.g.). He needs to be able to get to the conflict point really fast (in Battlefield games, there would be multiple fast vehicles at the control point right before the last one) and the final battle area needs to be very concentrated. Do not create wide open areas or trenches for this stage. Make the conflict direct. Also don’t forget to give the enemy lots of benefits that will really hurt the hero, and if your game mechanics allow for time-limits use them in the nastiest possible way at the end of this stage. This is the only part of the level where the level designer can go all-out sadistic on the player, and as long as there is some chance of the player being able to punch through, they will not be whining too much (well, they will, but they will also see the point and enjoy the fast pace).
I have pointed at some of the elements needed to create a final push stage in your game. How can we implement those in different genres?
In a strategy game: After the hero got through the major setback alone, he is now replenished with all possible units in the game, and the enemy is overrunning the planet with all of their forces.
The final battle is set in an hourglass level with huge waves of enemies eating away at the players defenses in a concentrated area. As we near the climax, the waves get larger, and the player’s army keeps pace. At one point the fighting gets so furious that the player starts to feel the pressure of micromanaging units. There is also a timer before the enemy is able to produce their nuke unit If the player cannot destroy their factory, and the enemy is starting to use larger and larger, and maybe even hitherto unseen units.
In a platformer: in this level platforms fall as you walk over them…you need to be fast and constantly move forward, and the enemies are relentless… sometimes it becomes more viable to just dodge their bullets and run instead of trying to kill them. There is only one visible and viable path, and very little time to choose anyways. No puzzles here….just relentless fighting and moving forward. Maybe the world behind you is crumbling at a constant speed – maybe you can hear the screams of your avatar’s “romantic interest” as she is being assimilated by Cthulhu himself ….
In an RPG: you have discovered the dungeon where the final boss/enemy resides, but his minions are not willing to serve up their master. Wave after wave of progressively stronger enemies come at you from the front, and from behind, and there is no time to explore, or maybe even open those loot chests. Monsters spawn so fast that going back and resting is not an option. Then there are the vilest minibosses in the game that you have to go through, before reaching the
chamber of Jronichiloctiel the Soul crusher!
In a multiplayer shooter: This is the fight for the final control point, or the capture of the enemy base. Allow the attackers to spawn nearby, or get there fast. Give them all the fancy weapons they want, but give the defenders an awesome position (e.g. let them have higher ground, or force the attackers through an hourglass level – you should of course never have only one path to go through, but you can always have one seemingly easy way to the enemy base and
multiple really dangerous ones ). For this to work, you need to give attackers/heroes an awesome forward staging area (i.e. if your game/spawn mechanics allow for this) and let the defenders have access to all sorts of defensive turrets, etc.
Turning point 5 – The climax (@90~99%)
The climax is the hero’s chance to overcome that one last giant obstacle to reaching his visible goal. In a game level this is the final boss battle, the capturing of the enemy base, or killing the last enemy standing. Here are some point to remember about the climax:
1. Don’t reduce tension artificially right before the climax. This is a stupid gimmick akin to screaming at your audience “Haha got you there!” Instead let it arise naturally from the already rising tension in the “final push”.
2. In order to overcome the final enemy, the player should use a lot, if not all of his skill/knowledge gained in the latter parts of the game. This is not the time to introduce new mechanics – it’s the time to demand the most of players based on already seen mechanics. For example, if success in your game was based on constant movement and quickly dodging enemy attacks, don’t put the player in a static turret that shoots at some giant end-boss!
3. It must resolve the hero’s quest. There is no more challenge after the climax whatsoever. After the climax it’s done! There should be no cleaning up to do. If the boss spawned adds during combat, once he is gone, the adds should blow up or something. Don’t distract the player from their huge achievement. Let them fully enjoy it. And then let them get their reward before the sweat on their brows dries!
In terms of level design, the climax is a natural extension of the final push, with the addition of one more element. This could be a final bomb that needs to be installed at the gates of the enemy base, or an end-boss, etc. Once the climax point is reached, it is not wise to suddenly negate all the prior challenges the hero was facing; no calm before the final storm here.
If you have a fighting game the arena where the final climax takes place normally has a central area where it all happens. It has entry points all around the arena, and players should be given no reason whatsoever to fight it out outside of this arena. Lock any backdoors that would distract from the final battle, and don’t let the defenders sneak pass attackers and backstab them. Also, avoid having any complex or smart enemies (except for the final boss) at this stage: having to think reduces pace, and new enemy behavior slows down flow – we don’t want any of that.
If you are making a puzzle or adventure game, this is where you repair that awesome giant mechanical contraption that will align Gaia’s energy with the center of the galaxy and save the world!
In an MMORPG, this would be the final boss in the story missions that needs to be beaten, or in case of dungeons it would be the end-boss battle.
In all of these cases make sure that the visuals tell the player that they have reached the end of the level before they enter the final battle (e.g. circular arena with tons of opening and no exit behind the boss), and make sure the final boss/challenge tests the players in multiple ways (speed, coordination, smarts, gear, armor, sensible tactics, etc.)
Stage 6 – The aftermath
After all the madness in the final push and the climax, and after the final goal has be resolved (hopefully in a final and definite way) it is time for the heroes to have a rest and enjoy their reward. A few points that might need repeating here are:
1. Make sure the player knows that he has won. Enemies should not be shooting at you anymore, and players should not find ANY challenges in their environment after the climax.
2. Give the player time and space to enjoy his reward. In TF2, successful attackers get to chase down and crit cowering defenders. In RPG’s players get access to all the treasures strewn about in the Boss’s chamber. In MMORPG’s this is when loots gets divided up. Many games simply announce that you won, and load the next level. Sometimes you don’t even get enough time to check out the leaderboards: this is bad design and rushing the player who gets no sense of closure and reward.
3. Avoid half-assed aftermaths. Let the player utterly defeat the antagonist or marry the girl in a happy ending or allow the Hero’s beloved one to die in a sad ending (instead of them being hurt e.g. or leaving the hero). Don’t let the nemesis get away, at least put him in prison, or magically lock him in a rock for good. Players hate to see that after all their trouble nothing happens to the baddies. Leave a clue for the sequel if you want to, but also give a good sense of closure to players.
There aren’t many level design tips for the aftermath except that:
a) Do not forego this stage and rush your player out the door into the next adventure.
b) Give players ample reward and time/space to enjoy that reward. Praise them, and show them how well they have done. If the player saved the princess have the princess kiss them, or have a marriage ceremony or something , or if they were supposed to destroy the enemy base, show them in gory detail how they bombed and burned their enemies and how all the structures came down in beautiful Destruction2 ?.
c) If this was a mini-story (like a dungeon in a larger MMORPG) don’t make players work in the aftermath of their success, e.g. teleport them out of the dungeon instead of making them walk out.
Give them a magical glow and let them feel like kings for a while.
In the next installment of this article, I will create a TF2 Payload map that follows the Hollywood formula, and I am sure you will start to see parallels with existing popular payload maps. Go ahead and play around in the map a bit before you read the full details of the design. I would also love to hear from you about other ways to make the Hollywood formula work in different games, and if you are a designer, let us know if you have ever consciously followed this or a similar flow design formula in your own level designs.
In part I of this article I discussed the six-stage Hollywood storytelling formula and how it can be applied to level design. I also promised to show you a practical example in the form of a TF2 Level. If you want to play the level before ccompanying me through the design process go ahead and have a look.
If you can’t play the level you might have to get the latest Unity 4 web player plugin for Mac or PC. You will need at least version 4.0.0f5.Zzzzz…
Glad to see you are back! Now the boring/educational part:
TF2 Class Rundown for Level Designers*
Before we start designing the map, we need to remember who we are designing it for, namely the player classes in TF2. Each of these classes has their strengths and weaknesses, and they all must be catered to both as attackers and defenders. Even though players do switch classes when they have to, they also have favorite classes that they play well (or think they play well) and a map that allows all classes to be utilized in interesting ways at different stages will be popular with players.
Here is a quick rundown of the classes in TF2 and how they affect the design of our level:
Pyro: excels at ambushing groups of enemies at close range and finding/killing spies in narrow tunnels and in closed to open area transitions. They are easily killed in wide open areas. (Element = Narrow Corridor/tunnel)
Soldier: excels when above target especially when hard-to reach or see perches are available. Most powerful at medium ranges and when standing in an open area that faces an enemy exit point. Is weak at close ranges or very long ranges and when fighting one on one in open areas without obstructions. When a medic can hide nearby the soldier can cause havoc on enemies with splash damage (Element = open area facing an enemy exit or when on high-ground)
Medic/heavy: excels in killing enemies at close range when medic can hide while healing heavy or if close to a cart and where the heavy faces a narrowly spaced group of enemies. Is a large target for snipers and rockets, and is slow so cannot really duck. Also draws spies like dung draws flies so is very weak in tight sneaky areas. Heavies are generally better for defense (due to low mobility) than attacks, unless they are ubercharged of course) (Enemy funnel next
to protected area for medic)
Scout: excels at flanking and fast surprise captures when aerial access exists to go around enemy defenses – this also enables them to do quick hit and runs. Scouts do well in multi-level areas and places where they can outrun enemies around corners. When they have to take the common routes or when enemy heavies and pyros are around scouts are easy canon-fodder. (Element: exploitable height-differences and bends that allow loss of LoS)
Spy: excel in open areas with nooks and crannies they can regenerate in. Excel at getting behind enemy lines or to where only one turret can stand. Very weak against two or more turrets, tight spaces, and open areas with no hidden nooks. (Element: areas with lots of rooms)
Demoman: excels at killing units at entrance/exits (especially exists) with sticky traps. Traps also come in handy when defending enemy gather points. Excels at lobbing grenades into windows or around corners of defensive positions which makes him excellent at defending choke points. Demos fail in wide open areas against sniping and are weak against fast units like scouts or at very close range. (Element: Mazes/Corridors/cave funnel exits)
Sniper: excels when hiding behind windows or obstructions, and facing a wide open area or an enemy exit at large ranges (Generally you should not give them LoS towards narrow exits). Spies are weak in close combat or when spies have alternate access to their perches. (Element: windowed rooms with good LoS on open area)
Engineer/sentry: Dominate area when hidden behind 90 degree angle in path and if defended against grenades. Defenseless in open areas or narrow tunnels when there is no bend or in areas that are easily accessible by spies (backdoors). (Element: defensible 90 degree bends)
Now that we know which elements each class excels at we will give them access to ample opportunities to use those elements. We will also use this knowledge to weaken or strengthen the positions of attackers or defenders when needed to drive our six-stage Hollywood inspired narrative.
Our narrative will be applied to a single TF2 level vs. a map consisting of related levels that players cycle through as in the original ”Goldrush” map. Each turning point will be marked by a “checkpoint”. Checkpoints provide a perfect symbol to signal to the players that a new stage in their journey has begun, and since our narrative turning points are evenly spaced, it is easy enough to adapt them to be equivalent to checkpoints. Additionally, Stage one and six which are the setup and the aftermath will happen inside the friendly (attacker) and enemy (defender) bases, respectively, and they are clearly defined by the game rules, so we will not spend too much time designing the level for them, other than following simple best-practices. So here is the breakdown into narrative stages
Stage 1 – The setup
Here the attackers haven’t started the fight yet. They are allowed to pick classes, load their ubercharges, overcharge, get acquainted, taunt, and generally be silly. This is the perfect analogue to the every-day life of a hero. The only rule to remember is to provide multiple exits for the attacker base that provide quick break-out opportunities for the different classes. In our case our attackers have three exits. The main exit (B) s wide and provides no protection – it is also the closest exit meant for heavies and ubercharged attackers. It is also the closest point to the cart. Exit (A) allows for support
classes to exit somewhat protected by the protrusion. Exit (C) provides a protected exit further away from the possible sentry gun that might be behind the protrusion at (A). There is also a protected exit that leads to the watchtower at D which also provides a good overview of the field to snipers via windows. Though enemy soldiers can rocket-jump into (D) they won’t stand much of a chance when the gates open.
Turning point 1 “the opportunity” happens when the gates open after the count-down. Again a perfect metaphor, as the life of our heros now suddenly changes and battle ensues.
Stage 2 – The New Situation
As soon as players break out into the new situation we want to create a complex interactions with enemies and the environment. This area will set the tone for the future stages. In order to allow attackers to explore the area above all we need nooks and crannies where enemies can hide – yet we cannot give the enemies full territorial control. To this end, we will give enemies points (E) through (H) which with seemingly good firing and ambush positions. These points are designed to tempt the enemy to set ambushes and sentries, and yet they are easy enough to overcome because they are open to attacker firing lines. As you can see, from Point (A) attackers will have a great view towards all enemy setup points.
The new situation is generally an understandable and easily overcome challenge, therefore we have a straight track out of the area, and it should be easy enough for the attackers to break through to the first checkpoint (= turning point) which is the “change of plans”.
The “change of plans” turning point is where the hero makes a choice or is driven to the visible goal of story. Therefore we place our first decision point of the level here and now things go from interesting and fun in stage 2 to challenging and requiring tough decision in stage 3.
Stage 3 – Progress
This stage is all about ups and downs. Our heroes are challenged, and they are in the thick of things. This is where, after the initial shock of the new situation, they create a plan for their future and start to work towards it. In order to force players to make a plan we need to provide them with important choices.
Here is how we do it:
Choice of path: Attackers get to choose if they will stay on the main track, clear out building (T1) or move on to building (T2). If they are in (T2) they can choose if they want to exit on the top and enter the tunnel (B) or exit right unto the raised gallery to the left of (T2).
Choice of class: the area is designed to be full of twists and turns (which symbolize the ups and downs of the hero’s progress), and for the first time “real” ambush points (T1 and T2 and around corners) and defendable sentry points for the enemy are introduced. This is where the attackers meet their first challenge and will be forced to switch classes if they were snipers or heavies, etc. as most of their Line of Sight benefits are lost.
I provided the enemy with a quick path to the point of conflict (PoC) through tunnel (B) to even out the teams at this point. This equality will give the attacker team a sense that they have now entered the stage where they need to start coming up with a plan.
Stage 3 ends with the “point of no return” (A) above – we want to make the heroes (attackers) feel that they have left their base behind and are now entering a whole new setting – where they are required to make painful decisions. In a war movie, this would be where the heroes chopper crashes behind enemy lines. In the Hollywood formula the point of no return always poses a painful decision between two contrasting things (e.g. shoot the criminal or call 911, Charge head-on or escape, cheat on a loved one or stay loyal). In order to create this stark contrast I implemented a huge change of venue from the building to building combat in Stage 2 to an environment that gives players a choice of backstabbing the enemy (via tunnel (B) above or charging ahead into sniper territory via ramp (A) above. Each player has to make a choice here and the difference between the choices is a big as it gets, i.e. being a hero in a wide open area vs. a ackstabber in a dark tunnel.
Stage 4 – Complications
Besides providing a change of venue, the exposed ramp and area beyond creates a delightful sense of “Oh crap!” in the attackers. Stage 4 forces an all-or- nothing combat style.
If the player has taken the ramp he will be fully exposed to sniper fire from the end of the field. If he manages to get to the entrance to the tunnel at (E) below he will have to face enemy ambushes to fight his way into the tunnel and to silence the snipers, and during all that time his team mates pushing the cart will be completely exposed to enemies jumping down from (G) below, and snipers through the windows.
As you can see in the image above the snipers in the sniper gallery could be duck-hunting on the ramp (A) and along the track. In my first tests this was just too easy to defend– so I added obstructions (the Tesla coils) where attackers can hide, even if for a short while before pushing the cart forwards. The coils are also meant to add to the “Oh crap!” feeling!
On the other hand if the attackers had taken the tunnel (from (A) to (B) below) they would have had to overcome an extreme disadvantage at the tunnel exit when they faced the enemy machicolations first, and an easily defendable position close to the defender base thereafter. Both cases offer a “now or never” situation.
This stage ends in turning point 4, “the major setback”. For the cart pushers this is symbolized by a ramp that leads upwards and where the enemy has the higher ground and a path to flank them (by jumping down the ledge to the open area. For anyone being able to exit the sneaky tunnels towards the enemy base, the building in front of them will be very hard to surmount. I did need to inject a glimmer of hope as in any good Hollywood movie, and that’s why I connected the sniper gallery in front of the open area via a secret tunnel to an area close to the enemy base.
Stage 5 – The final push
Nothing symbolizes a final push as a bridge does; hence, I went all-out Jungian and jammed a bridge in there. I also liked the multi-level combat tactics that the exit into the water, the bridge, and the higher up buildings and balconies surrounding it allow players on both sides. Here the enemy is very close to his base, and the only comfort, albeit a small one, I could offer the attackers was the shielding (B) and (C) on the bridge and the fact that they have access through the tunnel and further protection from the high columns behind the bridge. The water needs to be there to provide people burned by pyros with some relief and we needed the ramps so attackers blown off the bridge get a second chance.
In the image below you can see the bridge opening (A) which is totally in LoS from the enemy base, the tunnel exit (B) from the sniping gallery which will give attackers relief and a chance to attack the enemies exiting their base, the ramp (C) out of the tunnel that leads behind the large columns that offer cover to attackers, and water (D) under the bridge.
If the major attacker force decided to make the final push through the tunnel (which also provides them with a quick access to the final PoC, the will need to take control of points (B), (C) and (D) below ad give their cart-pushing buddies a chance to get on the bridge.
This stage ends in turning point 5 “the climax” which needs to be very close to the end of our narrative. It is where the enemy has all advantages and the attackers by extreme measures and personal sacrifice overcome the enemy. In our level this is the exposed mid-point of the bridge. Once attackers are past it, we get to stage 6.
Stage 6 – The aftermath
After the bridge mid-point the attackers get some cover, and from there it is only a few meters to the final checkpoint. I kept this distance really short, so that the battle for the mid-point is not overshadowed. If the attackers have gotten this far they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor by blasting away at cowering enemies!
Before I finish, I do want to remind you that just like the attacker base, the defender base needs multiple exits, and in this case, since the defender base is so close to the PoC, I also gave it good LoS over the bridge mid-point (B) and quick access to other areas (D) and (C) from their main protected exit (A) as you can see below.
As you see it is entirely possible to lay out the six stage narrative of Hollywood writers by using well-understood symbology (twisting alleys, exposed areas, down/up ramps, bridges, secret tunnels, etc.), controlling the level of challenge/relief for the attacker team, by allowing for multiple types of choices at specific points, and by controlling the duration it will take the attackers to go through each stage and reach the turning points. If you have more ideas on how to control and shape the narrative, without taking away control from the players, or a critique of how the level was lain out I would love to hear from you.
篇目3，Designing game narrative: How to create a great story
By Terence Lee
In this article, we talk about why storytelling needs to revolve around the interactive nature of the medium. Come and learn how to identify great game narrative, and to understand the importance of interactive – rather than cinematic – storytelling.
Imagine one day you are struck with a flash of inspiration: freshly seared onto your mind is a story, one that is undoubtedly the greatest tale ever conceived by Man. It has all the elements of a great narrative: a gripping plot, nuanced characters, and an evocative setting.
How would you write a book to convey this story?
First, let’s look at how the medium of literature works. Writers use words to express ideas, arranging them in ways that draw the reader into the world of the story. Writers use descriptive language to evoke the senses; they construct dialogue to reveal personalities; and they structure words into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, to set the pacing and flow.
Now, let’s say you write your book while disregarding all of these guidelines. You use trite descriptions, a destitute vocabulary, and you reveal your characters in unsubtle ways. An excerpt of this book might read:
“It was a dark and stormy night. Bob was an evil man. He said to John, the good guy, ‘I hate you and I will kill you.’”
You continue to churn out the whole book in this horrible style, somehow still managing to communicate the bare facts of the amazing story you had in mind.
People who read the book would laugh. Even though it may actually contain the outline of an amazing story, it fails to properly put it into words – you could say that it didn’t take advantage of the medium of expression (literature). The story and the storytelling are not the same thing; you’ve only conveyed the facts of your story, but not the greatness of it.
Of course, you know better. Let’s say instead, you write the book beautifully, creating the best novel of all time. Great job! Now, you have a new task: you must convey your great story as a movie.
Now, let’s look at the medium of cinema. Whereas literature can be characterized by using words to present ideas over the course of time, cinema builds on that by adding a second dimension of expression: sensory input.
The audiovisual experience in a film is a whole new realm of possibilities for artistic expression. Whole pages of descriptive language in a book can be represented by a brief scene of imagery in a movie. A conversation between characters is now enhanced by their body language, their tone of voice, and the cinematography.
So, to make your movie, what do you do? Here’s one method: hand a random person your amazing, book version of the story, and film them reading it out loud. Perhaps you also sprinkle in some beautiful panoramic landscape shots. That counts as a movie, right? It’s got audio and visuals set to ideas presented over time.
Well, despite containing narration of the best novel of all time, the movie is a failure. Again, it did not take advantage of the medium of expression – the visuals and the audio are not used in a way that brings the story to life. Anyone who viewed it would laugh at how it tried to tell a story with complete disregard of the entire sensory dimension of cinema. If you’re just going to watch a movie of a guy reading a book out loud, you might as well just read the book yourself.
What about the beautiful, panoramic shots? They’re nice, but if you haven’t unified the narrative elements with the cinematic ones, then all they are is a distraction. The visuals and the audio are the primary vehicle for telling the story; they shouldn’t be treated as mere artifacts of the medium. The level of cinematic quality of the panoramic shots needs to be permeated throughout the whole storytelling; you can’t just segregate the story part and the video part. It’d be like trying to save that bad book we wrote earlier by sprinkling in Shakespeare quotes. You can’t just staple on pretty cinematics to a book and call it a film adaptation.
Of course, again, you know better – this is all obvious stuff. Instead, you film an amazing movie. Good work! With that achievement out of the way, you have one final task: to tell your amazing story using a video game.
We said that cinema was kind of like two-dimensional literature, the second axis being sensory input. Video games introduce a third-dimension: interactivity.
In books, depth comes from the words you read; in film, additional nuances emerge from hearing and seeing a scene. In games, you can discover further depth from doing the scene. With interactivity, you now get to experience the story firsthand. When you play as the protagonist, you have the opportunity to take on their motivations and emotions. You hear and see things via your own discovery, not from the guiding lens of a cameraman. We could say that video games communicate depth of narrative experientially, whereas cinema did it visually.
So, to adapt your story to a game, you do this: you take your amazing movie version of the story, cut it up into its individual scenes, and create a computer program that plays back the clips. You code some fun segments of gameplay that are tangentially related to some unimportant parts of the story, and then sprinkle them in between the movie scenes.
Well, despite having the best story, the best writing, and the best cinematic representation of it, the game again fails to take advantage of the medium of expression – it did not integrate the interactivity into the narrative. What about the fun gameplay sections you sprinkled in? Well, just like the Shakespeare sprinkled in your bad book, and the panoramic shots in your bad movie, those gameplay sections don’t do anything to advance the narrative. All you’ve done is segregate the game into its story parts and gameplay parts. No matter how fun the gameplay part is, no matter how good the story part is, if there is minimal overlap between the two, then you can hardly say that the story was successfully told through the medium of games. All you’ve done is staple gameplay onto a movie.
Now, people who play this game would laugh at how poorly the narrative is presented, right? Well, no, they wouldn’t.
You may be unsurprised to learn that almost all big-budget games present their narrative in that method — story, gameplay, story, gameplay, with minimal overlap.
Story versus storytelling
Wait-a-minute: this method isn’t actually bad storytelling, is it? I mean, people love these games, don’t they? They sell well, and people always talk about how good their stories are.
Well, yes, I would say that it is bad storytelling. Now, that isn’t to say that the games themselves are necessarily bad, or even that their stories are bad. Narrative isn’t automatically a crucial component in games, as it often is in film or literature. Interactivity is the defining feature of games – and indeed, games that excel in their gameplay are most often great games. However, a large number of games appear to have serious narrative ambitions, yet they try to tell their stories by jamming together the mismatching puzzle pieces of cinematic control and interactivity.
It doesn’t matter how good your story is. What matters first is how good your storytelling is, and that’s defined by what medium you’re telling that story in, whether it’s a book, movie, or game. The aforementioned games with big narrative ambitions have great stories but bad storytelling.
So what makes storytelling good, and how do we identify bad storytelling?
A note on game criticism
Before we answer those questions, let’s all get on the same page regarding some concerns: Isn’t this all subjective? If everyone likes it, then what’s the big deal?
Is the quality of game storytelling subjective? Only partially. A story-focused video game, like any form of creative expression, is an act of communication. The goal of a game designer is to communicate an experience and theme to the player. What’s subjective is the value of that desired experience and theme.
However, what’s not as subjective is the effectiveness of the communication of those ideas. Most game criticism about stories tends to discuss the subjective themes, while taking the clarity and presentation of the theme for granted. It’s like if critics were discussing the horrible movie that we made earlier, and rating it positively solely because of the content of the narrated story, overlooking the fact that the story is presented in a horrible way.
But people like these games; they have fun and they enjoy the stories. Well, I don’t mean to diminish their positive experiences. Rather, I hope to show that enormously greater experiences are possible. We have very low standards, mostly because there are such few good examples out there. This is reinforced by popular game journalism reviews, which really is just an extension of the game industry’s marketing arm, a symbiotic feel-good loop that ensures that only the most easily digestible game concepts are explored.
We think what we want are movies with a dash of interactivity, when there is actually an entirely unexplored universe of possibilities out there. Once you think about what the theoretically perfect game narrative could be, you realize that what we currently have falls drastically short. We already have works in literature and cinema that are close to ideal perfection, but we don’t even know what the ideal is in games.
The goal of this article is to show that games have barely even figured out how to present a theme, and that we should first focus on how to properly use the medium as a tool of expression before we start to worry so much about what is being expressed.
How to measure artistic quality
Before we talk about storytelling, let’s first talk about how to even identify good qualities in a game. One of the strongest indicators of artistic quality or good design is how effectively the individual elements work together to communicate the theme. In a good movie, everything should work to reinforce the thematic ideas, from the colors and the angle of the camera, to the music, acting, and makeup. If one of these elements instead contradicts the theme, then it sticks out and detracts from the power of the message, or at the very least, misses an opportunity to strengthen the message.
For example, in The Matrix, colours are used to emphasize the idea of opposing realities. All the scenes that take place in the simulated matrix world have a green tint built into the very props, wardrobe, and lighting, while all the scenes that take place in the cold and harsh real world have a blue tint. This visual cue helps the viewer subconsciously distinguish the contrasting worlds. It’s an elegant way to subtly reinforce that theme.
If the color palettes were instead chosen arbitrarily, the theme of contrasting realities would be that much weaker, that much less coherent. A good cinematographer finds and takes these opportunities in order to maximize the strength of their ideas. Likewise, in game storytelling, we also find opportunities to reinforce the message of the story with game elements like interaction and decision making. To ignore the theme while designing these elements is to have a weaker storytelling experience. This is a restatement of our earlier revelation, that we must take advantage of the traits of the medium in order to effectively tell a story in that medium.
A creative work made with this attitude feels elegant and consistent, because it manages to communicate many related ideas with few components. A less coordinated game instead feels unfocused, clumsy, and conflicting. If we want to identify weak storytelling, these are the attributes to look for, which we can detect by playing through a game and paying attention to see if our mind fills with dissonance.
Three kinds of dissonance
Cognitive dissonance – it’s an internal, mental conflict, and is usually quite subtle. It happens when you hold two conflicting beliefs or ideas in your mind at the same time. What kind of dissonance do we feel when we play these kinds of games? Here are three kinds that I’ve identified.
The first – and most apparent – kind is ludonarrative dissonance. What does that mean? Ludonarrative dissonance is when you watch a game cutscene where the hero laments his distancing relationship with his family, and then in the next moment, you’re driving a car over a hundred people. Ludonarrative dissonance is when a great warrior ally monologues about how cunning and fearsome he is, only in the next moment, he’s running in circles, blocking your path annoyingly, and then gets shot dead instantly. It’s when what the story says and what the player does or experiences don’t match up.
This kind of dissonance happens quite often when you segregate the narrative and the gameplay, because the narrative is in the hands of the writer in one moment, and the player the next. It makes it hard to take seriously what the story is saying, because it conflicts with what we are actually experiencing.
“Who am I?”
The next kind of dissonance is a dissonance of identity. To explain this, let’s first back up a bit to the analogy of literature, cinema, and games as dimensions. Another way to look at this triplet is in their increasingly intimate point of view. Think about books: a lot of literature could be described as third-person storytelling: the events are verbally recounted to you by a third party – the author – and you interpret the words on your own.
Movies, on the other hand, are second-person storytelling: you watch the events unfold before your eyes, seeing things directly as they are. Lastly, video games are first-person storytelling: you are the actor living out the story. Instead of simply being told what’s going on, or watching it happen, you’re experiencing it firsthand!
However, in poor game storytelling, we often have a big dissonance regarding your identity. In one moment, you are the protagonist, exploring the world and fighting enemies. In the next moment, you jump out of your body and watch your character interact with others without your control, walking and talking on their own.
You’ve switched from first-person to second-person. Who are you? Are you the actor or the viewer? Games should be consistent with their point of view. It severely diminishes the importance of your actions if it constantly feels like the game distrusts you with making the important ones.
It diminishes the importance of your actions if it feels like the game distrusts you with making the important ones
One of the basic principles in writing is to show, don’t tell. If you want to convey that a character is nimble, don’t explicitly say “Bob is nimble,” show it: “Bob dodged the falling boulder.” In games, the principle should be to do, don’t show. Don’t just show a cinematic of your character dodging a falling boulder, do it: have the player dodge the boulder himself. Now it is the player themselves who feels nimble, instead of just his avatar. This conversion of character development into personal development is the key to immersive storytelling in games.
The problem with cutscenes
The last kind of dissonance is the weird modal shift that happens every time the game awkwardly tries to switch between “narrative mode” and “game mode”. One minute you’re playing a game, the next you’re watching a movie. It breaks the immersion, reminding you constantly that you’re consuming a piece of media. Not only that, it strips away any tension and emotion that was built up during the gameplay.
Imagine you’re playing an intense game where you’re fighting for your life. You’re in a really difficult segment: the whole time you’re on your toes and watching your every step, making sure you don’t make any mistakes. The stress and tension you are filled with is real: it’s genuine, tangible pressure, not just because your character is in a thematically tense situation with bullets flying and zombies shambling, but because you yourself are being challenged, trying to master the gameplay and pull victory out of a tricky situation. This part right here is good storytelling: the emotions the player is feeling matches up with the thematic situation at hand.
Converting character development into personal development is the key to truly immersive storytelling
While you are playing through this part of the game, all of a sudden, the camera zooms out, and now it’s a cutscene. Instantly, all your internal tension is gone. You put your controller down and sit back and watch. Even though the characters on-screen might now be engaged in an even more thematically tense situation, jumping from helicopters or something, you as a player don’t really care about that. Deep down inside, you know it’s just “movie mode”: anything that happens now is just supposed to happen; it’s all just “part of the story”.
Any mistakes you made before, during the gameplay mode, actually mattered: they caused you real world stress. But now, since you have no more control, any mistakes that you see your character doing during movie mode are all “part of the plan”. You no longer have skin in the game. You find yourself relaxing when it switches to this mode. You’re relaxing during the climax! What’s supposed to be the most intense part of a game is now the moment for your to ease your muscles and take a breath of relief. The game wasted a hard-earned emotional buildup in the name of being more “cinematic”!
Every time the game switches from gameplay mode to movie mode, your attachment to the player character switches from 100% emotionally invested, to 100% detached. That’s pure, jarring, dissonance right there.
Here’s another, very different example of this kind of modal shift, this one happening outside of games: silent movies. These films have pretty good cinematography and very good acting. You could say that they fill out the visual experience quite well. However, every once in a while, an intertitle comes up.
Intertitles are those fullscreen captions that describe what is happening or contain dialogue. During these captions, the film regresses back a dimension – it ignores the sensory experience, the thing that makes film unique from literature, and puts straight up literature on the screen. If we were to graph the progression of a silent film on our 2D chart, it would look something like this:
Over the length of the film, it generally maintains high levels of visual experience; however, whenever an intertitle comes up, the amount of sensory experience drops down to near zero. The exact same thing happens with game cutscenes!
When a cutscene happens, you ignore the whole dimension of interactivity, the thing that makes games unique from film, and put straight up film on the screen. Games with cutscenes are the silent films of games. At least silent films are excused by their technical limitations – no comparable excuse exists for games. The worst part is that the most important plot points tend to happen during cutscenes, while keeping you at a safe distance from actually participating.
Games with cutscenes are the silent films of games.
Let’s look at a counter example to cutscenes. The Half-Life series has an alternative approach: instead of showing a movie, they unfold the content of the scene naturally during the gameplay, and you never lose control of your character. Characters start talking around you, impressive visuals happen in front of you, but you’re always in control. You may be confined to a gated area during these parts, but you’re still free to walk around and examine things, and watch the action unfold while remaining in-character.
This works pretty well: the immersion is not broken, and you don’t change point-of-view – you never stop being an actor in the story experiencing things firsthand. It’s not perfect though: the formula does eventually get a little bit predictable, and the illusion wears away once you start realizing, “okay, I’m now in a story room,” but for the most part it works well, far better than a cutscene.
Explicit stories and player stories
We’ve talked a lot about what games are doing wrong. How do we improve our storytelling? To figure that out, let’s first take a look at the concept of narrative itself more deeply.
What even is narrative? Do all games have it? Do all games need it? Let’s lay down some definitions. First of all, there are two kinds of narratives in games: the first is the traditional kind, the kind we think of when we talk about plot, characters, and dialogue; and the second kind is the narrative of the player’s personal experience.
The first kind is what I call the explicit story. It’s what games are about. This game is about fighting off zombies. This game is about exploring the world and saving the princess. This game is about saving the world from aliens. It’s the aesthetic context of the game, explicitly stated by visuals, sounds, and words. Not all games have this kind of narrative, but it’s in most. RPGs, adventure games, and action games usually put a lot of emphasis on the explicit story. Other games eschew it completely, like many puzzle games and most traditional card games. Even a game like chess has a tiny amount of it: the game is loosely styled as a medieval war game.
The second kind of narrative is what I call the player story. It’s the player’s personal experience. As they play through the game, a lot of things happen in the player’s mind: they experience a variety of emotions, they develop perceptions and interpretations of characters and events, and they form relationships between their own actions and the on-screen results. These things all work together to create a different kind of narrative experience, one with its own pacing, characters, plot, and dialogue, separate from the explicit story.
A good player story should always be the end goal, while the role of an explicit story should be to support the development of a good player story.
Are these player stories actually real stories? Yes – in fact, players will often just outright tell these stories to others. Ask someone about their intense Tetris match.
“I was trying to beat my friend’s high score. I had a great start, but near the end I just couldn’t get a line piece. It was up to the final few rows, and finally I got one! I used it to put myself in the clear, and went on to beat my friend’s high score.”
That’s a real story. Maybe it doesn’t sound that exciting when you put it in words, but in the player’s mind, it’s a fully developed experience with a real conflict, climax, and conclusion. It’s felt deeply by the player, because it’s something that happened directly to them.
All games have this kind of narrative. Even a game like football has its own stories – people tell them all the time, recounting exciting matches and plays. Many games have both kinds, both an explicit story and the player’s story.
However, a good player story should always be the end goal, while the role of an explicit story should be to support the development of a good player story. A game with an amazing explicit story and a horrible player story is like the book we made earlier that had a great plot but a horrible delivery of it; it’s the movie we made with the bad narrator and boring visuals. You can’t just design both stories separately: as we saw earlier, fun gameplay that is segregated from the explicit story makes for dissonance, meaning you’ll end up with a disjointed and bad player story.
Unifying the two narratives
So how do we tell a good player story and a good explicit story together? By knowing this: the best game storytelling is when the explicit story is indistinguishable from the player story.
Ideally, when you play a game, you should never have to ask yourself, “What am I supposed to be doing?” In a good game, what you are supposed to do should intersect with what you want to do. If the emotions and motivations you feel while playing a game feel natural within the context of the game, then something amazing has happened.
In a good game, what you are supposed to do should intersect with what you want to do.
Here’s an example from the first Portal game. In this game, you play as a test subject with a portal gun, trying to advance through different test chambers. Near the end, you are riding a slowly moving platform to what you are told is a reward for your good test performance. Suddenly, it’s revealed that the platform is actually taking you to a fiery death.
When I was playing this scene, I genuinely panicked: I was deeply immersed in the game at this point, feeling good about myself for beating the puzzles, ready to be rewarded for it, and now I was being betrayed. Without thinking, my eyes lead me to an ideal surface for firing my portal gun, and I created an exit for myself, escaping certain death. For just a moment, I genuinely thought I broke the system. I had outsmarted the enemy with my wits!
Now of course, it turns out that I was actually supposed to do that. But when I did it, it was purely out of my own motivation for self preservation, not because I wanted to “advance the story”. There’s a night and day difference between just watching a character narrowly escape, versus doing it firsthand via your own wits and finesse, experiencing genuine anxiety and relief. A key plot element has progressed naturally, without dissonance. What I wanted to do and what I was supposed to do was the same.
Everything in the earlier parts of the game worked towards making this scene happen naturally for the player: the training in the portal mechanics; the witty dialogue that foreshadowed doom; the test chamber format that made you want to escape; the little hints that escape could be possible.
Let’s break this scene down to the two narrative types: The player story is that you used your wits to escape a stressful situation. The explicit story is that your character, Chell, used her wits to escape a stressful situation. They’re identical!
There’s a night and day difference between just watching a character narrowly escape, versus doing it firsthand via your own wits and finesse, experiencing genuine anxiety and relief.
Let’s compare this scene to a similar one in a different game. I’ll use the new Tomb Raider as an example, although there are countless situations in other games that play out the same way. In one scene, you are watching a cutscene of your character running from danger, and suddenly it’s revealed that a large boulder is about to crush you. You have exactly one option: press the × button within the next half second. If you do, your character jumps out of the way safely. Any other action causes your character to die.
On the outside, both scenes in Portal and Tomb Raider seem to have the same amount of danger: in both cases, failure means a gruesome death for the heroine. Yet in Tomb Raider, the situation is experienced largely emotionlessly by the player. Perhaps you cringe a bit when you see the grisly death animation, or maybe you experience frustration as you miss the button the first few times. But there’s never the excitement of using your wits to save yourself from danger, as there was in Portal.
Even though the Tomb Raider scene may be more cinematic and visually impressive, it’s forgettable. You almost got killed! Shouldn’t that be memorable? It’s not, because the player story clashes with the explicit story. The player story is that you’re watching a cutscene, and suddenly the game tells you to press a button in an obvious and annoying way, and you are forced to press it under the punishment of boring repetition. The explicit story is that your character, Lara Croft, narrowly escape grave danger using her keen senses and agility. That’s a huge disconnect between the two! How dissonant is that?
This is what I mean when I say that the explicit story is the aesthetic context to the player story. It’s a way of framing your actions and motivations, a way to increase consistency and to reinforce themes. The two narrative types work together. If there was no explicit story in that Portal scene, you would just be jumping from gray boxes into gray walls, so that you don’t fall into the red zone that would reset your position. You might feel good about figuring out the puzzle, or enjoy that you’re getting pretty good at the mechanics, but you wouldn’t feel like you “beat the system”, or that you used your wits to cheat death.
On the other hand, if there were no player story, like if you had just watched a really cinematic video of the situation, you wouldn’t have felt those things either. You may get excited by the visuals, or feel happy that the protagonist survived, but you wouldn’t feel any personal achievement or any risk to yourself.
Linear, scripted, cinematic stories
So we just saw a good example of how tell a good story of a short action sequence. How can we extend these principles to the entire story of the game?
Well, it’s hard. Not many games have pulled it off very well, especially games with a linear, scripted, cinematic format. By this format, I mean games with a big emphasis on the explicit story, with scripted events, lots of characters and dialogue, and usually a definite ending. There are a lot of weaknesses with this format: a lack of choice; an over-emphasis of dialogue, even though the player has little control over it; a rigid, linear progression. These aren’t weaknesses in a film, but in a game, these traits clash quite heavily with the medium’s emphasis on interactivity.
Portal is one of these games, but it manages to do a great job at storytelling. However, I think it is an exception, in that it is unique in its ability to take advantage of those weaknesses. The lack of choices, the one-sided dialogue, and the linear progression, all made sense in Portal’s test chamber format. You’re forced to do what is told, since you’re just a guinea pig; you can’t talk back, since there are no other characters except for a disembodied computer; and you only have one direction to go in those test chambers.
This convenient format means that none of the usual dissonances arise. But you can’t really generalize these techniques to other games. It’s as if the only way to overcome these weaknesses is by embracing them and building them into the story itself. That’s not an option for most game stories.
Maybe the linear, scripted, cinematic story just isn’t a great format for games. Some games with this format do a pretty decent job, at least in some aspects, but I doubt we’re going to see great advances in this style for a long time. It’s a style that is imperfectly adapted from movies, and it just doesn’t fit very elegantly in a medium about interactivity, choices, and personal experience.
I don’t think it should be the go-to format for game stories. What other formats are there? There are a few options, many of them experimental, but there’s one in particular I want to explore in this article: emergent narrative.
Putting the player back in control
We saw that the weaknesses with the linear, scripted, cinematic format all revolved around control. The writer in us wants to create a string of concrete events that unfold unvaryingly, but what if we loosened up on that desire? What if we gave up that strict control? A common thing we saw in those games is that they first created the explicit story, and then designed the player story around that. They have their script all written out, and then built the gameplay with the script in mind, trying to get it to match up. What if we did the opposite? What if we designed the player story first, and then built the explicit story to match that?
Now, I don’t mean to simply make a fun abstract game first, and then write a scripted story that makes sense with it. That’s certainly a great method to try out, but it’s not exactly what I’m talking about at the moment. What I mean is, instead of having any scripted elements at all, we let the explicit story describe the player story. We let the plot, climax, and characters all emerge from what the player experiences. In short, the story describes what the player did, instead of what the player needs to do.
What would that look like, exactly? Here are a few examples.
The first example is the game Journey. In the game, the explicit story appears to be very loose. When you start out, all you know is that you’re some sort of person or creature in the desert. That’s it. There are no explicit goals, motivations, plot, conflict or dialogue. However, these things naturally emerge, simply through the design of the game.
Early on, you see a beautiful, gleaming beam of light on a mountain far in the distance. Either consciously or subconsciously, your goal becomes to get to that mountain, as it always seems to be in your view. Along the way, you encounter some characters. These are other human players, going through the same experience as you. You can’t talk to them with words, but you can communicate with body language and a singing ability.
At this point, the story is different for everyone. Some people partner up with a curious new player, solving problems together, building up their friendship, reaching the end together. Others have conflicts with the other players, and choose to go it alone. Others make a great friend, but become separated from each other through their own struggles in the game, and they mourn the loss of their friend. Others find a mentor, an experienced player who can guide and teach them along their way.
These are all great stories that are deeply meaningful to the players, since they are personal experiences that they created for themselves. And they’re not just personal like an intense Tetris game, but also emotionally complex, like a good movie. I mean, imagine this:
You’re alone in the wilderness, and then you get stuck at the bottom of a cliff. You have great trouble getting out, but then a stranger comes out of nowhere and helps you. The two of you become great friends and you explore the world together. However, as you cross a windy bridge, your friend falls off!
You yell for him, hoping he hears you. You are filled with despair, knowing you may never see him again, but suddenly you hear him wailing faintly in the distance. You know that voice, that singsong pattern that you’ve heard him chirp before. Eventually, you go down and rescue him, as he had rescued you earlier. You journey to the end together safely.
That’s like something out of a movie! However, the experience is even stronger than a movie, because it actually happens to you. It happens not because a writer decided it should, but because of the actions you and your new friend did. You formed real relationships, felt real emotions, real despair and joy. A scripted version of the experience would only be a vicarious one; never a genuine, firsthand one like it is now. You could call it a literal narrative, since everything that’s important actually happens in real life, short of physically going into a mystical desert.
A scripted version of the experience would only be a vicarious one; never a genuine, firsthand one like it is now
It’s not that the designers didn’t design any explicit story. Rather, instead of trying to come up with very specific plot lines, characters, dialogue, and events, they chose to design a context that would highlight those elements when they emerged.
When you find another player, there are visual cues that underscore their presence and introduction. When you communicate with them through singing and body language, all sorts of imagery forms in your mind about the other player’s personality (that’s character development!). When you both are getting along fine, a big hazard tests your relationship. These are all elements of a great story, and they are explicitly designed by the designers. They’re just not shoved down your throat – they happen naturally.
Let’s look at another example. We talked about letting the story emerge out of the player experience; this game takes that concept to a whole new level: Dwarf Fortress.
It’s hard to describe Dwarf Fortress, but in short, it’s a detailed simulation of a kingdom of dwarves. It looks graphically primitive, but don’t let that fool you: the game is ridiculously detailed. This is a game that simulates everything from rivers cutting through canyons over thousands of years, to an individual droplet of rain on the eyelash of a child. It’s a sandbox game, and you try to build up your kingdom until a catastrophe naturally emerges through the complexity of the simulation, wiping everything away.
One great aspect of the game is that its visual simplicity allows your mind to fill in the blanks and assign meaning and motivation to the details in the game. It’s like how when you read a good book, your mind naturally creates what the characters look and sound like. Through this and through the game’s complexity, you can imagine what kinds of stories must emerge. DFstories.com catalogues many of these: some filled with action, some unexpectedly heartfelt and touching, others just plain silly. Check them out to see just what kind of imagination and emotions get stirred up by people playing this game.
While I would consider Dwarf Fortress to be on the extreme side of its style of storytelling, as it is quite inaccessible to most people, there’s still a lot from it that we can learn. The main thing we can take away is that an emergent situation – whether it came from the interaction of complex rules, the player’s experimentation, or even just through random chance – can be just as impactful to a player as a scripted situation, sometimes even more so.
The beauty comes when the situations feel purposeful and add depth to the player story. The fact that a situation is emergent means it’s likely unique, making the experience feel special for the player, since they know that no one else has encountered it before. It’s like when you play Minecraft the first few times and find a beautiful natural formation. You feel a sense of awe, knowing that you’re the first person to have ever seen it. It must be what old explorers felt when trailblazing. That’s a hard feeling to create with scripted situations!
A final example of emergent narrative is a roguelike game called Brogue.
In Brogue, you are an adventurer exploring a procedurally generated cave, trying to reach the artifact at the bottom and bring it back up in one piece. It’s very difficult: death is permanent, and there are an infinite number of mistakes to make. The explicit story is minimal: all you know is what you’re looking for, and that the world around you is highly dangerous. Like Dwarf Fortress, the minimal visuals let the player form their own interpretations of the action.
However, the game is filled to the brim with opportunities for the emergence of great player stories. There are complex interactions between items, enemies, and the environment, and you always have a myriad of options for dealing with the current situation. Grass catches on fire; enemies can turn into allies; dropped items can trigger switches. There are so many interactions between individual elements, yet there are no scripted sequences. What kinds of emergent stories can arise from this? I watched my friend play the game once:
There he was, stuck on a wooden bridge over a deep chasm, goblins closing in on both sides, blocking the bridge exits. He is at low health and can’t fight them all. All he has is an unidentified potion, which he can only hope is a potion of levitation, so he can fly off the bridge to safety. With the goblins just steps away, he drinks the potion. Unfortunately, it was a potion of incineration!
A huge burst of flames erupts, setting him, the goblins, and the bridge on fire. The bridge burns away and everyone falls into the chasm below. Fortunately, he lands safely in a pool of water, which also puts out the flames. Some of the goblins survive, while others hit the ground nearby and die. However, one of the flaming goblins lands in a bog filled with explosive gas, and triggers a massive explosion that wipes out the remaining goblins. My friend escapes, and continues his journey deeper into the cave.
That scene is packed with action. It’s just as exciting as any action movie or game cinematic, and it’s just one of many equally amazing scenes that I’ve seen happen in the game. Despite that, none of it is scripted; it’s not even directly intended by the designer. It simply emerges from the interactions of the mechanics. The difficulty progression in Brogue means that as you get further in the game, the more elements you’ll encounter, meaning more interactions and more intense sequences like these will happen.
We should stop looking to cinema as inspiration for our narrative, and start realizing that nontraditional structures can be a stronger storytelling technique than the ones in the biggest scripted and cinematic games
A playthrough of Brogue truly does contain a genuine story: the story of the player’s adventure through the dangerous caves. Just because there aren’t names or dialogue or cinematics doesn’t make it any less of a story. I honestly think the storytelling in Brogue, despite the game being entirely untouched by plot writers, is superior to the storytelling in a game like the new Tomb Raider.
Yes, Tomb Raider has a more complex plot and more detailed characters, but remember: the story and the telling of it are not the same thing. Perhaps Tomb Raider would make for a better movie than Brogue, but we’re talking about games. Tomb Raider is that book we wrote at the beginning of this talk that has a good story but uses words and sentences poorly. Brogue is like Hemingway, with a simple plot, simple vocabulary, and simple sentence structures, but is written masterfully, in a way that deeply communicates its themes. I think the themes of action and adventure resonate much more deeply in Brogue than in Tomb Raider.
A new frontier
Emergent narrative is still a fairly unexplored technique, one that I think is particularly promising, since it delves so deeply into forming personal experiences. It’s one of many possible storytelling methods, and I think designers will have to first branch out in these areas if we want to discover the ideal form of game narrative. Until then, let’s remember to focus on the player story when building the explicit one.
Video games are a young medium of creative expression. Books have been around for millennia; cinema for a century. Video games became popular only just a few decades ago. We’re still just passing over the silent film era of games. I don’t think we’ve fully understood yet what it means to have great narrative in games, so we need to be open minded about different storytelling formats.
We should stop looking to cinema as inspiration for our narrative, and start realizing that nontraditional structures can be a stronger storytelling technique than the ones in the biggest scripted and cinematic games. Let’s redefine game narrative to mean more than just plot and dialogue – what we really care about is the story that happens in the player’s mind.