以电子游戏和其他媒介中的故事构建来作为文章的开篇似乎很奇怪。但是，请相信我，故事可能是我们理解这个世界和相互理解的最为重要的工具。我获得了英语相关学位，并且 专注于创意写作，所以故事设计是我研究的领域。许多年来，我听过许多人谈论起他们对故事的理解以及故事各个部分所起的作用，但是他们的想法与现实情况偏差甚远。在讨论 何谓故事之前，先明白故事的各个部分是很有益的。
为构建起文学评论理论和游戏设计之间的桥梁，我开设了博客Critical-Gaming。我发觉，利用某些我们较为熟悉的东西（游戏邦注：比如说故事），我们可以更容易地理解游戏设 计。通过博客，我创造和定义了许多的术语，解释了为何像“优秀”之类的描述完全不准确而且起不到任何作用。我的想法在于剖析游戏设计的每个方面，这样我们就能够更清楚 哪些做法能够深化游戏设计，反过来也能让我们明白为何我们会喜欢或者不喜欢游戏的某个方面。我觉得这是种很棒的方法。所以，是时候将这种方法运用于故事中了。
跨媒体。跨媒体故事讲述是个首先由大学教师Henry Jenkins提出的概念，他在自己的书籍《Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide》中用此来定义多种媒体形 式中的故事讲述。这个想法的核心是各种形式的媒体相互支持，通过为读者提供不同的视角来整体化解释文字。通常来说，这些类型的文字有着丰富的内容和艺术风格，用户需要 投入更多的资金理解整个叙事网络。从这点上看，构建跨媒体专属作品就像是在构建包含万物的宇宙。
回响/和谐。这可以衡量故事的不同方面（游戏邦注：上文所述故事的组成部分）相互提升的程度。比如，有个名叫“循环”的故事的主题是循环，那么就可以出现以下这些和谐形 式：未来的世界不断循环回到之前的时代里。场景是个巨大的正在旋转的空间站。角色是那些害怕重新回到他们已经逃离的生活的罪犯。角色使用飞镖作为武器来战斗。步调和场 景进程中含有日夜循环。所有这些元素都与主题很相配。
《超级马里奥兄弟》（游戏邦注：下文简称SMB）的故事内容很直观，而且也是个相当简单的故事。游戏发生在蘑菇王国中，玩家在陆地、海洋、天空和城堡中冒险（游戏邦注：这 些是游戏的场景）。其中的马里奥、敌人和公主分别扮演着人们熟悉的英雄、对手和急待拯救的人（游戏邦注：这些是游戏的角色）。游戏主题是冒险、营救和英勇之举。故事情 节设置在动作平台之上，不断打通关卡并进入下一关，马里奥历经艰难险阻到达World 8-4。
游戏的执行更为复杂。游戏中的文字很少，大部分内容通过视觉效果和游戏玩法来传达。所有无法操作的屏幕都是次要的，主要关注点是游戏场景。正因为其简单化，SMB不存在有 效性和连贯性的问题。毕竟，游戏中最为复杂的状况只是“我们的公主在另一个城堡里”。步调围绕8个难度逐渐增加的波段来设计。每个世界的波段分为4个关卡来呈现。然而在 这种鲁多叙事性结构中，变化程度也很大。不仅游戏中许多关卡有不同的通关方法，而且还有可以进一步改变游戏进程的弯道。某些玩家可能通过跳过游戏中多数关卡的方式在数 分钟时间内打通游戏。游戏玩家可能要花上很长的时间，因为要打通所有32个关卡。
在这款游戏发布之时，没有其他电子游戏采用类似的做法。所以，游戏无疑具有很高的创造性。回到20世纪80年代，电子游戏故事通常是在操作指南手册中阐述。你可以自行决定 要将游戏操作手册中的故事视为游戏的一部分还是只当做产品的一部分。如果你认为故事不属于游戏的一部分，那些位于游戏外的文字就可以算作是跨媒体元素。阅读下面的操作 手册，我会在下文中阐述其中最棒的部分。
“有一天，和平的蘑菇王国遭到库巴的侵略，这是个以黑魔法而闻名的海龟部族。爱好和平的蘑菇人民被变成了石头、砖块和农场中的植物，蘑菇王国支离破碎。唯一可以解开蘑 菇人民所中的魔法咒语并使他们恢复如初的人是Toadstool公主，她是蘑菇国王的女儿。不幸的是，她现在被库巴海龟国王关押了起来。英雄马里奥听说了蘑菇人民遭受的苦难，接 受了从邪恶的库巴手中救出蘑菇公主的任务，重建蘑菇人民被摧毁的王国。你就是马里奥！你需要从库巴的黑魔法中救出蘑菇人民！”
所以当你想要从整体上讨论游戏故事时，因为甚至连SMB中这么简单的故事都如此复杂并且含有多个层面，你应该像我这样进行综合性的描述。如果你没有耐性像我这样，你的分析 至少也应该触及所有内容和执行层面。如果你没有做足进行如此分析的准备，那么关注1到2个层面也能够得出很棒的结果。只是要注意，不可声称或暗示你的观点覆盖的是整个故 事。
场景。许多游戏设置在有趣的世界或地点。大家应该都记得，Gameboy版本的《俄罗斯方块》设置的场景是俄罗斯。《生化危机》、《传送门》和《侠盗猎车手》系列游戏的场景很 丰富，并且整合至叙事和游戏可玩性等其他部分中。还有些在这部分做的较好的游戏，包括《超级大战争：毁灭之日》、《旺达与巨像》和多数《塞尔达》系列游戏。事实上，我 们基本不会忽略游戏中的场景。如果场景确实很棒，就会引起我们的注意。如果场景不佳，我们就会关注故事的其他元素。
角色。相比其他媒介而言，视频游戏中的角色化会更为复杂。除了不同的角色风格之外（游戏邦注：比如圆滑或者有丰富的心理思维等），还需要考虑忽然出现的问题。游戏角色 可能具有可玩性，也可能不具可玩性。玩家的互动行为会以全新的方式影响角色化。《质量效应》中的Commander Shepard是个好人还是叛徒？或者两者都有？确实，这取决于玩家 的选择，但是这对我们的分析意味着什么呢？我们是否考虑玩家的所有选择？是否有可能做到这样呢？
可变性和玩家决定并不总是游戏主角才会面临问题。还存在某些极端的例子，比如在《RO9》中玩家需要同时控制9个角色，在《Poto & Cabenga》中玩家需要控制2个角色。在某些 游戏中，玩家会依此控制多个角色。
情节。故事是一系列某时在某地发生的事件的集合，其中蕴含着角色（游戏邦注：包括某些类似角色的东西）。事件由各种各样的动作组合而成。事件如何连接可能非常复杂，但 是我们必须考虑情节如何发展并达到高潮。诸如《最终幻想6》之类的RPG很好地将许多角色和时间融入到史诗般的情节中。《塞尔达》系列游戏也是个很棒的例子，在情节推进中 像林克之类的小孩子逐渐变成了勇敢的英雄。有些游戏的情节从头到尾都很清晰，比如说《旺达与巨像》。如果你需要杀死16个巨像方能救下那个小女孩，那么每个巨像的死亡都 会引导你挑战下个巨像。
我会列举某些有着明显主题的游戏实例。《塞尔达传说：幻影沙漏》有着死亡、梦想和抱负和勇气的力量等主题。《超级大战争：毁灭之日》的主题是反对彻底的荒凉以及生存和 人性。《口袋妖怪：黑与白》大胆引进了个人真理、个人选择和混合现实的主题。《神秘海域2》的主题是寻找财宝。《银河战士：另一个M》的主题是自然与角色培养。《超级马 里奥：银河》系列游戏的主题是以损失、诞生和改变宇宙的力量。
效能。一般来说，电子游戏的故事效能主要受到了故事场景和游戏设置的影响。为了不把这一元素与步调元素混淆在一起，我们只需要考虑故事内容的设计空间，艺术设计等等元 素。如果故事中反复出现相同的地点，定位，人物角色或场景等，那么可以说，这个故事的效能大大降低了。如果你已经感受到一个故事开始重复一些情节，主题或者场景，那么 你可以考虑缩减这些重复内容的出现。《仙乐传说》就是一款在功能角色（即游戏设置）和叙述角色中充斥着太多类似地点，角色和场景的游戏。所以，我们可以看到那些过于重 视于游戏设置的电子游戏，经常会出现故事效能的大大流失的问题。
条理性。一个故事中的任何细节都不能有相互矛盾问题出现。而“ludonarrative dissonance”（游戏邦注：ludonarrative是由原LucasArts创意总监Clint Hocking提出，这是一 个合成词，由ludology和narrative两个单词组成，意指游戏故事与玩法之间的冲突）便是防止电子游戏故事丢失其条理性的一大广为人知的方法。与效能元素一样，我们知道游戏 的故事内容必须与游戏设置紧密结合在一起，但是因此却可能会影响，甚至破坏故事内容的呈现。因为电子游戏的设计始终围绕着一些抽象且非和谐的因素，而随着游戏的进行， 这些因素可能会不定期地发生变化。例如在游戏《最终幻想7》）中，士兵在游戏的一开始就朝玩家扮演的角色发射子弹。但是这种出击却未对玩家的生命值（HP）造成太大的影响 。是否说这些枪弹的威力太弱了，或者这些游戏角色太坚不可摧？这些都难以判断。事实上，在很多电子游戏中，任何角色都有可能从一系列的暴力对抗中幸存下来。因为对于玩 家来说，我们宁愿接受游戏中的抽象因素和解释，也不愿意接受游戏主角因为一颗小小的子弹就毙命。在像《光晕：致远星》等游戏中，也同样出现了这种带有故事性的“子弹” 。
步调。对于每一个波段来说，故事的高潮都是随着故事性和戏剧化的能量或者说是一种紧张感的形成而产生。在游戏设置的步调方面，同样也需要借鉴一些类似，或者是更有难度 的游戏设置理念。与执行元素的其它方面相同，我们同样也必须考虑如何做才能让故事的步调与游戏设置相匹配。《魔法门之英雄交锋》便着重于突出多个不同的游戏章节。而在 每一个章节中，都会出现一个新的角色，并且从级别“0”开始执行游戏任务。这些章节在一开始难度都很低，但是随着游戏的进行，玩家将会面临更多更厉害的敌人，甚至是最后 的终极对手。当整个游戏故事完全形成时，游戏设置的难度级别也会经过多次重置而最终形成。而且这种不协调在游戏的最后一章会变得最为明显。在最后一章节，玩家并非投入 最后的战斗，而是重新操纵一个新的角色，进行一场相对简单的战斗。
风格/语言。《Super Smash Brothers Brawl: Subspace Emissary》和《超级食肉男孩》的故事场景是以一种无声影片的形式呈现出来。没有对话或者文本，只有视觉上的叙述传 达。《最终幻想6》让玩家感受到了一种亲临电影院的真实体验。屏幕上的游戏角色不断地进行一些夸张的肢体语言，向我们这些观众们进行自我展示。而就像我们在剧本中会看到 的情形一样，这款游戏的每一个角色的出现都伴随着属于自己的音乐主题和个性化描述。而那些单纯借鉴日本漫画中故事模式的游戏，则只会通过呆板的对话场景像观众透露游戏 信息，例如《超级大战争》系列游戏，《仙乐传说》和《美妙世界》等游戏。当然了，还有一些是被认为拥有电影般完美效果的游戏，如《神秘海域》，《天剑》和《光晕：致远 星》等。
媒介。在这系列文章中的第一部分，我已经列举了一些带有其它媒介特征的游戏案例。因为电子游戏设计者能够自行挑选其认为合适的特定媒介元素，所以对于电子游戏的设计来 说，这一领域并未存在任何单一的媒介选择判断标准。换句话说，现代游戏既可以选择配音形式，也可以通过文本描述展现游戏。而且也未存在任何说法能够判断哪一种模式更好 。我为何如此强调解释这一观点，正是因为有太多人固执地相信电影模式表达方法才是所有游戏都必须遵循的唯一章法。
动态。有一些游戏强调区分不同的叙述途径，并鼓励玩家在游戏中努力探索各种可能性因素，这种游戏包括《光辉物语》，《奥伽战争：命运之轮》，穆修拉的假面和《质量效应 》。但是也有一些游戏开发者并不支持玩家去探索游戏故事中的多种可能性，如《暴雨》。虽然说这些游戏都是一些较为典型的例子，但是我们必须知道，像在《超级马里奥》这 种游戏平台中，空间的转换也会因此改变游戏设置的叙述表现。按照这种方法，大部分游戏将呈现出动态化/非固定的游戏设置，而因此表现出一些多层次的动态化叙述模式。所以 说这种类型的游戏是参考了动态化非游戏设置元素而制作出来的游戏。“支线任务”（游戏邦注：即详细流程）可以说是动态化游戏故事特征的显著表现。
创造性。不管我们是否喜欢特殊元素，所有的游戏在某种程度上都具有一定的创造性。我们很乐于看到自己的作品比其它作品更特别，且更具有创造性，然而实际上，这种比较却 是一件非常困难的任务。因为没有一个玩家能玩遍所有的游戏，甚至不可能精通特定某种风格的游戏。即便真有人不得不玩大量游戏，他们也总能通过深入研究一款游戏，找到其 故事内容之外的其他特点。所以，如果单纯依靠细节比较来决定一部游戏作品的创造性，那么你将永远得不到想要的答案。相反的，如果我们能够适当地审视我们的相关评价（游 戏邦注：即那些基于游戏系列或风格等评价），那么我们便能触及创造性这个话题，特别是当我们能够辨别一款电子游戏是否是拙劣的复制品时，我们便能够抓住创造性。 《Linear RPG》，《You Must Burn the Rope》以及《Super PSTW Action RPG》都是很好的例子。如果你一直执拗于这些游戏只是一些拙劣的复制品，那么你便不能感受到它们优 秀的游戏设置和出色的故事情节。我看过一个视频（链接：http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z2Z23SAFVA），该视频制作者可以说完全不理解我所提到的这种创造性，因此才会 制作出如此滑稽可笑的视频。在某种程度上，复制其它作品对于这些游戏来说并非完全是坏事。而且，幸运的是，这些游戏模仿的痕迹并不多，而且都能抓住重点以突出自己游戏 所要表达的亮点。
系列。游戏续集和游戏系列的魅力不可阻挡。在众多媒介中，故事系列和IP品牌在推动新产品的销售过程中都有着功不可没的作用。我们总是喜欢一些相同的事物，并且渴望知道 完整的故事情节。所以，当玩家在挑战一个游戏系列时，总是享受着游戏中贯穿始终的细节，同样地，如果系列游戏失去了连贯性，那么玩家便会因此感到失望。就像《塞尔达传 说》，虽然这并不是一款基于故事内容展开的系列游戏，但是却仍有很多玩家尝试着去把每一个游戏系列的故事串在一起。甚至有些玩家认为《银河战士》的故事内容必须与《银 河战士：猎人》以及《银河战士弹珠台》串联成一个完整的故事情节。这个元素能够将许多相对独立的游戏故事有条理地贯穿在一起。
匹配游戏故事和游戏设置很难，但是如果能做好，将能为电子游戏带来不错的反响。然后，故事中的任何两个元素都能产生相互的共鸣作用。最为突出的便是主题元素，它能够轻 易地与其它元素产生共鸣。因为主题是一相对抽象的元素，能够灵活地与其它具体元素，如环境，角色和情节相呼应。我特别欣赏《时空幻境》中的诗歌文本和游戏设置所产生的 那种和谐感。游戏以诗歌的基调去描述主人公Tim的过去，流露出爱，失落与渴望的情感。而这些抽象的概念与游戏设置中的挑战和机制很好地结合在了一起。例如悔恨的情绪让 Tim想要重新回到过去，试着去解决并挽回一些事情。而游戏设置使得玩家能够回到过去，尽力做出挽救。通过这种和谐的共鸣，我们能够通过Tim在游戏中解决问题的行动而去思 考更多关于角色的问题，例如是否Tim比以前更加聪明了？或者我们是否真的能够回到过去挽救一些已经发生了的事情等等。
那么，到底有什么游戏完全具备以上5点元素呢？因为各个元素的要求都不是非常具体，所以有没有满足条件取决于评估方法。我认为最接近要求的游戏是《Thirty Flights of Loving》，但它有一个小问题，那就是故事太奇怪太零碎了。所以，它仍然不是具备5点元素的游戏。另一个比较接近的是《The Moon》，但它的对话和过场动画太多。《Gone Home》也比较接近，但玩家活动和核心故事之间的关联性太弱，操作的时间太少，阅读的时间太多。
我认为还有一些游戏也接近于具备所有元素的：《The Path》、《Journey》、《Everyday the Same Dream》、《Dinner Date》、《Imortall》和《Kentucky Route Zero》。它们是否成功，取决于不同的解读，因为它们都比较小众。它们仍然是值得关注的游戏。毕竟有了它们，我所认为的满足或至少接近满足上述五个元素的游戏列表才能完整。
关于没有其他更方便的方法这方面的例子就是《Death Note》。其中的主角Light Yagami太聪明了，这要让观众理解其复杂的策略颇有难度，所以他们必须通过叙事（或者向Ryuk解释自己的计划这种对话）来传达信息。这里有一个你应该全力避开的可怕叙事方式。其中的例子来自《Persona 3》和《Persona 4》。
让我们分析《To the Moon》这款游戏中的故事例子。它是一款很棒的游戏，只需要4、5个小时就能玩完。
如果你还没有玩过这款游戏，先看看这里的杂记：时日无多的Johnny奄奄一息地躺在病床上。你要扮演来自Sigmund公司（一家将虚假记忆植入病人脑中，完成其临终夙愿的公司）的Niel Watts和Eva Rosalene医生。Johnny的遗愿是登上月球，但他却不知道自己为何想去那里。为了实现他的愿望，他们必须找到病人为何想登月球的根源，这样Johny的记忆之旅就开始了。
分析《To the Moon》
《To the Moon》有三个主题：
所以《To the Moom》虽然仅有几乎不存在的机制，但却仍然不失为极为成功的游戏。其玩法本身很无趣，每个时空穿越的谜题也完全没有必要。其机制应该用于向观众传达主题。但是，玩家仍然为之所吸引，这大部分要归功于其“唯一”的故事情节，而在今天的游戏中我们几乎难以找到这种故事。想象一下在没有故事情节的情况下独自玩游戏的感觉……那一定是种糟糕的体验。我希望它的下个章节会出现更有趣的玩法。
《Persona 3》是另一款极为成功的游戏，我相似这大部分要归功于其富有意义的主题。尽管其叙事故事的方法很糟糕，玩法机制也只是一般，但它还是具有值得人们学习的经验。我从这个系列游戏中学到的经验实实在在地影响了我的生活。当然，游戏机制也是《Person 3》和《Person 4》获得成功的一个重要因素。实际上，它们如此成功的一个重要原因就是其开发公司ATLUS使用了有助于传达主题的机制。
我希望本文能够为游戏设计师或未来的游戏设计师提供一些有价值的见解。我认为这些概念比99%的人更能帮助你成为一名更好的作家，但是故事写作是一项非常艰难的工作，并且需要大量的掌握时间。你只有使用这些概念来训练故事写作才可能更上一层楼。这可能至少需要你花上几个月时间才能完成一个主要故事，有时候甚至需要一年以上。但事物均是如此，所以要保持耐心并努力工作，最终你也会撰写出像《To the Moon》一样精彩的故事。
作为一名游戏设计师，你不仅需要考虑场景的发展节奏，同时也需要考虑游戏玩法的节奏。在《Persona 3》和《Persona 4》中，较慢的生活模拟机制总是能够够与紧张的战斗机制形成鲜明的对比。但情况并非始终如此，就像有时候当你花太多时间于模拟元素中，但却发现故事线中未出现任何有趣的内容。玩家经常会在这种时候觉得无聊。也许ATLUS应该识别出这种情况并在模拟元素期间包含以下更快节奏的内容。
最后，在我结束这部分前，让我们最后一次强调，主题与游戏设计具有巨大的联系。Schaglund曾经与我聊过主题，他说道：基于主题而非游戏线去考虑游戏设计非常有帮助，如此你便能够创造适合这些主题的机制。《时空幻境》中的“倒带”便是一个典型的例子，它能够辅助谅解的主题。《Persona 3》和《Persona 4》的社交联系机制也能够帮助描述友谊这个主题（游戏邦注：当你要获得更多社交联系时，你的能量便会变得越强大）。这遵循着机制–动态–没学（MDA）框架，即机制创造了能够生成没学的动态。
Story Design pt.1
There’s something I highly respect and value that I need to make clear up front. It’s your opinion, your feelings, and your personal story. Seems like a strange way to open an article about the craft of stories in video games and other media. But, believe me, stories are perhaps the most important tool we have for understanding the world and each other.
I have a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. So, story design is my area of study. Over the years I’ve found that many talk as if they understand what a story is and how its parts work, yet their statements are far from anything substantive. Before one can talk about what a story is, it helps to be clear about the parts of a story.
I started the Critical-Gaming blog by creating a bridge between the theories of literary critique and game design. I figured that starting with something familiar (stories) we could understand game design more easily. From there I created and defined many terms and explained why descriptors like “good” are utterly imprecise and unhelpful. The idea is by breaking down every facet of game design, we can be more clear about what’s happening design wise, which
would in turn shed light on why we like or dislike a particular aspect of a game. I think this is a solid approach. So it’s time to do it again with stories.
The following is a universal system to break down and compare all types of stories. While I’ve come up with some revolutionary and radical game design theories in the past, I believe tackling story design will be much simpler. Our intuitions about the craft of storytelling should go a long way here. So, be patient if it all seems somewhat obvious.
To best understand stories, we must understand three main categories: content, execution, and discourse.
A story is nothing more than a series of events. Before we worry about deeper meaning or execution, we must focus on the fundamental details or the content.
Setting. The place where the story is set. Everything from the universe, world, country, town, and time period make up the setting.
Characters. “The representation of a person in a narrative or dramatic work of art” wiki. Flat, round, foil, realistic, absurd, lead, support, human, animal, ethereal; Characters come in all varieties. Realism is not best type of character. Rather, being relatable or functional to the story are qualities that can be just as, or more, important.
Plot. “A literary term for which the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence” wiki. Action and conflict are two categories that can fit inside plot.
Complexity/Simplicity. Details create complex stories. Some tales are rich with many characters, locations, and back stories about everything. Other stories do very well with very few of these elements.
Theme. General or abstract ideas, messages, or morals. Motifs (reoccuring symbolic elements) can develop the theme.
Stories are more than a collection of details or a list of qualities. Whether linear or non-linear, how the events are presented is storytelling or execution. If the execution is too slow, too obvious, too jumbled, or too fast even the best story content can fail.
Efficiency. It’s all about doing more with less. Conveying more story content with fewer scenes, lines of dialog, locations, actions, events, and fewer repeated scenarios is efficient storytelling.
Coherence. It’s possible to take a completely simple and straight forward story, cut it up, and rearrange it so that it’s incredibly difficult to understand. Since storytelling is the process of presenting narrative events, the order and the delivery shapes how coherent the work is.
Pacing. Small poems can be like emotionally charged snapshots. Short stories tend to feature a small wave of exposition, action, climax, and resolution. Long running series, novels, and others large stories generally contain multiple “waves.” How quickly these waves come and go and how steep they are is a simple way to think of pacing.
Style/Language. On first thought, the obvious idea here is verbal languages like English or Japanese. But there are also colloquial terms, lexicon, body language, cultural symbols, inside jokes, and other examples that qualify. Style is very broad category. Any way you of conveying information that you can think of can contribute to the style of storytelling.
Medium. Every medium has pros and cons. As a result, every medium has developed particular methods of storytelling based on their strengths. While these methods work great for each medium, they tend not to work so well in others.
Poetry excels in concentrated text where every punctuation, letter, and formatting decision matters. Rhythm and form help to create layered contrast and juxtaposition.
Short stories do well presenting snapshots and slices of narrative. By selecting a few key moments, rich story waves can be conveyed in a relatively compact space.
Novels are large works filled with many details. With so much text, writing to the fine degree that poems and some shorts stories feature isn’t practical. The delivery in novels tends to be more direct. (In general, written language excels at introspection because reading text mimics inner thought).
Graphic Novels/Manga/Comics use a combination of images to convey information and blocks of text to where the images fall short. There’s always a balance between whether information will be shown or told.
Plays/Musicals use lots of dialog and staging (positioning). Expressive, visual storytelling is important. Also, explanatory or expository text is sparingly used.
Films/Movies are similar to plays in that they focus on visuals and dialog. Films have a lot more flexibility when it comes to visual presentation. Multiple cameras, special effects, and editing give films the edge.
Video games often borrow technqiues from other mediums. Some offer poetry (Braid), short stories (Lost Odyssey), novels (Wow? Halo? Mass Effect, Ni No Kuni), graphic novel like presentation (XIII, Metal Gear Acid, inFAMOUS), play like performances (Facade, FF6), and movie like scenes (Heavenly Sword, GTA4, Metal Gear Solid 4). Some pull it off better than others. But ultimately, the strength of the medium comes from interactivity.
Dynamic. Video games aren’t the only source for dynamic storytelling. From choose your own adventure books to plays that work off the audience, dynamics refers to how the variable/interactive elements of a story.
Though we may not do it consciously, we’re always evaluating the quality of a story based on how it compares to everything else we’ve experienced (especially other stories). In other words, we’re constantly looking for originality. On the one hand we’re drawn toward the familiar. Yet, on the other we crave the new. It’s a tricky line that most of us don’t realize we walk.
Creativity. Many people are turned off by copycats. It seems that the higher we value creativitiy, the more we devalue replicas. All art can be thought of as the reflection, repacking, and repurposing of life (which includes art). It can be hard appreciating a story for its 10% creativity when you’ve seen the other 90% before in another work. The better we understand the design of stories, the better we can determine how unique one work is to another.
Series. Many series are a collection of smaller complete stories (within the same medium). Naturally, we evaluate the quality of later entries by how they keep in line with the series. However, it’s important to consider the merits of a story as an individual entry.
Transmedia. Danielprimed puts it best: “Trans-media storytelling is a concept first put forward by academic Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide to define storytelling told over multiple forms of media. The crux of the idea is that each form of media supports the others and provides the reader with different, medium-specific viewpoints in which to interpret the text as a whole. Naturally, these types of texts are rich in
content and artistic styles, commanding a dedicated user base who are required to spend more money to invest in the entire narrative web. In this regard, building a trans-media franchise is like building a universe.”
Resonance/Harmony. This is a measure of how well different facets of a story (listed above) enhance each other. For example, if there’s a story called Cycles and the theme is cycles there could be harmony in the following ways: The conceit is of a futuristic world that slowly phases through time cycling back to previous years. The setting is a giant space station ring that spins in place. The characters are criminals afraid of relapsing back into the life they run away from. The characters battle with boomerangs like weapons. The pacing and scene progression runs on a cyclical day/night cycle. All of these elements would resonate or harmoize nicely with the theme.
If a story has one of these elements great. If it doesn’t, it’s no big deal. One habit that we must move away from is looking for the details that make a “bad story.” Like with game design, the real impact of a story emerges from all of the smaller pieces. Because this process is so complicated, it not very helpful or accurate to look at an individual detail, or lack of a detail, then judge the whole. A better way to discuss “bad” stories is to explain how various facets actually undermine or deconstruct its better qualities. More on this later.
Story Design pt.2
Let’s start with the example that I always turn to on this blog; Super Mario Brothers for the NES. Often, people dismiss this game for having no story. This stance is just ignorant. Others claim that there is a story, but it’s flimsy and barely there to give the gameplay a bit of context. It doesn’t say much to call Mario’s story flimsy. Whether you like it or not, it’s better to offer a detailed explanation of its parts and how they work together. Let’s use the CED system.
Super Mario Brothers’s story content is pretty straightforward adding up to a fairly simple story. Set in the Mushroom Kingdom, players travel through land, sea, air, and castles (setting). Mario, Bowser, Peach, the toads, and all the enemies take on flat, familiar roles like hero, villain, citizen, and damsel (characters). The theme is adventuring, rescue, and bravery. And the plot is focused on action platforming where beating one level flows into the next and the next until Mario makes his way to World 8-4.
The execution is more complicated. With little text in the game, the vast majority of the content is conveyed through visuals and gameplay. All non-playable scenes are seconds long keeping the focus on the gameplay. Due to the simplicity, SMB doesn’t have a problem being efficient and coherent. After all, “but our princess is in another castle” is the most complex statement in the game. The pacing is generally designed around 8 waves of increasing difficulty. One
wave per world presented in 4 level groups. Yet in this ludonarrative structure, there’s significant variation Not only are there alternate paths through many levels in the game, but there are warps that can alter the progression further. One player may get through the game in a few minutes by skipping most of the levels in the game. Another may take the long route by playing through all 32 levels.
As for the Super Mario Brothers Discourse, at the time of its release there was no other video game like it. So, it definitely scores points for creativity. Back in the 1980′s it was the norm for video games stories to start inside the instruction manuals. You can decide for yourself if you consider Mario’s instruction manual story as part of the game or simply a part of the product. If you think it’s not part of the game, then does the external text count as a transmedia element. Read the instruction manual here. I’ve pulled out the best part below.
“One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horse-hair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.
The only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom People and return them to their normal selves is the Princess Toadstool, the daughter of the Mushroom King. Unfortunately, she is presently in the hands of the great Koopa turtle king.
Mario, the hero of the story (maybe) hears about the Mushroom People’s plight and sets out on a quest to free the Mushroom Princess from the evil Koopa and restore the fallen kingdom of the Mushroom People.
You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!”
Ultimately, Super Mario Brothers delivers a relatively simple story at a high level of precision because the telling focuses on conveying information the best ways video games can; gameplay (interactivity) and then visuals. It also helps that the gameplay is excellent. For those who dismiss Mario’s story, I argue that it’s impossible to enjoy the gameplay and not appreciate the story. Put simply, the actions of getting Mario from 1-1 to 8-4 is the story and gameplay simultaneously.
So when you want to talk about a story overall, because even simple stories lia comprehensive description like I just made. If you’re not in the mood to do all the work, your analysis should at least touch on all of the content and execution facets. If you’re not prepared to make such an analysis, then focusing on one facet or two will produce better results. Just be sure not to claim or imply that your statements cover the whole story.
The following is a list of video games that are notable for the following qualities.
Setting. Many games are set in interesting worlds or locations. Remember, the Gameboy version of Tetris is set in Russia. For the purpose of story analysis we must be careful to look for examples that are well crafted as opposed to being just unique. The creativity category is a different matter that falls under the discourse category. BioShock, Portal, and the Grand Theft Auto series are a few popular examples of games where the setting is rich and integrated into other parts of the narrative and gameplay. Other good examples include Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Shadow of the Colossus, and most of the games in Zelda series. In fact, it’s hard to mess up a setting. When it works we tend to notice. When there’s not much there, we tend to look to other elements of the story.
Characters. Characterization can be more complex in video games than in any other medium. In addition to various character types (flat, round, psychologically rich, etc), there are new perspective and emergent issues to consider. Game characters can either be non-playable or playable. Whether by a little or a lot, player interactivity opens up haracterization in new ways. Is Commander Shepard in Mass Effect a paragon or a renegade? Is he both? Yes, it
depends on player choices, but what does that mean for our analysis? Do we consider the entire range? Is that possible? Do we pick an interpretation and focus on it?
The variable and player determined character isn’t always a problem for the main character of the game. There are extreme examples like RO9 where players control 9 characters at once and Poto & Cabenga for 2 at once. Then there are more common examples like taking control of multiple characters one at a time like in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Zelda Spirit Tracks, the Advance Wars series, and the Professor Layton series.
As much as I love round characters with complex psychologies like GlaDos (Portal 1 & 2) and Linebeck (Phantom Hourglass), I also love the flat characters like Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and the Prince (Katamari). Great stories can feature any combination of character types.
Plot. Stories are a series of events in place and time and they feature characters (or something like characters). Events are made of actions as simple as surviving to supernatural combat. Along with considerations of how events connect together, which can be quite complex due to non-linearity, we have to consider how the plot grows, climaxes, and resolves for both the gameplay and the story content simultaneously. RPGs like Final Fantasy 6 do a great job
weaving together many characters and events into an epic plot. The Zelda series is another great example that typically features a plot where little by little the child like Link fulfills the role of the courageous hero. Some plots are clear from start to finish like Shadow of the Colossus. If you need to kill 16 colossi to save the girl, then the death of each colossus leads right into the hunt for the next one.
Complexity/Simplicity. This facet needs little explanation. On the complex end there are games like Metal Gear Solid 4, Mass Effect, Animal Crossing, the Professor Layton Series, many games in the Zelda Series (Majora’s Mask, Phantom Hourglass, etc.), many MMOs like WOW, and the Resident Evil series. All these games feature lots of characters, backstories, or other details. On the simplicity end of the spectrum are games like the Super Mario Brothers series,
the Katamari series, Tetris Attack, BOXLIFE, Super Meat Boy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Shadow of the Colossus, and many old school games including Sonic. The list goes on. There can be a lot of craft in a few details and little said in many.
Theme. No other facet of story content sits more closely to the core “meaning” and “about-ness” of a story than theme. Since the days of our gradeschool educations we’ve been taught to think about stories as communicating more than just simple events with characters. Uncovering the theme, (abstract, “big picture” ideas) is like finding that “ah-ha” Eureka moment. I know that without the theme that connects multiple facets of a story, some feel that such a story isn’t worth much. Or without that “extra layer” of meaning, a story is merely a bunch of independent details. To me, this is a strange and limiting way of looking at the issue.
Once you realize that all culture is steeped in abstract ideas and how humans cannot help but imbue whatever they create with their culture, you’ll see that any piece of art can be read for increasingly deeper meaning or commentary. Still, each of us carry our own biases and cultural lenses that make observing anything inherently complex. We naturally find patterns and we naturally see ourselves reflected in the world. We should worry about finding meaning, not
where it comes from.
I’ll list a few examples of games with obvious themes. Zelda Phantom Hourglass has themes of death, dreams/ambition, arrested development, and the transformative power of courage. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin features a struggle against utter desolation and themes of survival and humanity. Pokemon Black/White boldly introduces the themes of personal truths, personal choices, and a blended reality. Uncharted 2 plays with the theme of greed in the pursuit of treasure. Metroid Other M runs with themes of nature vs nurther and parenting roles. The Mario Galaxy series plays with the themes of loss, birth, and the forces that transend the universe.
In part 3 I’ll give more examples of video games that illustrate the facets of execution and discourse.
Story Design pt.3
by Richard Terrell
Continuing with examples for each facet of story design…
Pages from the DS game Ni No Kuni.
Efficiency. In general efficiency for video games is measured in both its narrative scenes and gameplay. To not confuse this facet with pacing, think along the lines of design space, art assets, and the number of elements of story content. If locations, set pieces, characters, scenes, etc. overlap in what they bring to the story, efficiency goes down. If you feel like a story begins to repeat its lessons, themes, or scenarios, consider if it could have gotten by with less. Tales of Symphonia is a game filled with many locations, characters, and scenarios that are very similar to each other both in their functional role (gameplay) and narrative role. Often in video games, a gameplay necessity will force a narrative inefficiency.
Coherence. The details of a story shouldn’t contradict each other. One of the most well known ways for video game narratives to lose coherence is from ludonarrative dissonance. Like with efficiency, we know that the story content communicated through the gameplay can influence and conflict with the story content presented otherwise. Because video games are designed with varying levels of abstractions dissonant elements are very likely to occur. For example,
in Final Fantasy 7, at the beginning of the game soldier shoot guns at the player characters. The damage dealt is only a small percentage of HP. Are we to believe that these guns are weak? These characters are armored? It’s hard to say. In fact, many video games characters survive from a range of cartoon violence. Though we accept these abstractions and interpretations, it’s hard to turn around and accept the death of a main character from a single bullet shot in a cutscene. These narrative bullets are even in games like Halo: Reach.
Pacing. For every wave, the climax is the result of building narrative and dramatic energy/tension. In terms of gameplay pacing, there should be a similar building of gameplay concepts or difficulty. And like the other facets of execution, we have to look at how the pacing of the story content and the gameplay match up. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes features multiple chapters. In each, a new character is introduced starting at level 0. These chapters start out easy. As you progress you’ll fight stronger enemies and eventually a boss. As the overall story builds, the gameplay difficulty resets several times throughout the game. This disconnect is most apparent at the final chapter. Instead of launching into the final battle, you pick up yet another new character and are forced to play through a long gauntlet of relatively easy battles.
Style/Language. The story scenes in Super Smash Brothers Brawl: Subspace Emissary and Super Meat Boy are presented in the style of silent films (see Brawl videos here). No dialog or text.
Just visual storytelling. Final Fantasy 6 has a strong theater like presentation. Characters turn to the screen to emote opening up their bodies to us, the audience, via the screen. Each character is also introduced with their musical theme and a personalized description like you might find in a playbook. Other games borrow from the Japanese manga/anime style of storytelling featuring somewhat stilted dialog scenes that divulge lots of information. Examples include
the Advance Wars series, Tales of Symphonia, and The World Ends With You. And of course there are the games that go for a movie like cinematic presentation from Uncharted, Heavenly Sword, to Halo: Reach.
Medium. I presented many examples of games that take features from other mediums in part 1 of this series. Because video game designers can basically pick and choose the kinds of medium-specific elements they want to incorporate, there isn’t anything close to a singular scale of craft/design all video games are measured by. In other words, a modern game can feature voice acting or text based dialog. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. I have to say this because many believe cinematic presentation is the singular standard that all games should aspire to.
Dynamic. Some games feature branching narrative paths and encourage the player to explore all the possibilities like Radiant Historia, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Mass Effect. Some developers have discouraged exploring a game’s story possibilities like Heavy Rain. These are well known examples. But remember even the warps in the Super Mario Brothers platformers dynamically change up the progression of the
gameplay narrative. Along these lines most games wil have dynamic/emergent gameplay and therefore some level of dynamic narrative. So this category tends to refer to dynamic non-gameplay elements. Side quests are probably the easiest example of a dynamic ludonarrative feature.
Another image from Ni No Kuni.
Creativity. All games are creative in one way or other whether we like the unique elements or not. It’s nice to compare how unique and creative one work is compared to others, however this is an inherently difficult task. No one plays all the games out there, not even of a single popular genre. And even if one were to play many games, one can always study a work more deeply to uncover more of its story content. So, if understanding how creative a work is depends on
how its details compare, you’re quest will never end. Still, as long as we properly scope our comments (based on series, genre, etc.), we can talk about creativity. This is especially easy to do when identifying video game parodies. Linear RPG, You Must Burn the Rope, and Super PSTW Action RPG are all great examples. These games aren’t very good gameplay and story wise if you don’t understand that they’re parodies. This guy didn’t quite understand, and now we have a hilariously entertaining video based on his response. In some ways, being a parody gives these games a freebie. Fortunately, they’re all short and to the point (efficient).
Series. The power of sequels and series is undeniable. In many mediums, narrative series and IP brands have significant selling power over new products. We love the familiar and we love knowing the full story. So, when games continue in a series many gamers enjoy connecting the details. Likewise, many gamers get very upset when they don’t line up. There are some that try to piece together the story of all the Zelda games even though they’re not intended to be a narrative series. Some argue over Metroid canonical content even including odd games like Metroid Prime Hunters and Metroid Pinball into the grand storyline. This facet is basically coherence across multiple independent stories.
Transmedia franchises. Halo is a popular video game series. The franchise also includes a collection of animated shorts, comics, and novels. There was even a rumored movie in the works.
All of these products work to support the detailed overarching Halo universe. Dead Space, Pokemon, Zelda, and Metroid are also transmedia franchises.
Aligning a game’s narrative and gameplay is the most difficult and effective way for a video game to create resonance. Still, one can create resonance between any two facets of a story.
Typically, theme is more likely to resonate with each of the other facets. Because themes are so abstract, there more flexibility matching it up with concrete elements like setting, characters, and plot actions. I particularly appreciate the resonance between the poetry text presented in Braid and its gameplay. The poems tell the story of Tim’s past filled with love, loss, and longing. These abstract concepts resonate with the kinds of challenges and mechanics in the gameplay. For example, regret is paired with the idea of wanting to go back and fix things; a do over. In the gameplay players have the power to rewind time to fix things with few limitations. From here the richness of the resonance invites us to consider Tim’s character through his gameplay actions of solving puzzles. Is he wiser now? Can we ever really get a do over?
篇目2，5 Core Elements Of Interactive Storytelling
by Thomas Grip
Over the past few years I have had a growing feeling that videogame storytelling is not what it could be. And the core issue is not in the writing, themes, characters or anything like that; instead, the main problem is with the overall delivery. There is always something that hinders me from truly feeling like I am playing a story. After pondering this on and off for quite some time I have come up with a list of five elements that I think are crucial to get the best kind of interactive narrative.
The following is my personal view on the subject, and is much more of a manifesto than an attempt at a rigorous scientific theory. That said, I do not think these are just some flimsy rules or the summary of a niche aesthetic. I truly believe that this is the best foundational framework to progress videogame storytelling and a summary of what most people would like out of an interactive narrative.
Also, it’s important to note that all of the elements below are needed. Drop one and the narrative experience will suffer.
With that out of the way, here goes:
1) Focus on Storytelling
This is a really simple point: the game must be, from the ground up, designed to tell a story. It must not be a game about puzzles, stacking gems or shooting moving targets. The game can contain all of these features, but they cannot be the core focus of the experience. The reason for the game to exist must be the wish to immerse the player inside a narrative; no other feature must take precedence over this.
The reason for this is pretty self-evident. A game that intends to deliver the best possible storytelling must of course focus on this. Several of the problems outlined below directly stem from this element not being taken seriously enough.
A key aspect to this element is that the story must be somewhat tangible. It must contain characters and settings that can be identified with and there must be some sort of drama. The game’s narrative cannot be extremely abstract, too simplistic or lack any interesting, story-related, happenings.
2) Most of the time is spent playing
Videogames are an interactive medium and therefore the bulk of the experience must involve some form of interaction. The core of the game should not be about reading or watching cutscenes, it should be about playing. This does not mean that there needs to be continual interaction; there is still room for downtime and it might even be crucial to not be playing constantly.
The above sounds pretty basic, almost a fundamental part of game design, but it is not that obvious. A common “wisdom” in game design is that choice is king, which Sid Meier’s quote “a game is a series of interesting choices” neatly encapsulate. However, I do not think this holds true at all for interactive storytelling. If choices were all that mattered, choose your own adventure books should be the ultimate interaction fiction – they are not. Most celebrated and narrative-focused videogames does not even have any story-related choices at all (The Last of Us is a recent example). Given this, is interaction really that important?
It sure is, but not for making choices. My view is that the main point of interaction in storytelling is to create a sense of presence, the feeling of being inside the game’s world. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a steady flow of active play. If the player remains inactive for longer periods, they will distance themselves from the experience. This is especially true during sections when players feel they ought to be in control. The game must always strive to maintain and strengthen experience of “being there”.
3) Interactions must make narrative sense
In order to claim that the player is immersed in a narrative, their actions must be somehow connected to the important happenings. The gameplay must not be of irrelevant, or even marginal, value to the story. There are two major reasons for this.
First, players must feel as though they are an active part of the story and not just an observer. If none of the important story moments include agency from the player, they become passive participants. If the gameplay is all about matching gems then it does not matter if players spends 99% of their time interacting; they are not part of any important happenings and their actions are thus irrelevant. Gameplay must be foundational to the narrative, not just a side activity while waiting for the next cutscene.
Second, players must be able to understand their role from their actions. If the player is supposed to be a detective, then this must be evident from the gameplay. A game that requires cutscenes or similar to explain the player’s part has failed to tell its story properly.
4) No repetitive actions
The core engagement from many games come from mastering a system. The longer time players spend with the game, the better they become at it. In order for this process to work, the player’s actions must be repeated over and over. But repetition is not something we want in a well formed story. Instead we want activities to only last as long as the pacing requires. The players are not playing to become good at some mechanics, they are playing to be part of an engrossing story. When an activity has played out its role, a game that wants to do proper storytelling must move on.
Another problem with repetition is that it breaks down the player’s imagination. Other media rely on the audience’s mind to fill out the blanks for a lot of the story’s occurrences. Movies and novels are vague enough to support these kinds of personal interpretations. But if the same actions are repeated over and over, the room for imagination becomes a lot slimmer. Players lose much of the ability to fill gaps and instead get a mechanical view of the narrative.
This does not mean that the core mechanics must constantly change, it just means that there must be variation on how they are used. Both Limbo and Braid are great examples of this. The basic gameplay can be learned in a minute, but the games still provide constant variation throughout the experience.
5) No major progression blocks
In order to keep players inside a narrative, their focus must constantly be on the story happenings. This does not rule out challenges, but it needs to be made sure that an obstacle never consumes all focus. It must be remembered that the players are playing in order to experience a story. If they get stuck at some point, focus fade away from the story, and is instead put on simply progressing. In turn, this leads to the unraveling of the game’s underlying mechanics and for players to try and optimize systems. Both of these are problems that can seriously degrade the narrative experience.
There are three common culprits for this: complex or obscure puzzles, mastery-demanding sections and maze-like environments. All of these are common in games and make it really easy for players to get stuck. Either by not being sure what to do next, or by not having the skills required to continue. Puzzles, mazes and skill-based challenges are not banned, but it is imperative to make sure that they do not hamper the experience. If some section is pulling players away from the story, it needs to go.
Games that do this
These five elements all sound pretty obvious. When writing the above I often felt I was pointing out things that were already widespread knowledge. But despite this, very few games incorporate all of the above. This quite astonishing when you think about it. The elements by themselves are quite common, but the combination of all is incredibly rare.
The best case for games of pure storytelling seems to be visual novels. But these all fail at element 2; they simply are not very interactive in nature and the player is mostly just a reader. They often also fails at element 3 as they do not give the player much actions related to the story (most are simply played out in a passive manner).
Action games like Last of Us and Bioshock infinite all fail on elements 4 and 5 (repetition and progression blocks). For larger portions of the game they often do not meet the requirements of element 3 (story related actions) either. It is also frequently the case that much of the story content is delivered in long cutscenes, which means that some do not even manage to fulfill element 2 (that most of the game is played). RPG:s do not fare much better as they often contain very repetitive elements. They often also have way too much downtime because of lengthy cutscenes and dialogue.
Games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead comes close to feeling like an interactive narrative, but fall flat at element 2. These games are basically just films with interactions slapped on to them. While interaction plays an integral part in the experience it cannot be said to be a driving force. Also, apart from a few instances the gameplay is all about reacting, it does have have the sort of deliberate planning that other games do. This removes a lot of the engagement that otherwise come naturally from videogames.
So what games do fulfill all of these elements? As the requirements of each element are not super specific, fulfillment depends on how one choose to evaluate. The one that I find comes closest is Thirty Flights of Loving, but it is slightly problematic because the narrative is so strange and fragmentary. Still, it is by far the game that comes closest to incorporating all elements. Another close one is To The Moon, but it relies way too much on dialog and cutscenes to meet the requirements. Gone Home is also pretty close to fulfilling the elements. However, your actions have little relevance to the core narrative and much of the game is spent reading rather than playing.
Whether one choose to see these games are fulfilling the requirements or not, I think they show the path forward. If we want to improve interactive storytelling, these are the sort of places to draw inspiration from. Also, I think it is quite telling that all of these games have gotten both critical and (as far as I know) commercial success. There is clearly a demand and appreciation for these sort of experiences.
It should be obvious, but I might as well say it: these elements say nothing of the quality of a game. One that meets none of the requirements can still be excellent, but it cannot claim to have fully playable, interactive storytelling as its main concern. Likewise, a game that fulfills all can still be crap. These elements just outline the foundation of a certain kind of experience. An experience that I think is almost non-existent in videogames today.
I hope that these five simple rules will be helpful for people to evaluate and structure their projects. The sort of videogames that can come out of this thinking is an open question as there is very little done so far. But the games that are close to having all these elements hint at a very wide range of experiences indeed. I have no doubts that this path will be very fruitful to explore.
Another important aspects of interaction that I left out is the ability to plan. I mention it a bit when discussing Walking Dead and Heavy Rain, but it is a worth digging into a little bit deeper. What we want from good gameplay interaction is not just that the player presses a lot of buttons. We want these actions to have some meaning for the future state of the game. When making an input players should be simulating in their minds how they see it turning out. Even if it just happens on a very short time span (eg “need to turn now to get a shot at the incoming asteroid”) it makes all the difference as now the player has adapted the input in way that never happens in a purely reactionary game.
The question of what is deemed repetitive is quite interesting to discuss. For instance, a game like Dear Esther only has the player walking or looking, which does not offer much variety. But since the scenery is constantly changing, few would call the game repetitive. Some games can also offer really complex and varied range of actions, but if the player is tasked to perform these constantly in similar situations, they quickly gets repetitive. I think is fair to say that repetition is mostly an asset problem. Making a non-repetitive game using limited asset counts is probably not possible. This also means that a proper storytelling game is bound to be asset heavy.
Here are some other games that I feel are close to fulfilling all elements: The Path,Journey, Everyday the Same Dream, Dinner Date, Imortall and Kentucky Route Zero. Whether they succeed or not is a bit up to interpretation, as all are a bit borderline. Still all of these are well worth one’s attention. This also concludes the list of all games I can think of that is have, or at least are closing to having, these five elements.
篇目3，Opinion: Once upon a time…
by Poya Manouchehri
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, former Microsoft software design engineer Poya Manouchehri shares some advice for writing the story of your game.]
I have a theory: everyone has or will have, at some point, an idea for a story they want to write. Or tell. And I don’t mean a real life story, but a story that is a creation of one’s imagination.
Now it might be a passing thought… Maybe it’s a person, a news report, a real life event, a book, or a game that suddenly triggers an idea for a story. The process of turning that idea into something complete and finished is a whole other…well, story.
Currently I’m writing the story for the game Connectorium. It’ll be the second story I’m writing in full, after co-writing the Revival short film (I’m not counting the one or two short stories here and there, and a failed attempt at writing a fantasy novel after watching the first Lord of the Rings film. Who didn’t do that, right?).
Here are just a collection of random thoughts, observations, and experiences about the process. Obviously these are not the opinions of an expert; I’m merely hoping it opens up the way for a conversation and invites thoughts from you.
From abstraction to realization
This is something that is universal to the creative process. You begin with an empty canvas. Maybe a concept that is completely abstract and vague. Then with every sentence, with every stroke of a brush, with every added note, or with every line of code, you bring that abstraction one step closer to existence (and also the number of possibilities of what that end product will be reduces with every step).
But there is a key thing I have realized: this is a tw- way process. The original idea, or concept affects what you create. But what you create also affects the idea over time. To a point where the final product may in no way resemble the original idea. I think this a very important part of the creative process: the organic nature of it.
As far as a story goes, that initial concept and idea can be many different things. Maybe it’s a particular character, or a specific plot point. Maybe it’s a particular setting. Maybe it’s a mechanic in the game you are designing. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that your completed story may be nothing like what you had initially conceived. And that’s OK. In fact it’s more than OK. It’s usually a good thing.
When I first started working on Connectorium, I had a general idea for the story. The game is about systems and connections, so the story was going to be about a little girl who wakes up one morning to a world where all connections have gone missing. Her adventure would be about her meeting various characters, helping them restore the missing connections, and solving the mystery.
For some time, though, I stalled fleshing out the story more. Eventually I asked myself, why am I wasting time? Why don’t I just write the story? And it occurred to me: it’s because I didn’t know how it’s going to end.
So one morning I decided to take my iPad, go to a quiet park, and not come back home until I figured out how the story will end. It took a couple of hours, but eventually I came up with an idea, quite suddenly really. I had a big smile on my face right at that moment, because I knew I could start writing the story now.
Maybe this is more a function of the kinds of story that I enjoy and like to write, but I find that I really need to know the ending early on. Everything in the plot, the characters, and the gameplay in the case of a game, is pushing the audience towards that ending. It’s what keeps the story coherent to me.
Characters or plot
One of my favorite writers, Isaac Asimov, is often criticized for having somewhat uninteresting and 2D characters. Nevertheless he is an amazing story teller.
But one can’t argue that the best of stories combine a great plot with believable and great characters. What I have noticed is that personally I’m much more interested and focused on the plot. So I always need to be conscious of the “flatness” of my characters.
For that reason, after I have written the initial draft of the story, I’ll do an iteration where I’ll focus specifically on each character, writing more back story, fixing the dialogue, descriptions, and so on, of course adjusting the plot where necessary. I can imagine the reverse can work just as well: building a detailed and interesting character, and developing the story around that character (or characters).
Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue
For me, probably the hardest part of writing a story is the dialogue. Not only is it really hard to write a believable, natural, and flowing conversation between two or more characters, it’s even harder to have all your characters not sound exactly the same! Exactly like…you!
More than anything, it just requires time, and rewrites to improve this. It is also important to have back stories for characters, even if none of it is ever revealed to the audience. Where do they come from? What do they do? What do they eat? What was their childhood like? What are their relationships like? What is their motivation? All of these impact how a character speaks, how they would react to a situation, and how they’d express themselves.
Another thing that has helped me is trying to picture a real life person acting out that character. Maybe someone you know, or an actor. Putting a face and voice to a line of dialog goes a long way to help you see if it’s the right fit. Sometimes reading it out loud in the voice that you think the character would be speaking in also helps here.
On the subject of games
I’ve been talking a lot about stories, and haven’t really talked much about games. Here is point I want to make which I can expect at least some to disagree with.
I feel that the gameplay must reinforce the story as much as possible. At the very least it shouldn’t contradict it, because that takes you out of the immersion that you might otherwise have. How often do you run around in a game, killing various things, and collecting numerous items, stats, etc, just to be reminded by a cutscene that you’re actually trying to resolve a much greater conflict.
And here is another (potentially less popular) thought. Given that there are practically infinite possible stories, why is it that a good percentage of games, especially those with plots and characters, include combat in some form as their core mechanic?
Is it that we are simply avoiding stories where combat isn’t an integral component? Or are we throwing in combat into the mix, regardless of whether or not it reinforces the story?
篇目4，Storytelling in Games: How to Write an Amazing Story Part I
What’s up everyone! It’s my first post here, and today I’d like to shed light on perhaps the weakest area in gaming: and that’s the story.
Schools out there will teach you how to improve your grammar, spelling, vocabulary and how to write better stories by using adjectives, adverbs, metaphors, similes, alliteration… you name it. However, these skills you learn in high school translate very poorly into visual (film) and interactive media (games), sometimes even causing more harm than good. So unless you go to a highly touted university, you will never learn about the concepts that one should follow when creating a great story. And let me just say that one SHOULD follow these concepts, but not MUST. These are concepts after all, not rules.
There are two types of ways in which people come up with their story:
1. Through spontaneity (that idea that pops into your head).
2. Through brute force thinking (aka “staring at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead”).
What are the disadvantages and advantages of each one and which one should you use? Let’s talk about the first one first.
Disadvantages: Ideas which come through spontaneity tend to be clichéd, cheesy, and lame. Not all the time, but if you rely on inspiration as the source of your ideas, you are essentially doing what most people out there are doing – coming up with obvious ideas which have been overdone. Be very selective about which ideas you choose to include in your story if they come through spontaneity.
Another disadvantage is that it will take a very long time to come up with a sufficient amount of ideas through spontaneity. Spontaneous moments can be quite rare, and those who rely on this approach will tend to procrastinate and eventually quit.
Advantages: Sometimes, you will be rewarded with an excellent idea for your story which could’ve only come through spontaneity. This idea adds great value to your story and you know how to recognise clichéd or boring ideas which you aren’t afraid to throw away. Other times, spontaneity can help you overcome ‘writer’s block.’
Now let’s discuss number two (brute force thinking) and why this should be the main method you use when writing stories.
Brute Force Thinking
There are two types of thinking which can be used: one of them is called convergent thinking and this is the type of thinking which mathematicians use. It basically means being able to come up with an answer to a problem. Convergent thinking certainly has it’s advantages in story writing, however, I am going to focus on the second type of brute force thinking. This is known as divergent thinking and it simply means ‘being able to think of multiple solutions to one problem.’
If you ever wondered why so few mathematicians, programmers or engineers are good at creativity, then there’s the reason. Their convergent thinking skills are highly developed, but they lack the practise for divergent thinking. There’s a myth that creativity comes from spontaneity and that you are either born as creative or not creative. This is far from the truth: psychologists have discovered that creative people are very good at divergent thinking. This is great news because divergent thinking can be improved through practice – like any other skill.
Disadvantages: It requires a LOT of brain work, practice and time to develop. Divergent thinkers often have to create an enormous amount of content and ideas, and they have to be very selective of which ones to include in their story (the rest of the content gets thrown away).
Let’s say you want to create a scene. As a divergent thinker, you’ll come up with at LEAST 5 different ways the scene can play out. Sometimes you come up with 10, 15, 20 different possible ways or even more and these have to be all written down, but only one of them gets selected to be included in the story. Imagine doing this for over 50 scenes, this process will get tiring fast and take a long time to complete.
Advantages: Despite this tiresome process of writing stories, the payoff is definitely worth it in the end, because, what you end up with is a unique and interesting story that can’t be found anywhere else. Your story won’t be clichéd because you’re doing the opposite of most writers out there and carefully selecting content which hasn’t been overused. You will also be able to work harder and procrastinate less, because you won’t have as many ‘blank mind’ moments (just make sure you minimize any other distractions).
So overall, your main idea generation method should come through divergent thinking, and not through spontaneity. However, when a brilliant idea manifests itself in your mind, then you should seize the opportunity and take it into consideration.
Storytelling 101: Show not tell
This same rule you learn in school still applies to movies and games. Whether you are trying to convey an idea, a theme or just exposition, it is wise to use visuals rather than words. You actually want to minimize the amount of dialogue and text as much as possible. How are some ways you can show that a female character secretly likes the main character? You can:
1. Tell the audience “She secretly likes you/him.” How lame is that? Some games do this though.
2. Make that female character expose her feelings towards the main character in a conversation with someone else.
3. Or perhaps… just perhaps… you can make that female character adjust her hair, or check her make up when she sees the main character coming.
The only time that narration or dialogue is required to out information is when:
1. There’s no other convenient way or
2. The dialogue is used in a natural setting
3. To save time (and speed up the pace of the story)
An example of having no convenient way to do show is the anime Death Note. The protagonist, Light Yagami is too clever for the audience to understand his complicated strategies, so they must be informed through narration (or dialogue of him explaining his plans to Ryuk). Now, here’s an example of horrible storytelling in which you should avoid at all costs. It’s from the game Persona 3 and 4.
Pretty much everything is explained through ‘telling’ in the Persona games. Take a look at these screenshots from the game, and you’ll know what I mean:
Does this look like a library to anyone? The text is completely pointless and a waste of time.
Persona 4 library
I have to shake my head when I see this next one. There is absolutely no need for this “you feel like you understand them more” crap.
persona 4 rise 2
Now all these are just minor issues, and most of it was done due to the limitations of video games, but what the Persona games did which ruined the experience for their players is this: they used dialogue to spout out the main themes of the story. I won’t go into detail here because that will spoil the game, but you should never do this as it will remove a lot of the emotional impact on your audience. The story’s meaning should be left for the audience to interpret, not lay it out for them… (note: this does not mean you should make your themes ambiguous!).
Using Themes to Write a Meaningful Story
You know that feeling after you just finished watching an incredible movie? I’m talking about the emotional value you get at the end of the movie… that feeling where you feel like your life has been changed. If you want to the audience to experience that same feeling, impact their life or change their perspective on life, then your story must be meaningful.
How do you create a meaningful story? Firstly, let’s talk about themes. What are themes? According to wikipedia, a theme is a central topic to a story. Examples are good/evil, honesty/dishonesty, truth/lies, love/hate. Along with the theme, there is the thematic statement. Examples of thematic statements are: Good triumphs over evil, honesty leads to rewards, truth can never be found, love is eternal. However, the thematic statement is never this simple, and writers should take the thematic statement even further and mention ‘why’ or ‘when’. Always add something like ‘because’ to the thematic statement e.g. Good triumphs over evil because good guys don’t betray each other. You should be able to mention your thematic statement in just one sentence and no longer.
Everyone has different opinions on these topics. Not everyone believes good triumphs over evil or that truth can never be found. The goal here is to choose what you believe in and embed this message (subtly) throughout your story. Take a look at your story as a whole and notice how the values are changing. Does it begin with evil ruling the world and end with the good guys winning? Does it begin with love and end in tragedy? This is how your themes should be conveyed.
A more complicated approach: The story begins with the bad guys ruling, and ends with the good guys winning, but losing their loved ones. The thematic statement would be: Good guys triumph over evil, but at perilous costs.
Let’s analyse an example from a game well known for it’s story: To the Moon. If you haven’t tried this game yet, I urge you to do so, because it is an amazing game and only takes about 4-5 hours to play it.
Here’s an outline of the story for those who haven’t played it: Johnny is on his death bed and only has a couple of days left to live. You play as Dr. Niel Watts and Eva Rosalene from the Sigmund corporation, a company in charge of transplanting fake memories into the patient’s mind and fulfilling their last wishes before they pass away. Johnny’s last wish is to go to the moon, but he doesn’t know why wants to go there. In order to achieve his wish, they need to discover the root source for why he wants to go there, and so the journey through Johnny’s memories begins.
There are 3 main themes from To the Moon:
To discover the story’s meaning (which is interpreted different by everyone), we must analyse these themes and how they’ve changed from beginning to end. Let’s analyse the first theme. The story begins with Johnny being alone, his wife, River has passed away. In the end, they are finally re-united in NASA and on the spacecraft headed towards the moon. Thematic statement #1: True love prevails…
As I said before, the thematic statement should be more complicated than this, you should state ‘when’ or ‘why’ true love prevails. However, I won’t be doing this, because there will be many differing opinions.
The second theme revolves around Johnny’s aspiration to go to the moon. This theme changes from ‘incomplete goal’ to ‘fulfillment’ as Johnny finally heads towards the moon in the ending scene. Thematic statement #2: Dreams get fulfilled…
Then finally, the last theme changes from reality to non-reality as everything happens in Johnny’s mind, not the real world. Unlike the other themes, this one changes from positive to negative, which is why there is a tinge of sadness in the end. Thematic statement #3: Reality becomes non-reality…
Now, to get the stories’ meaning, we combine these themes together. Themes 1 and 2 are tied together by the fact that Johnny’s goal to go to the moon is driven by his promise to River that they’d meet up on the moon if they ever became separated. Of course Johnny doesn’t fully recall this, because he was given Beta blockers when he was young to help him forget a traumatic event that occurred. So despite Johnny being unable to recall why he wants to go to the moon, we eventually discover that it was due to his feelings for River.
The final thematic statement becomes: “Dreams of true love prevail, but in the surreal world.”
So To the Moon has been quite a successful game despite it’s almost non-existent mechanics. The gameplay itself is very boring and the puzzles after each timeleap is completely unecessary. The mechanis should be used to aid in conveying the themes to the audience. However, players were kept engaged, mainly through it’s one-of-a-kind storyline, which is near impossible to find in a game nowadays. Imagine playing the game alone without the storyline… that would be quite a boring experience. I do hope there will be more interesting gameplay in the next episode, but I’ll leave this discussion about the importance of relevant gameplay for another post.
End of Spoilers
Persona 3 is another game that was highly successful, and I believed it was mainly due to it’s meaningful themes. Despite it’s horrible storytelling methods, somewhat predictable storyline and above average gameplay mechanics (which we will analyse in another post), the game had valuable life lessons to teach to everybody. I actually loved the Persona games bear-y much, and the lessons I learnt from it has definitely impacted my life. Of course, the mechanics also played a huge role in the success of the Persona 3 and 4 games. Actually, one of the reasons why they were so successful was because ATLUS (the company of the Persona games) used the mechanics in order to help portray the themes.
The social links mechanics aided the theme of friendship whilst the concept of a Persona aided in the themes of acceptance and truth. Having solid mechanics is just one thing, but they must be relevant to a game and aid in demonstrating it’s themes. I can’t stress this enough.
So if you’ve made it this far, I’ve gotta say a huge ‘thank you,’ as you’ve reached the end of this very long post. I hope this brings valuable insight to you game designers or future game designers out there. I’ll end by saying that these concepts can definitely teach you to be a better writer than 99% of people out there, however, story writing is a very tough job and requires lots of time to master. You can’t get good unless you actually go and practice writing stories using these concepts. It should take you AT LEAST a couple of months to finish one major story, sometimes over a year. That’s just how things are, so be patient and work hard and eventually you’ll be writing a story as brilliant as ‘To the Moon.’
篇目5，Storytelling in Games: Essential Writing Exercises for Aspiring Writers Part II
Greetings everyone! In this post, we’ll be going through more thematic analysis, pacing, symbolism, anchoring and I’ll also guide you through some story writing exercises that are essential to every writer’s toolkit. There’s a lot to go through, so let’s begin:
In my previous post (make sure you’ve read that before you start this section), I discussed about the utilisation of themes to create the story’s meaning. Every writer should master this aspect of writing, and they should be able to analyse the themes of any given story. This was an important topic in high school English, but I utterly failed at it back then, because it was never taught properly. So here’s a simple exercise you can do to analyse the themes of a story (make sure you’ve read my previous post):
1. Pick your favorite story (it can be from a novel, a film or even a game).
2. Examine the beginning and the ending. Note that sometimes a movie begins with a subplot and the main plot begins later on. In this case you can examine both plots.
3. List the theme changes that have occurred e.g. hatred becomes love, injustice becomes justice, life becomes death. Then write the corresponding thematic statements for these.
4. Figure how these themes combine together in order to form the story’s meaning. Everyone will have a different opinion, but yours is what matters.
5. (Optional) Post your answers to this exercise in the comments. Critique other people’s answers if you want (but no flaming of course). I might even barge in the conversation
So what’s the point of this exercise you may ask? Well, apart from improving your analytical abilities, you get to replay (or re-read) your favorite films/games/books and study how the composer masterfully portrays these themes throughout the story. You’ll be able to pick up techniques for yourself and become inspired to write out a story with similar themes.
And since story revolves around themes, does that mean you should go set out and use them as a starting point for your story? Well, unfortunately it isn’t always this easy. You can definitely get away with using themes from your favorite movie/novel/game and slightly adjusting them, but often times, creating the story’s meaning from scratch is a daunting task. So what can writers do instead? They start writing their story and once they’ve wrote the beginning and ending of their story, they can discover what their story is about. After that, a writer must repolish the story from start to finish in order to suit the themes. The good news is: the ending is usually written as one of the first things in a story. I’ll talk more about this later in the post, but first, there’s still some more things you need to know regarding themes.
A common mistake I see beginners do is they decide “I’m going to write a story around the theme of honesty.” Then next, they only write scenarios where honesty is portrayed in a positive light e.g. if you’re honest, good things happen to you. That is called static themes, and if the same emotions are experienced by the audience for too long, habituation occurs. Habituation is a term in psychology which means: repeated exposure to something will lead to a decline in response. Too much exposure to the emotion of happiness will cause the player to experience a gradual decline in that feeling.
The theme should constantly be challenged throughout your story: “What would happen if you were honest in this situation… would your parents die?” “Is it okay to NOT be honest when…” Remember, whatever message your story portrays depends on the ending. If it ends on a happy note, then honesty is portrayed in a postive light and vice versa. It can also end with a positive tone with tinges of negativity (or the other way around) and in this case, it portrays both the good and bad of honesty.
Note that themes can occur in conjunction with each other as well, for instance, happiness can be accompanied by friendship. Habituation not only occurs for themes, but also pretty much everything else, including pacing, action and the amount of dialogue. A movie that’s always high paced will begin to lose its effectiveness, so instead, contrast it with slower moments. The same goes for action and dialogue, if your story has moments without dialogue and you contrast it with another scene with dialogue, all of a sudden the character’s words become more precious. I highly recommend you watch this video right now:
As a game designer, not only do you have to take into the account of pacing in scenes, but also during gameplay. In Persona 3 and 4, the slower paced life simulation mechanic is often contrasted with a higher intensity battle mechanic. This wasn’t true 100% of the time, because there were moments when you spent too much time in the simulation aspect without anything interesting happening in the storyline. Players often felt bored during these moments. Perhaps ATLUS should identify these times and include some faster paced moments during the simulation aspect.
And finally, before I wrap this section up, a final note about themes that has huge relevance to game design. Schaglund (a contributor on this site) was talking to me about themes, and he said: it’s useful to think of game design in terms of themes rather than storylines so you can create mechanics which suit these themes. A good example is the ‘rewind’ mechanic in Braid which aids to serve the theme of forgiveness. Another one is the social link mechanic in Persona 3 and 4 help portray the theme of friendship (as you acquire more social links, your powers grow stronger). This follows the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) framework which state that the mechanics create the dynamics which generates the aesthetics. The original paper can be found here: http://18.104.22.168/gamedesign/resources/06_personalweb/2006_web/20/paper/MDA_GameDesign.pdf
Or if you’re lazy, you can just look up a summary on wikipedia. Now, that’s enough about themes for one post, but you get how important they are. Let’s talk about a fresh new topic altogether:
In order to teach symbolism, I’d like to briefly touch on a subject on a psychology subject called classical conditioning. There’s a well known experiment called The Little Albert experiment, where a child called “Albert” (which isn’t his real name by the way) was shown some white furry animals. At first, Albert wasn’t afraid of any of these things, however, he was then shown these furry animals again except this time, they were paired with a loud banging noise, causing the child to cry. This pairing was repeated several times… and eventually Albert had been conditioned to fear these furry animals. When a furry white rabbit or mouse was shown alone without the noise, the child would begin to cry.
The study was highly controversial and it’s not something that can be carried out again nowadays. However, thanks to this experiment, we are provided some groundwork on how to use symbolism properly: by pairing a stimuli with a certain outcome (it can be both good or bad), we can evoke certain emotions from the audience. However, there are four things we have to keep in mind:
1. Several pairings are needed in order for this to be effective. You can’t just pair a butterfly with ‘danger’ or ‘freedom’ just one time in your story and expect it to be effective next time you show a butterfly. The pair must occur many times, and usually without your audience being aware of it.
2. Some objects have been conditioned in our daily lives, so it is not necessary to condition them again in your story. For example, candy + sweetness, smoke + danger, spider + fear and many more.
3. Don’t try anything too farfetched, for example, pairing a lollipop with a gun fight (danger). Something like that would never work because humans are just far more complicated than that. However, it is okay to pair a lollipop with something rather than sweetness, for example, poison/illness.
4. The appearance of symbolism must seem natural, or it must occur without the audience being aware of it. As long as the symbol is used in a natural setting, it doesn’t have to be kept hidden away from the audience’s consciousness, despite what many writers might say.
And finally, I want to say that the objects of symbolism don’t have to be 100% alike, but they must be similar enough. Using butterflies of different colors can substitute for using the same butterfly throughout, but there’s nothing wrong with either, so long as the audience doesn’t recognise the strangeness that’s going on.
Analysing symbolism can be a real pain in the @#&* sometimes so I won’t ask you to do it. You can to do it in your free time with your favorite movie if you’re curious enough. So before I wrap this post up, I’m going to treat you with one last technique in story writing.
This is my favorite technique to use when I’m writing a story… my friend actually came up with the term ‘anchoring’ so I doubt you’ll find it elsewhere on the internet (I don’t know whether it has an official name or not). It basically means: to include things early in the storyline which become more significant and meaningful later. In To the Moon, the paper rabbits, the toy platypus, and even Johnny’s last wish to go to the moon don’t mean much when you start the game. In fact, it’s quite a mystery and it’s what keeps the player engaged. However, as you progress through the story, things get explained gradually whilst more mysteries arise. It’s not until near the end, where everything gets revealed and this becomes the turning point of the story.
This is the sign of a very talented writer – the ability to keep the audience engaged by withholding important information, whilst gradually releasing information and creating more mysteries as the story goes on. These moments build up the turning point of a story, which then results in a climax, the most powerful, exciting part of a story. The moments leading up to the climax must also be at a fast pace, and the moment after the climax slows down. Does this remind you of the pacing graph from earlier? If you ever get stuck with writing the turning point or the climax, look to the most moving films you’ve watched or even games like To the Moon to try imitate their style of pacing.
I’ve broken down this anchoring technique into a very easy to use formula. Now before I share the technique with you, I need a quick favor from you. If you like the technique I’m about to reveal, then please share this article to your friends on Facebook/Twitter. This would mean a lot to me and all the other writers on this blog. So here goes:
1. When you have a very basic idea of the story you’re going to write… start writing the ending as ONE OF THE FIRST things. Remember, as writers, we save the best for last… so here’s the trick: write down the WORST things that can possibly happen in your story. These will be the deep, dark secrets of your story and be used to create the turning points. The “I am your father” moment in Star Wars, the moment you find out that the world is about to end in Persona 3, the part where Johnny promised River to re-unite on the Moon.
2. Next, list down what the ‘side effects’ of these deep dark secrets will be and decide which ones to include in your story. Examples in To the Moon:
Side effect: the fact that Johnny doesn’t know his motivation to go the moon, caused by his use of beta blockers.
Side effect: The fact that River keeps making those paper rabbits, in order to remind Johnny of their first meeting.
Side effect: Johnny’s mother calling him ‘Joey’ since his brother died.
Examples in Persona 3:
Side effect: The mysterious boy that appears during your sleep
Side effect: The mysterious place called Tartarus
Side effect: The mysterious group known as ‘Strega’
There’s plenty more in both games and I won’t list them all, but you get the point. These games like to use mystery to keep the audience engaged. Just be careful to not include too many clues that a will give the secrets of your story away.
3. Assess whether any of these ‘secrets’ can be predicted. If you believe the audience even has a slim chance to guess what it is, then include some things in your story which will stray them away from the truth. Surprise your audience, give them what they don’t expect.
You can even decide to use these dark secrets as subtle cliff hangers which don’t necessary stray the story away from its purpose. For example, in To the Moon, the fact that Neil uses painkillers, the ‘red screen’ at the end, and the fact that he didn’t have full health when he was fighting the squirrel. These things suggest he is dying, but this doesn’t get revealed during the first episode. Maybe we get to see Neil as the patient in “A Bird Story.”
By the way, this is not a formula for story writing, it’s just one that I like to use. Not all stories follow this principle of ‘anchoring’ as there are other ways to keep the audience engaged rather than through mystery alone. I just like the idea of giving the audience what they don’t expect and exciting them with the secrets my story entails.
So… thanks for reading this far! Remember, practise and diligence is the key to becoming a successful writer. So take what you’ve learnt today and put it to good use by writing a story. Remember to share this article on Facebook and Twitter if you want to see us writing more often!