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Understanding story and games

09-06-2012, 05:46 PM
#1
Joined: May 2009
Posts: 279
Understanding story and games

hey guys,

Stephen here from Broken Kings, looking to understand what stories mean to you in your games.

At Broken Kings, we're working on a strategy game and we're looking into the story and how we can make it the best we can be - on one level, we have all these fantastic ideas of what the story could be, where it could go - we are developing history for our world, etc... (the usual shebang)

but we also know that 90% of users will click "skip" without reading the first line of text. So I'm curious - what do you want out of a story in a game? What does it take to get you to sit through a few lines of dialogue every few levels (or even every level)?

When and why do you click skip?
09-06-2012, 07:00 PM
#2
Joined: Jan 2012
Posts: 1,173
It should matter. Dialogue doesn't need to be long and drawn out, and there doesn't need to be ton of story content. It just needs to be interesting. Take Demon's Souls for instance. There's more lore hidden in item descriptions than there is actual dialogue, but the game has one of the most interesting stories of any game I've ever played.

09-06-2012, 10:35 PM
#3
Just personal take on this..

I usually dislike games with chunky story text. but I found myself playing this mystery iOS game that have alot of text.. called Who Is The Killer (developed by D.Glaznev)

And I actually got into the story and completed the game. I believe they did something right here (at least for me) The theme, the introduction, the setting just pulled me in.

However I feel that the downside of games having a story is that like once you completed the story, it is quite unlikely a person will revisit the game (maybe till much later)
09-07-2012, 09:29 AM
#4
Joined: May 2009
Posts: 279
Thanks for the thoughts guys - one of the things we've been thinking is that players won't read more than 2-3 lines of dialogue before hitting the skip button so we've been trying to super tighten everything. But at the same time, our game scenario has a bit of setup to it, and we're finding that some of our early levels have up to 10 lines of dialogue - and I simply think that early on, players won't want to deal with that much text, they'll want to get into the game.

But you guys have given me some interesting food for thought - GeekyDad, what you said spawned a trail of thought in my mind that went beyond just items to external/optional storytelling in general. And I think that's a very powerful tool that allows fans interested in the lore and backstory and history of the world beyond what's happening here and now to get involved, without gumming up the gameplay with lots of text.

Silverous, your point about not wanting to go through the same story again is a good one - the game we are working on is a sequel to a game without a story, and we were planning on giving the players the option, at the beginning, whether they even wanted to see the story or not. Hopefully, for players who want to play the game again but don't want to deal with a story they've already seen, this will make the game more replayable.
09-07-2012, 03:27 PM
#5
Joined: Aug 2012
Posts: 2,075
Im a big fan of in-game stories.

I know this isn't exactly what you're asking but I'll say it anyway. The main thing why I don't follow the story is usually the text itself. You see, I have an iPhone 3Gs and the resolution mostly isn't optimized for my screen, so the text is extremely blurry.

Now about the story itself...

- Storytelling - you need to take the right approach to how to tell the story. Most games take the wrong approach and they tell the whole story from A to B, rather than telling the story throughout the whole game. The best and most interesting story in the game is, when they show you something (unique NPC, epic armor, epic sword etc.) and you don't know anything about that thing. You keep wondering "what's that NPCs role?, why is my armor so unique?, why does only this sword harm the main boss? Why does everyone know me and my father?" Etc. But later you discover the tale of each of those. (good example of storytelling is COD Zombies).

- Lenght of the story - you need to leave out some boring dialog stuff, but do not take out good parts of the story just with the purpose to shorten the tale. Why? Anyone interested in the story will read it, anyone who isn't won't (that's why I like your idea that you could choose at start, whether to listen to the story or not) - so the Lenght doesn't play such a big role (usually the longer is better, but it depends on the game genre).

- how unique the story is - we all know what that means. Here is a bad example of usual fantasy rpg stuff: Your father died bla bla bla... Something with the king bla bla... Random stuff about ancient wars between two opposite realms, factions, guilds bla bla bla... Something something save the king... To save the Land bla bla... Some dragon bla bla...

- some developer humor in the story is always very appreciated


This is just my opinion and I hope you find something useful in here.
09-07-2012, 08:26 PM
#6
I am a old school gamer, started on the NES in the late 80's, and I don't care about a story at all. Always click skip... I don't care what the text says, or about the backround of the character. Don't care to know how or why they are in the setting they are in, I only care about gameplay. Again going back to the NES days, I didn't care who, why or how my Contra dudes got there I only knew I had to blast like crazy and fight through the levels, and had a blast doing it!

IMHO a good game will tell the story through gameplay and little to no text is needed. Think super Mario bros, Contra, maybe iOS games would be League of Evil, McPixel, Battleheart, Zombieville 2, Subway Surfers, and the list could go on and on. Point is, I know there is a past, I see it in the gameplay. Don't care about a deep storyline, then again I love arcade-ish score chasing games and as a old school gamer I don't chase silly awards like achievements, again I only care about gameplay and how much fun it is to play.

I hope that helps a little, an realize I'm probably a rare bird but I'm sure I'm not the only gamer like this.

Last edited by bacon-N-eggs; 09-07-2012 at 08:30 PM.
09-07-2012, 10:19 PM
#7
Joined: May 2010
Location: Lexington, KY
Posts: 2,375
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As a semi-professional writer, there are a couple of things I notice in the stories for app store games (and games in general).

A lot of them fall into the trap of having an "epic" preface-- a plain black screen with text with a narrator explaining away the setting, the conflict, and the evil villain. (100000000s of years ago, the dark lord blahblah descended upon the land. 4 wizards united together and sealed his soul into gems, then scattered them to the four corners of the earth, etc., we've all seen it). This is understandably boring and I suspect that most people just skip this crap. It shows up a lot in KRPGs.

There's really no need for this kind of device. It is much more compelling to just drop your player right into the setting and story, then give them context in small pieces through dialogue, events, or NPCs.

Another thing I see is the same old high fantasy theme, of course.

And then there's the protagonist who is perfect and has no flaws or internal conflict...that's disappointing. Again, a lot of KRPGs do this. Final Fantasy 6 is a good example of successful internal conflict and development in its characters.

Another thing I don't see enough of is a good sense of scope and scale. Every game wants to have some world-shattering crisis, but they don't present it in a way that makes the player actually feel like there is this omnipresent danger. Illusion of Gaia and FF7 both do this perfectly by giving the very creepy, obvious threat of a meteor/comet, foreshadowing it for much of the game and increasing its urgency in stages (literally bringing the threat closer, making the sky dark, good music to set the tone, etc). Tales of Phantasia does this by first destroying the main character's home town, then eventually pulling you into a full-fledged war. A lot of games try to do this by having the evil villain just show up at X moment to taunt the protagonist, but it's old and predictable and reeks of boring monologues where you just give away your entire plan for nothing.

If you really want a compelling story I'd recommend studying the Hero's Journey archetype, as almost all stories fit it in some way. If you have a good understanding of that it will be easier to create a situation around your character, not a character for the situation. The wiki article is pretty good:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

In terms of volume of dialogue...you really don't need that much to create a compelling story. Look at some comic books and see how they do it. Half of it's just stuff happening. The action should push things forward and tell you about your characters as much as whatever is said.

i'm a pretty kitty cat

Last edited by SkyMuffin; 09-07-2012 at 10:21 PM.
09-07-2012, 10:36 PM
#8
Joined: Mar 2012
Location: NY, NY
Posts: 990
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrokenKings View Post
hey guys,

Stephen here from Broken Kings, looking to understand what stories mean to you in your games.

At Broken Kings, we're working on a strategy game and we're looking into the story and how we can make it the best we can be - on one level, we have all these fantastic ideas of what the story could be, where it could go - we are developing history for our world, etc... (the usual shebang)

but we also know that 90% of users will click "skip" without reading the first line of text. So I'm curious - what do you want out of a story in a game? What does it take to get you to sit through a few lines of dialogue every few levels (or even every level)?

When and why do you click skip?
Oh, you guys made Dirt! I love Dirt! Considering how touching a picture that game painted with minimal story-telling, I think you should just go with your instincts on what to do with a more normal narrative.
09-08-2012, 10:44 AM
#9
Joined: May 2009
Posts: 279
Primoz, Skymuffin, thank you for the tips, they are both encouraging because some of those things you have mentioned are the very things we have thought of and taken into consideration when plotting / planning the story, and helpful with the things that aren't. While our game is indeed a war game, and therefore has a plot involving conflict / etc., we've tried to stay away from typical fantasy/end of the world tropes and are basing our scenarios on points in history that fascinate us more than fantastical themes. Hopefully that will help keep things less stagnant? I suppose time will tell on that front.

bacon-N-eggs - yep, users like you exist, and we have taken you into consideration with the "no story" option. The original game had no story and did well, so our thought is as long as we keep the gameplay as tight, the story is just icing on the cake

Smegly - thanks! This story is very different than Dirt but you are right - you can't second guess yourself too much or you're just going to make things worse.
09-08-2012, 03:19 PM
#10
Hey Stephen,
Yes I am guilty of skipping storyboards too. I am not sure why I do this for hand held and especially mobile games but I do not do this for PC games unless the story or presentation is really poor. I think the few games I have payed attention to the story is when it is presented purely in picture format. I know it sounds silly but thats what works for me. If you can do humor writing to make me like you characters I will read small lines of text but if the humor is forced or repetitive it would likely turn me off very quickly

I like pushing carts. Especially ones with oversized bombs.