Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Story Ambitions

Does anyone remember when a game story meant something? When the player played a real character, with thoughts and fears – not some beefed up space marine. When the story had goals, actions had consequences and the player was living and creating history? 

Many recent games have skipped out on what made the games of my childhood so great – a gripping story. Sure I, like anyone else, enjoy shooting up Nazis and Zombies. That’s a great way to blow off steam after a frustrating day – But sometimes, I just feel I need a little more drive. In a game it’s the same as in a novel, or a movie: Who is the main character and why should I care? 

With recent games, that just doesn’t happen often. Maybe it’s the obsession with graphics stealing time from other parts of the game, maybe it’s the focus on multiplayer (That isn’t necessarily a bad thing) or maybe I’m just old and ‘out of touch’. Whatever it is, I yearn for more than the half-hearted ‘plots’ fed by most recent titles (there are, of course, exceptions.) Heck – I’ve even seen indie games with so much promise, and such exciting ideas fall into memory because there was nothing to keep me playing more than a few hours.  Being an avid reader – and writer – I love a good story.  

That’s why when we set out to make project seven, we knew we wanted a good story. Heck, we could release the game tomorrow if we didn’t care for story – just chuck together a few narrowly designed levels and add in a stock antagonist and call it a plot. That’s the path I’ve seen too many games take – and we didn’t want to do follow. 

We wanted a story. A really good one. So that’s what we set out to write.  It was hard at first, and we got stuck numerous times. Writing a story for a game is surprisingly different to writing a story for a novel (maybe more on that in the future), but now I hold in my hand a completed plot outline of seven-thousand words. Well, at least I hold the flashdrive it’s stored on. But that’s just the plot outline – over the next few months we are going to go over it with a fine-tooth comb and flesh it out. Build characters with personalities and flaws. Create antagonists that the player can hate and – sometimes – relate to. We’ll breathe life into the world and plot. But it’s far from done, so I won’t give anything away yet. What I can tell you, however, is what we want out of our story. What you can expect when it’s done. 

Project seven is going to have a full campaign, with ten ‘chapters.’ Each chapter should last about an hour for the average player, assuming they do no exploring or Sidequests (more on Sidequests later, too.) Meaning the game should take ten hours to complete if the player does nothing but the main plot.  Ten hours. That is a long time. But that isn’t all we wanted with our story – we wanted players to be living the story, not discovering it. Some games rely on plots were the player is told a story though cut scenes, and has little choice in what goes on. Even Worse, some games have stories were the player is simply discovering something that happened to someone else.  When I set out to do the first draft I specifically kept in mind that I didn’t want to write that kind of plot. I wanted the player to feel like they were part of a living, breathing world.  I wanted the player to feel like what they were doing was actually having an effect on the world and, most importantly, I wanted to give the player the ability to make choices on their own. Not superficial ones – real choices, with real world and game play effects.  So when I wrote the plot I kept this in mind, and tried to look for places where the player could decide things on their own. That said, I have one golden rule about plotting that I picked up from novel writing: the Antagonist drives the Plot. In all the best Novels and movies, the player is one step behind the antagonist – struggling to catch up and make things even. The antagonists creates a problem, the protagonist must overcome it. This continues until the climax was the protagonist surpasses his foe, winning the day. This is true for all genres – from war to romance. I wanted the stakes to be high, and the antagonists to drive the player into action.  So don’t expect something with the choice of a CYOA novel, expect to be given an objective and left to work out how you want to do it yourself. This is more than the usual ‘rush in guns blazing’ Vs ‘Sneaky stealth’ options (though they are options.) 

Now you know a little more about what you can expect from Project Seven story-wise. A little more about our ambitions. More information on subplots and sidequests later (suffice to say there will be none of that ‘Go collect 10 large bear hearts’ stuff.)

Thanks for reading!

-         - Ben

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