A typical narrative structure in games is to have an opening cinematic as a prologue, a tutorial, another cinematic that establishes the setting and character, then you trade off telling story and having the player play levels. If your narrative branches, those branches are actually contained within the narrative itself, simply having you pick a “narrative track” at defined points. The big answer to this has been to have story bits, disconnected portions of story that the player discovers, or doesn’t, at their own pace. In between the two is Bioware’s solution of larger but totally required story bits that the player can take in any order.
And then there’s my brainchild.
The Tutor System.
Constructing The Narrative
You begin by laying down a large arc, we’ll call this the ideal scenario. Then we design the game without any attached story, then we test the game without any attached story and have the testers send us back replays. From these we take the players that performed the most optimally and write the story of their play through using the ideal scenario as context. We take those that failed and start searching them for common points of failure, we then write stories where the players failings are commented on as the failings of the main character, and sympathetic characters give advice for how to come back from there. Then we go back through our scenarios and find milestones that are common to all or nearly all players, these milestones become testing points where we place in scripted events. If the player has performed well to this point, they are given a reward and a greater responsibility, for instance they may be awarded with a new colony that needs to be saved from a desperate shortage. If on the other hand, the player has failed to perform to the ideal then they are given an easier scenario to handle but one that won’t reward them nearly as well, the player is given some free ships their clan scored in the colony’s foreclosure sale. This creates a new story line, that of the ideal ideal, a player who has met the ideal conditions at every point.
It’s a game. No really the story itself is a telling of how the player played the game, meaning the story and the game are always in near perfect agreement.
We already keep track of these statistics, how else can we have achievements for walking 2 miles?
All the writing is done after the game is already done, meaning we can be inclusive and get the community in on fleshing out the writing.
Writing can be done one or two paragraphs at a time, we really don’t need or even want a novel at the various points.
You can pace your writing so that it fits the game, being laconic when the player is busy and being long winded when the player isn’t moving very quickly.
It can be relatively personal, since you know what it takes to come up with certain statistical combinations, you can talk more or less directly to the player about what their options are.
Finding holes and improvements in your narrative becomes part of your bug reporting process.
It never really ends.
This is a great system for Strategy Games and RPGs.
This creates a situation where writers will be learning how to write for games, not how to adapt novel and movie story lines to games. There will be a need for structures that match how a player interacts with the game, and supports those interactions.
All the writing is done after the game is already done, so you are never going to get your writing done early. Also patching the game may break your entire story.
Lots of writing…. lots and lots and lots and lots and lots…
We rarely store that much data right now, there’s a big difference between storing a single score variable and some semblance of that score’s history.
Voice actors, if you have any, will either hate you for calling them every couple of weeks or love you for giving them permanent employment.
There won’t always be a story, since scenarios you haven’t had people actually play yet won’t have any checks built into them.
You’re going to have to spend a massive amount of time sorting and “reading” play throughs, and that’s not going to scale well.
It never really ends.
It can be more difficult to keep the story cohesive with itself, especially since the writer can’t really force the player to follow a script.