Narrative: Part 2

Think game design is about hard code and gameplay? Well, it can’t be denied that those things play some of the most important parts in making up a game – but to make a game that’s truly something special, you’re going to have to exercise that creative muscle and let your imagination run wild and free. In this, part 2 of our narrative guide, we’re going to delve further into the realm of story-telling; this time with a focus on the story itself.

Last issue

Thanks to the narrative introduction in Part 1, we now have a basic idea of how involved we’re going to be with our story. If you can’t remember the levels, or what level you chose, I highly recommend going back and reading up about it, as I’ll be referring to them here, and for the rest of the guide.

Story structure

A story deals with WHAT happens during the course of the game.

No matter what level of story you’re planning (with the exception of levels 1 and 6 of course), your story will have the same basic structure throughout. Anyone who’s been in school will have had this hammered into them: You need a beginning, a middle and an end. Of course, if we were going to make it that easy, we would have just left the schools to deal with this; so let’s look at it a bit deeper.

The Beginning

The start of the story is probably the most important part. Here is where you get introduced to your characters, your world and your purpose. In gaming terms, it’s on par with the tutorial phase of gameplay, where you start to get a feel for how things work; as with gameplay, the bulk of ‘new’ things, people and ideas get introduced, or at the very least mentioned at the beginning. The length of this part of the story varies depending on the depth of your tale: lower level narratives will obviously have a shorter beginning, whilst higher level narratives will have much longer introductions

The Middle

So when does the middle part happen then? It may be tricky to draw a solid line and say “this is the middle of the story”; but in general narrative structure, the middle happens directly after the main characters determine their seemingly final purpose, or discover their apparent final destination. Typically this is determined early on in most stories, however, it’s not uncommon to uncover the “true purpose” much later in the game. The middle section of the narrative is comprised of everything that happens up until the final climax (the ‘last boss’). It should be noted that a story hardly ever has only one climax – as most games rarely have only one boss battle. It’s during this section of the narrative that everything happens and the characters are developed.

The End

The end of a story is often the shortest part of any story. After the ‘final battle’ or ‘final goal’ being achieved (whatever form that might take), all plot points are tied neatly together and concluded. In the case of open-ended conclusions (where a sequel might be planned for instance), the end is signified by tying up the current main objective, and is usually followed by the beginning of the next stage of the story.

The tale of the Dev.Mag heroes

So let’s create a story. I’ve chosen to create a level 3 narrative, which would probably best be suited for any shooter; 2D side-scrolling or otherwise.

Level 3 narrative characteristics for story

  • Moderate introduction
  • Uncomplicated, but gripping
  • Linear story arcs progress main story

The Beginning

We’re introduced to our three heroes: Chappat, Nandraw and Jay. These studs have never met each other, and are in their own place, doing their own thing. One night, while Chappat is walking home, he is attacked by a couple of enemies called ‘trowls’. An entity, an apparition of some sort, appears in front of him, and identifies himself as Lisdekcia. Lisdekcia bestows upon Chappat his power of flame, which Chappat then uses to annihilate the trowls. Lisdekcia then sends Chappat on a mission to find two more heroes, with whom he must team up.

The Middle

Beware of the trowls!

During the course of the game, Chappat eventually comes across Nandraw, whom he must face in battle in order for Chappat to convince him to join the cause. Once successful, the two team up (and are possibly swappable during gameplay) in search of the final hero. The final hero, Jay, has managed to get himself into a bit of trouble with a creature called Procrastor, who holds Jay in his clutches. By defeating him, Jay, in appreciation, joins them. Lisdekcia appears, and tells them that they have all been chosen to save small communities all over the world from trowl attacks. The three heroes set off clearing area after area of trowls, and defeating the trowl captains in each area. After clearing the last area, they’re approached by the trowl master, Slurm, who challenges them. He is defeated but escapes. Lisdekcia informs the heroes that Slurm has headed to the holy lands of Naggia, and is planning on killing the elder god, Mirtak. The heroes go to the holy land and find out that Slurm has attached himself to Mirtak’s spirit and is absorbing his power. The heroes must seek the power of ice held by Dezarb and thunder held by Muthazi in the holy land. Upon gaining the power, the three heroes attack and defeat Slurm.

The End

One of our four heroes. No, really.

After Slurm’s defeat, the gods of the holy land thank the heroes, and the elder god, Mirtak, gives them his plentiful blessings. And a life-time supply of ice-cream. And the world is at peace once more. The trowls, without their leader, launch futile attacks, and are easily kept at bay.

Check your level

Here’s how the narrative structure would differ according to level:

  • Level 1
    No introduction will be given; perhaps a title screen and then into the action. The levels will pass by, perhaps in sets of three followed by a trowl boss, until Slurm is reached. The ‘story’ gets explained visually, and often in-game.
  • Level 2
    The initial introduction could be present, followed by the same progressive structure as level 1 narrative. The end could feature a scene similar to the end of the story.
  • Level 4
    The introduction could be relatively the same, though Lisdekcia would offer more explanation. The story would feature connective cutscenes between levels, dialogue between the characters, and perhaps some history regarding the land – also showing the journeys the characters take, and many smaller story and developmental arcs, with perhaps alternative methods of facing the enemy. The ending would be more detailed and explained, but follow the same path.
  • Level 5
    What makes level 5 significantly different to level 4, is option and expansion. The story would play out in much the same way, but there would be more to do, and thus more story to be found. Level 5 also brings choice meaning varied approach, consequences and ultimately, many different conclusions. Joining Slurm and defeating the gods, for instance, would greatly change the entire course of the story.

Things to be wary of

Here are a few things to be careful of:

  • ALWAYS remember your level of depth. Avoid trying to fit too much in if it’s not necessary, and avoid leaving too much out if you need it.
  • Try to keep things simple. It’s easy to get lost in your own story. Lay the basic ground work, and build it up from there.
  • We’ll look at clichés in the last part of this guide, but it’s a good idea to identify and weed out any you see at this stage.
  • REMEMBER: You’re making a game, don’t try to write a movie script, or a novel.

IN THE NEXT ISSUE: A whole new world – We’ll have a look at the world our story is going to take place in, and see what we need to make it all work.

About Quinton Bronkhorst

Quinton is a designer and random rambler that really likes referring to himself in the third person. That should make you wonder: is it Quinton writing this, or perhaps some objective third party? You will never know. In unrelated news: Quinton is awesome and attractive and everyone wants to marry him. Facts. [Articles]