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I am trying to create a game that has a small plot (maybe more of a theme). The plot just describes why the characters are fighting each other. Other than that I have not fleshed out the story.

How important would it be to flesh out the story/characters for the game? Would it make the game more immersive?

  • What ever you do, make sure your game works well for (sadly a lot) people that skip all the dialog. – the_lotus Oct 4 '17 at 15:44
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    Do you actually like to write? You shouldn't force yourself if you don't, plenty of games work without a story. Dustforce for example has no plot or story at all, but it's still a pretty decent game because it focuses on hardcore platforming, and does it very well. If you don't enjoy writing, I suggest either you don't make it that focused on story and just invent a little backstory or you get someone else to write something for you. I wouldn't mind giving you a hand if you need help. – noClue Oct 4 '17 at 15:46
  • I like to create stories and have a lot of ideas that I want to put out in a visual way. I would really appreciate a hand in writing from someone who loves it, so I can focus mainly on the visual aspect of it. – Bhupen Oct 4 '17 at 15:57
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    Try playing The Beginner's Guide, Undertale, and Bastion to see what excellent writing can do for a game. Then, try playing Beat Hazard, Thumper, and Sonic Mania for examples of games with the barest threads of a story that are still incredible games. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '17 at 16:35
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    Storytelling in games is also on-topic on gamedev.stackexchange.com – Philipp Oct 5 '17 at 8:56
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Excellent writing is one of the primary selling points of some games - but it is by no means necessary. It can even be counterproductive in some situations.

There has been research into what aspects of video games players enjoy the most. One model is Quantic Foundry's Gamer Motivation model. Their research indicates that there are six primary aspects of a game that can draw a gamer in - and each individual player will be interested in some, but not all, of those aspects, depending on their own personalities.

The six motivations are categorized as "Action," "Social," "Mastery," "Acheivement," "Immersion," and "Creativity." Of these six motivations, players tend to be strongly interested in one or two of them.

And of these six motivations, the only one strongly tied to good writing is "Immersion!"

What this means for you is that you need to think about what type of game you're making. Read the article I linked and decide whether immersion should be one of the core focuses of your game or not. Quite frankly, if it isn't, then spending a lot of time on your game's story is a waste and can even potentially drive away the kind of players you want to target. There are in fact gamers out there who find stories to be annoying and want to get straight to the action!

I posted these examples in a comment, but I'll elaborate on them here. Three games with excellent writing are The Beginner's Guide, Undertale, and Bastion. To be maybe a little too honest, all three of these games get me to cry every time I play them because their stories are so powerful. However, this comes at a cost:

  • The Beginner's Guide is a walking simulator, meaning that there is no actual gameplay - you walk through levels while the story is narrated to you, but you have no control over what happens, and there are virtually no puzzles to solve or challenges to overcome.
  • Undertale does have gameplay. However, one of the very valid criticisms levied against Undertale is that there are long stretches where you're walking around while story is dumped on you, and there's not much to do except slowly walk towards the next area.
  • Bastion has relatively weak gameplay (compared to other games as well-received as it). There's not much to it besides fighting mobs of enemies - few puzzles to solve, and most of the enemies start feeling the same after a while.

All three of these games have been received well, but they sacrifice keeping the player in intense action in order to tell a powerful story. This appeals to some players and pushes others away.

In contrast, Thumper, Sonic Mania, and Beat Hazard are three games that effectively do not have stories. In exchange, they drop the player into the action of gameplay almost immediately and have few moments in which the action lets up. This will appeal to a different type of gamer.

In conclusion, you need to decide which type of game you want to make, then decide which aspects of the game need to be focused on the most. Even if you are willing to polish every aspect of your game completely, telling a story almost requires you to take the player out of the action from time to time, which will push some types of players away. There's a tradeoff to be made, and it's important to make a conscious decision where you want your game to fall on that spectrum.

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    Wow ... never thought of it this way. I really love your link to the motivational model. thx. – Bhupen Oct 4 '17 at 19:29
  • A) Thumper is super genius, so yeah, writing is not necessary. B) Star Control II had great writing, and was one of the things that made that game shine. So yeah, great writing can be really useful to have. – Almo Oct 5 '17 at 14:54
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    In short, sometimes you want to play out a story, and sometimes you just want to punch Nazis in the face. – Mark Oct 5 '17 at 20:50
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    A good game can survive a bad (or no) story; the most amazing story won't save a bad game. – TripeHound Oct 6 '17 at 13:15
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    @TripeHound it depends on what you mean by a "bad game": Some years ago, I replayed Planescape: Torment and was amazed at how clunky I found the interface/gameplay this time around... yet it's still an unbelievable game content-wise (IMHO maybe the best of all time). However, I wanted to finish Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth so badly but couldn't stand the bugs any longer. – errantlinguist Oct 6 '17 at 18:03
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Stories can make the game very much more immersive.

That said, it depends on the game. We don't have to know a back story in order to play Battleship, or fight zombies, or shoot bad guys on one side of a war, really. I don't need a backstory to play Monopoly.

But games that take off from fantasy role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons (before any electronic assistance) are driven very much by the back story of each character.

So yes, a good backstory can make the game more fun, the player is making the world safe for children and puppies and young love. You raise the emotional stakes and increase the impact of winning or losing.

Without the stories and imagination, D&D is just another very long form of Yahtzee. All you revel in is the luck of rolling 20, or the bad luck of rolling a 1, and the mechanical increases or reductions of "points" that mean nothing. It would be boring, too long, and nobody would play.

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    I had to join this SE just to +1 this. I've never thought about D&D as "another very long form of Yahtzee", but will start referring to it as such from now on. – David Starkey Oct 4 '17 at 16:21
  • @DavidStarkey: well, it was meant ironically: D&D is a roleplaying game. Roleplay is the core of it. the rules are just here to impose limits on what a Player's Character (PC) can do (so they may need to be a bit stronger before managing to do this or that), and also to not let the DM's have too much power (in deciding every outcomes of everything the players attempt). Taking out the roleplay part (ie, the part where players play their role "as if" they were their PC, and the DM makes every other actors (NPCs) and the world react, is what a pen&paper RPG is. Can't be farther from Yahtzee. – Olivier Dulac Oct 5 '17 at 11:05
  • @DavidStarkey: iow, if you witness an D&D session that feels like yathzee... they are Doing It Wrong [tm] (and should maybe play something else, such as an PC "rpg", which is an enterily different kind of game as the power of imagination and the PC's freedom is very, very limited, and the resulting story are several order of magnitude less open and interresting as what a good rpg and good players & dm can come up with) – Olivier Dulac Oct 5 '17 at 11:09
  • @OlivierDulac I meant it not ironically, I meant IF you remove all the story telling and imagination components (thus no role playing is going on), THEN D&D becomes a very long form of Yahtzee: Which also has no story line or role playing, just a few decisions on which dice to roll and which box to fill. David has discarded that condition in favor of snark. This is relevant as an example of some games being more fun with imagination engaged. Yahtzee is fun, poker for chips with no money is fun, but even a board game like The Game of Life is not much fun without the story premise. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 5 '17 at 13:26
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Some roles writing can play in your game:

  • Story as enjoyable content - this is story as one of the "main dishes" of your game, along with gameplay, creativity, etc. - part of what makes the game enjoyable is just watching / listening to / reading the story parts. Final Fantasy does this a lot, but the story has to be good, and works better when the music, voice, visuals etc. of those story parts are also very good. Story can be a reward in your game, something players seek.

  • Improving immersion - Often goes with the previous, but here it's about making the player engaged in the world and it's characters. But you can have good immersion without strong explicit "story" segments (other things that help: a believable, coherent world, memorable events, a feeling that actions have consequences; but also a lot of small details in the world: signs, dialogue, books to read, etc.), or storytelling segments without strong immersion (Ace Attorney comes to mind).

  • Giving something to discover - just like some genres of games can have a lot of places to explore, or a lot of items to collect, they can have a lot of books to read or NPCs to talk to. This is especially if "exploration" is something you want to be in your game; games that have more of an open structure, RPGs, etc. It's one way of adding immersion.

  • Making the game more understandable - this is almost more UX / Game Design than writing, but having good names, good taglines, one-line-summaries of various characters, places, etc. can make the game easier to navigate for players.

  • Giving the player feedback on his actions - if he feels other characters noticed what he did, if they seem impressed by his actions, or judge his choices, this will increase immersion and make him understand the game rules better.

Note that like "fun", "immersion" is a bit of an emergent property of a game, that can happen for different reasons, and gameplay is usually more important than story for that (though good graphics, writing, animation, etc. can turn a boring hack-n-slash into the exploration of a living world). Minecraft is an example of an extremely immersive game with no (game-provided) story or writing. And Angry Birds is a good game that doesn't particularly try to be immersive.

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The logical answer is: IT DEPENDS.

Is it a platformer? Is it an RPG? Is it a shooter? Is it a big game like a AAA game, or just some test game for school or something?

Truth be told, if you are not required to know about the story to play or enjoy the game, even some of the most cliche stories might work, or even no story at all!

A game is art, the first thing to consider is to make it more enjoyable for most people to play it, then think of a story to SAY something, not just be there in the background. If you have a small game with great mechanics and some interesting story (please note: not an epic story necessarily), more people will love it an crave for more, if not, maybe is time to go back to the whiteboard.

Cheers mate, and good luck!

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I only really enjoy games with stories. Like Fallout 3,new vegas, 4 and so forth. Skyrim was another. They have so much content that they had to use in game books to hold it all. They are open world so you can go anywhere at any time and do almost anything.

Depending on what kind of game it is the story can be critical to its success. I find games where you go in just to shoot things up, rinse, and repeat not worth playing.

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    See, for me, I hate stories in a game. If I wanted to watch something filled with cut scenes, I might as well go put on a movie. I just want to play. However I do enjoy a good story when you are playing the story itself and not just having cut scenes. Example, WoW main quest line that you play out the main storyline with minimal to little cut scenes. – ggiaquin16 Oct 4 '17 at 23:59
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    @ggiaquin The games I mentioned have very few cuts scenes, and your in control 98% of the time. Your right, I don't want hours of cut scenes I want to be actively involved, and in the games I mentioned you are almost always in control. There are a dozen or so cuts scenes, but compared to the 200-800+ hours of game play they are practically non-existent. – cybernard Oct 5 '17 at 0:08
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    This just seems to be just a personal opinion, not a reliable answer to the question. – Philipp Oct 5 '17 at 8:48
  • @Philipp Besthesda sold millions of copies of just fallout 4 and I heard something like it grossed a billion dollars. Clearly they did something right, and many millions of gamers agree. – cybernard Oct 5 '17 at 21:35
  • @cybernard If you want to argue with sales numbers, you might want to look at the list of most selling video games of all times. There are quite a lot of titles on it with very little or no storytelling. There is certainly no visible correlation between amount of story and amount of copies sold. – Philipp Oct 5 '17 at 21:45
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I will talk about videogames as a media. Videogamesstrong point is interactivity, so a good game will communicate almost everything that has to say to the player with interactivity. Think of Journey or the first Dark Souls, they are communicating with you through gameplay design, and the other aspects like visuals, ost, or text are mere accompaniements. They must reinforce what the game is trying to say, but couldn't be the main focus.

That is the real way to develop the game as a new way of art, focusing on what makes ir special. So, answering to your question, we can see two kinds of writing:

Classical

Things such as scripts, stories, short texts, chapter histories. This kind of writing from other media like cinema or literature, are the less important. No game needs a sentence if you can master interactivity and visuals, as a movie doesn't need a script as long as you have good direction and acting. This kind of writing is just decoration and not the main way to communicate, so you don't need that high skills.

Design oriented

This is what is important. You say that you want to show players that there is a war in your world. You must know how to write for yourself this world. How is the world? What is the developement level of the civilizations there? Who are the characters? Is the war already started? Who started it? What heroic things happened during the war? And before?

You must be capable of writing all of this to you, on an informal and clear style. But with this you must be capable of stablishing ways to play the game, feelings you want the users to have, the visuals and the sound. The experience.

So I think that you don't need way too many writing skills but creativity and be able to see, hear, or touch what you are building when writing. Other kind of literature in videogames is just lazyness.

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Everything Amadeus said, but there's a pitfall if the story tells the person playing a character something about the character that means they relate to them less.

["Jack Bauer thinks a person under physical duress will tell him the truth rather than what he wants to hear? The idiot. I'm done with him."]

If you can avoid that, the quality and depth of the writing will make the game much more appealing.

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Generally speaking it doesn't really matter much. Unless the story directly impacts the decisions players are making in your game, you're better off sticking with a generic "they're the red team and we hate the red team!!" background story.

It's easier for you and the people playing it won't be annoyed by having to skip through pages of meaningless text.

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Many games have extensive backstories, but do not actually use words to tell the player about them. They rather represent the story in form of game mechanics, the design of the environment and game entities and in form of scripted events.

For example, imagine this player-experience:

The player walks through a city. There are piles of rubble on the streets. Many buildings are damaged by scorch marks and bullet holes. Some are just ruins. People in ragged clothes walk through the streets. Their gait is slow and ducked. There are flags with an emblem everywhere, but in contrast to the rundown city the flags look clean and undamaged. There are armed men in dark uniforms standing at every corner. Their poses are dominant and intimidating. They have the same emblem on their chest as the player sees on the flag.

The player passes a group of civilians standing with their hands at a wall, surrounded by a group of uniformed men. One of the uniformed men frisks the civilians. When the player approaches, one of the uniformed men pushes the player away. When the player approaches again, they attack the player.

How much backstory is in that game segment? A lot. There was a war going on, and it was ugly. This city was recently occupied, and now the citizens are facing an oppressing regime. They are suffering.

How many words are used to tell the backstory? Zero. It's all told through visuals and mechanics. The development team might have an extensive backstory section in their design document which explains what happened in great detail, but the players never reads a word from it. The purpose of that document is to help the developers to keep the narrative of the game consistent.

  • Completely agree. I would go in this direction as well, telling the story thru' design. – Bhupen Oct 5 '17 at 12:59

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