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Background:

I'm creating a story for a video game--it's set in a cyberpunk, futuristic setting, and it has many flows, one of its flows is that the story is so complicated and novelized, that it became almost impossible to adapt in an RPG game.

The kind of complication I'm talking about is that every arc is very different, and talks about very different minor stories (war, giant evil corporations, technology, crime, hatred, family, memories..etc) without a master topic, and that makes it so un-digestible.

Question(s):

  • What suits a game (in terms of writing styles)?
  • Can complicated and novelized stories be good for games?
  • Is it okay to foreshadow many elements of the story to make it simpler, and use references to those foreshadowed elements to fill-in the gaps?

Notes:

  • I'm a software developer and I know much about technology and the science behind them that it makes it hard for me to imagine things without creating a realistic base for them, and in-turn makes the story more static and (much) less dynamic.
  • I haven't written a story for a game before (not in any professional way).
  • I am now lost and can't think of better ways to plot the story and make dynamic.
  • I would appreciate any references, books, or stories / novels to read.
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Your description makes me think of Bioware games: the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises. Both explore multiple themes throughout each game, involve multiple cultures - the things you mention. Dragon Age in particular offers the player the opportunity to pick the culture they belong to. This different starting point is meaningful throughout the game (you'd see the world differently if you're a prince or if you're a member of the lowest caste, right?). I would very much recommend you play through both those franchises, to get an idea of what kind of stories games can tell.

A particular element Bioware's games are notable for is that the player gets to make choices, and those choices have an impact on the game. For example, you might get to pick whether to assist one faction get justified vengeance on another, or get the two to reconcile. Those choices have repercussions later.

In order to offer the player choices, you would need to look into . In essence, you would need to decide what choices the player has, and how each option would affect further gameplay.

Another element of storytelling in videogames is that the story is not necessarily told in a linear order. That is, the player might need to visit places A, B and C, but they can do so in whatever order they choose. For you as a storyteller, this means that A, B, and C are each a self-contained story, where the player would learn something and acquire something that's relevant to the overarching larger story.

To write that effectively, you would need to write stories within stories within stories, drop hints to one story inside another. A, B and C, while separate, would have to belong in the same world, be affected by the same overarching forces, elements in each might foreshadow the others, or assist in solving them.

Finally, consider the NPCs your player would be interacting with. Most videogames offer the PC "companions" - NPC friends. The PC interacts with those friends, gets to know them better. For each companion, you would have to have a story - a story that ties into the larger stories of the game, and that the player can help resolve. In addition to being "yet more stories for you to write", this is a powerful tool: the companions can organically introduce various elements of the world to the PC, and to the player. Also, the NPCs' stories offer the player a more personal stake in the conflicts of the game world. A threat to some random planet, for instance, feels considerably different from a threat to the home planet of an NPC who's been your PC's best friend for three games.

To sum up, think of a game not as one story, but as many stories that when put together, tell one bigger story. You need to be looking not only at the big picture, but at the smaller ones. A novel is not a good model for writing a videogame: first, it doesn't offer choices, branches that the player might take. In a novel, there's only one path forwards. Second, the narration of a novel is linear: chapter 1 is followed by chapter 2, which in turn is followed by chapter 3. A videogame would usually allow more flexibility, and you need to account for that.

  • I only imagine "NieR: Automata" when reading your answer. – Suhail Alhegry Nov 4 '18 at 21:06
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Here's some thoughts, I tried to write something cohesive but no dice today.

If you have multiple storylines told from the perspective of different characters then you have two options:

  1. tell separate first person narratives.

  2. tell a single third person narrative with multiple points of focus.

Either one of which can be problematic if you don't make good transitions between points of focus/character POVs, doubly so if you don't have an overarching connection between the stories. These two options will look fairly similar but the tenses and language used will differ.

For a game with a completely linear main quest line, like Fable for example, novelisation is fine, to a point; RPG games, as a rule, have multiple ways to play what is ultimately a single storyline. In which case you'd only be writing one way of getting through the game, one set of choices that a player could make to get from beginning to end.

A complex plot can help to disguise the fact that the story is "on rails" by switching between the various viewpoints and subplots thus suggesting progress on multiple different fronts rather than the reality of a single story being told by various characters.

  • Oh, thank you so much for the feedback...hmm, let's say that I have made the main plots (two of them) in two separate timelines, and accessing the "older' timeline in the latter timeline is a feature in the game, how can I possibly create a flow of events that is interesting but keep the complexity of the story?..Do I even have to? – Suhail Alhegry Nov 4 '18 at 19:02
  • @SuhailAlhegry Have a look at the pen & paper RPG Fireborn it has elements of cross-timeline gameplay that may be of some use to you. – Ash May 12 at 12:53
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Write In Layers

Most everyone gets stuck when all the details pour in. Our minds quickly jump from one point to the next very quickly and make it all feel so complex.

My advice is to first, think of the high level story summary and then drill down into details.

Create A Summary

I think taking a look at some of the older text-based adventure games can be very helpful here, because you can focus on subjects.

Here's a great example of (I think) a very interesting story. I played this game long ago on a C128. Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare*

**Note*: This is not a horror story. It is really a technological story.

Here's the summary from wikipedia:

The player's character has been embedded within a facility that controls vital systems, such as moving public transportation belts and weather control, for an Earth-settled planet called Contra. During the player's five-hundred-year tenure, the player would normally be kept in stasis while his sleeping mind serves as the Central Mentality for the largely self-maintaining systems. As the game opens, however, he is awakened by severe error messages; something is going wrong. The facility has suffered catastrophic damage from an earthquake, and the Filtering Computers are shutting down or becoming dangerously unstable. The inhabitants of the city assume that the Central Mentality has gone insane and is purposely harming the city, as a previous CM had done. The player's task is to repair the damage and restore the systems to normal states before a crew arrives at the facility to "disconnect" his mind, killing him, to be replaced with a clone.

From there the player has control over six robots which she can control mentally. Each of the robots has different abilities and require different types of communication. It's quite interesting.

Draw Reader/Players Into Desiring More Detail

Notice how the nice summary and ideas pull you into wanting more detail? That's what you want to do with your story.

Other Interactive Fiction

See other interactive fiction works for more examples:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zork
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadline_(video_game) - detective mystery
  • Interesting, I might try to read / play those games..but they seem to be simpler than what I'm talking about...I'm talking about a couple of different timelines, different cultural raises, and different subjects...I already have a summary of the story, and it's a fairly complicated summary to begin with. It's tightly coupled and not very easy to simplify. – Suhail Alhegry Nov 4 '18 at 19:15
  • @user63650 Interesting. It may be that you've created something so complicated that you never allow yourself to create the complete production. That will be part of creative challenge to keep in mind so you don't get overwhelmed. However, I think it is great that you've decided to create a goal that is so huge. – raddevus Nov 4 '18 at 20:29
  • Thanks..for the compliment...I guess. – Suhail Alhegry Nov 4 '18 at 20:59

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