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Gimmick and Story

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Well okay, since nobody has requested any other genre descriptions, I'll move on. If you are using this journal as a how-to for starting your game design, you have presumably now chosen your gameplay genre and worked up a features wishlist. Is any of these a brilliant original feature that you thought up previously? If so, you may already have a gimmick.

What is a gimmick (aka a hook)? This is the seling point of your game, what you can write about on the back of the box to get people excited enough to buy it. 'Customizable appearance', 'digital DNA', 'fly your own space shuttle', 'a billion unique combinations', 'emotional response AI', 'a vivid, unique fantasy universe', blah blah blah... if you think back, you can probably recall seeing thousands of these little soundbites for one game or the other. If you have a few of these for your game you can use them to help keep your design process focused towards these goals, and you can also use them to pitch your idea to potential team members. Many people think of advertising as evil, but it's really just trying to communicate enthusiasm - you love your great idea, you have to show other people what's so great about it and hopefully they'll fall in love with it too. (If you don't love your idea you have no business trying to get a team to produce it - go back to the drawing board.)

So, some gimmicks are part of the gameplay, but others are part of the story. And, conveniently enough, we have arrived at the point in the game design process where I recommend starting to work on the story.

If you are not a writer and do not have a writer partner yet, try asking yourself the following questions before you place a helpwanted ad. If you are a writer and you don't have an idea yet, use these questions to help you narrow your focus. If you are a writer and you already have a brilliant idea, it should be easy for you to answer these questions about it.

1) What literary genres are your story? I say 'genres', plural, because most games will have a trope genre (science fiction, fantasy, gothic, punk, western, realism, historical, war, sports, political) and a plot genre (romance, comedy, tragedy, action, mythic, mystery, suspense, horror, psychodrama, drama, melodrama). Many games will have more than two genres. You could perfectly well have a story whose genres are 'western-science fiction-punk (aka steampunk) romance-comedy-action'. So, what kind of story genres would you like your game to have? Please don't limit yourself to my lists here, they are not complete. Think of the kinds of movies you like to watch and books you like to read - what genres are they?

Note: Some of the story's genres are more important than others; if the romance is only a subplot, you wouldn't refer to it as 'a romance-X', but rather as 'an X with romance elements', or something like that. Remember that clarity, while always important in communication, is absolutely vital in trying to get two people to share a vision and work together to create it, which is what you're trying to do as a game designer with a partner or other team members.

2) What is your setting? If you picked 'historical' as one of your genres, when and where in history? If you picked 'fantasy', describe what makes this fantasy world different than Earth, and where it is in relation to Earth if it is possible to travel between the two. Choose a limit for your game world - one planet, one country, one city, even one building. Big settings are for epic and mythic stories involving travelling, quests, wars; small settings are for personal stories with more intensity and an emphasis on psychology and emotion. If you have two worlds in your story make sure that you answer this question separately for each of them and develop them seperately when you do your worldbuilding and concept art, otherwise they won't each look and feel unique. If your story has locations that have ethnic appearances or atmospheres, what what cultures are these from? If you are making up one or more original cultures, what are their characteristics that make them perfect for setting your story in?

2b) While we're at it, what's your time scale? Action and suspense stories often take place in as little as 6 hours of story time, while romances or sports tournaments may take weeks, and a heroic quest or a war may take a year. Sim games often take many years, but it's difficult to write any story that can maintain a reader's interest when stretched out that long - a better approach if you wanted a sim game with story might be to write lots of little stories or missions and have years pass in between them. Do you know anything else about the time period? Is the length of time until a bomb explodes or some other critical event happens? What time of day is it whan the story starts? When the climax happens? When the story ends?

3) Who is your main character? You don't have to know his/her name - what you have to know is the unique ability that makes them perfect to be the main character of this story. This might be a physical ability (in which case it's probably also a gimmick), it might be a physical trait such as being the heir to something or other, bearing the royal birthmark, or resembling another character enough that you can have an identity mix up, or it might be a personality trait such as courage, cowardice, persistance, ambition, open-mindedness, risk-taking-ness, etc. Abilities go with action stories, physical traits often go with comedies or gothics, and personality traits go with psychological stories.

If you are not a writer, that's probably enough for you to advertise for a writer who can do what you want. If you are a writer, oh we have barely scratched the surface. ;) I mentioned, many entries ago, that I am the moderator of the writing forum, and you may have known this fact before glancing at this journal. But I'd like to take a moment to explain who I am and where I'm coming from in terms of writing before I start telling you how to write your story.

I have a B.A. in English, with focuses on fiction, publishing, and literary theory including linguistics and comparative mythology. I have studied types of fiction from oral mythology and the most primitive written tales up to postmodern novels. I have also studied evolutionary psychology, sociology, and anthropology. I read mostly science fiction, fantasy, and manga, and I have been writing for 10 years now. But, I have never professionally published anything. :( This is mainly a result of the fact that I only write novel-length work and I am bad at plotting which often hinders me from finishing any of these large projects, and also that I split my time between a lot of other hobbies such as writing non-fiction and drawing concept art. But, I am currently working on a romance novel called _Learning To Kiss Dragons_ for which I have great hopes. So if I am lucky and persistant perhaps I will be able to publish that in 2007 or so. o.O *sigh* Or maybe someone will hire me to write the story for the romance RPG I described in my previous entry? *looks around hopefully*

If you happen to want to read a sample of my writing, some is available on the internet. :) Most of them are incomplete, a lot of them are gay romances, a few of them are erotica you should be 18 to read, and some are fanfiction that wouldn't make much sense unless you'd seen the original movies or anime series. o.O I have some song lyrics and poetry around also.

So here are links and descriptions of some of my pieces of fiction:

_Shapers and Shaped_ - Short, G-rated MMORPG creation story

_Jessop's Story_ - Furry alien children start going to kindergarden. ^_^ Rated pg-13. 7 1/2 chapters, somewhat fragmentary.

_Hearts Or Nello_ - Complete! ^_^ Cute little historical bisexual romance arranged marriage story. Rated PG-15 for discussion of bisexuality, but really very innocent. Not actually the sequal to _Jessop's Story_, even though the characters have mostly the same names.

_As the Moon Loves the Sun_ - Lord of the Rings fanfic with the pairing Faramir/Grima Wormtongue/Eowyn Rated PG-15 for discussion of homosexuality, but no explicit sex. Complete, but with a sequel intended but never written.

***Stuff below this point is only for readers over 18!***

_Facepaint_ - My personal favorite of everything I have written. Fanfic for the anime series Fushigi Yuugi, rated NC-17 for explicit homosexual sex among other things. 10 chapters, ongoing

_Uke On Top_ - Script for an original historical anime, rated NC-17 for homosexual sex and attempted suicide. About 85% complete. Drawings of these characters are available if you are interested.

_Howl Together_ - OMG heterosexual sex?! Did I really write this? ;) A twist on the idea of werewolves. Rated NC-17 for explicit heterosexual sex and beastiality. 2 chapters.

Please let me know if you have a problem opening any of the files, or, as usual, if you have noticed anything incorrect or incomplete in this journal entry, or have requests for future entries. The next few entries will probably all be about writing the story.
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