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Zennith

Telling a story while the player plays

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Faith in the reader is essential when writing; The story is a collaboration between the author's words and the reader's imagination. Everything could be described in such minute detail that nothing is left to misinterpretation, but then nothing would be left to the imagination. Better to leave some details unspecified and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. Telling a story through a game seems impossible because we can't control everything that appears on screen without controlling every action the player makes. We don't need that sort of control. Just as some details can be left to the discretion of the reader, so, too, can some be left to the player. By establishing only the details essential to story and leaving all others to be settled by the player through gameplay, a game designer can maintain control of the story while giving the player the freedom to play.

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You can't always force a player to travel the path you want them to follow for a story to emerge, but many of the best stories in games that I've come across use at least a little coercion to manipulate the player into the right circumstances. By a few clever tricks and intriguing movements, one can move the player to where he must go, while seeming to leave all other options open.

This requires a collaboration of level design, scripted events, and a good knowledge of the player's state of mind, however. If misread to a certain degree, the player will completely miss the detail you're trying to put across and lose the golden path. If done correctly, however, the story of the game can be told through all events in the game, not just having gameplay elements between cinematic sequences simply for the sake of having gameplay elements.

The assumption that one cannot control the player through the experience is the downfall of many single player experiences. The player will pick up on this and make the conclusion that, aside from the cinematic sequences and scripted events in the game, there is no plot to drive the actions they're asked to perform. Understand the mind of your player, however, and you can tell any story you wish within that timespan.

The main point is that, once you set the proper mood with your player through earlier events and experiences, the player has a 95% chance of having the same mindset no matter who you're dealing with. At that point, you have your audience cornered without even their knowledge.

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Quote:
Original post by Zennith
Everything could be described in such minute detail that nothing is left to misinterpretation, but then nothing would be left to the imagination. Better to leave some details unspecified and trust the reader to fill in the blanks.


That implies that it is possible to describe every detail, that there are only so many details a story can possibly have. I don't think that's true. I think that, even if you spent hundreds of pages describing a single room, there would still be some aspect of it you hadn't described which the reader could imagine.

So instead of worrying about not leaving anything for the reader to imagine, it would make a lot more sense to worry about describing enough that the reader has a solid foundation to imagine from. An easy way to break a reader's suspension of disbelief is to let a reader imagine something one way and assume that it's the same way you imagine it, when in fact readers have different tastes, and make all kinds of random associations because they have different memories to draw on than you.

It is especially important to describe everything thoroughly in the first 5 pages of a story so you can immerse the reader in your story world and then have a controlled start point to begin telling your story from. Establishing shots in the beginning of a movie or game use visuals or a combination of visuals and narration to accomplish the same effect.

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I wasn't talking about seperating gameplay from story! That's one thing that I abhor. Instead, I meant that the story teller decides what the player does, and the player decides how he does it. This is already done. Take FF6/3, for example - you have no choice but to fight Kefka. You can't try to reason with him, can't decide to let him take over the world, or do anything other than attempt to kick his butt. Despite the fact that you're forced into this, it really doesn't feel restricting, because you can still decide how you fight him - will you summon Ifrit? Use Cure this turn or the next? By leaving those smaller details up to the player, there's still a chance to play even as an important event of the story is unfolding - the defeat of Kefka.

Some details change the course of the story. These should definately be laid out by the story teller, not be left to the reader (or player). But some are so minor that they are not worth mention, yet the reader might supply them anyway. Say you describe a businessman - he's a minor character, so you don't go into much depth. You don't even specify the color of his suit. But one reader clearly pictures a grey suit in her mind, because this character is kind like her father and he always wore grey suits. Her own mind supplied a better detail for her than the author could have. It was important that the man wear a business suit and not, say, Bermuda shorts. But the color could be left up to the readers.

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