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Battagline

Finding the hook

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I think it's a difficult balance to introduce a player to a story in a game, and at the same time introduce the player to the game and the game play. What I've noticed is that early on players are much more intersted in just learning the game than they are reading a story. After playing for a while they tend to get into it. Currently I'm reworking my game to take this into account, having the story much lighter and less in depth in the beginning. Is anyone else having a similar issue? What are some steps you can take, to help introduce the player to the storyline of the game, but at the same time actually introduce them to the game play?

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That's interesting, I would think it would be the other way around - that players would want immediate immersion in the story, then a slow and gentle introduction to the gameplay via one or more training levels. Of course you can't just dump them into the middle of the story. You have to start out with an interesting but simple to understand situation so the player can figure out what role they are supposed to play, give the player a chance to learn a little of the game mechanics and complete an objective, and the completion of this objective should alter the initial situation, giving you the opportunity to add complication to the story, setting the stage for a more complicated gameplay lesson, etc.

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I think our initial trouble is we started out with way way way too much to read (Which is actually how it is at the moment, I still need to put in the new version of the dialog). A lot of people have told me that there is just way too much at the beginning to read and usually skip it. It's been kind of hard to get people into the story and the game play at the same time. Our new strategy is going to basically ease them into both.

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Engagement

It is a sign that your game and story are not integrated when someone complains that there is too much story in the beginning. The reason that your 'story' is 'too much' is because the content of your story has no immediate effect on how the player will play the game. When the player is reading the story, the player may be thinking, 'where is the fastforward button? I don't think I need to know this to play the game.'

Quote:
Our new strategy is going to basically ease them into both.
This is vague statement. I assume that you understand that there is supply and demand of information. Your situation occurs because your supply of information exceeds the player's demand. It is obvious that there are only two catagories of solutions: to decrease the supply, or to increase the player's demand. Of the two options, to increase demand is the more logical choice because it promotes exchange, which is engagement--the true meaning of being hooked.

You want the player to feel that he has dived into your game world that is full of new and interesting features that he wants to explore. The duty of the first hour of the game is to distinguish your design from the others. Your objective is to make the player's mind goes wild thinking about the possibilities that the new features may entail.

But the deeper issue remains that your design is not integrated. In an integratd design, the role of a story is not to introduce the gameplay and the situation, and the gameplay is not just to let the player play out the situations of the storyline. The story is not just the explanations, and the game is not just the decisions and actions. The situation that you are facing does not exist for integrated designs. This is not something that can be easily fixed after the begining of the development.

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I appreciate you opinion, but I think your oversimplifying. Some people don't like it when a game and story are overly "integrated". There are people who play a game that do so for the story, and there are those that insist that games shouldn't even have stories. Trying to appease both factions is rather difficult. I think that most people don't start playing a game and immediately read all the text presented to them. Most people don't start out by reading any text at all... even instructions. If say 50% of the people who play a game won't read any of the text presented to them (I've actually read this number is much higher, but I can't remember where) how can one possibly integrate a story tightly with the game play and not loose players. Perhaps if you provided some examples of games the in your opinion had a well integrated story line and game play it may be helpful.

Thanks

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its pretty simple actualy....remove everything from the begining story that has nothing to do directly with the first 20 minutes or so of gameplay.

If players start off in a barn, surrounded by animals, and in the first 20 minutes they are expected to simply venture out and talk to the locals...well they don't realy need to know the history of the previous 2,000 years, what the king ate for breakfast, and whom/what the prince is screwing around with...

Now you may have written a huge backstory inorder to explain the game world and all that..but that is a backstory, at best it may be interesting, and you have a right to be proud of makeing such an effort...but sorry, the backstory isn't the important stuff...you know, the real story, where the game begins.

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Re:

The difference between an integrated design and a non-integrated design is the relationship between the story and the game. In an integrated design, the story and the game are not elements that partition the resources or the attention of the player. The default channel of story telling in a game design is gameplay, not text.

This is the analogy, if the design is a film, and the player is the actor:

For a non-integrated design, the actor is given the script first. The actor memorizes the lines and then performs on the stage when the director says 'action!'

For an integrated design, there are no lines to memorize. The director simply design the sets and provide the actor with materials to be in-character, where the lines are improvised. To design an integrated design is to design the stages and interaction environment that maximizes the player's involvement in the context.


Example of integrated design:
Random words:
[groom = a man or boy employed to take care of horses]
[menopause = the cessation of menstruation, occurring usu. between the ages of 45 and 55]
[Reckless = heedless or careless]

One-minute inference:
This is a horse racing game that revolves around a the stable boy and a reckless racing horse during menopause. Due to an uncanny resemblance to another design, I am just goint to show the old design:

This is a game about racing, where there are two main characters--the designer (Case) and the racer (Frequency). The designer is an analytical jerk that doesn't care about anything but the competition, while the racer is an impulsive and unpredictable freak. For the jerk, the race is just about the price money and/or some other selfish reasons. For the freak, the race has a spiritual meaning about the search of stability. The primary driving forces include the conflict between the violent nature of the race and the search for peace, and the conflict between the walking on the edge of a relationship to secure a relationship. The primary integration is the mutual influence between the designs and the performances, which reflect respectively the thoughts of the jerk and the freak.

You have seen conversations through dialogues or letters, through music and paintings. This is an adaptation where a conversation of visions and thoughts presented through designs and executions.


Story-telling is not a defining feature of games. This topic applies to cases when you want it to tell a story.

A story is an abstraction that has no intrinsic relation to text. A picture (not talking about comics or scenes) can tell a story. A piece of instrumental music (not talking about sound effects) can tell a story. A game can tell a story. On its own. A game that uses only text to present the story is as dumb as a movie that films the flipping script.

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Why can't storytelling be a defining feature of games? If storytelling is a defining feature of such diverse media as movies, novels, comic books, and poetry, nothing prevents it from being a defining feature of games if the designer wants it to be. Look at text-adventure games and card games such as Once Upon a Time - there's practically nothing there _except_ story.

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Original post by MSW
its pretty simple actualy....remove everything from the begining story that has nothing to do directly with the first 20 minutes or so of gameplay.


This is actually the strategy we are moving to, but I do think a good story and back story can be worked into a game effectively. Striking a balance is difficult and I'm looking for strategies to improve it. SC2 is my favorite game of all time and it has an exceptionally deep story that it does a very good job of weaning you into as a player. It also has an extremely large set of back stories that are told on tangents to the game story.

I do believe these stories add a great deal of interest to that game specifically, and I think it's comercial success and fan base that has survived 12 years after it's release are tributes to its stories, and back stories more so than the game play.

I need to go back and play it again for some ideas.


Quote:
Original post by Estok
For a non-integrated design, the actor is given the script first. The actor memorizes the lines and then performs on the stage when the director says 'action!'

For an integrated design, there are no lines to memorize. The director simply design the sets and provide the actor with materials to be in-character, where the lines are improvised. To design an integrated design is to design the stages and interaction environment that maximizes the player's involvement in the context.


This all seems rather abstract to me (I apologize for my lack of vision). I would really like a concrete existing game (preferably one that was a comercial success) example of how to "integrate" a design. Do you know of a specific game that uses this approach successfully. How do they apply that approach to the game to successfully integrate it. Your Actor / Director metaphor is interesting, but I'm a software engineer... not a director or actor, so I need an example that's a little more applicable to what I'm doing (sorry I'm a bit slow).

Thanks, this thread has been very helpful to me [smile]

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Quote:
Original post by OrangyTang
Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Why can't storytelling be a defining feature of games?

Because then it wouldn't be a game, it'd be a movie?


An interactive movie or interactive book is a valid type of game.

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Quote:
Original post by MSW
its pretty simple actualy....remove everything from the begining story that has nothing to do directly with the first 20 minutes or so of gameplay.


Where does suspense come from then? You create suspense in the audience's minds by giving them a rumor they can't immediately investigate, a question they can't immediately answer, or a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit anywhere yet.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Where does suspense come from then? You create suspense in the audience's minds by giving them a rumor they can't immediately investigate, a question they can't immediately answer, or a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit anywhere yet.


The topic from a PC gamer's point of view:

It seems to me like the kind of flow you're envisioning would fit quite well into an RPG or a story intensive adventure game. However, lots of gamers, such as myself, are more geared towards action games with concentration on the gameplay.

Yes, an interactive movie is a valid type of game, but for some of us, not valid enough. There is a desire for faster, more complex control which makes playing the game more exciting. Those that desire this level of control would rather watch a movie than play a game where the juicy part of the game, the story (cut scenes, dialog, etc.), is interrupted by boring gameplay with little substance.

Battagline needs to gear this towards his intended audience.

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I think it entirely depends on the kind of game you are writing the story for.

An FPS, tends to be quite linear so you can trickle the story as much or as little as you like, but you have to be aware that too much exposition takes away from the gameplay.

For an MMO on the other hand, you may want to keep the MAIN story arc as wide as possible, to allow players to form their own stories and conlusions as they play. For this kind of genre your really setting up the starting point of the story - but not ending it.


I think the key is always immersion. The story has to be immersive no matter what, and straying away from that to satisfy your story-telling needs will ultimatly screw things up.

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Re: "Defining Feature"

A defining feature is a property that the subject MUST HAVE. A game does not need to tell a story to be a game, therefore story-telling is not a defining feature. I am not talking about anything deep here. Interaction is an example of defining feature of games. For once_upon_a_time, it is a game not because it has a story, but because there is the element of interaction, which is a defining feature.

I believe that this is just a misunderstanding. This is just definition, this is not a topic suitable for debate, because there is no substance to discuss. So I don't expect any reply to this.


Re: Integrated Designs
Quote:
This all seems rather abstract to me (I apologize for my lack of vision). I would really like a concrete existing game (preferably one that was a comercial success) example of how to "integrate" a design. Do you know of a specific game that uses this approach successfully. How do they apply that approach to the game to successfully integrate it. Your Actor / Director metaphor is interesting, but I'm a software engineer... not a director or actor, so I need an example that's a little more applicable to what I'm doing (sorry I'm a bit slow).


I haven't talked about make a design to become 'integrated'. The discussion is not about turning a design that is not integrated to become integrated. It is just about what an integrated design is. I am not up-to-date on current games, so I can't give you examples of highly integrated designs. But you should be able to compare the integration of different designs (in terms of story and the game). Pick any two games from the same genre, and rate them on your gut feeling on their integration. If you can see that one is better in terms of integration than the other, then you are ready to improve your own design.

There are symptoms when a design is not well-integrated (although haven't them does not necessarily mean that the design is not integrated)
- You find yourself wanting to skip the 'story'
- You find that you are 'doing the quest' just so that you can get item x
- You find that none of the 'quests' have any influence among one another
- You find that how you achieve a 'mission' has no effect whatsoever on the story
- You find that your PC's abilities, although related to the game world, have no relation to the story
- You find that your 'ending cutscenes' do not summarize the actual emotion of the player as they went through the 'mission'.

You should be able to get a really long list of complains, based on the prespective of a participant, not an audience.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Quote:
Original post by MSW
its pretty simple actualy....remove everything from the begining story that has nothing to do directly with the first 20 minutes or so of gameplay.


Where does suspense come from then? You create suspense in the audience's minds by giving them a rumor they can't immediately investigate, a question they can't immediately answer, or a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit anywhere yet.


And where did I say that can't be done in an game intro?

Now maybe in your game there are several nobelmen actively plotting to overthrow the king. The king has turned his back on the population, and the nobelmen try what they can to help. But this info isn't important for the first 20 minutes of gameplay - so there is no reason to go into such detail when a simple "there is trouble in the kingdom" not only gets the point across, but sets up the mystery you speak of.

Remember this thread is only about the initial game story intro that happens before players start playing...the first 20 minutes of playing the game could interactively allow players to learn much of your backstory and all that if you so wish...and remember video games can be as visual as films, pictures tell a thousand words...the openings to the Indiana Jones films, and James Bond flick don't have text describeing what is going on. they use the economy of visuals to do just that...and even then the big mysteries of the story arn't important untill later.

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Quote:
Original post by Estok
I am not up-to-date on current games, so I can't give you examples of highly integrated designs. But you should be able to compare the integration of different designs (in terms of story and the game). Pick any two games from the same genre, and rate them on your gut feeling on their integration. If you can see that one is better in terms of integration than the other, then you are ready to improve your own design.


Surely you must have played a game at some point in time that you consider to have a well integrated design. I don't care how old it is, I've been playing games for 25 years or so, so unless it pre-dates the Atari 2600, there's at least a chance I've heard of it [wink]. If I've never heard of it, then I can google for it and at least get a feel for what the game is like.

When I first start to play a game I ALWAYS want to skip the story until I've played it for a little while. Once I've figured the game out, I usually want to read more about what'g going on. This is just me, it seems there are several types of game players, but what I'm attempting to accomplish is to write a game (it happens to be an rpg) that is rather action oriented relative to many rpgs, and has a story that people can either choose to follow, or if they would prefer just ignore. My hope is that people who are not initially interested in reading the story in the game eventually get sucked into it. This has happened to me in several games I've played... Star Control 2, Diablo, Diablo 2. I've started out just playing them and not reading anything said, just skipping through all the dialog, but after a while I start to read and really get into the story.

Anyway, this is my hope for my game.

Thanks for the info [smile]

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Examples of integrated designs

- Romance of the three kingdom series from koei (to a degree)
- Black and white (this was an integrated design, but at the same time it was so boring that I stopped after a short while)
- I am not up-to-date with mecha games, but I am pretty sure that Gundam series with missions (as opposed to the FPS/Fighting breeds) are highly integrated.
- Kingdom's heart, it seemed integrated in the beginning based on impression
- MUDs are fully integrated. But in general we don't need to talk about them due to their bias for the player to create content.


Re: Integrated Design

By definition, you cannot 'skip the story' in an integrated design. It would be like starting a baseball game without a pitcher. There is an interactive component that starts the game, from which the player begins to experience the story. Skipping the story is skipping the game.

I understand that you are speaking based on your experience, but having a story in a game does not imply having text for the player to read. In the context where the story is displayed through text:


"When I first start to play a game I ALWAYS want to skip the story until I've played it for a little while"

This is a sign that the story presentation is a failure. In order to understand this, you need to think about a movie that can immobilize you since its first minute. The function of the begining is to create anticipation and to define the potential energy between the player and the game. It is like swithcing the magnetic field, gravitational accelerations, and all the forces that draw you into it. By design, the player will never want to skip the beginning 'story', even if it is presented in text. You need to know that those designs failed in terms of presentation.


"Once I've figured the game out, I usually want to read more about what'g going on."

This property stays in integrated designs.


"This is just me, it seems there are several types of game players, but what I'm attempting to accomplish is to write a game (it happens to be an rpg) that is rather action oriented relative to many rpgs, and has a story that people can either choose to follow, or if they would prefer just ignore."

This is in the catagory of information discrimination. The simplest implementation of this is the hint button. In an integrated design, the 'hint' component is manifested as an in-game element, think the suit in Halo, that provides information when the player wants it. Or, in a strategy game, you can optional select an advisor to discuss strategies (as in Romance of the three kingdoms). Moogle from FF is in this department. RPGs in general have books and monuments lying around for this purpose.


"My hope is that people who are not initially interested in reading the story in the game eventually get sucked into it."

To further support this, you can introduce a diary type component that logs the events in case the player wants to go back and understand more about the past that he had already gone through. As long as your game itself is sufficiently enjoyable and the underlying story is not too dumb, this effect is free. There is almost no effort needed to achieve this effect, except the optional hint that the information is available somewhere. It is like after playing chess for awhile you want to know the history of it. This property resides on the curiosity to unexplained customs. So as long as the player realizes that he is getting familiar to something strange, you get this effect for free. You can really easily support this by introducing curious patterns, such as having selected enemies that drop items from a distinctive set.

For example, a patlabor ARPG game can begin with a fighting scene where a labor that had broken loose had just knocked you into the rumble. As the pilot (you) struggle to retain consciousness, the pilot had overlapping flashbacks on during his training on piloting the suit, while his partner is engaged to the suspect in the background. It comes to the moment where your partner had restrained the suspect, and you are suppose to shoot it.

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