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Have setting, need story

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I've been thinking of game ideas for awhile now, trying to find one that grabs me enough to get me through the process of making it. I really want to finish a good game (though it would be my first) and I understand I'm going to need a lot of drive to keep me on it, hence my search for a good idea that really gets me burning. My current idea is that of a setting. I've been playing Morrowind and now Oblivion, and was looking at a webpage walkthrough with screenshots of Riven, and played Myst way back when and so combining my favorite elements in my head I have a rather moody and interesting setting. Physically, it is a volcanic lagoon from a sunken dormant volcano in a vast body of water (big enough you can't see a far shore from the lagoon anywhere). The seas outside the lagoon are rough and inside is bright blue and calm. The lagoon is very deep as it is the caldera of the volcano. There are black sand beaches on the inner ring of the lagoon from erosion of the caldera edge and rough cliffs with very little beach on the outside edge. There are structures on this lagoon reminiscent of the dwemer buildings in Morrowind. (If you haven't played it, its heavy on the use of copper alloy colored metals, rivets, and steam pipes, but has a beautiful elegance to it.) There is a tower in the middle of the lagoon that goes all the way down to the bottom of the caldera/lagoon. It is a high thick cylinder shaped tower with a mining shaft down the middle. The power for the whole island is geothermal steam based maybe with steam turbine derived electricity for lighting and simple electric devices. The structures are all constructed from materials mined from the volcano and so there are many many catacomb like tunnels under the land in the sides and especially deep int he caldera. All of the above is for the player to explore during the game, how and why I'm not sure yet. I am pretty sure there will be a minimum of people in the game besides the player. This is mostly to keep it simple for me; I don't have the resources for my own Oblivion. I want a cross though between Oblivion and Myst with puzzles to solve (though easier and more straight forward and somewhat fewer) but also things to fight and kill. I want there to be an RPG like system of character development and that needs a world ripe for its use; Myst is not such a world. My current priority though is this, figuring out a story that fits into and compliments this dark lagoon world of mine. Stories can be told many ways and can be bend a bit to fit different varieties of gameplay, but I don't dare make a story *after* gameplay or I'll have a crap story, or all new gameplay to make for sure. SO.... What ideas for stories did that second paragraph give you?

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Quote:
Original post by JasRonq
but I don't dare make a story *after* gameplay or I'll have a crap story

So you'd rather design gameplay around a story and have crap gameplay?

A story is not a game, and until you know how you want the player to interact with your world what is the point of "explaining" it with some elaborate story? It will be 10x easier to come up with a story concept if you at least know the basic interactions: you say you want combat... does that mean melee weapons, martial arts, guns, magic spells? By puzzles, do you mean Myst-style logic puzzles, Zelda style environmental puzzles, or Deus Ex style problem solving puzzles? You want character development: what kind of development, and why?

Answer these questions and you'll at least know where to start: for example, if you want gunplay then the enemies will need to be able to shoot as well. That would help you characterize the enemies. If you decide on Myst-style logic puzzles it helps give you direction, because you'd need to then figure out why the environment is filled with all these arbitrary puzzles ("Super Villain" base, his name is The Puzzler, styled after The Incredibles?)

Just because you know what kind of game you want to make doesn't mean you'll have a crap story: in fact, gameplay can (and should) help you write your story. Gameplay is very flexible and you can shape it to fit your story once you have them both "in place". Story is not so flexible... it's hard to change something in the middle without creating a plot hole... so your gameplay will probably suffer for having been forced into a pre-written story.

Good luck!

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I'd be more than happy to help create a story for your game, but I'm curious about one thing. Is it a setting you have (Like D&D's Forgotten Realms or White Wolf's World of Darkness) or just a physical location you've imagined? Have you decided if you want the world to have technology so that there are guns in your game or would their be magic the player could use? Give me some more detail on what you want for your setting and I'd love to work with you. Shoot me a PM or IM me on Aim at Umbral Platypus.

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This is becoming my template reply lately here, but I feel that most people having problems to think of "a story" are actually afraid that what they originally had in mind would be terribly bland, unoriginal, cliche, or something similar. Just don't.

1) You're making a game, not writing a fantasy novel - which is a huge difference in itself. Even in writing, 90% of success is the author's style and story telling ability, not the plot or the setting. Which is why many modern fantasy authors come out as awful, no matter how hard they try to make their worlds and characters "unique and interesting". They can make things up, but they just can't write.

2) Many sucessful games feature heavily standardized settings, with heavily overused plots. What's wrong with "defeat the re-born dark lord who plans to conquer the world"? Can't a good game be made around it? Hundreds have been, and hundreds more will be, and the fact they're based around defeating the Dark Lord (who usually must-not-be-named) doesn't make them any worse. And it might actually make them better - to have a clear plot that gives the player a feeling of familiarity and certainty. What makes some games "original" in that aspect are the details, all those little things, NPCs, and side-quests -not the Big Picture and the ultimate plot.

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Original post by Talin
This is becoming my template reply lately here, but I feel that most people having problems to think of "a story" are actually afraid that what they originally had in mind would be terribly bland, unoriginal, cliche, or something similar. Just don't.

1) You're making a game, not writing a fantasy novel - which is a huge difference in itself. Even in writing, 90% of success is the author's style and story telling ability, not the plot or the setting. Which is why many modern fantasy authors come out as awful, no matter how hard they try to make their worlds and characters "unique and interesting". They can make things up, but they just can't write.

2) Many sucessful games feature heavily standardized settings, with heavily overused plots. What's wrong with "defeat the re-born dark lord who plans to conquer the world"? Can't a good game be made around it? Hundreds have been, and hundreds more will be, and the fact they're based around defeating the Dark Lord (who usually must-not-be-named) doesn't make them any worse. And it might actually make them better - to have a clear plot that gives the player a feeling of familiarity and certainty. What makes some games "original" in that aspect are the details, all those little things, NPCs, and side-quests -not the Big Picture and the ultimate plot.


I agree that execution is crucial, but concept is king.

The best writer in the world can probably convey a convincing account of someone weaving a rug but is anyone really going to care?

Yes, a cliché story/concept can become exceptional with the proper treatment and masterful execution, but the concept has to have a hook that captivates the audience. When I use the term “hook” I’m not implying that a cheap gimmick is employed, but a legitimate catch for the user’s experience.

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Original post by WorldPlanter
The best writer in the world can probably convey a convincing account of someone weaving a rug but is anyone really going to care?


And how is that analogy appropriate? Not having an awfully original plot does not imply having a down right boring or uneventful one such as weaving a rug.

Oh, and as a sidenote on weaving the rug, similar minimalistic subjects are often given as exercises on creative writing courses. It's where the actual creativity and imagination shows the most.

Quote:
Original post by WorldPlanter
Yes, a cliché story/concept can become exceptional with the proper treatment and masterful execution, but the concept has to have a hook that captivates the audience. When I use the term “hook” I’m not implying that a cheap gimmick is employed, but a legitimate catch for the user’s experience.


Then again, cheap gimmicks have proven to be the most effective hooks conceptually. Implementation is again the key that makes the difference between a "cheap" and a "well-placed" hook. Not concept.

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I love a great story, and I like to feel that "hook" WorldPlanter mentioned, but when it comes to computer games, a good story is tertiary to solid game-play and interface. I've also found that developing the world before the story doesn't give you as much creative license or inspiration as developing the story and then building a world to suit it. I spent years working on what I thought was an ingenious setting before realizing I had no story to wrap around it.

So, now I'm experimenting with the idea of throwing out story altogether in favor of excessively fun game-play. I wrote a story a while back that was never intended to be serious. It was a transcript following my friends and I through a fantasy world comprised of several different settings from several different (and completely unrelated) sources. I wrote the whole thing without any planning and only a vague notion of where I wanted to end up. It was extremely popular among my friends, almost a cult classic of sorts, not because it starred all of us, but because it was completely unpredictable, and yet it somehow felt "right" because of its chaotic form.

That's not to say you should follow this course. I'm using this as the basis of my own project because I feel game-play is far more important than story, but good game-play is not exclusive of a good story. I've played plenty of games that I thought were fun and had great stories. I just don't want to go through the trouble of being writer and programmer. Yes, I'll need a foozle or MacGuffin to drive the game forward, but I'm not worrying about that now.

My advice to you is to determine what sort of story you want to tell — heroic, tragedy — what side you want the player to take — good, evil, neither, both — how many characters you want involved and how you expect them to interact, what sorts of places and objects you might want to explore in detail and what relevance they have to the characters — childhood homes, place of parents' death, strategic importance, etc. — and then put it all together and see what sort of world pops out. Of course you can migrate some of your existing ideas over, but you have to be willing to throw out what doesn't fit. (That in itself is a critical skill for game developers.)

I guess a more important thing to consider is, do you want to tell a story about characters, or do you want to create a setting for the player to explore? It sounds like you're more interested in the world. In that case, why not create a sandbox game (which Morrowind and Oblivion basically are) and let the player make his/her own story? The story in Oblivion did not particularly captivate me; more often than not, I was likely to completely ignore it until I got bored with the rest of the game (which never really happened; admittedly I never did finish the "real" story). In that case, ignore what I said about creating a world from a story. Sandbox games like this have a different kind of audience, one that cares more about what we can do than why we're doing it.

That's all I got.

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*puzzled by the direction this thread has gone*

Knowing the setting and general type of gameplay seems to me like a perfectly good time to try to come up with a basic story concept. Adventure-ish games are an interesting challenge in terms of finding a story to go with them. Mostly they have some sort of mystery for the player to investigate, usually having to do with the world itself. (how did I get here? where's here? how are the rules of this world different from the regular world? what happened here? is the world itself in danger?) In addition there's often a dynamic of the player finding broken stuff and repairing it. Combining these 2 results in the typical adventure game set-up that the player has been pulled without warning into a bizarre world where a disaster has occurred recently or is still ongoing, and the player must figure out how to make things right. In the case of a game with fighting, there's also commonly a storythread about how/why the player has newly gained some magical ability and needs to learn how to use it in more advanced ways, which might involve seeking out teachers, gathering ingredients for tuition or potions or crafting, and of course lots of practice.

My main question would be, did you want to have npcs living in this location, and are they human or not, and what kind of culture do they have? Knowing about their species and culture might suggest what types of problems that could have that the player would need to fix, and whether they would actively be an obstacle to the player, or whether they would be begging for help, or what sort of rewards they might offer the player...

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How about a boating accident?

The main character is from the Coast Guard, and was sent to look for criminals who have escaped via boat. In the midst of his search, he is distracted by something bleeping on his radar (which will be later explained to have come from that location) and, since the water is rough, he hits a reef, crashing his boat. He is knocked out.

When he wakes up, he is in a beach. Right behind him is his crashed speedboat. Your quest is to contact your headquarters, call for help and fix your boat.

Early on, you find one of the criminals you were looking for. He says the others are dead. All of a sudden, a boar (or some other wild animal) comes rushing towards your characters. The criminal hits it with a rock, saving you. You agree to work together to get off that place. Your investigation begins.

The hard part is creating an interesting backstory to that place without being too Lost-ish. I'm not much help there, sorry.

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Some others have implied this but I am going to flat out lay it on the table:

The game itself:
What type of game do you want it to be? Puzzle? Adventure? RPG? Survival? (I'm seeing survival since you talked about RPG character development and you could find ways to increase the skill of the player to possibly get off of the island) How will your game control? What makes people wont to play it? I think you should nail this down first then start on the story.

Now for the story:

First, when you think about this place, what type of things do you see going on in this world? You mention heavy use of steam and metal fixtures and things (steampunk). Are there others on this island? What makes this place so special? Is it the last land on the earth? (Is it on earth?) Think these little details out and they will help you start to envision a story.

When your writing or trying to write a story for a game the best thing ever you can do is limit yourself. (Others will argue but oh well)

What I mean is say "Ok, in this story there can be no hero with a troubled past who meets a mysterious stranger whos most likely an orphan and they cant go defeat an evil empire after they join a rebellion"

So now that that overdone plot is out of the way You can concentrate on something different and unique.. I usually start with a big outline of starting and ending goals, then refine the outline by adding major plot points, then further refining those plot points until I get the story I want.

I hope this helps, it works great for me.

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Though I haven't posted again in this thread since starting it, I have been reading it and thinking about what people are saying. First thing I can say for sure I know is that this game will be set on a planet that is earth-like, but not earth. Past that, I have been mulling over ideas of what sort of gameplay I want and other details before I try to figure out the plot. I am still uncertain if this will be a puzzle game, RPG, survival game, or what. I'm leaning away from puzzle as I dont think it offers enough of the gameplay elements I like, and I had another more appropriate idea for a survival/action game today that I'll save for later. I'm thinking on how to form and RPG out of a limited world right now.
Anyway, thoughts are mulling in my mind and past ideas might be combined with this one. I'll probably start another thread when I have a more certain grasp of where I want this gameplay to go.

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There is plenty you can come up with to form an RPG. Is there something under the surface of the volcano that comes up from under the water at night (enemies or something)? Are there warring factions on this atoll? What happens if a boat full of who knows what invades this area when they stumble upon it. Since its an earth like planet but not earth maybe when the moon (or moons) rise at night something strange happens to the landscape.

Those are just some seeds to hopefully get the ball rolling for you.

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