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What Writing Structure Do Video Games Have?

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Right now, I'm currently reading The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design , in it the author suggests a writing structure thats interesting. I was wondering, can games follow the 3-Act structure? I know that's typically reserved for movies, but are that any professionally released games that follow the 3AS?

 

Are there any other writing structures that are used for games?

Edited by Syrena

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Fantastic question, Syrena!

 

I may have to check out that link of yours, as I'm curious as to what it holds!

 

 

 

For those that prefer to skim: tldr- Yes, story structures can be very useful in game design due to the ability to break a story into logical parts--- ideal for game design, yes?!

 

 

 

Story structures are interesting!  And the reason I'm a firm believer they can aid game design is the fact that game design draws on many art fields.  And many arts will have structure, say, for music, painting and even writing - to say a few.

 

A reason story structure is useful is because it allows us to break a story into parts, almost modular -- at least in most cases they would have to follow an order.  So for example, the story structure allows a complete story to be broken into, say, sixteen parts.  Tie that with setting: world design, which can be broken down into level design... This means story can fit very nicely into game design at its core.  Yeah?!

 

3-Act structure.  The thing about this structure is that it's a little too simple for any kind of story telling.  Yes, it was touted many moons ago in the movie field (but actually accredited to Aristotle (and how long ago was that!)), but story structure has come a long way since the conception of the 3-Act structure.

 

My current project's focus is to use story structure as a core starting point to plan the entire game before I even sit down and model/program, etc.  And I did mention in your other thread about Dan Wells' explanation of the '7-point story structure'.  The reason I think this is a good starting point for story structure is the fact it can be broken down. You can watch it on youtube and watch it all.  As then you can see how the seven points can end up being, say, sixteen steps(that could equate to sixteen levels!).

 

There are plenty of story structures out there and I'm sure many can work.  Those structures work for movies or novel writing.

 

For example, if I were to concentrate on character I would use the 7-pointer but use Lagos Egri's concept for character in story.  And he was a play-writer.

 

Anyway, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.  I spent several years studying creative writing - it is a fascinating subject.  I'll be happy to help, anyway.

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I would say that the structure really depends on the type of game.  Some games have distinct episodes, such that the game as a whole is like a TV series.  Some games have one level which repeats until the player loses, may or may not have any text at all within the level, and may or may not have some kind of frame story.  You could call that repeating level a 1-act structure, but it doesn't really bear much resemblance to a 1-act play or short story.

 

Assuming you mean the text adventure game mentioned in your other thread, yes it could follow a structure with however many acts you want.  As far as commercially-released games go, jRPGs in general tend to have strong structures, and some of the more well-known ones, like Final Fantasy 7, have complete scripts available online, making it easy to analyze the structure.  Below is a scene list for FF7, you can break it into acts if you are familiar enough with the game to do so.

 

Or to look at the other end of the spectrum, Cake Mania 3 is an example of the type of game which tells its story in pages of comics or short animated scenes between storyless play levels.  Cake Mania 3 has a distinct structure which is: Prologue, 4 parallel "acts" that the player can play in any order, 1 climactic "act" that is unlocked when the first 4 are completed (but is still pretty much parallel to the first 4), and an Epilogue.  Pretty much a classic 5-act structure if you ignore the fact that the first 4 acts can happen in any order and don't build on each other in the story, though they do build in gameplay complexity.  One of the other Cake Mania games, Lights Camera Action, uses a branching structure instead; after the prologue, reaching a mark somewhere around 1/4 of the way through the mandatory first mission sequence (I guess I'll call it an act) unlocks a second parallel act; you can ignore it and continue with the first story to the overall ending, but you can also continue with any of the other acts after reaching an ending; each act shows a different angle on the same time period of the middle and ending of the story.  Making the acts branch after the beginning reduces repetition of the beginning, and allows for the fact that several different factions and disasters are making the story more complicated towards the end.  My overall opinion is that a story can be made to work with any number of acts, because acts can be somewhat or completely episodic.  Modular, as doghouse says.  What you probably want to do is create a synopsis of your story, then look at it to see how many acts it naturally has.

          Scene 1: Presentiment - AVALANCHE 
          Scene 2: Escape From Mako Reactor 7 
          Scene 3: Flower Girl - A Daring Leap 
          Scene 4: The Long Ride Home 
          Scene 5: The Reactor Tower 
          Scene 6: Welcome Home, Cloud! - A Childhood Promise 
          Scene 7: The Morning After - Sector 7 
          Scene 8: The Train - A Narrow Escape 
          Scene 9: Reactor #5 - President Shinra 
          Scene 10: Flowers Blooming In The Church 

          Scene 11: Meet Reno 
          Scene 12: Flee The Church 
          Scene 13: Let's Go, Bodyguard! 
          Scene 14: Sneak Out At Midnight 
          Scene 15: Playground Ai 
          Scene 16: Miss Cloud? 
          Scene 17: Rescue Tifa From Don Of The Slums 
          Scene 18: Lounge Chaos 
          Scene 19: Ecchi Don 
          Scene 20: I'll Smash Them 

          Scene 21: Shinra Plans 
          Scene 22: Encounter At The Reactor Tower 
          Scene 23: Sector 7 Falls 
          Scene 24: Biggs... Wedge... Jessie... ...Marlene... 
          Scene 25: The Flower Girl - Origins 
          Scene 26: A Golden Shiny Wire Of Hope 
          Scene 27: 140 Flights... 
          Scene 28: Climbing Shinra Tower 
          Scene 29: Specimen - Jenova 
          Scene 30: Experimental Aerith 
          Scene 31: Captured - Meet The President 
          Scene 32: A Night In Jail 
          Scene 33: Sephiroth Alive!? - Rufus's Ascent 
          Scene 34: A Confrontation With The New President 
          Scene 35: A Spectacular Escape - Highway Battle 
          Scene 36: Ahead On Our Way 

          Scene 37: Cloud Begins His Story 
          Scene 38: Our Monster 
          Scene 39: Nibelheim - Homecoming 
          Scene 40: The Mountains Of Nibel 
          Scene 41: Monsters Of The Nibel Reactor 
          Scene 42: Sephiroth's Thirst For Knowledge 
          Scene 43: Realization 
          Scene 44: Nibelheim Aflame - Tifa's Revenge 
          Scene 45: J-E-N-O-V-A 
          Scene 46: What A Fascinating Story... 

          Scene 47: The Village Of Kalm 
          Scene 48: Chocobo Chocobo 
          Scene 49: Zolom Impaled - The Mithril Mine 
          Scene 50: Junon Fortress - Resuscitation 
          Scene 51: Rufus's Homecoming 
          Scene 52: The Boat Ride - Jenova BIRTH 
          Scene 53: Landing At Costa Del Sol 

          Scene 54: Hojo On The Beach 
          Scene 55: Mountain Pass - Another Reactor 
          Scene 56: North Corel - Barret's Hometown 

          Scene 57: Gold Saucer - Cait Sith, The God Of Luck 
          Scene 58: Barret's Crime? 
          Scene 59: Corel Prison 
          Scene 60: Gun-Arm 
          Scene 61: Dyne - Broken Trust 
          Scene 62: Ester, Your New Manager 
          Scene 63: Chocobo Race - Free 

          Scene 64: The Turks - Ruined Reactor - Gongaga Village - Aerith and Zack 
          Scene 65: Cosmo Canyon - Grudge 
          Scene 66: Bugenhagen's Observatory 
          Scene 67: The Lifestream 
          Scene 68: Cosmo Candle 
          Scene 69: Nanaki, Son Of Seto 
          Scene 70: Red Truth 

          Scene 71: Nibelheim Revisited - The Black Cloak 
          Scene 72: Calamity From The Skies 
          Scene 73: Rocket Town - Hey, Cid! 
          Scene 74: Sending A Dream Into The Universe - Tiny Bronco Escapes! 
          Scene 75: Tiny Bronco Afloat 

          Scene 76: The Keystone 
          Scene 77: Ghost Hotel Conversation 
          Scene 78: A Midnight Date - Interrupted By Fireworks 
          Scene 79: A Spy!? 
          Scene 80: Temple Of The Ancients - Tseng's Meeting 
          Scene 81: Meteor - A Wound So Large 
          Scene 82: The Black Materia 
          Scene 83: Believe In Me - Cait Sith 
          Scene 84: Cait Sith In The Shrinking Temple 
          Scene 85: Cloud's Sin 
          Scene 86: Aerith's Wood 
          Scene 87: Cloud's Self 

          Scene 88: Bone Village 
          Scene 89: The Sleeping Forest - City Of The Ancients 
          Scene 90: Aerith's Gift 
          Scene 91: Puppet - Descent Into Life 
          Scene 92: Who Am I...? 

     END OF DISC ONE
 
          Scene 93: Winter Wonderland 
          Scene 94: Gast's Videos 
          Scene 95: Elena - A Snowy Ride - Great Glacier 
          Scene 96: Gaea's Cliff - Mako Crater 
          Scene 97: The Shinra Airship 
          Scene 98: Reunion - The Black Materia 

          Scene 99: Cloud's Truth, Or Cloud's Lie? 
          Scene 100: Materia Tree 
          Scene 101: Sephiroth's Ruse 
          Scene 102: Identification Number - Out Of Our Grasp Once 
More - Weapon Rises 
          Scene 103: Origins - Sector 7 Train Station 
          Scene 104: Dark Sun 

          Scene 105: Public Execution - Weapon Attacks - Camaraderie - Cheating Death - Highwind 
          Scene 106: Highwind Takes To The Skies 
          Scene 107: Mideel - Mind Of A Friend 
          Scene 108: Shinra's Plans - Cid's Election 

          Scene 109: Corel's Huge Materia 
          Scene 110: Fort Condor's Huge Materia 
          Scene 111: Weapon Attacks - Lifestream Revisited 

          Scene 112: Into Darkness 
          Scene 113: Enter Cloud's Mind - Nibelheim, Long Ago 
          Scene 114: That Childhood Promise... 
          Scene 115: Jealousy - In My Room 
          Scene 116: On the Other Side of the Mountain 
          Scene 117: The Truth - You Were Watching Me - A Battle of Will 
          Scene 118: Return to the Others 
          Scene 119: Awakening 
          Scene 120: There Ain't No Gettin' Off 

          Scene 121: Underwater Reactor - Sub Space 
          Scene 122: Gelnika Takes Off - Countdown to Dreams and Death 
          Scene 123: Crash Course - Shinra No. 26's Huge Materia 
          Scene 124: Wreckage 
          Scene 125: Escape Pod - Too Little, Too Late 
          Scene 126: The Cry Of The Planet - That Someone Is Us 

          Scene 127: Remembrance 
          Scene 128: Knowledge Of the Ancients 
          Scene 129: Green - Junon Cannon Relocated 
          Scene 130: Sister Ray 
          Scene 131: Weapon Surfaces - Value of a Life - Epic Battle 
          Scene 132: Fire - Weapon Falls - Paths Opened - President's Redemption 
          Scene 133: Imminent Explosion - Hojo Schemes - Midgar Bound 

          Scene 134: Parachute Into Midgar - Turk Settlement - Proud Clod - Hojo Transforms 
          Scene 135: Seven Days - We Have A Reason To Fight 
          Scene 136: Understanding 
          Scene 137: Last Morning 
          Scene 138: We Shall Fight Together 

     END OF DISC TWO

          Scene 139: The North Crater 
          Scene 140: The Planet's Core - Jenova-SYNTHESIS 
          Scene 141: Judgment Day - The One-Winged Angel 
          Scene 142: Ghost 
          Scene 143: The Beginning of the End 

          Scene 144: The End of the Beginning 

     THE END

     Optional Quests - Yuffie 
          Meet Yuffie 
          Materia Thief - Turks Off Duty - Godo 
          Steel Them? 
          Corneo Revisited - Truce - Because It's Our Job. 
          Materia Regained 
          Brave the Pagoda - Godo 

     Optional Quests - Vincent 
          Meet Vincent 
          Waterfall Cave 
          Gift From Lucrecia 

     Optional Quests - Basement Flashback 
          Laboratory Revelations 

     Optional Quests - Red XIII 
          Strength of the Valley

     Optional Quests - Zangan's Letter
          Zangan's Letter 
Edited by sunandshadow

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Fantastic question, Syrena!

 

I may have to check out that link of yours, as I'm curious as to what it holds!

 

 

 

For those that prefer to skim: tldr- Yes, story structures can be very useful in game design due to the ability to break a story into logical parts--- ideal for game design, yes?!

 

 

 

Story structures are interesting!  And the reason I'm a firm believer they can aid game design is the fact that game design draws on many art fields.  And many arts will have structure, say, for music, painting and even writing - to say a few.

 

A reason story structure is useful is because it allows us to break a story into parts, almost modular -- at least in most cases they would have to follow an order.  So for example, the story structure allows a complete story to be broken into, say, sixteen parts.  Tie that with setting: world design, which can be broken down into level design... This means story can fit very nicely into game design at its core.  Yeah?!

 

3-Act structure.  The thing about this structure is that it's a little too simple for any kind of story telling.  Yes, it was touted many moons ago in the movie field (but actually accredited to Aristotle (and how long ago was that!)), but story structure has come a long way since the conception of the 3-Act structure.

 

My current project's focus is to use story structure as a core starting point to plan the entire game before I even sit down and model/program, etc.  And I did mention in your other thread about Dan Wells' explanation of the '7-point story structure'.  The reason I think this is a good starting point for story structure is the fact it can be broken down. You can watch it on youtube and watch it all.  As then you can see how the seven points can end up being, say, sixteen steps(that could equate to sixteen levels!).

 

There are plenty of story structures out there and I'm sure many can work.  Those structures work for movies or novel writing.

 

For example, if I were to concentrate on character I would use the 7-pointer but use Lagos Egri's concept for character in story.  And he was a play-writer.

 

Anyway, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.  I spent several years studying creative writing - it is a fascinating subject.  I'll be happy to help, anyway.

 

Many thanks for your reply and help.

 

My problem isn't so much structure as it is story writing. I can come up with snippets of scenes, perhaps a few lines of dialogue, but after that I have trouble putting all together, by that I mean, filling in the blank scenes and making a full story. This isn't my first attempt, I previously tried to write a novel which crashed after a few months. To be honest, I'm simply not cut out to be a story writer.  

 

@sunandshadow - Many thanks for the FF7 scene break down. 

 

I will indeed try to write a synopsis and see how many acts it could break down to.

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I see.  So your issue is at the scene level.  And anyone can learn to write a story - it can just take a bit of work.

 

Scene structure works a lot like story structure.  In fact, at it's very basic you could look to the 3-Act structure.  You open with setting, character and a goal; then have the main body of conflict; finally resolving one way or another, the conclusion.

 

Have you tried writing flash fiction?  It's good practice.

 

But do you really need this level of writing for a game?  I'm just curious.  If you do, I can hunt down some useful references for scene construction.

 

Good luck with your endeavours.

Edited by doghouse

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3-Act structure is a tool like any other and i assume there are games that can be said to follow it. Writer from movies might use it if they are used to it.

I have some links about game writing at http://www.gamedevpensieve.com/story that you can  check out. Nothing done on structure yet :).
 

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I see.  So your issue is at the scene level.  And anyone can learn to write a story - it can just take a bit of work.

 

Scene structure works a lot like story structure.  In fact, at it's very basic you could look to the 3-Act structure.  You open with setting, character and a goal; then have the main body of conflict; finally resolving one way or another, the conclusion.

 

Have you tried writing flash fiction?  It's good practice.

 

But do you really need this level of writing for a game?  I'm just curious.  If you do, I can hunt down some useful references for scene construction.

 

Good luck with your endeavours.

 

Many thanks for the help.

 

I don't need that level detail, but it just slightly irritates me that I've been trying for so long and unable to write a story. I was thinking of dropping my text adventure game for a educational type game. I understand you're not going to write your greatest story on the first draft, but my problem is, I can't even get a first draft. If you can gather those links, I won't mind taking a look.

 

Also, my goal was to write a story that made players think, I wanted my game to the equivalent of if Christopher Nolan decided to create a game, my game is what it would be. I don't want just any random RPG, that's why I chose a spy text adventure game rather than the traditional medieval/fantasy RPG. 

 

I don't want to go off topic and on a rant, but I think I "bit off more than I could chew" with this game. I was thinking for awhile now to focus on more business type applications rather than gaming, because writing is only one of the many barriers to completing my game(again, don't want to stray off topic).  

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I understand your pain.  Writing good fiction isn't easy.  Do you ever get constructive feedback on your writing?  Because if you can't see what's blocking you from writing a story, it makes it hard to overcome the hurdle and progress.

 

It took some time, but I managed to hunt down a couple of articles that hopefully will help you to write scenes (for fiction). How you would translate that into an interactive text adventure is another thing! *grins*

 

The first link is on scene structure.  And I found it very helpful in my early days of creative writing.  I don't actually like the guy's story structure method, personally, but his scene structure is a very good starting point.

 

Scene Structure: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene/

 

 

The second link is on narrative distance. In essence, it discusses how to use objective/subjective writing techniques.  I chose this particular article as it's covered quickly and simply.  It's a very good technique for improving immersion and balancing writing.  How to avoid being dull, in some ways.

 

Narrative Distance: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

 

 

That's a great goal to have.  I share your vision for strong story in games.  Even games considered good for story are mostly tweny-year-old Hollywood tropes and clichés (a horrid subjective opinion, I know. But you get my point).  So don't give up just yet.  Story structure is a large integral part of my current project design -- hopefully I can pull it off.

 

Well, I can't tell you what to do.  But whatever one does, there will be barriers. It's just about attacking it right. List all the known issues and work on one at a time.  Ensure you talk to people and network (just like this forum!) and you'll get there eventually.

 

If you have a passion for story and games, then bloody do it!  Just believe in yourself and have the right people to give you encouragement and help when you need it.

 

Sometimes there are just no easy roads.

 

And feel free to ask any questions.  If there's one thing I can help with, it will be story structure and all it entails.

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Your question makes no sense to me, let's say you have a movie, you add some interactivity in the fighting sequences to make it into a game, and suddenly, the rules of story telling suddenly changes?

 

Anyway just make an excel sheet of your favorite games, add colums Act I, Act II, Act III. and see for yourself. That's what I did and it taught me a lot more than any book on the subject.

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Video games can follow the 3 Act Structure, and many do. The Uncharted series is good for this.

 

I think though that a more fitting structure would be what you see in TV shows, where there are 'episodes' that is, events that may contain structured stories, but these episodes don't fit solidly into a structure. Most acclaimed narrative-heavy games, from Telltale's games to Life is Strange seem to hinge on this episodic format, and honestly, that format can be traced back to the earliest platformers. In Super Mario Brothers there is a through line about rescuing the princess, but each stage has its own introduction, build, climax and resolution independently, while still fitting into 'arcs' but none of that falls into a three act structure. It flows and grows and shrinks like a TV show. Whereas on TV, the flow of the story is modified by the demands of production, in a video game, the flow of the story is at the whims of the player, unless the game is highly linear and the player is tightly directed by the game (again, see Uncharted).

 

Many games also get away with no real story structure. Roguelikes and mobile games come to mind. Their story structure is more like comic strips. Little bits using parts you know to say something and then fading into the background.

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