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JSwing

Storytelling: Story premise (long)

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Note: I''m sort of responding to Sunandshadow''s challenge. I decided to avoid heavy literary theory and study some books on basic storytelling. This isn''t from any single work, and I''m only covering one topic in this post. All of the writing books I looked at agreed that a story needs a premise. The premise is the big picture, what the story is fundamentally about. Different books described the premise in different terms, but they all agreed that it should be very simple, a sentence or less. The premise doesn''t focus on the plot events, and generally doesn''t reference any of the people, places, or settings. The premise for Romeo and Juliet would be something like ''great love defies even death'' and would not be ''two teens fall in love and die''. Another example, my interpretation of the premise for Fallout I is "The survival of the community depends on the efforts of the individual". Vault13 needs someone to fetch a water chip, Shady Sands needs someone to kill predators, the ghoul town needs someone to repair ... (I forget, the power plant?), and the whole region needs someone to stop the Master. The particular needs vary with each community, but the premise is fairly consistent throughout the game. Side note: the Master is an individual supported by an army of sterile mutant clones. This makes a solid villain since it inverts the premise of the individual supporting the community. The premise should be presented to the reader at the very beginning of the story. The story should provide the dramatic issue unambiguously. The resolution/fulfillment can be either explicit, symbolic, or indirect. For example, Fallout explicitly tells the player that the vault needs a water chip. Planescape, on the other hand, provides the issue of knowing oneself explicitly, but hints only at the fulfillment: confronting one''s mortality. The player wakes in a morgue. The nameless one quickly learns he is immortal and that it''s unusual. It isn''t until late in the game that the player understands where the quest to know himself will lead, but the elements are present at the very beginning. If the premise isn''t established in the beginning, then the story is weakened. Either the player will start making up his own, or they will expect no story at all. When the story is finally introduced, the player is jarred. Worse, the player will not recognize significant events as such prior to encountering the premise. The premise sets up the goals and conflicts. Individual plot pieces come after and are designed around the premise, providing opportunities for the protagonist to move towards fulfillment. If Romeo and Juliet has the premise ''love defies even death'' then the plot can be expected to provide obstacles for love to defy; the obstacles increasing in difficulty up to death at the end. Significant characters should also be designed around the premise. From Planescape again: Morte the *skull* is mistaken for a mimir, *a repository of knowledge*; the bulk of the dialogue with the gith npc concerns *knowing*; the brothel of intellectual lusts where they trade stories and knowledge, and the npc who agrees to join the party because she wants to *travel in order to learn*; NPCs (the tiefling, the fire mage, the gith again) tie directly back to the nameless one''s history. This is not coincidence. The need for a premise seems apply to all popular fiction. Movies, books, plays, it all fits. The books I read left out complex literary works, so it might not fit _War and Peace_. And some writers intentionally break this and other conventions, so it wouldn''t apply there either (Faulkner''s _Sound and Fury_, for example). Premise in games, my thoughts A fixed storyline with a definite beginning and one or more endings would have stronger writing from working with a premise. The books suggested that all of the conflicts should stem from or connect to the premise. Some suggested planning everything from the premise as a base, another suggested writing everything out and then trimming out anything not related to the premise. I don''t think this is necessary for video games. Video games have a great tradition for breadth. Games include all sorts of side trips, easter eggs, eye candy, etc. I think all of the critical plot events should be related to the premise, but there is still plenty of room for extra pieces. It''s all part of providing a larger space for the player to explore, which is an entertaining end in itself. Some of this depends on game specifics. The premise should be presented at the beginning of a story. But a video game can have several different beginnings. In addition to the start of gameplay, a game might have an intro movie, a tutorial/training area, or a character creation section. I think where the premise gets illuminated would depend on how these elements are assembled in your game, but at the beginning of gameplay would be the latest. For story writing, a single simple premise is advocated. And it''s obvious that it is possible to make a great game with a single simple premise. But video games are an interactive medium. Does this provide greater possibilities? Is it feasible to have multiple or even variable premises? How about a story whose premise changes depending on the actions a player takes? Or a series of smaller stories featuring the same player character? Example: A story starts out in a marketplace. A thief grabs a purse and a cop chases the thief into an alley, catching him. If I was writing this as prose I would use different words for different premises. A story about a stagnant society on the verge of collapse would emphasize the effect of the thief as a disruption and the cop as a harsh retribution for disturbing the status quo. A story about the corruption of an individual would focus on the transition from a happy marketplace to a grungy alleyway. These word choice decisions require knowing the premise ahead of time. Which means the premise cannot be the causal result of the action as it unfolds. On the other hand, video games have a little slack built in while the player learns how to interact with the game world. Example: Player is the aforementioned cop. In the first (training) bit, the player captures the thief. The thief has $100 of stolen money on him. The player has the choice of what to do with the thief and what to do with the money. - If the player kills the thief then the story premise is about cops taking the law into their own hands and other vigilante behavior. -If the player keeps some or all of the money then it''s about corruption of the individual, with different specifics whether the thief is let go, killed, or arrested. -If the player follows all the rules, then the conflict is over individual duty to a flawed system, illustrated by an inefficient or faulty law system. Depending on how the player behaves, a story arc is set up. Different NPCs are generated for each since they have to support the different conflict in each story. As long as the player doesn''t recognize the decision point it might possible to get away with it. Would it be possible to build a set of stories that are linked in this way? Where the choices made while playing one story set up the premise of the next. Or would a change in premise be too distracting? This seems to be one of those fundamental game vs story things. Are there other ways around it? Well this has gone on for long enough and I''m out of steam. What does everyone else think? JSwing

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I didn''t read the books you did so I can''t say whether you''re interpretation is correct, but what you''re describing as ''premise'' I would tend to describe as ''theme''.

A premise is a statement of events assumed to be correct from which the reader may draw a conclusion. I''m not saying you''re wrong, I''m just saying that the definition of premise you''re using is not what I believe to be the commonly accepted definition. Perhaps I''m using the term too literally (no pun intended).

In addition to theme, your definition of premise implies some inclusion of character motivations.

Regardless, it is interesting.

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Guest Anonymous Poster

The books I read used the terms ''premise'' and ''theme'' interchangeably, though they mostly called it premise. They were all written in the past decade or so and were influenced heavily by the film industry, so they could be making up new words for existing ones, or borrowing from Hollywood.


Protagonist motivation is not required in the premise, though most of the examples were character stories (as opposed to millieu, idea, or event based ones). Hence my use of the phrase ''dramatic issue''.

For a game like Outcast, I would say ''The overthrow of tyranny is necessary to save the world.'' Ok, it needs a better verb construction than ''is necessary'', but the sentence more or less works.

But if there are other, more accepted (or more useful) terms or explanations, feel free to enlighten me. I only read through the books that were broad (not genre-specific) and focused on the beginning/simple stuff. I''ll go back to the more advanced books after I get the basics down.

JSwing

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Lemme see if I understand you, you want to know whether a game would be successful with more than just one global theme/premise?

I can''t think of a single game or film that has this, so maybe it isn''t possible outside of literature?

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Whoops, forgot to login last time. I just thought to add that the verb phrase ''is necessary'' is bad not only because it''s imprecies, but also because it is not dynamic. No sense of motion/conflict. At least, according to the stuff I read.

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But Blade Runner was based on a book by Philip K. Dick, called ''Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep?''.

Not that I think multiple themes are impossible in movies. It''s just that the average movie watcher probably doesn''t want to have to keep track of more than one obvious theme.

R.

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Where this all leads

Discussions of game vs story often focus on story as a fixed, unavoidable plot events. Places where the game takes control from the player in order to present an experience defined by the writer.

But the people who write about story telling report that the relationship of individual plot events forms a macro structure that serves as the foundation of the story. And that the macro structure, while different for each work, always starts with a simple, clear premise.

They further claim that the purpose of the plot events is only to provide an opportunity for the protagonist to move towards the fulfillment of the premise. They certainly have other characteristics (a discussion of which would belong in a separate post), but fundamentally they arise from the premise in order to serve the needs of the story.

If these claims are true, then the relationship between game and story is very different than I used to think. And the requirements for having a story with the game are also different.

It suggests the game doesn''t require fixed, unavoidable plot events. Instead the game requires a fixed premise: what the game is about, the direction it travels, and roughly where the end is (different from *what* the end is).

To me this has a lot of possibilities for integrating stories and gameplay. If I can draw a conceptual box around plot events and determine at least some of their characteristics, I can model them with variables. If the foundations of a story are fairly simple, is it possible to model them with variables as well? How fixed does a premise have to be for an interactive medium?

I recognize the books I read could be wrong. Or they might only cover a narrow range of stories and might not be very applicable to games. Which is why I post, seeking the opinions and expertise of the folks here.

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Tacit, were you talking about the MOVIE Blade Runner or the GAME? I played the game Blade Runner a little and got tired of it (too linear), but my understanding is that each time you played several of the ''key variables'' were different. For example, sometimes you were a replicant, and sometimes you weren''t. On one hand, you could say that''s an implementation of several premises; on the other hand, maybe there''s a ''meta-premise'' of "What makes one human is not biology but empathy." You can''t rely on an "Us vs. them" premise because it might turn out that you''re one of "them." The fact that mulitiple realities are possible in the game is a reflection of that premise. This fits in well with Dick''s works, where you are never quite sure what is real.

Thank you for using Slambot.

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I agree about the Blade Runner game. There are 2 or 3 different endings, each of which provides a very different interpretation of the story.

The other thing they did right was that the decision points are integrated seamlessly into the storyline. If you didn''t know that there were multiple endings ahead of time, you might miss it.

So it is possible to integrate multiple premises into a single game storyline. Terrific! Thanks for the example.

Now to see is if it can be done without pre-scripting everything in between the beginning and conclusion(s).

JSwing

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Slambot - I was referring to the book/movie, sorry for the confusion!

JSwing - I think I''ve discovered a way, but I''m having the technical ramifications assessed by some programmer friends.

I do believe it is possible, and it''s the basis a design which I''ve completed for a ''mod'' project.

R.

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