If there is ever any one thing that gets marginalized or passed over with many games, it can be the story actually. For the most part only games with RPG elements are considered to require a good story developed into it. And while you don’t always need some grand adventure-like story in every single game, especially ones like small mobile app games, you can still tell a story in subtle methods with those mobile app games, which can really get people invested more into the game and improve it across the board. But story-telling is no easy practice, it takes some time to learn and craft.
Why A Story for Mobile Games?
Games are a perfect platform for telling stories through a special interactive factor. And it’s not just the game developers that can tell a story, but the gamers as well, through games like Minecraft or Sims. They offer the ability to describe and depict a world all at once. But most of all, the reason you want a story in your game, a real developed story, is for human connection.
People always feel more connected to the characters you use in the game when you create a story around them. Even if it’s a small one like the one you see through pictures on the screen in between levels of Angry Birds. That story-telling aspect took little, and did plenty to explain the motives and adventures of the birds saving their young. Yes, no one will say that the story of Angry birds is why they played the game, but there is no doubt that being able to connect with your game's ‘protagonist’ did have an impact on how successful the game was.
And that’s one of the reasons story-telling for games are held down. If a story completely makes the game, it’s mentioned, but if the story only helped with combining the rest of the game, then the story wasn’t even considered as something that assisted the game in getting to a high tier. But there are clear indicators here that at the very least a well-rounded game, including story, almost always does better than others.
The Subtle Story-telling
So when it comes to the crafting of a story for a mobile game though, clearly you can’t exactly do the same thing many major games will do with cut scenes and extensive narratives going on. This is why mobile games by and large can often be considered the equivalent of a short story or flash fiction from the fiction writing world; where longer games like on consoles and pc would fall more into the category of novels or novellas.
This also means mobile games can draw from short stories for a direction on creating an immersive story without quite as much to work with.
The Theme or Character
When creating the story of your mobile game, focus directly on one particular theme or character. You could have a theme as simple as plants defending against zombies and go from there, or you could have a character, such as a vampire slayer which leads into the rest of the game and story. Regardless you should focus on one and don’t stray from that.
With the theme covered you then have to mold the rest of the story, and it comes with a few ideas, but the most crucial is that you should be incredibly focused in the sense of preciseness or detail driven almost. This doesn’t mean to include so many details you bog the game down, but to think about the little things, because those are what will matter when building the world your game is in. And those little things are much easier to show with a mobile game, so give details, but leave the general idea alone, let people fill in their own ideas for what might happen in the story too.
Desires and Conflicts
These are the two things that will tie in the most with your game, between story and everything else, other than the theme of the game of course. The desires of the character are important to show and can almost always decide the type of mechanics you run with. Is your game a puzzle game because your character has to make sure they get all the right pills in the correct vial?
Additionally your conflict needs to be something that is short and although not solved immediately or easily, it should be solved soon. Mobile games aren’t incredibly long, even very story driven ones, and that means the solution to the conflicts should be something solvable within that limited amount of time. To this degree think of what a twenty-minute TV show does with telling a story compared to an hour and a half movie. Neither story is 'less', the problem or conflict is just resolved sooner in the TV show (or carried into multiple episodes).
As a final note to assist people with their story-telling in a mobile app game, don’t forget to play on people’s senses. You have sight with people looking at it, but draw on the sounds, cringe factor and smells. They can make a huge difference in the showing and showy aspect of your story-telling. Plus they often stand out more, since not everyone draws on how something smells or feels.
Since graduating with a degree in game design, Terry Wilson has collaborated closely with mostly mobile app and mobile game developers and companies. In between contracts, Terry is part of Game Design Schools, a resource that is meant to assist those aspiring towards game design degrees.