Games are increasingly becoming a potent medium for storytelling, enabling writers to craft compelling narratives from perspectives beyond their own. This avenue allows for imaginative exploration, creating captivating and thought-provoking content that resonates with the audience.
A well-rounded game narrative encompasses more than just plot and characters; it embraces elements such as theme, plot structure, pacing, and more, which add depth to the lore and the characters when executed properly. When all of these elements come together and are executed in perfect harmony, it can create an exciting experience.
You'll need the following ingredients to cook the perfect game narrative for engaging gameplay.
Ingredients and Directions
Get your aprons on and your knives sharpened. Throughout this blog post, I will subtly allude to my favourite game and provide relevant examples at various points. By the end, see if you can make an educated guess about which game I am talking about.
Ingredient 1: Theme
Select the theme for your game. Pick what genre you want the game to outline and define it the best. Action, Adventure, Role-playing games (RPG), Simulation, Strategy, Survival and Horror are some game genres that never go out of style.
Picking the genre provides a lead to decide the next step in the content development process. You can start outlining the world and design characters. Based on the theme, you can also provide the characters with elements such as their personality, physique, abilities and skills.
It doesn't have to be a single theme. Mix and match can sometimes be used in choosing themes, as it can ignite unique ideas to provide a memorable experience. My favourite game falls under the action-adventure category that paces with the story.
Ingredient 2: Backstory
Backstories offer players a valuable glimpse into the characters and the game world, enhancing their comprehension of the setting, the characters' motivations, and their actions. They serve as a crucial element in making the gameplay more engaging and immersive.
A backstory clarifies why a character exists in the game, what role they play, and the motivations driving them. It also sheds light on the significant clues or information they carry. Whether the game's environment and characters are interactive or not, a well-crafted backstory provides essential context, enriching the overall gaming experience.
Backstories extend beyond characters and settings in the game narrative. They play a crucial role in shaping the environment, establishing lore, fostering player-character connections, advancing the plot, influencing game mechanics, and creating events and conflicts. A well-planned backstory provides the foundation for various game elements and guides player decisions, facilitating logical and emotional engagement.
Ingredient 3: Characters
Characters are the spices of this flavourful dish. Adding too many spices overwhelms the dish, and too little can take away the essence. The right amount makes the dish delightful, and along with its own taste, it brings out the best in other spices as well. It's the same with game characters.
Well-crafted characters can shine even in a story that falls short of expectations. Character development, while susceptible to criticism, can be a rewarding aspect when executed effectively. Whether a character undergoes a positive transformation or a downward spiral, the key to praise lies in a smooth transition and logical storyline. Therefore, it's crucial to provide your characters with compelling story arcs.
In the action-adventure game I previously mentioned, a humanitarian crisis sparks the journey of two main protagonists, pushing them to the brink and allowing them to evolve from strangers to a tightly-knit family.
Ingredient 4: Storylining and Plot Formation
A storyline is the main ingredient of the game. It should be simple enough to comprehend but with complex details simultaneously. A compelling, well-executed storyline can grab the players' attention for hours, so it is important to write an interesting one.
How the game starts, what the motive of the main character is, where they're headed and how it ends – all of it is discussed in this section. Initially, the atmosphere is set up. You can then start ideating by simply brainstorming or writing it down.
Plot creation is another important element that falls under the storyline. A storyline starts and keeps going until the plot comes along and makes it valuable. Plots can be recognized as the main events throughout the story. It can be a major fight between the main characters, an alarming discovery, unfolding a secret, etc. Game story plots can come in all sizes, shapes, and emotions. Pick out which one your game needs.
Storyboards and flowcharts will greatly help when executing the routine into a paper, converting it into a proper and tellable story. There are various elements to take care of when telling a story, from narration and dialogues to facial expressions and attitudes of characters; all of them have an equal role in communicating with the players.
Ingredient 5: World-Building
Once the storylining is done, the next step is to turn the visualization into a reality. World-building is the addition of all the elements and sub-elements of a game that make it coherent. The geographical region the game story takes place in, the landscapes, the inhabitants of that region, the politics, power, culture, society, and everything a world would need. These mini-components are crucial in adding details and depth to the story.
Incorporating side quests and in-game challenges is instrumental in enriching the storyline, fostering character growth, and augmenting the player's resources. Additionally, the finer details, including both playable and non-playable characters inhabiting the game world, significantly contribute to world-building. When gamers reflect on their favourite games, it's often the distinctive, specific elements that stand out, making the gaming experience captivating. Therefore, achieving a seamless blend of these intricate components is essential for crafting an exceptional and immersive game world.
What I most enjoyed about the game in question were the specific time period it was situated in, the strong connection between the two main characters, and the captivating cutscenes.
Ingredient 6: Pacing
The pacing of the game narrative is a crucial ingredient in creating an enjoyable gaming experience. It begins with establishing the atmosphere in the backstory introduction and gains momentum as the player assumes control. The duration of the narrative is experienced in real time by the player. Striking the right balance in pacing is vital, as excessive speed can gloss over essential elements and confuse the player, while a sluggish pace can transform an enjoyable activity into a tedious one.
A well-balanced pace in a game narrative doesn't depend on speed but rather on the skilful explanation of the game's intricacies in an engaging manner. Certain story aspects might require in-depth elaboration, while others can be covered briefly. Pacing in a game story isn't confined to a single team member's responsibility, as it involves multiple elements and team members working collaboratively to ensure a seamless experience down to the finest details.
In my favourite game, one of the main protagonists is responsible for smuggling another human out of town to regain his seized weapons. This is when the story takes off and continues a year-long storyline. However, the pacing perfectly wraps up in the game even if the total playable time can take up to 23-25 hours to complete.
Ingredient 7: Emotional Impact
As a storyteller developing game narration, it's a must-have to establish an emotional relationship between the player and the game, and there are many ways of doing so. When playing a game that we really enjoy, there's a chance of being so immersed we lose track of time. What makes a game so enjoyable? The feeling we get from the game lets us experience the emotion the character is feeling or the game story is conveying at the moment. It can be excitement, happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, etc.
Formation of the bond between the player and the game is important if you aspire to create a completely immersive game experience. Fighting off an opponent, an emotional encounter with another character, reaching a certain milestone – All of this can ignite a sense of emotion within a player that makes them emotionally invested and want to keep playing for more.
The individual character development and the bond between the two characters give this game its identity. The way the main character turns from a complete stranger to a father figure. The emotional impact is still discussed today, even if the game was released almost a decade ago.
Ingredient 8: Soundtrack and Cinematics
The perfect blend of audio and visuals is another important ingredient to crafting the perfect game. Incorporating crystal-clear graphics with crisp audio can wrap up all the game elements, like interesting storylines, characters, game environment, and others, into a great player experience.
It's the little things that make a big picture. The emotional impact of music is no secret. A perfect game scene comprises a certain scenario (visuals), fitting background music (audio), characters and the emotions all of these elements can convey. They can perfectly set the mood and tone of the whole game or just the scene.
Most game development companies invest so much time and budget into the soundtrack and cinematics because of the emotional influence it can cause. Most old games are also remastered to a better version with better visuals, audio and other improved materials. Players also can't help but notice these changes if they have prior experience with the initial version.
In our game, there's a poignant scene where the older male lead imparts guitar lessons, teaching the younger protagonist to play "Future Days" by Pearl Jam. This musical moment takes on added significance as the grown-up younger character later plays "Through the Valley" by Shawn James, showcasing a learned behavior. These scenes effectively use music and lyrics to encapsulate the characters' emotions at the time, conveying hopefulness and resentment respectively.
Ingredient 9: Replayability
If all of the above ingredients are perfectly combined, this makes up a game with replayability. Just like how we want the taste of yummy food repeatedly, all of these elements create an irresistible game adventure that you want to experience over and over.
Usually, games with a fixed storyline and ending do not have a great replayability rate, as they end up the same way every time. This does not mean such games can't have any replayability factor. The experience is what makes up for it. However, if you're seeking other elements to increase your game's replayability, you can focus on these things:
A New Sequel
A new sequel can be introduced if the game ends on a cliffhanger or seems like another part would do the initial release justice. This causes the players to revise the storyline, for which they must replay the game after a certain interval.
Adding Inventory Items and Rebranding Skills
New items, skills, achievements, quests, etc., can be added to improve the game experience. A new map increases the exploration limit of the game world, a new side quest provides opportunities to build new skills, and similar other events and game content can be released to increase replayability rate and improve player experience.
Multiple Storylines and Endings
Your game does not have to end the same way every time it's played. Multiple-choice situations can be implemented to redirect your game to another route. Life is Strange and Until Dawn are famous games under this category. These games consisted of conflicting situations, where the player is given the choice to make a certain decision that impacts the story throughout the game. This option also encourages multiple endings to a game story, which thrills the player to play and figure out all the different endings.
Choosing the difficulty settings in a game can also increase the replayability rate as it can help the player settle in with the intensity. Starting off in easy mode, then switching to intermediate until you turn to an expert, is a practice most game developers and publishers implement in their games these days.
DLC and Extended Game Content
Downloadable content (DLC) refers to the additional or extra game content distributed by the official game publishers after the initial game's release. This content can include add-ons such as prequel storylines, extended territories, new maps and missions, cosmetic extras, etc. DLC and such extended content can also be a great factor in increasing the replayability of a game.
Revealing the Secret
So, have you identified the game I've been alluding to in the previous points? If you guessed "The Last of Us," you're absolutely right! If you've had the opportunity to play the game or watch gameplay content, you're likely familiar with its remarkable success and why it has earned a spot as a timeless fan favourite. I consider it the perfect blend of almost every game narrative ingredient mentioned above. The action, storyline, player-character relationship, everything is perfectly perfect. And I don't think any other game has topped that since it was released in June 2013.
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