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Article - 'A game is like a book...' by Terin

An item about Miscellanious posted on Aug 9, 2003

Blurb

This is a response on how to do storyline, etc, that I keep getting in email, because I'm a 'good writer' or so people claim.

Body

So, I'm sitting here, the new staff-member. In my short time here, I've received several emails asking questions about storyline, and the so forth. I'm starting off with this though. I will not make your storyline for you. I might as well make the game for you if I were to do that, and I just don't have the time to do it. I'll provide you with some ideas on how to get your story rolling.



Every novel, poem, and piece of literature has a tone or mood to it. You need to think of what your game is going to actually convey. Most people skip this part, and some do it subconsciously. There needs to be a constant theme in how you make the player feel during the game. When we played Final Fantasy 7, remember how big the world was, and the music? Did that remind you of a great journey to save the planet? It does me, it has a very natural sound and flow to the music. Very soft, yet also full of adventure.



Let's analyze Final Fantasy 7 a little more though. Cloud is the main character, who we see after a short glimpse of the lifestream, then Aeris, and finally a train that flies into a reactor where members of AVALANCHE take out the immediate guards and seek to destroy the reactor to 'save' the planet. We follow the story which centers around Cloud, where he tells a tragic tale of his past and how he has to kill Sephiroth for everything he's done. Of course, this continues and we see several grotesque scenes of Sephiroth's doing. (the old ShinRa president, the Midgar Zolem, memories of Nibelheim, the Ancient Temple, the Ancient City) Do you hate Sephiroth? Do you think of him as a bad guy? Of course, because we've seen these things that he's done. A tone has been set about Sephiroth -- he's powerful, frightful, and someone evil.



We also see that Sephiroth pretty much goes insane because of his incident of "I never felt like I was normal." Does anyone? Not really, so you begin to sympathize with Sephiroth. You understand where he's coming from. That's just a part of growing up though. The storyline behind Sephiroth is what made everyone like him so much. Kuja, from Final Fantasy 9, was another attempt at creating an enemy that everyone liked, much like Sephiroth. It didn't work the same way, because they did cut short on his storyline, and he wasn't another person like you and I, he was alien.



Now, let's consider Cloud. Cloud lied about his past, partially because he forgot some of it and thought it to be true. Remember the entire controversy behind, "Am I a clone of Sephiroth?" He didn't know whether he was or not because he had lied so long. Now, have you lied before and caused something to be engraved into your brain? Most of us have. Let's analyze another part of Cloud. Exteriorly, we see a really strong man. He's 21, wields a sword that's bigger than him, and was in SOLDIER. We believe him to be strong. Obviously, this is not the case, because we later find out that he was given the clothes. He never did make it into SOLDIER like he wanted to in the past. He always said, "I'm going to be just like Sephiroth!"



So, he disappears for a while after getting taken control of. We find out he has a weak mind and will. He doesn't have much truth, and because of such he's easily swayed from one side to another. If you were told that things were something, and then later you discovered they were not, would you be torn? Yes. Because of this, it makes it all unbareable for him. So, after the Lifestream incident he snaps out of it and realizes his true past, with the help of his childhood friend, Tifa. Remember the scene the night before the Northern Crater where Tifa and him are waiting outside the Highwind waiting for everyone's decision? They both didn't know if they would make it any further -- it could all be a big failure. However, they realized their desire to be together, regardless, and decided to have hope for the future.



Yes, HOPE is our main theme in Final Fantasy 7, along with a theme of mystery for never knowing the truth until some climax of monumental sorts. The main theme is that they have to "save the planet," but in doing such, all characters reach some new realization, an epiphany if you will, about the truth behind their lives as well as that of others. Cloud is a completely different person after. That's what I like about him, that most Sephiroth fanatics fail to realize. Do you know why Cloud won and Sephiroth didn't? It was a battle of wills. Cloud's had more strength in the end for being true to himself, while Sephiroth continued to lie, "I will be with mother!" and that sort of stuff.



We see after killing Sephiroth, Cloud's face is smeared with blood. It wasn't easy. The final battle he invokes a hidden technique (if you didn't get it) that shows his pent up rage. Remember seeing that limit bar slowly crawling up as it showed Sephiroth. If you were finally facing the person who killed your family, your friends, nearly your love interest, would you be mad? Yes. You can almost feel it with him. This is a good sign that your character development went well.



Now back to the article. So, we see a theme in Final Fantasy 7 that one should be true to themselves. Through an ultimate realization of this, as Cloud regains his memory, he ends up killing the final boss, an IMMORTAL (because he was already dead, correct?) because he was able to realize the truth in what he did. A theme is excellent to center a game around. So, for example, if your game was about some child who ran away from home at an alien invasion, leaving his parents because he 'hated' them, a theme might be 'acceptance.' The child would feel a call to realize his parents were doing in his best interest. The spankings, yellings, punishment, and so forth were all to make them a better person. They see this, after seemingly losing their family in an alien invasion. The final battle might include something about coming home, where the alien invasion started and finding that the parents are still alive in some sort of stasis, and then freeing them. The character pretty much grows up.



For those of you with young characters in your game, growing up is an excellent theme to follow. You could signify this with a switch from one tone at the beginning, a fairly angry, childish, silly tone, (Character's yelling at parents, running away, crying when aliens are around, etc.) to a more serious tone. (more developed humor -- satire, etc, coming back and facing one's fears, and crying when finding that the parents are still alive, because they're so happy they have the chance to see them again.)



Now you're saying, "Terin, you have yet to explain how to make the game!" No, I actually just did. The tone and mood help you do EVERYTHING. So, if it's about a character growing up and fighting aliens, like my above example, you could have the character travelling from town to town, showing him initially as a weak individual, until he bumps into an alien hunter. The alien hunter would be someone younger or older (usually to show an extreme in difference to the character or similarity) and then to have them train that character, or invoke a sense of admiration in the main character. We could have some scenes of the main character travelling along and seeing families together, and the entire time have a year or two pass. (so a 13-year old would become 15 by the end) See where I'm going? The character would be older and more experienced. Tone and mood are REALLY important. We could add in a mood of despair as the character goes from place to place, having aliens destroying everywhere, and invoking a sense of rage in the character, "How could they do this?" and the like. Everything in a game has a purpose, much like that of a novel.



Let's talk about character development. Character development is important. This could have an individual mood and tone as well. For another character who ran away with the character, they could know that their parents were aliens. (we'll say this person was 'gifted' and their parents were the ones that helped the aliens get here) That character could feel weak at the beginning. They would feel evil, wrong, and weak. Would you like to know that you caused millions to die and be enslaved? No. So, you could show that character repenting for the sins he never commited. This 'gifted' child could save families from a collapsing house with his psychic abilities, and so forth. Makes sense, doesn't it? Character development is important for any game you make. Well, if you want it to be good. Even Easy Mac, a silly community game, has some character development. The characters all hate Erave for their reasons. They want to have revenge on him. We look at Erave, and he's living a good life. I only got to the commercial part (the mini-game got annoying) so I don't know how it turned out.



You're saying now, "That's pretty nice... but you're still saving the world. Where do I get my ideas?" Anywhere. I like getting mine from dreams and the other types of things that seem very surreal and different to us, as Humans. It all depends on the world you plan on setting yourself in. A modern world would have some things that a medieval one wouldn't. For example, a car accident could happen sending the character into convulsions that develop into a psychic instinct that he uses to stop a major corporation from creating monopolies and basically taking over the world. It's all situational. You could have a character in a world like Pokemon, Zoids, etc. In those worlds, a recreational thing can also be turned into a business and characters can do things they like for money, etc. So, we could have something like this, except with martial arts, kind of like Dragonball Z. (Goku never pays much of anything...) In this world, there are no special powers, power levels, etc, but it's all about martial arts. Lots of tournaments, etc. It's a great cultural past time. Now, let's say the main character's sensei gets ill or killed, the objective of the game could be to either get a flower to heal her, or seek revenge. That's not about saving the world.



Better yet, how about a game about trying to get world domination? Have you seen that yet? I haven't. The idea is to find a theme you want, and create a mood to convey what you want. A game is pretty much just a book with interaction. Non-linear games are like "Choose-your-own-adventure" books, and others are like novels. Find ideas in other literature, games, philosophies, movies, and so forth. Expand on an idea. There are so many possible combinations of a storyline out there -- I don't believe we've used them all up, or ever will.



So, stop emailing me about this subject now. I'm not responding anymore. Is it ignorance or apathy? I don't know, and I don't care.