FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

Other Considerations

This section wraps up the discussion of interactive stories by addressing the frus­trated author syndrome and episodic and serial delivery, and includes a few thoughts about how the industry may tell stories in the future.

The Frustrated Author Syndrome

Game designers who would really rather be authors in noninteractive media— would-be movie directors, for example—often make a couple of key mistakes when writing interactive stories. First, they tend to write linear stories while pretending to themselves and to the players that the story offers more agency than it really does, promising a big role for the player and then actually giving him almost none at all. The game Critical Path illustrates this problem; its introduction suggests that the player gets to do all kinds of exciting things when in fact its story is so rigidly linear that the avatar dies every time the player deviates from the storyline in any way. (Rumors say that the developers named the game Critical Path in an effort to justify this weakness.)

Players see the second symptom of frustrated author syndrome as they sit through large quantities of narrative when they would really rather be playing. Although an excellent game in other respects, The Longest Journey included one scene that con­sisted of 20 minutes of nonstop monolog by a nonplayer character. That would be a long soliloquy even for Shakespeare! The game's designer, Ragnar Tornquist, who originally trained as a screenwriter, admitted afterward that this was an error. Never forget that players come to play—to do something. Almost any sophisticated story requires some narrative, but you must parcel out narrative in reasonably sized blocks. Players won't want to sit through much more than three or four minutes of narra­tion at a time, and many will get frustrated long before the three-minute mark.

Don't design a game to show off your skills as a film director or an author. Design a game to entertain by giving the player things to do. Always give the player more gameplay than narration. The player, not the story, is the star of the show.

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FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

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