Chapter 7 discusses storytelling at length. This section reiterates a few of the key points and talks about their significance in adventure games, because adventure games rely on storytelling more than any other genre.


Dramatic tension, which arises from an unresolved situation or problem, is what holds the reader's attention and keeps her around to see how the story comes out.

To create dramatic tension, start by presenting the problem. In adventure games, this often happens in a cut-scene right at the beginning of the game. The meaning of the scene doesn't have to be immediately clear; mystery and uncertainty may help set the mood for your story. For example, The Longest Journey begins when April Ryan, the player's avatar and heroine of the game, has been having increas­ingly vivid nightmares whose meaning she does not understand. At the beginning of the game, she has no goal other than to find out why she's having nightmares. Later, dramatic tension increases as the player learns the source of those night­mares and new problems emerge.

The resolution of dramatic tension occurs at a moment called the dramatic climax, usually near the end of the story. Shorter stories frequently have only one source of dramatic tension and one dramatic climax; longer stories can have several, of pro­gressively increasing importance. An extremely long story can have several major dramatic climaxes at intervals, tied together by a common theme, setting, or char­acters. Richard Wagner's cycle of four operas, The Ring of the Nibelungs, is one such extended work. Each opera is a self-contained story with its own dramatic climax, although some characters carry over from one opera to the next, and all of the operas concern the fate of the same magic ring.

Because adventure games are usually much longer than movies or short stories, you will probably want to create several different dramatic climaxes as well—each one resolving a current or immediate problem until the last climax, which should resolve the overall problem of the whole story. In the adventure game, dramatic tension is created through the combination of dramatic storytelling and interactive puzzles. Impending doom that can only be stopped by the player's intervention can provide a dramatic point to the story, as long as the player doesn't feel as though the tension is contrived.

image227As an adventure game designer, you can use puzzles to create a minor form of dra­matic tension. However, puzzles of the types designers usually employ (as the later section "Challenges" describes) alone are not enough to keep the player actively interested in the story for the length of the game. Puzzles present small, individual problems. Your story needs a larger problem that underpins the whole story, some­thing that, even if it isn't revealed to the player at the beginning of the game, is the reason that there is a story.


The majority of adventure games fall into the category of heroic quests, each one a mission by a single individual to accomplish some great (or, in the case of Leisure Suit Larry, not-so-great) feat. You can imagine adventure games structured along other lines but will find few on the market that don't adhere to the heroic quest scenario. Although it's possible to write an adventure game based on a detailed character study, no one has done so as a commercial product.

The heroic quest traditionally involves a movement from the familiar to the unfa­miliar and from a time of low danger to a time of great danger. The biggest, most dramatic climax you offer the player should be the last major climax in the game because anything that follows is likely to seem irrelevant. Remember that the boss enemies appear at the ends of levels in action games; if you defeat the Lord of Terror, it feels anticlimactic and rather unfair to have to fight his second-in-com­mand afterward.

Occasionally exceptions to this structure arise, such as in stories in which the hero is abducted at the beginning, escapes, and must return to his home. However, in these stories, the protagonist's struggles don't get easier and easier until he just strolls in happily. He often returns home to find that things have changed for the worse and must be corrected or that he must leave again to hunt down his abductor.

None of this means that there can't ever be periods of quiet; in fact, there should be. In both of J. R. R. Tolkien's most famous books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, periods of great danger alternate with periods of safety and rest for the heroes, during which they regain their strength. A long story that consists of noth­ing but action will feel unrealistic and silly after a while.

The works of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler discuss the heroic quest at length. (See the references for details.)

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