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  • Story Design Challenge: Same Assets, Different Story

    [11.17.11]
    - Guy Hasson
  •  [Writer, Gamasutra expert blogger and freelance story designer Guy Hasson presents a new challenge to GCG's readers that explores the complexities of and challenges of game writing, especially when accounting for player choice.]

    A Reader's Question

    About a month ago, I asked for readers to ask questions about future Story Design Tips columns. TimotheeGarnaud asked in the comments:

    I'd like to know the differences between writing a screenplay for a movie, and for a game... Do you write for games the same way as for movies? How do you reflect interactivity and player's actions in your script?
    If you could talk about that I think that would help me a lot.

    Writing the Game Script

    I can only tell you about my own experience. Writing the script for a planned triple-A Xbox360 game, I wrote the game script in the exact format of a movie script. However, for every big eventuality, I added more text (describing ahead of time that now X happened and not Y), and writing the script for these eventualities as well. The result was a very long script for every chapter of the game.

    In addition, I wrote another document with a table. In it were all the texts that should be recorded by actors. All the texts that appeared in the script appeared here, as well. In addition, All random events, character responses to strange things, all occurrences that were too small or too unlikely to be put in the big script, were all put in this table. One column was the event that triggered the text, then came the name of the person speaking, then the text itself.

    You question was a technical one, and I believe this answer gives you what you wanted to know.

    However. I was thinking that there's a bigger issue at hand.

    Same Assets, Different Story

    In my last project I had to create different plot variations for the player (what if he does X and not Y) using almost entirely the same assets. (‘Assets' means animations, environments, characters, etc. - anything the studio works on for the game.) Meaning, I had to create forks in the road that would cause widely different results in story, but I had to use the same assets in both cases. Animations, environments, and characters take time to produce and therefore cost a lot of money. Voiceovers (characters' texts), on the other hand, could vary widely, because additional voiceovers cost almost nothing.

    Now: How would one go about doing that?

    Here's the thing. I can't really tell you how I would go about that. Unlike other Story Design Tips columns, this one's too close to the business. I will have to reveal my own secrets as a freelancer as well as a secret or two belonging to companies I worked for.

    Fortunately, I have a way around that. When I give writing workshops, I don't like to talk a lot about theory and rules of writing. I lay down the basic idea, then give the students exercises which force them to come up with their own ways to achieve certain things. I give specific critiques and guidelines, and then continue with more exercises that are specific to what each student has done. This works great for characterization, dialogue, plot-building - basically, anything you can think of.  When students learn something by themselves, by having invented it, they remember what they learned and retain it. They also learn that they can learn more by forcing themselves to do more.

    Let's try and do that here. Instead of me giving you a few ways to achieve different storylines with the same assets, I'll give you a story design challenge. And I'll even add a prize for the top three entries.

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