As we are all working the hardest to get our first game out by mid-Q2 2015, our resources are proving to be limited when it comes to publish more content on this blog; content which would live up to what has been posted so far. Therefore we are just going to be on hold with updates for the next four weeks and promise we will have tons of good things to share when we come back including some words on graphic design and our latest personal approaches of the games market.
In the mean time, we are inviting you to also check-out, if you haven’t already done so, our company’s new website to see what other parallel projects we are developing, and follow us on twitter and facebook.
So, I’m as high as a Nordic weather balloon after trying e-cigarettes for the first time and somehow managing to empty half a cartridge of fluid onto my tongue.
But e-cigs are very very good for you, so everything is fine.
Ok. Where were we? A recap, yes – in Part 1 we dabbled in creating drama through conflict (goals and stakes) along with characters that resonate; then, in Part 2, we welly-squelched through the art of setup vs. payoff to create logic and surprise.
And here you are still reading. Mugs. The lot of ya.
SUSPENSE is when the gamer/audience knows that something awful or wonderful is going to happen and the mere act of waiting for it suddenly becomes entertaining (because humans are basically mental). It is Hitchcock’s bomb under the chair. Unlike films and books, however, games are interactive. And this means you ARE the character. So how can you know something that your character doesn’t? I mean, if your character is sitting with a bomb under the chair, you’ll just tap the controller and move her off it, calmly go out of the building and then turn round to watch everyone else’s limbs fly out of the window.
So – how to manage suspense in games? One way in which you can tap into suspense as a dramatic quality is to have your character (and you) both know that something big is about to happen, but to other characters. It is they who are sitting on the bomb and you who are watching (from outside through the window). In Canaaaan Tradeerrrrrrrr, there’s a level where your job is basically to hook the entire corporate elite on your most addictive narcotic. Needless to say, there is some suspense as you watch your entire stash go up the Bill-Gates-of-your-world’s noses.
So, last week we made impressive headway in our list of screenwriting tricks for good storytelling in games. Having completed Point 1 in its entirety, we’re now ready for the next half of the article.
Can lists be made up of just two points? Maybe this is a listette? A listichka? Or a lil’ list? Yes – this is a lil’ list of screenwriting tricks.
- SETUP and PAYOFF
Your character gets in a car and suddenly a mad charge of rabid monkeys clamber over it towards who knows where, screeching, thumping, and windscreen wiper-tugging as they go; after they’ve disappeared, the guy shakes his head, starts his car and… goes to work.
If this happened in real life, you’d tell everyone and it would be GREAT. Wow! Fascinating! In a written story, people would just be “Erm… And?”
How come this is a cool story in life but not in a story?
‘Cause it’s just the setup.
Everything that happens in a classic narrative story should emerge from an established logic, and the best way to achieve this is to connect events in a series of setups and pay offs. If the guy arrives at work and finds his laboratory empty, his colleagues’ clothes strewn across the floor and all vials of his ‘devolution’ drug empty, we have a pay off – the monkeys were his colleagues! Dun-dun-DAAA!
This setup-payoff dynamic is what gives the ‘cause & effect’ feel of good plot-driven narratives. I used a very basic example, but this setup-payoff is something you’ll find in ALL layers of a story: theme, humour, character, dialogue and even shot choices. To learn how to make it work for you – next time you watch a movie or play a well-storied game, look out for the dynamic. Then, with a bit of practice replicating what you find, you’ll begin to internalize it.
I’ve got this Pilsner-Urquell-blocked memory that once upon a time this blog was to be a resource for other first time game developers: So they could learn from our own gamedev virgin craziness and perhaps dig out a nugget or two of wisdom about how us film makers blundered into this field. But usefulness promptly got old and we realised piss-taking, teenage-diary accounts of our social lives and general blasphemy was much more fun.
Anyway, as with most Januarys, I for one am experiencing a weird hiccup of clarity before I slide back into beer-fuelled ridiculousness.
With this post, I thought to offer up some tricks of the trade that screenwriters use for writing good stories, ones that might be useful for game developers seeking a half-decent narrative for their game.
Most new writers fall into the ‘this-happens-then-this-happens-then-this-happens’ trap. Don’t get me wrong, a blog post from me isn’t going to change that – you have to work like a self-manacled slave for a few years to do the below well. But please just allow me to feel clever for a few minutes and, in return, I’ll give you some directions to push in when writing game narratives.
Oh yes – and this particular agony is going to be spread over two blog posts (that’s agony for you, by the way – for me this is basically sex).
Setting off on the journey were three wise men. And a screenwriter. They all had camels. Two of the wise men, a producer and a games developer, were somehow from France. The third was a politically volatile Czech-German hybrid who always trotted off ahead of everyone. Also a producer.
Through want of anywhere else better to go, and possibly in part due to the galloping producer’s Moravian mushroom soup, they decided to follow a star. Being as it was in a galaxy far far away, way beyond those of Android and iOS which were bloody everywhere, the light from this star was so pathetic that the games developer insisted it might actually not be a star at all. But the power of the mushroom soup was strong. And the Czech-German producer was already so far ahead that he couldn’t hear the shouts of protest from behind him.
As often happens with star-chasing, the journey was not at all short. The screenwriter, already half-starved by virtue of his vocation, began to discretely eat parts of his camel.
Just before the beast expired through blood loss, the group at last reached a town which they all agreed the pathetic star was pretty much on top of.
Both French wise men were strangely drawn to the animal sounds coming from a nearby barn, quite ignoring the five star hotels in the town bursting with seasonal celebrations (which none attending could quite understand why they were having, but all agreed it would one day make sense).
Inside the barn, the French wise men were disappointed to find that the animals already had companions: a rather embarrassed young couple who insisted their entire relationship had only ever been conducted over Snapchat. The three wise men pointed out that the Windows Phones in the young couple’s hands doesn’t support Snapchat, which only served to bring yet more colour to their cheeks. Indeed, undermining the couple’s claims of innocence still further, inside the little crib lay the most beautiful little game the world had ever seen. It had the dark eyes of cyberpunk and the little gripping hands of a tycoon game.
The three wise men and the screenwriter all leaned over to take a closer look, marvelling at the beauty of the thing. It was here that they solemnly parted with their gifts. The Czech-German-political-nightmare gave his gift – insanity. He decided the best vessel for this was more mushrooms. The French producer imparted a rather uninteresting but wholly needed bottle of sense. While the game developer had already disappeared to the barn next door where there was a bigger baby, but not before agreeing a percentage on the first one. And lastly, the screenwriter, realising suddenly that raw camel flesh was disagreeable, vomited a story on the poor defenceless child, whereupon everyone else started stirring the pieces round with their fingers.
And so all seasonal parties in this town and all around the world at last found reason to drink lethal quantities of alcohol. And the cyberpunk tycoon baby grew up (once the programmer realised it was worth making) and was fanatically enjoyed by a total of 11 people.
Merrrry Christmas everyone! May your wishes also come true!
Just a few weeks ago the Lab crew retreated to the countryside for our annual harvest feast. You got it: that heart-warming season when farming communities congregate to toast the fruits of their labour. Us, drinking, eating and hay bail tossing with the local village men, before sitting back and watching our cinematographer’s wife physically assault them with impunity.
This same spirit of gratified reflection I bring to today’s post, minus the Joan of Arc violence. Looking back at the few months since we launched the Games Blog, we’ve sewn a good deal – from business plans, management strategies, game elements, story worlds and a whole lot more. We’ve already reaped a fair bit too – a game prototype I’m really proud of, a roster of new contacts, some social media presence (at last!) and an actual game on the horizon!
All in all, I feel a bit like a new farmer who gives a ruddy smile as he takes stock of his first year’s harvest and plans how to make the most of the next, all the while trying to forget the painful encounter with that drunk French woman…
So what’s next?!
We have to sell!!!
Front row tickets to “Hardcore wives bare-knuckle fight farmers – 2015”. Yes!
Or our game. Yeah, best sell the game.