How to Write a Game Story

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How to Write a Game Story, Scenery and Plot

Most gamers choose the game by looking at graphics and genre. But they will stay in the game for the story and gameplay, not for the graphics. Developing a gameplay core is relatively simple: you can test and modify it until it’s good. Creating a memorable story is the hardest part of development.

game story character

Many games don’t tell an interesting story and fail in sales. It goes this way because the players don’t want to buy the game they won’t be interested in finishing. And if the story is good, the players will surely buy DLCs, cosmetics and mission packs: because they want to know more about the story and the plot.

We have experience in writing touching and interesting game stories and want to share some knowledge. In this article we will tell how the game story differs from a movie, how to make the story interesting for 30 hours of gameplay and how to write a good game plot.

Why the game story is so important

The main goal of the game story is to give motivation to play the game. The player must know the main goal of his protagonist, understand it and want to help the protagonist to reach it.

The main goal must be revealed in the first hours of the game or be understandable of context. By telling the player about the main goal we also hint to him how the game will end: the goal will be completed and the princess will be saved.

the player must know the character's goal and motivation

If the player doesn’t understand or feel what he will get in the end, he won’t be satisfied or interested in finishing the game.

For example, most Mario games are about saving the princess Peach. The player knows that he is stomping the goombas to reach the princess. In more complex and mature games, where the protagonist must save the world, his beloved ones or himself, the player knows why he is solving puzzles or fighting enemies.

game story: saving a princess

What are the differences between games and movies story

The main difference is the length. A common movie is 90 minutes long, and a common story-based game is 8-12 hours long. Game script writer must not only write quests and dialogues for 8 hours of gameplay, but also make sure that the player will not forget about his main goal till the end.

Movie script writers use 3-Acts Structure: a model which divides a story into 3 parts. The parts are:

  • the Setup or Exposition: inciting actions, intrigue and acquaintance with the characters;
  • the Confrontation or Action: the protagonists tries to solve the problems and reach the goal;
  • the Resolution or Climax: the story ends, the protagonist reaches his goal.

Because an average game is 6 times longer than a movie, basic 3-acts structure won’t work. To deal with this game script writers divide the overall length of the game into smaller 3-acts structures — quests.

3-act story structure

Every quest consists of setup, action and resolution and it’s length must be around 5-30 minutes. The length must not be too long so the player won’t forget what was in the beginning and what the current goal is. Also the quests are happening inside the main storyline and may be helping the protagonist to achieve his main goal.

We are talking about quests as they are only used in RPG games. But in reality every game consists of quests, even if the developers don’t name them so. The difference between RPG with choice-based story and linear action adventure is the possibility to accept or decline the quest.

How to make a game 1story interesting

Scriptwriters say: “People are interested in people”. To write a great story you need to write good and believable characters which actions will create such a story.

A great character is a person: with merits and demerits, reasonable motivation, preferences and bonds. The most important part of a character writing is that the characters must perform actions. And these actions must come from character’s motivation so the player will understand them.

game character

The player must see most of these story-writing actions or even take part in them. You don’t want to hide important events behind the scenes or tell about them in letters, notes or audio logs. At least, let the player see the consequences of these actions so he will believe in the game’s world.

To make things more interesting, the scriptwriter must make the player think about what he saw. We often think about choices in good movies: “What would I do if I were John?” In the games with linear script we can’t let the player do what he wants to, so we must create a situation where the player is forced to do something questionable.

For example, in the beginning of The Last of Us the main protagonist Joel tries to save his daughter from zombies. Later his daughter is killed by a scared soldier and the player can’t do anything to change it. After this event the player has a few seconds to think about what happened and what he would do as a Joel. In the end of the game Joel saves his new stepdaughter at the cost of the future of mankind — but the player knows the full story and totally agrees with Joel.

last of us plot

But if you are writing a script for a game with multiple endings and real choices you need to make the player think on every choice. To do it you need to come up with a situation with no obvious best choice, to force the player to choose between two evils.

For example, every quest in the Witcher 3 has at least 2 outcomes. And in every outcome there is someone who will suffer and the other one who will benefit. And it’s on the player to decide who will suffer.

How to write a good game story

First of all, you need to come up with genre and gameplay mechanics. It’s obvious that you don’t need to write a 300-page script for a hyper casual game.

Second, you need to write the storyline’s draft in one-two pages. Try to fit the main plot in 3-acts structure and give main characters motivation to do things.

Remember that the bad guys must not be bad just because. Every antagonist is the protagonist of his own story, so make the bad guy fight for the things he thinks are right.

If your game has side quests, do not forget to tell the player about the consequences of his deeds. This will help to create an illusion of the real world where every action has its backwash.

Example: typical quest about bandits who have stolen goods from a merchant. Merchant asks the player to return the goods and punish the bandits.

bandit quest story

The player has found the bandits and they are trying to negotiate. They’ve stolen the goods just to sell them and buy some food to live. Bandits look too scared, more like refugees than thugs.

What will the player do?

  • Take away goods by force and later find dead exhausted bodies in their camp. But the merchant will give him a discount.
  • Leave the bandits with goods and the merchant will be angry. Maybe he will raise the prices for the player.
  • Take the goods in exchange of food. The player will lose some money, but the bandits and merchant will be satisfied.
  • Kill bandits, take their goods and sell them to another merchant. Quest is failed, but the player will earn some money.

Conclusions

There is no recipe for a great story. Of course, a scriptwriter can use the well-known cliches about revenge. Most good games are based on such cliches, but they have believable characters and morally difficult choices.

If you have ideas but don’t have experience for writing a full game script — contact us. We will listen to your ideas, suggest improvements and help to arrange the script into usable form. And if you are stuck with no ideas — we’ll write the game script for you.

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