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18 Jul 2014

The Storytelling Essentials

We’ve discussed crafting a great story here on Game Academy numerous times, yet there’s still a lot to say about the subject. After all, if you want to craft a memorable, awesome story while still ensuring that the gameplay is stellar, that’s quite the feat isn’t it? We’re not finished covering the subject yet (and we likely never will be). Here are the essential elements of crafting a story worth remembering.


Gameplay must be related to the story

The gameplay and story of a game must coexist with one another. What do I mean by this? The gameplay of a game must accurately represent the events that you watch unfold in the game’s story (and vice-versa). For instance, when I’m playing a Metal Gear Solid game and I watch Solid Snake talking to someone, gasping for breath and talking about the hell he just saw, I’m drawn to the character even more because as the player, I helped him to get through that hell!

Can you imagine if instead of guiding Snake through this hell, I was forced to play a military-themed match 3 puzzle game? It wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it? The ‘hell’ that Solid Snake would be discussing in the following cutscene would be foreign to me because I have no idea what he’s talking about; I was too busy beating a puzzle board!

Ridiculous as it sounds, this is the type of mistakes we see all the time in gaming. Take Puzzle Quest, for instance. I’ve always enjoyed those games, yet I’m not pulled in by the story of the game because there’s a disconnect between gameplay and story. Instead of controlling my characters and helping to aid them in their quest, I’m busy playing puzzle boards that supposedly is helping them to progress their quest. Don’t make this mistake. Rather…


Integrate gameplay and story

Ensure that one cannot live without the other. By finely integrating gameplay and story into your indie game, you will make certain that both elements will benefit one another – thus improving your game immensely. Players need to care about what is happening in the game, and if the gameplay doesn’t make sense in the context of the story and vice-versa, they’re going to be turned off.

Take Papers, Please for instance. The story of the game involves players deciding which individuals are authorized to enter into their country and which ones are not. Every day, you have to ensure that you do not make a lot of mistakes, as your pay will be deducted and you may not be able to afford to feed your family and keep the heat on for them at night (which could result in sickness and death).


See what happened? The story of the game gives the player a reason to succeed! Both elements rely on one another, resulting in a game that works to near perfection.


Art and music must reflect the nature of the story

Let’s go back to the Metal Gear Solid example for a second. Can you imagine how unsettling if one of the games in the series utilized cutesy cel-shaded graphics and a soundtrack that sounded like it was ripped out of a Disney movie? There would be such a disconnect between the nature and gameplay of the game’s story that it would make the player’s head hurt!

Your indie game’s art and music set the tone for what the player is going to experience. That doesn’t mean you cannot get creative with the art and music style, however. For example, the recently released Valiant Hearts takes place during World War I and uses a unique cel-shaded graphic style, but even so, players still get to experience the traumatic events of World War I. Massive graveyards, dead bodies, etc. are all on display, so while the game looks beautiful, it’s haunting nonetheless.

valiant hearts


Do you have any questions or comments about storytelling essentials? Let us know in the comments below!


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