The second day of the Game Developers Conference 2011. I will be attending “Learn Better Game Writing a Day” tutorial presented by Evan Skolnick. Most things share the same 80% foundation with 20% being their pitfalls and differences.There are a variety of writers but video game writers need to learn how to tame a bull and steer it in the right direction. It is important to write a tight, effective and serviceable story content. A big difference is that gameplay is king and anything outside of it is a disservice and a distraction. Story should always support the game. Skolnick showed off the introduction of GTA3. It has 1 minute a 30 seconds of credits and the first cut scene last a total 2 minutes and 45 seconds (including credits) and the second cut scene was 10 seconds with a total amount of time of 2 minutes and 55 seconds spent on the introduction. For GTA4, the credits and first cut scene lasted 4 minutes and 22 seconds. Both of these have very sort intro and does a good job introducing the player to the world and the characters. They do not have to wait long to jump into the game. Then Skolnick showed off the intro to Metal Gear Solid 2. The introduction of that game near lasted 10 minutes with no player interaction at all. There are ways to reduce the amount of time the player spends in the beginning.
Story is conflict and gameplay is too. Players enjoy seeing the character struggling with the conflict from a distance. The story can be constructed in a variety of ways. The 3-Act Structure (Aristotle, SydField), Monomyth (Hero’s Journey, Cambell and Vogler) and Dramatica (theory-based software). All stories share the same structure of having a beginning, middle and end (setup, confrontation and resolution). It is broken by plot point 1 and 2. The beginning changes based on the hook for the player. The highest tension is the climax. The levels themselves are crises with the climax is the final boss. Basic break down, Act 1: open image, inciting incident, turning point 1. Act 2-a: Pinch 1, mid-point Act 2-b: Pinch 2. Act 3: conclusion and resolution. Monomyth is by Joseph Campbell whose concept on archetype is based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung. Most western stories share a common structure and character archetype. An archetype is a character or energy embodied by multiple characters. When they are put together, they form a complete human psychological profile. The hero learns and borrows from various characters to become are more complete person.
The various archetypes are hero, mentor, threshold guardian (henchman), herald, shape-shifter and shadow (villain). The hero is someone the audience can identify with. It is the archetype that experience the most growth. It is someone who takes action and acts to resolve conflict. This involves taking big risks like overcoming a problem and making enormous sacrifice. The mentor is there to teach the hero and give gifts. They help motivate the hero and helps to be his or her’s consciences. It is usually a prominent support character or the UI in a game. The henchmen dramatic function is to test the hero to see if he or she is worthy of proceeding. The herald announces the conflict or potential conflict and provides the motivation for the hero since they are basically offering a challenge. Shapeshifters are someone who sow suspicions and doubt into the hero. The shadow is the challenge for the hero to over come. Usually it is the final boss in the game. Tricksters are used to bring in comic relief and sometimes can be the hero’s sidekick.
To help us solidify the different types of archetypes, Skolnick had packet at each table with a movie and list of characters from that movie. We were to place the characters into their archetypes. The group I was in got Wizard of Oz. Naturally we easily placed Dorothy as the hero and the Wicked Witch as the Villain. The Emerald City Guard and the Flying Monkeys are definitely the threshold guardian/ henchman. Toto is the trickster as he does bring some comic relief throughout the film. The Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion and Glinda were not as straight forward to place in any one categories. Glinda could be placed between a Mentor and Herald as right in the beginning of the film, she did tell Dorothy what she needed to do. The Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man are both Mentor and Trickster. They all help Dorothy to grow and to understand a little more about herself but they also were making a lot of mistakes bringing some comic relief. Other groups had the Incredibles, Aliens, Toy Story and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn.
The monomyth also follows a “twelve step” program.1. Ordinary World. 2. Call to Adventure. 3. Refusal of the Call. 4. Meeting the Mentor. 5. Crossing the First Threshold. 6. Test, Allies, Enemies. 7. Approach to the innermost cave. 8. Supreme Ordeal. 9. Reward. 10. The Road Back. 11. Resurrection. 12. Return with the Elixir. The ordinary world is the depiction of the hero’s normal world that is likely to be unbalanced but livable. It is usually the first few seconds of the opening cutscene. The call to adventure is the first indication that trouble is brewing and the problem is presented to the hero. He or She can no longer stay in the ordinary world. It is usually the middle part of the opening cutscene. The hero usually refuses the call to confront the problem and this is a rarely seen in video games. The hero meets the mentor who provides motivations, gifts and encouragements. This can be a superior officer, narrator or other characters that provides the player with briefings and objectives. The hero is then fully committed to the adventure and enters the “Special World”. This is the first or early gameplay level. Then there is a series of sub-adventures which test the player and contains allies and enemies that are related to the overall conflict and the challenge increase in drama and stakes. These are represented by the game levels. The hero then approaches the inner most cave, the site before the final conflict. These are late levels. The supreme ordeal is when the hero is in the “belly of the beast” where they are face with certain death. This is levels and/or cutscenes leading to a “false” final boss battle. After the hero survives the supreme ordeal, the player is rewarded for their victory. It is the cutscene following the “false” boss battle. After this ordeal, the heros tries to return to the ordinary world with the reward but there are still dark forces. It is the late levels/cutscenes after the “false” final boss battle. It seems like the player is dying but somehow survives and is transformed by the experience. The final boss battles occurs. The hero finally returns to the ordinary world that benefited from the hero’s accomplishments. Final cutscene is then played. Monomyth represents a pattern seen in many stories but does not need to be followed word by word. It is just a general guide only.
Dramatica is a theory of writing with software to check a story to see if it matches the philosophy of writing. It was first developed by Melanie Ann Phillips and Christ Huntly in 1996. The main concept of the software is the story mind. Every complete story is a model of the mind’s problem-solving process. The author needs to examine all possible solutions to the problem and make an argument to prove to the audience that the author’s way is best. Characters trying to resolve the conflict are usually pressured by limited time or a difficult choice. Dramatica is best used by intermediate to advance writers. It can feel restrictive or forced. May not have good utility in game story development.
There are some storytelling rules and tools. The exposition is shown not told and it is seeding, planting and foreshadowing the conflict. It is to give the player a taste of what is to come. The story can be believable by masking or downplaying coincidences and contrivances. Need to avoid deus ex machina. The game world need internal consistency and character consistency. Impact is more powerful when the setting is the appropriate scope for the conflict and has an element of surprise.
After that we all went to get lunch. Evan Skolnick was going to show the first 45-50 minutes of Terminator to us. We are going to perform an analysis of the film using the concepts we have learned so far. Stay tune for our analysis! : )