The First Step to Better Video Game Storytelling

I feel like all I’m about to do is state the obvious.

A thought came to me as I finished up Heavenly Sword as my mind turned to stories in video games. Video games need stories crafted specifically for the medium. Every medium that tells stories has their own way of crafting a story. Length is one way to look at it, but detail, pacing, depth all contribute for a successful story in any medium. The measures of each is very different for each medium and transitions of a work from one medium to another takes effort in learning what to cut, shift or otherwise edit. Video games are different, as they usually require additions instead.

We have always known this; the difference for video games is that there is a need for the interactive elements, the gameplay elements, which changes the nature of how the story flows. The technical requirements of a game require a different type of story. Many of which grind to a halt when the interactive elements of the game show up and when transitioning between the two it’s like you can hear an audible clunk. The game portions are either wedged in or the game goes so outlandishly out of its way to force extra gameplay sections to make sense.

Heavenly Sword didn’t seem to have either of these problems, or at least not for the reasons I mentioned. I wish the game had smoother transitions between the varying sections and less load times, but back to the point at hand. The story was well crafted and the underlying structure was solid. With some edits it probably could be made into a movie, but most of it was specifically made for the video game medium. Not only did the story allow for the combat, it required it. The writer left spots open or crafted sections specifically so player interaction could happen. The gameplay sections are melded into the overall story because the story allows for their existence. The story in Heavenly Sword is simple enough that it’s easier to see the working parts from a conceptual standpoint, but once the process is understood it can be applied to more complex story ideas.

I wrote a three part series on about the division of story and gameplay and what was being done to try and merge the two part together. I did not, however, consider the following. The first step to the process is to get a writer who understands what video games are and understands the medium’s specific needs when it comes to interactivity. It isn’t about cut scenes or in game dialogue or audio journals or visual clues for the story to be conveyed better in a video game. What is needed is a story specifically suited to the video game medium. Video games require a different set of rules when it comes to pacing, tension, information, etc etc. Those terms don’t mean the same thing in video games than they mean for movies or TV, the two most often imitated formats.

I don’t know the specifics of how to create working stories for the medium. That will take further thought.

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