Game Creation with XNA/Game Creation/Story Writing and Character Development

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Story Writing and Character Development[edit]

A good game lives and dies with it`s characters and it`s story. A good story is what catches the player, keeps him interested and makes him want to continue. The story is the frame for all the action which is taking place, wrapping everything together. But story alone will never keep the player going. There is no good story without good characters and vice versa. The characters in the story are just as important. Not only the main character, but all characters he is interacting with, all characters who motivate him or influence him to do the things he does. Therefore its most crucial, for a good story, to create the story and all characters within in a way so they form a coherent unity. Imagine a Spacetrooper crossing Frodos way in The Lord of the Rings. That simply would`nt fit and would definitly ruin the story. But what exactly is a good story? And what exactly are good characters, fitting this very story? As always, whether or not a story and its genre are interesting, is a question of taste and lies in the eye of the beholder. Whereas whether a story is written in a good or a bad way, follows certain mechanics. Same applies for the characters in the story. Its personal taste whether you like the good guy or prefer the bad guy. But creating a character which is “self-contained” and well made, again follows certain mechanics. However you write a story or chreate your character, is totally up to you. But looking at what other authors and game developers do, makes it easier. There are certain tools and ways how to write the story and create the character for your game. The more detail you want to put in the more research you should do. There are many books out there that might help you to dive deeper int o the matter of Story Writing and Character Development. Covering it all would simply be to much. This article will give you a basic insight into Character Development and Story Writing for Games.








Character Development[edit]

On the following pages I will describe techniques to develop/create a character for a game or a story. Character development in terms of progress while playing, gaining expirience, increasing level, learning skills and so on, is not part of this article, will be referred to by certain links though. Focus of this article is character creation prior to the game.


Preliminary Work[edit]

The probably most important thing when creating a character is to know its purpose. Are you creating the main character of the story, the villain, a sidekick, a servant, a random companion or something else? Knowing the role of the character makes it easier to define his behaviour, his actions, his way of thinking and his overall appearance. After you have choosen the scope of your character, the actual work begins. Inform yourself! Read as much about the type of the character as you can. Ask yourself questions to define the character.

  • Do characters like this already exist in other games or stories?
  • What has been written by other authors?
  • Are there already stereotypes of this charakter and do they fit to your creation?
  • Is he a servant? How does it feel to serve?
  • Is he a soldier? How does it feel to be in battle?
  • Is he a priest? How does it feel to pray to god?

Learn as much about the character as you can. Check all available resources. Talk to friends. Keep asking questions. If you dont find exactly what your looking for, stick to your own imagination and feelings. In the end it`s your creation. There are certain things to consider though. Do you create a character who is part of an already existing universe (like an orc or a dwarf or a human)? If so think about the characteristics already applied to them. Like, orcs are green, dwarfs a small and humans can’t breath underwater. Do you want to stick to these basic characteristics that are already present in the players imagination, or do you want to create something totally new? However you decide, keep in mind how the player could react on your creation.



Point of View and Background[edit]

In order to make your character authentic, try to look through his eyes. Try to be your character and keep your eyes open to the world and how the character perceives it. How do things look? Why do they look like this? How do things feel? Why do they feel that way? What feels good? Why does it feel good? The WHY of things sometimes is more important than the things themselves. To understand the WHY, it is necessary to understand the background of your character. A real person develops a certain understanding of the world and has an individual point of view on things, depending on his own expirience, on his way of growing up and on all the things that happened in his life. And probably only he can tell how he became the person he is today. Since your character is a creation of your fantasy, you are the only one that can tell how he became the character he is. The more specific you describe the characters background the easier it will be for the player to understand him and feel with him. The player must not necessarily agree with the characters attitude, but he will more likely understand it, if you provide a detailed explanation for his behaviour. The more you think in detail the more realistic your character will be. You are the one to decide how much detail your character needs. But in general the main characters in your game should posses more detail and depth, than any character in a supporting role.

Motivation & Alignment[edit]

Understanding the WHY of things is a good start to understand the motivation behind decisions your character makes. Motivation is the force that drives all of your characters, may it be good or evil. What is the motivation of the plumber Mario to take all the efforts? To rescue the princess and stop Bowser. What is Bowser`s motivation? To take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Both of them are driven by their motivation. To understand the motivation of a character, and eventually agree with it, you need to know as much about the character as possible. Giving your character an alignment will help to understand his actions and might even help to understand and clarify his motivation. SuperMario wants to save the princess, never does any bad things and therefore is easily classified as good. So is Bowser. He embodies everything which is considered bad, so he is the bad guy, period. But saying “Well, he is a bad guy, and that’s why he is doing bad things.” won’t do the trick for more detailed characters. The more detailed a character gets, the more complicated it is to classify him as good or evil. Some people do the right things for the wrong reasons and some do the wrong things for the right reasons. Who is the good and who is the bad guy? To help you align your character to a side, you should look at his intention. When he is doing a good thing and furtermore intended to do a good thing, he is probably a good guy. But no one is entirely good or purely evil. Most characters are neutral until their actions proove them to be good or evil. Here is a list of the three stereotypes and their attributes to help you classify your character:


Good[edit]

  • does the right things for the right reasons
  • loves and respects life in every form
  • tries to help others
  • puts others interests over its own
  • sticks to the law
  • is driven by the wish to do the right thing even when not knowing what the right thing is


Be careful when creating your Hero. There would be no fun running through the game being invincible, being too strong or beeing too clever. If things are too easy, players will loose interest very fast. To make him interesting a hero must not be perfect. He should have some weaknesses and flaws the player can identify with. Most heros don’t even know they are heros. They can be just like you and me, living their lives and doing their daily work. Suddenly something happens and they simply react. Driven by their inner perception of what is right and wrong, driven by their alignment, they react in a way which slowly transforms them into what we would call a hero. Frodo for example never chose to be a hero, he was chosen and became a hero while fullfilling the task he was given. A hero needs to grow with his challenges. And exactly that is what makes the hero so interesting for the player. The change that happens and the fact that the player witnesses the transformation from the normal guy to the saviour of the world. While creating your character, keep in mind that every hero has skills and talents that enable him to fullfill his task. Some of them are special or even unique which make the hero appear special. But what really makes the hero interesting and appealing to the player are his flaws and merits. A knight in shiny armor, a huge sword and a big shield who slays dragons seems impressive and adorable. But giving him flaws and merits like, beeing afraid of small spiders make him much more realistic and bring him closer to the player.

Neutral[edit]

  • sometimes does the right things
  • sometimes behaves selfish and does the wrong things
  • hard to say on which side they are - sometimes they dont know themselves
  • even though they call themselves neutral their actions sometimes prove otherwise
  • good alignment for sidekicks of hero and villain - Devils advocat
  • Anti-Heros can be neutral and pushed from one side to the other


Neutral characters dont choose a side per se. They base their decisions and actions on their mood at a apecific point. Most characters are neutral until they have to decide which way to go. And after that descision they can still change their mind again. Whatever suits them best.


Evil[edit]

  • is selfish
  • greedy, insane or pure evil
  • shows no interest for others
  • puts his own goals infront of everything else
  • must have a strong motive
  • the reader must love to hate him simply cuz he embodies everything we hate or never would consider doing


The bad guy is motivation number one for every hero. Either he threatens peace and harmony, or he kidnappes the princess, or he wants to destroy the world or whatever. He actualy makes the hero become a hero. The villain does not always think of himself as bad person, he is convinced that what he is doing is right (in his world) and the hero, in his eyes, is the bad guy trying to ruin everything. Point of view is very important. Sometimes the bad guy is’nt bad because he chose to be, but rather was forced to, by complicated circumstances. Whether or not you tell the player, is totally up to you. There are different ways to aproach the creation of the bad guy. Either you say he is a bad guy and does all the things bad guys do. In that case the player probably won’t build up a closer relation to the bad guy. He is just the one that needs to be whiped out in order to restore peace and harmony. Or you create your bad guy more sophisticated. Disguise him in a way so the player does not recognize him as the bad guy from the beginning. Or you give him some features that make him appear nice in a certain way. For example he loves his dog and would do everything for him. Or you create an inner conflict which throws him from side to side. Something that might let the player feel with the bad guy. Keep in mind that the bad character should also have skills, talents, flaws and merits to make him as realistic as possible.


For more detailed information about archetypes, their features and use in stories check Archetypes.


Resumé Character Development[edit]

At the end of the day it’s your character. You alone decide how he will look, how he will behave and how he will react. And because you spend many hours thinking about how your character should be like, it is important to take care about the player understanding your intention. The more detail a character gets, the more interesting he will be. The more interesting a character is, the more the player will like him. The more the player likes your character the more he will enjoy the game.It is pretty easy to overload a character with all features fitting a single alignment. Make the bad guy the most evil creature you can imagine, or make your hero the shiniest of all white knights. But the more you mix up your characters the more relistic he will be. However you decide and whatever character you create, make sure it fits your story and your purpose.


Story Writing / Story Telling[edit]

Writing a story often begins with an idea. Where that idea comes from may differ though. Either you want to make a game out of a movie or a book you like, you want to create something totally new, or you want to make a sequel of an existing game. Depending on the source of your idea, different things are to be considered when writing. In general one can say, writing a story and creating a game should go hand in hand. It’s never a good idea to clamp a story to an already existing game design and vice versa. Both, Design and Story grow and therefore it’s a good idea to make them grow parallel.


Adapting a movie or a book[edit]

When adapting a movie or a book you necessarely need to take things from the movie. Either the story, the main characters, the setting or all of it. Otherwise it would’nt be an adaptation. If you want to adapt the whole movie you need to be clear of certain things. Yo need to stay true to the original material. When doing so you need to be aware of that not everything that is working good in a movie works for a game. Some parts of the story are moving on without the character even being present. You have to fill in that information with cutscenes or videos which take the player out of the game. That’s no big deal in a movie because you sit and watch it anyway and don’t interact with it. It can be frustrating for a player though, to not be able to interact in a specific situation. Another point to think about is the fact that the player might know the end of the game already due to the fact he knows the movie. This could take away some thrill but on the other hand could make the player identify with the hero because he is doing all the things the hero does in the movie.


Creating a sequel[edit]

Main reason for creating a sequel of a game is the success the original game already had. There is an existing market with fans and maybe even working merchandise. Furthermore there already is a name, so that sequels of games mostly start with a little bonus on their side. The flip side of sequels are the expectations the fans have. The new title has to be bigger, faster, better… simply more. Often better graphics, bigger explosions, better sound and cooler style are not enough to guarantee the success of a sequel. There are certain ways to approch a sequel. First one is to simply take what was working in the last part, rehash it a bit, don’t add new features but just continue the story. That’s no guarantee for failure, but certainly leads in that direction. A better way to do it is to look for the key features of the original game, polish them up, place them in a new setting and create a game which relates to the original but can also stay on its own. The good thing is that you don’t have to start from scratch, but can use much of the work already done for the original. So you have more time to focus on the details which where neglected or not even thought of in the original. Focus on the main character, give him more depth, add to his story. Take some of his abilities and think of new ways to use them. Improve or worsen them. A big bonus is that you already know what exactly was good about the original and what was bad. Take the good things, add more of them and whipe out the bad stuff. But just taking and polishing up what was there before will not be enough. Add more content by adding more story and detail to your characters. Add more features but don’t overload the game.


Creating a whole new story[edit]

When creating a whole new story you are quite free to do whatever you want. Keep in mind certain things though. If you want to create a game which shall be successful and should sell good you need to know what kind of games are played at the moment and why. You should consider how the players think and what they want. Next thing to consider is what kind of story do you want and then choose an appropriate game-style to match your story. Decide for a genre (Game Genres / Types of Games). Not all genres are able to transport the story of your game. Already existing genres might have content which serve your needs and are already established. On the other hand genres do have boundaries which are not easy to cross. Whatever genre and style you choose for your game, stick to it throughout the whole game.


How to actually write a story[edit]

Every story needs a title, a prolog, a main part and an epilog. Furthermore a story needs characters, because no story without character and no character without story. This seems a bit flat but that’s all there is to it. Lets dive a bit deeper into the single parts.


Title[edit]

The title should fit your story. It should create an interest to play the game. It should partially reveal what the game is about but not say to much to keep the thrill.


Prologue[edit]

The prologue usually starts with a description of the game world as it is. The player becomes a first impression and a feeling for the setting. A good prologue rouses the players desire to explore. Actually everything is in order. Furthermore the prologue gives background details needed to understand what is going on.


Main part[edit]

The main part usually starts with a call to adventure or a reason to start playing. Whatever that my be in your story. Either the princess gets kidnapped, your character’s village gets destroyed by Dark Riders, or your character simply wants to break out of his world. Referring to Joseph Campbell's Monomyth the hero refuses this first call to adventure and needs further persuasion to finally start his journey. But as for games the player wants to play, he wants to explore and wants to take the journey. That’s why he plays the game. So the call of adventure gets our character going. On this journey the character is faced with multiple challenges he has to overcome in order to come a step closer to his final goal. (Whatever that is…). With every challenge the character passes he will grow stronger and will come closer to his goal. But every challenge which is overcome, is followed by an even greater challenge. Lee Sheldon writes in his book Character Development and Story Telling for Games:


“We have our crisis then. A major change is going to occur. Only one? No. As we move through the story, crisis follows crisis, each one escalating tension and suspense.
Every one of these crises needs an additional element a climax. Egri says, “crisis and climax follow each other, the last one always on a higher plane than the one before…
…Resolution is simply the outcome of the climax that is a result of the crisis. The story is built from this three-step dance. Every one of these crises has reached a
climax and has been resolved, only to have the stakes raised higher, and the next crisis always looming as even more profound.“


But challenges should not always be slaying evil creatures or escape from a trap. Personal sacrifice, or the loss of a loved companion can be a challenge as well. Most of you might remember Gandalf falling to his assumed death in the Mines of Moria while fighting the Balrog. But Frodo and his fellowship decided to keep their eyes on the goal, grow with the challenge and move on. Challenges can also be to collect certain things, learn how craft or solve puzzles. And each challenge has a small reward, may it be experience, a new weapon, a new companion or just something that makes your character stronger and prepares him for his “final battle”. Small challenges or quests keep the player motivated. Furthermore the character should meet several other characters. All of them will have their own intend and influence on him. Some want to help him advance on his journey and some of them want to hinder or even destroy him.

Usually the main part ends with the final encounter and the ultimate reward. May it be the Lord Deamon you slay, the princess you rescue or the world you save. Again referring to Joseph Campbell's Monomyth this is attended by a personal sacrifice your character has to make. The hero is willing to give away his life to save the princess and to complete his task.


Epilogue[edit]

The epilogue describes how the character receives the The ultimate Boon, his way home and how the story ends. Sometimes games leave an open end in order to be continued some day. Some games like MMORPG do not even have a “real” end. The story itself may end or pause until the next expansion is released, but the game continues.

Author[edit]

Thonka

Links[edit]

FullCircle
Wikipedia : The Lord of the Rings
Wikipedia : Archetypes
Wikipedia : Game Genres
Wikipedia : Prologue
Wikipedia : Joseph Campbell
Wikipedia : Monomyth
Wikipedia : Lee Sheldon
Wikipedia : Epilogue
Wikipedia : MMORPG
Wikibook : Game Creation with XNA - Types of Games

Books[edit]

Character Development And Storytelling For Games by Lee Sheldon(Premier Press 2004)
Die Heldenreise im Film by Joachim Hammann (Zweitauseneins)