Storyline and plot development are central to a successful game. Gamers want to be immersed in a cool universe with impossible physics filled with mind-boggling characters that possess face-melting powers. And now you want to make a video game—so where do you start?
Go With What You Know
Before design, it’s important that you’ve got in mind what your game is going to be about—and while it’s not a necessity, you should probably be making a game type that you like to play. It’s far easier developing a story for a genre you know because you likely have a better understanding of its limitations, features, and what’s been done before.
Brian Kindregan, a lead story writer for Blizzard franchises Starcraft and Diablo, shares in his blog that you need to “identify which kind of games you really like and play obsessively, as you will have a context for those games that you lack for others. When getting started, you will need lots of context so that you clearly ‘get it’ in a way that others do not.”
To put it simply, if you want to make an RPG, you hopefully have some level of obsession with the Final Fantasy series (and have beaten Final Fantasy VII for extra bonus points). If you want to make puzzle games, be darn good at and play a whole lot of puzzle games—you should have no problem figuring out Braid’s hidden ending. The same goes for FPS—you better be no-scoping headshots while blindfolded!
Making a game for a genre that you’re excited about will go a long way throughout the development and design stages.
Framing Your Story
Once you’re comfortable with the genre you’ve nailed down, it’s very important to get your vision statement squared away. You vision statement is basically your plot summary combined with ideas on gameplay, functionality, and end goals. We recently wrote an article about creating your vision statement, which also provides some colorful examples.
When you have your vision statement, it’s now time to start framing your story up. One of the best tools for getting your ideas out are storyboards. Storyboards help you brainstorm and visualize the content of your game: its world, characters, weaponry, purpose, mechanics, and more. Storyboards typically consist of drawings with accompanying text that help to clearly convey ideas and direction, making concepts more easily understood by those you are collaborating with. Because of this, storyboards often accelerate the early concept development and design stages and can be a powerful tool for you and your team.
Storyboarding can be used to outline your entire story over a few story panes, or they can be used for specific encounters, developments, conceptual art, or cinematic scenes (like the Fallout 3 storyboard to the right). At the initial stages of development, you should use storyboards to visually outline your ideas so that your team can quickly get movement in the right direction.
Adding visual elements like storyboards enhance the effectiveness of collaboration, accelerate feedback, and help to create a more agile team capable of iterating on one another’s ideas. It is likely that you’ll go through several storyboards throughout your game’s design process, especially as new levels, characters, game mechanics, and more are introduced and developed—so keep this tool in mind, always!
Storyboards are one of the many powerful tools you and your team can use as you set forth in organizing your Game Design Document (GDD). For tips on developing and improving your GDD, check out our article “6 Strategies to Improve Your Game Design Documents.”
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