Here's a bit of a problem I've been having lately.
Sometimes I come up with a game. The game has a rather fine-tuned ruleset and mechanics, and by beta comes along it plays very wonderfully and even is a little fun. I give it nice graphics, the beginnings of a multiplayer mode, and a semi-decent AI-agent to fumble along with me. Then I consider ways I could give the game a level progression, to make the game maps and challenges incrementally more difficult, until it climaxes at the borderline of almost impossible to win, and giving you a magnificent tune of victory when you finally do. A "campaign" mode would surely fit the bill!
But, I can't justify it. Try as hard as I can, I can't think of a story to go with the game. Not one line of text. Not one character or mascot thereof. Not even a theme or leitmotif.
Sometimes it could be a matter of micronarrative. The gameplay itself is
a story, or evokes one. When a match of the game begins, the story begins, and when it ends with a player winning-losing-or-drawing, the story ends in the same way. This was the intent with an earlier
game of mine, which was based on the same vein of Magic: the Gathering
which also operated like that. Also just looking through some of my notebooks, I find another game like this tentatively called Demon Architect
, which is both a game and a story of the Marioesque platformer heroes taking on the evilbad, and the Demon Architect, who has contracted by the evilbad to always be a few steps ahead of the heroes, commanding his league of construction workers to build/design traps which will keep the heroes at bay, but won't make him run out of resources or funding. Two or three players act as the architects, while five or six be the pesky little heroes in opposition.
It might seem perfect like this, when the gameplay and the story are at one, but in truth it only works the best for games that are inherently multiplayer. Playing chess tells a story, albeit a very abstract one. The players themselves act as both protagonist and antagonist to eachother, so having a single player game with level progression becomes difficult because the scope of the game just won't go any further. Anything additional, like setting, plots, or characters, only end up seeming like a dull and predictable substitute for what could otherwise be real person.
Then, on different days, I have the opposite
problem. Through either solo effort, or just through speaking with a friend or affiliate, we come up with a story. A game story: a type of story that might only be told through a game. We imagine emotional parts of the plot, and figure out the various ways that the character of the player can become immersed or integral to the world that in many ways existed long before he showed up. Then we imagine the various ways that game artifacts can advance the story or add depth to it, and how the interaction between the player and the game can direct the story in different ways. And then, just to top it all off, we think about variability, and how the story might become different each time a player loads a new game file. A story is made, that only a game can tell!
But no game will have it.
This is definitely the case with a possible game that another dev and I sometimes think about it. Dear Diary
is a game set in a little fantasy world where tiny leaflets of paper begin to slowly float down from the sky. The people think it to be a message from the holy goddess, but when the player character sees them he would recognize each page as a private diary entry by an unknown little girl. The more and more pages that are found, the darker and sordid the contents become in the once-innocent pages. Then the world itself becomes affected, with each discovered page slowly transforming sunny fields into barren wastelands, crazed monsters appearing more and more frequently, and turning the once-nice villagers into stoic, agitated, or even hostile people. This might sound nice and all, with a progression in tension on the same footing as the difficulty curve, but we still have no idea what type of game it will end up being. Sometimes we think of it as a turn-based JRPG, and other times as a top-down Zelda clone, and even more recently as a Metroidvania platformer. It seems like it could work for any
game at all, and since we can't decide on even the basic makeup of the game itself, we can't begin working on it.
I'm wondering if any other devs here have had similar issues with the creative aspects of their games. Has there ever been a time when a game wouldn't accept having a story, or a story can't find a game to go along with it? This seems very much like an issue of preproduction, so it would be interesting to see or know if anyone managed to mend this for their projects.