Adventures in Interactive Fiction

Success is North of Failure

Mapping out the story

So I am taking the disciplined approach – or at least what I consider to be the disciplined approach – and starting this process by really solidifying my story.  The real reason I think of this as “disciplined”, of course, is because it’s hard.  It’s easy to say “I want to write a story about a chicken who crosses the road, and in so doing, gets to the other side.”  The hard part, naturally, is telling the story in a way that anyone wants to read.

Part of my challenge is that instead of knowing from the start that I wanted to tell the story of a chicken who crosses the road to get to the other side, I began with the notion of a chicken who had already crossed the road and started telling the story backwards.  Why is he on this side of the road?  How did he get there – did he walk?  Fly?  Get kicked?  If he walked, what events might have prompted the journey? Was he laughed out of Poulet Prep for not knowing the difference between sorghum and barley?  What meaningful experiences did he have at Poulet Prep?  How were those experiences shaped by previous events in his life?  As I pick my way backwards, I discover that I am not telling a story so much as discovering one.  I knew from the start how the story ended; it’s discovering how it got there that has been the most fun.

And so, as I drive back and forth to work every day, I unfold the story, prodding at the corners, smoothing out the creases, poking into crevices.  I watch the characters walk backwards through their play, knowing where they’re headed, wondering where they’ve been.  Sometimes they back into the wrong sorts of corners, into pasts that don’t make sense, or histories that I simply don’t like.  And now that the story has pretty much been laid out in my mind, I find myself rather surprised at what I’ve ended up with.  Now begins the process of folding it all up again, and if you’ve ever tried to refold a map, you know how challenging that is.

So that’s where I am.  The story has finally been decided on, and now starts the next hard part – turning it into a work of IF.  With the story written, I guess the next step is figuring out where the game is in all of it, which challenges naturally translate into puzzle elements, how to use gameplay to help the player unfold the story, and of course… how to make them want to play it in the first place.

So that’s my open question for today: what’s your approach?  Do you start with an idea of the challenges you want the player to face, and then figure out how to build a story around them?  Do you think of interesting mechanics and try to work them into puzzles?  Or do you start with your story, and figure out a way to turn them into a game?

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February 16, 2012 Posted by | Game Progress, Storytelling | Leave a comment