Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Think Tanks and storyboards

*Note, this turned out rather long*

Yesterday, (in a very ranty blur) I briefly mentioned that I worked on a storyline for a game my brother is designing. I want to expand on that topic.

Since early high school, my brother has wanted to be a game programmer, and since I've always written, I basically promised to write storylines for him eons ago. Well, now he is finishing his degree in programing, and he and three other engineers are designing a turn based RPG for their thesis (or something.) He told me about the project weeks ago and asked me to think up a story for it. We don't see each other that often these days, but we managed to steal a little bit of time to discuss things like battle mechanics and class types, (which can affect the story) but really that was all we had time to talk about.

I tried to work out a story from scratch knowing only a little of the mechanics they would be using, but everywhere I turned I hit stumbling blocks. This isn't a big budgeted Final Fantasy game where they will be able to create graphics for whatever I write--they are yoinking free graphics from the web that will be very limited. Days passed, and I still had nothing. I'm addicted to games, I write, I paint, but none of those qualities really prepared me to write a game storyline. I'm not helping with the graphics (I don't have that kind of time to offer) so my art background doesn't help. Writing a story is all about description and making the reader see something that has no images--which really is very different from dictating what graphics you have no control over will depict. Gaming might help a little, at least I understand the sequence these types of games go through, but that doesn't mean I can pull one out of the air.

Well, my brother called the other day to tell me the group needed the story because they needed to start. *guilt guilt* He said the four of them came up with something, but it was awful and needed help. He stopped by so we could talk it out. He was right, the 'plot' they had was scary bad--characters had no motivation, their journey made no logical sense, and the bad guy's plan was vague at best. He also brought something else--one of the group members had made a map.

I took the groups original idea (though they will probably barely recognize it at this point) and my brother and I sat around just talking out world building. I've never done the think tank thing before for writing, but it worked very well. I threw ideas out and he agreed or added something. Eventually we formed a solid idea of how to start the story and why the characters will react in certain ways to the events in the story.

*Note* by world building, I don't mean the map, I mean things like how and why magic works and what kind of peoples populate the game. World building and initial story ideas are a lot like carving stone in my opinion. I start out with very rough ideas that become more and more detailed as I dive further in. For this reason, before I start an outline or anything when I'm writing, I usually jot notes down on paper. Not because it's any faster, but because things are spilling out of my head in a chaotic jumble, and I basically just scribble the most random notes all over the page. Try to put that into word and it looks like free writing from hell. I also make small doodles, circle, star, and stike the ideas as I work through them. I did exactly this as I sat with my brother. And having the give take of doing it out loud while jotting down the notes and getting someone else's feed back was actually very fun.

After we had our world building done, we pulled out the map. Now this is where the process became really interesting. RPG's are all about talking to people, fighting bosses, and unlocking cut scenes that tell the story. All of these things are activated by traveling to worldmap, so plotting out the journey is very important. Now, as a writer I'm used to outlining by key plot points, but for this, it was all about location. We looked at the map, circled spots and said "here is where MC should pick up the second character, they should find another playable character here, or there should be a boss fight here." (And that's where years of gaming plays in, there is a sort of system to games) So, instead of writing up an outline with major plot points, I had a map where I knew things had to happen, and I had to write a plot that would make those things happen. It was a different approach. Once we had the map figured out, (we moved a few things, but not many,) and a basic idea for the story, my brother headed out so I could actually write down all the things we'd discussed in a usable formate.

I didn't have the time or the required skill to storyboard visually, so I wrote a very detailed outline type storyline. In some ways it wasn't unlike the outlines I write for books. Some parts were very detailed, though I didn't include much dialogue (I'll probably end up writing dialogue for them later. It depends on whether they ask me too or not.) other sections, especially the 'dangerous' areas where not much story takes place ended up with notes like "Heroes navigate to the center of the gate tower fighting monsters along the way." It was strange to break the outline by location. I couldn't tell you how I normally break up my outlines...they are a bit of a mess and pretty organic, but I can't imagine ever writing a novel outline with the main divider being 'New York' and the next section 'LA'. *shrugs*

I emailed out the storyboard last night, and I haven't heard anything back yet. I hope the group likes it. (I've never met any of them aside from my brother.) Over all, I really did have a lot of fun doing this once I found a clear path to work on. Of course, I wrote several thousand words that don't count for my own goals, but in a way, I think this was a very good exercise. I've mentioned before, plot isn't my strong point. I really have to struggle to find a plot for the characters that tend to show up in my mind. The game's plot is very er...game like and not terribly complicated, but I did have to work it out piece by piece. If asked, I would do this again. I might also my steal my brother once in a while in the future to bounce ideas off him. He can't write a story to save his life, but he is great to brain storm with.

4 comments:

fredcharles said...

I was always interested in doing a computer game. I used to be into computer roleplaying games and would have loved to have made my own. The problem for me is that I barely know how to program the microwave to make popcorn.

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Kalayna Price said...

Anonymous,

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