Juan Uys

Coursera - Story and Narrative Development for Video Games, week 3


I completed CalArts’ Story and Narrative Development for Video Games and here are my course notes for week 3.

Week 3: Story Workshop

We explore ideation techniques and learn how to consolidate our ideas into more formalised stories with a view to incorporate the stories into our game design. We look at the importance of characters and settings, then at ways to refine them, as we develop an initial concept in story form (and then in the subsequent week, ultimately into a game).

Story ideation techniques

You’ve decided on the

  • Genres
  • When and Where

Storylines stem from characters. We’re going to come up with Idea sheets around characters and setting. First idea sheet starts with stating a goal (quest) for the protagonist. E.g. the princess must find the magic scepter. (For now, let’s call this our story’s spine.)

  • Why must this goal be achieved? E.g. the scepter was her father’s, and without it, the king will lose his power.
  • Now push the same question a bit: What else might happen and why? E.g. the power of the king comes from the scepter, and the person who holds it rules the land.

Ask, ask, ask. Don’t edit, let your mind wander.

Another sheet: how does the hero feel about the quest? E.g. the warrior princess feels honour-bound to save her kingdom. Ask why again. E.g. she craves her father’s love and respect. She wants to exact revenge on the magician who stole the scepter. She feels guilty that she let the scepter fall into the wrong hands.

Sheet 3: state the goal of the antagonist, then fill the sheet with Whys. What makes them stand in the why of the protagonist? Why do they oppose the hero?

4th sheet: write down the single line of when and where the game takes place (which you’ve decided before). (E.g. the kingdom is lush, green, and beautiful. The scepter’s power keeps the land in a forever-spring, with beautiful weather and flowing rivers. The neighbouring lands are arid and stark. Etc)

Now, take the four sheets from before, and take 6-10 ideas from the 24-30 you now should have, then write a few paragraphs (on a new piece of paper) weaving those ideas together. This will flesh out the storyline’s goal, and make for a much richer story for the game.

Do the same for the other sheets. This is the perfect time to develop the emotional relationship between heros and villains. Taking the new pages you’ve written together, what’s the new spine. Look at the original spine you came up earlier, and compare, and you’ll find it doesn’t quite hold up now. The new spine is much more developed now.

Personal writing advice

  • Dedicate to a routine.
  • spend the first 15 minutes reading (and not what you’ve written before)
  • spend the next 15 minutes writing the single line ideas (e.g. the whys)
  • take 2 minute break, and just stare at something. Clear your mind.
  • spend the rest of the time reviewing the idea sheets, and do the weaving
  • when time’s up, stop.

Connecting ideas and characters

Write a synopsis, and hit on the 8 points.

  • Where are we; where/when does the story take place?
  • Who are we following in the story (the protagonist) and why them?
  • Who or what force is opposed to the hero of the story, and why are they in opposition (the antagonist)?
  • What do these characters want to accomplish; what is at stake for them?
  • What is the ensuing conflict, and why does it exist?
  • How does the action rise; how do things get more tense?
  • What is the final crisis, and how does it play out?
  • How do things resolve and wrap up?

The synopsis for your story doesn’t need to exactly be written point by point through all eight questions in order. You just have to make sure somewhere in your texts that you answer all eight of those questions in an easy to read way as possible.

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