Coursera - Story and Narrative Development for Video Games, week 4

2020-07-27

I completed CalArts’ Story and Narrative Development for Video Games and here are my course notes for week 4, the final week.

Week 4: From Story to Game

We learn about the game design document, and evaluate a few different templates you can use. We take the story we developed in the previous weeks, and define it as a playable game outlined in a game design document.

Intro to GDD

A GDD is useful as pitch material for your fleshed out game idea.

  • intro: Start off with an intro; what is the game story, and why should I the reader care? Use the spine here.
  • objective: What’s your game’s objective? Are you racking up coins? Are you rescueing a princess? Cover the basic feel and genre, e.g. FPS, RPG, RTS, etc. You might incorporate some art here too, one or two illustrations which support the spine and the objective.
  • detailed game overview: take us through the game, start to finish, as a rough chronology of the story. This incorporates the game synopsis and the story “presentation” (which is a new concept, but the instructor bangs on as if we’ve covered it: the presentation is how the game presents the story, e.g. as a series of missions, with cutscenes). You could use a game flowchart (covered later). Wrap up the intro with a couple of paragraphs that speak to the gameplay aspects, e.g. in Angry Birds you “flick the birds with your finger using a slingshot as a way of knocking over the pigs”. Along with deviations, changes, or twists that you plan on during gameplay.

Some example templates:

https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JasonBakker/20090604/84211/A_GDD_Template_for_the_Indie_Developer.php https://www.runawaystudios.com/articles/chris_taylor_gdd.php http://seriousgamesnet.eu/assets/view/238 https://www.sloperama.com/advice/specs.htm https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131791/the_anatomy_of_a_design_document_.php https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3411/the_anatomy_of_a_design_document_.php

Deeper dive into GDD

We’ve covered intro, objective, and detailed game overview, but from here on a lot of templates (that you find online) vary and offer different opinions on how you layout or present your design.

  • artistic style: describe look and feel, e.g. cartoony, or photo-realistic, or based on characters you sculpted out of clay. Back it up with illustrations or art references. The style covers not just the environment and characters, but also the game interface (game menus and sounds).
  • characters: use the character briefs here, along with some artwork. Start with primary characters, then move onto secondary, etc.
  • settings: settings descriptions, the environment, and artwork for that. Start with primary settings, then move onto secondary, etc.
  • props: if you have vehicles, weapons, etc that are important to the game, these descriptions should be included as well. E.g. does the hero drive a special car? What is the history of it, and what does it look like? However, don’t describe everything in the game - you’re not presenting a full assets list, just the creative design choices.
  • lay out the more mechanical and pragmatic choices for the game. Describe the interface, the controls. Is it keyboard? Gamepad? Touch interface? These help you flesh out the mechanics of your game. How does the game load? What platform is it for? Describe how the player use the game at all physical levels. Can you create maps and modify the game? Can you design your own characters and levels? Are there any online components? If multiplayer, how does that work? Is it just story mode, or do you have free-play mode?

Story presentation schemes

The Story presentation scheme is part of the GDD. Telling your story is obviously important. How you tell that story through a game is illustrated in the Presentation Scheme or Presentation Plan. This short, concise document outlines how your story unfolds in terms of gameplay, cinematics, intro movies, etc.

Gameplay flowchart

The gameplay flowchart graphically charts the gameplay from beginning to end. The flowchart goes hand in hand with the Story Presentation Scheme, but, again, shows its structure rather than rehashing the same information. It also illustrates player choices and story branching.

You can use this format to not only inform your design document reader how you see your game unfold, but also as a concrete blueprint to design your game. It easily shows how cut-scene cinematics and gameplay work together to advance the overall story.

Assignment

This week’s assignment takes the spines, character briefs, story synopses, settings descriptions that we wrote in the previous week, and gamifying it.

Conclusion

This was fun. I like writing. I learnt a few ideation techniques. I’ve seen a few other techniques from other creative writing courses, and the ones covered here are slightly different, so I can add them to my toolkit. I suppose I’ve done book/novel planning before, so a lot of these concepts I’ve seen in the past.