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Author Topic: Let's get this started - with some structure. Please read!  (Read 12080 times)
tZee
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« on: June 19, 2009, 04:56:08 PM »

I have been reading in this forum for a bit and see that there are many many good ideas, but nothing is moving here. So to get things started I wanted to give you some guidance in terms of structure and workflow.
Now I am not an experienced writer. I loved writing since I was a child, but only recently I took it to the next level, when I was recommended a book about screenwriting. A very good book - some even call it the bible of screenwriting. This said, I'll be happy to learn more about this from people with experience in this area. Otherwise I will try to advice and guide you as much as I can.

Ok, first of all I want to say some things about the nature of stories.

- Most important: Stories - books, movies, games, tales etc. - are there to entertain. If you didn't realize that until now take the time and think about it. They are purely to entertain. If you want to educate there are other formats for that. You should always bare this in mind when trying to implement out-of-the-ordinary things, like letting a main character die in the middle of the story, or having no antagonist.
- You have to consider the differences between a movie, a book and a game. Books usually live from the insight in the main characters thoughts. You don't have that in a movie. In a movie you can only _show_ emotions, thought and so on, you cannot describe them. (That is why a movie adaption of a book should be considered something else than the book itself. Sometimes it's impossible to make a movie out of a book. Best recent example: Twilight. The book lives from the insight in the main characters thoughts and feelings. In the movie the character just appears to be stupid, being dumbfounded and openmouthed half of the movie.)
In games it is a bit different. Essentially it is like in a movie: you can only show what feelings characters bear, what thoughts they have. But you do have an influence on your main characters choices. Choices are the expression of thoughts/feelings/attitudes, which means you have an influence - and therefore a limited insight - on the characters thoughts and feelings. We should consider this later.


Now to the structure of a story. I guess you all heard in school about first act, second act, third act, climax, decline and so on. Those structures haven't been invented to torture pupils. Seriously. Wink They are not rules either. They are proven structures that worked for centuries and still do. They are a way to keep the audience's attention, to keep them hooked.
In a movie a single act usually spans over roughly 30 minutes, giving a 120 minutes movie usually 3 acts. Each act has it's own climax. Consequent act-climaxes haven to be stronger each time, making the final act's climax - which is at the same time the story's climax - the strongest.
Each climax has to bring a change that majorly impact's the story. All climaxes' consequences may be reverted in following acts - except the final climax. It has to bring the greatest change, which _has to be_ irreversal. It is the ultimate consequence, the cumulation of all the main characters choices, and for it to have a meaning it must not be reversible.

Acts are made out of sequences. Sequences are made out of scences. Scenes are made out of beats. Each of those elements has to bring a value change, here ordered from strong to weak. (climax > sequence > scene > beat) Now telling you about beats might be a bit too detailed, so I will only outline this roughly.
- Beat: An interchange in a scene. For example take two people. They are talking, but suddenly the start arguing about something. That would be two beats. First they are talking normally, then in the next beat they argue. The value change here would be e.g.: relaxed -> upset
- Scene: A sequence of beats that bring a stronger value change. Imagine those two people from my example start fighting. Value change e.g.: peaceful -> violent
- Sequence: Some scenes that serve a common purpose. In my example there could be some more scenes about those two guys, who might have been friends in the beginning, but over the course of scenes this friendship grows into hatred. Value change e.g.: friendship -> harted
- Act: The climax of an act bringts the greatest value change. In my example there could be more sequences which deepen the harted between the two former friends. Ultimately one kills the other. Value change here life -> death.

This might sound very movie specific, but it is true for books and games as well. All those elemnts need to bring a value change, otherwise they have no purpose and can be cut without losing anything in the story. The rising in importance of the value change is to prepare the way to the climax - a tension curve. After an act's climax you have to start slower again to give the audience a break to recover - otherwise they would wear out and the next act's climax wouldn't be as effective anymore.

A story has to be progressed by decisions. Random events progressing the story take out the meaning of it. There might be random events, of course - even more than in reality - but the story has to advance as a reaction to the main characters decisions.

How does the story start? The so-called inciting incident set's off the hero on his journey. That it true for every genre. The inciting incident can be something random, but it has to turn the hero's world upside down. Then onwards the hero struggles to restore normality in his world (don't take world to literally, he doesn't have to rescue the world for this).
It is in human's nature to try to find the way of least effort. In this case it means the hero will try to restore normality with the least effort at first. But the outcome of his attempt is different than he is expected - maybe he made the situation even worse. Over the course of the story the hero takes ever stronger messures to restore his world, ultimately leading to the strongest decision in the story climax.
The story climax always has to be a clear decision between two strong value charges. E.g. be cowardly and run away or finally stand and fight - and risk dying.

The audience needs an antagonist. There doesn't have to be a super bad villan, the evil mastermind, but the audience needs something or someone to focus on. Take The Matrix as an example: All agents are bad and want to kill the main characters. But the main antagonist is Agent Smith. Even though he is not superior to the others he is the one antagonist that we will remember.
Antagonists are not evil. They are always doing the right things - from their perspective. It might be a twisted, evil perspective, but they have to believe that what they are doing is the right thing to do.

Finally some words about the main character:
Characters possess dimensions. A dimension is a characters attitude to a certain thing/person. E.g. the main characters mom is always lovely to her son. We never see any other attitude from her and that is fine. She is just a unimportant side character and not important for the story. The more important the character - the more often they appear - the more dimensions they need. The main character needs the most dimensions, so the audience can identify with him the best. E.g. he could be nice to his mother, loving to his wife, dangerous to the antagonist and violent to someone else. I don't know in how far this is realizable for the main character in a game, but it is true in a game for other characters as well.
For the audience - or the player - to identify the character they need to see something in him and think (deep down below): Hey, he is like me. E.g. the main character steals something and has a mighty bad consience afterwards. Even though he has done something bad the audience will sympathize with him, because he has a bad conscience. They will think "it is the same as me, when I took xyz". We have to make the audience sympathize with our maincharacter - or it wont work out.

Now I am sorry you had to read all this about story structure, but it is necessary to know about this. I know I have the habbit to explain things quite complicated, so please ask questions! Smiley If you want to read about this in more detail I can recommend you the book I read.


Now about the process in our writing department:

First of all we need an idea what our story should be about. When we have that we need to start creating scenes, working our way through the story until we discover what our story climax will be. Then we have to work backwards to correct the scenes before so the story climax works and there are no logical gaps etc.
In our case, because it is a game, I think there can be several story climaxes, as I imagine that the story evolves like a tree, depending on the players decisions.

Be aware that we will have to create TONS of scenes and most of them will be discarded. We will have to select the very few that are high quality. As mentioned in that book, good writers know that 90% of what they produce is merely of medium quality. We have to find those 10%.

All the while we will have to create our world. That is: work out all the ideas you have. Create events in the past, create a past for characters. All this has to be written down and worded in as much details as necessary. We will have to create tribes, customs, clothings, all that stuff which can be used as references in the actual story.
We will have to have perfect knowledge of our world so we can create a waterproof story.

We will have to create the main arc - which will most likely fork - and subplots. They have to be connected, at least at one point in the game. Otherwise the subplots are meaningless. A subplot could for example be the lovestory of the main character with someone else. Ideally they all climax in the story's climax - or at least in an act's climax.


This is what I suggest we do know:

We have to keep track of the ideas and background information. A good place for that would be the wiki. I suggest we post proposals in this forum, marking it clearly like "[Proposal: Act/Scene]" or "[Proposal: Background/Event]" etc. In this thread we post the idea and the discuss about it, refine it and finally store it in the wiki. In my opinion there should be one or two people who take the final decision, so the discussions don't go on forever. (We can't put all ideas in the game. Remember, it's all about entertaining the audience.)

This will be quite a patchwork process and require a high collaboration. I'd prefer this collaboration to happen in IRC and to post only the results in the forum, but I don't think this is possible with timezones and current user activities.

So this is where my "experience" ends. For my private story I had an idea what I wanted to happen in my story - I had a rough outline, so I knew my acts climaxes and could work towards them. We have nothing right know, except the setting. We need to decide what this story is going to be about, and then start working from there.

That was hell a lot of text and I am sure I still forgot about important things. Smiley Please let me know what you think of this.
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maximinus
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2009, 05:06:28 PM »

I'm scared to answer such a long post  Lips sealed , so give me some time.

But I do agree with your main thrust and especially the writing dept. process.
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Dave Matney
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« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2009, 07:42:51 PM »

I, too, have to digest your crazy long message. :p

But I just wanted to throw it out there that I wish NineOfHearts would come back; she and I had worked out a pretty decent story (at least the beginning of one) in IRC a few weeks ago, and she was going to clean up the conversation and post an outline.  Sad
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zenbitz
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« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2009, 10:05:06 PM »

tl;dr.  I think our problem is more lack of writers actually writing anything than any structural deficiencies.
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Dave Matney
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« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2009, 10:46:36 PM »

tl;dr.  I think our problem is more lack of writers actually writing anything than any structural deficiencies.

I agree with that.  Adding structure doesn't hurt us, but without people actually writing, we're not gaining anything by having structure, either.
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tZee
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« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2009, 12:05:31 AM »

I can help on that as well, I just need to read more into the material. Smiley

Waiting for your digested answers. Cheesy
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NineOfHearts
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« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2009, 08:54:17 AM »

tl;dr.  I think our problem is more lack of writers actually writing anything than any structural deficiencies.


Ack, it's my fault for not sending you a response myself. I cut open my thumb and have only been able to now work...I wrote you about it in a different post.

:x

Anyway, it's back to work for me.

As to the main post...what's the book called? I've taken a screenwriting class and it sounds like several of the texts I read.
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tZee
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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2009, 10:18:46 AM »

Welcome back Smiley And ouch! Cheesy

The book is called "Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting" of Robert McKee
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tZee
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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2009, 11:02:12 AM »

tl;dr.  I think our problem is more lack of writers actually writing anything than any structural deficiencies.


It is rather that I wanted to sort out some things about the structure and then propose a way to work towards it. Smiley
Now with NineOfHeats back I hope things start moving here again Smiley
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NineOfHearts
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« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2009, 01:12:28 AM »

Welcome back Smiley And ouch! Cheesy

The book is called "Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting" of Robert McKee

I don't remember if that's the one I read while taking the class (2007) but right now I've been picking away at The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer's Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay by David Howard and Edward Mabley.

By the way, I have a PDF file with a lot of (popular) screenplays from 2007 and earlier. If you're interested in reading some (like Good Will Hunting or American Beauty) I could send you a copy.
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tZee
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« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2009, 01:43:15 PM »

I guess they are all quite similar, differing maybe only in the personal view and philisophy of the authors. Smiley

Yeah that would be great! I read the screenplay of Good Will Hunting, great movie, great play. Smiley I got some others, too, from a website where you can get them for free. You can find it here: http://www.simplyscripts.com/
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Vince
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« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2009, 07:01:19 PM »

Few comments:

Now to the structure of a story. I guess you all heard in school about first act, second act, third act, climax, decline and so on. Those structures haven't been invented to torture pupils. Seriously. Wink They are not rules either. They are proven structures that worked for centuries and still do. They are a way to keep the audience's attention, to keep them hooked.
Keep in mind that while a book or a movie tell you a story, a game puts you inside of one and lets you act, turning you from a passive observer who may fall asleep unless properly entertained, to an active participant who decides what to do.

To help you understand my point better, consider the difference between driving a car and riding in one. The former gives you control, which keeps you engaged. The latter makes it easy to fall asleep unless you are well entertained.

So, unless you're making a story-driven game, focus on the PC's ability to change your story - and thus break the flow - at any given time and craft his own.

Quote
How does the story start? The so-called inciting incident set's off the hero on his journey. That it true for every genre. The inciting incident can be something random, but it has to turn the hero's world upside down.
Why?

Quote
The audience needs an antagonist. There doesn't have to be a super bad villan, the evil mastermind, but the audience needs something or someone to focus on.
Why?

Quote
Finally some words about the main character: Characters possess dimensions. ... The main character needs the most dimensions.
It's my character, aint it?

Quote
For the audience - or the player - to identify the character they need to see something in him and think (deep down below): Hey, he is like me. E.g. the main character steals something and has a mighty bad consience afterwards. Even though he has done something bad the audience will sympathize with him, because he has a bad conscience. They will think "it is the same as me, when I took xyz". We have to make the audience sympathize with our maincharacter - or it wont work out.
It's a game, not a movie. Give players options to play their characters any damn way they want and forget about the "conscience" stuff and other dimensions. My 2 cents.
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tZee
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« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2009, 07:16:47 PM »

Quote
How does the story start? The so-called inciting incident set's off the hero on his journey. That it true for every genre. The inciting incident can be something random, but it has to turn the hero's world upside down.
Why?
So the PC has enough reason to set off on a journey worth telling. (Don't take journey too literal.)

Quote
The audience needs an antagonist. There doesn't have to be a super bad villan, the evil mastermind, but the audience needs something or someone to focus on.
Why?
My apologies, I was wrong here. It doesn't need an antagonist but forces of antagonism. Which should be as little random as possible, to give them meaning and to give the main character a chance.

Quote
Finally some words about the main character: Characters possess dimensions. ... The main character needs the most dimensions.
It's my character, aint it?

Quote
For the audience - or the player - to identify the character they need to see something in him and think (deep down below): Hey, he is like me. E.g. the main character steals something and has a mighty bad consience afterwards. Even though he has done something bad the audience will sympathize with him, because he has a bad conscience. They will think "it is the same as me, when I took xyz". We have to make the audience sympathize with our maincharacter - or it wont work out.
It's a game, not a movie. Give players options to play their characters any damn way they want and forget about the "conscience" stuff and other dimensions. My 2 cents.
This is not a multiplayer sandbox game where you can do whatever you want. This is a singleplayer game with a story which is set in stone - to a certain extent.
That means that you don't have the freedom of saying whatever you want to whomever you want. You will get a limited list of choices. Because of that you are not really the PC and if you dictate options that are irrational or not triggering some sympathy the players will not identify themselves with the PC, which results in less involvement. I agree though that the effect is less in a game than in a movie, because you are influencing the PC, at least a bit.
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mvBarracuda
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« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2009, 07:43:53 PM »

Hmm Vince = Vince D. Weller? If so check out http://www.irontowerstudio.com/ to get an idea what kind of design philosophy he follows @ tZee.
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Vince
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« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2009, 07:57:43 PM »

Quote
How does the story start? The so-called inciting incident set's off the hero on his journey. That it true for every genre. The inciting incident can be something random, but it has to turn the hero's world upside down.
Why?
So the PC has enough reason to set off on a journey worth telling. (Don't take journey too literal.)
Well, there could be many different reasons. Let's say the PC lives in a small Arroyo-like shithole, for argument's sake. It's not much, but it's home. Fallout 2 uses the tired "find X to save us" device, which is fine, because it will be a valid motivation for some people. Other people could be expelled for being douchebags (caught stealing, for example). Other people can simply be unhappy, like Fallout's Tandi, and want to get out and see what else is out there. This group would include people who want to see the world (explorers) and people who don't want to live in a shithole. 

A good way to model it in-game would be to bring in traders into the shithole. Let's say they tell you something they've heard. Rumors of a state-of-the-art pre-war (or whatever you guys have) underground facility. It became a fairy tale of the iceland and only fools would waste their lives looking for it. Well, something the traders tell the shithole's elder clicks (let's say they mentioned a marker who saw as a child) and the elder now believes the location can be found and he knows where to start looking. The problem is, it's been a long time since he was  kid. Things changed. A perfect setup for a PA game. Go look for some place in the frozen wasteland. A good job for a responsible guy.

Someone less responsible, but more ambitious can recognize a great opportunity - find this facility, but don't turn it over to the shithole's elder. Rule over it like a feudal lord, deciding who is allowed in and setting up your own laws, or sell it to a powerful faction.

Or take the job because that's your chance to explore and see the world. Or get caught stealing from the traders and be expelled. Or sigh up as a guard or trader with the caravan.

As you can see, it's a simple setup that covers a lot of options.

Quote
My apologies, I was wrong here. It doesn't need an antagonist but forces of antagonism. Which should be as little random as possible, to give them meaning and to give the main character a chance.
How about letting the PC to determine who/what the antagonistic force is and why? Let's take a post WW2 German, for example. He can buy the Soviet ideology and then the US becomes the enemy. He can sign up with the Americans and then the Commies are the enemy. Or he can become a Nazi sympathizer and then both the US and USSR are the enemies. 

Quote
This is not a multiplayer sandbox game where you can do whatever you want.
Multiplayer sandbox is one extreme. Story-driven is another. There is plenty in-between.

Quote
This is a singleplayer game with a story which is set in stone...
If the story is set in stone, then my own actions mean shit. The story-driven format rarely works well in role-playing games.

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...if you dictate options that are irrational or not triggering some sympathy the players will not identify themselves with the PC, which results in less involvement.
The players shouldn't identify themselves with the PC, in my opinion. Role-playing isn't about identifying yourself with your character. It's about playing a character. It can be a religious zealot or a lying, untrustworthy piece of shit who has it coming, or a nice and kind guy, or an opportunistic bastard who really isn't bad if you stay out of his way. See what I mean?
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