Story: Finding the Pieces in Novels and Games
I’m asked all the time about what is the similar between writing a novel and designing a video game. There are many, but the most important part is story. It’s about creating a world, grabbing the reader or player by the hand and taking them through the twists and turns of the character’s life.
A great example was when I first joined the team working on the original Fallout. I had been writing novels and short stories for years. All of them were atrocious, but a great starting point for my newbie days at Interplay. What I learned on Fallout opened my eyes to a whole new way of writing. Fallout was an open world game, where you could go anywhere, anytime you wanted. How do you write a story when the player can discover the clues in a different order?"
Think of it like this. In my novel Demon Dance, the story unfolds at my pace. The main character, Nick, dives into the mystery about who killed his sister-in-law, and you’re there when he finds her body. When he talks to Fay, the local librarian who just happens to be a Norse Goddess, you’re there too. It’s a linear journey from A to B.
Fallout was more like a series of puzzle pieces that are waiting for the player to stumble across them. At one point, in order to progress to the next piece of the story, we had to create a character named Harold. At first he seemed like your nice old ghoul, maybe a bit on the crazy side, but pretty harmless. But as you dug deeper into his character, you realized that he held a dark secret; one that would open a new part of the game and lead you to the next piece of the mystery. So, while novels are all about pacing and the unfolding of mystery, Fallout was like a big old treasure hunt.
Which isn’t to say that novels can’t be their own type of treasure hunt, or that games can’t have a single narrative. In Mind of the Beast, when Nick’s friend Felix asks him to solve a murder, my wife and I wanted the reader to solve the mystery with Nick. We provided enough clues for the readers to discover the next piece of the puzzle on their own, just like the players did in Fallout. Stories shouldn’t be an observation sport.
Unlike the open world of Fallout, Star Trek: Starfleet Academy was a single story from beginning to end. You step into the shoes of Starfleet Academy Cadet David Forrester, on his way through the fabled school of the Federation. Ultimately it was David’s story, but we let the player decide some pretty big things. Like, for example, how to cheat on the Kobayashi Maru. Yes, the player got to figure out how Captain Kirk cheated on the legendary no-win scenario, and then choose if you want to follow in his footsteps.
For me it’s always been about the reader or the player being engrossed in the story I want to tell. The tools are different between games and novels, sure, but the end goal is always the same. From wandering the wasteland, to flying the starship Enterprise, to solving mysteries and defeating demons with Nick St. James, I want to take you to places beyond your imagination.
Many thanks to Brian - Go check out the books here