Presentation on theme: "Interactive Storytelling for Video Games Chapter 3: The Heros Journey and the Structure of Game Stories Josiah Lebowitz Chris Klug."— Presentation transcript:
Interactive Storytelling for Video Games Chapter 3: The Heros Journey and the Structure of Game Stories Josiah Lebowitz Chris Klug
Writing a Game Story Story writing involves many different elements including creating an interesting setting, developing believable characters, planning a satisfying ending, and just having the discipline to sit down and write it all out. Every writer has different opinions on which parts of the process are the most challenging. When working in games, writers are often given an outline created by a designer or creative lead and tasked with expanding it.
Types of Stories Best Suited for Games Some types of stories that are common in books and films such as romance and sitcoms arent often seen in games. Games encourage a high degree of interactivity. Without interaction, a game isnt a game. External conflicts such as fighting and strategy, exploration, and puzzle solving are much easier to portray in games than internal conflicts (such as emotional trauma or deep thought). Therefore a proper game story needs to support a large amount of one or more of those elements. Games are easier to make and play if they focus on a single main character or group of characters, rather then frequently changing perspectives.
Using Non-Ideal Stories Stories without large amounts of external conflict and/or with large casts of characters can be used in games, though it requires careful planning to design and appropriate and enjoyable form of gameplay. Japanese dating sims such as Love Plus and more artistic abstract titles such as Flower demonstrate how non-ideal story types can be turned into enjoyable games.
The Heros Journey The heros journey is the story structure around which many famous stories are based. Joseph Campbell was the first to formally define the journey. A number of ancient myths such as Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and The Iliad and Odyssey use the heros journey structure as do more modern works like Star Wars and Harry Potter. It works especially well for stories about heroic quests, epic adventures, and journeys of enlightenment. The heros journey is so prevalent that many writers with no formal knowledge of the structure still use it in their stories. The heros journey is just a framework and isnt mean to be followed verbatim. Its meant to be used, modified, and even ignored as needed. Its also by no means the only story structure out there.
The Structure of the Journey The journey can be broken into three acts: the departure, the initiation, and the return. These acts then be further broken down into anywhere between 10 and 17 stages. Its important to note that some stages are optional and can be skipped and/or re-ordered as needed.
Stage 1: The Ordinary World The story begins with the hero living out his ordinary life. Note that its ordinary in relation to the hero, not necessarily to the players. This is a chance to introduce the hero and show a bit about him and the world where he lives. This section shouldnt be too long or it can get boring. In Game Arts Lunar Silver Star Harmony, the game opens with Alex living a peaceful life in a small town with his friends.
Stage 2: The Call to Adventure Something needs to make the hero leave his ordinary life behind. Sometimes hell be requested or even forced to leave. Other times he may just become tired with his life and long to do something different. The call often sets up the start of the main plot, such as an attack by the main villain, but at times the hero leaves for unimportant reasons and doesnt get pulled into the main plot until later on. How the hero responds to the call says a lot about him. In Lunar, Alex and his friends encounter the dragon Quark. He senses that Alex has potential and urges him to leave home and begin a quest to become the new Dragonmaster.
Stage 3: Refusing the Call While some heroes are eager to begin their journey, others have reservations. They might be worried about the danger or unwilling to leave their home and loved ones behind. Some are just lazy. If the hero refuses the call, something has to happen in order to change his mind. At times the heros initial refusal is a good thing but most often it results in a tragedy which forces him on his path. In Lunar, while Alex is eager to follow Quarks advice, his childhood friend Luna is afraid to leave the only home shes ever known. But Alex refuses to leave without her and manages to change her mind.
Stage 4: The Mentor Many heroes initially lack the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their quest. A more experienced mentor can help prepare him for what lies ahead. A cliché mentor is old, wise, and sure to die heroically before the heros training is complete, but not all mentors fit that mold. In Lunar, Alex and his friends run into trouble early on and are saved by the swordsman Laike, who goes on to give Alex aid and advice throughout his adventure.
Stage 5: The First Threshold To finish out the first act, the hero must complete his first big challenge and pass the point of no return. It can be a physical challenge or a mental one. This reaffirms the heros resolve and sets him firmly on the path of adventure. In Lunar, Luna tries to back out as the group prepares to leave their home island behind, but Alex convinces her to come with them.
Stage 6: The Journey This stage makes up the vast majority of the story. In it, the hero travels the world, makes friends and enemies, grows more skilled and confident, and determines his final goal. In Lunar, the journey begins when Alex leaves his home island behind and ends when he and his new friends prepare to assault Ghaleons fortress and rescue Luna.
Stage 7: The Final Dungeon This stage doesnt need to actually contain a dungeon, though in video games it often does. Stage 7 is comprised of the heros plans and actions leading up to (but not including) the final confrontation. Its a time to wrap up loose plot threads and set everything up for the heros greatest challenge (the final boss, hardest puzzle, etc). In Lunar, after their first failure to save Luna from Ghaleons clutches, Laike helps Alex and his friends regroup. They then press on and successfully fight their way to Ghaleons inner sanctum.
Stage 8:The Great Ordeal This is the moment everything has been building towards as the hero confronts his greatest enemy, undertakes the ultimate test of his skills, or the like. Its also the end of the second act. In a game, this stage usually takes the form of a final boss battle or puzzle. Often the hero has to overcome not only the external challenge but his own inner demons as well in order to triumph. In Lunar, Alex and his friends face off against Ghaleon, who is using Luna to reawaken the goddess Althena so he can take her power and become a god himself. They manage to defeat him after a long and difficult battle.
Stage 9: The Prize Heroes rarely undertake dangerous journeys just for fun. Theyre out to rescue the girl, claim the treasure, save the world, or the like. This stage is where they finally achieve their ultimate goal. Depending on the heros personality and the nature of the prize, the hero may react with joy, introspection, or disappointment. In Lunar, once Ghaleon is defeated the world is safe and Alex and Luna are finally reunited…
Stage 10: The Road Home With the prize in hand (literally or metaphorically) its time for the hero to return home to the ordinary world (or occasionally a new home discovered during the journey). Things dont always go as planned and this is the time to throw in any last minutes twists or challenges (such as the real final villain appearing or the villains fortress collapsing). In Lunar, Alex discovers that hes too late and Luna is gone, replaced by the reborn Althena. However, he manages to reawaken her memories.
The Return: 11 Now that any last threats have been dealt with (at least until the sequel) its time for the hero to return home and bring the story to and end. An ending thats too short can leave players unsatisfied while one thats too long can become boring. Writing good endings is often a writers greatest challenge. In Lunar, Alex and Luna reunite and return home to their peaceful life.
Common Themes and Clichés in Game Storytelling Clichés can be good or bad depending on how theyre used. Games have a large set of common themes and clichés, some of which are gameplay based (exploding barrels) and others which are story based (amnesia). Clichés start because they were used in popular stories and worked well. They also make it easier for players to identify with the story. Even though theyre predictable, they can still work well. If overused, theyll make a story feel generic and corny.
A Few Common Clichés The Amnesiac Hero: Provides a good excuse for the hero to learn basic things that he should know but the player doesnt. It can also set up for a big reveal later on when the hero gets his memories back. The Evil Vizier: Getting betrayed by someone in a position of power is shocking and makes things far more challenging for the hero. Unfortunately, evil viziers (or ministers, friends, etc) tend to be extremely easy for the player to spot, making him wonder why the heroes take so long to figure it out. No One Noticing the Evil Vizier: Despite the fact that evil viziers typically sport an evil haircut and lots of highly suspicious dialogue, no one ever seems to question their loyalty.
A Few Common Clichés The Last of His Race: If the hero or one of his friends is the last of his race (or village, family, etc) it provides an easy excuse for him to go after the villain (who probably killed all the others) and to gain special powers that no one else has. I am You Father: Ever since The Empire Strikes Back, its quite common for the heros father, brother, or the like to be either the main villain, one of the main villains closest followers, or a legendary hero who isnt as dead as everyone thinks he is. A Party of Clichés: Most heroes groups of allies include at least a few of the following: a beautiful mysterious girl, a rebellious princess, a tough warrior girl, a grizzled veteran soldier, an unemotional or emo character, and a cute (but generally useless) creature of some sort.
A Few Common Clichés Saving the World From Evil: No matter what the heros original goal was, hes almost certain to end up saving the world, often from some ancient evil who was recently revived or just likes to stop in for a visit every so many years. The Ancient Civilization: A highly advanced civilization used to exist a long time ago but was mysteriously wiped out, leaving an enormous amount of ruins and artifacts behind. They were probably destroyed by the ancient evil and have some connection to the hero or one of his friends.
When to Use and Avoid Clichés Limit the number of clichés you use in a single game. Twist clichés around to make them feel different and new while catching players off guard. Use clichés to mislead the player. For example, use a seemingly evil (but actually good) vizier to draw attention away from the real enemy agent. Dont use clichés for the sake of using clichés, unless youre trying to make fun of them in a comedy based story.
Things to Consider When writing a story, what parts do you have the easiest time with? What parts are the most difficult? List some video games youve played which used non-ideal story types. Did the writers and designers succeed in turning the stories into enjoyable games? Why or why not? Take a look at the story from one of your favorite games, break it into stages, and see how well it fits within the Heros Journey structure. Choose a game youve played recently and make a list of all its clichés. Think of a game that used a cliché in a very different and unexpected way. How did the writer change the cliché to accomplish this?