I have seen many times how stories forget they should be games and games that completely forget they should contain a story. However, these two work perfectly well separated. Books have existed for a long time before they first had their “turn to page XX if you wanna go right” gamification method. And I have played tons of games without a story that became and still are considered classics (Such as Pong or Tetris for example).
So what should you create first when making a game?
Like many other aspects of game design there are no specific rules. You should create what helps you most, but what I personally consider an error is completely disregarding one of the two. When I sit down with my coder pal Hellion we first make a prototype with 2D shapes like circles, squares and triangles, so you can say we make the game first. But we also talk about the story even before coming to the first prototype. You can see it is a mixed process and I believe it should be like that.
This way in one of the prototypes you will get a chunk of gameplay and a chunk of story big enough to show you the way forward that usually ends in three new ways soon after. Either you focus heavily on story, or you go deeper into gameplay, or you try to do both. Bigger game development studios plan everything ahead and exactly (well, more or less) know how much time and money are required to pull of a specific game element or mechanic. But if you are a indie dev like me, do the prototypes as you wish and see how they feel, then go back and develop specific parts you believe are lacking.
In a world of incomplete games, yours can shine easily
Just look at how Batman Arkham Knight was published on PC? It contained tons of bugs, it was unplayable to many since it had large stuttering and frame-rate issues, yet it was another good Arkham game when we look at it from the “story-mixed-with-gameplay” point of view. Then look at the new Star Wars Battlefront game. Compared to the previous battlefront games it completely lacks story or the amount of content users are used to, but as a game works fantastically, is well optimized and offers fun to Star Wars fans (like me). It is a great start for a game that will be expanded as time comes and instead of making one full game, big corporations create chunks of the game and sell them separately to make an even greater profit. Star Wars Battlefront is ready to have a story, ready to have tons of new mods, new planets, ready to have “The Force Awakens” content and is probably ready for lots of more things I can’t even think of now. But why have all of these great things out of the box when money can be made from every little detail? (yup, this is the modern train of thought – sad to admit)
A good friend of mine says: “aaaah, a new AAA game is coming out. I’ll give it a year, than play it.”
And this was soooo true when Fallout 3 and Skyrim came out. These games literally needed one year each so that all of their bugs can be fixed, helpful mods could be implemented and patches applied making the games finally feel finished.
So if this doesn’t motivate you to make a simple unfinished game I don’t know what does. But if you manage to actually finish at least one part of it (story or gameplay) believe me, it is ready to be shown to the world online.
So what does come first? Story? Gameplay?
Whatever motivates you to keep on developing.
So keep at it dear readers!