The story? The game? What comes first?

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Story or Game

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!

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6 thoughts on “The story? The game? What comes first?

  1. Honestly, I would prefer that games have all their bugs fixed as much as possible and that games be as complete as possible, rather than sell incomplete games and then sell patches and essential content as DLC to net an extra profit. I’m actually convinced that we should start making DLC for games after the finished product become successful, which would require DLC being incidental rather than essential to the games story (let’s face it, anything that’s definitely meant to be in the game should be implemented without question, and it should put in the design document so that there’s no misunderstanding).

      • How about having the artists, designers, etc work on creating the DLC using the existing tools, while the programmers work on fixing the bugs already present in the engine?

        This is preferable to laying off 90% of the dev team at the end of the project (at least in my opinion)

      • Thanks for the comment Steven. The thing is that there is this rotation within gaming companies and cool-down periods of specific sectors. Works like WoW’s spell bar or if you like it more visually works like our solar system. At one time a planet is close to the sun, while at another time it is far away. What you are saying is logical but sometimes these “planets” if you will do not orbit together although they are inter-connected. So yes artists, designers can always create new assets alongside with a game designer, but some of those existing tools can be related at times with the engine which means a block in the work. 🙂 Sorry for being so descriptive but this is a big subject you opened.

  2. I feel like the whole idea of separated game and story comes from the fact that most games with a story are mostly like a book where you have to succeed in certain tasks to be able to read the rest. It is an interactive medium, yet the story is set, it often feels like you could play the same game with a completely different story and it wouldn’t matter at all. When the player can start interacting with the story itself, that’s when things get interesting and the narrative doesn’t feel forced into the game.

    • True Hermetist! A good practice I always do is basically remove all of the things that make a good 2016 game (like graphics, story, sound…) and then you will remain with the basics of gameplay. This is when You realize that games (especially RPG genre) are just run, ride a horse, interact with something. This is it. Not that I do not play games like that but I always prefer a good action adventure since I kinda feel more engaged with the game and believe there is much more to the gameplay itsef.

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