Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
11.7 Exposition
Almost by definition, horror games have plenty of exposition. There's much that
needs to be explained—the nature of the threat, where it came from, how to stop
it, and usually a ton of world-building that goes along with it. Furthermore, since a
great many horror games are built with backstories that go down the centuries, there's
the weight of those ages' worth of words to consider as well. The clever game writer
will be able to deliver this exposition in a way that entices the player to go forward
and seek out more, using it as a reward for successful exploration of the world and
conquest of enemies. Otherwise, the risk is that the player will drown in a sea of
names, made-up magical references, and ill-communicated warnings, all of which
will become nothing more than reference.
The most important thing to remember about exposition in a horror game is that
it should be there for a reason: to guide, reward, or assist the player. A secondary
reason for it is to provide mood, tone, or depth to the world, but paying heed to
these needs without seeing to the primary ones results in a game that's unfocused,
diffuse, and not very scary. Focusing on what the exposition is there for can help rein
it in and prevent it from maundering all over the real action.
How to Deliver It without Boring the Player
Exposition always needs to be delivered well. Dropping it on the player's head is
going to get it skipped, skimmed, or ignored. Instead, it needs to be doled out in
appropriate-sized chunks, in ways that are appropriate for the game, and at appro-
priate times within the game narrative.
It also needs to be delivered in ways that are appropriate for the game's tone and
setting. Faux Old English works very well for some games, but in a Resident Evil -style
mutantfest, it's anachronistic and inappropriate. Keeping the tone of the exposition
in line with the visuals and the player expectations helps the message get across better.
In addition, there's also a need for the writer to do his research, and there's
nowhere bad research shows up more starkly than in expository passages. Research
isn't just actual factual stuff (though that's vital); it's also the game world and bible
information that needs to be conveyed properly. It's one thing if a character is lying
in his journal or infodump; it's another entirely if the writer screwed up in a way that
the player can't defend against.
What Needs Delivery and What Doesn't
Above all, this also means that the exposition needs to be viewed in terms of how it's
useful to the player and not be used to show off how bloody clever the writer is. Shov-
ing the entire backstory of the haunted castle/mutant-infested laboratory/ancient
backwoods town full of star-spawn down the player's throat just because it was writ-
ten and someone thought it was clever is bad game writing. The information that
gets handed off needs to go through the filter of “what does the player get out of
this,” and if there's no good answer to that question, then it should be shelved.
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