Game Development Reference
wireframes are incredibly helpful tools anyway, and making it easier for team mem-
bers to follow the flow of the game from beginning to end will help show them why if
the writing isn't done and done well, the player will have no idea what he's supposed
to be doing.
Without polished writing, instructions, and copy (meaning any of the miscella-
neous text that appears in the game), a player can be lost and bewildered, rendering
all the other work the team has done wasted as the player simply stops playing—
especially when you've only got a few seconds to let the game make an impression.
16.2 But Tetris Didn't Need a Story!
To story or not to story? Many classic-game faithful often point to Te t r i s when
debating the need for story, pointing out that game's success without having even a
hint of exposition. Most casual games have their roots firmly entrenched in the 8-bit
era, so the argument becomes especially relevant to casual game developers. If Te t r i s
doesn't have a story and Te t r i s is a lot of fun, then why should anyone bother?
A lot of flustered writers aside, it's a valid argument. Does a red ball, for instance,
that you have to hit against a bunch of yellow squares for points, need a backstory?
Does it need emotions? Does the player need to empathize with the ball? There are
many who would say that yes, a player does, but they usually mean that the player
creates his own experiences with the ball, crafting an individual narrative of his own
through play. Not really something a writer can do, is it? Just as in any other art
form, there are no ironclad rules. So sure, maybe a ball could have a story, but in
general a good rule of thumb is simply to ask if the game has characters.
Games like chess, billiards, or Sudoku don't have characters. They just have
rules and implements (pieces, balls, numbers). And they don't need stories to be
perfectly fun experiences; the entire game lies purely in manipulating the implements
according to the rules to reach a specific game state. The same could be said to
be at the foundation of any game, but when an implement has anthropomorphic
characteristics, the journey from opening game state to ending game state isn't the
only concern. So you beat all the levels in Super Mario World . But what happened
after that? Did Mario save the princess? Did Bowser get away? Even in games
with storylines as minimal as the Mario series, characters can't just complete all the
game objectives to offer a satisfying ending. Players need to know what happens to
the character, because they've just spent hours on hours empathizing and identifying
with our little plumber friend in the red hat.
If a game has characters, it should have a story, or at least a scenario. Scenarios
are much simpler and more common in casual games than stories. Take a game I
worked on for Adult Swim called Bible Fight . It's a simple fighting game similar to
Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat . In this sort of game, it's more than enough to just
convey: “Biblical characters fight it out in an unholy tournament.” That's a scenario,
and the game functions perfectly well with only that to lean on. We could have tried
putting cutscenes in between each fight, but ultimately it would have been a lot of