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trouble for virtually no reward. The joke of the game is clear from the scenario, and
in that sort of game, which encourages repeat plays, frequent cutscenes could be a
severe annoyance for the player. Better to set the scenario and just let the player play.
However, in Zening , a game I directed for Kongregate, we took almost the exact
opposite tack. It is, at base, a strategy game in which players control pieces on a grid
against an opposing attack force. However, in this case we decided to emphasize the
cutscenes, adding full voiceover in addition to the developer's already beautiful still
3D images and writing four full episodes of material. But why take such a different
direction? By nature, Zening is a slower-paced game, more epic and persistent. The
game is built on acquiring different characters (as pieces), and it felt important to
give those characters weight and dimension. The episodic nature of the story also
gave players a reason to keep playing outside of the gameplay.
There's no real formula for deciding if a game should have a story or not. It
has to be a judgment call on the part of the writer, and largely on the rest of the
development team. Can your game do with just a scenario? What will you be losing
if you cut story out? Figure out those answers and then decide if story is needed.
But always, always have a “skip” button on cutscenes. A person playing the game
at work (which is where a lot of casual games are played) is trying to wring every last
second of procrastination time from his gameplay, and he doesn't want to have to
sit through a long story scene if he's already seen it a dozen times. Above all, casual
games are fortunate in that they're easily repeatable experiences. Don't make it hard
on players who decide to come back for more.
16.3 Write as Little as You Can—Then Halve It
Seriously, a writer can always write less. As writers, even as game designers or artists
or programmers being writers, we're often enamored with our own storytelling. We
want that knight's speech to be as eloquent as possible, that space marine to be tough
as nails. We want dozens of characters speaking the way you'd expect them to speak—
and at the length you'd expect them to speak. But you don't have much time. For
many casual game players, the story is simply a way of advancing a scenario. Make
it too long and the game player will just skip it, which they should be able to do,
but the point is to not make them want to. You're writing the short form of gaming.
These are short stories to bigger games' novels, and you've got to trim the fat.
Below is an original script excerpt from the first episode of Zening .Theoriginal
writer was told simply to flush out the ideas, and she did so with no limitation to
length.
Katrina: It's been a month since the operation. The cancer has stopped
spreading and I want to get back to my work—you know, I'm covering
the war back east. My editor says he's got me another unit he can get me
embedded in—once the doctors give me the go ahead. But the dreams
are getting worse. [pause—fearful] Horrible creatures—screaming my
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