Game Development Reference
spilling into the production phase. You will be under the gun and on a short cycle,
with little time for major rewrites.
17.4 What to Do?
So, pretty grim, eh? Well, buck up. Soldiers need to learn to survive with or without
their primary weapons; just think of this as unarmed narrative combat training. The
following practices should help you succeed when writing narrative content for a
cartridge-based handheld game.
Control the Overall Scope
Obviously, with this many limitations working against you, you'll need to work
within them, and that means keeping the scope of your narrative content under strict
control. Fortunately, the previously stated limitations for cart-based systems tend to
work with you here. Handheld games cost less than console games to produce, and
they cost less at retail. The audience expectations for overall gameplay length are
That means you can expect to be delivering a shorter overall game experience.
And because there is less story content that actually needs to be created, it becomes
easier to manage and keep focused.
Part of keeping the story content under control and on track is to avoid overbur-
dening the handheld narrative at any point in the game with more than it can carry,
given the extreme limitations that will be on it. A big part of this task falls to the
designers who are laying out the main structure of the game flow. They must not
leave huge conceptual gaps in between gameplay levels that are left to the writer to
For example, imagine a game in which Level 1 finds the player under the ocean
fighting against robotic sharks, and on Level 2 the player is on Mars mining for rare
minerals. As the writer, you're asked to link these two disparate locations and game-
play situations using only three still images (sorry, budget and ROM restrictions!)
along with some caption text. What are the odds that this is going to be a narrative
experience that anyone will enjoy, or even want to endure?
As a writer in this situation, you've been set up to fail by a poorly conceived
overall game design. There is simply too big a gap to be filled here, and yet you must
try to do so. Your cutscene will probably be either short and ridiculous, or long-
winded and tedious to read. Whether the player reads the short version or skips the
long one, he will suddenly find himself on the moon, probably feeling disoriented
and bewildered, lacking any kind of story context for the next gameplay experience.
Keep It Simple
Story simplicity is important, because the player is going to pick up the game and
put it down many times more often than a console game, due to the likelihood of
shorter play sessions. Complex, subtle and multi-layered story elements can more