Game Development Reference
easily be forgotten, and the player may feel lost throughout much of the game. Like
general handheld gameplay itself, the story components must survive interruption.
A simpler story—featuring straightforward plot points and characters with simple,
easy-to-remember motivations—will keep things at all times focused and clear for
In addition to keeping the story elements tight, lean, and easy to follow, you may
want to reinforce the main story points again and again throughout the game, to
further support the player who's returning after being interrupted.
A good analogy for approaching this is to think of a televised sporting event.
When you are flipping through TV channels and happen upon an in-progress sports
contest, notice the efforts made to get you up to speed. There are, obviously, the
ever-present onscreen graphics that tell you the current score and what part of the
game you're in (quarter, period, inning, set, etc.). But if you listen to the announcers
for a while, you'll notice that every few minutes they will do a general recap of the
current situation and what led up to it. They generally don't make a big deal of
this—you rarely here them call out that they're recapping (“If you're just joining
us, or stepped away for a while, here's what's been happening...”). Imagine your
consternation if you were watching the game and the announcers said that every ten
minutes! No, they weave these short summaries into their regular conversation, in a
way that someone who's been watching the game from the beginning will not find
annoying or obtrusive.
You'll need to find ways to accomplish the same thing in your handheld game
narrative, in ways that won't feel condescending or be annoying to players who are
playing straight through. Player questions you should repeatedly answer include:
What is the overall conflict again? Why is/are the player character(s) on the current
quest/level? What is the overarching game goal, and why? And so on.
Narrative simplicity is also aligned with the observation earlier in this chapter
that the handheld gamer is generally experiencing the narrative content alone, with
no observers. This allows you to aim directly at that gamer and not worry about
adding multiple tiers of intricacy or humor.
Make It Snappy
Brevity is the soul of wit, as Shakespeare put it. More to the point of this chapter,
it's vital to keep things tight and lean when writing for handheld games, no matter
what delivery method will be used to convey it to the player. And if you are lucky
enough to have VO and/or FMV as part of your toolset, it's important to know how
and where to use them.
Onscreen text. As stated previously in this chapter, much of the time when you're
writing for cart-based handheld games, your cutscene storytelling tools will mainly
consist of static images and text. If you spend years observing play testers on hand-
held games, you'll soon note that there are two basic types of players: those pre-
cious, patient few who stop and read all the wonderful narrative text you develop,