Game Development Reference
button to move to the next image, allowing them to read the captions at their own
Next, picture our typical impatient game player, mashing the “next” button to
get through each image in the cutscene as fast as humanly possible. Text appears at
the bottom, attempting to give the onscreen characters voice, but before any of it can
be read, another rapid press of the button shifts to the next image. Skip, skip, skip,
skip. Oh, the humanity!
But here's the thing. Even though this player doesn't have any intention of taking
in the narrative content you and your supporting artist(s) worked so hard to create,
he will nevertheless be exposed to the images as they flash across the screen.
If your images can do the same thing as our silent comic book pages—tell a story
purely with visuals, when viewed in order—then they will convey the core narrative
information you need to get across. This is true even if the player attempts to skip all
your story content and doesn't read any of your text.
Of course, this will only work if the images do actually fit together in a way
that visually conveys cohesive narrative, and if they are simple and clear enough to
be comprehended at a glance. While success or failure here rests heavily on your
supporting artist(s), you as the writer might be able to have some influence on it—
especially if you're describing in your script what should be seen in each still image
and/or if you're having any direct interactions with the artist(s) who will be develop-
ing the visuals.
Keep Narrative Off the Critical Path
The sad truth is that with handheld games, perhaps more than any other type of
game, you need to assume that a significant portion of your audience does not have
the time, interest, or inclination to read through your narrative content, especially if
it's not being delivered with FMV or VO (which, as covered previously, is very likely
So, as painful as it may be to hear, you should avoid requiring the players to listen
(because even if you have VO, they might have the volume turned down for privacy)
or to read (because many of them won't want to). Notice that the word chosen was
requiring . In other words, you can still include a modicum of narrative content, but
don't make experiencing it a requirement to succeed at the game.
Now, some clever writers and designers might conspire to “force” the player to
read the narrative content by embedding crucial gameplay information within it.
Want to know how to jump over this wall? Okay, read this cutscene and somewhere in
there you'll find a clue!
This approach of embedding need-to-know information within the narrative
content is a perilous one indeed. While on the surface it may seem like a smart way
to circumvent the player's desire to skip the story content, it stands a good chance of
annoying the player, especially if the implication is the careful reading of voluminous
text passages for vital information. Require this too often and too much, and you
may be facing angry reviewers and players.