By identifying with a character and the outcome of their goals, the audience internalizes the story’s events and empathizes with its movement toward the resolution.
Star Wares: A New hope instantly grabs the viewer’s attention with the opening scene of the Rebel ship being capture. The engagement sequence then progresses in a series of hills and valleys, building higher and higher until the climactic destruction of the Death Star.
Virtually all good entertainment has a similar pacing curve.
LAFS Game Design 1 - Dramatic Elements
Game Design 1
The Los Angeles Film School
How To Start Your Game Narrative
Extra Credits: How To Start Your Game Narrative
Don’t start planning designing a new game by
creating the game’s story.
Start with defining the experience you want the player
to have, and then create a story that will provide that
Most people would agree that the one thing that
engages them in a game is challenge.
Challenge is very individualized and is determined by
the abilities of the specific player in relationship to the
Challenge is also dynamic. A player might find one
task challenging, but after becoming accomplished in
the task, they’ll find it no longer challenging.
Most games tend to
build up each level
to a boss battle of
some type to test if
they are ready for
Theme places the games actions within a
setting to provide immersion.
Location or Time Period Story or Film Character
While many games are thematic, some are
abstract, meaning that they don’t have a theme.
Have every detail in your game support the theme.
Premise establishes the game’s goal within
metaphor. Without dramatic premise, many games
would be too abstract to become emotionally
invested in their outcome.
Space Invaders Defend the planet from invaders
Pitfall Harry Explore the jungle and find hidden treasures
Diablo Defend the town from Diablo and his undead army
Myst Unravel the puzzles of a deserted island
Tasks of the Premise
Makes the experience richer for the player
Unifies the game’s structure and theme
Make a game’s mechanics more playable for the
Characters are the agents through whose actions a drama
Protagonist: The main character, whose engagement
with the premise creates the conflict that drives the
Antagonist: A person or some other force that works
against the Protagonist
Major Characters: Have a significant impact on the
Minor Characters: Have a minor impact on the story’s
Methods of Characterization
Characters are defined by:
What they do
What they say
What others say about them
Round Characters: A character with well-defined traits and a
realistic personality or undergoes a significant change of
personality during the story
Flat Characters: Show little or no change in personality, and they
are often used as foils to show off elements of another character
Agency vs. Empathy
What is unique to game characters:
Agency: The practical function of a character to
serve as a representation of the player in a game
Empathy: The potential for players to develop an
emotional attachment to the character, to identify
with their goals, and consequently, with the game’s
Characters vs. Avatars
Predesigned Characters: Backstories, motivations
Player-Created Characters (Avatars): Role-
playing, growth, customization
Both have potential for empathy; the question is
which is best for the game’s design and player
Free Will vs. Player Control
Characters exhibiting “free will”
by having their own personality
and inner thought process
Player assumes agency for the
characters with elements of
simulation that provide character
(such as Sonic the Hedgehog
tapping his toe)
Characters should have iconic qualities
that the players can identify with or aspire
Character traits should manifest
themselves in the character’s words,
actions, and appearance.
Characters should change in ways that are
interesting and surprising, yet believable.
In many games, story is limited to backstory, an
elaborate version of the premise.
The backstory gives a setting and context for the
game’s conflict, and it can create motivation for the
character, but its progression is not affected by
The Hero’s Journey
From the 1949 Joseph Campbell book, The Hero
With A Thousand Faces:
1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting with the Mentor
5. Crossing the Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
7. Approaching The Cave
8. The Ordeal
9. The Reward
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection (greater
12. Returning with the Elixir
The outcome of a game must be uncertain. The
same is true of a story.
However, the outcome of a story is resolved by the
author, while the outcome of a game is resolved by
Because of this, it is difficult to integrate traditional
storytelling methods into games.
The problem with branching storylines is that they
have limited scope.
The story emerges from gameplay rather than from a
The Sims: Players can take snapshots of
gameplay and arrange them in a captioned
Black & White: Combines elements of simulation
with strategy and gameplay
Half-Life: Story sequences are triggered by
The aesthetics, technology and gameplay
should support the story and vice-versa.
Don’t have your story match the Hero’s
Journey so closely that it feels backward.
Avoid lengthy “dialog dumps” to tell your
backstory and other story elements.