October 11, 2009

ninjagai-12During the past 8 years, I’ve worked on various kind of video games and I’ve realized that storytelling is very often a major weak point. The main problem is that game developers often tend to forget that video game is a very different medium than cinema even if they share some similarities. By wanting to convey a “great” story, game developers/scriptwriters often end up with a story shoehorned in that breaks the flow of the game.

Cinema is a passive medium that solely focus on conveying a story, while video game is an active medium that requires the input of the player in order to progress (interactivity). The purpose of this post is simply to share what I think works well when telling a story in a game (in action games, to be more precise). I’m no scriptwriter, so my point of view is of a game designer. Here are my thoughts:

  • Showing is stronger than telling (with simple actions).
  • Let the player guess (providing the satisfaction of understanding) rather than explain everything to him. Tell less and hint more – show only glimpses (imagination of the player fills the blanks, it makes him perceive a bigger world than what is actually hinted – if too much is explained, incongruity can become easy to notice, which leads to an unconvincing/not credible world).
  • The story must flow on its own – if the player needs to press a button to scroll text he’s going to skip it (or be frustrated to have the ‘homework’ of reading through it).
  • The purpose of the story is only to set a context and a goal, more than that is superficial and can get in the way of the game – the real story of the game should be what the player experiences when playing through the game.

In conclusion, Heather Campbell nailed this principle in her excellent review of Super Paper Mario in issue 64 of Play Magazine: “Think back to Super Mario 3. There’s a story in that game, but it’s never told to us – we experience it with Mario, by adventuring through levels with him.”


  1. Ninja Gaiden rule… nuff said

  2. That’s why I love old games because of the graphics limitations our imagination is more called. 🙂

    Really good post !

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