Story Design

Story is not just for story games. Any game can benefit from a good storyline, so long as that story element works smoothly with the gameplay.

As a case in point I’d mention Evil Genius’ Games Rhiannon’s Realm: Celtic Mahjongg Solitaire, in which a simple story based on Celtic myth and New Age sentiment gave a game in a crowded genre a personality that helped it stand out from the rest.

The trick when creating a game story is threefold:

First, the story must serve the purposes of the game rather than the other way around. This requires enormous discipline on the part of the writer, because inevitably ideas will come up that are ideal for the story, but may cause problems with the game. No matter how good they are, these gems must be sacrificed.

Second, the story must be delivered to the player in the most economical way possible, in terms of time as well as resources. Cut scenes and cinematics are expensive to produce and take the player out of the game. If the gameplay is as compelling as it should be, players may become frustrated and simply click through narrative interruptions, effectively wasting the time and trouble that went into producing them. It is far better to tell the story through the gameplay than to keep interrupting it.

Third, the story must be interactive, or at least give the player that impression. Players like to feel that their actions in the game are affecting the outcome of the story.

1986-1990: Games Workshop tasked me with co-creating and overseeing the development of the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. In print for an unprecedented 16 years, the series won multiple awards and was voted the best roleplaying campaign of all time by readers of Casus Belli magazine. Its gritty tone informed subsequent editions of the Warhammer fantasy battle game and carried over to Games Workshop’s successful Warhammer fiction line and to licensed products such as Warhammer Online.

1991: Interplay contracted me to supply branching storylines for their expansion disk Castles: The Northern Campaign, which received 5-star reviews in the gaming press.

1992: My interactive adventure Rogue Mage was chosen for inclusion in the Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook, published by Puffin.

1994: Psygnosis contracted me to create the characters and storyline for G-Police. Published in 1997, the game garnered positive reviews for the story. Absolute Playstation said “the intricate plot will always keep you guessing.”

1996: When the PC/Playstation adventure game Highlander: the Immortals was canceled, franchise owner Bill Panzer of Davis-Panzer Productions invited me to develop a movie treatment from my game story.

2006: Beating over 1,000 other entrants in an open call for new writers by Wizards of the Coast, I won the contract to write an Eberron novel in the War-Torn series. Blood and Honor garnered 4-star reviews on Amazon.com.

2007: Ubisoft contracted me to help third-party developer Eugen Systems develop the characters and storyline for the single-player mode of their Ruse RTS.

2010: Stone Skin Press approached me for a story to include in their first anthology, The New Hero, volume 1. Titled “Against the Air Pirates,” it’s a two-fisted airpulp yarn that I pitched as “Disney’s Tale Spin written by Robert E. Howard.”

2011: Leading social game developer Kabam Inc contracted me to develop storylines for multiple MMO strategy titles. Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North was the top-grossing iOS app of 2012.

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