Screenplays for video games – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

Screenplays for video games


Stephen E. Dinehart

on August 20, 2008 1:36 PM


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Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts ScreenplayThe play is a literary form that comes down to us from Ancient Greece intended for performance. Used as a production tool to create a perceived story space on stage, it consists of characters, dialog, action, and setting. It is a form that was adapted for motion pictures then called the “screenplay”. While not particularly different than its stage play ancestor, the screenplay is intended for use on linear theatrical productions such as film and television. I chose to adapt it to games for purposes of strengthening game story. While games have their design documentation, often a ‘bible’ of information or a presentation intended to communicate a cohesive vision, the screenplay acts as a method to create a common story vision among widely disparate development pipelines within game development, with the aim of creating a better user experience. While not a concept I claim to originate. It is a form that I have forged wholly on my own, with attention to what makes a game screenplay unique.Part 1: CinematicsLinear cinematic segments, while potentially
altered by the player, or selected in a meaningful non-linear fashion
via gameplay, are no different than traditional screenplays. As the
first screenplays did not veer too far from stage plays, with minimal
sets, and high caliber, sometimes over-the-top, characters. So to the
game screenplay is still akin to the screenplays of film. Example 1
(below) is from my first game screenplay for “Company of Heroes:
Opposing Fronts”.

Example 1: Game Screenplay Cinematic Sequences


Part 2: GameplayThere are various elements that a game screenplay must address that
are not found in its predecessors. First and foremost are the
non-linear activities associated with modern gameplay. While
multiplayer games do not have a linear scope or one that tends to focus
on storytelling, single player modes or games, tend to have a linear
story which is parsed and delivered between non-linear gameplay
segments. For just such segments I created a header for nonlinear
gameplay segments, to indicate that what the reader is looking at is
not a predictable segment, in at least the notion that the player can
choose to do any number of things to resolve a particular problem, be
it combative or otherwise.

Example 2: Game Screenplay Gameplay Sequences

The example above consists of 3 gameplay segments and
acts as a simple indicator that the player has to solve the problems
described prior to advancing through the game. It gives the play
designer room to create memorable moments within this non-linear
segment, while allowing them the luxury of knowing what action the
gameplay segment is to transition from and to.

Part 3: Non-linear dialog and action

and dialog variation, are vital to an interactive system. While
screenplays for films may offer alternate lines (known as Alts)
intelligent game systems might select a different state for an
non-player character (NPC) depending on variable player actions.
Alternate lines can provide a rich texture for replay-ability and
suspension of disbelief.

Example 3: Game Screenplay Gameplay Sequences

While certainly not a prescription for all game writing situations, I
find the solutions presented above as adequate to meet the needs of
writing for mature AAA-titles. Moving forward I truly believe we as an
industry need such standardization to create compelling game story
experiences. I invite all game writers, novice and expert alike to join
me in creating this new and exciting format.

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This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on August 20, 2008 1:36 PM.

Masters of Narrative Design™ 3: David Sosna was the previous entry in this blog.

Creating a Universal Open-source Game Writing Tool is the next entry in this blog.

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