Copyright Dec 19, 1999
Are you racking your brain, trying to think of that perfect plot
that will make your game unforgettable? This article will give you some
pointers of what makes up a good plot, and how to get ideas.
off, you have to make sure that you recognize what a "good plot" is.
Doom did not exhibit a good plot. In fact, nearly all
first-person-shooters as a whole do not have good plots. Tetris had no
plot. Space Invaders had no plot. Yet all these games are some of the
best-selling games of all time. So now you need to realize that,
despite how much it hurts to say this, not all games require a plot. So
now you need to think long and hard whether your game needs a plot, and
even if you create one, will anyone pay attention?
Ok, so hopefully now you know in your heart that your game needs a
GOOD PLOT. To me, plot means a lot of things. It captures the
backstory, the goal, and even the interactivity into one word. So how
do we make it great? Well, there are some do's and don'ts that have to
1) Avoid cliches! Sometimes the
tried-and-true formula has been tried too many times. If you're making
an RPG and planning on having it about this great knight who defeats
the evil dragon in Medieval times...well, your game better have good
graphics. Try to think of something original, and if you use a cliche,
put a new spin on it.
2) Main character! The player's
gotta be around him a lot, so they better like him. Make sure that the
main character has a clear personality and behaves similarly throughout
the game. Give him a name, characteristics, and most importantly, a
goal. There are too many games where the player is off to save the
world...but what's in it for him?
3) NPC's are people too!
If you're doing an RPG or a graphic adventure (or even a FPS), good
Non-Playable Characters can make or break the game. Like the main
character they should have very distinct personalities and should
behave in the same manner all the time. Make sure the player knows the
NPC as well as the main character...if there is an NPC that the main
character is best friends with, make sure the player knows that NPC
4) Predictability is a no-no! If the player
figures out plot twists and whose the secret murderer, etc, etc. before
they are supposed to (and therefore before the main character knows)
then you have just lost the player forever. Make sure you have plently
of plot turns and that the main character is always up-to-speed with
the player and vice versa.
5) Don't over-do it! Games
nowadays are getting more and more revolutionary. However, don't try to
change gaming through plot...at least not in your first attempt. Only
the greatest storytellers like Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island creator,
among others) can actually change the way you play through a story. Try
to keep it believable, entertaining, and within the context of your
technologies. If you don't have a decent texture modeler don't set your
game in a vivid photorealistic world.
6) Dialogue is everything.
Dialogue and character interaction is often considered an unimportant
aspect that is only a believable way for a character to obtain
information fast. Make it more than that. In an adventure game,
dialogue can be a player's only link to the world that you have placed
him/her in. The dialogue should offer many branches and ideally could
change a particular puzzle's outcome. It is very important that you
write out dialogue during the Design phase carefully. DO NOT let the
programmer think up stuff on the spot while he's coding the dialogue
7) It all comes back to backstory. Backstory is
the backbone of a game. If it isn't good and involving it could cause a
catastrophic dominoe effect. Bad story, no character motivation,
pointless NPC's, uninspired villains, anticlimatic ending. You see?
Make sure you put time and effort into your backstory, and think of a
subgenre first! Is your game a comedy, horror, sci-fi, fantasy? Will
the world be cartoony, super-realistic, or a hybrid? If the backstory
doesn't grab the player AND fit well with the world then your plot is
down the drain.
Well, thanks for telling me what I already knew...
Sorry if the above list was very obvious, but even savvy game
designers forget the basics as their thinking up the plot, or they get
too wrapped up in technology to give the plot the time of day. The
seven bullet points above cannot be compromised (even in an FPS).
so now you know what to avoid and what to focus on when designing your
plot. But you still don't have any ideas! Thanks for nothing, right?
Well, now I'll give you some pointers on how to get some good plot
1) Play your genre! Making an RPG? Play tons of
RPG's. Making a graphic adventure? Play tons of those. Understand what
works and how the designers integrated all of the aspects of our first
list. Think of character development, NPC's and backstory. Analyze how
the backstory is presented, how the player gets to know the character,
why the character is involved, and how he interacts with others.
2) But my genre is plotless!
Ok, so you're making a FPS? Maybe an RTS? A puzzle game? And every game
you've played in that genre has a bad (if any) plot? Well, then make
one up. Play through Doom and think how a good plot could be integrated
though more than text boxes popping up during loading times. Think if
the player would have more fun if the space marine s/he is playing as
was more developed. Think if the game would be more intense if there
were some NPC's that could be stumbled upon (or possibly killed by
3) Back to basics. Despite fancy technology
there is no computer program that can generate a good, original plot.
So always be using your brain and anticipate the best ideas to occur
when you least expect it. Countless game designers will tell you their
best-selling ideas came to them in the shower, or waiting at an airport
terminal. Always carry pen and paper! Sure, it's easy enough to hop out
of the shower and jot something down, but if a thought hits you when
you're hours away from a writing utensil and paper you will not be
4) Brainstorm with others! Sometimes geniuses
don't work alone. If you get some great plot idea, don't write out a
100-page design doc and tell your artist to start making 3D
models...talk to others first! This is EXTREMELY important! What seems
like a great idea to you might be rejected by a roomful of others,
meaning that either you rethink your game or plan on only having family
members purchase it in stores. Make sure that different people of
different gaming levels hear what you're planning to make. Also, make
sure that your programmer and artist are very clear on what you're
5) Real life can help game life! So you're a
disgruntled game designer spending day after day staring at the blank
screen of a word processor. Go outside! Relive real life! Get ideas
from what's in the real world and use it in your game's world! Believe
it or not, every single player of your game lives in the same real
world as you, so if your game has real-world subjects and ideas that
you can relate to, they can relate to them also.
6) Trash is for coffee grinds and stale bread.
Don't throw anything away! What was a dead idea three months ago could
be your best source for a good plot today. Get an idea, write it down,
and keep it no matter what. When you're stuck for ideas or at a
dead-end go back to see the evolution of your ideas and modify and
combine until you get a new idea. As long as you never toss anything,
you'll always have something to work from.
Conclusions, Confusions, and an Angry Mob.
I hope that at some point in this article you sat back and thought,
"Ah! Now that's a good idea!" instead of tapping your foot while
impatiently reading through two lists of what you already knew when you
should have been working on your games plot. What I have written is by
no means official, and you don't have to believe a word of it. But if
you think your game really needs a good plot, I incourage you to use
what I've written as a guideline.