Here are some hints and tips how to make sure the foundations of your project are solid. It can help you in the long run by keeping you connected to the game you are making. It will also save you lot of meandering and getting lost in the dead ends.
- WHY are you telling us this story?
- WHAT is the message you want to carry across to readers?
- WHERE will you place this project in your life?
- WHEN do you plan to finish it?
- WHO can do it better than you?
WHY are you telling us this story (instead of some other story)
I often see writers losing interest in developing their own story. They start from vague idea, maybe just a single image or impression. Whatever the impulse, rarely ever do they pause to ask themselves – why. But still, from time to time it’s not a bad thing to do. Consider it… similar to checking the tires before mounting the bike.
Without setting the reason for you to tell the story, it will be much more difficult to refine your idea and find what is theme of your story. Theme of the story is usually very close connected to your personal ‘why’ so it will be easier to focus and connect yourself to the project.
TRY THIS: Ask yourself if this would be a game or a story that would rock your world. If someone else made it, would you be smiling playing it? Would you be crying? Would it move you in any way? Also try asking yourself if there is a more important story for you in this moment. If there is, tell us THAT story instead.
DON’T PANIC: Sometimes you feel empty. There are no stories that would make you excited. Many stories are too personal or stirr too strong emotions in us, so we can’t tell them. That’s fine, the time will come when you will be ready to tackle them.
WHAT is your message (defining your theme)
The message you want your readers to receive. That’s theme of your story or what is your story about. Every story, even those simply made to entertain people, always carry a message.
Think of Spiderman movies. They are created to rake in cash. Plot is simple, almost naive. Guy gets bitten by a spider and gains superpowers, then decides to devote his new powers to fighting crime. “With great power comes great responsibility”. This is not only uncle Ben’s favorite saying, it’s also answer to question WHAT for this story.
Having a clear idea what is the message you want to express is of great practical use. It’s like a compass for adding new content and styling your characters and episodes. Any time you want to add new character, plot arc, episode or any other element, just return to your answer to the this question.
For example, if we were writing a Spiderman IF game, would a unicorn fit our game? Well, maybe… if we find a way to express our theme involving the unicorn. Maybe it appears in shape of unicorn-girl who helps Spidey fight crime? Maybe unicorn is a wild beast using its power irresponsibly, contrasting Spiderman? If it’s just about unicorn being all majestic and prancing about, then it probably isn’t the best fit for our game.
TRY THIS: Think of this before actually coming up with the outline of the story. It will be much easier to decide what elements to include if you know what is your game all about, what is it that you want to express.
DON’T PANIC: If you already have a story, try to discover what is the message hidden in there. It doesn’t have to be very lofty. “I want players to feel what is it like to…” is also a valid theme.
WHERE will you place this project in your life (is this a side project or your magnum opus)
I know you make every project with secret wish for it to become a smashing hit, for everyone to read it and throw money at you. Okay, maybe not this extreme and maybe not for every project, but let’s face it. While we all love to create, we also love to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
That’s what makes this question very important. If you clearly decide what this project means to you, it will be much more easy to devote time for it. Also it can save you a lot of frustration if the project fails in any way.
TRY THIS: Be honest with yourself. Can you really fit this project high on your priority list? Are you willing to make sacrifices? Will you really give up idle browsing of cat memes and devote that time to your interactive fiction master-piece?
DON’T PANIC: Even if you realize that there is not much time in your life for the project at this moment, you can always save it for later. Maybe you can’t spend hours on end working at your script and code. Try allocating tiny portion of time every day… Doing a little bit every day is better than binging on your project only to abandon it for weeks on end.
WHEN will you finish it (having deadlines actually helps)
If you know this project fits in your life, it’s easy to determine a deadline. Despite their name, deadlines are good for you. They determine scope of your project and help you decide how detailed you want your game to be.
For example if you want exquisitely detailed game with multiple story arcs, different routes for various protagonists, if it will have inventory and procedurally generated content (basically anything that requires coding), then prepare to work on it for many months. If you only have 48 hours to make the game, then it will probably look more like something straight from a game jam.
TRY THIS: Try making an experiment. Create a game in one day. Make it over the course of a weekend. Then try making it in 7 days. Do a one month project. Just work and finish when the time runs out. It will give you good idea what’s your ideal pace and help you set deadlines more realistically.
DON’T PANIC: Making games is not a race. Many games you enjoy, no matter how long or short they are, often took years to complete. So take your time.
WHO can do it better than you (are you going solo, or looking for collaborators)
Who can do this better than you? Maybe you will think, oh there are so much better writers/artists/game designers than me. But think again. It’s YOUR story. Only you have the vision. Only you know what will feel right.
Goal of this question is to honestly assess your abilities. For example, I am making an interactive fiction game and I realize I will need more than just simple scripting code. I am making my code, it might turn crappy. I am not a professional developer. But still, there is no one in this world who will make better code for this story. I know exactly what I want to build and it will be better for me to learn along then have someone else mess with my game.
TRY THIS: Sometimes you will discover that your own ability is not adequate. Maybe you have a story which demands better writer than you are. You are still the one with the vision, but you realize that to fully respect this story, you need to invite someone to help you. Only then is the right time to seek collaborators.
DON’T PANIC: If your skills are lacking in one area, try to make your game better in another area. Being a bad artist I’ll try to make my writing superb. Even if you are mediocre across the board, who cares. It’s YOUR game and it better be improved from your previous attempt because (repeat after me) – NEVER COMPARE TO OTHERS, BUT TO YOUR EARLIER WORKS!
I would like to know what you think about this?
How do you prepare for our projects? Did you find my advice helpful? Did you try it out and how did it work for you? Write and let me know!