“Simple Story, Complex Characters.” A few writers have said that before, Neil Druckmann (Writer of “The Last of Us” and “Uncharted 4”) has said that before, and it’s exactly what we believe in at RisingLane. But why is that principle so important? Especially when it comes to Video Games? And is mastering this one rule enough to master Video Game Storytelling?

NoItsNot

Of course not, BUT I still believe it’s essential. Let’s discuss this in more detail: Why are good Story-Driven games so rare and how is RisingLane going to master this craft and present you the best Story-Driven games that you will ever play? (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a bold statement but keep reading.) First of all:

Let’s define what a good Story-Driven Game is

The principle stated above says it already: What we need are simple stories about complex characters. But that’s not enough. The relationships between these complex characters have to be complex as well since that’s the foundation for the interesting interactions between the characters. I always ask myself:

“As soon as the credits start rolling, what is the player going to feel, think, and miss the most about the experience he just had?”

(Share that question on Twitter?)

Think about that for a moment! Is it all the “exciting” exposition, epic battles, and explosions? Did you just say yes? Well then…

Get_the_fuck_outta_here

Seriously, everyone who has the budget can present you that stuff and if that’s what you’re into then that’s fine but it’s not what we’re going to cover here. I think the player should start to miss these three things after finishing a good Story-Driven Game:

  1. The Characters Personalities
  2. The Relationships between the Characters
  3. The Interactions between the Characters

Do you see how the word “Character” pops up in all three of the bullet points? Let’s discuss these points by these three examples:

  • “The Last of Us”
  • “Firewatch”
  • “What Remains of Edith Finch”

What are these examples doing right and wrong?

I will never forget that moment. The moment when I finished “The Last of Us”. Did I think: “Oh man, killing these infected was so fun! I will miss that.” It is fun but that’s definitely not what I was feeling. There was only one thing that I wanted more of:

Joel and Ellie

But I knew that it’s over. I knew that I will never see these two amazing characters together again. And that fact is what causes the “positive depression” that we’re talking about here. This depression can be quite powerful. After finishing The Last of Us I was not in the mood to play anything else. Not even another Naughty Dog Game. No, it had to be Joel and Ellie. Although it’s the same experience and doesn’t really satisfy the need for more Joel and Ellie I played it another time. And another time. And when unexpectedly The Last of Us Part 2 got announced and I got to the end of the trailer I actually started tearing up. Why? Because I couldn’t believe that I will get to experience another new journey together with Joel and Ellie. It isn’t the apocalyptic world, killing hunters or infected that I’m looking forward to. I want to know how Joel and Ellie’s relationship will progress. Neil Druckmann managed to write such a powerful relationship that the fact that this unique duo will return made me cry. That had never happened to me before while watching a trailer.

Apply the same question to “Firewatch”. What is it there that you wanted more of when the credits started rolling?

Henry and Delilah

And in this case it’s especially the interaction between Henry and Delilah. The banter that they have. And the relationship that was built over the course of the game through nothing but dialogue. But that last point is the only weak point that “Firewatch” has. As great as the dialogue is, they didn’t use Gameplay to strengthen the bond between Henry and Delilah. Not like “The Last of Us” did. In The Last of Us you needed the other person to make progress in the game. Firewatch didn’t leverage our medium. And that answers the first question that we had asked: “Why is the principle especially important for games?” Because we can use Gameplay to build relationships and create interactions between characters. The principle: “Simple Story, Complex Characters” can apply to every medium but games can use it in a way like no movie or book can. And that brings us to the last example:

“What Remains of Edith Finch”.

While Giant Sparrow did manage to leverage our medium and create an amazing Story-Driven Game it is difficult to apply our question here. It has great Environmental Storytelling and uses Gameplay to convey Stories about Characters but at the end of the game I didn’t really feel like I need more of particular Characters, they’re relationships, and interactions. That’s because there are no relationships and therefore no interactions since the relationship is the foundation for that. Does this make What Remains of Edith Finch a bad Story-Driven game? Not at all. It’s just not the type of Story-Driven games that we make at RisingLane. We don’t focus on Environmental Storytelling. We focus on Characters and preferably only two characters, their relationship, and interactions. And that makes good Story-Driven Video Games so rare: Instead of focusing on the three things that we have talked about they focus on exposition through environments.

Conclusion

So what have we learned?

  • “Simple Story, Complex Stories” is essential to make a good Story-Driven Video Game (Share that quote on Twitter?)
  • It’s not just about the exposition conveyed through exploring environments (Environmental Storytelling)
  • The three things you should focus on are:
    • The Characters Personalities
    • The Relationships between the Characters
    • The Interactions between the Characters
  • Leverage our medium
  • Ask yourself: “As soon as the credits start rolling, what is the player going to feel, think, and miss the most about the experience he just had?”

Is this the only way to make a good Story-Driven Video Game? No. Is it everything you need to understand to master Video Game Writing? No. What else do I need to learn? My honest answer:

I don’t know.

Join this journey and let’s find out together. RisingLane’s goal is to master Video Game Storytelling. I don’t claim that I know everything. But I believe that this is the first step we should take. Druckmann took that step and changed the industry. I mean take a look at “God of War”. What will we have in the new God of War game? Right. A relationship. In this case a father & son relationship. In our game it’s about:

Aleron and Nora

Didn’t see our Teaser yet? Watch it now:

You want more examples that follow the “Simple Story, Complex Characters” principle? Sign-up for our Newsletter and receive a list of Stories you probably haven’t experienced yet but definitely should if you love Games, Movies, Shows, Animes, Books, etc. with good Stories. If you’re a writer yourself then our Dialogue Guide might interest you as well?

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Thank you for reading! Remember our Free Demo and Kickstarter Campaign will launch in December. So even if you’re not interested in the Guide or List subscribing is still worth it as you will get a notification. Also share this Blog Post not only to support us but also to spread the word about Story-Driven Games. Because we want more of those and we want good ones. The good ones have the potential to change your life.

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Written by RisingLane

My name is Ahmet Koctar and I’m the founder of RisingLane. A Game Company that was founded 2014. My goal is to create Games with intriguing, emotional and unique stories.
I created “Now Way Out”, “Missing Memories” and “The Forgotten Time”.
I also wrote books like “Project Trebor” and “House of Ashes”.
And I created 3D-Art and tried out a lot of other things.
Currently I’m focusing on our game “Project Mirela” and I’m working on my Storytelling, Directing and Designing Skills.

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