Discussion Plot Planning, Direction, & Pacing

This thread is for discussion and opinions.

MegaMew47

Under the truck
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Mar 12, 2020
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Earlier Pokemon games typically have a fairly simplistic journey: 8 gyms, the Elite Four, Champion, and done, with minor or limited interactions with an evil team. As Pokemon games have developed, the protagonist ends up saving the world from powerful evil teams and god-like legendary Pokemon. Additionally, most fan games tend to go with a more plot-heavy story, featuring heavy involvement with the evil team or multiple teams.

In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?

What are some tips with pacing this story? Do you evenly space gym battles and evil team interactions? To what extent do side plots, route exploration, extended dialogues, dungeon crawls, non-important interactions, etc. feature into your story? How do you make everything flow naturally, and not feel rushed?

Additionally, do you tend to plan out your entire plot and every detail from the beginning, wing it as you go, or have a mix of the two? Pros and cons of each? What challenges do you face with what you do?
 

Ekat

That One Guy's GF
Member
In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?
My hot take: if I wanted to play a Pokémon game with little or poor plot, I'd just play a mainline game.

However, if a plot-simple fangame has better mechanics and design choices, I'd probably enjoy it more than the plot-heavy one.

If I were to pick out a major con with plot-heavy games, it would be cutscenes. You need to edit ruthlessly to keep them from being too long. Even if your characters have a great exchange, you can't let things draw out too long. It can also be difficult to make your cutscenes dynamic in XP, if you're just using the event editor. (I try a lot of character movements and animations, as well as camera scrolling, to keep things alive.)

Additionally, do you tend to plan out your entire plot and every detail from the beginning, wing it as you go, or have a mix of the two? Pros and cons of each? What challenges do you face with what you do?
I've talked enough about my short projects, so I'll use Ashen Frost as my example. I fall into the mixed category. If I were to divy up what I do into three categories, it would be:
  1. On-the-fly writing
  2. Short-term planning
  3. Long-term planning
On the Fly
I write all of the game's dialogue off the top of my head, in-editor. On rare occasions, I'll jot down the conversation somewhere. (Typically for important conversation, or if I have a bad pun I want to make.) It can be a piece of paper, DMs with Michael, my phone's notepad, etc.

Picture of On the Fly notes and Transcript

->She had me running in circles, while hiding right behind me. (Have it start snowing.)
->Cooorrect~! It took you long enough.
->Realize that you're backed into a corner
->"Uuh, look, I'll forget the necklace. I didn't want to waste time, I'm not trying to cause trouble."
->[Lafayette, shut up.] Just seeing you raises my blood pressure."
->"Have you considered cutting salt out of your diet?"
(I would have moved the text in square brackets to come after the salt quip.)

Short-Term Planning
Ashen Frost is divided into cases, which is just a fancy way of saying chapters. Once one mystery/job is finished, you move to the next. Each case is its own story, which contributes to the game's over-arching plot. Cases are not pre-planned. I have a mental list of ideas I want to incorporate for each case. But, I don't sit down to firm anything up until I'm about to event/map. Then, I write up a plan of what I want to include. This can be maps, characters, events, boss battles... basically anything that pertains to the making of the game.

The hardest part of planning each case is writing the list of evidence/clues. I need to know the exact context under which the player gets the clue, the description of the clue, and how/where the clue can be used later. Along with the case procedure, I have to write the concluding logic sequence. This is where the player is prompted to put together various clues so they can solve the case. (Typically where you confront the culprit, find the plot object, etc.)

Generally, my goal is to lead the player to the right conclusions without being blatantly obvious. I also have to run the procedure through the (editing) wringer, so that it makes sense logistically. (Or that there's enough suspension of disbelief.) Another reason this writing is difficult is flexibility. There is next to no wiggle room on changing how a case plays out down the line. This is because it can result in a chain reaction, where I need to change every other clue in the case. Rewriting a case's logic sequence can get very messy really quick. It's why I need to plan down to the minute detail how the case is going to work before I event it.

Picture of Short Term Notes and Transcript

"Well, if there's what does this mean... Are you saying you want to leave?"
...
"Maybe it's just better if I do... I don't feel any remorse for my choice in careers. I'm just a sleazy, sneezy alleycat in the end."
"...I can't (you're right) dispute that. I guess the decision's up to you."
"I mean, what's going to happen to me - I sell out my subordinates, my friends, and then I join them in jail so they can lynch me, once it's all over?"
"I can't say."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
Bees start attacking, workers rush indoors, Syl goes out w/Luciano to calm them down w/ the workers
(fight 3 groups, 2-on-2?)
The workers start handling the bees, one of them asks Syl to go meet w/the owner -> the a the queen (vespiquen) bees were stolen, their pkballs were stolen, that's thus the panic, gets hired to find them

This is a conversation between the protagonist (Sylvester) and a secondary character (Luciano.) The context is that Luciano, a high-ranking gangster, has recently defected. To add insult to injury, he defected to join an organized crime resistance. Suffice to say, a lot of people are out for his blood. This conversation is significant because it marks the beginning of fleshing out Luciano's character. Following that mess of a run-on sentence are some cutscene directions.

Long-Term Planning
The long-term planning for AF is usually focused on the overarching plot: character development, the plans of the antagonists, themes, worldbuilding, etc. Some ideas are written, others just float around in my head until I need them. Due to the length of the game, we prefer to be flexible. If an idea doesn't work, or a case challenges ideas we've yet to include, we have enough wiggle room to rework things. Only some story elements are hammered out in stone.
  1. Character deaths.
  2. The game's ending.
  3. Romance/relationships.
  4. The postgame fates/futures of the main cast.

Other Writing Questions
Finally, I thought I'd add some more writing discussion questions! I touched on both these subjects with my answers.
  1. What is the editing process like for your game? Do you have multiple editors, and if so, how many? What are some editing challenges that you (or your team) frequently come across?
  2. How do you go about staging your cutscenes? Are they planned with the rest of your writing, or done separately? What are some of the limits on creating cutscenes you have to contend with?
  3. What are some writing tools you utilize, and why? (Timelines, charts, grammar checkers, etc.)
 

Maurili

Not a scobunny
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In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?
Usually, I opt for more plot-heavy stories, I have never tried doing simple plots but I think if I were to, they would be simpler to do and would probably not have as many writing mistakes and plot holes as a big plotted story would have, and as said above the plot of the mainline games are kinda laking so if you make a simple story it wouldn't really be something spectacular

Additionally, do you tend to plan out your entire plot and every detail from the beginning, wing it as you go, or have a mix of the two? Pros and cons of each? What challenges do you face with what you do?
Usually, I start with a basic idea of a plot, X character will be the rival, Y character will be the main antagonist, something will happen between X and Y in Z location, etc.
I build the world and other things around said characters I think preparing everything in advance would be better so you don't forget about anything, and the characters could be better fleshed out, but while writing I think as if I was the character so I guess you can call what they say genuine reactions

What is the editing process like for your game? Do you have multiple editors, and if so, how many? What are some editing challenges that you (or your team) frequently come across?
I only use RPGXP and I use some external editors to make things like sprites and maps sometimes and that's pretty much it, been trying to start writing the plot, story, and dialogues in a word document, with no luck (also I don't have a team) the harder part is probably using RPGXP itself it's kinda an old platform.

How do you go about staging your cutscenes? Are they planned with the rest of your writing, or done separately? What are some of the limits on creating cutscenes you have to contend with?
I don't really stage cutscenes mutch but they are planned in advanced as they are the exposition and lore dump that eventually needs to happen, RPGXP limitations surely hurt this one, you can't do much with sprites, you can use pictures to spice it up (but I am not an artist) but I guess as a countermeasure cutscenes are shorter, and lore dumps faster that's what I do, I think.

What are some writing tools you utilize, and why? (Timelines, charts, grammar checkers, etc.)
In best friend relationship with Grammarly, in fact, I am using it now to write this very reply, I use word sometimes, but that's pretty much it
and I guess I will add a question to the next person that replies

Should you write aiming at a more mature audience or do like original pokemon kid-friendly?
I think this is an important topic to discuss because I think a lot of fangames have this problem of making the story edgy and aimed at mature audiences, while I think this is kinda a good move to remove the stereotype that pokemon "is a kid's game" I think many exaggerate on the point, I think a balance should be found between those two.
 

Evan

in another life, Starrcasm
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I think the best thing about fangames is that plots can either be super in depth or not at all present or anything in between, and they can still be great! For shorter jam games, I like to do a plot that feels almost cinematic. For Pokemon Sea and Sky, we're opting to try and emulate a mainline pokemon experience, but trying to thread the needle in a way that made earlier generations *magical*.

For jam games, the way I like to structure it would be to have the plot unravel itself throughout the game, with maybe a major cutscene at the start, the middle, and the end. Never trying to make it too long, because lots of players love to spam through dialogue (which breaks my heart). For Sea and Sky, we're trying to keep the plot as "background" and "non-intrusive" while still giving enough lore and enough character development so that you (a) know who each character is and can describe them and (b) have things you can dig into or theorize about after you've done your playthrough. Basically, the goal when writing cutscenes has been "how can we get this across in as SHORT a way as possible, since the main point for lots of folks is their journey with their pokemon going through the region? I have no idea how we'll we're sticking to it, but that's what the aim is.

For my games, I like to write out plots in broad strokes, just to get an overall arc. After that, I generally do a "beat-by-beat", which is just plotting out how the player experiences the game. Once that feels like it's in a good spot, I'll follow up by inserting dialogue. Usually the dialogue will change as I'm eventing, but not by too much. Tweaks will happen during playtests.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/133p5JOX6JpIcpyP2yEzwVdIb-ad-gPMzz3FmJtO9G0E

^ an example of my full working plot doc for THEFT on the MAGNET TRAIN EXPRESS. It's suuuuuuuuuper different from what I'm doing on Sea and Sky but i think it shows some insight into the process.
 

CoumarineTrainerAndy

A Trainer from Coumarine City
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In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?I think, for the one game I’ve published, I think a story for me at least the story is one of the most important things up there with gameplay. It needs to have a compelling story to keep people invested and not be like, you need to go to point a to b because of this. So I think a pro of having a plot-heavy story is the players get to have the characters do stuff so they’re more invested in them. A plot-heavy story’s cons though are that if you make it way too heavy you could overshadow the gameplay and battles and also not put time into them.

What are some tips with pacing this story? Do you evenly space gym battles and evil team interactions? To what extent do side plots, route exploration, extended dialogues, dungeon crawls, non-important interactions, etc. feature into your story? How do you make everything flow naturally, and not feel rushed?
I think for tips with pacing, focus on one scene or part of the story at a time. For instance Pokémon TRAPPED, I focused on just the intro and stuff before getting trapped first so I’m not rushing through the beginning so I can get into the exciting stuff. I try to focus on the part I’m at and look at exciting things I get to do there then once I’m done with that move onto the next part. I don’t really evenly space evil team interactions, I have them all around the same part. For instance at the beginning is world building, then when I get to the main story I introduce the villains and work on them then, then do one thing then encounter them again maybe have a big break then have them and think it shouldn’t just be do this then meet them, then do this, then meet them again, etc. I don’t have too much non-important conversations, every conversation I have has a meaning. In exploring someone’s backstory, strengthening connection, or confrontation. I sometimes have random conversations but for the most part I try to have meaning in every conversation I write.

Additionally, do you tend to plan out your entire plot and every detail from the beginning, wing it as you go, or have a mix of the two? Pros and cons of each? What challenges do you face with what you do?
I tend to do a mix of both. At the beginning I have a general plan for it, but then I wing it as I go for what goes hon and side-stories and make it more detailed as I go. Some pros is I don’t have tackle at all and get super stressed and be calm and just work on what I need to work on. Cons are it doesn’t always completely flow together since I kinda just go how about this happens then it kinda just gets shoved in and doesnt always fit. A challenge I face in it is u never can know exactly what happens because I have a bland generalization so for when I’m trying to foreshadow something or give something to player for them to use later on so I need to go back and put it in there. and sometimes I forget to go back and make it more fluid and then it’s a mess.

What is the editing process like for your game? Do you have multiple editors, and if so, how many? What are some editing challenges that you (or your team) frequently come across?
My editing process is going back and making sure it all goes well together. I can’t think of any challenges I’ve come acrosss.

How do you go about staging your cutscenes? Are they planned with the rest of your writing, or done separately? What are some of the limits on creating cutscenes you have to contend with?
I go about staging my cutscenes by at night imaging it at my head and then doing it the following morning. I do not have it planned with the rest of my writing, instead I just go with it when I do it in the program. Some limits are the limits of the program not letting me do exactly as I want to so I have to change some stuff. Like in my big Non-pokemon project an enemy falls from a building which I have to simulate with it changing to a different graphic and moving downward and the graphic makes it that the graphic doesn’t change.

What are some writing tools you utilize, and why? (Timelines, charts, grammar checkers, etc.)
I use Google Docs to write lines. I use it since RPG MAKER doesn’t have. A grammar corrector or spell checker so I use it so that it doesn’t come up with sledner.
 
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Chase

Grand Kaiser
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Nov 12, 2017
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As someone who has a very non-typical plot with my game, I end up thinking about questions like this quite a lot actually! Going with a plot where the "Evil Team" is the tyrannical ruler of a nation and his army - so he technically already won - has been honestly a really fun experience for me in terms of writing and how I write the efforts of the characters and encounters with the villains. But onto the questions!

In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?

I have QUITE the plot-heavy story, which while right up my alley, as I absolutely ADORE just coming up with battles and encounters for the main characters to overcome and event sequences that go along side it, has closed me off to a lot of the open-endedness that plot-simple stories can take. For example, while I'm not particularly a huge fan of Kanto as a whole, there is a very charming way about how it doesn't have a really coherent story you follow through with, both in its iterations in games with Kanto alone, and GSC/HGSS, where there's some loose story around and the legendary battle with Red atop Mt. Silver. Due to having a very plot-focused story - I lose a lot of leeway when it comes to downtime in the story, and have to find ways to fill it that aren't samey and boring - which for a while was honestly pretty difficult to come up with for me!

But for me, its the satisfaction of finding ways to OVERCOME those challenges, and tie them in with an interesting and evolving story that makes it worth it EVERY TIME for me.

What are some tips with pacing this story? Do you evenly space gym battles and evil team interactions? To what extent do side plots, route exploration, extended dialogues, dungeon crawls, non-important interactions, etc. feature into your story? How do you make everything flow naturally, and not feel rushed?

Honestly, that's something I'm still personally working on - which has not been easy to balance with two main plots that go hand in hand going alongside each other. I try to have lots of hidden, unique areas that give players a feel of exploration around my maps, whether that be a cave hidden behind a church in a town, or a field of flowers hidden through a small gap in the trees, something that rewards the player for searching around. I also try to hide little bits of extra lore around maps - such as an interview with a villain character you get by interacting with a TV in the starting town. For me - making everything flow naturally is a matter of breaking things down, building it back up, adjusting as I go!

Additionally, do you tend to plan out your entire plot and every detail from the beginning, wing it as you go, or have a mix of the two? Pros and cons of each? What challenges do you face with what you do?


For me, I do a bit of a mix of both - planning out later details as I go but focusing on whats in the here and now, planning as I go, editing things that dont make sense or things I know I can do better, and changing when i think i can better show my characters! While this is a method that works for me, its does have its downsides - such as getting caught up on small details that many people won't even notice. While planning out everything from the start is something that can work well, if you change one big detail, you're stuck changing EVERYTHING - like a butterfly effect of writing (It also doesn't work particularly well with someone like me who can suffer from ADD pretty bad at times). And winging it can also be fun, it can also lead to things not making sense if you're not careful, which is why I personally like going in with a vision, making a rough outline as i go, and changing details that I feel unfit or boring!

What is the editing process like for your game? Do you have multiple editors, and if so, how many? What are some editing challenges that you (or your team) frequently come across?

I personally have multiple writers for my team, four including me, with a process we follow:

Brainstorming -> Contextualizing -> Refining -> Implementing -> Correcting

Start with coming up with ideas, pitching them to the team, and making sure its generally pretty agreed upon.
Then, we contextualize it in the frame of the game: Does it make sense? Does it work right? Is it interesting? Yes? Then move to refining the details in the context of our characters and world.
After this, we implement it in game, and go through and correct it for final use.

We haven't hit many walls going in a sort of cycle like this, even if we don't always stick to it exactly!

How do you go about staging your cutscenes? Are they planned with the rest of your writing, or done separately? What are some of the limits on creating cutscenes you have to contend with?

For me personally, I typically come up with ideas for cutscenes and write them out on my own, separate from the writing but still following the events that happened prior to it. Once i get them visualized, I pitch them to the team, get some ideas and feedback, then work that into it! The biggest wall I've hit personally is getting stuck with figuring out ways to do events that go between multiple maps, I've figured out ways through it, but it has not been the easiest process, typically I end up splitting the event into two halves, one that takes place on the first map, finishes a sequence, transfers to the next, and a parallel process/autorun event that picks up where the previous half left off. (If there are easier ways to do this, I am ALL EARS)

What are some writing tools you utilize, and why? (Timelines, charts, grammar checkers, etc.)

Pretty much exclusively Google Docs for writing, and Aseprite for visualizing things such as region map, map edits, etc.
 

Ranko

Aloof Unmoving Maiden
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May 17, 2017
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I was definitely waiting for story and pacing! This is the majority of where my time goes in every single project. Behold fools, for my longest reply yet!

Sometimes, I spend the first 30 days planning out the story, pacing, and direction before I even open the the RPGMakerProject haha, I wonder what that's referring to...

Where do I even begin...

I don't really like Gameplay > Story games, so I won't put my two cents into it. And overall, Story > Gameplay games are the ones I want to make. This is kind of odd considering I put an enormous amount of effort into the game design of not only my games, but other people's games. this is an unfortunate consequence of my entire life is based around Fighting Games, which is Gameplay > Story at its finest and a tournament player to boot, so pointing out the inner workings of game design and analzying what the Creator of a game offers to the player is something i've also become really passionate about. I've gotten sponsorships and travel the world to play footsies and mash buttons versus other people. where did i go wrong. can i get paid to play rpgs instead. uh, that was unnecessary. anyway. I'll go over gameplay elements too.

If I could name one pro to Gameplay > Story games, is that the player determines the story, and the game simply gives the player the tools to mold that story. It's like creating a sandbox, and sandboxes can inherently be very fun. No being bogged down by long cutscenes, potentially bad writing, or linear objectives for the sake of plot, and you can focus on optimizing the experience of gameplay to its finest. They can create their own strategy, their own squad, min-max to their hearts desire, do funny interactions on purpose etc. When you need to stop the player to explain something every once in awhile, there's a chance people will be like "Okay, when can I play the game?". By continuously putting the game in the player's hand, there's a strong sense of freedom.

Now onto Story Overview time, I didn't want to talk about that long...​

PACING OVERVIEW
Plot planning and pacing is extremely crucial for me as the most important thing in my mind is to make sure the game stays fun to play and the story is non-intrusive. Despite this, I am very heavily a story > game-play person, so I want to go over this perspective as much as possible and highlight plot-heavy games and also the mix-heavy games.

...Of course this doesn't really mesh with my former point. By focusing more on story, you kind of have to sacrifice a bit of the game-play element, correct? You're kind of hoping people understand there's going to be more text than usual, right?

This is why I never win. I always want both. The story element, because it's what I personally want to see in the game and the game-play element, which is what other people want to see in the game and also what I want, but to a lesser extent. Do I hate myself, or do I hate my audience? ...I shouldn't answer that.

MOVING ON.

My favorite games make sure the story doesn't intrude on the game-play, but still take itself seriously! In a perfect game to me and only me, story exists alongside gameplay, holding each other's hand. Uh, this is kind of a weird perspective, so I need to explain this personal preference by highlighting myself a bit.

I pretty much practice pacing in every single little thing I do. The story is the first thing I come up with in every project, then I set-up potential Gameplay. Then, characters, quotes, and dialogue. And then it gets put into the game, and then everything gets stabbed to near death and cut up for the sake of gameplay. I love dialogue and story, but a lot of other people don't, so I have to make sure it conveys the feeling of what I want in as few words as possible. This is kind of why a lot of my cutscenes and story beats tend to end prematurely before I have time to explain some of the deeper bits, which I'm still learning of how to do better.

Please don't take what I have written below into your own work, and if you think it makes sense, take it with a grain of salt. This is a hot take, in my opinion. I'm not an amazing writer, storyteller, or scriptwriter. I simply just try my best with what I know and wish to accomplish...

Here's the big one, so I'll start with Dialogue before going through the actual story telling elements as it is the one I am most passionate about.​

DIALOGUE PACING
Character writing and dialogue is crucial to pacing in my opinion, because it is what is literally put on the screen. These are the things people WILL be pressing the A button on, and good lord, is this the most annoying part. The giant google doc of Ghosts of Knowledge doesn't mean shit if I don't know how to actually tell it, y'know?

Dialogue, the story, direction, plot, and pretty much your entire game is going to be told through this. I count narrators as dialogue too. Anything that displays text can be edited for even the smallest attention spans.

Some things I note on while writing dialogue:

What is trying to be told here? Okay cool, now make it shorter.

Did you make it shorter and it still conveys or even better, implies well what is happening? Okay, but is the line of dialogue too long? Does it take too many dialogue boxes to get through? Make it shorter.

Okay, look at the dialogue box itself. Is the dialogue box filled with words? What if you cut it into two different dialogue boxes instead?

Basically, in the nicest way possible, I need to account for even the most impatient player's attention span, while still being able for them to retain the information of the story.

In my observation, I don't believe there are people who simply just hate story in videogames as much as they don't like scrolling through so much text to be told it. There are tons of videogames who tell stories with little to no dialogue and also some who simply cut up the dialogue enough JUST RIGHT so that people can take in a sentence, digest the information, and move on without them being too overwhelmed by a text box filled with words.

A game I think did this well is UNDERTALE. Every single character in this game refuses to allow a thought/sentence to go past more than two multiple lines of text boxes, and if it does, it'll split it up and pause, like this:



There's a pause here. Pretty much everything here implies a next line of thought for the player to get ready for.



The sentence isn't done, but there's still a pause. The text box is filled with words, but it was led up to by a sentence with literally one word, making it very easy to digest this next part and prepare for the words being written like this.

Imagine if in UNDERTALE, every single box of dialogue was filled up like this. It would get exhausting to read, right?


The final piece of thought, and there's even a bit of an extra thing going on here, with the changing face portrait that pretty much signals "Hello, I am going to be portraying a different emotional piece from the last line." and subverts the feeling you thought you would've gotten from the last line. (The fact that Papyrus leaves room for doubt in the end for some reason. It's just needlessly silly, which is interesting to read and it's easy to imagine his character saying it like that.)

You COULD just combine this all into one sentence and just have the text scroll down, but people don't have that kind of patience. Impatient people will lose engagement from the scene. By pacing the thoughts one box at a time, it's a lot easier to piece together what is trying to be portrayed, in my opinion.

I think this method of pacing is a big reason why so many people were able to stay invested in the game from from setting to setting, while still being able to tell a story, and hit that mainstream success (and that's huge because there are some hella impatient people in the mainstream).

Not only is the cutscene paced perfectly, but each line of dialogue is at least interesting and portrays a different kind of feeling or emotion, making it very easy to digest.

Here's a pretty big example:

The line in the game.


Here's the same line, told differently.

Maybe it's just me being 7000 layers of UX levels deep, but I feel there is an enormous difference between the two. The line of text used is actually really really really bad. I think it's way too wordy and people will have a moderately difficult time saying it out loud. But I was on a deadline. This scene was written in the last 24 hours of the jam. But bare with me, this is just an example and it WAS edited at least once, so I can highlight my editing method.

The first message has lots of space left, which can signal a player that the line of dialogue and piece of information has been completed. "Oh, okay. This one is done. That's what's being told". Then, the next piece of thought is displayed and it portrays a different piece of information. There's a wait to signal to the player that another line of thought is going to be issued. This is the one that was actually used in the game, of course.

The second one has both lines of thought issued in the same sentence, forces the game to scroll down a bit, and there's black text in every single corner of the dialogue box. Of course, for normal people, this is really not a big deal. There's even still some space left at the end! Surely people aren't that impatient, right?

IF I COULD NOT TELL YOU EVERY TIME I HEARD A STREAMER SAY "Whoa... that's a lot of black on there, uh... sorry what's this say..." or "What is she talking about...?"

AND SOMETIMES THEY'LL JUST SKIP IT. THE WHOLE DAMN LINE. WON'T EVEN READ IT.

In my head, I know it's kind of bullshit, but the last thing I want it make sure nobody stops being engaged because of something as little as dialogue, so it's a major point in the game.

For my first Jam Game (its unreleased), the game's first few maps are riddled with giant event squares filled with exact same cutscene with varying degrees of timing and different kinds of dialogue. I think I wrote it about 20 different times.


There they are in the top right corner. They're all the same scene, and those are only the ones that even make it into the game. Some with different wait times, different dialogue, different kinds of exposition and information, etc. The hardest thing in any project for me is answering this question:

I like stories in games. I am not solely a game-play person, but it is still a major point to consider. That is my preference. How do I tell this one while making sure that nobody gets bored with giant lines of exposition or dialogue WHILE still giving out enough information WHILE giving players the chance to actually play the game WHILE getting the characters introduced WHILE making the all of the above actually interesting?

the answer is i don't. i give up at a certain point, and roll with it after try #46, which is at least one of the top 3 cutscene takes I hate the least. \o/

Dialogue is difficult. It takes a lot of ingenuity to figure out how to portray everything you want in text WHILE not being exhausting to read, boring to read, annoying to read, not too long, but also just interesting enough for people to be engaged.

SO BASICALLY TO SUM UP. I don't think it's the content of the story that people don't like, but rather how it is told and portrayed. That's why I believe dialogue is an enormous enormous factor in pacing your story content, and also something to consider when you need to give information or exposition, which I know needs to happen in story driven games.

This leads into the more broader things to pace, such as major plot points, cutscenes, and roadblocks. Gyms, villains, and their replacements and variations.

CHECKPOINTS, MAJOR ROADBLOCKS, AND PLOT PACING
Now that I've gone over how super super important dialogue is to pacing, it's important to look at the pacing from a broader perspective. That is...

How is the game organized? This does depend on the kind of game it is, but the execution is generally the same. Pokemon games and most split up sections of the game through Gyms/Trials as an incredibly easy way to view the progression the player has gone through. In fact, most RPGs have a sort of division that separates scenarios, major plot points, etc. As someone who refuses to use Gyms/Evil Villain Team (I still want to play Pokémon, but I'm very bored of traditional Pokémon games, and I simply make stuff I want to play)...

I think about the following in my works:

How is the game-play organized? This comes first after I come up with the plot, as I enjoy when story and gameplay are intertwined. If the story of a game is completely inconsequential to the game and the game is completely separate to the story to the point where you could've just wrote a book and game separately, I think the product as a whole as a great chance of losing engagement from players as well falling out of the world's immersion. In fangames, I try to make sure the story has doesn't end up having nothing to do with Pokémon or even the Pokémon universe and it becomes an RPG with an excuse for Pokémon battling once in awhile.

Gyms and Variations

Gyms are again a pretty simple way to show the player what their objectives are in the game, have a context within the game, and show how far they are in the game. Of course, the above criteria can apply to many things, so you actually don't need to have Gyms in a game to do the above! How would you space them out regardless?

I think it's important that the pacing of your game doesn't get too predictable. This is a lot more difficult to pull off in a jam game or a rushed work, of course. If your game is a constant cycle or route -> gym -> gym leader not there cutscene -> route -> gym -> etc, the loop is exceedingly obvious and you'll run out of ways to surprise the player, knowing that no matter how good your story is, the progression is literally the same thing over and over.

I'd say to figure out more unique ways to introduce main plot points. Maybe introduce some new gameplay elements! In mainline, some towns don't have gyms. Others have the Gyms put on the backburner in a bit to explain some of the creation lore of the region (Sinnoh). This pretty much encompasses ANYTHING that is put in the game, including the evil team or something if you're doing that.

A gameplay loop helps determine what your player needs to accomplish to progress in a story or plot, but if they're just doing the same thing 8 times over with higher leveled mons, the pacing is "technically" fine, but it gets pretty repetitive.

An easy way to fix things up is the divide the gameplay unevenly. By doing this, you leave room to sprinkle in other subplots with a bit of a workout (such as infiltrating an evil team base) or give a break to the player by letting them cool off by introducing easier gameplay and perhaps have an area with a lot of misc lore, for example. Of course, this too, is an art, as making a segment too long or too short isn't ideal. Personally, I think it's better for something to be too short than too long. Introducing a gauntlet of a dungeon or trainer battles can get really exhausting very quickly, especially one after the other Even if the initial loop is fun, sticking too long to it will suck people out of the game.

Sidequests

The way most people tend to alleviate this issue is by introducing lots side-quests in the towns and sometimes the routes (more things to do in routes pls maybe :D), which technically does have an optional way to break-up the basic pacing and also introduce some world building.

A bit of a hot take, but I think side quests could prove to be less fluff/fetch-quests, and be more quality over quantity. Like, fetching a certain Pokémon or finding another NPC in another place in the city technically works, but that's also something that could be done in any Pokémon game regardless of the setting. Perhaps a quest chain revolving around an altar in the village? Perhaps there's an entirely new zone underneath the city (with lots of rare items hidden??)? Stuff like this is more interesting and also less exhausting for pretty much everyone.

If there's too much of anything, including side-quests, you'll burn out completionists and overwhelm the average player, who just wants to do what's useful. It's actually the reason why I prefer game-jam games than the All Pokemon 1-8, 60 hours of content, 30 Gym Leaders, Multiple Regions+Post-Game, super games, since the latter tend to break down and lose my interest over time with the enormous amount of features and incredibly long story. However, sometimes they're fun to play through, especially if they have a fun gameplay twist.

i'm going to answer one of the questions for once

PLOT
Generally, the plot takes a lot of time to develop for me. This isn't because I'm trying to make a super deep incredibly long plot, but because I keep trying to refine it into its simplest form that can summed up in a few sentences. I don't like a super complicated plot, so I don't make one for my own stuff, but a concise plot helps a lot in improvising a lot of the events that happen throughout the game.

At its best, I can pretty much make up things on the spot and still have it make sense within the context of the game with a solid enough plot. I mentioned this in my last post, but it's basically me playing DnD with myself.


and now i'm burnt out, that's pretty much all i have to say. just make sure things keep being interesting and paced with thought and emotional intelligence for the player lol
 
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HollowGap

How am I still alive
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1. Just don't give me boring wall of texts.
2. This requires playtesting as people play games in different pace.
3. I only plan out a few major plot points. It's a matter of preference. You can plan a lot and/or improvise as you write, and the quality of your writing will only reflect your skill at that moment.
 

TechSkylander1518

Wiki Dweeb
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Joined
Mar 24, 2017
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383
Oh man the one thing I focus on most in games and I don't even have answers to most of these questions
In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?
One thing I'm surprised hasn't been mentioned already is that a more in-depth story will often lead to a need for new coding or graphic resources. Sometimes it's just general- you want to make your dialogue more expressive, so you might want to figure out how to incorporate character portraits, or make new animations for poses or emotes. Sometimes a specific plot point might need an existing feature altered- for example, you might want the player to discover a new type over the course of the game, so you need to find a way to prevent that type from appearing until later in the game, to avoid an interface spoiler. (Incidentally, if you're in need of that specific resource, I've got that worked out! I just haven't gotten to making a tutorial for it yet, haha)

Which leads into my other point that, while I think this is a con in terms of development time, I think it's a pro in terms of the community, because you can then make those resources public and possibly even inspire other story-driven games. Like NettoHikari's multiple protagonists script- you could build a whole game around that concept!
  • What is the editing process like for your game? Do you have multiple editors, and if so, how many? What are some editing challenges that you (or your team) frequently come across?
Just me babee!

I feel like a story is something pretty entwined with who creates it, so it should kind of stay with the original creators. If you started brainstorming together with someone, breaking up the writing team would leave your story without a part of it, and if you started a story on your own, bringing someone else in might make you feel shy about adding something personal there.

Of course, that's a hard philosophy to justify considering it's plenty easy to find the inverse of those- if you had a hard time working with someone, splitting up to do your own thing is just reasonable rather than forcing it, and inviting new voices into your story can help you explore areas you might not have considered on your own.
  • How do you go about staging your cutscenes? Are they planned with the rest of your writing, or done separately? What are some of the limits on creating cutscenes you have to contend with?
Initially, I write the plot outline and include cutscenes when they come to mind, but if I can't think of specific dialogue, I just sum up what needs to be said. I do think that, when the time comes to implement them, you should write out your major cutscenes in some writing program, and write them as if you were writing the event for that cutscene. (If a character would take a step back at some point, you write that they take a step back, if a portrait should change, the portrait changes, etc)
  1. You get that spelling/grammar check
  2. You have the code for your event all written out, so it's easier to implement it
  3. You get a feel for how this would be experienced in a playthrough. You might notice that you have a lot of dialogue, but not a lot of visuals, and decide to put in a little more to keep the player's attention.
  • What are some writing tools you utilize, and why? (Timelines, charts, grammar checkers, etc.)
Google docs has always been perfectly fine for me, honestly, although I do have one branching plot idea where a chart would definitely come in handy.

I'd say you should always use some program with a spelling/grammar check to type up major plot points, because a typo distracting from that is not fun.

For a timeline of events, I think having headers is really useful, because it becomes easier to navigate and find where in the story you're wanting to edit. I personally prefer Google Docs because the navbar is always on the side and it feels easier to edit, plus it's got autosave and it's easier to share, but there's nothing wrong with Word that would make it harder to use. (You can also more easily move sections around, IIRC)
 

Brom

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In your experience, what are the pros and cons of having a plot-heavy or a plot-simple story? A mix of the two?

Given that you’re making a game, I feel that gameplay is important. I do like games that have a good plot, but I feel if it’s not fun to play, I don’t feel I would actually play it. I feel that if there isn’t enough gameplay focus, there’s no reason to play it over watching it. I think having a game be plot-heavy is fine, however, but I think good pacing needs to be taken into consideration more as you include more story. Not only does poor pacing affect the gameplay, it also affects the quality of the story. I wouldn’t really say there are any explicit pros or cons to either approach, I just think you should be consistent in what you’re aiming for. While in the case of meta/commentary type games psyching you out with less initial plot is fine, generally, you should be consistent if you want a more game-focused game or a more plot-focused game. Also, if you are giving more emphasis to the plot and characters, you should actually do something with the time you put towards it rather than filling it with dead air. Ideally, you should give story stuff in as concise a manner as possible while still keeping your story beats effective. Cutting the fluff helps make games feel like less of a slog.

Additionally, do you tend to plan out your entire plot and every detail from the beginning, wing it as you go, or have a mix of the two? Pros and cons of each? What challenges do you face with what you do?


I feel that story writing is more an iterative process rather than a linear one, so I personally like to plan out broad story beats, then work out how the dialogue for those beats will go, then revise the beats, tweaking stuff to feel that they fit together better. Again, I don’t think there are any explicit pros or cons, I just think whatever works best for you works.

What is the editing process like for your game? Do you have multiple editors, and if so, how many? What are some editing challenges that you (or your team) frequently come across?

I don’t really have any explicit editors, but I like to keep a style guide handy regarding dialogue conventions (like regarding capitalization, punctuation, or spelling). In regards to broader story beats, I like to ask people who I feel have somewhat “synergize” with me in regards to what I want in my story. I do think it’s important to get alternate perspectives, but I think if you want a lighter story and you ask someone who likes darker stories for advice, you probably won’t get much helpful feedback and vice versa. In essence, know the audience you’re aiming for and get feedback from people who will be critical, but still have a good idea of what you want. Don’t fall too much one way or the other in regards to feedback. It’s good to maintain a backbone regarding your story for feedback you don’t agree with, but don’t be so rigid that you don’t listen to opinions outside of your common circle. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to implement the feedback, but it is useful to consider at the very least.

How do you go about staging your cutscenes? Are they planned with the rest of your writing, or done separately? What are some of the limits on creating cutscenes you have to contend with?

I’d say I’d plan out the general idea of the cutscene while writing, then iterating on that idea further as you continue working on your game. It’s okay to work with temporary assets if you don’t have art ready, but you want to convey an idea when inspiration strikes.

What are some writing tools you utilize, and why? (Timelines, charts, grammar checkers, etc.)

I like to use Trello as a virtual set of notecards for organizing my story beats along with gameplay spots. I feel that it’s helped me out a lot regarding my pacing of gameplay to story beats, but I think it’s super important to playtest. Sometimes, in game things may play out longer or shorter than you expect, so make sure to playtest anything and everything.

Should you write aiming at a more mature audience or do like original Pokémon kid-friendly?

In my opinion, I think it’s fine to approach more mature subject matter, but I do think it should be done tactfully. Personally, I think if more mature subjects, such as death, are used without nuance, it can cause a tonal mismatch between Pokémon and your story. I think this can especially be felt if the gameplay is still the same as the main series, mostly because it can come off somewhat silly having a person kill the player’s mother… only to turn around to challenge them to a battle. I think given the existing canon of the Pokémon world, however, making a fanon that’s overly grim kind of conflicts with what the Pokémon world has been characterized as—a semi-utopian version of our world.

A reminder too is that you’re writing for a game, not a book, so some things that would feel fine in a book may run a little long for a game. Even things like semicolons may feel out of place, especially since they’re seldom, if ever used in Pokémon games. I feel that generally, when writing dialogue, rely on commas, periods, exclamation points, and question marks (outside of the speaker marker). Also, since the luxury of facial expressions isn’t often granted, it’s important that you express the speaker’s feelings stronger through text. This is why things like lone ellipses are used sometimes since it can convey a silence well while still showing an interaction is still occurring.

Anyhow, don’t forget the medium you’re writing for and the canon you’re working with, and you should be golden! Thanks for reading!
 
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