Archive for October, 2007


Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on October 29th, 2007 by MrCranky

Almost a month without posting – that’s very bad of me. We’ve been going all out to meet varying deadlines for Add Knowledge – most notably some demonstrations to senior politicians to enthuse them about the project. All has seemingly gone well, but not without a serious amount of effort for all concerned! Hopefully we’ll start to see some movement on the project proper soon as a result. We seem to have tamed the worst of the PSP, and although the debugger we’re using is horrible, it’s not been too traumatic to get our previous work converted over to the PSP and add some more features.

We’ve also been in the new office for a month now as well – it’s working out better than I had hoped. I was pretty productive working from home before, but something about being in an office environment focuses the mind somewhat, which is good. Having a space where Pete and I can collaborate when he’s working on our stuff is a good thing too. I’m determined to get a white-board soon though, as it’s really hard to communicate structure concepts when you’re drawing on paper or post-its.

Anyway, today I came back early, as I have two new cats that I went to pick up today. Lots of mewling and meowing, but they’ve settled quickly in the flat. Cats seem to be scarily good at making themselves at home wherever they feel like, so hopefully they’ll not mind too much when I leave them on their own tomorrow. Breakables hidden away in drawers first I think though.

Cheesy sci-fi plots

Posted in Random Stuff on October 4th, 2007 by MrCranky

It occurred to me while watching a re-run of a pilot for a particular popular sci-fi show, that perhaps people worry too much about the plot for their sci-fi games. Sure, the Phl’aarg forces might have strong and compelling reasons for attacking the Kerflump home-world, but let’s be honest, your average game player really doesn’t care.

In my view, the job of a back story for a game is to allow willing suspension of disbelief for long enough that the player can enjoy the game itself. If the game is fun, the player will remember the story with fondness, even if it does follow closely the plot of some more famous film or book. The key factor is that the story shouldn’t make the player cringe, and shouldn’t contain the kind of horrible glaring inconsistencies that they can’t ignore. Some of the most effective game back stories are the simplest. Mario has to rescue Princess Peach. Sonic has to free little animals from the evil Dr. Robotnik.

If you are going for a more complex story, consistency is more important than fleshing out details. Once you’ve persuaded the reader/player to make the first jump to your story, try not to force them to make any more. You might persuade them to accept that magic is real, or that technology allows you to move instantaneously between points, but don’t change the rules afterwards to suit some awkward bit of plot development. Choose your universe rules at the start, keep them consistent and simple, and then base your story around those rules. The player then has a nice consistent world view, they understand what’s going on, and they’re happy because there aren’t constant surprises.

If you omit details, the player will happily imagine the rest of the universe according to the basic world rules that you’ve established. Take Star Wars for example – you are shown a very small section of the universe, and the rest is simply implied. By not fleshing out endless irrelevant details, you avoid accidentally introducing glaring inconsistencies, and also avoid boring the player. Take it from the point of view of a character in your world. They don’t care about the mechanics of inter-stellar travel, they’ve been living in a world with it for a long time. It is mundane to them – they wouldn’t dwell on the details, they dwell on how it affects them. So don’t follow the Star Trek model of baffling the viewer with science details, instead show them the parts which affect them – e.g. travelling between point X and Y will involve hyperspace, and will take Z amount of time.

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