Cheesy sci-fi plots

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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Last modified: February 06 2020.