I was just reading an article about what makes a “great game” from the Gone Home dev Steve Gaynor and there was a section that really resonated with me. You can read the full article here.
Steve talks about the dangers of having a story to tell and then figuring out what kind of game to communicate the story. This is something Volrath and I did with Master of the Wind. We wanted to make a super hero fantasy RPG and had the basic story in mind. The gameplay is a bit of a mess with a mix of classic turn based combat, set piece puzzles and mini-games that often repeat. It is not a well integrated project by any stretch.
Steve goes on to say that it’s a very static place to start from. You’re starting from what you want the content to be about rather than how the game expresses it.
With X-Noir, we had the same approach. We had the story set for a sci-fi noir. Rather than make it a RPG this time, we took bits and pieces from different genres: adventure games, action-RPGs, etc.. It didn’t quite gel well though either and there were some half-baked mechanics, like the anxiety meter, that never were fully realized.
He then mentions the importance to start from what the player is doing and how is that compelling. The content will then shape itself from your intuition. This way the story wraps itself around the mechanics and since mechanics are the core of the game it feels like a more cohesive experience. Rather than having a story you can tell through a book or cinema you have one that can only be expressed in a game. The two enfold rather that running in parallel like most games and especially RPGs. (Maybe this is partially why I find combat in games so tedious these days).
This was finally the approach we took to Labyrinthine Dreams. We just went into it not knowing what it would become. All we knew is it was in a dream world but that only shaped what was possible which was basically anything. Once we realized the game was about mazes the story naturally flowed. It ended up being the most cohesive experience we’ve crafted so far and the one I’m most happy with as a finished product.
I find myself again in this trapping. I’m thinking of our next project and the story is coming to me first rather than the mechanics. Perhaps I should stop and reflect on how the player will be experiencing our next game rather than rushing to tell a story.
What do you guys think? Should you be creating games to tell a story first and foremost or creating mechanics first that stories naturally grow from? I’ve made my stance pretty clear but I’m always interested to hear another perspective.
EDIT: I found a video from Extra Credits that further clarifies my point. You can find it here.