Every now and then something really catches my attention on Story Games...
This is a post that really intrigued me.
Here are Jordan Mechner's (of the original Prince of Persia and the Last Express fame) rules for story-based game design, from over 10 years ago. They are a little bit dated but altogether quite good for the purpose of video games.
- The story is what the player does, not what he watches.
- List the actions the player actually performs in the game and take a cold hard look at it. Does it sound like fun? (Resist the temptation to embellish. If a cinematic shows the player’s character sneak into a compound, clobber a guard and put on his uniform, the player’s action is “Watch cinematic.” Letting the player click to clobber the guard isn’t much better.)
- The only significant actions are those that affect the player’s ability to perform future actions. Everything else is bells and whistles.
- Design a clear and simple interface. The primary task of the interface is to present the player with a choice of the available actions at each moment and to provide instant feedback when the player makes a choice.
- The player needs a goal at all times, even if it’s a mistaken one. If there’s nothing specific he wishes to accomplish, he will soon get bored, even if the game is rich with graphics and sound.
- The more the player feels that the events of the game are being caused by his own actions, the better — even when this is an illusion.
- Analyze the events of the story in terms of their effect on the player’s goals. For each event, ask: Does this move the player closer to or further away from a goal, or give him a new goal? If not, it’s irrelevant to the game.
- The longer the player plays without a break, the more his sense of the reality of the world is built up. Any time he dies or has to restart from a saved game, the spell is broken.
- Alternative paths, recoverable errors, multiple solutions to the same problem, missed opportunities that can be made up later, are all good.
- Don’t introduce gratuitous obstacles just to create a puzzle.
- As the player moves through the game, he should have the feeling that he is passing up potentially interesting avenues of exploration. The ideal outcome is for him to win the game having done 95% of what there is to do, but feeling that there might be another 50% he missed.
Certainly applicable to designing a scenario for convention play, and considering that what I'm noticing in a lot of current indie games is that they are basically written as one off scenarios, it seems appropriate to "narrow focus" indie game design.
Though I'd never put my thoughts into point form, it's also a very similar formula to the method I've used for writing general games (whether campaigns or one shots). This is especially true when I've been running a sandbox style of game.
More good food for thought for game designers out there.