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Chicken vs. egg vs. chicken

· Interactivity,Storytelling

Let's say you are about to start working on a new video game project. And let's say you're feeling ambitious and want to create a game with a great story. Here's the challenge: gameplay and story are not a natural fit. It's hard to develop both at the same time. Usually you start with one or the other. So where do you put your focus at the beginning? Do you start with gameplay?

You can - and most studios do. There are a lot of advantages to this approach. Gameplay drives the experience, you've got to get that part right. You'll be able to iterate at will, and let the gameplay develop organically. It also means that the story will probably come in late, and it may feel tacked on (because it is). 

So OK: what if we started with story? 

Sure! But story tends to be a linear experience -- beginning/middle/end -- and gameplay is more geographic and random. If development is driven by a strong story, then the game can feel trapped on rails, as the player is pushed from one plot point to the next. 

Players love their freedom, and players love to be part of a great story. How can a team deliver both?

For years, I struggled with this chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. I finally found a way to thread the needle. I don't focus on gameplay OR story: I focus on feelings.

There may be some vague ideas floating around for both gameplay *and* story -- but the heavy lift hasn't started, they haven't had to focus on one or the other (yet). So in these early days of development, you can talk to the creative team and say "what do you want the player to feel when he plays this game?"

 

For example, maybe they want him to feel powerful. Or scared. Or excited. Maybe all three (and then some). Start wherever you're at. Once you've got some of the emotional journey out on the table, you can start to ask what kind of gameplay experiences and storylines would create those feelings in the player. Both gameplay and story start to develop organically, around one shared idea -- the player.

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