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How To Make A Game That Won't Be Boring

Friday, 04 Mar 2016

Nowadays, video adventures are much more compelling and sophisticated than what they were twenty years ago. But even today some games tell a primitive story and have a pretty simple gameplay. However, this fact does not prevent them from being fruitful and popular. On the other hand, most of the game bestsellers deliver compelling stories that make you feel a wide range of emotions and create fascinating characters that look so real you want to touch the screen. And this is the way to success we are going to pay attention to today. When game development companies create a game they double-check the story to be sure it can make player hearts beat faster or stop altogether. This is where the game plot comes to light. Basically, it's the story that you (as a game producer) are suggesting to the audience to be a part of.  Sometimes plot twists can bring you on a pedestal or destroy your reputation. It's quite a risky affair in any case since people can get bored with both too predictable or too surprising game plot. So the main thing here is not to carry too far. But how can you do that? How to find a right balance in game plot twists? And how to customize the plot? To answer to these and some more questions you will have to keep reading.

To be honest, to plot an adventure you need to know just four simple words... and a few tricks, of course, but let's put them aside for later. So the magic words that will help you to create a fascinating game plot or write a book, by the way, are:

Yes, But, No, And

We can hear you're saying: "And how the hell this nonsense will help to plot a game?" Well, easily. Let us explain how it works before you start throwing tomatoes.

These words represent a set of options for the game progress and achievements of certain goals of the game. In other words, you ask yourself a question: does the player need to achieve this (some action, goal or whatever)? And four words above will be an answer to this question. Mathematicians can look at the chart below for better visualizing. 

Yes, But, No, And

Consider 'Yes, But, No, And' as a template of answers for any question about the gameplay: should this door open? can a player throw this barrel? is this the place where zombies are hiding? and so on. Let's look at how it can be put into practice.

So, let's imagine that we have a game about a zombie apocalypse and our main character (from now on let's call him - 'hero') is trying to save the world. The game starts from an image of our hero in the basement of his house after a nuclear bomb exploded and the planet was inhabited by zombies. So the player needs to go outside for some reason (killing the walking dead obviously), but first he has to get out of the basement to begin his adventure.

The goal: exit the shelter through the door
The question: does he succeed?
Now, let's apply our template and answer the main question
Yes - Yep, he is out. Time to deal with bad guys
Yes, But - Well, yes, he managed to get out but he faced with a horde of nasty zombies who have been waiting
for him. Our hero got a new challenge - fight the zombies
No - Sorry, dear, not that way. Try something else (for instance the window)
No, And - Oh, no, he is stuck and now more evil bastards made their way into the basement through the window.

Thus, as you have just seen every time you apply the four words when answering the question, you create new plot twists. And each answer is unique since it can move the plot further, end it, start a new plot twist or leave it the way it is. We would like to pay a bit more attention to what advantages you can get when choosing 'Yes' as the answer and what particular qualities this path has.

When you answer 'Yes' you simply end the specific part of the game plot ( the hero is out of the basement - end of the game). The 'Yes, But' answer gives an opportunity to continue an original game plot and provide players with a new plot twist. When answering 'No' you put the player in a dead end when he has the same problem and can't understand what went wrong. The game plot, in that case, remains unchanged. By choosing 'No, And' as the main answer you surely move the plot forward, however, you leave the player with two problems instead of one (the hero is in a basement and the zombie is there too).

The player, of course, would choose 'Yes' in each case. It's his goal to get out of the basement, kill zombies, save the princess, beat the devil, save the world. However, as soon as you give them that chance, the game is over. He did what he had to, now what? For that reason, when you answer 'Yes' you have to make sure that another exciting game twist is waiting round the corner or the player has reached the final END. Otherwise, you greatly reduce the amount of actions the player can take. Such strategy can be good for any game with levels where a player gets another challenge right after dealing with one, but for adventure games, it's a bad idea. 

While working with 'Yes', you, as a game producer have to be very careful. If you hurry up in order to bring the final sooner and kill all side quests, you are risking to leave a player bored out of his mind. That's why you should take your time and wait for a perfect moment (note that the ideal place to play with 'Yes' is approximately 5% of the game). Thereby you can end up delivering a really exciting finale. Just think about it: the player found the weapon that can defeat any type of zombie, set the bomb, saved a cute girl, found a fellow zombie fighter, and what wanna he do now? Move forward and beat Mr. Zombie The Greatest, of course! Double-check if there are enough of mini quests for the player to take his time before the boss comes into sight.  And then, epic fight, great explosion and zombie parts everywhere. Man, you've got to play this awesome game!

So the first purpose of 'Yes' path is of the finale. The other reason for using it is to give players a break. Do we make it to the club where all remained humans hang out? Yes. Great, we can drink some whiskey while buying new guns and machetes. All set, let's go. But be careful! If your players don't need a break and you give them one, there is a chance they will get bored.

'Yes' Outline

Purpose of using:
1. To resolve plot line without creating new twists
2. To end plot line
3. To give players a break from a rapid gameplay
- better to use it in the final part of the game
- say yes as many times as possible in the last 5% of the game
Once the great finale is close, the game moves really fast, so it's important not to speed it up too much.

Just because 'Yes' resolves all plot lines or end them as well and since you are not going to let players win that easy, you should put some 'Yes, But' into the game plot.

This approach resolves the plot thread, however, it creates new plot twist. Do we kill Mr. Zombie The Greatest? Yes, but now we need to get rid of all his children at his summer residence, otherwise, he will come to life again.

Many adventure games use 'Yes, But' quite often and, so to speak, quite effective. By choosing this approach you can vary the plot twists or cut them off if necessary. On the other hand, using 'Yes, But' can turn your game into a very episodic one when you have levels or different universes. In that case, any efforts aimed at creation an epic gameplay may be for nothing. To avoid such situations it's better to have a few plot threads at the same time that will replace each other under certain conditions, for instance, when a player will find an abandoned cabin in the woods where the zombie keep their prey. Nevertheless, game producers should be careful and ensure that such threads logically comply with the general plot of the game. It's good to have 'Yes, But' in the game concept, however, it's essential not to overuse it.

'Yes, But' Outline

Purpose of using:
1. To end one plot line, but lead to another
2. To diversify the plot
- 'Yes, But' keeps game interesting and satisfactory from a user's point of view
- It expands the number of overall objectives in the game
Too many 'Yes, But' may create an impression of a sketchy game since it generates new challenges and requires a new set of skills from players. This affects an overall plot.

Here 'No' comes into the game. Players hate that approach because it does not promise them anything except bewilderment. Can I take that knife to kill the zombie? No. Can I blow that cabin? No. Can jump out of the pit? No. This approach cuts off every creative thought, it ends whatever the player is trying to do without giving him or her a chance to resolve the challenge in different ways. Players take this failure very personal (almost like an insult to their playing skills). They feel like they have been eating by a Grue. Who would've like that?

Don't get us wrong, 'No' is ok for television, literature and movie industry. People like to see somebody else's ups and downs, however, they find failures more entertaining than success. In terms of spectacularity, nothing can compare to the bad luck.

Still, applying 'No' technique in adventures too many times is discourteous to your players. You can put it into use when you want to provide users with a limited set of options to do, for example, in a final battle or in a bonus mode. Then players will understand your strategy and won't mind.

'No' Outline

Purpose of using:
1. To show the player that he did something wrong
2. To create "a dead end"
3. To limit the gameplay in some modes or levels
Use 'No' to pay players attention to some challenges or objectives
'No' can make the game boring, despite the fact that a movie or book will be exciting, so its usage should be logically limited.

'No, And' doesn't resolve the initial plot thread, instead because of some player's action it creates another quest. It's not always bad since it provide users with more to do and reward them for  clever solutions  they invented (even failed one). For instance, you cut off the head of a zombie mutant, but it instantly grew three more heads and ate your machete, however, for victory over this monster you will be given five times more bonuses. Sounds not that bad.

Since 'No, And' creates new plot twist it gives game producers an additional headache because they have to logically bind those new threads to the original story. The quests can't appear spontaneously, they should have a reason for being. Moreover, these threads will interact or the player should be given an explanation why they don't interact with him (no, you can't save this girl because your girlfriend will be jealous).  Player's actions or inactions or game plot should lead to the appearance of 'No, And'. For instance, you gave a choice of what road to take, the player chose the wrong one (or didn't make a choice at all) and now his friends have been eaten by zombies. In that case, it's not just a plain plot, it all depends on player actions (his friends would've been alive if he made the right choice and came in time). 

Furthermore, there has to be a plot reason for an appearing of a new quest. As an illustration, imagine the situation 'I came to the bartender who knows a necessary information, but he refused to tell me because the zombie is watching him and will eat his beautiful daughter if he tells me anything', so now a player has a new quest - 'Save bartender's daughter'. Here you can observe a quite valid plot reason and that thread will be perceived as part of the plot, which it essentially is.

'No, And' Outline

Purpose of using:
1. To create an unexpected plot twist
2. To strengthen the game plot
3. To indicate wrong actions of the player
4. To replace one problem with another (probably more important)
- 'No, And' should be an effect of specific actions of a player
- Logically connect 'No, And' to the game plot
Do not overuse 'No, And' approach because it can create a feeling of a fragmented game and  always provide the players with a specific reason why this quest is here.

As you can see the four magic words 'Yes, But, No, And' can help you to ensure the most exciting plot ever existed. However, you can achieve this only if you apply each approach efficiently and not too much. Avoid a sense of supersaturation that your players can experience, as well as a sense of the lack of adrenaline. Test the game a hundred times if necessary to achieve a balance between boring and too entertaining.

Program-Ace is famous for its adventure games. We are a team of professional game creators that can provide you not only with an impressive graphics and gameplay but with an interesting and spectacular plot with just enough plot twists.

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Stuart Lewis-Smith

GSN Games is completely satisfied with Program-Ace's technical expertise and the quality of services they provide. We look forward to collaborating with Program-Ace again...

Stuart Lewis-Smith, Senior VP and General Manager, GSN Games
Scott Zerby

Program-Ace has completely dispelled my concerns. The online project management system is one of the best I have seen...

– Scott Zerby, Vice President at ValuSoft
Tim Ransom

If you're looking for a professional, dedicated, digital development partner, I highly recommend Program-Ace...

– Tim Ransom, President at Visual Thunder Media
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