“How I learned to tell stories on purpose” as a video game writer

LB’S NOTE: What? Video games are writen? By writers? And they even have to learn the craft? I thought AI’s did all that. Day-am!


by Jim Stormdancer

In this article, I’ll explain how I went from having basically no idea how to construct a story to making players cry with my story (in a good way this time). There are big spoilers for the Frog Fractions Hat DLC below, so maybe play it first (or keep reading until an explicit warning about spoilers comes up).

When I ran the Kickstarter for Frog Fractions 2, most people probably guessed that I had no idea what I was going to make. I had made Frog Fractions entirely improvisationally and I figured I could just do that again.

The trick is, when you get something right the first time, you haven’t learned anything. You have no idea which elements were due to your innate talent and which were accidental. The most important accident, I discovered much later, was that I built Frog Fractions in chronological order, and I designed each scene to follow naturally from the previous ones.

By contrast, I started work on the sequel before I knew where I’d be hiding it, so there was no previous scene to work from. Instead I started building gameplay vignettes that were individually entertaining. It turned out to be very difficult to fit these together into something that felt cohesive, and I feel like I only partially succeeded.

I had no idea how much of the success of the first game—even to me, a not-particularly-story-focused player—stemmed from it being at heart a buddy comedy, the story of two friends going on an adventure together.

I started work on “Hop’s Iconic Cap” with these intentions:

  • Like Frog Fractions and Glittermitten Grove, I wanted to build it improvisationally. It’s more fun that way, and leaving the design loose means you can reshape it on the fly as you learn more about the game you’re building.
  • Like Frog Fractions and unlike Glittermitten Grove, I wanted the game to flow easily, like watching a movie, which meant all the minigames should be easy and, if possible, they should be recognizable riffs on existing games that the player already knows.
  • Unlike Frog Fractions and Glittermitten Grove, I wanted to figure out how to tell a meaningful story.

With storytelling on the brain, I replayed The Secret of Monkey Island and noticed that it doesn’t have a story so much as it has “there is an antagonist” and “there is a love interest….”

Read it all at arstechnica.com

Check out Jim’s uber-successful Kickstarter page