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Story Design Challenge: Same Assets, Different Story

Some things you learn by doing. Introducing: our very first story design challenge.

Guy Hasson, Blogger

November 11, 2011

6 Min Read

(NOTE: Game Career Guide has picked up this story design challenge and will be published on Thursday, Nov. 17. The post announcing and analyzing the winners will be featured there on Thursday, Nov. 24. As a result, the deadline has moved to Wednesday, Nov. 23.) 

A Reader’s Question

About a month ago, I asked readers to ask questions about future Story Design Tips columns. Timothee Garnaud asked in the comments:

I'd like to know the differences between writing a screenplay for a movie, and for a game... Do you write for games the same way as for movies? How do you reflect interactivity and player's actions in your script?
If you could talk about that I think that would help me a lot.

Writing the Game Script

I can only tell you about my own experience. Writing the script for a planned triple-A Xbox360 game, I wrote the game script in the exact format of a movie script. However, for every big eventuality, I added more text (describing ahead of time that now X happened and not Y), and writing the script for these eventualities as well. The result was a very long script for every chapter of the game.

In addition, I wrote another document with a table. In it were all the texts that should be recorded by actors. All the texts that appeared in the script appeared here, as well. In addition, All random events, character responses to strange things, all occurrences that were too small or too unlikely to be put in the big script, were all put in this table. One column was the event that triggered the text, then came the name of the person speaking, then the text itself.

You question was a technical one, and I believe this answer gives you what you wanted to know.

However. I was thinking that there’s a bigger issue at hand.

Same Assets, Different Story

In my last project I had to create different plot variations for the player (what if he does X and not Y) using almost entirely the same assets. (‘Assets’ means animations, environments, characters, etc. – anything the studio works on for the game.) Meaning, I had to create forks in the road that would cause widely different results in story, but I had to use the same assets in both cases. Animations, environments, and characters take time to produce and therefore cost a lot of money. Voiceovers (characters’ texts), on the other hand, could vary widely, because additional voiceovers cost almost nothing.

Now: How would one go about doing that?

Here’s the thing. I can’t really tell you how I would go about that. Unlike other Story Design Tips columns, this one’s too close to the business. I will have to reveal my own secrets as a freelancer as well as a secret or two belonging to companies I worked for.

Fortunately, I have a way around that. When I give writing workshops, I don’t like to talk a lot about theory and rules of writing. I lay down the basic idea, then give the students exercises which force them to come up with their own ways to achieve certain things. I give specific critiques and guidelines, and then continue with more exercises that are specific to what each student has done. This works great for characterization, dialogue, plot-building – basically, anything you can think of.  When students learn something by themselves, by having invented it, they remember what they learned and retain it. They also learn that they can learn more by forcing themselves to do more.

Let’s try and do that here. Instead of me giving you a few ways to achieve different storylines with the same assets, I’ll give you a story design challenge. And I’ll even add a prize for the top three entries.

Story Design Challenge

Here’s our first story design challenge. Write a short scene that includes a player’s choice. After that choice, the plot will vary wildly. At the same time, you must use the same assets for both scenarios. You can use any scenario you want: you choose the plot, the characters, the story, the background, the genre, etc.

The winners will be the ones who have the widest variation between the forked plots with as little use of different assets as possible. So: The more different the plots, the better. The more you use the same assets in both, the better. (Characters’ lines can vary widely.)

The Rules:

  • Please don’t use anything anyone owns the rights to, even if you’re the one who owns the rights. So no variations on existing games, movies, or stories. And nothing you or your company are working on at the moment.

  • Please keep your entry under 1500 words (I have to read everything), which means that you can’t copy-paste 30-page scripts you’ve already written. 1500 words translates roughly to 6 pages double-spaced. That should be more than enough to give us the basic idea behind your two plots.

  • Winners will be announced in this column in Gamasutra and will also be featured at Game Career Guide on Thursday, Nov. 24th. This means you have until next Wednesday the 23rd at the latest. It also means that the winners will get more exposure.

  • Please publish your entry in the comments below. If you want to do it anonymously, use Gamasutra’s system to log in anonymously.

  • Important: When you publish your exercise, send it to me simultaneously via email (at guyhasson at gmail dot com). There’s a reason for that. One the one hand, I think all entries should be public. On the other hand, if you win, I’ll need your email address and I’ll need to make sure it really belongs to the person who wrote it. The best way to do that is to send your entry by email simultaneously with publishing it.

The prize: The prize that’s mine to give is a free electronic copy of my book, Secret Thoughts. It’s science fiction, recently published by Apex Books, and so far has gotten great reviews. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website, where you can check out the plot and the reviews. When you send your email, please specify the type of file you want (pdf, epub, or mobi).

The Prize

The Prize


On Thursday (Nov. 24th) I’ll announce the top three entries, and we’ll also draw conclusions from all the various entries. I think this can go a long way to learning various methods of solving the ‘same assets, different story’ problem.


Well. You have a job to do now. Go to it!

[As always, if you have any more suggestions for future columns about story design, please leave them in the comments below or email me at guyhasson at gmail dot com.]

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