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The most important 'unit' of your game's story is the scene. Of course,
a collection of well done scenes doesn't make a well done story, but after
you have the idea of what your story is going to be (see second article),
actually making the game involves actually making the scenes, one by one.
To begin with, here is a scene from the beginning of Square's 1998 game
Xenogears. It helps if you've played the game, but it's not necessary.
The background is that it is the very beginning of the game, Fei (the main
character) was sent by the villagers to go up to the mountain to visit
Doc Citan to get his photography equipment to film the wedding that will
take place the next day.
I'll be going through it, noting important parts. A scene has several
parts, but the three most important parts that virtually every scene has
are character development, imaginary world development, and plot progression.
[Fei walks in the backyard and
sees a shed with a giant crab like robot on it.]
Note how the portrayal of Citan begins. This is the first scene
with Citan in it, and so the writers wanted to make sure that the first
impression of him is well done. Here, you see him working on top of a strange
mechanical crab, showing that he likes to play around with macines. And
then you see him saying something about intervention strategies, showing
he's not ignorant of politics either. It isn't inconcievable that you could
have found him eating breakfast with his family, talking about the weather,
but for the first time you see him, seeing him working on a giant crab
and muttering about politics makes more sense and is more impressive.
Fei:Where are you hiding, doc?
[Suddenly, Fei hears noice from atop the
Fei:Wh, What's going on?
Citan:Ohh, this is no good! Why do they
use such inferior parts? This is why their
At the same time, the imaginary world is developed, by showing how Citan's
house looks, and showing a huge mechanical crab. This increases the understanding
that the player is in a world where giant machines exist.
The "It happens all the time. Ha, ha, ha...!" part is important
in character development, as it shows his recognition of his own faults,
and a good-naturedness nonetheless.
[Fei looks up and sees Citan working on
Fei:Doc! So that's where you were!
Citan:Oh, Fei! Good to see you.
Fei:Are you alright, doc? What are you
doing all the way up there?
Citan:I thought I would try to restore
this Land Crab. Oh, and that explosion was nothing
to worry about! It happens all the time.
Ha, ha, ha...! Could you wait a while? I'm just
about ready to call it a day. Oh yes.
There is something interesting in the storeroom. Why
not check it out?
Shows that Fei is on friendly terms with Citan and that Citan sometimes
overworks to darkness in his enthusiasm.
Fei:Okay, doc, I will. But please hurry
up. It will get dark before you know it.
Plot clue. Fei has heard something before, but doesn't remember
when. This is quite common for main characters of videogames, because it
works so well.
[Fei walks in to the storeroom. He looks
at a large box in front of him.]
Fei:So this is what doc was talking about.
Let me see... what's so interesting about it...
[Fei finds a lever next to the box. He
pulls it and noises start emulating (sic, eminating) out of the box.]
[The sides of the box fall down and a beautiful
angel statue is revealed. Music starts coming
out of it.]
Fei:Wh, What is this...? This music...?
I've heard it before somewhere...?
Reveals that Citan repaired that music device, and that he is proud
of things he accomplishes.
[Citan walks in.]
Citan:What do you think? Not bad, huh?
Citan:Hello again Fei. Sorry to have kept
you waiting. Music is a mysterious thing... Sometimes, it makes people
remember things that they do not expect. Many thoughts, feelings, memories...
things almost forgotten... Regardless of whether the listener desires to
remember them or not...
Fei:Doc, what is this...?
This part shows that Citan can be poetic in speech, and knows the
wa of music. More generally, shows that he is an abstract thinker, and
not concrete-bound or shallow. Also reveals more about the imaginary world,
that it is adventurous and mysterious, since things such as this are excavated
Citan:It was excavated from some old ruins,
and is still under repair. Obviously it is an
audio device of some type. Long ago people
would listen to this melody, just as we are doing now... At times they
would have been cheered up... while at times they would have been made
Citan:By the way, what brings
you here today?
This part progresses the plot, as Fei tells Citan why he is here.
Also shows joking humility in Citan's description of his wife's cooking.
There is a very bad mistake here. It should be spotted easily by writers.
It is "my wife Yui". This is stupid. Fei knows who Yui is, and knows that
she is his wife, since he's known Citan for years. The writers should have
come up with some better way to let the player know that Yui is his wife.
At least he didn't say 'my daughter Midori'.
Fei:Oh yeah, that's right! Alice asked
me to borrow some camera equipment from you.
Citan:Oh, yes. Her wedding is tomorrow,
right...? Understood. Well, we had better get ready
then. Oh, and dinner should be ready soon.
Would you like to join us?
Fei:Would I ever! I was hoping you would
Citan:I still have some cleaning up to
do out here. Would you mind giving Midori some company in the house?
Fei:Okay. Take your time, doc. I'll go
ahead and eat when dinner is ready!
Citan:Ha, ha, ha. Go right ahead. But I
will not be responsible if you get a stomachache from my wife Yui's cooking.
This part is mysterious, and the players wonder what it means.
They keep it in mind for later. Important to know: don't make something
mysterious that you don't clear up later on. Here, this part works, because
later it is revealed that indeed part of Fei knows this music, and the
music is again used later. But don't write things like this and then forget
about them. It'll feel like an untied shoelace (exception: mysterious things
that create atmosphere that the player doesn't need or expect to find out
more about later).
[Fei walks towards the door then stops.]
Fei:Doc... I feel strange when I listen
to this music... I feel something warm inside…
Citan:That just may be because you have
someone living inside you... And he too must have liked this music a long
time before he became a part of you...
Another mysterious part. Particularly 'puzzling' is "an ordinary
life", "in this condition", and "son of man", all of which indicate that
Fei is not an ordinary villager. Of course, most players would know this
anyway, since virtually no main character in any epic RPG is an ordinary
person. Most have some secret in their past that they only find out about
Citan:Is Timothy and Alice's wedding really
tomorrow... It might actually be better to live
an ordinary life, in this condition...
As a son of man... Well, anyway, I suppose I had better adjust the gyro
at least... Huh?
[Suddenly the music stops and the music
box shatters into a million pieces.]
Citan:This cannot be... Is... is this...
an omen...? Now what is going to happen...?
The explosion is a very important part, overlooked by most players.
It is the first indication that dangerous things happen around Fei without
him (or the player) knowing that he did it. This is repeated over and over
throughout the game. Even more importantly, it is shown that Citan has
some idea of what is happening. Not enough information is given for the
player to fully realize the full story: that Citan is the guardian angel
of Fei, who at times is taken over by his dangerous personality Id, which
destroys things without Fei's surface personality recognizing it. But the
player keeps these mysterious words in mind for later.
(As an aside, Fei Fong Wong is based on a semi-legendary Chinese character
also named Fei Fong Wong (Chinese order is Wong Fei Fong) who killed people
with his bare hands but never remembered doing so afterward. Dr. Jekyl
and Mr. Hyde is a more recent similar story.)
In summary, this scene (like most scenes in Xenogears) does a
lot relative to how much text is used. It introduces Citan, reveals a lot
about his character, and reveals some mysteries about Fei's past and Citan's
identity. It reveals Fei's character in that he says '...' a lot, remembers
things that he can't recall, and is a bit inarticulate. It even shows the
first large machine (the Land Crab) in the game, which is later used by
Citan to save Fei from the T-Rex by dropping Fei his gear. It would have
been silly if that Land Crab was never seen in the game again, but luckily
the writers knew what they were doing. It's a good example of a strongly
Now for an example of a weakly written scene, from (you'll never guess)
Final Fantasy 7.
(Cloud and Aerith are sitting
on the roof of Aerith's old church.)
"Ha, ha"? What in the world? Baffling.
"Ha, ha..... They're looking for me again."
This part is alright.
"You mean it's not the first time they've been after you?"
Dry, boring writing. Also quite confusing. Who are they kidnapping?
Why did she say "Hmmm......"?
"They're the Turks."
"The Turks are an organization in Shinra. They scout for possible
candidates for SOLDIER."
"This violently? I thought they were kidnapping someone."
"They're also involved in a lot of dirty stuff on the side."
"Spying, murder... you know."
"They look like it."
Quite foggy. No, no reason, but they have a reason! Do you want
to join? I don't know. But I don't like them. Then let's go!! It's 4th
"But, why're they after you? There must be a reason, right?"
"No, not really. I think they believe I have what it takes to be
"Maybe you do. You want to join?"
"I don't know... But I don't want to get caught by THOSE people!"
"Then, let's go!"
Not terrible writing, but vapid. Almost Sailor Moon-esque.
(Aerith follows Cloud. They jump across
many rooftops and pieces of
debris, heading away from the church.
Cloud gets far ahead of her.)
"Wait... Wait, I said!"
(She catches up, carefully, femininely
judging each gap.)
"Slow.... down.... Don't leave me...."
"I thought you were cut out to be in SOLDIER?"
"Oh! You're terrible!"
"Hey.... Cloud. Were you ever in SOLDIER?"
"...I used to be. How did you guess?"
"...Your eyes. They have a strange glow..."
"That's the sign of those who have been infused with Mako..."
"A mark of SOLDIER."
"But, how did you know about that?"
"Come on, let's go! Bodyguard!"
Ick. You can count the '....' and the '........' and the '....'
But are they needed? Wouldn't it work just as well, and be easier to read,
if it were written:
With only two ellipses, simply by looking at both of those next
to eachother, you can see that the rewritten version is much more readable.
Although perhaps 'nothing' would work better as 'nevermind'. Also note
that "Come on, let's go. Bodyguard!" is now "Come on. Let's go, bodyguard!".
Much less silly this way.
"Hey, Cloud. Were you ever in SOLDIER?"
"...I used to be. How did you guess?"
"Your eyes. They have a strange glow."
"That's the sign of those who have been infused with Mako. A mark of SOLDIER.
But, how did you know about that?"
"Come on. Let's go, bodyguard!"
Of course, Xenogears overuses the ellipsis as well, but at least it
is consistent in its length. You don't see .. and .... and ........ and
But this scene isn't only weak because it's hard to read. It's also
weak because nothing happens in it. The plot is developed in that they
see the Turks and start fleeing from them, and the imaginary world is developed
in that the player learns something about the Turks (that they seek for
SOLDIER, and that they are shady) and something about SOLDIER (that they
have green glowing eyes), but character isn't developed at all. We learn
nothing new about Cloud or Aerith, except that Aerith is being pursued
by the Turks, and that's more a plot point than a character point.
Of course, not all Final Fantasy 7 scenes are this bad, and not
all Xenogears scenes are that good, but the point I wish to show
is that a scene can be looked at as revealing plot points, imaginary world
points, and character points, and trying to do that with maximum readability
and efficiency, and with maximum atmospheric mood. It's not possible to
show the moods of each of these scenes here, because the graphics, actions
on the screen, and music are not available, but the Xenogears scene
has a stronger feeling of mood than the Final Fantasy 7 scene due
to how the music is placed, where it starts and stops, the pacing of the
textboxes and the on-screen events, and so forth.
Now for a third scene. From Final Fantasy 6.
SOLDIER A: Hey, have you heard?
SOLDIER B: Oh, you mean...
SOLDIER A: Shhh! Quiet down.
If Kefka catches us, we're toast.
SOLDIER A: If he drives General
Leo out of our battalion,
he'll probably become the next general!
SOLDIER B: Don't make me laugh!
If someone like him becomes a general,
I'll go home!
SOLDIER A: Shhhhh!
Character: Shows Kefka's disdain for the common soldiers,
shows that he is liked by the soldiers a lot less than General Leo. Plot:
Soldiers are attacking something. Kefka is out-ranked by General Leo. Imaginary
World: No progression in imaginary world.
What if he hears you?
You'll be jailed!
SOLDIER B: Alright, alright!
SOLDIER B: Uh, oh...
Here he comes...
Back to the waiting zone!
KEFKA: Hey, you!
You keeping a sharp lookout?
SOLDIER A: Yes, Sir.
You're Kefka, correct?
How are you, Sir?
Save your petty small talk!
Just do your job!
SOLDIER B: Phew...!
Someone's gotta put that guy away!
SOLDIER B: I'd like to tell him to his
face he's no General Leo!
Character: Shows Leo's humanitarianism, and that he likes
his soldiers, and his soldiers like him. Plot: Doma is what they
are attacking, and that they are waiting. Imaginary World: Gives
information that Miranda is a city in the Empire's dominion.
SOLDIER: General Leo.
The citizens of Doma seem to be playing
a waiting game...
LEO: So, that's their strategy.
We're ready to take the castle. Just give
If we attack now, we'll have to sacrifice
too many lives.
SOLDIER: But, General!
I'm ready to lay my life down at any time
for the Empire!
LEO: You're from Maranda, right?
SOLDIER: Y...yes Sir. Why?
LEO: And your family lives there? Fall
in battle, and I'll have to
deliver the bad news...
What shall I say to them?
You have a life to go back to someday.
Don't throw it all away for
nothing. Emperor Gestahl wouldn't want
SOLDIER: Yes, Sir!
Character: More humanitarianism shown by Leo. Plot:
Leo is leaving. He worries about them acting before the time is right (foreshadowing).
World: Gestahl sends messages by carrier pigeons.
SOLDIER: General Leo!
What are you doing?
SOLDIER: A carrier pigeon from Emperor
LEO: The Emperor summons me.
I must return immediately.
SOLDIER: I understand, Sir.
I'll leave Doma in your hands.
SOLDIER: Yes, Sir.
Just don't jump the gun.
KEFKA: Now that Leo's gone, I'll
turn this water into a flowing river
Character: Inhumanitarianism shown by Kefka. Also ruthlessness
to get his goals accomplished at any cost. Also that Kefka isn't very afraid
of speaking against Leo to his face, but that Leo isn't afraid of Kefka
either. But the soldiers are afraid of Kefka, and follow his orders even
though doing so kills some of their friends. Plot: Leo leaves, and
then Kefka poisons Doma. Imaginary World: Kefka and Leo know about
the Returners, and that may be why they are attacking Doma.
LEO: The Emperor has ordered me to
return home. I don't want any
KEFKA: You loser!
I'll take care of this situation in no
LEO: Don't be pompous!
And DON'T forget that they are PEOPLE,
just like you and me.
KEFKA: We need not spare those lands that
gave rise to the Returners!
KEFKA: You just go and be a good little
KEFKA: Is the poison ready?
SOLDIER: But, General Leo said...
KEFKA: He's no longer here!
I'm in charge now. Pour it!
SOLDIER: Some of our people are prisoners
inside the castle!
If we poison the river...
KEFKA: Do it!
Take 'em all out!
Overall, a pretty strong scene, even though information on the Imaginary
World aspect is limited (it isn't that important right now anyway). But
the character development is most important in this scene. If Leo wasn't
there, or if Leo was like Kefka, or if there were no soldiers captured
in Doma, the poisoning of Doma wouldn't be as dramatic. Also, these scenes
leave open the possibility that Leo and Kefka might have a confrontation
later on (and they do, in Thamasa, where Kefka kills Leo).
But the point is that you can do this for any scene, and any part of
any scene: note character changes, plot changes, and imaginary world changes,
and thus easily get at the heart of what a scene is about. As you write
a scene, look for these things. If you know the point of the scene, you'll
better see the scene's wa, and better be able to write or revise it for
Here is an example from an Ohrrpgce game, the infamous Magnus,
by Ryan Simonetta. (text ripped by Harlock Hero and *descritptions* provided
by Harlock Hero)
*game begins next to house with
a man wandering around outside*
Problems begin right here. The name ryan isn't capitalized. And there is
no punctuation in front of Ouio's bit. Also no 'Ouio:'.
*ryan talks to the man*
I am Ouio the Wizard of Light I wish to
aid you in your adventure
ryan:Thanks a lot.
More than that, it's just weak. Someone joins your adventure for no
reason. You don't even know what your adventure is. You don't know anything
about Ryan except that he's on an adventure. You don't know why Ouio wants
to join this adventure either. You don't know what a Wizard of Light is.
Repulsive grammar. Obviously Hercil is some type of villain, but nothing
is known about him except that he wants to take over the world with his
army and no one can stop him and he likes to laugh. Also he doesn't like
his name to be mispronounced. And he says arrr for some reason.
*they enter the house*
Hercil:I am Hercil. The Ruler I plan on
taking the world with my army and no one can stop me. HAHA
Ryan: oh yah you'll see Hercol
Hercil:I am Hercil not Hercol arrr guards.
Thus the scene ends. At the end of the scene, three characters
(Ryan, Quio/Ouio, and Hercil) are introduced, but you don't really know
much more than their names. The 'plot' progresses, but it is predictable
and in outline form... and about as undramatic as I've seen. And the imaginary
world isn't explained at all. There are too many loose shoelaces. What
type of world are they in? What is a Wizard of Light? What is the name
of the town they are in? Mysteries all. After this scene, no one cares
about the characters, no one cares about the plot, and no one cares about
*Ryan and Quio (yes, Quio, not Ouio as
previously stated) enter battle with green field background*
You killed my Boys. my little bosses will
take care you. well i make a quick eascape. HAha. trust me this is not
the last you'll me. I'm now going. haha
*Hercil vanishes and Ryan and Quio enter
battle with green field background*
Now for a better scene from an Ohrrpgce game. Harlock's and Rinku's
Game Which Includes the Game 'Bill's Never Go West'.
*Vladamir enters a side room wherein
stands a man in a blue shirt, and an SNES gaming machine*
Here we see that the first line of Bill is full of mastery: Bill is he
who 'knows what he doing'.
Vladamir: "Who are you?"
Bill: "It is not yet time for you to know.
Observe first my creation, then speak, then judge. In that order."
*Vladamir plays bill's never go west,
a game wherein a stick figure wanders an empty field, until the player
pushes "west" at which point the player dies and Bill's game ends*
Bill: "My name is Bill. That game
is my life's work. When I was only a lad, I spent years in study under
the guise of Amashiro Yamikusa, learning to draw and thusly becoming able
to craft such masterful graphics."
Well written, and obviously a test of the player's heroism. Plot is developed
(asking the question), Character is developed (Bill's invented past), and
Imaginary World is developed (player learns more about the world in which
the game exists). If the player lies and says he saw the deeper meaning,
Bill: "When I was but a teenager, I went
forth to far Tibetan mountains where I meditated for 4 years under the
guidance of Roshi Rin Taro, focusing on my grand theme."
Bill: "Now at last, the time has come.
You are the first to play it. Did you find the deeper meaning? The result
of all my time and efforts?"
The demon Ra'fehl, Harlock tells me, comes from 'rofl'. The scene perhaps
would be better if the music changed at the moment the room starts to shake,
but other than that I can see no way to improve it, except that Vlad seems
a little cold about Azukari, calling it a regrettable eventuality, whereas
he did not previously show any coldness in the game. It's not exactly a
'flaw' in the writing, but it may have been better without the coldness,
since it doesn't play a part in the plot.
* Option 1: Yes!
*the room shudders violently*
Bill: "Fool! Leave here! Immediately!!!"
Vladamir: "What? I- I-"
Bill: "My game was horrible, you insolent
whelp! Be honest next time!"
Vladamir: "But Ra'fehl is out there! Don't
make me go!!"
*Bill pushes Vladamir from the room, where
he finds Azukari's dead body in the hallway.*
Vladamir: "GAH! It seems Ra'fehl has killed
Azukari. This is a regrettable eventuality indeed."
Note how little Bill is actually in the game, and how well developed of
a character he is. He has perhaps a mere 10 textboxes, and yet is so well
portrayed that you'll likely remember him 10 years from now with clarity.
* Option 2: No...
*the room shudders violently*
Bill: "It's Ra'fehl!"
Bill: "Go! Now! I'll hold him off and you
escape through the window!"
Vladamir: "But Azukari is still here! And
Bill: "Silence, you fool! You've obviously
got some degree of wisdom inside you since you were honest enough not to
lie to me about my game."
Bill: "I made that horrid thing in under
4 minutes. Now go! Trust your own wits, and you'll find a way to complete
*Vladamir runs out the room, and Bill is
slain by Ra'fehl*
Character of the knight is introduced, and portrayed as impatient
and authoritarian. What would have been better than "Will you help me?"
is "Let's get a move on!", emphasizing his wa. This isn't a deadly error,
but it weakens the scene.
*a teal knight approaches*
Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "You! Who
Vladamir: "My name is --"
Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "Nevermind!
Quickly, you must listen to me!"
Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "We alone
are not strong enough to defeat Pazuzu. We must venture west to the Grand
Labyrinth, and there seek out the Dogmatic Tome."
Perfectly Timed Knight in Teal: "Will you
Option 1: Sure.
Option 2: Nonsense.
And so the scene ends on a decision, as per the game's grand theme.
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Here I cover the adding of elements that are not in scenes but are still
part of the story. This includes townspeople whom you talk to while wandering
around the town. Here is a part from Thamasa from Final Fantasy 6.
The background is that the people of that city don't want others to know
that they know magic. So the player explores the city, and sees these pretty
clear indications that the citizens are hiding that from them.
Note that what the townspeople are doing makes the town more fun
to explore (perhaps moreso than any other town in the game). This is contrasted
to most towns, where the people just give you directions or speak about
what is going on in the world.
MAYOR: Welcome, welcome!
Magic...? What is this "magic"?
Use rods as items during battle for some
Only problem is they break after being
Have you talked to old man STRAGO? Do so,
and the inn keeper may be
For some reason the inn keeper doesn't
1500 GP if you wanna stay.
Espers? What in blazes are they? If they're
animals, talk to the old
guy that lives on the edge of town.
Old man STRAGO looks like he's on his last
legs, but he used to be a
Have you met little RELM? She loves to
paint pictures! Wonder if
she'd do my portrait?
Actually, RELM isn't STRAGO's real grandchild.
I heard she's his friend's daughter.
Listen, I have to tell you...
Get outta the way!
I've never seen you before.
Oh all right. Cure...
[sees the player]
...medicine...where is my cure medicine?!
[runs after the mother]
Please use cure on me!
The significance of this is that story doesn't only need to be told
in a linear gameplay-less fashion. In this non-scene, plot is progressed
(That the people can use magic but are hiding this fact from strangers),
character is revealed (Strago and Relm), and imaginary world is expanded
(the wa of Thamasa is developed), and it's not linear. A good rule is that
if a part of a story absolutely has to be linear, make it linear, but if
it works just as well being non-linear, make it such.
__ ___ _ _ __ _ _ __ __
____ _ _ _ _ __ __ ____
Story: Plotscripting Scenes:
Scene writing is more than just text, you need to act as a movie director,
deciding where the camera goes, who walks where, who looks at who, what
else is in the room, and many many more decisions. This takes a different
set of skills than story writing itself takes. Some movies have great screenplays
with bad direction, and others have the opposite. You want to be adept
The best way to become adept at direction of a scene is to see good
examples from other games. Final Fantasy 4 (and to a lesser extent,
Final Fantasy 5 and 6) have been a great aid to me in learning how
to direct scenes (since the Ohrrpgce is tile based, you won't learn as
much from non-tile based games about scene direction as you would from
tile-based ones). I recommend choosing your favorite game story and playing
scenes over and over, paying attention to how they work (beyond the text,
although you'll want to pay attention to that too).
Particulary interesting examples come from scenes with little to no
text, just a lot of moving around. Think of the airship repair sequences,
the dancing parts, and the wedding ending scene in Final Fantasy 4,
and the mime-like scenes of Super Mario RPG. Little to no text,
yet story gets progressed.
__ ___ _ _ __ _ _ __ __
____ _ _ _ _ __ __ ____
Story: Plotscripting Scenes:
Alt + Enter
After you have the textboxes in, you still need to plotscript the scene
(make the players move around, look at eachother, and act). This can be
fairly taxing for long scenes, especially due to the number of bugs that
can creep in. A way to avoid bugs and a way to get these scenes written
fast is to know the layout of the room the scene takes place in by going
into game.exe, opening up the map (setting it on NPC mode so that you know
where everyone begins), and then switching between the Ohrrpgce and the
plotscript text file using Alt+Enter. This way you have right in front
of you how many steps you need to make them move and in which directions
(and the id numbers of each NPC), what textboxes they need to say (you
can easily go to the textbox area from within Custom.exe), and so on. You
also should have the plotscripting dictionary file open, so that you can
refer to it for the exact syntax of the functions you need to call. Plotscriping
a scene now becomes a mere matter of numbers.
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