The ‘brand guidelines’ for writing an episode for TOS Star Trek. Despite it being for TV episodes, there are some really good design principles to be taken away from this.
Things like plausibility, expectations, reactions of characters and situations. If you’ve never watched an episode of the original Star Trek, you might find some of it hard to understand, but it details some fundamental problems that I find in games and TV today.
For example one of the items listed in the guide is that the story should always be about people. One of my favourite TV shows 24, as it went into the later seasons (6-8) brought on some pretty poor writers, and the shows plots began to become more and more about politics, treaties and countries, rather than simply about Jack Bauer and his CTU buddies. I feel this led to it’s cancellation a few years ago.
This I feel occurs in games. They detail a rich backstory full of technology, politics and gadgetry, but fail to apply the same depth to characters.
I think an example of how to do it right may be Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. This game introduced a whole new cast, and focussed entirely on their interactions with each other, while the subplot of Colonel Volgin obtaining weapons to overthrow the incumbent Russian president was secondary. This allowed the plot and story to be easily followed even by newcomers, but it still retained the depth by focussing on how they react to the situations they all create for each other.
A scenario which I would say is bad writing in games, is the often used ‘you are the only one who can save the world’ where the focus is put on whatever means has been introduced as the ‘cure’ to destroy the threat, whether it be some superweapon, a population wide vaccination etc. And the actual hero himself is put into the background. This can be found heavily in the Crysis series of games, with the Nanosuit being the ‘cure’. It’s an interesting concept but I found myself caring very little for whether the Ceph aliens won or not, because I don’t care for whether a virtual world that I don’t live in exists or not.
What video games can offer, that maybe other forms of media can’t, is that sense of YOU are responsible for Solid Snake or you are responsible for Gordon Freeman. And when that connection is made then the player can begin to care about the situations the character is put into.