Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Halo: Reach Can Teach About Story

Whoops, forgot to post something for today, so this will also probably be quick. So, I've been playing Halo: Reach lately in my nebulous free time, and I have to say that it has been a fun time. I've never been the biggest Halo fan, but I like the universe, and I've really been enjoying my time with Reach. Aside from the gameplay though, Halo: Reach is also interesting in how it does its story. So, just what is it that Halo: Reach can teach you about running a story?

Well, this one is an easy one to answer. You really don't have to look any further than the ad campaign for the game. From the beginning, you know how it ends. Or, to spell it out for other people (spoilers...assuming you've never played any Halo game), Reach falls in the end of the game. It falls, it falls hard, and you get to watch it fall as you play through the game.

So, what does that tell you? Well, it tells you a couple of things. One, you can still have an engaging and interesting story, even if the audience knows the end from the very beginning; and two, you can still have victory even if the 'overall' result is a loss.

How do you do that? Well, let's look at each one in turn.

Knowing The End Does Not Ruin The Story
This kind of goes against the whole idea of spoilers, but it is true. Especially when you consider the fact that there are only so many types of plots, and each one only has so many ways it can turn out. This means that there is a finite number of stories, and outcomes, at the base level. Take this, and account for the hundreds, if not thousands, of years of story telling and odds are any story you pick up you have read before. At least in general.

So how do you stay engaging with your audience knowing the end? You shift the focus. Don't focus on the big thing that is going to be the loss (more on this later), focus on the struggles that happen as people try to prevent that end from happening. The audience knows the end, not the characters. This can add a real sense of desperation, especially in a game, as the players know that the action will fail, but they still need to try. It gives a sense of futility, and can let the real emotions come out. Heroism, sacrifice, hope, despair, these are all things that come out in spades in this situation. So play it up, engage people not with what is going on, but how it is going on.

Small Victories, Big Loss
The other way to make it engaging is to shift your focus. Sure, the over all fight is going to be a loss. The planet is going to fall, but that doesn't mean the players - or characters for a story - can't come out winners still. Focus on their victories, give them something to fight for that they can win. Delivering something, getting someone off planet, taking down an enemy commander. Give them something, so that they have a victory, a "man that was cool" to hold onto as the over all thing turns into a loss.

Give them moments to be heroes. Have them inspire the other people, become pillars of strength for the rest of the people on their side. Show the enemy growing to fear them too. The game is going to be a big loss, so give the players - or audience - every win they can get in between. Nothing says you can't hit them hard right after, but give them their wins.

Final Note
And, thats it for this. Like I said, quick. Sorry for the late post. For those who enjoy shooters, give Reach a shot. Oh, and stay after the credits for a fun extra scene.

For those doing this in your games, focus on the small victories, and play up the emotions. Give people their chance to go out like a hero, or to struggle to survive despite all the odds. Do it right, and you won't be disappointed.

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