No, this isn’t the story of how I’m in constant pain with my bad back. But now that I’ve brought it up, I wonder how much sympathy I can garner from mentioning the stabbing pains that run up and (That’s enough, Ince. Get on with the column, you pathetic wimp – Ed.)
Back-story falls into the same category as character profiles – you can write and design your game without it, but it will be so much richer if you’ve taken the time to develop it well.
The back-story should cover anything and everything that leads up to the events of the story covered in the game. Because the game world itself regularly contributes to the experience the player enjoys, details of how the game world came to be should be a major part of the detail.
You may have already chosen to include each character’s personal back-story into the character profiles, but this shouldn’t stop you looking at how the characters fit into the overall back-story. As already mentioned last week, the character profiles enable you and the team to get a handle on the characters themselves – what makes them tick. The back-story enables you to get a handle on the game as a whole, the story that unfolds and the world in which it all takes place.
Many elements of the back-story have a direct bearing on the game’s story and gameplay. Sometimes this is revealed as important clues or information the player discovers as he progresses through the game; sometimes it’s just background that adds to the flavour and richness, but has no direct influence on the story.
The development team should always know more about the world than they ever expect to put into the game. Some material may exist just to help the writer approach a particular scene in a way that makes it more believable.
One such instance is a scene in Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. Petra is holding a gun on Nico and suggests that they have met previously, but doesn’t enlighten Nico as to when that was. Here is a detail that, though created, was not fully revealed. Not only does it refer to a time and place outside of the current game world, it also adds a mystery as the player puzzles over this. If there are further sequels, more detail could be revealed, but for the follower of the series, thoughts about where it could have happened in the previous games (if at all) abound.
In a similar manner to working up character profiles, develop your back-story with a view to creating detail and answering questions about everything that has a possible bearing. What is the history of the weird race of cats? How did the zombies arrive on the strange moon? What is the story behind the gold artefact found at the bottom of a Scottish loch?
Unlike character profiles, it is not possible to break down the back-story into a series of headings to be filled in. Because the nature of your story is likely to be unique, the events that lead up to it will also be unique. Each game will have its own back-story, its own way of pulling everything together to make the story much more rewarding.
Don’t be afraid to be quite open in your inventiveness – providing you maintain a consistency with your world. I don’t have a bad back, but it would have made the story of the way I sit here and type these words so much more interesting if that were the case. The thought of a writer suffering for his art somehow seems more in keeping with a stereotype image.
However, I’ll leave it for you to decide if that should belong in my character profile or my life’s back-story.
© Steve Ince, 2004