A title

Too many writers in general write in an apathetic fashion. They are able to create worlds that are beautiful without connecting with the player in a raw emotional sense in the slightest.

The forms it takes are DETACHED IRONY and HALFASSED STORY. In its purest form it’s a halfassed or nonexistent story. There’s a third form, seashell writing, as well.

Lessons to the opposite.

Taro teaches go for the gut punch. Build from the moment of emotional impact out

Ask yourself what the best way to fashion an emotional connection to your characters is. It doesn't have anything to do with art style.

Don't fucking hold back Gut punch the player Then gut punch them again Then do it again.

There's a different methodology for comedies (i.e. don't kill off everyone unless it works for a joke) but there's still stuff to be gleaned for avoiding issues. Taking alien game for example the main characters should basically recognize the aliens aren't really that big of a threat but saving Chris should be more of them being worried about him (the roommates are somewhat dehumanized/assholes for not being worried) in the same sort of way you'd be worried if someone that generally comes home every night suddenly doesn't during a bit of a riot. They care because they’re friends and that should come across. The alternative is them taking it as a huge annoyance or something (and only an annoyance without a hint of worry) and that comes off with them being assholes. (i.e. what I’m guessing some detached “ironic” game like YIIK would do, buncha quippy dickheads. Essentially imagine what joss whedon would do and then do the opposite. That’s probably the thesis of this entire essay)

Quit being so detached. Open yourself up but not in a cringy emo way. More like lynch.

It's more fun to care about what's going on.

Journey good Monument valley bad probably Uncharted bad Etc

Short and sweet is fine, and better if you aren't using the extended length of a game to draw the player into the world and the characters, but if you’re going to make a relatively long game then fucking do it, don’t half ass your world. Filler is NOT a bad thing, if players don’t feel like your world is alive they’re going to notice an odd feeling about your game, like something is missing (because it is). Undertale and Gravity Daze to me show the core of this issue. Their worlds are (relatively) large, but they’re populated by ghosts. I feel like I know no more about the people in them than when I started, and I feel no connection to anything related to them when performing heroic, world-saving feats (or villainous ones either).

This is why sans himself is pretty compelling, you can relate to his motivation as well, but ultimately you couldn’t give a shit about the world of undertale and honestly I cannot understand why anyone would (and really, I liked undertale). This is an issue of building around setpieces.

Effectively, if your game is going to be short for whatever reason DON’T EVEN BOTHER pretending the world is bigger than it is. LEAN INTO the shortness. If you’re making a classic hero’s journey adventure then you MUST have sidequests, you MUST have side stories, you MUST have characters that exist within the world outside of the immediate story occurring (even if they’re interacting with that story in some way) or the world is BORING, its TRITE. It’s possible that your setpiece moments will carry it, but the story will allows be in the shadow of what it could actually have been.

Quit being so fuckin detached and ironic.

Deadpan characters are fine, but characters that never seem to care about what's going on around them or react realistically or care about each other makes me not care about them. Why should I be worried about their imminent deaths if they don't seem to be worried. Note that if you do this knowingly for comedy (the comedy being drawn from the fact that they don't care, but to all observes it seems like they should), this is somewhat ok. In my gut I’d prefer if they either get their comeuppance or eventually reveal they’re putting up a tough front to get through a tougher situation though. There are other totally fine exceptions to this rule, depending on how imminent the situation is.

An unfair comparison regarding this:

LISA: no one seems to care about the flash (the thing that caused the apocalypse) or finding out what caused it, ‘cause it's old news and they all wanna die, and it has nothing to do with the task at hand. -good.

Mass effect Andromeda: everyone is insane and makes quips during situations where they ought to be panicked, things like getting close to shot out a spaceship, but they aren’t played for laughs. The characters come off as having some kind of severe mental issue as opposed to it being a fun romp a la old adventure movies (probably the actual intent) - reeally bad You don’t have to have your characters break down into mushy emotional bitches, but people who are literally on the verge of death should seem stressed out, people who are worried about someone they care about should actually seem to care, etc.

So I’ve covered what I would call the “Joss Whedon” strain of this above, aka death by detachment. However there’s a much more insidious version. It’s simply leaving the story to be taken for granted in general. Why bother attempting to make the player care when we’ve got gameplay? Why even bother with the story at all? It’s just a game?

Why even have a story?

What is the core difference between ace combat and some random arcade flight shoot em up? Why do I still care and vouch for that series at every turn despite its gameplay effectively being “here’s a bunch of targets, blow em up” (notwithstanding boss fights, but even those, how are they different from just a bunch of big ol’ bosses from old arcade schmups)

They took time to build the world, to put small details into these games to show you that YOU are achieving something. It’s dopey, melodramatic, sappy, but it fucking PULLS you in. It makes you feel like YOU are the guy going in and eliminating swathes of enemies to help your country win a massive war they were on the brink of losing until YOU appeared, striking fear into the hearts of men. It’s ultimately a power fantasy yes, but goddamnit you’re lying if you don’t get butterflies in your stomach when you hear the enemy cry out “It’s the grim reaper! We’re done for!” when you show up on the scene.

This is the difference. They could have simply made another arcadey flight game (a la the first titles ace combat 1 and 2) they didn’t. They said “what would make this gameplay more compelling to people, what would make people think ‘I’m really doing something cool here’” and they WENT for it.

You could make a fantastic arcade game with wonderful, smooth gameplay but ultimately what is it? What’s so memorable about another shooting game? What is it but just a bunch of explosions? It’s fun, sure, but it’s a toy.

I cannot deny I play many games like this and enjoy them, but the ones in this vein that hook me have to do something wonderfully different with their systems to actually make me care. Looking at truly memorable ones, Rollercoaster tycoon, factorio, rocket league, infinifactory, tetris, to name some from various walks of design. These things provide an experience unto themselves that just can’t be matched, and on top of that they did it first. It would be far more difficult (and require a lot more coding knowledge) to create something on this level than to simply open yourself up to writing something more intimate and sincere (that said, if you do have a game like this, I can’t quite imagine a story that lifts factorio above the beauty of its own gameplay, but I can generally assume that if you are making something like that you can see it already.)

Generally speaking graphics have nothing to do with either of those things, and may in fact be the least important aspect of the pie when it comes to games as a whole.

Limbo is quite interesting looking, but it’s about as shallow as a puddle in all other aspects, it’s a facade that is playing at saying “this game has depth, you just can’t see it because you aren’t ‘arty’ enough” or something akin to that. On the other end, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with making your game look fantastic (or especially, and perhaps preferably *interesting*), and I doubt Bastion would have had the impact it did if it were simply programmer graphics, so there is obviously a happy medium here.

To me, graphics are the bait, they draw people in and they have to be good enough to not make people spit out the real hook, the gameplay and the story.

What is seashell writing

A story that might sort of make sense, maybe it's pretty like light poetry, but has no deeper emotional impact than going through it and thinking huh, that was nice.

This is the feeling I get from many current ‘arty’ media.

I think the purest form of seashell writing is the story that on its surface level is nice, maybe it feels like it has meaning, but it has no intent on forging any deeper connection with the player or making them actually care about anything.

To me, this is the cowards way of writing.

It seems possible that this kind of writing might stem from a place of emotional immaturity, but to me it’s more likely that writing like this is difficult, it can probably hurt to dig deep to find something that will move people (or even at least make an attempt to) and they simply don’t want to go through that. Irony, leaving it blank, or seashell writing is a simple defense. If you don’t open up, no one can hurt you, no one can call you pretentious, no one can make fun of your soppy sad story cause you’re a little baby who tried to make people care about stuff.

Fuck that. Not caring sucks.