Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Category / Genre Doesn’t Mean Squat: Tell Me a Story About Your Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 9, 2014

TurmoilI remember as a kid, getting one of the first Commodore 64s off the assembly line, and the absolute dearth of games available. I remember really wanting to get one game – Turmoil – even though it was a clone of an only somewhat entertaining game because it was one of the only ones out there. I didn’t actually get it, to which I may credit my own career in video games. If I wanted games for this new, cool system, I had to make them myself.

For the first few weeks, that was the case – there were so few games available that even “okay” ones would do. That didn’t last long. The C-64 was an amazingly popular platform in its time.

One of the reasons game developers get excited about a new console release is that it finally wipes the slate clean (to a degree). The glut of games they’ve had to compete with over the years will finally disappear in one glorious blast of freshness, and they can be a “launch title” on a platform with only a few dozen titles the first few weeks.

It seems that even this extreme “reset” isn’t quite working anymore. People have many, many options and each new platform release is less of a “revolution” than the previous. Of course, those of us in the computer game side of things are all too familiar with all of this. Especially with Abandonware and places like GOG.COM and Steam keeping the classics alive, I’m competing┬ánot only against the current “glut,” but against an entire legacy of classic works.

And then novelists can say to us all, in their best Bruce Willis impression, “Welcome to the party, pal!”

When there are so many options, it can be rough as both a player and as a creator. This was brought home for me a little more fully at Comic Con last weekend. I was certainly excited about the games made by local indies. But in a world with such a glut of games, it was tough getting people excited about Yet More Games. Nobody’s going to go out of their way just to get the chance to play “new games.” They won’t act like Matthew Broderick’s character David Lightman in Wargames and take risk and effort to get a sneak peak at some mysterious unknown, upcoming games. Why? There’s a half-dozen or more games coming out every day on Steam, or every hour on Android & iOS.

Even going by category doesn’t help much anymore. When I first started working on Frayed Knights, that style of game had all but disappeared. First-person, turn-based RPGs? On the day I officially started development, that alone might have been enough to distinguish my game. I like to pretend that I was a trend-setter, but honestly it was simply time for those games to make a comeback. They aren’t common, but it’s not enough. Especially not in a world when I can go online, and for the price of a fast food hamburger (or less) get one of the classics that inspired these indie games in the first place. They might be a little clunky and “low res,” but they are still fun.

I think one of the big tricks really is the classic “elevator pitch.” At the Xchyler booth at Steamfest this year, a fellow author found that once she started describing her story in a thriller anthology rather than simply referring to it as an excellent anthology of thriller short stories, the book started selling. Yeah, this is something that seems obvious to an armchair quarterback, but these kinds of things are easy to lose track of when you are down in the trenches.

As both a gamer and a game developer, I want to hear the story about the game. Just as I’d like the quick two-sentence description of a book or story. That’s what will set this particular game apart from the awful glut of options. It doesn’t have to be audacious, although that certainly works. I heard Lyle Cox of Mount Olympus Games describing his game, “Together: Amna and Saif” as a means of facilitating communication and cooperation between couples. ┬áThat’s a far cry from my own “elevator pitch,” which was more storyline-centric, but it certainly seemed to work.

I love RPGs, and I am easily addicted to “4X “strategy games. But I have plenty of these games already in my library. You can’t just give me a category or genre and win me over anymore. Sorry. The days of having no games but Turmoil on my Commodore 64 are long over.

I need to know why your game is special. I want an elevator pitch. Keep it short and sweet. Pique my interest, make me want to care.

I want a story.

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