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  • Exposition Management And Lore Dumps

    - Evgeni Puzankov
  • Let's let the cat out of the bag immediately - this is a wonderful article on lore dumps by Alexis Kennedy.

    In fact, I was directly inspired by it. Alexis, henceforth referred to as THE MAN, did a wonderful job outlying the issues and problems with lore dumps. I do recommend it as a complimentary reading.

    In this one I'll try to add more spins on what the man said and fill in the blanks. Because I believe an unwanted lore dump is just a design, production, or communication failure. It's okay to fail, it's not to be content with your arsenal and methods.

    Before we go on, some housekeeping. There are no rules in writing. We choose and create frameworks to keep ourselves sane. Alright? Let's dive in.


    Lore dump is just exposition. It's not a good one, but it's exposition. In fact, all we do as storytellers is exposition. The rest is narrative design.

    Dialogues are an exchange of exposition. Actions are exposition made moving flesh, environments are boundaries infested with exposition. It's also the first part of the three-act structure, and the five-act structure, and every other structure.

    1. Exposition Management

    You have an hour - maybe two depending on the platform -  to seal the deal and push the player beyond the point of no refund. It's as simple as that.

    You have to present enough information for a player to buy the game, but not too much so that a player isn't overwhelmed or bored.

    A mystery is a bare minimum to intrigue. Not too much - just enough to ponder, to spark the curiosity. You provide too much and it's boring. Not enough and there is no purchase for a player. Afterward, you provide breadcrumbs bit by bit so that players can figure out the mystery.

    An adventure is simpler. Where, who, how, why are all the questions you need to answer first. Arguably it all can be answered in a scene. However, mindless murder - which is sadly what adventures are in our medium - isn't a natural fun pass-time. We get bored by everything, especially something as unnatural as killing hundreds for trinkets (Looking at you Uncharted). Reasons to keep playing should be provided regularly and in chunks.

    2. Exposition Value

    The offerings we make to the gods of drama and story are of different values. To make the leitmotif take root in our subject's head we must present only the crucial and best.

    Different information is of different worth at different times in different contexts. There is no number, that's not how it works. You have to use your best judgment and assume what a player should know accordingly.

    For example for the first act, you need to present only the crucial information. So ask yourself if we need to know when, how and why the Dark Lord turned dark. Perhaps it's sufficient to know that there is one and that the Lord is to perish.

    An important note here. I'm talking only about what you present to the player, not to the team. Think Mad Max: Fury Road. Only the crucial information is overtly presented, the rest is implied. Immortan Joe runs the world, Furiosa broke out the girls, Max is a blood bag and literally going insane, Nux is a victim of Joe's society. On the other hand, George Miller explained everything to the actors.

    You're to choose the most important information and present it on the right occasion. Sometimes just to chase that "Less is More", but usually to reinforce the spine of the story.

    3. Spine

    We tend to praise constraints, but sometimes there are none. You're free to do whatever and however you want. You know your tools and people agree with you. That's when you make Matrix: Reloaded.

    Having a spine in your story alleviates that. Constraints imitate that. Spine - leitmotif, core, whatever - is what your story is about and key pillars of it. It's your Dark Lord. If you accept him in your heart you will no longer kill your darlings, you will execute the unworthy.

    Hellblade is about Senua and her struggle. Her psychosis, her life. Everything rotates around it, everything is contextualized by it.

    The spine is the context of your exposition. You check every beat with the spine in mind and show the player only what is relevant to the spine. The rest is for side quests and shit. You know, like companion quests.


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