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  • Selling Your Story: From Elevator Pitches To Prototypes

    [11.14.19]
    - Gregory Pellechi

  • A Quick Detour To Your Team

    So let's take a quick detour and talk about your team or those you're trying to sell your story to. The fact is you're not going to convince everyone, nor are you going to convince anyone all the time. People have different, competing concepts and differing abilities to imagine scenarios, scenes or ideas. You can't account for all those possibilities. What you can do is use these tools to simplify and clarify for yourself. Then you'll be able to better present your case and argue it.

    The Storyboard

    Storyboards are essentially comics strips that are quickly drawn and have minimal details that help tell and visualize a story. If you've watched a making of documentary for most movies you'll probably see some storyboards.

    Some works, like Mad Max Fury Road, started as storyboards. It's only later that an actual script was written based upon them. That's not always the way to go as was the case with Aliens 3. But it is an excellent way to convey the action of a story or scene. And for games it's no different especially when you're talking mechanics.

    But a storyboard takes an artist, or at least some level of skill so readily convey your intent. I've found storyboards to be quite useful and to make sure I and any artist I'm working with are on the same page I recommend "Professional Storyboarding: Rules of Thumb: by Sergio Paez and Anson Jew. It provides a lot of great examples of how to draw different scenes and the language used for talking about them. And if you have that shared terminology it makes creating storyboards that much easier.

    There's an additional level you can take the storyboard to if you are so inclined.

    The Colorscript

    Popularized by Pixar, it's essentially taking the storyboard and adding a color palette to it. All in order to demonstrate how the color changes over the course of a scene or story and thus affects and reflects the mood or themes. It's also a great way of ensuring that things aren't being repeated too often and thus become boring.

    Of course if you don't have an artist, the skill, or the time to create a storyboard or color script you can simply provide references. Though I wouldn't recommend just putting all of your images on single poster if you're trying to present a story. Rather tell that story with those images by putting them in an order that makes sense, so you can present it to someone and not have to talk them through it.

    The Story Map

    Or as I sometimes call it the story breakdown tool. I don't have a good name for it and I keep forgetting what others have called it. But it's a combination of all of the previous tools in an easy to reference manner. It's been used by the likes of thatgamecompany to make Journey. The photo of which is courtesy of @iamleyeti.

    Even Cory Barlog, the creative director of God of War, uses a similar tool for mapping out the game. And I know Gregory Louden from Convict Games does something similar. Even Brooke Mags when working on The Gardens Between developed such a thing.

    All of these maps or breakdown tools have a number of things in common. They include the major areas visited in the game, the characters, the events of each area, the mood or themes for each section, and more. The amount of detail you provide in the breakdown is up to you and your role.

    As you can see from my own work on A Giant Problem, as writer and game designer I've picked and chosen what elements to use from other's own tools. Like most of them I've laid it out in a linear format representing the campaign as played, the areas the player traverses, what new mechanics or skills they gain in those areas, and of course the story beats.

    My expanded version includes reference photos, color scripts and even elevation of the environments all in an attempt to tie together the story, it's arc and the general game as well as level design.

    And if you've listened to an episode before then you've heard me mention The Story Grid. The actual grid, as defined in the book of the same name, does this very thing for novels. It gets you to plan out what happens and how it relates to everything else happening in your story. So it's readily transferrable to other storytelling mediums like games.

    The Prototype

    If none of these tools are to your liking or you don't find them helpful with your team, you can always prototype your story or game.

    I recommend using either Twine or Ink for game story prototyping as both are relatively easy to learn and could even be implemented as part of the real game. If that doesn't work then you can always just write the story and ask others to read it.

    But hopefully an elevator pitch, outline, synopsis, storyboard, colorscript, references or story map will be of use.

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