When you sit down to develop flash games chances are you don’t even consider the game’s plot, or maybe you’ll throw a story in as an afterthought. After all it’s the gameplay that makes a game enjoyable. But, stop to think about plot for a second. While good gameplay will make your game fun, how far does that fun extend once the player is done playing? When they close your game, have they been emotionally affected by the game’s mechanics? Doubtful. It’s storytelling that will reach your players emotions.
Storytelling reaches out to player’s subconsciousness in ways gameplay and mechanics will never be able to. Through the creation of dynamic characters and storylines, players become emotionally attached to the people and places within your game. They are no longer playing as a character trying to accomplish the tasks given to them. Your players will find themselves rooting for the hero, emotions rising and falling with his successes and setbacks. With a great story, it becomes more than just another time killer on the web; able to make it’s way off the computer screen and into people’s thoughts and conversations.
Even if you have an awesome story though, how do you tell it in a medium that is known for jumping right into the gameplay and letting you play? Many game developer’s plow right through this problem, trying to utilize the typical movie style storyline in which the player is merely an observer to the events taking place. This just doesn’t work in games, especially flash games. Gamers sit down looking to play, not to watch long, unskippable cutscenes. Letting players skip the cutscenes doesn’t solve the problem either, as it would remove the storyline element of your game for those players.
So how do we convey a storyline to players without losing their attention? Simple; make the storyline interactive. When your storyline is interactive it stops being a movie and moves it back into the world of our players.
To create this kind of interactivity in your games, you have a few options at your disposal. One of the design paths you could take is letting players decide how the player is going to talk and act in cutscenes. This is a technique that the wildly popular RPG Mass Effect is known for. The first time I played that game, it’s storyline blew me away because I was the one in control of the conversations and actions the main character took. Those decisions had a real effect on the world in which I was playing.
Another design choice you can make is to integrate the storyline into the playable world. A game that does this excellently is ImmorTall. The story happens around the player as they move through the world, blending the aspects of storytelling and gameplay into one.
Keep in mind that using lots of story elements (cutscenes, animations,etc.) could bring up file sizes pretty quickly.
If your flash files are big and your site’s primary content is flash, I suggest you try getting one of those dedicated servers. They’re a good upgrade, especially if you have a lot of traffic.
Do you feel storytelling has a place in flash games? Share and discuss in the comments below.