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Lore in Game Design

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jonathanflike
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Hello everyone. I'm chugging along with my card game, and I was wondering how much consideration to lore if any do you give to your game design. I know this probably depends heavily on the game's theme, but I was curious how much lore or world building goes into your design. Is the world explained in a rule book for example or are you doing other things outside the game itself to build the world i.e. external website etc. and how much world building is too much or unnecessary? Your thoughts are welcomed.

Best,
-Jonathan Flike

questccg
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World building comes natural...

I think it depends highly on the theme of the game.

Like if you need an "Introduction" to your game (in the rulebook), you'll be finding that writing something appropriate and relevant makes you go through the process of World Building.

If in your game there are "Factions", that too will lead towards more World Building. Or if you have "Characters" or "Classes" that again will lead to more World Building too...

I find I usually don't have the TIME to invest in too much World Building.

But it seems to naturally creep from some aspects of the design...

For "Tradewars - Homeworld", I hired a writer to help with World Building. I designed a 3 step approach: Faction Bios, Faction Storylines and the Detailed short stories.

The Professor
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I Love Theme...thus, I Love Lore

Jonathan,

My gateway game was Arkham Horror, which should give you a strong idea of the value I find in narrative, story-building, and lore. Obviously, among my games which comprise my 50+ title library there are a few games which don't lend themselves to an easy narrative, namely Castles of Burgundy and Troyes, which I play no less than 10-12 times per month, but they're not my favorite. I'm truly a fan of the narrative, as evidenced by my first published game, TAU CETI and now as the Lead Developer for Kris Kycia's Tradewars ~ Homeworld. It's rich in narrative, as we're talking about civilizations which has prospered, evolved, and lived through the past millennium in peace...now, that peace is shattered. Why? Those are the things which the narrative gets to explain in some detail, while the rest is up to the players to write the chapters of each factions' future.

Outside the rulebook and the flavor text, invite those close to the game, be they play-testers or Backers to engage in the world and write about it...by doing so, they make it a fuller, richer experience for everyone.

Cheers,
Joe

ssm
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For me, backstory & lore do

For me, backstory & lore do not matter. I like to make the story for myself or leave it to others.
If it is forced on me, I usually walk away. Gameplay is king for me.

When I played lots of video games, I stayed away from any 'story driven' or 'story heavy' games. I simply sat down to play, not watch a movie or read a book. I don't need to know anything about the covenant or forerunners to kill things and make my way through Halo. I don't need to know any backstory to have fun making my way through Diablo 2.

Theme/setting & gameplay is all that matters to me. I am in space- cool. I am in a high fantasy setting- cool. I am in modern times- cool. I am at a dog-fighting arena- cool. I am a hacker- cool. I don't need to know why, I need the gameplay to propel me.

jonathanflike
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Thanks for the insight :)

questccg wrote:
I think it depends highly on the theme of the game.

Like if you need an "Introduction" to your game (in the rulebook), you'll be finding that writing something appropriate and relevant makes you go through the process of World Building.

If in your game there are "Factions", that too will lead towards more World Building. Or if you have "Characters" or "Classes" that again will lead to more World Building too...

I find I usually don't have the TIME to invest in too much World Building.

But it seems to naturally creep from some aspects of the design...

For "Tradewars - Homeworld", I hired a writer to help with World Building. I designed a 3 step approach: Faction Bios, Faction Storylines and the Detailed short stories.

Thanks for the insight. I do have factions and some classes so I was going to talk about them in the rule book. My game is a card game, and I know games like Magic the Gathering use the flavor text of the cards to help world build a bit, unfortunately, the way my cards are formatted, there is little room for flavor text. So I like the idea of doing some short stories to flesh out the world the player is playing in. You're right about time being a limiting factor -- makes me wonder how much time to dedicate to it. Anywho, thanks again :)

jonathanflike
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Thanks for responding

The Professor wrote:
Jonathan,

My gateway game was Arkham Horror, which should give you a strong idea of the value I find in narrative, story-building, and lore. Obviously, among my games which comprise my 50+ title library there are a few games which don't lend themselves to an easy narrative, namely Castles of Burgundy and Troyes, which I play no less than 10-12 times per month, but they're not my favorite. I'm truly a fan of the narrative, as evidenced by my first published game, TAU CETI and now as the Lead Developer for Kris Kycia's Tradewars ~ Homeworld. It's rich in narrative, as we're talking about civilizations which has prospered, evolved, and lived through the past millennium in peace...now, that peace is shattered. Why? Those are the things which the narrative gets to explain in some detail, while the rest is up to the players to write the chapters of each factions' future.

Outside the rulebook and the flavor text, invite those close to the game, be they play-testers or Backers to engage in the world and write about it...by doing so, they make it a fuller, richer experience for everyone.

Cheers,
Joe

Thanks for your thoughts Joe. I am definitely in your camp. I love myself some narrative, I feel it gives the player something to become emotionally invested in, which I believe will make the player want to play more often. I really like the idea of democratizing the lore by having play-testers or backers write about it. I remember Blizzard had a writing contest and thought it was a clever way to gets players to invest more than just their play time into the game and universe. I followed your original TAU CETI release and then the re-release, and I felt there was a more cohesive sense of world and narrative, and I'm not sure how much that helped with the final success, but it must have contributed to some extent. Well time for me to world build, thanks again :)

jonathanflike
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I totally get it!

ssm wrote:
For me, backstory & lore do not matter. I like to make the story for myself or leave it to others.
If it is forced on me, I usually walk away. Gameplay is king for me.

When I played lots of video games, I stayed away from any 'story driven' or 'story heavy' games. I simply sat down to play, not watch a movie or read a book. I don't need to know anything about the covenant or forerunners to kill things and make my way through Halo. I don't need to know any backstory to have fun making my way through Diablo 2.

Theme/setting & gameplay is all that matters to me. I am in space- cool. I am in a high fantasy setting- cool. I am in modern times- cool. I am at a dog-fighting arena- cool. I am a hacker- cool. I don't need to know why, I need the gameplay to propel me.

I completely agree that game play is often the more important component when creating a game, and I'm happy you brought up Diablo. I played the third one just expecting to kill things, but I was delightfully surprised how they integrated the story through voice-over clips as you destroyed hordes of evil minions. Though you can never please everyone, I'm certain there are clever ways to integrate the story without the player smashing the skip button. Mass Effect comes to mind where it gets a little too talky for my taste. The story and world building doesn't help if you have bad game play. This gives me something to think about, thanks again :)

pelle
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I love theme in games, but I

I love theme in games, but I think it is important that the game works, and is fun, even without all or any of the players having studied the background story. It can be fun to read the background story if provided, but for me it is typically something I do later when I just have some time to waste, not a part of the rulebook I am likely to look at when first learning the game (unless it is just a short intro paragraph).

Relying on existing themes (if it is free or you can afford a license) or staying close enough to generic tropes (this is actually a good thing about zombie games!) makes it possible to enjoy a theme with zero study time, so I think that is the ideal.

If it is a very clever world but completely impossible to grasp without first reading several pages of introductory text it will be confusing to those that just pick up the game and want to start playing immediately, so I would avoid that.

FrankM
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Another reason

There is another reason that the game should play just fine with complete ignorance of the lore: a publisher might reskin your game with a different theme or even specific IP that they happen to have lying around. In that case, any world-building effort is "wasted" if it wasn't fun for you to write in the first place.

That said, a trick I like to use for world-building is to write your snippets from distinct points of view. Describing a faction? Do it in the voice of a footsoldier from a rival faction. Describing a historical character? A fauning official version next to a sarcastic Everyman version can tell the reader as much about the fictional authors as they do about the subject.

tikey
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Lore can enrich a game but it

Lore can enrich a game but it can also hinder it by constraining it too much. It will depend on the project. A short game probably won't need much background. A big game with lots of factions might benefit even during the design process as it informs how the game world works.
It could be interesting if you're creating a franchise that could encompass diferent games and other media but that's is a huge undertaking.

I personally prefer to give just a small bit of context and let the players craft the background and create their own stories.

ssm
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If you are working on a card

If you are working on a card based game, you really need to ask yourself what percentage of players will actually sit down & read the lore you are including, and how much will it cost to include it in the final product.
Will it take more time to read than to set up the game?
When I watch board game reviews I would guess that about 1/3 of the reviewers take the time to read the extra stuff that is included besides rules.
One thing that may work is if you can include lore in side boxes in the rules. That way you can get some lore in there but in small doses that are easily digested and will probably be read by any that read the rules.

jonathanflike
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I agree

pelle wrote:
I love theme in games, but I think it is important that the game works, and is fun, even without all or any of the players having studied the background story. It can be fun to read the background story if provided, but for me it is typically something I do later when I just have some time to waste, not a part of the rulebook I am likely to look at when first learning the game (unless it is just a short intro paragraph).

Relying on existing themes (if it is free or you can afford a license) or staying close enough to generic tropes (this is actually a good thing about zombie games!) makes it possible to enjoy a theme with zero study time, so I think that is the ideal.

If it is a very clever world but completely impossible to grasp without first reading several pages of introductory text it will be confusing to those that just pick up the game and want to start playing immediately, so I would avoid that.

I agree, the game has to work first and foremost. The game is a fantasy theme, and it does use some generic fantasy tropes; however, all of the main races in the game are unique. I'm nearly done with the hero art, so once I am, I can post here on the forums, but because the races aren't something you typically see, I felt like I owe it to the player to understand why they are playing with the creatures they are playing with. The game doesn't need for you to know anything about these races to play, but it may be helpful as each race plays a specific way i.e. control or direct damage etc. I agree though, delving into too much lore may be unnecessary and confusing. Perhaps it is something I can do after the fact if the game is popular enough. Thanks again :)

jonathanflike
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Good point

FrankM wrote:
There is another reason that the game should play just fine with complete ignorance of the lore: a publisher might reskin your game with a different theme or even specific IP that they happen to have lying around. In that case, any world-building effort is "wasted" if it wasn't fun for you to write in the first place.

That said, a trick I like to use for world-building is to write your snippets from distinct points of view. Describing a faction? Do it in the voice of a footsoldier from a rival faction. Describing a historical character? A fauning official version next to a sarcastic Everyman version can tell the reader as much about the fictional authors as they do about the subject.

Something I never thought about in regards to the dreaded reskin. In this instance I made the game play fit the theme so to speak. Of course it could be reskined to whatever, but I purposely wanted to use my own IP and I don't have any interest in pushing it on a large gaming company unless I was so fortunate to get a bazillion dollars for it (so unlikely lol) but point taken. I really like your advice on telling the story through the character's voice. I think this would create the emotional investment I want from the player in the game. I don't know if you are familiar with the theory of the type of Magic the Gathering players are, but I'm trying to cater to the Melvin/Melanie type of player that is drawn to the flavor of the game. I'm that kind of gamer, and maybe it's a mistake or narcissistic to make a game that caters to me or my tribe, so that's why I'm looking for advice lol. Thanks again :)

jonathanflike
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Yeah about those factions...

tikey wrote:
Lore can enrich a game but it can also hinder it by constraining it too much. It will depend on the project. A short game probably won't need much background. A big game with lots of factions might benefit even during the design process as it informs how the game world works.
It could be interesting if you're creating a franchise that could encompass diferent games and other media but that's is a huge undertaking.

I personally prefer to give just a small bit of context and let the players craft the background and create their own stories.

My game is definitely big and there are six factions, so that's why I feel that inclination to world build. Yes I agree, I've been keeping this in mind in the design process because the differences between the factions does inform the player how the world works. Ultimately, I am trying to make a franchise, and yes so far it has been a gnarly undertaking, but that's the goal for sure. I'll either be successful or fail miserably, we'll see ;)

jonathanflike
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Small doses are good I think

ssm wrote:
If you are working on a card based game, you really need to ask yourself what percentage of players will actually sit down & read the lore you are including, and how much will it cost to include it in the final product.
Will it take more time to read than to set up the game?
When I watch board game reviews I would guess that about 1/3 of the reviewers take the time to read the extra stuff that is included besides rules.
One thing that may work is if you can include lore in side boxes in the rules. That way you can get some lore in there but in small doses that are easily digested and will probably be read by any that read the rules.

After hearing all the advice, I agree with you that small doses are probably ideal. I figured I would put most of this lore stuff on the website or an addon POD book purchase where it wouldn't cost me anything other than time, but the rule book is a little long, and anything I can do to avoid the superfluous stuff would be beneficial for sure.

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